“You cannot be serious, Legolas,” said Faramir.
He turned to his friend in mild consternation. The Green Knight, Lord Legolas of Dol Galenehtar, Prince of Eryn Lasgalen and hero of the Ring War, Champion to the White Lady and oftimes called the Jewel of Ithilien, scratched his bare belly, shifted the stalk of grass on which he was chewing, and stretched his long legs out in front of him. His eyes were closed and he looked indolent and lazy, like a cat sated on cream; his fair flossy hair spread over the rock on which they lay, and his skin shone like polished marble in the high hot sun. Faramir sat up and ran his fingers through his dark tangled mane. His skin felt very warm and he thought perhaps he ought to go into the water again; however the memory of that shock of icy-coldness dragging him up out of his comfortable lethargy did not appeal overmuch. He stretched, liking the feel of the warm breeze whispering round him from the woods, smelling of peat and pine and dirt, and setting the heat round the rock shimmering.
“And why,” asked Legolas languidly, the grass-stalk moving with his lips, “may I not be serious? I admit I am frequently flippant, but I assure you, Faramir, in this instance at least I am in earnest.”
Faramir sighed and lay back down, rolling over onto his stomach. The rock was hot beneath his belly, and he stretched his arms over his head. In the bushes by the rock a wagtail chirruped and squeaked, high-pitched over the low sighing of the breeze, and the slurk and chuckle of the river. He folded his arms beneath his chin and turned his head to look at his friend.
“You know little about such things,” he said. “You are not even wed yourself.”
“One does not need to be wed to understand the economics of succession,” said Legolas, opening one eye and squinting at Faramir. “If Mardil cannot produce an heir his lands round Ethring shall go to his second cousin Renrath, and that would be disastrous.”
“Simply because Renrath trades with Eryn Vorn – “
“The loss of the vineyards alone would cut Aragorn’s tithe too deep, and he needs more ships.”
Faramir sighed. “You do not know whether Renrath would sell the holdings.”
Faramir pulled a face. “Well, perhaps – “
“The only man in Ethring who could afford such extensive land would be Eradan the Traitor’s nephew Olórdin of Linhir, and you know, my friend, what he is like.”
“Sadly, yes.” Faramir sighed. “Well, then, perhaps Mardil might adopt an esquire, as did Cirien – “
“Formal adoptions cost money, of which Mardil has little, after the drought last year. He cannot currently even afford to keep an esquire, much less adopt one.”
“T’ch!” Faramir shook his head. His long black hair shifted over his bare shoulders, and he closed his eyes against the glare of the sunlight on the bright sand. “If he cannot afford an esquire how can he afford a wife?”
“He needs a wife with a dowry, of course,” said Legolas. He too rolled over onto his stomach, folding his arms beneath his chin. He studied the wagtail, which turned its little white-masked face to the Elf-lord and sang cheerfully of bugs and nests and tiny mottled eggs. The Green Knight’s fair face was pensive. “Matchmakers are too dear, and he is getting too old to wait much longer.”
“He is not so old.”
“He is forty. And the older a mortal man gets the less likely it is he shall sire heirs. ‘Twould be wise to find him a very young girl; he shall have a better chance that way.”
“Yes, but that child - !”
“She is a woman – a young one, I will admit to you, but a woman yet.”
“Her father will never agree.”
“No more he shall. That is why I must beguile him ere the deed is done.”
Faramir frowned. “Mardil will not agree to it.”
“He will get used to the idea of a young and pretty wife. He is a man, after all.”
“Legolas,” sighed Faramir. “I do not think you will succeed in this venture.”
“O I think I shall,” smiled Legolas. “I have thought of everything and I am certain of my triumph.” He stretched, wriggling a little against the hot stone. “Now I know how a pastry feels when placed in the oven.”
“Or trousers against a flatiron.”
Legolas snorted with laughter. “Hence the reason I have dispensed with them for now. Can you imagine what my Bandobras would do to me were I to return to the party creased and dirty?”
“Mm.” Faramir closed his eyes. The skin on his shoulders was burning he knew, but he was too warm and comfortable to move. “Would not a cold cup of ale taste good right now?”
“It would,” agreed Legolas with a smile. “A shame there was no ale at the party.”
“Only resinated wine.”
“And raspberry ices.”
Faramir shuddered and opened his eyes. “Ugh! Do not, I beg of you my friend, remind me of the raspberry ices! I was so contented ere you brought them up.”
“I beg your pardon, Faramir.”
The two friends were silent for a time, listening to the trout splash in the river, and the herons groan and hoot. Back in the firs cigales started to trill. Faramir was much happier now than he had been two hours hence. The party on the lawn upriver had been a stiff and formal affair, with trestles laden with flowers and fountains and dainty foods such as sugared candies and trifles and meringues, and all that the Queen had offered to drink was sweetened wine and fruit-ices, neither of which had appealed to two war-hardened soldiers more used to strong red wine and roasted venison. Moreover the guests had been for the most part quite a bit older than the Prince of Emyn Arnen – aged courtiers and vassals and minor landholders, their wives tottery and corseted and elaborately dressed; the talk had been genteel and restrained – this or that young lady’s marital prospects, the bland scandal in Eryn Vorn, the niggling gossip of the courts, and over all the tedious talk droned the mannerly minstrels in the corner. The sun had risen hot over the pavilion, and Faramir had seen the Lord of Dol Galenehtar, reluctant guest he was anyway, trapped with the Lord of Serni and his arch and ancient wife Lady Aranath, suffering through the old bore’s pontifications and Aranath’s supercilious cheek-pinching. Faramir excused himself from the discussion of how the trout from the Anduin did not taste as good as trout fifty years ago, and insinuated himself between his friend and the old couple saying: “Ah, my lord Legolas! I am dismayed to interrupt your conversation but something of great delicacy has come to mine attention and we must needs confer on it immediately.” For he had seen the flash of irritation in Legolas’ grey eyes, and knew it would not be long ere the Elf’s polite phrases began to twist and sour on his tongue; he did not know how long Legolas would submit to having his cheeks pinched by a desiccated harridan but calculated against his own tolerance that the Green Knight could not stand but a mere five minutes more. A brief disappearance, the Steward postulated, would be preferable in Queen Undómiel’s eyes than to have the Green Knight slyly offensive, especially to so old and forbidding a lady. So he and Legolas had strolled out of the pavilion down to the river-bank, gleaming and sluggish in the hot summer sunshine, and once out of view of the pavilion the two campaigners exchanged knowing looks, and slipped off into the forest.
They pressed east and down ‘til they found a broad flat expanse of sand and rock, baked white-hot and broiling; the heat steamed out the heady scents of pine and fir and spruce and lavender, and they could see the ducks screened in the cool blue shadows of the great white boulders. Legolas had given Faramir a roguish look then and said: “One may prise the archer into fine satin garments and surround him with flowers and lace, but he is ever an archer – is he not, Faramir?” And he had begun to unfasten the brads holding his fine white doublet together. Laughing Faramir agreed, and within moments they had shed their hot heavy clothing and plunged into the river. The water at the surface had been warm as bath-water but further down it was shockingly cold and very refreshing. They had swum about a while, splashing and wrestling with each other, until they felt the confining propriety fall away; then they had climbed wet and shivering to the broad white boulder and stretched out to dry themselves ere they regained the ostensible revelry.
Faramir began to drift off, sinking comfortably into the soft warmth of sleep; already the stiff-collared doublet, beneath which he had been sweating all afternoon, was but a memory. He rose up to wakefulness to hear Legolas saying:
“Well, no, my Bandobras, I had not thought of it though it is certainly a capital idea. But do you not think Lady …owyn shall object?”
“To tell the truth, Master, I think she’s woman enough to enjoy such a to-do. Besides it will be good practice for her, what with all those little ones growing up. What did Lord Faramir think of your scheme?”
“I think he is mad,” said Faramir into his arm; his skin smelt of river-water and mud, a comforting scent, and far superior to soap in his estimation. “What are you doing here anyway, esquire of the Green Knight? I do not recall seeing your jolly face at the party.”
“I was not,” said Bandobras, affronted. “Me, a mere esquire? The Queen knows better than to even invite the likes of that – put off the quality, you know. No, my lord; I’d snuck round to have a peek at my Master here, and saw you two had gone missing, and figured you’d run off someplace nearby to cool off in this here heat.” He cast a critical eye over the two naked men. “Though if I were you I’d cover up a bit,” he said. “Fastred and Léodwyn are punting not a half-mile from here.”
“Speaking of match-making,” began Legolas impishly, but Faramir laughed.
“They are young yet, my friend! Do not I beg you marry off my son ere he has achieved his majority; besides which Léodwyn’s heart is ever in Rohan.”
“Well some of Fastred’s is too,” said Legolas cheerfully. “Do you really think me mad, Faramir?”
“Yes,” said Faramir. “Everyone will end up hating you.”
“You are getting rather pink, my lord,” said Bandobras thoughtfully, poking Faramir’s shoulder. “You ought to get dressed. And what’ll you do if some stray maids wander by to admire the view of the river? For they might, it being so hot and stifling in that pavilion.”
“Then they shall have ample view to admire,” said Legolas with a laugh. He sat up and stretched his fingers to the heavens, where the sun westered; far overhead a kestrel whistled, and the wagtail chirruped from the bushes. “Mardil will never hate me Faramir; he is too gentle for that.”
“It is insulting to him though,” said Faramir, also sitting up and scratching his head. He felt very muzzy and warm, and wondered if he could risk the Queen’s wrath and impose upon his son to take him home directly. “You are saying to the entire nation of Gondor that your choice supersedes his own, and he is incapable of finding a suitable bride!”
“He is too modest,” said Legolas, groping round for his under-linens. “He has not set his sights high enough.”
“And what of the maid?”
“Modest too, but not so gentle,” grinned Legolas. “Listen! I hear the voices of the queen’s maids; we must clothe ourselves ere they find us.”
Legolas and Faramir scrambled into their clothes, with Bandobras aiding as best he might. Faramir buttoned his doublet collar with a grimace. He disliked the heavy garment in the sweltering heat, but knew once the sun set he would be glad of its weight. “And how shall you bring about this miracle?” he asked Legolas, sitting back on the rock and tugging his boots on. “All the actors in your mummer’s play are set against you.”
“That,” said Legolas with a mischievous smile, refastening his doublet, “is a secret, Faramir.” He allowed Bandobras to straighten his disarranged hair and added, “But I need you to do something for me in order to compel Mardil’s choice to match mine own.”
“O do not bring me into it I beg of you!” exclaimed Faramir, much alarmed. “Think you I am so well-loved that these two knights will turn a blind eye to my meddling?”
“Peace!” laughed Legolas, and Bandobras chuckled richly to himself. The three rose and headed back up the river bank toward the pavilion; they could see the white shapes of Undómiel’s ladies maids wending their way down the path, and hear their lilting voices. “You have naught to do but keep quiet, and allow me certain liberties in Osgiliath.”
Faramir shook his head uneasily. “If this goes ill Legolas … “
“It will not,” said Legolas. “Trust me.” But the wicked laugh he gave following that phrase did not make Faramir much inclined to his confidence.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I couldn't help it. Matchmaking stories have such grand potential for humor and pathos! And I thought it would be fun to explore the differences between what Legolas would consider an appropriate choice of bride and what his mortal neighbors would think. Enjoy!