Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 23/?
|Authors:||Mary A and Malinornë|
|Warnings:||Hmmmm, can't think of any!|
|Disclaimer:||This is a work of amateur fanfiction of the parody type and is meant solely for entertainment purposes, no profit is made.|
|Chapter summary:||Mary and Mal witness Thranduil's reunion with Legolas, and then they tour Osgiliath.|
When we reached Osgiliath, what Anborn did surprised me more than the unexpected sight of Legolas. The ranger gave a shout of joy and spurred his horse away from my carriage and rode right into a huddled crowd of cloaked and booted men.
Instead of paying attention to Thranduil's happy reunion with his beloved son, I could not tear my eyes away from Anborn. For a moment, I expected to see him greet a woman, from the way he flung himself from his saddle and into the group of people standing there. Half of me was hopeful, but the other, the nosier half, was jealous. If that ranger thought he could just pretend he never met me...
Before I could jump out of my carriage to chase after Anborn, I saw a tall, handsome, dark-haired ranger reaching for him and then clasping him in a soldierly embrace. The stranger spoke softly, so I could not hear what he said. Anborn stepped back, bowed, and said, 'My lord, I am at your service.'
"That must be Faramir," I said out loud, although there was no one around to hear me. Mal was escorted from her carriage by Thaladir, to join Thranduil and Legolas, and the other elves had all reached him before she could. I was left alone. It was an interesting position to be in, since there were scads of gorgeous rangers, all wearing cloaks and knee-high boots, in my immediate vicinity. I smiled at the ones who glanced my way and eventually a few of the braver souls strolled over toward me, while casting quick, wary glances at the elves.
Although I was eager to see them up close, and at least try my hand at flirting with the most attractive ones, before Thaladir noticed and made me stop, I was quickly disappointed. They drew up and paused at a respectful distance from me, and began to talk quietly amongst themselves. It was obvious that they were discussing me, or it could be they were curious about my carriage and the lack of a driver. As soon as one of them looked my way, I beckoned him to draw closer to me.
"I do not think," I said to him, with a frown, "that it is considered good manners in any part of this world to stand in front of a woman and discuss her as if she was a carriage horse."
"My lady, you must forgive me..." he began.
"Certainly not!" I interrupted, and my raised voice compelled a couple of the other rangers to approach us. "I shall never ever forgive you, any of you!" I pointed at the newcomers, who hung their heads sheepishly. A few more joined. To increase their discomfort, I dabbed at my eyes with one of my sleeves, and spoke with a sob in my voice as I added, "And I am very sorry to have to say so, because you are all very handsome and I was very much looking forward to becoming better acquainted." To punctuate my hurt feelings, I sniffed, daintily.
By now, I had drawn a large crowd, and the latecomers were shooting hostile glares toward the original 'not-forgiven' rangers. There was a clamor of voices, some asking for forgiveness and the others upbraiding the rude manners of the others.
"Whatever shall we do, my lady," asked one, "to gain your good opinion?"
"Well..." I said, and then waited for them all to quiet down. "Answer me this..."
"Anything, my lady, your wish is our command!" This declaration was roundly cheered by the group of rangers. My fun was to come to an end much sooner than I desired, as I caught a glimpse, from the corner of my eye, of a familiar tall figure striding my way, robes flapping. My own personal vulture, come to circle over my dead hopes for at least a smooch from a very cute ranger that I had been eyeing. I assumed an innocent demeanor and delicately gestured to where Anborn was still standing.
"Can any of you tell me if that is the famous Lord Faramir standing over there?" As if they had drilled beforehand for that very moment, and for that exact request, the entire contingent of rangers turned as one, and observed the man I was referring to. My heart swelled with something that felt like pride. I was a Commander of Men. For a half a second.
Somewhat embarrassed of my sudden mawkishness, I used the hem of my sleeve to quickly brush away the tears that had formed in the corners of my eyes as I watched the reunion of father and son. Legolas and Thranduil were beautiful together; so very alike with their fair hair and slender build, their bright eyes and handsome elven facial features. And yet so very different because of the years dividing them, or rather, the difference in experience. One was still innocent, the other filled with cunning wit. One was but a young man, despite being immensely older than myself, the other looking the same if it hadn't been for the depth of his eyes. One was a dear friend sorely missed, and the other - my love and the centre of my world.
I sniffed and pressed the edge of my sleeve to my face again, dabbing my cheeks lightly. It was such a beautiful setting; the elves, the white ruins of Osgiliath and the moon mirrored in the dark water that sloshed gently against the quays. If only these stupid tears would stop!
"My lady?" I turned to look at the tall figure of the Elvenking's seneschal, who now stood by my side.
"It's nothing, Your Excellency." Thaladir sounded concerned and I didn't want to worry him when there was nothing to be worried about.
"It most certainly is, my lady. The drops of ophtalmic fluid on your left cheek are clearly visible." Now he sounded worried in earnest. "Allow me to, furthermore, point out that a loss of perceptual capacity bereaving you the sensory registrations of your facial skin is a most serious condition."
"Thaladir!" Apparently his studies of humankind had not yet covered such a common thing as tears of joy. But then, he was unemotional even for an elf. "If you must know," I told him, "humans can cry even when they are not sad. It's natural and nothing to worry about. And when I told you it was nothing, it was not because I couldn't feel that my face was wet, but because I didn't need any help or concern."
"So, my lady, your reported lack of sensation was a lie," he stated calmly, but in a firm voice.
"No! It was just a simple way of telling that I wanted you to stop caring about it." He was quiet for a few moments and I could almost see him recording in his head, department for modern human females, that the phrase 'it's nothing' equals 'I am most grateful for thy kind concern, Your Excellency; I bid thee, however, notice that the phenomenon in question is merely a natural expression of human emotions and neither worthy, nor in need of, thine attention.'
"I see," came his curt reply. "You will, however," he continued, "remember that caring for His Majesty's property is my foremost concern. It was therefore incorrect to assume that your emotional reactions are of no consequence to me."
"Yes, Your Excellency." There was no use in continuing the discussion. But it was nice to hear that he cared about me, even if he pretended that it was only out of his sense of duty.
As I turned my head back to the touching scene of Thranduil and Legolas, I saw in the corner of my eye how Mary was surrounded by a group of suddenly appearing rangers. The flirt! Having her personal pup Anborn wasn't enough, apparently, so now she was looking for more easy conquests among these sweaty men with more muscles than brains! But wait, wasn't the redhead with freckles rather cute, the one holding a torch? Or the slightly shorter one with black hair to his shoulders? He was almost as handsome as Anborn...
I realised to my horror that I was jealous; I wanted a man, too! Hadn't Thranduil said just a few days ago that I would sleep with one, eventually? Maybe the time had come now. Soon I would smell his manly scent as he lowered his heavy body upon me, and I would sigh and moan with pleasure as he had his way with me, or I with him, depending on how one chose to see it. Maybe it would indeed be one of the rangers in the group, many of which were quite fetching, at least in poor light. Who cared if he couldn't read, as long as he knew how to...
I felt a 'no' forming in my head, but it was gentle, not the hard command the Elvenking had issued on earlier occasions. It came with an aura of heart-warming laughter, as if he was even amused with my thoughts now, and pleased. Thaladir was neither.
"It appears," he said, "that the solemn and joyous moment previously occupying your mind has passed. Your eyes are dry, my lady." I could swear he knew what I was thinking about.
"They are, Your Excellency," I replied with a small curtsey. I could afford to be nice to him. Or, rather, I had to be if I wanted to count on his company for the night. Even an elven seneschal in a bad mood is better than nothing. Immensely better, actually. I made another curtsey, deeper this time and with my eyes modestly downcast. It worked; Thaladir not only refrained from any further query into my state of mind, but turned his attention to Mary and the men.
Not one of the worthy rangers were able to answer my question, sadly, because Thaladir arrived just when I finished asking it. The dour-faced seneschal did not say much, he did not have to say anything, but he did bow to the rangers, and muttered, "Good day, young men," in his dry, brittle-as-ice tone tone. It sounded more like a dismissal than a greeting.
"Lady Mary," Thaladir addressed me, "His Majesty requests your presence at his side." As he spoke, he opened my carriage door and extended his elbow.
"Wait, please, kind sir," This came from the first ranger that had approached me, the one who I said that I would never forgive. The one I most wanted to smooch. His aggrieved tone matched the worried expression on his face, and even the hard-hearted seneschal had to take a step back to pay attention. I knew what he wanted before he asked.
"I forgive you, silly," I said. Then I held my hand out to Thaladir, and smiled at all of the rangers, who reminded me suddenly, as I stood on the ground before them, of the ents at Isengard. Their worried faces turned sunny in unison.Before I let this kind of power go to my head, I reminded myself, or the king stuck his nose into my thoughts and informed me, I must remember that these were not ordinary soldiers. They were not even ordinary disciplined troops; these were Numenoreans, what was left of them, and they probably thought as one in much the same way that elves do.
Their uniform reactions, the turning and their smiles, were not necessarily an indication of the power of my feminine wiles, as much as they were an indication that this group of men shared a powerful bond with each other. I truly hoped that I would be able to spend some time with them. In contrast to the men of Rohan, these Ithilien rangers appeared to be more civilized and worldly.
As soon as Thaladir and I were beyond hearing distance of the rangers, I asked him, "Do the rangers see mortals glow in the same way elves do?"
For a few moments, I thought Thaladir was not going to answer me before we arrived to where the king was waiting. The seneschal frowned down at me, and then his expression lightened as if he had just realized something. "Lady Mary," he said at last, "you are not lacking in the unique qualities that are most advantageous for drawing forth the attention of the Edain, with or without their ability to detect any other form of visible manifestation of your womanliness."
"Thank you," I said. "I think."
As soon as Thaladir returned with Mary, Legolas led us to what had once been a festive hall. Now, all that remained were the floor - surprisingly intact with mosaics depicting stars on a dark sky - and walls on three sides. The roof was gone, and the opening where the fourth wall should have been offered a splendid view of the Anduin, at least to elves. To me, it was mostly a dark, empty hole. The walls that were there had arched doorways and empty windows, which created an illusion of almost not being there at all. Between the window openings burned torches, their light spreading a warm, cozy tint on the walls. Altogether, despite its ruinous state, the hall was still a good place for a party.
Part of the lack of furniture had been bridged by a few, smaller, broken columns and piles of bricks. These served as tables, and Thaladir swiftly organized to have a number of blanket fetched to sit on. Soon there were elves everywhere, the ones who had come with us, and others that were with Legolas. The men, explained the seneschal, had their own gathering some distance away. On a question from Mary, he added that we would indeed meet with some of them at a later point, but it had not been deemed proper to invite them and thus intrude upon His Majesty's reunion with his son. Not even though the group of rangers was headed by Lord Faramir.
Before long, I was drinking and chatting as merrily as any elf, happy to again see so many elves together. For a long time I was content with that, but as I began to feel sleepy, a question that nobody has yet touched upon appeared in my head. What was Legolas doing in Osgiliath?
The explanation was given soon enough, but, as could be expected, not soon enough for Mary. Apparently, she hadn't thought about it before either, but now she tried to slip in a question into the elves' conversation whenever the opportunity was given. The king, if he knew, which he must have, said nothing. Neither did Legolas, not until the next day. Instead we had to listen to Thaladir's most droning voice as he carefully recounted to His Royal Highness Legolas of Greenwood every detail of our travels since we left the Mirkwood caverns several weeks earlier.
After breakfast, during a courtesy tour among what was left of the City of the Stars, Legolas finally let us mortals into the secret that the elves had long shared. He had left the Greenwood just days after Celeborn had taken over rule there, and travelled south with a group of wood-elves. His companions were mostly the younger of the elves living in houses and flets near the entrance to the caves, but there was also a contingent of the wilder breed of elves, those that used to dwell much further into the woods.
"They were not easily persuaded to go," said Legolas. "They have dwelt in the forest since the world was young and the trees fresh and free, and when darkness spread they just moved further into the mirk."
"Why bring them on such a trip, then?" I asked. "Couldn't you just have left them alone?" Legolas laughed; a merry, pealing sound.
"They make poor travel companions, you are right about that!" He laughed again. "Every time we would meet someone on the road, they would disappear into the trees half a day in advance!" He looked around in an exaggerated imitation of a terrified wood-elf, but grew serious when our giggles had ebbed out.
"I need them," he continued. "Although the lands to the south and east are fair, I did not come here for leisure. The fear that the putrid one and his dark minions brought here may be gone on the surface, but it lingers still in the soil. Water and air are fresh again, and no orch-speech fouls these surroundings. But it is not enough; the trees yet need no be healed, as all the other living things that were long under the shadow of Mordor. The elves of my father's forest have that knowledge, and the power runs strongest in the ones that have never left their old ways."
"It sounds more like a job for ents," remarked I.
"Only they are even less likely to go anywhere," said Mary.
"You are right, both of you," said Legolas. "According to Treebeard, there were once ents on both sides of the Anduin, and especially the south of Greenwood were full of them."
"And that's where Feredir and his friends used to live?" I asked.
"Precisely," said Legolas with a grin. "Apparently, the woods of Ithilien were once equal to those of the north, but we hope to restore them, in time. As soon as our outpost is ready."
"Speaking about time," said Mary with an expression that was far too innocent to be true, "how come you left after us, but have already been here long enough to settle down like that?"
"Eagles?" said I with a shrug.
"No," replied Legolas. "Gwaihir the Windlord is only to be called upon in great need. Most of the way we came in boats, down the river."
"Boats!" Mary sounded annoyed. "Don't say we could have travelled here comfortably by boat, rather than spending weeks and weeks in cramped carriages on dusty roads!"
"We could," said another, very familiar voice. Thranduil had joined us silently and had probably heard most of our conversation. "If you look at the itinerary that my seneschal has so carefully prepared for you, you will notice that the Anduin runs all the way from my lands to Gondor. But," he continued smoothly, "I was under the impression that both of you, and especially Mary, found the crampedness of boats even less bearable than that of carriages."
"The carriages are good," said I. Mary was lost of speech for a rare moment. "And they aren't cramped at all, especially yours." Thranduil looked satisfied.
"Besides," said the king, "attempting to visit Edoras by boat would have met with certain difficulties." He winked, kissed both Mary and me, and then left us.
"Boats are more agreeable than I thought as I child," said Legolas. "I once fell into the Forest River from a poorly made raft and couldn't speak for two days."
"You didn't fall asleep?"
"No, the water does not affect elves the same way it does with mortals. But my father was furious. He thought the river should know better than bear hand, I mean, water, on the king's son." He smiled at the memory. "Now, I even felt tempted not to stop in Osgiliath, but to sail all the way to the coast. Maybe, one day I will. Who knows?" He looked wistful for a moment. "There is much work to be done first," he continued in his usual, merry voice. "And a midday meal. My ladies, the tour is over."
We toured Osgiliath the next day, after breakfast, and I could not help but notice that the entire city was in total and complete ruins. There were very few intact buildings, and even those had great gaping holes in their walls. Everything had an ancient look and smell of utter decay and neglect, and the unmistakable marks of past battles, centuries worth. Behind all the broken and blasted structures, the mountains of Mordor loomed in the distance. It was unsettling. Legolas assured me that the city was being restored, slowly and carefully.
Thaladir droned on about the former glory of this 'Citadel of the Host of Stars', which is what the Sindarin word Osgiliath means. The most prominent building, still intact, had a great rounded top. It was called the 'Dome of Stars' and once held a palantir. I asked if it was, perhaps, the one which drove Denethor mad? Thaladir did not know.
From the corner of my eye, I caught a slight movement, turned to look, and was surprised to see Ferolas, the wild woods messenger elf, following nearby. When he saw that I had noticed him, he grinned and nodded at me. He had not run all the way from the elfking's forest, after all, which I had thought was a heroic deed. Now, I felt a lot less sympathy for him.
As the morning drew on, we met up with Thranduil, who drew me aside to speak to me.
"Here comes your last and most daunting challenge," the king whispered to me, and I saw, in the distance, a group of rangers, and that I was to be reunited with Anborn. One thing I was sure about, the young ranger bodyguard was not the challenge. "Tread warily," Thranduil added, "this one is not a fool like the young king of Rohan. Study him for a time before you make any advances toward him."
"Why do I get the feeling," I asked, "that you are trying to teach me how to seduce a mortal man?" But the king never answered, for the group of men were there, and I was ready to meet my challenge, and I had a feeling that I knew exactly which man it was.
With his usual gracious mannerisms, Anborn introduced me to Lord Faramir and then to a few of the senior military officers of the Osgiliath regiment. I realized instantly that Thranduil's words were not an exaggeration. Unlike the younger rangers I had encountered the night before, none of these grim-faced men seemed to notice me after they made their polite bows.
"Lord Faramir!" I exclaimed, not feeling the need to study this particular man for even one more minute before making my advance. "It is simply enchanting to finally meet you, sir," I said, while I slipped my hand through his arm, as if he had offered it to me. "I am truly honored. After all that I have heard about you from the Lady Eowyn, I almost feel that I know you."
Malinorne and I were invited to eat lunch at Faramir's table, which was located near the famous Dome of the Stars, and I chatted to him as we walked there, still clinging to his arm. In my mind, I could feel the king's interest in my conversation. Mostly, I spoke about how much I had enjoyed our travels, which was a complete lie. Having just learned that we could have traveled by boat to Gondor, instead of the insufferable carriages, made it even harder to lie, but I managed.
"How fares the White Lady?" Faramir asked me. From the warmth of his voice, I could tell that he was besotted with Eowyn, and I met that obstacle head on. Turning my head from side to side, I pretended to make sure that no one could overhear my reply.
"She wanted me to deliver a message to you, sir," I answered quietly. "Privately." Both of Faramir's eyebrows rose at hearing my words, but he merely nodded. "But, I don't see how it could possibly be accomplished," I added, nervously, "it is very odd."
"Well, not maybe not odd," I said quickly. "Impossible, maybe?"
"You speak in riddles, my lady," Faramir said, shaking his head.
"I live with elves, remember? You should consider yourself lucky that I can remember how to speak in a straight line when I have to! But, that is neither here nor there, because the Lady Eowyn did suggest something she thought would be practical."
"Only I don't think it is so practical," I answered. "Eagles are not practical at all." Faramir's expression had gone from interested to curious to confused. Now it was a picture of bewilderment.
"An eagle," I explained patiently, "not eagles."
"An eagle," Faramir repeated back dully.
"For our trip to your silly cave in Ithilien," I offered. "According to Lady Eowyn, I must deliver her message to you there, privately. Tonight, if possible."
"Henneth Annûn?" He sounded shocked. "Eowyn wants me to take you to Henneth Annûn?"
"Well it certainly wasn't my idea," I said. In my head, I could hear Thranduil applauding. I wondered where he and Legolas were, and what they were doing while we ate. We were still at the lunch table when he and his son joined us again. The king sat next to Faramir, with Mal on his other side, and I moved from my seat to the one beside Anborn. He had been pouting through the whole meal, probably because I had ignored him while I chipped away at Faramir's defenses.
During lunch, I did not mention Eowyn's message to Faramir again. The idea of taking me to Henneth Annûn had disturbed him too much the first time.
"Are the people of Minas Tirith very much like the Rohirrim?" I asked out loud at the table, to no one in particular, except that I turned my head to Faramir when I finished my question.
"No," the handsome Captain replied seriously, shaking his head and wiping his mouth with a napkin before he elaborated. "Our Rohan neighbors are quite different in many ways," he said, "but alike enough for us to be amiable, and live in peace." For a moment, I cringed, because I was sure Thaladir would jump in with a long lecture on the cultural differences.
"What about the women of Minas Tirith?” I asked. “Do they like having an elf for their queen?"
"All I can tell you about that," Faramir answered, with a slight smile, "is that 'elven fashions' are all the rage amongst the former, ah..." he paused, his cheeks reddened slightly, and then he continued, "the female attendants of my father's stewardship court."
"You mean courtesans?" I offered. "Women who are available for favors?"
"Just so, Lady Mary," he said, with a tight nod. "In the court of King Elessar, however, most of the former courtesans now serve Queen Arwen, and no longer distribute their, um, favors with as much indiscrimination as they had previously. She is a good influence on the White City."
It was a pretty speech, but a sudden thought prompted another question to pop into my head. "How do those former 'attendants' feel," I asked, "about distributing their favors to elves? Boy elves, I mean."
Not being a fool, as Thranduil had pointed out earlier, Faramir seemed to know exactly where my questions were leading. His smile grew more relaxed as he told me how the members of the upper classes in Gondor affected a nonchalant attitude around the new population of elves in their midst, and the women pretended to be uninterested. He had it on good authority that most, if not all of them, were extremely curious under the surface. As far as the former courtesans were concerned, they mostly kept their distance from the male elven visitors to Queen Arwen's court, while trying their best to resemble their female counterparts. The prestige the ladies-in-waiting earned in being retained was well worth the self-discipline.
"They haven't laid eyes on Thranduil, yet," I said with a resigned sigh. "There are more rewards in the world besides prestige." I, for one, would not gladly trade my favor-giving to my king in exchange for sitting around, being bored, while admiring and imitating Arwen. It was at this point in the conversation that I noticed Anborn's forlorn face again, and snuggled even closer to him.
"If Lord Faramir was not so much in love with Eowyn that he fairly floats on air when he speaks of her," remarked Anborn quietly, "I might be jealous."
"How many hours do you think it would take to ride by horseback to the southern border of Ithilien?" I asked him, after assuring him that I was no competition with a shield-maiden of Rohan. It had occurred to me that I should have a back-up plan for Faramir. He would not know how to contact the great wind-lords, since he was a mortal man.
"Ithilien is only a boat ride away over the Anduin,” said Anborn. “From there to the River Poros would take a day's travel by carriage," He thought a moment, and then added, "And only a half a day by horseback, now that the roads are safe to travel. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I think I overheard that is where Legolas will be settling with his elves." Henneth Annûn was in North Ithilien, and much closer. If we had to take both a boat and horses, then I had better get started working on it.
"I will be summoning an eagle or two for a tour of Mordor, tonight," I heard the king say to our host, "I could fetch a third, if you wish to join us." I almost choked on the wine that I was sipping at.
"Mordor?" Mal said in a whisper, her eyes wide. I glanced at Faramir, and smiled at the interested look in his eyes when they met mine.
"The blasted land will not be so offensive to your eyes by moonlight," said Thranduil, to ease her mind. "Although," he drawled kindly, "if you are averse to the idea; you are welcome to remain here." Thaladir, we learned, would be on the second eagle, no one mentioned me, but I knew where the seneschal would want me to be.
While Mal promised she was not just willing, but quite eager, to go anywhere with the king, and a few of the rangers asked the seneschal about the eagles, I patted Anborn's hand and moved to sit on Faramir's other side. I tugged at his sleeve.
"Please, sir," I whispered to him, "Could you ask Thranduil for an eagle to take me on an overhead tour of your new realm? I would love to see Ithilien by moonlight," I lied prettily, and then added. "I don't want to be stuck on Thaladir's eagle, he will lecture us all on every single square inch of Mordor and the surrounding area."
"Ah, but there you and I differ, my lady," said Faramir, his eyes sparkling. "For me, it would be an honor to see and discuss the various battlefields of both yesteryear and yesterday, with His Excellency at my side. I will ask for an eagle, but we will attend to the seneschal's observations."
"Oh dear, I would have loved to have seen that famous waterfall from inside the hidden cave by moonlight," I sighed, as if that idea was completely out of the question now. "But your wishes are much more important than mine. I am a mere visitor, while you live here, and know everything about Mordor, and see it whenever you want to, so it must be much more important for you to see it again."
"Lady Mary," Faramir began.
"And, of course," I interrupted, woefully, but still quietly enough not to be overheard, "the Lady Eowyn's message is far less important to hear, than listening to old Thaladir's droning monotonous voice for hours and hours and hours." I smiled bravely, my eyes shining with unshed tears I had summoned, to show him how understanding I was, on his selfish account.
Lord Faramir blinked, once, twice, and then turned to Thranduil and quietly asked permission to show me Ithilien by eagle back. The king chuckled, but politely agreed to the plan. Thaladir appeared relieved. Mal would have them both to herself, but I was going to have fun.
To be continued...
Chapter posted: June 4, 2008
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"