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The morning after Lord Faramir’s return to Osgiliath was gloomy and gray. The clouds that had rolled in the previous day settled down like a great hoary hen roosting upon the earth, drowning the fields and cities with her steady downpour. From every window and every campanile, from the watchtowers and the ramparts, folk looked out over the sere landscape cloaked in downy, misty gloom, watching the rivulets cut little canyons through the earth, flattening the grasses and running in small torrents between the broken pavers of the city. All bethought to themselves that on the morrow the Tournament would surely be called off.
The sun, however, did not hold to those gloomy predictions and thrust the clouds aside that evening, turning the sodden fields from pale colorless gray to brilliant blood-red and orange by means of a fiery sunset; the people looked up at the clearing sky, with its tattered scattering clouds, with hope, and the knights began to polish their armour.
The dawn of the final day of the Tournament was brilliantly golden, the sunlight flashing through the clean air and upon the soaked fields to glitter sparkling on water droplets and in puddles; clouds of white touched with gold hurried quickly across the deep dome of blue, and clouds of black starlings touched with white speckles echoed this movement in their flight from treetop to treetop. Belecthor’s men set to work preparing the barriers and the jousting quadrangle, and as early as the hour following breakfast, folk began to gather to watch the foot combat, anxious for a prime spot.
Belecthor had thoughtfully provided hastily-constructed stands about the barriers, and opened up the back of the stadium too, to provide extra seating for the additional people, the orphans and widows of Amon Din and also the Elves of Mirkwood. They settled and commingled, almost indistinguishable in the crowds one from the other; and as Faramir walked to his seats behind the royal box he passed many people in chattering groups, and smiled to see Thranduil’s and Legolas’ folk interspersed with his own, laughing and singing and talking. Here and there he would see some child, recently bereft of home and sire, sitting beside an Elf or Elf maiden, eagerly conversing as though with his own kind; and here and there also he would see some knight, clad not in armour but in a simple doublet, deep in discussion with one of the archers or scouts of Eryn Lasgalen.
He went into the royal box to the back, where the cloths had been pulled away, and saw a great crowd had gathered there; Elessar and his Queen had already come, and sat side by side, he in black and she in silver. To their left sat his own Lady, splendid in pale green, her golden hair wound into a living coronet about her head; to her other side sat Thranduil and Edlothiel in green and yellow. Many others sat about them, and when Faramir approached one of them turned and saw him; it was Galás. He grinned and waved, then made to heave himself to his feet; but seeing his grimace of pain Faramir waved him back to his seat.
“There is no need of ceremony when the warrior is wounded,” he chided the seneschal, but let the Elf kiss his hand anyway. “How do you feel, good Galás?”
“Well, I shall not volunteer for pincushion duty again any time soon,” laughed the Elf. “I am better, thank you, my Lord; King Elessar guesses the arrow broke one of my ribs, and that is why I find it so difficult to rise and to sit. So long as I remain still it is not so bad.”
“You will have to recover from this hurt soon, if you are to take up your duties under Lord Legolas,” said Faramir. “A seneschal cannot afford to be still.”
“For now Baranil takes up my slack,” said Galás with a grimace. “He is so serious! No one will know what to do with me when I resume my position.” He gestured to Faramir to bring his face closer, and when Faramir bent down he said softly: “Look you to the far right, my Lord, beneath that low curtain! Do you not see man and maid within? Can you not guess who that may be?”
Faramir smiled at his look of low cunning and said, “I have not Elven eyes but even I can tell who it is: It is Éodild and Híldaf.”
“Aye!” laughed Galás. “And see who is seated at the right hand of Lord Baldor, behind Lord Orodreth!”
“Hallas and Dirhael,” said Faramir, laughing also. “That is two, good Galás; is there yet a third pair of turtle-doves cosseted hereabouts? For it is said in my land that good things happen in threes.”
“Alas, no,” said the seneschal with an exaggerated sigh. “I had hoped Andunië or Dúrfinwen, or perhaps Queen Undómiel’s maid Leithiel would have proved to be adequate huntresses, but it does not seem to be so – still my noble quarry remains untrapped. It is quite vexing; my Lady Edlothiel charged me with finding him a consort, and so far I am thwarted.”
“It is early days yet,” said the Lord of Emyn Arnen, clapping Galás on the shoulder and rising to find his chair. “Perhaps during the feast tonight he may show a preference.”
He kissed his lady and greeted the two royal couples, then sat upon his cushioned chair with a feeling of deep relief. Éowyn smiled at him and took his hand in hers, and he brought her fingers to his lips.
“You are thankful, are you not, my Lord, that this is indeed the final day of the Tournament?” she asked him gently.
“I am,” he admitted. “Naught has gone according to plan; there have been interruptions and deadly interludes throughout these games, and I confess I shall be pleased to see them come to a conclusion at long last.”
“I acknowledge I shall not miss the interruptions at all,” she laughed, “but I am sorry to see the Tournament come to an end – to this end, anyway. I had hoped it would be a clean sweep of some diverse mighty knights, rising to a stirring conclusion upon the sands of the quadrangle, and instead we have had treason and treachery, caltrops and conundrums enough to fill a book. But I am glad Belecthor decided to end the Tournament in this way – at least our people will have some festivity to lighten their autumn, before the work commences of rebuilding the city and finding homes for everyone; and also there shall be a final winner – it would be distressing to have the contest uncompleted; I should always feel as though I had left some great thing undone.”
Then Belecthor strode into the barrier, flanked by his herald and men-at-arms, and the stands erupted with cheers which grew in volume as the first two knights approached the barrier. Minardil and Vorondil, in deep blue and in gray, stood to in their corners, while the herald with his knotted rope paced out their distances. The people in the stands waved little flags of blue and gray, and also of green and black for the other two competing knights, as each displayed their preferences; there was an abundance of green in the crowd.
“I see that my son is a favorite,” said Thranduil, leaning over to Faramir. He had foregone his heavy crown for a light circlet of gold and silver entwined which bound his golden hair back from his forehead.
“He has ever been,” said the Lord of Emyn Arnen, “but Bandobras informed me this morning that he has received no more tokens from hopeful young ladies. He is quite disappointed, he said, for he meant to sew them all together to make a quilt for his bed – he would call it, he told me, the Frustrated Maiden’s Coverlet.”
The Elven King laughed. “That Halfling is the delight of my days,” he said;
Minardil was neither so mighty nor renowned a warrior as the Gray Knight, but he was a young and limber man and skilled at swordplay, and a fair match for Vorondil of Lossarnach. Indeed the first four points were awarded to both knights, and the ring echoed with the clatter and clang of sword upon cuirass as they travailed together. After a few fruitless strikes, though, Vorondil managed to land a rap upon the Blue Knight’s bevor, and the gray flag went up on the wall. Minardil and Vorondil went forward to clasp hands, and the Blue Knight was cheered off the barriers with the crowd’s esteem as consolation.
Then the Green and Black Knights came forward, and the noise of the crowd redoubled; many began the shout, “The Green Knight! The Green Knight for Gondor!” and the knight in his brilliant intaglioed armour saluted the royal box. The Elven King and Queen acknowledged his salute, to the gratification of the crowd, and the two knights entered the ring. As Faramir smiled down at the green fluttering flags he espied at the side of the barriers Gimli the Dwarf, and beside him perched upon the fence was Bandobras of the Shire. Bandobras turned about, feeling someone’s eyes upon him; when he looked up at Faramir he smiled and waved, then turned to watch the combat.
Malbeth’s black enameled armour had been polished to high gloss, and the white plume in his basinet danced merrily in the breeze; Legolas before him stood slim and straight, silver echoed with verdigris, the great bat-wings flaring out from his helm like a dragon in flight and the red eyes gleaming. The knights crossed swords and stood in their corners, waiting for the herald’s call.
Malbeth struck first, his black sword whistling; Legolas caught the blade with his own with a sound like a bell being rung, and thrust him back. Then he danced forward upon his light sabatons and struck a mighty blow to Malbeth’s fauld, denting it, and removed himself until his point could be acknowledged.
Chagrined, Malbeth came in low, but the Green Knight was prepared for him and blocked him; their swords slid together with a great shower of sparks. Legolas’ next blow went wide, and Malbeth struck it aside. But the Black Knight’s next try struck the Green Knight firmly upon the manifer, right above Éowyn’s fluttering blue pennon, and Legolas’ next blow was parried; they retired to their corners with a point to each. When Malbeth struck again the Green Knight was ready for him: he blocked the blow and flung it aside; then when it was his turn to strike he struck true upon the Black Knight’s pauldron, chipping some of the enamel away so that the steel showed through.
The crowd grew ever more agitated, and the flags waved like hummingbird’s wings; though many also chanted Malbeth of Celos’ name he had made his last good blow, and Legolas of Eryn Lasgalen, with a quick feint to his left, landed such a ringing rap upon Malbeth’s cuirass that the knight of Celos spun and dropped to the earth with a surprised yelp. The stands erupted in cheers and shouts and all rose to their feet, madly waving their little green flags, as the Green Knight’s color was pinned to the wall beside Vorondil’s.
Éowyn and Undómiel were clapping and cheering in a most un-ladylike fashion, and Edlothiel was laughing at them; Thranduil, pleased, turned to Faramir and Aragorn and said: “Well! He did not do so badly, then, did he, for not being a swordsman? Indeed he has done honor to his grandsire’s sword!”
“He is progressively improved, your Majesty,” said Faramir; “I believe that with but a little steady work he could become a skilled combatant indeed.”
“And now we must all rise,” said Baranil from beside Thranduil, “so that the good Belecthor’s men can return this box to its former state, that we might better see the jousting.”
“I imagine it were difficult to watch it wrong-side-to,” said Galás; “would someone aid me to stand, an it please you? Ah, thank you, Beregond! Where is Bergil, your son?”
“With Ethmor acting as a herald,” said Beregond, helping the seneschal to his feet. “Though I doubt not Belecthor will have him up here in but a moment, delivering wine and sweets to the ladies.”
“That is a much nobler profession, I deem,” said Galás.
Before long the canvasses had been rehung and the chairs replaced, and the quadrangle filled to overflowing with people cheering and chanting one or the other’s favorites. Also upon the air was the sound of whistling and blustering, for the wind had picked up and blown all the clouds away, and was shrilling and gusting through the canvas backs, tipping the ladies’ hats and blowing skirts and robes about peoples’ legs. A few bright pennants broke their bonds upon the high poles above the stadium and drifted away, up into the blue sky, until they escaped even the sharp eyes of the Elves who sat with their mortal neighbors in the quadrangle.
At last the knights with their retainers filed into the field, first Vorondil in his gray surcoat upon a great roan horse whose shaffron was surmounted with a spray of ostrich feathers; its fullered hooves flashed as it pranced and rattled its chainmail trapper. Before him rode his esquire holding aloft his standard, gray with a wheat sheaf in black, for in Lossarnach were great fields rich with grain. Behind him came the Green Knight, resplendent in his Dwarven armour, flashing and glinting from all surfaces; his esquire rode before him on his little Thistle, proudly bearing the crossed oak branches of Legolas’ spurious house.
The Green Knight’s destrier, however, was not the fearsome beast all remembered; he did not shake his crinet, nor bellow his scorn to the other steeds in the quadrangle, nor rake up the earth with his mighty hooves; instead he rode placidly, ears turned back to hear naught but his master’s voice, and his huge feet, nearly obscured by the silky white feathering round his hocks, set up great clouds of dust when they touched the earth. If anything he was larger than Hatchet had been, and certainly greater of girth; Gimli had adjusted the armour to fit him and he bore it proudly but disinterestedly, not as his forbear had done. He only twitched his long braided black tail a bit, and made his way silently to his end of the tilt.
Ethmor stood with his pennant in the middle of the tilt (Bergil had, as predicted, been drafted to bring wine to the lords and ladies), looking right and left; Vorondil nodded, and Legolas too; the herald dropped the pennant and stepped out of the way.
Vorondil spurred his charger, and Legolas spoke to Piukka; both mounts surged forward, hooves thudding upon the ground and stirring up clots of dirt. The sun flashed upon the Green Knight’s coronel as it lowered to face Vorondil’s charge, and the dragon’s head struck true to the center of the gray escutcheon, flying off in an explosion of splinters and shards of wood; Vorondil’s lance however slid up Legolas’ besague and fell ineffectively to the ground. Shaking his head Vorondil turned his destrier and went back to his retainers, and the Green Knight bent down to receive another lance from the Dwarf.
While Éowyn was applauding, and Faramir accepting another goblet of wine from Bergil, the Elven Queen leant over and said worriedly, “That is one point to Legolas, is it not?”
“Yes, my Queen,” Thranduil answered her, taking her hand. “He is doing well so far. Look, see how all the people cry out to him!” And indeed all in the stands it seemed were calling out the name of the Prince of Eryn Lasgalen, Men as well as Elves; still in the midst of the cries came the chant: “The Green Knight for Gondor!”
“How disappointed everyone will be should the Gray Knight be victorious!” said Galás.
“O, do not say that, lord Elf!” exclaimed Éodild from the other side of the box. “That would be a distressing outcome indeed!”
“But they are evenly matched, are they not?” asked Baranil.
“They are,” said Híldaf with a smile, “but Lady Éodild will entertain no thought save the Green Knight’s victory.”
“The Lady Éodild and I are in complete concurrence then,” said Thranduil, smiling at the maid, and beneath the regard of a great Elf-lord Éodild was for once too flustered to reply.
Once again the two knights stood to the tilt, and the herald lowered the pennant. Roan and black destriers charged, the roan jingling and jangling in his trapper and the black clanking and clattering in his armour; gray and green came together in the middle of the tilt, and with a great crack and crash both lances splintered upon the others’ escutcheons. Vorondil swayed a bit upon the saddle, but straightened himself; Legolas turned on the saddle, watching him to make sure he made it back to his retainers safely, and returned to Gimli and Bandobras for another lance, his great black destrier churning up the dust with his huge hooves.
“Though this horse is not so impressive as his other I believe it to be the better destrier,” said Éowyn; “it is heavier, I believe, and faster, and not so erratic as it charges – no doubt because it is not cow-hocked.”
“Quieter, too,” said Belecthor with a smile; “and he does not dance about so before the pennant is dropped. Though I mourn the loss of a good war horse I admit I greatly prefer its replacement.”
“Is that two points then?” asked Edlothiel of Éowyn.
“Yes, your Majesty,” said Éowyn; “if your son takes another point he shall be the victor.”
“Well, that would not be entertaining at all!” exclaimed Galás. “I had hoped to see at least two more charges.”
The pennant was dropped and the two knights spurred their destriers to hurtle down the tilt. This time the Gray Knight’s coronel struck Legolas upon the besague, knocking him backward onto Piukka’s cruppers, causing the Green Knight’s lance to go wide. Edlothiel made a frustrated noise and Elessar shook his head.
“How like him!” said Galás calmly. “He always wants the other fellow to feel he is doing well.”
“I hardly think he would endanger himself for Lord Vorondil’s benefit,” said King Elessar with a laugh.
“No, your Majesty, you are probably right,” said Galás; “he is most likely doing this to annoy the Dwarf.”
“Well, he has succeeded,” said Queen Undómiel calmly; all could see Gimli gesticulating wildly at the Green Knight as he handed him his lance. Bandobras stood behind him, wringing his hands together and hopping a little on his toes in his agitation.
“Two points to each,” said Thranduil nearly in a groan; Éowyn and Arwen clasped hands, and everyone leant forward. The two knights stood facing each other down the long tilt, gray against green, and the crowd surged and bellowed about them. The pennant dropped and the knights spurred their chargers forward. Great hooves churned the dirt, the wind whirled the gray surcoat and blue token, and with a flash and bang the two knights met, once again splintering their lances upon each other; this time Legolas’ struck Vorondil in the charnel, knocking him nearly backwards from his destrier; Vorondil’s slid upon the Green Knight’s besague and broke upon the bevor, flinging the round coronel aside so that it went spinning across the lists.
“Now what?” asked Edlothiel; “They both have three points! How does one determine the winner?”
“We break the tie, your Majesty,” said Belecthor. “They continue to charge against one another until one strikes and one misses.” He shook his head. “It is often thus at the conclusion of a tournament, your Majesties, my lords and ladies; the two remaining knights are best at the tilt, and can hammer upon each other for some time ‘til one emerges the victor.”
“O good!” said Galás. “Then I have time for another goblet of wine. Where is Bergil?”
“I hope they do not run out of lances,” said Hallas. “It would be a sore thing to forfeit at this stage.”
“We have plenty of lances, Hallas of Lossarnach,” Belecthor assured him; “they shall be able to cover this entire quadrangle with splinters before we quite run out.”
The Gray and Green Knights each made two more passes at each other, and soon shards of wood, as Belecthor had promised, were littering the ground where the destriers charged. Each knight had amassed five points and they were at a stalemate. Legolas sat straight upon Piukka’s back, and the great horse did not even appear to be sweating at all; Vorondil however held his side frequently and shook his helm as though to clear his head; his horse was puffing and blowing, and shifted uneasily upon its feet.
“It will come down to which knight is hardier, not stronger, I fear,” said Elessar. “I am not certain Vorondil will make the next pass.”
“It was that last charge, I deem, my Lord,” said Faramir; “the Green Knight’s coronel struck Vorondil upon the helm. I was sure he would fall, but he managed to keep upright.”
“This will be the deciding pass I believe,” said Thranduil. He paused, then looked at Elessar and Faramir; in his eyes was a bright mischievous light. “This warlike pastime appears to be quite enjoyable,” he said, smiling; “I would not be averse to trying it myself.”
King Elessar looked upon the Elven King, eyebrows raised; then he said, “Well, then, your Majesty, we ought to take advantage of the amenities before Belecthor’s men have dismantled them.”
“And when shall that be, pray?”
“Next week, is it not, Belecthor?”
“It is, my Lord,” said Belecthor with a bow; “I should be honored to have you try your skills at my tilt, your Majesty.”
Edlothiel said nothing to this exchange, but only sighed.
They waited for Vorondil to collect himself; the Green Knight and his black destrier stood patiently at one end while at the other the Gray Knight’s retainers rushed to and fro, bringing cups of water and cold cloths to their master. At last Vorondil lowered his visor and nodded to Ethmor. The herald dropped his pennant, and the two horses charged.
The roan destrier was tired, and his rider not as alert as he should have been; therefore his lance missed its mark and went wide, while the Green Knight’s coronel struck him squarely upon the besague, so that he spun and dropped from his horse’s back and landed with a clatter upon the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust. His horse, weary and streaked with foam, stumbled to a halt, and the Green Knight turned his black destrier about, disdaining the roar of the crowd to see for himself he had not harmed his brother knight. While the people leapt to their feet, crying his name and waving their green pennants, Legolas trotted up to where Vorondil lay and lifted his visor; however one of the Gray Knight’s esquires at that point helped his master to sit up, and removing the helm Vorondil smiled upon Legolas, reassuring him of his safety; only then did the Green Knight turn to the crowd and acknowledge them with a wave of his hand.
Gimli and Bandobras had joined hands and were dancing about, laughing; the Lady of Emyn Arnen and the Queen of Gondor were embracing, and everyone else in the royal box cheered along with the rest of the crowd. Éodild embraced Híldaf, much to his embarrassment; Dirhael embraced Hallas, who did not appear to be embarrassed in the least; and Thranduil cried: “Did you see? Did you see my son? What a mighty blow, a great victory!” and Edlothiel sat quite still, her face in her hands; after a moment had passed she raised her head, and her eyes were shining. At last Legolas untied Éowyn’s blue scarf, and affixing it to the tip of his lance approached the box. Still the folk in the stands cried, “The Green Knight for Gondor!” until the Lady of Emyn Arnen stood and motioned for silence.
Legolas had removed his helm and sat straight upon Piukka’s back, his bright hair streaming down over his pauldrons, smiling; he lowered the tip of the lance to the front rail, and the dragon’s head coronel grinned up at her; she reached down and untied the scarf, then held it out.
“You have returned my token to me, Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood, as my knight and true champion,” she said in a loud voice; “you have proved yourself the mightiest man – “ she paused, nonplussed with her long-rehearsed speech a moment; Legolas however merely laughed along with the rest of the crowd “ – the mightiest knight in Gondor,” the Lady of Emyn Arnen amended, smiling. There was applause at this, and when it died down she turned to Faramir. “The prize, my Lord!” she said, and held out her hands to him.
Faramir rose, a leather sack in his hands. “Legolas of Eryn Lasgalen, as the victor over all other knights in the Grand Tournament, you have won the prize,” he said; “to you, as promised, from my Lady’s hand, are awarded five hundred gold pieces.” And he handed the sack to Éowyn, though as it was heavy he kept one hand beneath it.
“I beg you, my Lord and Lady of Emyn Arnen, stay your hands,” said Legolas; “I have a boon to ask of you.”
The people in the stands quieted and leant forward to listen; Éowyn said: “Speak, Prince Legolas!”
“I accept the prize of gold upon one condition only,” said Legolas, “and that is you shall keep it, and distribute it amongst the poor folk of Amon Din and the Druadan, who have been bereft of their homes and livelihood, that they may rebuild their farms and livestock, and not feel the bite of poverty. And I ask all who sit here to remember that I go not to the lands of my father, but remain here in Ithilien, to build me a fiefdom of my own; all shall be welcome there, be they Elf, Man, Dwarf, or Halfling; so long as the Eldar remain in Middle-Earth shall a remnant of my people there dwell, to provide succor and help to the peoples of Gondor, to the peoples of Ithilien in particular, and we shall in coming years aid and assist the destitute of these lands.”
Faramir and Éowyn smiled at each other, and Thranduil chuckled openly. “So be it,” said Faramir, and the crowds once again gave up their shout: “The Green Knight! The Green Knight for Gondor!” until the Ephel Duath rang with it, and its clamour could be heard across the Pelennor in Minas Tirith as the red sun set.
That night there was a feast to rival all other feasts held in Osgiliath, whether in antiquity or current times; the square was not large enough to hold such a press of people and nobles so the great field east of the staging area was chosen to hold the banquet. Great trestle tables were set up in long lines, a huge kitchen erected beneath a tent sporting three spits, two ovens churning out loaves of bread, and an ice house; twenty casks of wine were broached and no one could count the number of bowls, tureens, platters, trenchers, dishes and pans filled with good things for all: casseroled game hens swimming in creamy gravy, roasted vegetables dotted with blue-veined cheese, entire sides of beef studded with garlic cloves and bunches of basil, huge looped ropes of sausages smoking hot, thin skewers of seasoned venison and onions, speckled trout steamed whole stuffed with slivers of carrots and garlic and dripping with butter, rib roasts so tender a child could pull the bones, pheasant and grouse roasted to a turn, huge hams glazed with honey, veal and lamb shanks simmering in rich wine sauces, and platters of fruits both sugared and dried, raw and roasted nuts, heaps of hot white rolls, buckets of olives and pickled vegetables, a mountain of roasted potatoes with clotted cream, and huge river prawns skewered upon rosemary sticks. While the last vermilion streak to the west sank behind Mindolluin and the evening sky darkened and purpled above the moaning winds, the dimpled surface of the Anduin threw back the glittering faces of the stars in their courses and the pines soughed and sighed, rustling their black branches and rattling their leaves; the field echoed with song and music, laughter and merry voices, as the people rejoiced together.
Upon the dais were the Lord and Lady of Emyn Arnen, clad in the black and silver of Minas Tirith beneath the snapping white banner of the Stewards; with them were the King and Queen of Gondor, resplendent in their riches; the mighty Prince of Dol Amroth clad in blue, with his daughter by his side; the Elven King and his Queen in bright green and yellow, their pale heads crowned with mithril that mirrored back the glory of the stars; also among them were diverse other folk, knights and their retainers that had won glory in the preceding weeks: Aldamir of Amon Din, the Red Knight, wounded but still hale; jolly Araval of Tarlang with his merry esquire Hador; Mardil the Silver Knight, who walked upon crutches; wise Cirien of Langstrand beneath his yellow banner; Beregond and Belecthor and Galás and Baranil, each eating and drinking and making merry. Gimli and Bandobras were there as well, the Halfling at last being allowed to sit and eat, and not to wait upon his master. But most splendid of all lords present was the Green Knight, magnificent in his white bejeweled doublet, with his long pale hair affixed with his gleaming coronet; he seemed to float above the ground, his feet flickering upon the grass as he danced to the music played in the pavilion; he danced with Bandobras in his arms, he danced with Éodild and Éowyn, with Undómiel and her lady’s maids, with his mother and her maids, with Dirhael and all the other young maidens there. At last, weary of this sport, he returned to the dais, and sat upon a cushioned chair beside his friends King Elessar and Lord Faramir, taking from a serving-boy a cup of wine and smiling upon the revelry.
“And have you danced with all the maids and ladies, and having sated your desire for feminine company come to pay your respects to the Men?” asked the King dryly, and the Green Knight laughed, his voice clear and happy.
“I believe I have, at that,” he said, his gray eyes twinkling. “I spoke with my Lady Mother not long ago; she begged me to dance with at least one maid more than once, to therefore show my preference; I responded however that I found all the ladies so lovely and fascinating I could not make that choice and so insult the others. She was not pleased with my answer.”
Faramir laughed, and the King smiled and said, “Nay, I do not believe that answer would satisfy her! Tell me, my friend, why does she tease you so upon this point? What is it about you and your current circumstance that causes her to so desire that you wed?”
“I am not certain, Aragorn,” admitted Legolas, stretching his legs out before him and taking a deep draught of wine. “Perhaps it is that I am at long last leaving my home and settling elsewhere; or perhaps she feels I shall rule my people better should I have a wife. You are safely married, Aragorn; perhaps you ought ask her this yourself.”
“No!” laughed the King. “I have no desire to so embroil myself in this plot of hers. But knowing your disinclination to choose a mate I shall tip the wink to my own bride, that she try as best she might to dampen the hopes of her own maids, who flock about you as wasps round a honey-pot.”
“At least it is only the Elven maids who now pursue you,” said Faramir, refilling his goblet from the pitcher on the table. “Since your true identity is revealed all your mortal admirers have sought other subjects upon which to lavish their attention.”
“There is that comfort, at least,” agreed Legolas, and the three fell silent, watching the people at their dancing. After a moment Legolas sat up, set his goblet down, and rose swiftly to his feet. “Look there!” he cried, pointing into the crowd. “Do you not see that young maiden in the blue dress, the one with the roses in her hair? I am sure I have not yet danced with her; I have been very remiss. I shall rectify this immediately, if not for my own sake, at least for my Lady Mother’s!” He began to descend the steps of the dais, then on an afterthought turned. He looked at the Lord of Emyn Arnen, his bright eyes alight with mischief. Then he gave a deep bow.
“Thank you, my Lord, for the lovely party,” he said, his voice pedantic and childlike, and sounding exactly like a little boy reciting his mother’s lesson in good manners. “I had a wonderful time.” Then with a wink he was back in the fray seeking out the maid with the blue dress, while his two friends laughed.
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