Refraction: 2. Debts and Payments Owed

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2. Debts and Payments Owed

At the venerable age of forty-seven, it was a struggle to keep the grin of joy from spilling across my face as I sat at the high table for supper for the first time.  I was in the farthest space down the table's left side, situated so that I could see neither my parents nor Glorfindel down the line to my right, but simply being allowed to sit at that table was honour enough.  I was no longer a silly child who had to eat with his nurse hours before the court went to dine, nor was I an awkward youth who ate with his tutors at the second seating after the King, my father, was already departed the hall.  I was forty-seven years old.  I was an adult, a true Prince at last, and I finally had a place at the high table with my older brothers and sister.  The people at floor level below the King's raised table looked very sorry indeed as I looked down my nose at them.  Now it was their turn to wait until after I had been served.  I pursed my lips to keep from grinning as I scanned the great dining hall from my vantage point.  I had to look grown up, aloof, and regal to anyone who saw me.

From my right side, my sister, Tiralaen, dug her elbow into my ribs.  "What are you doing?" she hissed.

"What?  I'm doing nothing!" I whispered in return.

"Quit twisting up your mouth!  You look like you ate a green berry!"

Immediately, I ducked my head and hid my mouth behind my hand.  "I'm not," I said.

She gave me the sort of exasperated, withering look that only long-suffering elder sisters can manage.  "Oh, try to behave!" she groaned, as if she could expect nothing of the sort from me.  "Father will send you back down to the second sitting."

He would do no such thing.  I was an adult.  I was very grown up.  I was sitting at the high table where I belonged, a Prince of Eryn Galen.  With a roll of the eyes, I settled my face into a stony expression and lifted my nose to Tiralaen.  "If you think you can have me sent back-" I began, but Tiralaen only scoffed.

"Why would I want that?  If you go, then I'm lowest at the table again.  I want you to behave so you can stay.  And I can stay above you."

Judging by her smug grin, Tiralaen had been waiting for this day: the day when an extra chair would be added to the left side of the High Table and she would have somebody lower in the hierarchy to lord over.  It had not been a long wait.  She was only eight years my senior.  Frowning, I glanced to my left and into the empty space where the dais dropped away and groups of influential families sat around floor-level tables.  I would have a long wait.  If my parents had no more children, I would have to wait for a niece or nephew to grow to adulthood before anyone sat at my side.  And as Tiralaen was not yet married, and nor were my brothers, Alagil and Ruingol, unnumbered years could pass.  I could be living far away by then, in a prestigious position as ambassador to Lórien or governing an outpost elsewhere in this great forest.  Or I could be killed by an Orc.

Being the youngest came with so many burdens back then, when I was forty-seven.  I sat still as a stone in my chair, resisting the temptation to misbehave and have Father send me away simply to spite Tiralaen.  But lowest at the High Table was still higher than anyone on the floor, so I bit my tongue, clenched my fists in my lap, and endured.  Father made a long speech of welcome.  My stomach growled, earning a sharp look from Tiralaen.  Then Glorfindel made a longer speech about the ties of friendship, and I had to hunch down in my seat with my hands over my middle to keep it from growling again.  The wine stewards came and poured cups for Father and Mother, then Glorfindel to Father's right and Grandmother to Mother's left, then Alagil, Ruingol, Tiralaen, and me to grandmother's left and Father's highest advisors to Glorfindel's right, in perfect symmetry.  From my seat I could only see the steward who served us on the left side, but I had watched the show often enough from floor level to know how it looked.  The stewards poured each successive cup down the line in pairs at exactly the same moment and, as they did, raised the decanters high above their heads in identical motions to create matching waterfalls of dark red wine.  They never spilled or splashed a drop.

Tiralaen did not touch her wine.  I did not touch mine.  I had reasoned that if I simply did everything that Tiralaen did all through supper, I could not make a mistake.  She sat perfectly still during the speeches of thanksgiving for the wine, and so I sat perfectly still alongside her, concentrating on her every movement or absence thereof.  When she turned to glance at me, I nearly turned to look likewise to my left.  I only stopped myself when I felt her elbow once again in my ribs.

"Stand up," she whispered.

"What?"

"Stand up!"

"What do you mean?  Why-"

"Just stand up!"

She gave me a sharp kick to the ankle under the table and I stood, utterly bewildered.  The eyes of the entire court were upon me.  In that first, gut-squeezing second I wondered what I had done, and then I saw that Father also stood.  He held his wine cup out in front, raised to the crowd, and regarded me with a look of nothing less than the greatest of pride.

"In honour of my youngest son," he spoke, "who tonight sits at my table for the first time, a child no longer.  May he continue to grow in strength and wisdom to be a leader among our people.  To Legolas!"

"To Legolas!" the court chanted in reply.

Tiralaen thrust my wine cup into my hand as everyone rose to drink to my name, then tugged at the hem of my tunic to pull me back down into my chair as they all sat.  Father remained standing to sing a blessing on our food.  I am sure I would have remained foolishly standing with him, had my sister not kept her judgemental eyes on my etiquette; I nodded my thanks to her.  On the inside, though, I was near to bursting with pride and even a little arrogance.  Father had not singly honoured Alagil or Ruingol or Tiralaen.  He had raised his cup to me.  For one night, I, the youngest, was the best.

After what seemed like an age of singing and praising and ceremony, servers bearing bowls of steaming soup finally entered the hall.  They arranged themselves into a column facing the High Table, then stepped up in pairs to serve first Father and Mother, then Glorfindel and Grandmother, and so on down the line.  My mouth watered at the wonderful smell and the tantalising way the steam curled up from the bowl.  I squeezed my hands between my knees to keep from squirming as, slowly, Alagil was served, then Ruingol, then Tiralaen, and they all tasted their soup and made little exclamations of delight.  I know each only did this to annoy the one to the left who had not yet been served.  I know that is what I would have done, had anyone sat to my left.

The presentation of the bread followed our soup, in the same manner of serving.  After the bread came three dishes of cooked vegetables, followed closely by a small roasted bird arranged with a boiled egg in a nest of raw parsnip shreds, then rabbit stewed in broth, then meat dumplings in chestnut milk, then a small plate of sour fruit slices with herbs.  Between each course, the wine stewards reappeared to keep all cups full.  One was refilling mine as the servers wheeled in the masterpiece of our banquet.  An enormous wild boar, longer than a man is tall, had been slowly roasted on a spit for three days.  Its crisp, savoury brown scent filled the hall, and my mouth began to water again despite my belly being full already from the previous courses.  There would be a long wait before I was served.  First the master cook asked Father and Mother which cuts they would like; they had their choice of the best pieces, and of course they asked for the cheeks and tongue, the tenderest parts.  Glorfindel was given next choice, and Grandmother, and everyone in line alternating down the High Table.  But in the long process of his ordering and carving, the cook always went back to see if those at the centre required more before we at the ends were served, so that Father and Mother were on their third portion before I had my first.

When I finally did receive my plate, I ate as much as I possibly could to make up for this inequity.  Tiralaen snorted with disgust as I stuffed myself full of soft, smoky meat and crackling fat.  Ever ladylike, she had taken only one small portion.  I was still eating when a harpist came to stand before the high table and perform a selection of songs for us, and still scraping remnants of sauce from my plate with a spoon when Father and Mother stood to leave.  The entire hall stood to watch them depart, and Tiralaen grabbed my arm to make certain I followed.  Everyone from the High Table had to leave at once.  We paraded out from the dining hall to the corridor, and the public spectacle part of the evening was over.  Next came the private family part of the evening.  I usually attended this part even when I was too young to sit at the High Table for supper.  The family gathered to sit in a private room, away from the court, and sometimes Mother would tell stories or Ruingol would play the pipe.  More often, though Father and Mother talked amongst themselves and we children had to amuse ourselves while being quiet and respectful, only speaking when we were addressed.  It was incredibly boring.

My stomach, overfilled with food, hurt too much for me to want to do anything but go directly to bed.  But still I resolutely followed Tiralaen into the family sitting room and sat down too fast on the rug.  I felt ready to burst.  Tiralaen sat delicately beside me, while Alagil and Ruingol stood in the corner with their hunting knives drawn, thumbing the blades and comparing sharpness.  I did not yet have a hunting knife.  I had only a little knife, just big enough to strip the bark from a green stick.  Now that I was grown up, though, now that I was allowed to sit at the High Table for supper, I hoped Father would give me a hunting knife of my own.  Now that I was grown up, I should have been able to stand in the corner with my brothers instead of sitting on the floor with Tiralaen, and they could welcome me into their grown-up, manly life and stop pretending I did not exist.

Father and mother were not yet arrived when Glorfindel entered the room.  He stepped inside with a bright grin and greeted us with a nod and a "Good evening, my dear Princes and Princess!"  Tiralaen smiled soppily at him, clasping her hands in her lap and squeezing her arms together so her breasts stood prominently on display at the top of her gown.  Glorfindel either did not notice or politely pretended not to notice, which led to her face falling into a scowl the moment his back was turned.  If I liked him already for collectively referring to us as 'Princes and Princess' instead of 'children' as Father always did, I liked him more for ignoring Tiralaen's clumsy simpering.  He glanced around the room, bobbing his head in appreciation of the rich furnishings, then turned to me.

"Well, young Legolas," he said.  "Had I known it was your fiftieth year, I would have brought you a grand present from Imladris."

Instantly, Tiralaen grabbed her chance to steal his attention.  "He's not fifty," she said.  "He's only forty-seven."

Glorfindel frowned in the slightest of ways.  "Ah.  Forgive me.  I assumed from the little announcement your father the King made at supper that you had just recently reached adulthood."

"He hasn't," said Tiralaen.

"I have," I countered.  "Father said so and I was invited to supper, so now I'm meant to be treated as an adult."  I looked to Glorfindel.  "One needn't be exactly fifty to become an adult.  Only around fifty.  Whenever the others decide you're ready.  I am ready, obviously."

"Perhaps customs are different here, then," Glorfindel said with a shrug.  "In Imladris, we have a similar kind of celebratory supper to honour passage into adulthood.  But it always occurs when the young person becomes exactly fifty years old, to the day."

"That sounds more-" Tiralaen began, but she was unable to finish her statement of exactly what more that sounded.  Father and Mother appeared with their usual grandness, Father laughing loudly as if Mother had just said something amazing.

"Glorfindel!" he said, still half laughing.  "Here you are!  I had thought you were in the corridor still.  But, good, we are all here.  Have a seat, have a seat!  Right there, by the fire!"

Glorfindel bowed before taking the chair nearer the fire, where Mother usually sat.  There were only two chairs in the family sitting room.  I think this was to keep us children from quarrelling over who was allowed which chair and to keep us from becoming uppity.  Graciously, Mother sat on the floor near Tiralaen, smiling as if sitting on the floor were nothing out of the ordinary for a queen, so that Glorfindel would not be made to feel uncomfortable for taking her place.  Father took the other chair.  He motioned for a servant at the door to bring us all cups of claret.

"Your fortunes have vastly improved since last I was here," Glorfindel offered.  Again, he glanced about the room and bobbed his head to acknowledge our comfortable wealth.  The heads of bucks with huge antlers stared down from the walls with their polished stone eyes, and two skins of enormous bears gleamed in the firelight beneath our feet.

Pleased with this pronouncement, Father nodded at him.  "Indeed.  This, my friend, is the true state of Eryn Galen.  What you saw before, during the drought, was nothing but a poor reflection.  A mere shadow of what should have been.  But now, thank the stars, it is all set right."

"I am happy to see it," said Glorfindel.

"Yes.  And to think: we were ready to abandon this place to live in Lórien!"  He laughed and shook his head.  "Never have I been so glad to see a plan fail."

"Well, it was not a very good plan.  Not for you, and not for your people.  Which is why I knew you would be happier with me taking a different course of action."

Father raised his eyebrows.  "A different course of action?  What do you mean?  I trust you did nothing to indebt us to Lord Celeborn."

"No," said Glorfindel.  "Of course you have no debt to him."

"I should hope not.  He did nothing for us, after all.  After you left, he did not even send us so much as one emissary.  Not even to say our plea had been denied!  Nothing.  It is a lucky thing the rains came when they did, or else our deaths would be on his conscience.  Nothing!"

"I did not tell him of your plight."

"No?" Father asked with a frown.  "Why not?  Did you know the rains were coming?  Or did you plan to gamble with our lives and trust that we would survive?"

Even faced with Father's scowl and raised voice, Glorfindel regarded him with nothing more than a polite smile and a hint of amusement.  "In fact I did know the rains were coming," he said.  "I sent them to you."

Father's hard expression melted into something closer to confusion.  "You what?

"Or," Glorfindel continued, leaning back in his chair, "to be more accurate, Lady Galadriel sent them on my request.  I considered your plan through the entire ride to Caras Galadhon, and in that time came to realise that living as vassals in Lórien would do you no good.  All you needed was rain in your own land.  And so I asked Lady Galadriel to help you."

"I don't understand," Father said flatly.  At Tiralaen's side, I saw Mother slowly shake her head; she did not understand, either.

"The Ring of Water," said Glorfindel.  "Nenya.  Borne by my Lady.  With it, she has subtle control over the cycle of water, and it was little trouble to call up rains for you.  She controlled them all that year, and the next, until the drought was passed.  And she will do it again for you, if needed.  I paid her well for her aid."

Father fell silent, and Mother sat perfectly still, her lips just parted and her eyes wide.  It was no hardship to guess what they felt, because I felt it, too.  All these years we had thought we were free.  All these years, we had been sure the rains came on their own, that we had been saved by the power of nature alone, and that we owed nothing and no-one.  Yet there Glorfindel sat, smug in Mother's chair, to tell us we were in his debt.  We did not owe Celeborn, but we did owe Glorfindel.  It was a debt we never knew we held.

"What did you pay her?" Father asked softly.  He was no idiot; he could see just where this conversation was headed.

"I sent three of the valley's best healers," answered Glorfindel.  "Much like your own people, the Galadhrim are brave but frequently reckless.  Many of them die every year due to injuries that would not be life-threatening in the hands of an accomplished healer."

"So I suspect you want me to replace those healers."

"Oh, no.  No, no, no."  Glorfindel waved his hand: a flippant little motion.  "My Master Elrond is already well into training replacements."

"Then what?" snapped Father.

Glorfindel grinned.  "What I want is an alliance."

"An-"

"Alliance," Glorfindel repeated.  "Between Imladris and Eryn Galen.  We are already tied to Lórien through the marriage of Elrond and Celebrían, but absolutely no ties exist with Eryn Galen.  I would like to remedy that and bring us all closer together.  An Alliance."

"Interesting proposal," Father said, and his voice cut like the winter wind.  "But perhaps not very conducive to comfort, as our Last Alliance turned out rather poorly for my side."

"This will be nothing of the sort.  A simple alliance only.  Friendship, not war.  Meant to forge a bond between our two great lands."

"What is it, then?" Mother asked.  She had said nothing thus far, but I knew she had been paying close attention.

The sound of her voice startled Glorfindel; he blinked at her in surprise.  Either he had forgotten she was there, or he had assumed she would remain a good and silent wife.  Mother would do nothing of the sort, though.  Even though she said little and sat on the floor, she was the Queen of our land and her authority equalled Father's.  She stared at him with her chin held high and a look that would not crack in cowardice.

"A marriage," Glorfindel said quickly.  "Between Master Elrond's daughter and your eldest son."

At this, Alagil looked to Mother.  His mouth hung open soundlessly, and his eyebrows rose so high they looked as if they were trying to escape.

"Master Elrond would be willing to send his daughter here?" asked Mother.

Glorfindel's mouth twitched in an uncomfortable way, as if trying to soften the words he had to speak.  "No..." he began.  "Your son would go to Imladris."

Father spoke before anyone else had a chance.  "No," he said, the word ringing harsh and stony.  "Absolutely not.  Three healers for my firstborn son and heir to be sent as a hostage to Elrond?  You must be mad."

"It is payment not for three healers, but for the livelihood of your people," Glorfindel reminded him.  "If not for the rains, which I so kindly requested on your behalf, you would all be displaced by now, or dead."

"But we are not dead," said Father.  "Nor are we displaced.  My kingdom remains intact, and that is why I need my son here."

"So you would deny your debt to Imladris?"

"I have no debt to Imladris."  Father's eyes blazed with light, and every muscle in his face was taut with anger.  He rose as tall as he could in his chair and stared down Glorfindel with all of his power.  "If I recall correctly, I have a debt to you.  It was you I asked for help: you, Glorfindel, and not Elrond.  Therefore, I owe you, and not Elrond.  And I will gladly repay you with three of my own healers or three of my best huntsmen or three of any trade you wish, provided those three go willingly.  But I will not send you off with my heir."

A long, tense moment passed.  Glorfindel did not respond.  He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands serenely across his chest in opposition to Father's rigid pose.  He exhaled with practised grace.  The firelight flickered red-orange light in his golden hair, and he tilted his head as if he knew how best to catch it.  "Your second son with Elrond's daughter, then," he eventually said.

"I told you, I have no debt to Elrond!" Father snarled.  He leapt up from his seat, and, following him in the blink of an eye, Mother rose as well.  Ruingol made a groan-like sound of objection, but whether this was aimed at Father or Glorfindel was impossible to tell.  Mother shushed him with her hand.

"Perhaps we should discuss these matters more privately," said Mother.  "The children have no need to hear all this bickering over their futures.

"Agreed," said Father.  He made a sharp nod to Alagil and Ruingol, who gave him pleading looks in return but grudgingly obeyed his dismissal.  I followed them without a word, grateful to leave the brittle tension of the room.  Tiralaen had to be ushered out by Mother.  Once we had all been removed, the heavy door swung shut behind us, and I heard Father slide the latch.  He would allow no disturbances.

"I don't want to marry," Ruingol announced as soon as the door closed.  "Father knows that.  I'm nearly done my training with the Guard, and I should be leaving for the western border next year!"

"What, and you think I want to be tied to some Imladren horse?" snorted Alagil.  He leaned back against the wall of the corridor and exhaled little puffs of air, blowing stray hairs away from his eyes.  "If she came here, I might consider it, but go there?  Not a chance."

"I hear she's very beautiful," said Tiralaen.  "You might be sorry Father turned her down."

"No beauty is worth my title.  I'd rather be the Crown Prince of Eryn Galen with a plain wife than a nobody married to Arwen of Imladris."

"Perhaps you should marry," added Ruingol, "if you think it's such a fine idea.  You could marry one of Elrond's sons."

Tiralaen raised her chin and narrowed her eyes.  "I would.  If Father or Mother bade me marry one of Elrond's sons and live the rest of my life in Imladris, I would do it and not complain.  Unlike you two wooden-heads, I know my duty as Princess is to obey them and do whatever they think is best for the kingdom."

Both Alagil and Ruingol laughed at this, leaning into each other and slapping shoulders.  "Best for the kingdom!" howled Ruingol.  "How do you know what's best for the kingdom, you silly girl?"

"What's best for the kingdom is whatever Father says is best.  He knows better than you."  As she spoke, Tiralaen kept her head held high and her voice confident, looking over her nose at them with a little smirk.  They could rarely bring out her temper, and they knew it.

Alagil turned to me, the easier target.  "And what of you, Baby Legolas?  Have you been out of the cradle long enough to know what's best for the kingdom?"

I longed to take his side.  Had he and Ruingol offered me a conspiratorial partnership against the lone sister, I would have leapt up at the chance to be one of them, no matter how ludicrous their stance.  Instead, it was the same old contempt.  I stepped sideways, closer to Tiralaen.  As ever, the younger two faced the older two, divided by much more than our pointless arguments.  "Father and Mother know what's best," I said.  "I would do what they asked."

"Listen to him!" said Ruingol, almost choking on his own glee.  "Hiding behind his sister's skirt!  Can't think for yourself yet?"  He elbowed me in the arm, hard enough that I was sure it would bruise.  "You'd marry anyone they picked for you, just like that?"

"I would," I answered through clenched teeth.  "I too know my duty as Prince."  Somehow, it made me feel braver just to say those words.  I mirrored Tiralaen's haughty smirk.  "A Prince's duty to his land comes before personal wishes.  I would do anything required of me."

Again, Ruingol hit me in the arm, laughing like the ass he was.  Alagil, though, shook his head as he looked at me.  His smile sat halfway between amusement and pity.  "You don't even know what you're saying, Legolas," he muttered.  "All you do is echo back what others think without even stopping to consider what the words mean.  Do you realise what you just said?  You would do anything asked of you?  It's a noble sentiment, but think of what it actually means.  You could be sent to die in a pointless battle, if Father thought he could buy himself more time with your death.  Would you go?"

"He wouldn't do that," I insisted.

"He might.  A King's duty to his land also comes before his personal wishes.  His life is the most important in this land.  So what if he thought the only way to avoid death would be to sacrifice you?  And what if you saw a different way out: a way to save not only his life but your own as well?  Would you blindly obey him, or use your own head for once?"

An unpleasant heat burned up the back of my neck and into my ears.  What would I do?  It was impossible to say.  "I-" I began, and then faltered.  "I would do... whatever I saw to be best for the kingdom."

Snorting, Alagil looked away.  "Hopeless," he said, and Ruingol crossed his eyes and made a face to illustrate my hopelessness.

"Halfwits," Tiralaen whispered.  Her intent to ignore them clear, she shifted to face the family room doorway, and I followed her lead.  Even through the heavy wood of the door and the thick stone walls, we could hear raised voices.  It was impossible to distinguish words, apart from the occasional, emphatic no, but the tone of the debate was clear enough.  I was sure it was Father who did most of the shouting.  When the argument finally ceased and the door opened, his face was flushed red.  In contrast, Mother had turned a frightening grey-white colour, and she kept her lips thinned into a tight line.  Glorfindel was not with them.  He remained somewhere inside the room.

Father's eyes scanned over Alagil, Ruingol, and Tiralaen before coming to rest on me.  "Legolas," he said sharply.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Darth Fingon

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Romance

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 11/26/09

Original Post: 10/29/09

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