The Company were gathered around the dinner-table on Midsummer's Eve, enjoying the sun's last rays streaming golden through the open window. There would be singing all over the city after sunset, and rumours of fireworks had been heard – whether that explained Gandalf's absence for most of the day, no-one knew. Just as Sam had served up pudding, they heard the sound of the house's great knocker. Pippin went to answer it, and returned with a breathless Bergil.
"Elves!" the boy gasped out, hopping from foot to foot in excitement – "saving your presence, Prince Legolas – Elves! There's messengers come galloping down from Amon Din, Father says, two day-bells ago, and they told the King there's a great company coming riding down the Northway, all gold and silver and banners! They'll be here by dark! You will come down to the Gate, won't you?..."
"As soon as we've finished supper," Merry assured him. "I'm not letting this amazing berry pudding of Sam's go to waste for anyone! Do you know, I'll wager Gandalf knew they were coming, somehow - that's why he went off up to see Aragorn around teatime! We'll come shortly, won't we, everyone?"
Pippin nodded enthusiastically through a mouthful of pudding; Gimli grunted assent, to which Sam and Frodo chimed in.
"Legolas?..." said Merry tentatively after a moment, suddenly noticing that the Elf was very still, looking at the sun's progress across the kitchen wall.
"I could take Arod and –" he murmured half to himself.
"Legolas? Are you all right?"
The Elf blinked. "I – yes, Merry, pardon me. Come, then, if you must put your stomach before all else, finish up – somehow I think there will not be an inch of vantage to be had around the Gate ere long!"
Not even the Hobbits delayed for second helpings after that; before the next bell all the Company – Gandalf having loomed out of the gathering crowds to join them on the descent – were installed at a fine view-point atop the wall, all the City's bells pealing as the stars came out one by one into the darkening velvet sky.
"So do you have any idea what's going on, Legolas?" demanded Pippin, craning to see into the Pelennor's gathering twilight. "Gandalf obviously does, but he just blows another smoke-ring every time I ask him!"
"As if curiosity had not nearly been the death of you times beyond count, Peregrin Took..." rumbled the wizard behind him.
"If I did know, Pippin, I would assuredly have been sworn to secrecy, would I not?" the Elf responded without taking his eyes from the field.
"Well, that's no answer, as usual," grumbled the Hobbit. "Can you see anything yet?"
"They come," the Elf whispered after a moment. "A great company, with the sons of Elrond bearing a silver banner in the van..." Come they did: as the riding came up to the Gate the bemused, gossiping crowds fell momentarily silent. When Master Elrond led forward Arwen Evenstar, starlight glimmering from her even as the jewels in her dark hair sparkled white, a great gasp went up; and when he placed his daughter's hand in the King's, a patter of applause began, swelling to a cheering wave.
"At last I understand why we have waited!" Frodo murmured.
"You have not waited as long as Aragorn..." Gandalf assured him, smiling as he took a deep breath and produced seven little smoke-rings which hung in the air like stars.
"Look!" Pippin nearly fell over the parapet in his efforts to get a better view, and had to be restrained by a growling Gimli. "A whole host's come from Rivendell - see, there's Erestor, and Lindir, and - oh! I don't believe it, there's Rowanna! Merry, look, look! But I don't understand - did she know all along that the Elves were coming? Rowanna, up here!"
Rowanna, leading Gelion carefully through the melée behind Aragorn and Arwen, was looking all around her; but over the hubbub Pippin could not make himself heard, and she disappeared up through the First Circle with the crowd. It was some time before the Gondorrim thronging the walls could all descend in safety, and there was no chance of pushing through the crush; night had well and truly fallen, and the street-lanterns were all lit, by the time the Company were at last able to regain their lodging on the Third.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm more than ready for supper after all that!" declared Merry, dropping his cloak over a chair with a sigh of relief. "I nearly suggested stopping at the Silver Swan on the way up, only judging by the crowds all along Coopers' Lane we'd never have got there, let alone got anything to eat! Is there any of that ewe's milk cheese left, Sam?"
"Aye, Master Merry, and a good half of the ham, too. And I baked fresh this afternoon –"
"Where's Legolas?" Pippin suddenly broke in. "I thought he was just behind you, Frodo?..."
"He slipped away when we were held up by that big crowd crossing the Steward's Way," Frodo reassured him. "He was going to cut up through those back streets – and over a few rooftops, I suspect! – to try to get up to the Fifth: he wanted to call at the Street of the Jewels, to see how Rowanna was after the journey."
"Well, I hope he'll forgive us if we start without him!" put in Merry. "Personally, I could eat a horse..."
"You'd better not let Rowanna hear you saying that!" laughed Pippin, drawing up a stool. "Come on, Sam, sit down..."
They were clearing the plates, and debating whether to take their pipes outside afterwards, by the time Legolas reappeared. Declining all offers of food, he headed straight for the courtyard, where they found him sitting crosslegged next to Sam's tubs of herbs, breathing deeply as the plants released their scents to the night breeze.
"How can mortals live so?..." he cried when the Hobbits asked anxiously what was amiss. "All crowded together like penned beasts! with no room to turn round nor scent of green to breathe..."
Sam slipped back into the kitchen and returned proffering beakers of both water and wine. Legolas gratefully drained the first and took a long gulp of the second.
"If ever I get home to the Greenwood," he said thoughtfully, "remind me to tell Father to send every wine-merchant on the Fourth a sample case of Dorwinion..."
"How is Rowanna?" demanded Pippin impatiently. "Did you see her?..."
Legolas sighed. "I had no joy, Pippin, I fear. I headed up to the Steward's stables first, thinking to find her there with Gelion; but by the time I made it through those cursed crowds, I'd missed her. Bergil's friend Iorhael was rubbing down Gelion; he said when Rowanna arrived she was so weary – "fit to drop, and looked like she'd barely slept for a week," he'd persuaded her to leave Gelion to him, and got one of the other lads to see her safe back to the Fifth. They must have come down a different way as I went up, or else we missed each other in the mob..."
"Good old Iorhael," said Pippin gratefully. "Was it such a hard ride, then? I wouldn't have thought a company like that would go at any great pace!"
"I cannot tell you, Pippin," said the Elf ruefully, "for I had no better luck at the Rath Míriel; by the time I got back down there, the lady of the house was adamant Rowanna was resting and not to be disturbed..."
"But couldn't you have –" Pippin broke in.
"– climbed up to her window? Believe me, Pippin, the thought occurred," Legolas sighed, "but there was no light in Rowanna's chamber, so it seemed best to leave her in peace. With luck we shall see her tomorrow!"
As he drained his wine, they heard the distant sound of the great knocker booming again.
"Who on earth can that be, so late?" wondered Pippin, as Sam went to answer it. A moment later one of the sons of Elrond – the Hobbits were still not always sure which was which – strode into the courtyard with a face like thunder and demanded,
"Legolas Thranduilion, a word with you, if you please – and alone."
Gimli's eyebrows shot up into his braided hair; through his cloud of pipe-smoke Gandalf sent the Peredhel a sharp look. But Legolas merely rose smoothly to his feet and motioned the son of Elrond into the house.
As the door to Legolas' room closed behind them, Elrohir turned on his heel and demanded through gritted teeth:
"Have you completely lost your mind?..."
Elrohir's grey eyes sparked fire as they met Legolas' ice-blue gaze, but the Elf did not flinch.
"I could demand that you explain yourself, but I am not minded to play games," he replied softly. "You speak of Rowanna."
"Of course," Elrohir shot back, "unless you have been in the habit since leaving Mirkwood of allowing mortal women to lose their hearts to you!"
"Allowing? Elrohir, I know not if you have ever tried preventing Rowanna doing anything she sets her mind to, but I would doubt of your success!" Legolas protested. "Do you think either of us foresaw this, or intended it? It amazed us both! It amazes me yet..."
"And it amazes me that you seem not to have thought for an instant about what it means!" retorted Elrohir, bringing a fist down in frustration on the windowsill beside him. "Elladan and I sat for hours with Rowanna last night as she cried over everything she has begun to realise these last weeks; as she saw what awaits Arwen..." He let out a long, shaking breath.
"I feared something amiss, when I did not find her at the stables this evening," whispered Legolas. "Elrohir; I know these must be the hardest days for your father's house since... for an Age; but Arwen has chosen. Can there be no joy at all for her kin, that she follows her heart?..."
"You still understand nothing, do you?" cried Elrohir. "Yes, Arwen chooses! And as of Lúthien's line that choice is hers; to offer Aragorn all her life, to the circles of the world and beyond. Break my heart it may, but it is hers to offer - as it is not yours, Thranduilion! You are no Peredhel, are you? Can you pledge Rowanna your whole life, as Arwen will Aragorn tomorrow? Can you swear to abide with her 'as long as ye both shall live', much less 'unto the ending of the world'?..."
"I..." began Legolas, stunned.
"Would you give her children?" demanded Elrohir. "Who might have the lifespan of the Eldar, and lose their mother when they were barely grown – or of Men, and be lost to you in a handful of sun-rounds?... Have you thought of any of this at all?"
"I had a lecture much like this the night before you departed, from a Rohir," Legolas said tensely, "and I begin to wonder if for much the same reason. Are you perchance finding yourself thwarted in your own choice, son of Elrond?..."
Elrohir barked out a bitter laugh. "And thus am I shown truly a Peredhel," he responded ironically. "For were I a mortal Man, I would almost certainly call you to account with a blade for that remark; and were I an Elf, it would never have occurred to you to suggest it – would it? No, I swear to you, Legolas Thranduilion, I merely see tragedy ahead, and would steer you both clear of it if I could!" He ran a hand distractedly through his hair and groaned.
"Have you considered," he asked wearily, "the consequences for either of you if you cleave to Rowanna – if you bind yourselves? She is going to leave the Circles of the World, death will take her where you cannot follow –"
"I know!" Legolas insisted. "And I would bear it –"
"How noble of you," retorted Elrohir. "But if events fell out the other way?" When Legolas looked blank, he exclaimed in exasperation, "You're sea-struck, Legolas; I've seen it! What if before another Lithe – or two, or ten – you can no longer resist the longing, even for Rowanna's sake, and are gone? Must she live all the rest of her life with the heart torn out of her, unable ever to love again – yes, Mortals do do so! – because you bound her to you for eternity and then sailed West?"
Legolas sat down heavily on the bed.
"What should I do?..." he breathed, half to himself.
"What you will not do," said Elrohir firmly, "is go to Rowanna tonight – or, if you heed me, tomorrow either. She has barely slept these last few nights – which is how I finally realised, the more fool I, that something troubled her – and she is in such distress that she needs peace and time and quiet, though with all tomorrow's festivities the Valar know how she is to get any! I gave her cousin a sleeping-draught for her – oh, fear not, Thranduilion, Elladan made it up, he knows his craft! – and strict instructions for no visitors." He turned from the window-sill he had been leaning on.
"I have said what I came for. Think what you will of me, Legolas – but in Elbereth's name, think harder on what you are about!" He paused on the threshhold. "And one other thing – Arwen knows naught of this and nor, I believe, does Estel. Burden either of them with it on their wedding-day, and I shall be forced to behave like a mortal and cut you in two after all!"
He was gone; a moment later Legolas heard the great front door swinging shut. Taking a deep shuddering breath, he got to his feet and latched his own door firmly closed, then swung up on to the windowsill and gazed unseeing at the flawless starry sky. The cautious knocking a few minutes later went unanswered, and eventually Legolas heard footsteps receding down the passageway, leaving him alone with the turmoil of his thoughts.
Rowanna blinked a few times, rubbed her eyes and then slowly pushed herself up on to her pile of well-plumped downy pillows. Not on the road any longer, then... she thought dazedly, before gradually the sounds from the courtyard below and the smells of old wood and fresh linen brought memory back. The Annúmellyrn house; Minas Tirith. We're back... Legolas! A wave of joy swept over her at the thought, until something else prodded at the edge of her sleep-fogged mind. There's something wrong – Then she remembered in a rush, and for a moment hid her head in her hands.
I've got to get up. I've got to go and find him – Looking around her familiar room she frowned; something else was strange, something about the light... Then a tap at the door heralded the arrival of Líriel the maid with a tray.
"I thought I heard something, mistress – how do you feel? I've brought you some breakfast – not that you can really call it breakfast, at this hour..."
That's it! The sunlight –
"Wh-what hour is it, Líriel?"
"Nearly the second after noon," the maid informed her as she set the tray down deftly on the table by Rowanna's bed, "– yes, there, do you hear the day-bells starting? And the heralds all up and down the City this morning were proclaiming that the King and his Elven-lady are to be wed beneath the White Tree at the fourth hour past noon, and you and Master Adramir and Lady Ithildîs are on the Steward's list of those to be in the Court of the Fountain itself to witness it; so I'm glad to find you waking, for we've barely an hour to ready you before my lady says you need to leave!"
"Afternoon?" Rowanna was incredulous, then aghast.
"You've slept half the day away," Líriel agreed, "and you must have needed it, just as the Elven-lord said –"
"Elven-lord? Which –"
"The tall black-haired one all in grey," the maid explained as she poured a cup of green tea for Rowanna, "he came not long after the stable-lad brought you back last night; didn't ask to see you, just my mistress. But he told us very firmly you were not to be disturbed by any till you woke of your own accord – and it's my belief, milady, that he gave Mistress Ithildîs a sleeping-draught for you, for I'm sure the tisane she gave me to bring you when you went to bed didn't smell quite as usual."
I'll kill him. Rowanna lifted the tea to her lips, then drew back. "Do you swear to me there's nothing untoward in this cup, Líriel?"
"I swear, mistress," the maid insisted, "for I brewed that myself not ten minutes ago, and the pot's not been out of my sight. But don't be too hard on the Elf-lord – you looked so worn out last night, I'm sure you needed to sleep the day round. And so I told Prince Legolas when he came this morning –"
"Legolas has been?" Rowanna sat bolt upright, then yelped as she slopped hot tea down her nightshirt. "Oh, blast it – Líriel, when? What did he say? Is he all right?"
"He's well enough, milady, except half to distraction because he couldn't see you," the girl assured her as she took the lid off a jar of honey and spread some on Rowanna's bread. "I told him what I've just told you – that the other Elf-lord had given us a draught and told us strictly not to waken you. Though I'll admit –" she broke into a shy smile – "the second time he came, not long before noon, I did slip up here and tap at your door, and even come in and say a word to you, just to make sure you weren't near waking; I felt sure he must want it very badly, to have come twice in a couple of day-bells! So I told him to wait in the courtyard, and to say if anyone asked him that I was just fetching him a cool drink, and promised him I'd wake you if I could. But you were so deep asleep..." She blushed a little. "He's – very fair of face, isn't he, mistress? And clearly he thinks the world of you..."
"Oh, Líriel..." Rowanna sighed in frustration. "Here, pass me that bread. Obviously the only way I'm going to see Legolas today is to get myself fed and dressed and up to the Citadel for Arwen's wedding!"
Legolas drew a bone comb through his gleaming fall of hair, braided it, tugged shoulder-seams straight on his glittering blue-and-silver tunic, with the unseeing habit born of a thousand formal feasts in Thranduil's halls. Just as well I can do this with less than half a mind, he reflected wryly; two fruitless trips up to the Rath Míriel in as many hours had left him with little time to array himself in the splendour appropriate for the Elessar's wedding to the Evenstar. I could wonder if that sleeping-draught was made longer-lasting than strictly needed, he thought bitterly; ...but no, Elladan is a true healer before all. Had it been Elrohir's, now... He clamped down hard on the memory of the previous night's conversation. Not now. Not the time. He buffed his boots one more time with a spare piece of linen, and headed for the stairs.
Around him the house was in uproar. "There's a thread loose on this tunic!" cried Pippin, twisting round to look for its source. "Sam –"
"Hold still, Master Pippin, and don't pull at it!" ordered Samwise, appearing calmly enough with his pocket-knife. "I'll trim it and put a quick stitch in."
Merry came in from the pump in the courtyard, shirtless and towelling off his curly hair. "Won't be a moment!" he reassured the horrified Pippin, who was protesting "You're not dressed yet?" and pattered off to their room. Gimli, growling in the corner, was whetting his axe yet again.
"Won't that do now, Gimli?" enquired Frodo gently. "We're not actually expecting any orc-necks to hew today..."
"A Dwarf's axe is more than a weapon, young Frodo, as you should well know by now!" rumbled the Dwarf, testing its edge on his thumb. "'Tis half his soul, and to appear at any ceremony – let alone a wedding – with a blunted blade would be the greatest disrespect!" Satisfied at last, he grunted and slid the axe into its loop at his belt.
"Well now, are you all ready?" The wizard, robed in white from head to toe, loomed in the doorway and surveyed them.
"Just about!" Merry reappeared, doing up his last waistcoat button. "Though I think I'm going to roast in all this finery – the White Tree doesn't cast much shade! Shall we go?"
Rowanna walked in her green velvet gown up from the Fifth Circle with Adramir and Ithildîs, a sunshade held over her head and Ithildîs' by one of the servants, with her thoughts in a whirl.
"Really, Rowanna, do watch where you're going," Ithildîs protested as Rowanna turned for the twentieth time to look over her shoulder and nearly tripped. "What on earth are you looking at?"
"Sorry, Cousin Ithildîs," Rowanna muttered, her gaze still roaming all over the throngs making their way up towards the Citadel. It's not what I'm looking at, it's who I'm looking for...
Arriving at the entrance to the Court of the Fountain, they had to make their way through a rank of Citadel guards who were keeping back the excited crowds, allowing only those on the official list to pass through into the courtyard. Once within, they were firmly directed to allotted places by a series of equerries; even if I could see Legolas, Rowanna reflected unhappily, there's no way on Middle-earth I could get to him!
And then, just as the door of the White Tower opened and Arwen stepped out on her father's arm, she found him; for once he stood not with the Fellowship but with the Galadhrim and the Elves of Rivendell, a prince among his people. Rowanna looked at him, and felt a sharp twisting pain in her chest: he was so impossibly, inhumanly fair; beside the Gondorrim he and all the Elves seemed to shimmer, as though even on this bright sunlit afternoon there was starlight shining from within them. How could I ever –
Then Arwen arrived beneath the White Tree, and Master Elrond, with infinite care, took her hand and placed it in Aragorn's, and stepped back to a place between Galadriel and Celeborn; and Gandalf, all in dazzling white, came forward, and the ceremony began.
"...cleave ye only unto him, as long as ye both shall live?"
"Will you, Aragorn Elessar heir of Isildur, King of Arnor and Gondor, take this woman, Arwen Undómiel of the line of Lúthien, to be thy wedded wife..."
"...and be faithful unto her, through death's parting and unto the ending of the World?"
"Then before the people of Gondor, by the seven stars and seven stones and one White Tree, and in the name of the One who made us all, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife." The wizard broke into a beaming smile. "You may," he added, "kiss the bride." And to the decorous applause of Gondor's nobility, and the rather less restrained cheers and whoops of those craning their necks all along the streets leading up to the Citadel, Aragorn Elessar Telcontar did precisely that.
Frodo's words "At last I understand why we have waited!" are lifted directly from LoTR Book 6 Chapter 5, The Steward and the King.
The fragments of Aragorn and Arwen's wedding vows are adapted from the traditional marriage service of the Anglican Church, with obvious tweaking as required. I admit a few borrowings in the wedding scenes from the Peter Jackson version, too, including Legolas' outfit!