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Gimli was startled out of a deep sleep by the feeling that the very earth shook and shuddered beneath him; as his eyes flew open he heard a clear, merry voice crying, “Awake! Awake! Awake! Awake, you slug-a-beds; dawn approaches and a bright new day is heralded! Awake!”
Gimli looked about him. The tent was still dark, though he could see peeping through the stove-grate the orange glow of the embers; a slim figure in white whirled about the room, clapping its hands and leaping betimes upon the couches. Gimli sat up and groaned; his neck was stiff from sleeping upright all night, and he was very cold. Then Legolas bounded before him again, laughing and calling out, “Awake, dull Dwarf! We have much to do this day, many good deeds to accomplish and numerous tasks to perform. What; will you spend the morning in idleness? I think not! Awake!”
“I am awake, cease this yammering!” grumbled Gimli, rubbing his neck. “How is it you are so full of vigor, when but yestereve you lay and groaned upon a couch? Do you not desire more slumber? For I know I do.”
Bandobras sat up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “O I feel so thick and stupid!” he said sleepily, looking about him and plucking at his clothes. “Did we sleep all night on the couches, Master? That’s a funny thing, isn’t it?”
“Very amusing, very delicious indeed!” laughed Legolas, swooping down upon his esquire and catching him up in his arms, whisking him about in a circle. “Awake, my dear Little One; great things await us today! Can you not feel them; can you not smell them upon the morning breeze? South comes the north wind with a cry, dancing about the tree-tops, shaking the dew to the ground! Bright shines Nierninwa in the velvet sky, blessing the autumn crops, beneath whose light all joy shall be found! Do you smell it, do you sense it? Great delight visits me today and I am filled with bliss!”
“You sound more as though you were filled with too much wine,” growled Gimli.
“Put me down, Master!” giggled Bandobras, “you are making me so dizzy! What has gotten into you this morning?”
“Down, down, down the Anduin they must come! Up, up, up the River we must watch!” laughed Legolas, springing about the room, his fair face filled with joy. “Wait upon them, beloveds both! Come, come quickly! We must wash, we must eat, we must dress; there is no time to lose! Alkarinque and Elemmiire smile down, Menelmakar himself heralds them!”
“You have gone mad,” yawned Gimli, scratching his head. “You may prance about the room all you like; I am going back to bed.”
“No, no, Gimli, so long as we are awake we might as well stay up,” said Bandobras cheerfully, stretching his arms out wide. “And anyway we couldn’t sleep with all the racket he’s making. Well, I want a wash and a cup of tea, then I shall get us some breakfast. What would you like this morning, Master? Shall I make some quickbread?”
“My dearest, most adorable Hobbit,” said Legolas, falling to his knees beside his esquire and embracing him. “Your quickbread rivals the white loaves of Yavanna herself; what is there for me in Valinor when I have you to cook for me? May we have sausage too? I am very hungry.”
“Yes, you may have sausage provided you get yourself into the bath. Goodness me, you still have blood streaked in your hair! And look at your cheek – why, if it weren’t for the bits of thread Queen Arwen put in there I’d swear nothing was wrong with it.” He touched Legolas’ cheek with one finger, then fixed his Master with a suspicious look. “You haven’t gone and performed that Elven magic again, have you, Master? Is that why you’ve healed up so fast? And I wanted to see it too! Did I miss it again?”
“You missed nothing, nothing!” laughed Legolas, springing up again and dancing around the room. “Soronuumë, Telumendil, Alkarinque! I shall have sausage and cheese and quickbread and cherry preserves and butter, and Gimli shall have naught but the crumbs in his beard, for the sluggard dawdles and seeks his bed.” With that he took the reluctant Dwarf by the hand and began to dance with him, though Gimli sputtered and complained and wrenched his hand away. Undaunted the Elf danced about the room, full of grace and verve and outlandish splendor, until Bandobras laughed and even Gimli smiled; then halting before them Legolas said, “Now, Bandobras my dear, shall I take me to my bath and wash out the detritus of my adventures yesterday. I shall draw up the water and heat it myself, that you will not be impeded in the creation of your quickbread. And mind you do not burn it!” With that he snatched up his cloak and hood, and flitted out the tent into the dark predawn. Gimli shook his head.
“Thank goodness Beregond’s guards are about, to watch out for him in this fey mood! It is long indeed since such a fit took him,” he said. “Mind you, Bandy, do not bother your little head about it! Elves are strange folk and we mortals may never know what whims take them.”
“O, didn’t you guess, Gimli?” asked Bandobras in surprise. “I thought you guessed his riddles. His father will come today.” And so saying he went out to the kitchen, leaving the Dwarf to stare after him in amazement.
Faramir awoke to hear Ardún in the chamber beneath them, stirring up the last night’s coals; the sound drifted up through the chimney to their own inglenook, and bright orange ashes drifted erratically up past the blackened back of the fireplace, like shooting stars in the night sky. In the dusky heap of old wood there glowed still the embers of the fire upon the grate, but the room was cold. Shivering Faramir got out of bed, careful to not disturb his wife, and he dressed hurriedly in the dark, then slipped out the chamber and down the narrow stair. He could smell bacon and bread, and realized he was very hungry.
“Good morning, Ardún!” he said to his servant, who was stirring a pot upon the cremiére. “What is it like outdoors today? I dared not open our shutters, for my lady still sleeps.”
“Good morning, my Lord,” said Ardún, looking up at him. “It is fair and breezy, my Lord, with a freshening wind from the north, and clouds high and thin in the sky. There are still a few stars about, if you wish to take a look at them; the gruel will not be done for some time yet, and I have not even found where the poult has roosted these past few nights, to gather her and her companions’ eggs.”
“There is no need to hasten on my account,” said Faramir. “I shall take a turn about the courtyard and mark the aspect of the morning.” With that he unlatched the great oak door and pushed it open. It was heavy and twisted in age, and the old wooden hinges creaked and groaned. He left it ajar and stepped out onto the damp pavers.
Ephel Duath, the grim harbinger of the dawn, was rimmed about with pale gold. The air was clean and heavy with dew, and though not quite cold enough to crackle the water into crystal shards had sufficient nip to make his fingers ache. The morning glories were twisted up tight, awaiting the sun, and the poplar tree in the middle of the courtyard glimmered and rustled faintly, scraping its leaves together mournfully. Already it had dropped a few in its broken stone circle and they lay, crisp and dew-dappled and scored with gold. The breeze was full of the heady scents of smoke and cool water, and it wandered about the cold stone yard, stirring Faramir’s cloak to whirling about his legs, and ruffling the feathers of a few mourning doves in the clefts of the walls, who flicked their heads at him and shifted nervously as he approached. Through the archway he heard the night-guard give a little cough, and Faramir ducked out to speak to him.
“Good morning, Telemdil!” he said. “Have you passed a quiet night?”
“Yes, my Lord; good morning, my Lord,” said the guard. “I heard naught but nightly noises, and saw naught but darkness and stars; very uneventful, my Lord.”
“Good!” said the Lord of Emyn Arnen. “That is nice for a change.”
“It is indeed, my Lord.”
Faramir walked by him, the heels of his boots ringing upon the ancient stone, and spent some moments wandering about the deserted streets of the old capital. He had great plans for this city, to rebuild its walls and houses, to replant the trees and gardens ravished by the Enemy, to regain its old splendor and majesty, but for that he would need not only money, but people willing to live therein. He had hoped the Grand Tournament would encourage his scattered folk to regard it as a fitting retreat, but so far none seemed willing to move their families into the deserted quarters. “It will take time,” he reminded himself, running his fingers along a low wall, which once had sported rich carvings in the stone banister but was cracked and broken and speckled with lichen. “First they need places to live and fields to till; it will be many years before they completely abandon the security of the Pelennor.”
The ring of shod hooves on the stone road before him gave him pause; he listened but heard the sound of only one horse, walking placidly along. Wondering who would wish to wander around Osgiliath in its ghostly dawn, when the pale stone columns stood shrouded in mist and the broken cobblestones veiled with smoke, he drew himself back into a small alcove and watched.
A white horse, caparisoned in bright blue, walked carefully toward him, picking its fastidious way among the cracked pavers; upon its back holding its tasseled reins was the Queen of Gondor. She was clad in a silver gown, richly beaded and embroidered, with a silver collar studded with aquamarines and a sparkling net over her dark hair; cast about her shoulders was a thick heavy cloak of rich blue velvet lined with white fur. Her gray eyes were filled with serenity and grace, and upon her sweet mouth was a smile of greeting.
“Hail and well met, Prince of Emyn Arnen!” she called, her voice clear and ringing. “So you too come to greet the dawn, and bid good-night to the stars.”
“The brightest star has descended to me herself,” said Faramir bowing, “for Undómiel graces my ruin with her presence.”
“Such poetic sentiments so early in the morn?” she asked, laughing. “You must not yet have broken fast. Is Éowyn still abed?”
“She is, my Queen,” said Faramir. “It is early yet, and Ardún has not brought up her morning meal.”
Arwen guided her horse to Faramir’s side and dismounted. “Well then, I shall sit by your inglenook and await her descent, if you are not averse to my company.”
“I am never averse to my Queen’s company,” said Faramir, “for she is ever very good company indeed.”
“How you flatter me this morning!” she cried, and taking Tyelka’s bridle in one hand she and Faramir walked back to the courtyard. “I hope that Ardún has boiled water for tea; my ride even from my tent was cold. I fear me summer has left these lands, running before autumn as a hare before a hound.”
They left her palfrey in the care of Telemdil by the archway, and Faramir followed her to the door. “Here is Queen Undómiel, Ardún!” he called past the lintel. “She is in desperate need of a cup of your tea, for the morning is brisk and she has left her tents forswearing her gauntlets.”
“Very well, my Lord; good morning, your majesty. Please, I beg you, sit you down upon this chair; it is very comfortable, and the cushions are soft. Put your slippers upon the hearth to dry them. It is quite damp this morning, your majesty.”
“Thank you, good Ardún!” said the Queen, taking a steaming cup from him. “Ah, just to wrap my hands round the warm porcelain is soothing. Well then, my Lord Faramir, my good and honest Ardún, in what manner will we jest and amuse ourselves this morning? I shall begin with a riddle, if I may.”
“As you wish,” said Faramir, smiling.
“Good! Listen well: Who is wise as he is bold; bold as he is cunning; cunning as he is merry; merry as he is rich, rich as he is old, old as he is arriving?”
Ardún frowned, thinking, and Faramir said, “Well, my Queen, had you not said both ‘old’ and ‘merry’ I should have guessed King Elessar – unless he is one way with you and another with me, as is sometimes the case with married men.”
Arwen laughed again. “Nay, it is not my husband!” she said. “To me he is not old but young, young as a babe. Neither is he merry but stern and forbidding at times, as well you know. So more the pity; he ought to be merry, for today is the day his war-chests shall be filled. There! So blithe am I this morn I have given you a hint. Can you guess my riddle now?”
“I believe I may put a name to this mysterious person,” said Faramir. “It is Thranduil Oropherion, the Elven King from Mirkwood, is it not?”
“Is it?” asked Ardún anxiously. “Is it indeed, your majesty, he who will arrive this very day? That would be ill news indeed, for we have nothing prepared, and our own king is truant.”
“Well, that is earlier than I would have thought,” said Faramir, his face clouding, “and comes at a most inconvenient juncture. What shall we do with him then, in Elessar’s absence? How does one entertain an Elven King?”
“In just the same way one entertains an Elven Prince, of course,” said the Queen. “Legolas is not so different from his father, though he has perhaps less knowledge and wariness than Thranduil, and being younger and merrier is more inclined to song than to his cups.”
“Legend tells us of the Elven King of the Northern Realm,” said Ardún, wringing his hands fretfully. “They say he is proud and capricious and stern and given to avarice. What shall we do with such a lord, your majesty? What have we here to offer him that he will not regard with contempt? For it is said the walls of his dwelling are gilded and hung with tapestries woven from gold and silver threads, and that rare jewels hang from the lights in his halls, and the caverns beneath his palace are full of gems and bars of precious metals. We live in a ruin, O Queen, and lest Lord Faramir take him to the White Tower I am certain he will find no comforts here.”
“Nay, good Ardún!” chided Arwen. “The Elven King is proud, it is true; but it is the pride of a rich and powerful monarch holding firm sway over a land long locked in deadly conflict. And as to those other attributes you lay upon him, they are but the ignorant bleatings of ill-mannered and ill-schooled men who knew nothing of this prince of Doriath, he who has fought and suffered and gained glory over the ages. If he is stern, he has every right and privilege, since Dol Guldur itself threatened his realm; if he is given to avarice, it is merely as a buffer for his people against want; lastly addressing the charge of his caprices, may not a king do as he will in his own palace? And as to where your Lord shall put him, why should this ancient warrior be affronted by ruin or privation? All who would know his true history realize he has suffered worse hardship than this. The plight of our people moves him to pity, not scorn. It is for that very reason he comes, to be a comfort and support to us and to our folk. Besides, these Elves who accompany him in his train come not to visit only but to stay; these are Prince Legolas’ own people, who will with him build an Elven land deep in the forests of Ithilien, for that is the will of your own Prince. So they will not ask of us food or shelter. They have brought it with them, that they will not be a burden upon a land already in straited means.”
“O, well then!” said Ardún, looking very relieved. “He does not sound so bad as I had feared. Perhaps those lessons and tales I learned as a boy were prejudiced anyway, for now I know you, O Queen, I have found you quite unlike the Elves I read about, and his highness Prince Legolas the most delightful of fellows. Shall they stay in Osgiliath, then? There is plenty of room, and it would be agreeable to have these happy folk around us.”
“A capital suggestion!” cried Faramir, “though perhaps the woods to the east would me more to their liking. I shall ask the Elven King when I meet him. Do you know, O Undómiel, the hour of his coming? Or has your foresight told you only the day?”
“The birds of the air and the trees of the fields, yea, even the rocks in the earth herald his advent, but they do not tell time,” said the Queen. “You might ask Legolas before the joust; he would be more accurate in his suppositions than I.”
“I shall, then,” said Faramir, “and I thank you, my Queen, for your timely warning. I shall set Eradan and Egalmoth to arranging his reception this morning – it will give them else to do beside quarrel and distrust each other.”
Faramir sent mounted scouts up the Anduin when he arrived at the Tournament grounds. Knowing a foreign monarch, no matter how jovial and gracious he might be, will descend upon your games at any moment gives even the most composed of men a moment’s qualm, and as he was Steward of Gondor and the King’s representative in his absence, Faramir wanted very much to make a good impression. The scouts were charged with the task of reporting the appearance of the Elven King’s barges, so the lords Eradan and Egalmoth would have a better idea when to expect him. Those two men were unhappy with the news the Lord of Emyn Arnen gave them that morning; both looked at him with similar expressions of dismay on their very dissimilar faces. “The Elvish king of the haunted northern wood, my Lord?” asked Eradan, his fat face creased with worry-lines. “Here? In Gondor? For what reason, what possible purpose would he have to descend upon us in this fashion?”
“If he is here to join in the Tournament he is sadly overdue,” said Egalmoth pursing his lips together disapprovingly. “To come downriver at summer’s tail end, bringing with him a great host to be housed and fed and entertained! It is very discourteous of him, I deem, for now the king must play host to this capricious monarch all through the long winter.”
“Well, perhaps not,” said Eradan, as one who makes a great concession. “After all I hear it is very cold in those northern reaches, with much snow and winter storm; perhaps it is nothing to them to travel under such conditions, and they will leave before winter fully rears her hoary head in our sunny lands.”
“I said not to find them houses and horses; I said to arrange a reception for them,” said Faramir irritably. “I have been assured that they shall find their own food and shelter. It matters not, my lords, for what purpose Thranduil of Mirkwood has condescended to meet with us; what matters most greatly to me is that we treat him with the honor due an ancient and mighty monarch, and so do our king justice through hospitality. Keep your speculations for another time! For now it is of prime importance to compose fitting greetings, and erect a pavilion upon one of the greater docks of Osgiliath, for his company to disembark. We shall need ceremonial guards, and trumpeters to herald his approach, and of course criers to announce his coming to the people, so that when the games are disrupted they shall know the reasons thereof. And we must needs hold a light feast tonight to mark this occasion, for it is rare we mortals of the south are given such a treat, to have a great Elven lord come in friendship to us.”
“What, pray, does one serve an Elven lord at a feast?” asked Eradan curiously. “What foods, what wines do they consume? Shall we have roasts, or ragouts, or mere fruits and cream? What to Wood-Elves eat?”
“A pity King Elessar’s friend Legolas is no longer among us,” said Egalmoth, smiling unpleasantly at Faramir from the corner of his mouth. “Surely he might have assisted us! For I have heard the Silvan Elves are a secretive and fickle folk, much given to their whims and notions. He would have known all about that, no doubt!”
“A pity indeed,” said Faramir, feeling very uncomfortable. “But as he is not you shall have to do as well as you can. Get up such a feed as you would have for any visiting dignitary; he has had uncounted centuries to practice courtly courtesies, so I am certain he will not turn his nose up at any of it.”
“Come, my Lord Egalmoth!” said Eradan, laughing in his jolly fashion and rubbing his fat beringed hands together. “This shall be a challenge for us. Will you take the speeches or the fare? For myself I would rather take charge of the food, for you all know how I love my repast, but as you are not very chivalrous perhaps I should write the speeches instead. What shall I say to him, Lord Faramir? For what purpose has the Elven King descended upon us? Will you at least throw me such a paltry bone as that?”
“I cannot say,” said Faramir, feeling as though he were being deceitful with them but unable to tell them the full truth, for that would have betrayed the Green Knight’s true name. “Who knows what whims take the fair folk? Simply be polite and gracious and trust that he shall reciprocate in kind.”
“It is a strange whim indeed that brings a king from his land in late summer, taking with him five hundreds of his own people,” muttered Egalmoth discontentedly. “You are sure, my Lord, you cannot tell us the purpose behind this visit? It would aid us considerably in our doings to know this thing.” And he looked at Faramir keenly, but the Lord of Emyn Arnen turned his gaze away and said:
“I tell you, Egalmoth, I cannot say. Will you defy me at this late date? Ever you have been my true councilor and ally, finding fidelity and insight in like measure; can you not trust me in this one thing? And if not for me, at least welcome this monarch with all the dignity our King Elessar could muster; think on the glory of Gondor at least, and strive to make it to the Elven King a thing to admire and not vilify.”
That had its intended effect of stinging Egalmoth’s pride, and he and Eradan hurried off to see to the preparations. Faramir sat down heavily upon his seat in the offices beneath the royal box, pushing the papers on his desk aside with impatient fingers and resting his face in his hands. His servant, seeing his agitation, brought him a steaming cup of mead, but scarcely had he started upon it when Bergil entered announcing Lord Aldamir of Amon Din. Faramir bid him enter, and when the Red Knight had been seated and given his own drink, Aldamir said, “My Lord of Emyn Arnen, may we speak in confidence? For I come from the tent of the Green Knight and have certain things to disclose to you, which may not be spoken before those who know not his proper countenance.”
“Very well!” said Faramir, though his heart sank somewhat; he had hoped to call Beregond and his other captains to him to begin the muster but was thwarted by his social obligations. So after Bergil and the other attendants left, he turned to Aldamir and said, “Well, Lord Aldamir, what is it? Shall we not even arrange to defend your lands today?”
“It is only this,” said Aldamir with a smile. “I have spoken to Legolas, and he assures me his father will arrive this day, bringing with him many hundreds of his people to swell our ranks. He has advised that we wait upon these warriors, that our victory over the strange soldiers in my fiefdom may be all the more complete, and give the people of Ithilien cause to trust and not be wary of his people, as they will soon be living nearby, and good relations betwixt mortal and immortal are these days rare indeed.”
“It is true; that will strengthen our companies immeasurably,” mused Faramir; “I would not be so insolent though as to suggest it to the Elven King myself.”
“Ah! As for that I have been asked to tell you this,” said Aldamir with a smile. “Legolas said, ‘Tell good Faramir to be not diffident in asking for aid of my lord, for the son of Oropher is a warrior brave and keen, and may take it amiss if deprived of some diversion, which is the duty of the Lord of Emyn Arnen to provide to a visiting dignitary.’ He impressed upon me, my Lord, the perception that his father would be more pleased than affronted by a request to join with us in battle.”
“And more affronted than pleased should we deny him!” said Faramir. “Well, then, when he arrives we shall hold council here, if I can convince the Lords Eradan, Egalmoth and Belecthor to go elsewhere; and we shall decide our prospects. Will you humble yourself, my Lord Aldamir, and turn errand boy, so alerting our confirmed friends of this? I shall signal you by sending Bergil to you, telling you I have brought the Elven King to my office for a cup of wine.”
“As you wish it, my Lord!” said Aldamir, rising. “I shall do as you ask. And now I must quit you, for Malbeth of Celos and Vorondil of Lossarnach fight each other at the barriers, and I would not miss a contest between two knights so mighty in valor for the world.”
“Well, then, neither shall I!” said Faramir, and he followed the Red Knight out.
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