"Well, this is a to-do, Mister Frodo, and no mistake!" Sam Gamgee ran his finger round the top of his now wilting starched shirt-collar for the hundredth time. They were gathered with many of the other guests in one of the Citadel's several reception-rooms, trying to keep from under the feet of the numerous serving-men in silver and black taking round trays of drinks, and craning their heads in search of other members of the Fellowship. They had all been separated in the crush after the conclusion of the ceremony in the Court of the Fountain; a herald had announced that prior to the feast in the Great Hall which would commence at sunset, drinks would be served in the Citadel, and that the King and the new Queen would be circulating among their guests according to a pre-arranged pattern. As guests left the courtyard, they had been directed by equerries into one room or another, and such was the crush that for those of Hobbit size it was proving very difficult to locate anyone you looked for, if you were able to move through the throng at all.
"You shouldn't be standing so long, either, Mister Frodo, it ain't right," Sam grumbled. "Here – see that seat in the window just over there, where that chap in the blue and his lady have just got up from? You nip across there while the seat's free, and I'll grab us something else to drink and come and find you in a moment."
"All right, Sam, that's a sound plan," Frodo sighed with relief. "I must admit I'm not much enjoying this crowd, especially when it's all Big People! See you in a moment..."
Sam doggedly worked his way to the nearest footman and tapped him on the elbow. The man looked round – then down, and his irritated expression vanished at once.
"Master Ringbearer! What may I do for you?"
"A cool drink – no more wine, just water or such, if you'd be so good," Sam requested. "For Mister Frodo – see, he's sitting over there in the window?" He pointed, and the footman nodded.
"If you will go and sit yourself, Master Samwise, it would be my honour to bring you something – one moment..." He disappeared into the crowd and Sam, mopping his brow, made his way towards the window. Half way there a familiar blue-and-silver tunic crossed his path and Legolas crouched down to greet him.
"Are you all right, Sam? This is not much of a party for those of Hobbit stature!"
"It's a bit of a Midsummer's-fair, isn't it, you could say!" Sam agreed. "But at least I've found Mister Frodo somewhere to sit down now, over in the window, look – he was looking a bit peaky, and I'm not surprised, in this heat. There's a footman bringing us a drink."
"I'm glad, else I'd fetch you one myself," Legolas smiled, then asked abruptly, "Sam – have you seen Rowanna anywhere?"
"Not since the courtyard, I haven't, Legolas. She was across from us halfway up that flight of steps, with that cousin of hers who always looks, begging your pardon, as though she's sucking on a lemon –"
Legolas, far from being offended, threw back his head and laughed. "That describes Lady Ithildîs most aptly, I should say! But I haven't found her since either – I've been working my way through every room as best I can, and I know she's somewhere close, I can feel it – but every time I see a green gown and I get to it, it isn't her. If you see her, Sam, will you try and keep hold of her over there in the window, and I'll look over each time I come through? I need to speak to her..." He broke off, and Sam thought he caught anxiety in the Elf's normally even tones.
"I promise you I'll do just that, Legolas, as soon as ever I see her. Why don't you come and get a breath of air yourself? Crowds don't exactly suit you, either, as I recall..."
"How true, Sam," the Elf sighed. "I would give much to be anywhere but here, if I could only find Rowanna, and have just the Fellowship and Lady Arwen for company tonight! But this evening, I fear, must be endured... I'll see you at dinner, if not before." He slipped smoothly away into the crowd. Sam shook his head and battled his way back to the window, where he found not only Frodo but, out on the adjoining balcony, Merry, Pippin and Gimli seeking solace in a shared pipe.
"Gimli smuggled one in inside his jerkin," Merry explained gleefully, "and a good thing too; I don't think I'd last till dinner without a bit of Longbottom Leaf!" Just then the footman arrived bearing not just one drink, but a large jug of iced water, another of beer, and a whole tray of glasses, "to keep you going until the trumpet sounds for dinner, if need be, little masters." He bowed low to them all and turned neatly on his heel.
"How splendid of him!" exclaimed Pippin. "Though I'm not surprised – that's Falomir, I met him when I was being a Citadel Guard, and he's a very decent sort. Here, who's for some of this beer?"
Hobbits and Dwarf kept to their refuge, largely unnoticed by the crowds, through another day-bell and the official passage through the room of the King and Queen - "for Aragorn knows we wish him well," Merry pointed out, "and I'm sure we can go and call on him and Lady Arwen tomorrow, or soon at any rate, and pay her our compliments – so really, what's the use in getting trampled to do it now?" They had emptied the water-jug, and were a good way down the beer, when the clear sound of a trumpet rang through the room, and the herald was heard announcing:
"My princes, lords, ladies and gentlemen: dinner is served!"
The Hobbits needed no second bidding, and with the connivance of Falomir the footman they managed to cut across, along with Gimli, nearly to the front of the crowd waiting to pass into the Great Hall. Lines of guests were converging on the Hall from several reception-rooms on either side. Looking about him while keeping tight hold of Frodo's arm, Sam saw Legolas heading purposefully back towards them; and then, as he looked towards the other side –
"Mistress Rowanna!" Sam exclaimed, standing on tiptoe and dropping Frodo's arm to wave. "Rowanna – Legolas is looking for you! Oh darn it, Mister Frodo, I don't think she can hear me –"
"She's seen Legolas, though," Frodo assured him. "Look..."
And she had, for across the heads of the intervening crowd blocking the way between Elf and mortal woman, Sam clearly saw Rowanna turn against the tide of people; helpless to reach Legolas, she mouthed desperately over her shoulder to him before the steadily moving line of guests swept her along into the hall: "I love you..."
Well, that's no great surprise, Sam mused as the Hobbits and Gimli in turn were ushered into the hall and directed to their places, and Legolas caught up with them and took his allotted seat alongside them. But what I want to know is – why did telling him that make her look so stricken, and why did he look as though she'd shot him through the heart?...
There was no way he could find out for now, he thought as he took his seat, carefully bolstered for him with extra cushions to bring him to the height of the great feasting-table: Legolas was opposite him across the table, beyond any sort of discreet whisper, and Rowanna was a dozen places further down – on Sam's side of the table but well past his reach, among some City nobles or other, Sam supposed. He shook his head; then Frodo nudged him and he scrambled hastily back to his feet, as a majordomo at the end of the Hall's great dais announced,
"My princes, lords, ladies and gentlemen: the King Elessar and Queen Arwen Evenstar!"
Dish after sumptuous dish appeared on the silver-clothed table: tiny mushroom pastries, quails, fish, roasts, until even the Hobbits slowed down and began to look about them rather than eat. The noise in the hall was nearly deafening, with the conversation of what must have been close on a thousand guests, the chink of glasses and the clatter of plates, and to be heard at all Sam had to speak directly into the ear of his companions. As the second dessert arrived, Pippin nudged him. "I'd hardly recognise this place from the first time I saw it," he yelled cheerfully. "All these silk hangings between the pillars, and all the candles – there must be thousands of them! When I peeked in on my way with Gandalf to meet –" he swallowed – "meet my lord Denethor, it was empty and chill, and pretty forbidding, I can tell you!"
Sam nodded absently, toying with a spoonful of the pears stewed in wine, while in reality trying to lean over unobtrusively to look down the table towards Rowanna. I haven't seen her eat a mouthful all evening, he brooded unhappily; she's just picking at it to pretend. And every time I look over, I catch her gazing at Legolas, or him at her, as though the heart's drawn out of them – those two badly need to say something to each other, and they aren't going to rest easy till they get the chance!
Up on the dais, Aragorn and Arwen sat under a great silver-canopied throne, their heads close together; and I've never seen anyone look so happy, Sam realised with a great rush of affection for Strider and his new queen. Though Master Elrond, now... it must be hard for him, his daughter marrying so far from home, and a Mortal at that. And if he's going to be sailing West... Elrond was sitting between Galadriel and Faramir; Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth was seated on Lady Galadriel's other side and looked, Sam thought, both delighted and very slightly stunned beneath his ever-urbane surface.
As the last dessert course was cleared away and dishes of nuts and fruit were placed all up and down the long tables, the King rose to his feet; the majordomo banged his staff thunderously on the dais, and a hush fell.
"People of Gondor, Rivendell and Lothlórien," Aragorn began, "kith, kin, and friends from distant lands – Arnor, the Greenwood, Dale and the Shire..." He caught Sam's eye for an instant, and the Hobbit flushed with pleasure. Good old Strider...
Aragorn went on, thanking his Steward, Master Elrond, Mithrandir and all those who had played their part in the day – and finally, to murmurs of approval and thumps on the table from the less restrained sections of the hall, his Queen.
"As is customary," the King finished, "the musicians will shortly be entertaining us. Less customary here in the White City, though, is that tonight we will first be hearing a minstrel of my Queen's home in the north; Lindir of Rivendell, with Nenglîr to harp for him. The Queen tells me –" he looked down proudly at Arwen – "that she and Lindir spent much time on their long journey south preparing the piece we are to hear tonight; for it comes from a much longer Elven lay in the ann-thennath mode, which the scholars among you may know," he turned and quirked an eyebrow smiling at his Steward, "but much shortened and cast into Westron for tonight's feast. The tale in question is very dear to me," he reached to lay a hand on Arwen's shoulder, "and when you hear it some of you may understand why my Queen felt it particularly apt for this night of all nights. My lords, ladies and gentlemen; I pray your good hearing for the musicians of Rivendell."
A murmur of anticipation rose all around the hall as Lindir and Nenglîr arranged themselves at the side of the dais, Lindir standing, Nenglîr seated with her small harp on her lap. As she gently drew a rippling sequence of opening chords from it, Frodo drew in a breath and whispered into Sam's ear,
"I know that opening! They're going to give us the Lay of Leithian!"
"Wasn't that the one we heard in Rivendell," Sam murmured back, "that took nearly all night?"
"Yes, but you heard what Aragorn said – they've shortened it, they're just going to sing a few parts. About the love of Beren and Lúthien, I should think..."
Of course. The penny dropped, as Sam remembered with pleasure the long dramatic tale unfolding in Rivendell's Hall of Fire. The love of an Elf and a Mortal – that's why – Then, as he put down his wineglass and prepared to listen, he caught sight of Legolas gazing down the table at Rowanna, and felt a sudden, leaden weight drop into the pit of his stomach. Oh. Oh, lor'. But too late; Nenglîr with a flourish gave Lindir his cue, the Elf took a deep breath, and began.
Mister Frodo was right, Sam realised after a handful of verses; they've just told the bare bones of all the early part, with Beren meeting Lúthien in the forest, and then going to steal the Silmarils back from Sauron and all. They're really starting at the bit where Beren dies, just when you think they've won...
"And thus in anguish Beren paid
For that great doom upon him laid,
the deathless love of Lúthien,
too fair for love of mortal Men;
and in his doom was Lúthien snared,
the deathless in his dying shared;
and Fate them forged a binding chain
of living love and mortal pain."
In the utterly silent hall Sam thought he heard a gasp that sounded like Rowanna's, though he could not see. The rippling waves of the harp and Lindir's clear, lilting voice went on:
"Grief beyond words took Lúthien then;
As Beren left the world of Men
she felt her heart break in her breast,
immortal life but bitter jest
if all that life she'd only mourn
the love which travail sore had borne.
"Beren, beloved, wait for me
beyond the shores of western Sea!"
Thus crying fell she, without breath,
And all bewailed fair Lúthien's death..."
The faintest rustle of alarm went round the listeners: and no wonder, thought Sam, for if you didn't know how the tale's going to turn out you'd think this a pretty rum thing to sing at a marriage-feast, and no mistake! Looking up to the dais he saw Faramir, his chin on his hand, gazing rapt at the singer; he's not worried, great scholar that by all accounts he is, he knows exactly what comes next. And to have a minstrel from Rivendell singing in his very hall is about the best gift Strider and Lady Arwen could have given him!
The Lay wound on, through Lúthien's coming to the shores of the Outer Sea, then to the Halls of Mandos where she knelt imploring before the Valar to plead for Beren's life:
"As at stern Mandos' feet she knelt,
both Elves and Valar listening felt
that such pure sorrow should melt stone;
Tinúviel sang of love alone,
Which fortresses and fiends defied
Yet could not help that Beren died..."
Sam reached for his wineglass, and as he looked up saw Legolas unmoving and rigid, staring stricken down the table at Rowanna as though frozen in his seat. Lindir's exquisite voice carried across the hushed hall, now enacting Lúthien's great plea to Manwë in all its pathos;
"A life in bliss in Valinor?
What joy beyond the Western Shore
could years unnumbered hold for me
if parted Beren from me be?
Nay, rather would th'uncounted years
be measured out in bitter tears.
Grant us, great Manwë, this one boon;
That though our deaths come late or soon
Beren and I may never part;
And beating one with his, my heart
May with his at our life's end cease,
Our paths entwined in strife or peace
Beyond the Circles of the World..."
Legolas was white-faced, gripping the edge of the table. Sam craned forward as best he could and saw Rowanna gazing at the Elf desperately, looking as though a knife were being twisted in her heart. Stop it! he wanted to cry to the minstrels, stop, can't you see what this is doing to them? But the Lay went on:
"And thus upon Tol Galen's isle
Tis said unseen did dwell awhile
Erchamion and Tinúviel;
Beyond the power of song to tell
Or when or where they passed away."
The musicians were reaching the climax now; Sam looked towards the dais and saw Arwen, looking not at the minstrel but gazing at Aragorn, her fingers intertwined with his:
"Remember, ye who hearken here
The doom that Manwë uttered clear;
Alone among both Elves and Men
To Lúthien's line was it given
That mortal and immortal life
Might thus entwine as man and wife."
Lindir drew out the last few notes of the line in a clear token of ending; the harp's rippling music rose in one great, final wave then died away in a vanishing shimmer of sound. Aragorn turned his wife's face to his and, solemnly, kissed her.
Faramir, Sam realised, was blinking hard and wiping his eyes; then the Steward brought his hands together, leading what rapidly swelled to become a storm of applause. The musicians turned towards the guests of honour, looking confused – of course, Sam remembered, Elves don't clap, when they really think something was special there's just that long, long hush – then Arwen's nods and smiles showed them that all was well, that this was Mortal appreciation, and they turned together and began to bow to the assembled company. People were banging on the tables, standing to applaud the performance, and the waiting-staff were once more moving about the hall. In the hubbub, only those sitting closest would have noticed Rowanna pushing back her chair, to a sharp objection from Ithildîs, and stumbling blindly from the table; nor Legolas, a moment later, getting up grim-faced, not noticing Pippin's exclamation or Gimli's protest, and marching out of the hall in the opposite direction.
Legolas leaned against the cool stone of the City's walls in the starlight, still shaking. In his first, blind flight from the Citadel he had wandered he knew not where, wanting only to get away from the feast before he was utterly undone; to relieve the unbearable expression on Rowanna's face when she looked at him.
Now, coming to, he tried to get his bearings, needing something other than the dizzying weight of white stone to orient himself by. The whisper of the night breeze in the leaves of a small tree – a lilac, he thought, from its scent - provided the clue, for he remembered that fragrance in a sidestreet of the Fourth Circle.
In which case, if he dropped down to the right here and cut across that alleyway, a few minutes would take him to the Fellowship's lodging; but...
Are you simply going to let be? he challenged himself. When you saw what destruction the Lay wrought in Rowanna's heart as surely as it did in yours? Are you not going to her?...
What he could possibly say to her, other than Yes, I know, he had no idea; but the thought of leaving matters as they stood was not to be borne. Taking a deep breath, he turned instead upwards once more, towards the Street of the Jewels.
Rowanna's window was in darkness; Legolas ascended soundlessly to the sill, but heard nothing within, and all his senses insisted that Rowanna was not there. He was certain she would not have gone back in to the feasting-hall any more than he could have contemplated doing so himself. Defeated, he dropped back into the street and gazed up at the night sky, beseeching Elbereth for inspiration. Then –
The dream. The image hit him like a blow. The vision I could not shake off, that night on the way to the Black Gate... Rowanna, alone and weeping inconsolably, in the garden of the Houses of Healing.
He turned up the shortest way to the Houses with feet of lead, for now I know the dream spoke truly; and worse, I fear there will be no help for it, because I know why.
The small side gate which led into the gardens of the Houses was closed, but not locked, and the latch gave only a muted click as Legolas cautiously lifted it. Somewhere in the undergrowth a small animal rustled in alarm, then settled. All around him the warm night breathed; though his keen eyes read the muted grey tones of the starlit garden effortlessly, Rowanna was nowhere in sight. But he caught the faint, muffled sound of a sob; and in any case, he knew exactly where she would be, now.
He came around by the end of the evergreen hedge, deliberately noisy, wanting her to have time to know he approached. But her face was buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking, and he could not be sure she had heard him before he softly spoke her name.
She was very still for a moment; then she looked up, and he thought his heart would tear in two. Tears were running down her face in a steady, silent stream; and from the swollen state of her eyes she must already have been weeping for a long, long time.
"Melethen, I –" He slid into place at the far end of the stone bench; tentatively he reached out a hand, then winced inwardly as Rowanna shrank away.
"Don't, Legolas, please! We can't –" Yet even without his touch, the waves of emotion coming from her were palpable; wanting and longing and the steel-sharp pain of newly realised inescapable loss, mirroring his own.
"I've been trying to reach you all day, but first you were sleeping, and then those endless, cursed crowds...It was the Lay, wasn't it? I should have seen it all long ago; you tried to warn me even at Cormallen, but I did not want to hear..."
"I-it was all there, already; the Lay just brought it all out and laid it bare, so that I knew all the wanting in the world couldn't make it possible. A binding chain of living love and mortal pain...They had the greatest love of any Age, they overturned death; and yet –"
"...we cannot be Lúthien and Beren, or even Arwen and Aragorn." Legolas thumped the stone beneath him in frustration. "I cannot swear to go with you even beyond the Circles of the World, melethen– I cannot! There is no such choice in my Song! I know not even in truth how long I may have the strength to linger in Middle-earth against the pull of the Sea, and then leave you -"
"And who knows whether as the rest of the Ages passed you would forget me?" Rowanna said softly, as though to herself. "When all the longing in my being could not hold me to you longer than the blink of an eye?..."
"I could not!" the Elf protested. "Never!"
Rowanna shook her head sadly. "And if we were bound, then when one of us must leave this world behind..."
I cannot ask it of you. The words hung between them, unspoken, in the air.
"We can't – do this..." said Rowanna unsteadily at last, "...can we?"
"I would have –" Legolas choked to a standstill. "Oh, Rowanna, melethen, I have no answer for you; I have brought down armies, you turned back the darkness, but if Lúthien's love could not hold Beren within the Circles of the World, what power have we to rewrite the Song or change the Music in its course? Live. Love. Be happy. Elbereth guide you, guard and protect you..."
"Go," Rowanna sobbed out. "Please – go..."
Once more he reached out, and this time his fingertips came within a leaf's-breadth of brushing the tears from her face. Then, in the first ungraceful movement Rowanna had ever seen from him, he stumbled to his feet and, blindly, ran. "To the end of the world..." Rowanna whispered, gazing after him into the gathering darkness, until he was long gone.
She sat much longer, her breath coming in ragged, juddering bursts, dry sobs with no tears left to weep. At last, moving as gingerly as when she had just left her Rivendell sickbed the previous autumn, she forced herself to her feet and made her way, slowly and painfully, through the City's dark streets back to the House of the Annúmellyrn.
The first quoted stanza of the Lay of Leithian is Tolkien's own. The rest I have to admit I wrote myself (plot, rhymescheme and scansion JRRT's, words mine) as JRRT never got around to finishing the bits I needed.
The first quoted stanza of the Lay of Leithian is Tolkien's own. The rest I have to admit I wrote myself (plot, rhymescheme and scansion JRRT's, words mine) as JRRT never got around to finishing the bits I needed.