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52. An Unexpected Meeting
The king of Gondor had been informed by Faramir of their arrival, and rooms were prepared for them in the city’s finer guest houses, near the Citadel. Wynne knew this was a great honor in itself, and in addition they were being escorted there personally by him and his family. To think Aragorn would be leading an orc and a Haradrim into the very heart of the Guarded City! Who could have imagined that, ten year back when they had done all they could to keep those out? She noticed, however, that the uruk again had pulled up his hood, probably not wanting to make a scene or scare anybody.
Next to the king rode Queen Arwen Undómiel in an ornate side saddle, the train of her dazzling dress spilling out behind her to cover the gorgeous young stallion’s back. Arwen was the first female elf Wynne had ever seen, and she had still not fully regained her composure. The male elves had intimidated her the first time she met them, but that was nothing compared to the reaction the queen invoked. Her exquisite beauty was ethereal, like she were lit from within by a multitude of stars. Her skin was pale, with only a hint of rose on her cheeks and full lips. Her bright eyes were framed by long, dark lashes and crowned by a pair of elegantly arched eyebrows.
Wynne had never imagined she could be attracted to another female, but now she realized she were, and she glanced at Legolas almost guiltily.
After a while, the sight of the city enabled Wynne to tear her gaze away from the stunning vision, and she looked about her with interest. The main street meandered to and fro from one level to the next, each time passing through a new gate. Again Gimli pointed out structures his workers had created; a house here, a segment of wall there. He had also designed most of the gates, although none were as impressive as the Great Gate, of course.
Legolas rode next to her, silent and lost in thought. Perhaps he regretted being inside a city of stone again? As far as Wynne knew, only one tree grew here, the famous white one that symbolised Gondor. Or maybe it was something his father had said to him on the bridge? But he had seemed happy after that conversation, like they had come to some sort of understanding. After Thranduil spoke to her during lunch, Wynne had begun to hope he might finally allow their courtship.
The stables were located in the sixth level of the city, and here it was time to part with the horses for a while. Wynne always felt bad about leaving them, but these stables were really magnificent, big and airy, and the fodder the horses were provided with was of the finest quality.
They entered the last level on foot, and Aragorn led them out on a ledge that extended over the city like the prow of a ship. The view was breathtaking; clusters of stone houses with conical roofs and pinnacles were wedged in between the seven walls, and further out expanded the farms, pastures and orchards of the Pelennor Fields, lush green and thriving. The chequered pattern strongly reminded Wynne of the view from the Falls of Rauros.
They admired the white tree as well, its many blossoms just beginning to fall off and mature into fruit. Legolas patted its slender trunk lovingly.
“This has become a strapping young tree since last I saw it,” he said to Aragorn.
The king smiled and replied something in a language Wynne did not understand. She was so used to the elves speaking Westron, the Common Speech, that she had almost forgotten this was not their mother’s tongue. Now she felt left out, and it bothered her.
Before they went to freshen themselves up in their rooms, they were invited to supper in the king’s private house.
“I prefer a more informal first meeting,” he explained. “Tomorrow, King Éomer and his suite are expected, and then we will begin the official peace discussions.”
A very properly uniformed manservant showed them to the guest house. The place looked quite a lot like Éowyn’s and Faramir’s guestrooms back in Osgiliath, but larger and more luxurious. Instead of a wooden tub in the room, they had access to a whole bathhouse with one part for males and one for females, to which water from a mountain lake was brought through channels and lead pipes. The servant explained that all the city’s wells and public baths were supplied with water via those channels, and the richer inhabitants even had pipes leading into their houses. By opening a tap, they could get fresh water anytime they liked!
In addition to this luxurity, there was a grand lavatory building with many booths. The openings in the benches lead down to a channel with running water, which the servant called a sewer . Through the sewer, the waste was flushed down to the plains, where the farmers made good use of it.
When alone in her room, Wynne washed her face and hands in a bowl on a stand, and changed into a dress again. Not the red, very daring one, she would see a king after all, and hoped to make a good first impression.
Aragorn’s house was rather cosy, not at all like the elegant Citadel – or Faramir’s residence for that matter. It was situated right underneath the mountain onto which the city leaned, and was a white stone building with an orange, tiled roof, surrounded by a small square of well mowed grass. Inside, the dining room was no larger than the one in Wynne’s home, and the furniture was rather ordinary. Wooden tables and chairs, and under the windows long benches with leather seats.
The carpet drew Sidra’s attention.
“Is this Haradrim?” She stroked its red-and-gold pattern. “Silk, right?”
“Yes, it was a gift from the new king of Near Harad, when we negotiated a trading agreement last year.” Aragorn smiled. He had such a kind smile. The king reminded Wynne rather much of her father; both his physical features and his gentle manner.
“You must be Sidra of Harad, the uruk-hai’s spouse?” he asked now, graciously ignoring that she had addressed him without an introduction.
“That’s right.” She beamed at him. “This is him, Nugu of Emyn Muil.” She indicated her husband, as if it was not evident he was the uruk-hai. “And our sons are Muzadi and Rohi.”
The boys had already disappeared with Elboron and Prince Eldarion into an adjoining room; the prince’s nursery, judging by the unmistakable clatter of building blocks rolling on floor tiles.
More introductions followed. When it was Wynne’s turn, Aragorn greeted her very politely. “I am enchanted to finally meet my relative. You must be my…?”
“Third cousin’s granddaughter,” she supplied proudly. “My Grandmama’s mother was your grandfather Arador’s cousin.”
“Right. It had slipped my mind.”
Beside Wynne, Gimli sniggered, and she scowled at him. “What’s funny?”
Next, the two kings met. Aragorn said something, again in that foreign, lilting language Wynne did not understand.
“What did you say?” asked Sidra, never one to be shy about these things.
“Speak Westron, love,” said the queen. Her voice was melodious and soft as a silver bell.
“My apologies. I said that am honored to have the Elvenking as my guest,” repeated Aragorn. ”I heard much about your remarkable success with restoring the Wood of Greenleaves to its former glory.”
“Thank you. I dare say, though, that not all you heard of my kingdom was flattering.” Thranduil smiled wryly.
“I do not pay much attention to slander.”
“That honours you.” Thranduil bowed. Wynne had never seen him behave so agreeably to someone he did not know well. “I was profoundly impressed with what you and King Éomer have achieved in the Marshes,” he continued. “I had not seen that place since the Battle of Dagorlad, and I could hardly recognize it.”
Before they sat down to supper, Aragorn wished to hear everything about the orc town and peace treaty, apparently intent on being well informed before tomorrow’s more formal council.
Nugu had grown really good at telling his story by now, and it had effect; the king and queen both looked horrified after he was done. When Thranduil recounted the details of the peace treaty, Aragorn nodded thoughtfully.
“It seems like a well drawn agreement. Still, we humans would need our own treaty, and it has to be supported by the nobles of Gondor and Rohan, and then signed in person by the orc leader.” He turned to Nugu. “It is unfortunate he could not be present. This means that, even if the council agrees to peace, we shall have to wait until I can meet him.”
The uruk nodded. “He doesn’t dare go out, but I could lead your emissary to him. Or yourself, if you wish.”
“We will discuss that tomorrow. Now, I am sure you must be hungry!”
Wynne enjoyed the supper; the food was tasty but nothing extraordinary, and there were only a few servants around. The conversation, however, was rather dull in her opinion. At the head of the table, Aragorn, Thranduil and Faramir talked of finances. Faramir had told Aragorn of his plans to restore southern Ithilien and build a city in the hills of Emyn Arnen, where his summer estate was located, and asked if the king could help funding this project. Building up Osgiliath had more or less emptied his coffers.
“I shall see what I can do.” Aragorn sighed. “Transforming the Marshes and building the Lift of Rauros has nearly drained my treasury as well. Although I am sure the increase in trade and taxes will make it pay off eventually, I am yet to see that happen.”
“You should establish a trade route to my realm,” suggested Thranduil. He swirled the contents of his glass. “I could export Dorwinion wine down the Anduin.”
Meanwhiles, Queen Arwen was talking with Sidra and Éowyn about children, something concerning potty training by the sound of it. Hearing an otherworldly beauty such as Arwen speak of poop and diapers was disconcerting, and besides, the topic bored Wynne almost as much as economy. She asked Nugu to tell some of his riddles instead, and soon she was agreeably occupied at guessing them together with Legolas, Gimli, Galion, Nodir and Bronedir.
Later, when they left Aragorn’s house, Legolas moved to walk close to Wynne. “Do not come to my room tonight,” he mumbled in her ear. “And I know you planned to, do not lie.” He smirked at the face she made. “My father wishes to speak more with me, and I think I shall finally be able to persuade him.”
Wynne had no objections against that, of course. She did not really mind anyway; she was rather tired and could use having an early night for a change.
Breakfast the next morning was served in an airy room in the guest house’s second floor. The many windows faced the city below, and the view was magnificent.
“King Elessar knows how to impress his guests,” remarked Thranduil when he entered together with Legolas. The Elvenking looked unusually relaxed and lighthearted, and the same went for his son. Wynne felt a twinge of happiness. Whatever they had talked of yesterday had clearly changed something in their relationship.
She tried to ask Legolas about it after their hearty meal of bread, cheese, hams and sausages.
“I shall tell you later. My father and I must go greet King Éomer, we got word he just arrived.”
Wynne nodded. “I will go with you. He is my king, after all, not yours.” She grinned.
Legolas gave her a quick peck on the cheek, which made her smile grow wider. He had kissed her in front of his father! That must be a good sign.
When they came out, the king of Rohan was just walking up from the stables, surrounded by a group of lords and vassals. Éomer wore no crown, and his clothes was rather ordinary, but Wynne recognized him easily. She had met him once before, several years ago in Edoras, when she was twelve. Her mother had had an errand there, and decided it would be good for Wynne to come along and hopefully catch the eye of the king. This was before Mother had come up with the elf-marriage plan, when she still would have been satisfied with having her daughter become queen of Rohan.
It had not worked, of course, the young king had still been overcome with grief after his uncle’s demise, and besides, he was more than twice Wynne’s age. He had barely even noticed she was there, and only focused on the horses he wished to buy. Not long after, news of Éomer’s impending marriage with a princess reached them and Mother had been furious, because that meant there were no royal bachelors left in Rohan or Gondor. The following years she had researched kings and princes of other countries, making lists and grand plans, until finally came the opportunity to send her daughter on a journey with both a king and a prince.
Soon, Mother’s scheme to marry her daughter off advantageously might prove successful. Wynne could only hope her intended and his father would never find out about it.
Then suddenly she spotted something in Éomer’s entourage... Two very familiar faces.
“Father,” she breathed. “And… Mother!”
So, here she is at last, the woman you and I have feared ever since chapter one… This was bound to happen eventually, I guess.
While I’ve been wrapping this story up up, I’ve also found myself wonder ever so much about Thranduil, his early life, his wife, and his father Oropher. Whatever gave him the idea that it’s so difficult to feel the difference between love and desire? Something he knows from experience, perhaps…? So, I found myself starting one, just to see if anyone else wants me to write that story. :) It's called Thranduil's Shadow and is posted on this site as well. :)
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