The characters belong to Professor Tolkien, the narrative belongs to me, but the story itself is for Laiqalasse, by way of an early birthday present; it attacked me in the middle of the night and made me write it down, and then I couldn't wait until the end of May to hand it over. So here it is...
A Little Piece of the Sea
I stand at the side of the great hall of Meduseld, watching the festivities. Éomer King and his newly-crowned bride dance in the centre of the room, surrounded by laughing, happy guests. Aragorn and Arwen are there, he spinning her around and catching her in his arms. I smile. My friends have always been wonderful dancers. Éowyn and Faramir, too, are dancing, seemingly lost in each other's eyes. It is a wondrous change that has come over Éowyn since first I met her. No longer is she cold and remote, wishing only for Aragorn or death. She laughs and smiles at her husband, and my heart is warmed that she has found her happiness.
But no matter how I try to lose my attention in the dancers, my eyes keep straying to one figure as he circulates among the guests, receiving congratulations and compliments everywhere he turns. The father of the bride. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth. He is dressed in his finest robes for this joyful day, so different from the day I first laid eyes on him, yet no less magnificent. That day when our forces reached Minas Tirith, not so very long ago, when my heart turned over in my chest at that first glimpse of him. In his shining armour he looked every inch the Prince, and I, in my travel-worn, battle-stained tunic and leggings, my leather armour borrowed from the Rohirrim, I felt drab and insignificant by comparison. But this time, dressed in ceremonial garb as befits the wedding of a Princess and a King, I can meet him on level ground. I am a Prince, too, and this time I am determined he will notice me.
We exchanged a few words, yes, the morning after the battle, mere politeness occasioned by the Elven blood we both possess; though mine is untempered and his much diluted, it was clear to me as soon as I looked at him that he had Elven ancestry. The smoothness of his skin, his tall, upright posture, his flowing black hair and clear grey eyes; even perhaps the faintest suggestion of a point to his ears, though even with my sharp eyes I could not be sure. Again I was captivated by him, for the mortal blood mixed with the Elven did not sully his beauty but heightened it, made it stronger, less ethereal. I knew that I would probably make a fool of myself if I stayed in his presence much longer, so I asked where we could find Merry and Pippin, delivered the message from Aragorn, and took my leave of him. Gimli said nothing, but I am certain that he noticed my flustered state of mind; how could he not, when I found myself speaking such fair words to him about the Prince? I could not help myself, I felt that I must say something or burst, so I came out with something about how glorious Gondor must have been in times past, if even now such great men led its people. May the Valar bless Gimli, for he only harrumphed and made some comment about the best stonework being the oldest, and somehow made the conversation into an argument about the inconstancy of Men. In days past I might have agreed with him, but by that time I had seen enough to know that the time of my people, and even Gimli's, is drawing to a close, and that the time of Men is truly only just beginning.
I cannot help thinking that the race of Men will have a long and glorious reign, rivalling perhaps that of the Elves, if such men as Aragorn, Faramir, Éomer and Imrahil are their leaders at the beginning of this Age of Men. Middle Earth is in good hands; when my time comes to leave, I do not think I will worry about the fate of this land that I love so much. I find myself smiling, a small but hopeful smile, and I raise my eyes to see that Imrahil is looking directly at me from halfway across the hall. An answering smile spreads across his face, and although I want to look away, I find that I cannot. Imrahil raises his glass to me, and I return the gesture with my own, inclining my head in greeting. He begins to make his way over to me, and my heart begins to hammer despite myself, but he is waylaid by yet another well-wisher. He glances at me over the head of his companion, smiles again with a look that seems to say that he wishes to speak with me before the night is out. I incline my head again, wondering why he should wish to speak with me, what he might possibly have to say, and go back to watching the dancers.
It is growing late, and soon the time comes for the bedding ceremony. The bridal couple are escorted amid much ribaldry to their chamber, and prepared for their wedding night. I stand back, unwilling to participate in what I can only see as a violation of the privacy and intimacy Éomer and Lothiriel should be sharing at this moment, for all that I know that it is a custom among Men. I watch as the men divest Éomer of his finery, as the women remove Lothiriel's beautiful wedding dress, brushing out her long black hair until it falls about her like a cloak, hiding her nakedness from the audience filling the chamber. The bride and groom are led to the bed and helped into it, sheets draped over them and flower petals scattered on the covers. Blessings are spoken, and then we withdraw, not before time, if I know Éomer, for his dark eyes are beginning to show the impatience I remember from our first meeting on the plains. I am one of the first out of the door, although before I leave I speak a quiet blessing in my own tongue, that Éomer and Lothiriel may find all the happiness they look for in each other's arms.
I find that I cannot return to the hall, as the dancing begins again, more frenzied now as the mood of the bedding ceremony infects the guests. The atmosphere is stifling to me, and I push my way through the crowds and out through the main doors onto the terrace above the city of Edoras. The cool, fresh air is instantly soothing, and I move to the edge of the terrace and sit down, letting my feet dangle over the edge. I stare out over the rooftops, across the plains to the mountains, black against the star-filled sky. I let my thoughts wander, not quite slipping into dreams but not remaining entirely in the waking world.
I am not so far gone, however, not to notice the soft footsteps crossing the terrace behind me, the lithe yet muscular body settling itself next to me. I know who it is even without looking by the prickling of my skin at his presence. I make no move to acknowledge him, but he speaks anyway.
"The ritual makes you uncomfortable." It is not a question, but I reply anyway.
"Yes. Among my people, the act of marriage is an intensely private affair. I am not accustomed to the ways of Men, for all that I have travelled among them and fought alongside them." There was no such ceremony at the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, for it was more an Elven wedding than a Mannish one; we toasted them and blessed them in the main hall, then those of us closest to them escorted them to their chambers, saw them inside, blessed and hugged and kissed them and then left them to it.
"You felt like an intruder."
"I felt as though we were all intruding. And I cannot imagine how you felt, having to watch as your daughter was prepared for her husband's bed." I am being unforgivably blunt, but I truly feel disturbed by the ceremony, and I am trying to find some way of understanding it to quiet my unease.
"It is no easy thing, to see one's only daughter given in marriage for political gain, no matter how sure one is that she will find love and happiness where she is given. But I do it, because do it I must, and because she has borne her duty with unflinching good will; I cannot do less. Although I suspect that her good will is due at least in part to Éomer King's dark eyes and strong arms, rather than to any ideas of duty to her people." There is a smile in his voice, and I finally turn to face him. I have to swallow my breath lest I gasp, for in this moment Imrahil is more beautiful than I have ever seen him. In this moment he is no Prince, just a man, a good man who has just had to give up his only daughter and who, because he loves her and knows that she is happy, is trying not to feel grief for her loss. His grey eyes are dark, and the moonlight is casting shadows on his face, and he is utterly breathtaking in his vulnerability.
I cannot help myself; I place my hand on his arm, though what comfort I can offer, I do not know. I have never had children of my own, much less had to give them up, but upon thinking about it for the first time in my long life, I do not think that I could find within me the courage to do such a thing. I feel my admiration for this man growing ever stronger.
He smiles again, looking directly into my eyes for a moment before turning his gaze to the distant mountains. "I did not answer your question, did I? Probably because even I do not know the answer. I suppose that it is only because she is now wed, and because the ceremony is a tradition so deeply engrained among Men that I must accept it. I do not doubt that every father feels as I do on his daughter's wedding night. If she were not wed, then I would have cleared that chamber without a thought, with my sword if necessary, and Éomer would have been on the receiving end of my wrath. But she is wed, she belongs to Éomer now; she is no longer mine, and it is no longer my right to say to whom she will or will not give herself. I know this, but knowing it does not make it any easier to bear." His voice is sad, and for the first time I wonder about the rest of his family. I know that Lothiriel is the youngest, and that she has three older brothers, for they are all there in the hall now, drinking and dancing with the rest, but it occurs to me for the first time that Imrahil has not mentioned his wife in the course of our conversation. She is not here, I know that much, her place in the marriage ceremony being taken by Arwen as Lothiriel's Queen, and so I suppose that she is dead. I hesitate to ask how long Imrahil has been alone, but he seems to sense my question and answers anyway.
"Her mother died when Lothiriel was five. She became ill one winter, and simply faded away before our eyes. Nothing we could do could hold her with us. Eventually we had to let her go. She would have been so proud today. Royalty we may be, but the most we had hoped for Lothiriel was a marriage to one of her cousins, Boromir or Faramir. The future Steward or his brother. And yet here I am, having given my daughter to the King of the Mark. No, do not think me concerned only with rank. I would have given Lothiriel to no man who did not love her. And I am so proud of her that she has captured the heart of a King, and will give him hers in return. I wish her mother could have seen her."
"Lothiriel was truly beautiful today," I say quietly, beginning to feel uncomfortable. I am harbouring disconcertingly strong feelings for a man who is plainly still grieving for his wife. I try to hide behind pleasantries, and for a moment I believe it has worked, for Imrahil gives me a true, broad smile.
"Forgive a father his boasting, but today I do not think that even Queen Arwen could have held a candle to my daughter."
"Then forgive an old Elf his sentimentality, for I must agree with you. You should not need any reassurances of your daughter's happiness, for she was radiant with it. No woman in Middle Earth could have come close to Lothiriel's beauty today."
Imrahil does not reply straight away, but he turns back to me and gazes into my face for a long moment, until I am almost uncomfortable enough to look away. Just before I do, he shakes his head wonderingly. "I forget when I look at you that you are no youth of twenty. The only thing that gives it away is your eyes. No one who has not seen several lives of Men carries that depth of hidden feeling in their eyes."
I am surprised. Most Men do not notice what I do not choose to show. Only Aragorn can read my eyes, and I have known him since he was a child. I have barely met Imrahil, and yet it seems that he can look straight through me and know that I am hiding things, although I do not think he can tell what it is that I try to keep hidden. Imrahil smiles, leans a little closer to me.
"You forget that Elven blood flows in my veins," he murmurs. "It may be long and long since I met another of the Fair Folk, but I remember enough to know that you are the fairest I have laid eyes upon."
I cannot help myself this time. I catch my breath in a tiny gasp, my eyes widening and my lips parting just a little. Whatever I was expecting Imrahil to say to me, it certainly was not that.
"When first I saw you," he says, "I knew. I knew that never again would I meet someone so fair, so pure and true. And it almost broke my heart to know that our paths would but cross briefly and then we would return each to our own lives, once the battles were over and the dust had settled. I could only hope that you would find your way to Edoras for my daughter's wedding to your friend. But I never dared to allow myself to hope that you might feel the same way. Not until this moment, when I am sure that is what I can see in your eyes."
For a moment I cannot answer. He feels what I feel? From the first moment he saw me? I shake my head in disbelief, but stop myself as I see him misunderstand the gesture, and his face begins to close as he pulls away from me. I reach out and cup the side of his face with my hand, willing my heart to stop hammering so madly within my chest.
"No, Prince Imrahil, that was not what I meant. I merely find it difficult to understand that, while I have been attracted to you from the moment I set eyes upon you, you have felt the same way, and from the same moment. I did not expect you to notice me."
He laughs softly. "Not notice you? How could I not have noticed you, when you stood at Aragorn's side so straight and tall and beautiful, more beautiful than any who stood on that field with you, even the sons of Elrond, and I must admit that they are passing fair. No, Legolas, for I will have no honorifics between us, whether clad in battle gear or robes, you shine."
He takes my hand in his and lowers it from his face, then he leans towards me and kisses me, ever so softly, his lips warm and gentle against mine. I respond, beginning to melt into him, parting my lips and letting his tongue gently lap against my own. My arms slide around him almost of their own volition, and I feel him bring one hand up to cradle the back of my neck, as the other settles on my back, pulling me closer to him. I begin to lose myself in the exquisite sensation of his kiss, but of a sudden a thought occurs to me and I pull back, though gently, for in truth I do not want this to end.
I think briefly of regaining my composure before speaking, but already Imrahil is looking worried, and I decide I must get this out in the open as soon as possible.
"What...what about your wife?" I whisper breathlessly, and he looks puzzled for a moment before breaking into another of those dazzling smiles.
"She is dead, Legolas. She has been dead for eighteen years. Not so long by your standards, perhaps, but most of a lifetime for me. I will always miss her, but I ceased grieving for her a long while ago."
"But you said -"
He interrupts, laying a finger to my lips to hush me. "I said that I wished she could have been here. I wish she could have seen our daughter wed. But what we wish for and what we have are usually two very different things."
"Usually?" I cannot help querying.
"Usually. I wished for you, and now I have you here in my arms, do I not?"
I have to concede that yes, he does, and, feeling oddly reassured, a smile steals its way onto my face in answer to his own.
"Now," he breathes, "do you not think we have wasted enough time treading softly around each other?"
I just have time to nod before he captures my lips in another kiss, gentle and passionate and breathtaking all at once. It occurs to me that we are sitting in a really very foolish and indiscreet place, for it would only take one reveller needing fresh air to discover us, and the perfect peace and beauty of this moment would be irrevocably shattered. And yet I cannot bring myself to break away from him just yet, to suggest that perhaps we go somewhere a little more discreet. If someone comes out, then let them come. I care not if they see us. All I care about at this precise moment is keeping this beautiful, complex, gentle man in my arms for as long as possible. I lose myself entirely in him, and it seems to me that I can hear the Sea in his soft voice, feel it flowing in waves through my entire being; and for the first time the thought does not alarm me or fill me with unbearable longing. It feels right, no more, no less.
The sun is beginning to lighten the sky, and I feel Imrahil beginning to shift against me. We have been sitting here for hours, talking quietly, leaning against each other, kissing as if we have been lovers for years. We watch as the sunrise floods the sky with pink and purple, throwing the mountains into stark relief against the vivid sky. Beautiful as it is, I wish the sunrise had not come. I do not want this night ever to end.
Imrahil shifts again, and stifles a groan. "Alas, I am getting old," he sighs. "Once on a time I would have been able to sit out here all night and still be able to move with no ill effects felt. Now I feel the beginnings of age stiffening my joints, for all that I am still in my prime." He shoots me a reproachful glance that is only half-serious. "Not something you will ever have to worry about, my fair one."
My heart swells to hear him call me that. A part of me is a little surprised at the sudden intensity of my feelings. Is this love? Is this what falling in love feels like? I wish I could ask Aragorn and Arwen, or perhaps the twins, for they would know. But they are not here, and I do not feel I can ask such a thing of Imrahil, not yet. I push away the thoughts of his mortality, so painful have they already become to me. Instead I smile and press my lips to his soft black hair, no threads of silver there just yet.
"Perhaps you would like to go somewhere a little more comfortable?"
"My fair Prince, I thought you would never ask."
We climb to our feet, he a little stiffly and casting envious glances as I unfold my tall frame with the easy grace inherent to my kind. I take him in my arms as he stands up, and am rather pleasantly surprised to discover that he is exactly the same height as me. Remembering my speculation that morning after the battle of the Pelennor Fields, I smooth his hair away from one of his ears and discover that it does, indeed, betray just the suspicion of a point. I brush a kiss across it, flicking out my tongue as I do so, and am rewarded with a tiny shiver. I smile against his hair; now there is a legacy of his Elven heritage that I am rather looking forward to making the most of.
He laughs, a rippling sound deep in his throat. "Keep doing that, and I doubt we'll get to somewhere comfortable. I may be getting old, but I am not yet tired, and I would wager that neither are you."
I feel a laugh of my own bubbling from my lips. "You would win your wager, if you could find anyone awake to take it. I am indeed not yet tired." I let just a little of my desire show in my voice, and I feel his pulse quicken.
"Then let us find my chamber, for it strikes me that anybody sensible should be in bed at this hour."
We kiss again, one more time for good measure, and then make our way back into the hall. It is mostly deserted, although one or two revellers are asleep in corners, plainly having given up on finding their beds. We pick our way through the debris, for the servants are not up yet, and who can blame them? Yesterday was a celebration for the whole of Rohan, not just her nobility. No one will notice or even care that the servants too lie late abed today.
Imrahil's chamber, it turns out, is not so far along the corridor from the one that I was assigned, although it does not look as though I shall be sleeping there again. He opens the door and ushers me inside, closing and locking it behind him.
"We do not want interruptions, I presume?" he replies to my somewhat quizzical look. I am an outdoor person; I am not usually happy locked up anywhere for any length of time, but for Imrahil I am willing to make an exception.
"We do not, indeed," I agree, letting a tiny spark of mischief light my eyes; not for nothing am I considered one of the more light-hearted of my people. "Though I suspect that nobody will come looking for us for many hours yet."
"Hours are not enough," says Imrahil, and I hear the hunger in his voice, and it wakes my own hunger, kept under control for so long. I kiss him, deeply, passionately, pouring into the kiss all the longing I had not truly realised I felt for him. I am no longer afraid that he will reject me.
He needs to breathe before I do, and he pulls away; he is shaking and I realise that I am too. "Hours are not enough," he repeats, breathlessly, "but they will have to do. For now."
For now. My heart sings. Hours are not enough, the short years remaining to him are not enough, nothing short of eternity would even come close to satisfying my heart, but whatever time we have I will spend with him, and gladly. I care not what happens to me when he is gone, I will not give this up for fear of a broken heart.
He kisses me again, and begins to unfasten my outer robe, pushing it back off my shoulders to pool at my feet, revealing the tunic and leggings underneath. Immediately I feel better; I have never been happy in robes, and something tells me he is the same. I unbutton his magnificent outer robe, very slowly, taking my time as if we had all the time in the world. He smiles, and places a finger under my chin, lifting my face to look me directly in the eyes. I see the Sea in his gaze, grey and deep and calm, and again the longing does not take me; and this time I understand. For as long as I have the love of the Prince of Dol Amroth, I will have a tiny part of the Sea to call my own, to assuage the longing to sail West, and for a while I shall find peace again under the trees of Middle Earth.
"It is truly convenient," he murmurs, "that you are building a colony of your people in Ithilien. For you will be close to me, and to your dearest friend, not half a world away in the woods of your home. I am as selfish and possessive as all Men, and I would have you close to me always."
I smile in return. "I too would be close to you always, for it is what my heart wishes also. I should like to see your home, my Prince. I have heard it is beautiful. And I should like to see the Sea."
An expression of poorly-concealed alarm flits across his face. "But on seeing the Sea, will you not be filled with the desire to leave this place for the lands of your people?"
"Not so long as I have you," I vow, and in articulating the thought I feel it become truth. "You are enough of the Sea upon dry land to satisfy the longing in me, for as long as you draw breath and I can call my heart your own." There, I have said it. I find myself holding my breath as I watch him considering my words.
"As long as I draw breath. It will not be nearly long enough."
"That is so. But I was willing to stay here until Elessar is gone, with no promise of succour for the ache in my heart. Now that I have you, my pain is eased, and when Aragorn dies I will sail West and find my peace again." I am loosening the ties of his tunic as I speak, and I slide it from his shoulders, taking in the smooth, tanned planes of his chest, utterly perfect despite the battle scars that criss-cross his flesh. Again I find that his mortal flaws only enhance his beauty, and I find my mouth dry and my hands shaking. Momentarily I wonder at myself. I have never felt so strongly as this in all my long years. Perhaps this truly is what falling in love feels like. Was this how Aragorn felt when first he laid eyes upon the Evenstar?
I have no time to wonder upon it more, for Imrahil is divesting me of my own tunic, running his hands over my pale, flawless skin, easing my leggings over my hips, leading me to the bed, all the while dusting kisses and caresses over my face, my neck, my chest and lower, lower...stroking the tips of my ears until I gasp into his mouth and sink down with him onto the bed, my legs no longer able to hold me. He has removed his own leggings, though I did not notice him doing so, so caught up am I in the sensations he is evoking within me. He covers my body with his own, and it is all I can do not to cry out at the bliss that overtakes me.
He is a gentle lover, yet strong, tender yet possessive, and I wonder to myself how I ever considered myself alive until I knew him. In this moment and for ever after, I belong to him utterly, and he to me. There is no need of ceremony, no words that need to be spoken, for our souls have recognised each other and have bonded, and will never more be parted. Hours later, as he drifts off to sleep in my arms, I think to myself how curious it is, that I came here to celebrate a union of souls and nations, never dreaming that the soul and the nation would be my own.