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10
Fire and Lamp, and Meat and Bread

Rowanna made her way towards the great Hall as swiftly as the voluminous skirts of her velvet gown would allow, wondering how any woman ever managed to walk properly, swathed in such reams of fabric. Admittedly, the Elves seemed able to make feather-light velvet which yet hung perfectly, and it was thoughtful of Arwen to have chosen the rich wine-red colour, and have the dress made up so that Rowanna might not always have to beg or borrow something to appear in on feast nights.

She turned over in her mind, as she hurried along trying to remember to fit her stride to her skirts, whether she really had really beaten Elrohir back to the stable-yard that afternoon, and not merely been allowed to come home first. On the one hand, she was well aware that probably every Elf in Rivendell rode better than she, never mind Elrond's sons; on the other, Elrohir had been on a borrowed mount, just a day after a hard trek back to the valley, whereas provided the capricious Caradhras allowed his rider to stay on his back, he could outrun any other horse in Elrond's stables. Elrohir was quite capable of letting her think she had won, and then teasing her for it later; but she thought she had seen the faintest trace of annoyance flicker across his face as he dismounted, despite his jesting congratulation. And how like him, she mused, to wait till I was walking out of the yard to drop on me the news that the twins must leave again this very night! He had thrown the remark almost casually over his shoulder as she was turning to go:

"No more races again for some time, rohiril, I fear. Elladan and I are off into the Wilds again tonight..."

"Tonight?" She had whirled on her heel and gazed at him, amazed. "But - you have only just returned! Your mounts are exhausted, you cannot take them out again so soon - and you - "

"Peace, my dear horse-lady!" Elrohir grinned in that maddening fashion he had. "Have no fear for our poor beasts - we go secretly and watchfully, and therefore we go afoot. Estel insists he will go with us, though somehow I suspect he may be persuaded to return before we get far beyond Imladris' borders.. "

What was he expecting of me? she wondered, as she continued down the hallway. Tears? Protestations? Was he piqued, after all, at losing a horserace? As she stood, still half-stunned, on the straw-strewn cobbles, he had caught up her hand and pressed it suddenly to his lips, surprising her again with the warmth that flowed from him. "Fare well, rohiril - till we meet again." He infuriates me one moment, and charms me the next, she reflected. Which I might not mind, but that I suspect he knows it all too well, and does it on purpose to amuse himself watching me flounder!

Regardless, she decided, it had been an excellent race - though once the horses were rubbed down and made comfortable she had had barely time to wash, change, and let one of the ellith swiftly put up her hair before the soft chiming of bells all over the House announced the gathering for the Feast.

The antechamber to the Hall was already humming with laughter and conversation by the time she arrived, and she halted a moment in the doorway, surveying the throng. The Elf-lords such as Lord Glorfindel were easy to spot; there was his golden head gleaming, and - yes - the dark-haired Elf-woman beside him, carefully nursing a well-wrapped bundle which Rowanna guessed held her harp. There was that visiting Elf from the Grey Havens in the West, deep in conversation with a bearded figure - it took her a moment to recognise the wizard Gandalf, for he had put aside his usual patched grey cloak for an immaculate silver-trimmed robe. Amongst such a crowd she thought there would be no picking out the Hobbits; for a moment, though, amid the forest of bodies, a flash of movement showed her the one called Pippin, reaching up to snatch a sweetmeat from a passing serving-elf's tray before an unseen hand yanked him back out of view. Rowanna repressed a chuckle. The twins and the Chieftain, she noted, were nowhere to be seen.

As the crowd shifted about, her eye was caught by a little group standing rather apart in one corner; the Dwarves, she realised, fascinated, for she had had little opportunity to observe these strange visitors until now. They were in something of a huddle, stout backs for the most part turned to the general hubbub in the hall; the Dwarf who seemed the chief of the group was clad all in white, with a magnificent jewelled chain glinting out from behind his long, forked beard. Nodding earnestly, he was listening intently; why, that's Bilbo talking to him! Rowanna realised suddenly, catching sight briefly of her tutor's familiar grey curls bobbing up and down enthusiastically in the midst of the knot of Dwarves. He does not go in much for feasting as a rule! But of course, he is a Dwarf-friend of old...

"Tiro fennas, brennilen!" Rowanna hurriedly moved aside at the impatient elleth's request to clear the doorway, only to cannon into the solid form of another guest who was just coming in. She was groping for some suitably apologetic Sindarin phrase when, looking up, she realised she had barged into not an Elf, but a Man, whose broad shoulders had barely passed the doorframe.

"Your pardon - my lord!" Switching to the Common tongue, she racked her brains as to who this mortal guest of Rivendell might be. "I was in such haste to get out of the way, I did not see you..."

"It matters not, milady, no harm is done." The stranger dipped his massive bulk towards her in a half-bow. "I do not know how anyone can move in all this mob - I wonder the little ones are not trampled." As he straightened up, a pair of grey eyes appraised her rapidly: as grey as the Chieftain's, Rowanna noted with a start, and his hair as black! Is this another of the Dúnedain?

A moment later, however, she discovered that she was mistaken, for the newcomer went on:

"And a good even to you, madam. I am Boromir, of Gondor."

Gondor! For a moment Rowanna gaped, before she could pull herself together and incline her head to him in her turn. She had heard the rumours flying about in the stables, of a horseless rider come before dawn that very morning from the far South, but - Suddenly she remembered where she had heard the name before.

"Boromir? The.. the Lord Steward's son?"

"The same, madam." She felt his gaze on her sharpen like a hawk's. "You know something of my land, then?"

Something about that keen scrutiny made Rowanna uneasy; instinctively, she squared her shoulders and raised her chin to look the powerfully-built Man in the eye. For all the strength in that face, she noticed, there were black shadows beneath his eyes, as though he had been bone-weary not long since.

"A little, my lord, though I was never in the South Kingdom in my life. My name is Rowanna; my father was Halemnar, son of Hyarmenhîr, of Minas Tirith, who fell in service to Éomund of Rohan, the Chief Marshal of the Mark."

"You are Gondorrim?" The Man's eyes widened. "Indeed, I had guessed you were not Elf-kind, milady - but then where have you dwelt all your life if not in your own land? Surely not here in this nest of Elves!"

"Indeed no, my lord, and how I come to be here is another tale in itself," Rowanna countered firmly, "but I was born and bred among the Eorlingas, in the Riddermark!"

"Rohan? - " The great brows drew together in a frown. "Halemnar, you said?..." Once again the piercing grey gaze considered her; before Boromir could say more, however, a bell chimed once more. There was shuffling and murmuring as all turned to the head of the anteroom, where Master Elrond and the Evenstar were making ready to lead the company through the great doors into the Hall. Rowanna's heart unexpectedly lurched as she wondered, suddenly unnerved by the prospect, whether the Steward's heir would feel obliged to escort her in to dinner. To her relief, however, Boromir had evidently been firmly allocated a place in the evening's hierarchy by Erestor. He made his excuses courteously enough, turned on his heel and shouldered his way into the crowd - with one last, appraising backward glance which sent the colour flaring to Rowanna's face.

Surely he - he would not remember? She bit her lip, very glad she was hidden away in the shadows towards the back of the throng. He cannot have been more than a boy when Father was killed - but he recognised the name of Halemnar, I am sure of it - what if he does recall it? Would it not be the business of the Steward's heir to know the histories of all his City's noble houses, however minor? The thought sent a shiver down her spine as it brought a long-buried memory to life. Mother said, once...her name would still be mud in Minas Tirith, for refusing to return to her dead husband's kin as a grieving widow should! She could hear her mother's anger still, ringing down the years: "Duty to family... love of country... who are they to lay down the law of grief to me? If I choose to stay in the land for which my husband died, to shape my own life here with my child, who shall tell me that such is not my fate?"

And now here am I, Rowanna realised, in Boromir's eyes a daughter of Gondor, not merely choosing a life in another land of Men, but consorting with - what did he call them? - this nest of Elves!

At that moment she would have given anything to turn and run, gown or no gown, out of the antechamber and straight back to the safety of the stables. What am I doing here? she asked herself, and the reply came as surely as though her mother stood at her elbow:

"Whatever you choose, child. Come, there is a feast, and music, and tales to look forward to! Now, are you going through that door or are you not?"

She glanced impatiently down at her skirts to ensure she was not about to trip over her own hems, lifted her chin, and joined the last few Elves following in the flickering torchlight behind Master Elrond and the Evenstar.

***

Imladris' food and drink were indeed as excellent as he remembered from his long-past visits, Legolas admitted as one course was cleared and yet another - elegant, featherlight pastries and silver dishes of succulent forest berries - took its place. Excellent, if more elaborate than he would generally choose except at the royal table on high feast days. Perfectly cooked trout from the Bruinen had been succeeded by roasted meats in exquisite sauces, interspersed with ingenious vegetable dishes for those among the Elves who preferred not to eat flesh; the various Dwarf and Hobbit guests, Legolas observed, had no such scruples, tucking in to everything with a will. He had been watching with amazement one of the periannath on a lower table - Merry he seemed to be called - whose capacity to shovel food into his small frame appeared endless.

I would give much to be Merry, in more ways than one! he reflected wryly. For it would take more than good food and fine wine, he knew, to put him at his ease this night. Erestor had insisted that he be seated at the top table, which meant that he could not take refuge in talking to Taurlaegel, who was elsewhere in the hall. Instead he found himself between Glorfindel and the Ring-bearer, and just across from Mithrandir, who occasionally flashed from beneath his bushy brows a piercing glance as though to ask, "How came you to fail me, Legolas Greenleaf?". So Legolas devoted much of the meal to asking Frodo Baggins about his home, and found that the Shire was a topic on which the Hobbit would happily discourse when he was not asking questions about Mirkwood, and about Bilbo's celebrated visit (for want of a better word) to Thranduil's halls.

Close by at the end of the long table sat the Master of Rivendell, so that Mithrandir and Glorfindel flanked him; the Star-dome between the Moon and the Sun, thought Legolas, startled by his own flight of fancy. And on the other side, of course, the Evening-star... Elrond's daughter appeared serene as ever, though occasionally Legolas noticed her gazing into space as though her mind was elsewhere, and wondered at it. From time to time her eye would catch his, and she would bestow a kindly smile. Arwen, he remembered, was always kind. Her father, however, try as Legolas might to decipher the expression in those hooded grey eyes, was simply inscrutable.

At last, the signal for the end of the meal was given; with Elrond at its head, the company got up in order, and crossed through the great doors to a further hall where a great fire burned in the hearth. Little groups formed, talking and laughing; in one corner minstrels began softly tuning harps.

Curious glances and murmurs rose and fell in the direction of the lone figure, apparently deserted by his esquire, leaning with tightly folded arms against the wall towards one corner.

"Looking as though he'd climbed straight out of a tree - does he have no robe fit for feasting? I thought you said he was a King's son!"

"He is, indeed - I'd tell you to ask him yourself, but he hardly looks as though he wishes to be spoken to, does he?" Just as the hum of conversation dipped for a moment, a laughing reply carried right across the hall;

" Come now, he's a Wood-elf, after all - he'd have more to say to you if you were an oak or a beech!"

Rowanna, to her relief, had managed to avoid any further contact with Boromir of Gondor. Now, seated near the fire with Bilbo, she let her eye rove over the chattering throng, testing her growing understanding of the Grey Tongue by trying to eavesdrop on conversations. Her gaze lit on a solitary Elf leaning against the wall on the far side of the Hall of Fire, and she frowned, trying to place him. She watched him curiously for a few moments, sure she had not seen him before. She had grown used to the languid grace of the folk of Rivendell; though he stood without moving, this one's very stillness felt poised for swift motion, hinting at all the hidden energy of a creature coiled to spring - or to flee.

He was clad differently from any of the Elves around him, too, in simple green and brown instead of the richly coloured silks the Rivendell Elves favoured on high days and holidays. As she gazed, a mocking remark drifted to her ears through a momentary hush, and though she could not catch all its meaning, she knew the tone all too well. She had never yet seen an Elf flush, and doubted the First-born even knew how; but she was sure she saw the corners of the strange Elf's mouth tighten. She felt a sudden wave of anger. That was Lindir, of course, it would be. Always ready to be witty at another's expense. She had not yet forgiven him for teasing Bilbo, only the previous night, about all Mortals being as alike as sheep. On impulse, she pulled at the Hobbit's sleeve.

"Bilbo - who is that, on his own there on the other side of the hall?"

"Where?" Bilbo followed her gaze. "Such a crowd - Ah! That, my dear, is Legolas Thranduilion, the Elven-King of Mirkwood's son. He looks a little uncomfortable, doesn't he? Well he might - he didn't exactly endear himself at the Council this morning..."

Rowanna knew little of the Council and nothing of its deliberations, but I know how it feels to be a stranger, and stared at, and murmured over! "Do you know him? Would you present me to him?"

"My dear, it would be my pleasure - after you..." The little Hobbit climbed down from his stool and solicitously ushered Rowanna across the hall.

"Legolas! Elen síla am lúmen vín govaded, nín mellon." Bilbo bowed elaborately. "There is someone here who wishes to meet you."

"Bilbo, le suilannad," the stranger replied gravely, if more simply. As soon as Bilbo spoke to him he had dropped on to one knee, bringing himself closer to eye level with the Hobbit; Rowanna noticed it, and felt absurdly pleased at this small counterweight to Lindir's careless disregard.

"Allow me to present my good friend Rowanna, who is distantly kin to Master Elrond and at present his guest here in Rivendell," Bilbo went on in his most formal mode. "Rowanna; Legolas Thranduilion, of the Woodland Realm."

"Mae govannen, nín hîr," Rowanna managed in careful Sindarin. Bilbo's somewhat flowery greetings were not, she felt, much suited to her style, even had her command of the Grey Tongue permitted them.

The Elven-king's son rose to his feet again in one smooth movement. For an instant, as his eyes met Rowanna's, they widened in an expression which she could not read; but he bowed over her hand, and said something too quick for Rowanna to catch. Her confusion must have showed in her face, she realised, for he caught himself and switched swiftly to the Common Speech.

"Forgive me, brennilen, I see I go too fast for you. I asked that you use no titles with me; please, call me just Legolas. I am not used to speaking with Mortals who have learnt our tongue!" He smiled suddenly. "May I ask who has taught you?"

"Bilbo is teaching me." Rowanna looked down affectionately at the Hobbit, who nodded proudly at his pupil. "Though I can barely string two sentences together as yet, and he will hasten to tell you that my manglings of the Grey Tongue are all my own invention and are none of his doing!"

Legolas threw back his head and laughed aloud, his eyes sparkling, and Rowanna felt the warmth washing over her as though the sun had emerged from a cloud. His merriment was infectious, and she laughed with him - at which his mood changed suddenly again, and he cocked his head on one side, looking at her curiously.

"Tell me, brennilen - did you by any chance go out riding this afternoon?"

"Why, yes -" Rowanna admitted; but before she could continue, Bilbo broke hastily in.

"Forgive me, my dear, but if you and Legolas are going to get on to the subject of horseflesh, I will gladly leave you to it; you know my views on any hooved creature larger than a pony! If you will pardon me," - he nodded to Legolas - "I must make sure my rascally Took and Brandybuck kin are not creating too much havoc..." He wandered off into the crowd, humming to himself. The Elf chuckled.

"I take it Bilbo has no great interest in horses! Tell me though, my lady - you were coming down the river-meadow just before sundown?"

"Elrohir and I were exercising a couple of restless beasts for Brethil, the head groom. Were you out along the valley? I did not see you..."

"I was up a tree," said Legolas easily, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. And for a Wood-elf, Rowanna realised, it probably is..."My esquire and I saw the pair of you fly by; Taurlaegel was backing you to beat Elrohir, for he was introduced to your mount - Caradhras, was it not? - in the stable-yard this morning. It looked to be a good race!"

She nodded vigorously. "An excellent race. It is so good to gallop at full tilt like that again!" He raised an enquiring eyebrow, and she hesitated before she went on: "I was - not able to ride, for a long time, and this afternoon I remembered what a joy it can be. When.. when I first came to Rivendell, I was very ill, and it is thanks to Master Elrond that you see me in health as you do." There, I have said it. She braced herself for the familiar, faint shudder of Elven distaste. It did not come. Legolas gazed at her a moment - they were almost of a height, she noticed, and his blue-grey eyes met hers levelly - and said simply,

"I am glad then, lady, that you were able to reach Imladris and receive full healing." Then his swift smile came again. "Tell me though about this stallion of Elrond's. Is the rumour Taurlaegel tells me true - that he once tried to throw Lord Glorfindel?"

"I am told he tried, once." Rowanna grinned as she remembered the tale. "He did not attempt it again! He is the most capricious beast I ever knew, and seems to take in favour or against his riders entirely on a whim. It's pure chance he has decided he likes me, and has never tried to get me off his back - I doubt I could stay on long if he did!"

"But are not the folk of Rohan famous horse-lords?" the Wood-Elf enquired curiously. Rowanna chuckled in delight.

"Does the fame of the Riddermark then reach even to your northern woods? Even so, an Elven stallion in a temper stretches all my skill, I assure you!"

Conversation rose and fell about them in the hall. Soon afterwards, one of the harpists slipped smoothly from her sprinkling of tuning-chords into a flowing accompaniment; an Elf whose long black hair fell unbraided down his back stepped forward to face the listeners, and the singing began. Nothing stirred but the flames of candle and torch; the whole hall was in rapt silence, and Legolas and Rowanna perched motionless on a couple of stools, leaning forward intently to listen. To begin with, Rowanna tried hard to decipher the words of the song - she gathered that it was about the Blessed Realm, which Bilbo had spoken of, and caught the names of several of the Valar - but soon the pure beauty of the endless stream of notes carried her away, and she let herself drift, absorbing such meaning as she could from the music's tone and flow.

At last the singer's clear, cool melody drew to a close; the harpist's final notes rippled into a long, deep stillness, out of which at length appreciative murmurs rose. A few of the company got up and moved about the hall; Rowanna saw with unease the bear-like figure of Boromir of Gondor, on his feet and working through the crowd towards them. To her relief, she caught sight of Bilbo on the other side of the hall, signalling for her to join him and Frodo.

"I must go to Bilbo, Legolas. Will you join me?" The Wood-elf shook his head, though his smile sparkled in his eyes.

"Thank you, brennilen, but no; the stars are up, and I think it is time I was among the trees!" He was swiftly on his feet, giving her his hand to rise. "Until another time, lady; goodnight..." He cast her one final smiling glance of - pleasure? amusement? she could not read it - and was gone.

As she reached the Hobbits, Rowanna turned back to look for Legolas; but large though the Hall was, he already seemed to have vanished entirely as though he had never been there. Back to his beloved woods! she thought with a smile. May he have joy of them... more than he found in this company, at any rate.

By the time she was seated alongside Bilbo and Frodo, and Bilbo was explaining to both his eager listeners the history and meaning of the song they had heard, Legolas had slipped silently through the great doors, through the shadows of the great entrance-hall, and was turning his face up to the starlight with a sigh of relief. Shaking his head with a smile, he broke into a run, away from the House, towards the familiar dark shapes of the oak and beech rising from the valley slopes.

~~~

Author's Notes:

Tiro fennas, brennilen! - "Watch the doorway, my lady!"

Elen síla am lúmen vín govaded - a star shines upon the time of our meeting (Elen and lúmen are Old Sindarin, according to Ardalambion. I have a hunch Bilbo might have a bit of a poetical affection for the slightly flowerier-sounding O.S.)

Le suilannad - lit. "To you greeting".

Mae govannen, nín hîr = "Well met, my lord".

The idea that Elves show appreciation of a fine musical or poetic performance with deep silence, rather than applause, was borrowed from Philosopher At Large.


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