The Ageless Rose - Chapter Five
During the course of roasted duck, stuffed with potatoes and herbs, Merilwen looked around the room. Estel was immersed in his food in between snatches of conversation with their mother. Elrond was talking to Erestor, one of his counselors, and Elladan and Elrohir were flirting busily with two pretty elf-maids.
She also noticed that a knot of elf-women on one of the lower tables were eyeing her stonily. She did not notice, however, that their looks were on account of her dinner partner. Miffed, she set down her fork with a sharp chink as metal hit porcelain, appetite quite gone. Prince Legolas looked at her concernedly.
"My lady? Are you well?"
Merilwen forced a smile. "I'm fine." she told him shortly, eyes flicking to the elf-women.
The Prince marked her gaze, frowning slightly. "They do not seem much...taken with you," he murmured, hinting at disapproval for the ladies' lack of manners.
She sighed and folded a corner of her napkin. "I'm different then they are, you know. They..." Her voice stopped. She didn't say that they had begun to act coldly towards her once it became known that she had decided to take weapons lessons; that they thought it immodest, and she had ignored them. It was only a few of the elf-maidens that objected anyway, most were on excellent terms with her, many close enough to be called her friends. Even so, she was uncomfortable with speaking about the topic with the Prince, kind as he was.
"They must be envious," Legolas murmured, a smile on his lips as he broke the silence that had fallen. "Of your beauty, certainly, and of your acquaintance with Lord Elrond. You are better than they are," he said. "You are at least polite."
Merilwen felt her face flush. "I am afraid I do not know what you are talking about, my lord," she told the Prince stiffly. "There are countless other maidens in Imladris more beautiful than I, not to mention Lord Elrond's own daughter. My place here is only by the grace of the master of this house. And as for my etiquette," She looked at him, unflinching as his eyes flicked over her face. "Well. I suppose there are other more qualified to judge such matters than I." Merilwen paused, and clapped a delicate hand over her mouth, eyes wide in shock.
"Forgive me, my Lord Prince!" she gasped softly. "I hope I did not offend you--"
"Lady Merilwen, it is alright," he told her, seeing her embarrassment. "There is nothing to forgive." He gave her an encouraging smile.
"But my lord--I am terribly forward--forgive me--"
He silenced her with a gentle look. "Perhaps you spoke, because rarely does the rose among the other flowers know of its own true worth." He said quietly.
Merilwen was silent for a moment. At last she grinned, turning back to her food. "As you wish, my lord. Though it is common knowledge that I am incurably blunt when it comes to speaking my mind on matters that concern me, though I have good meaning." She said shyly. "But I appreciate the complement."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
At last after a light dessert, Lord Elrond stood, and began leading the guests to the Hall of Fire, for the music and dancing. Merilwen stood gracefully.
"If I may, Lady Merilwen?" The Prince asked, bowing and offering his arm.
"Certainly," Merilwen said grinning sheepishly, resting her palm on his sturdy arm as they walked out of the dining hall.
They reached the Hall of Fire, the great room of Imladris with the large stone hearth where chief celebrations were held. Firelight danced around on the vaulted ceiling and carven pillars, and the fireside was ringed with the usual innumerable benches and chairs. Folding doors flung open at an end of the room led outside to a veranda, and that was rimmed with many shimmering gold lamps hanging on the stone railing.
Sweet music began in a lilting tune, and dancers moved onto the floor. Merilwen gently slid her hand from the Prince's arm, planning to seek out her brother or perhaps her mother.
"Perhaps I may see you later," she told him.
"Indeed, I hope so," Legolas said, as a tall figure robed in a deep crimson tunic appeared in front of Merilwen; she looked up into Elrohir's grinning face.
"Ah, Elrohir," she said, not bothering to be formal, and her face split into a playful smirk. "What are you up to? I see that you and your brother have already managed to charm the hearts of several maidens this night, and before dancing too--" She broke off as he and Legolas laughed at her remark, and to her amusement, Elrohir's cheeks had acquired a pink tint.
"Alas, it is our duty," He replied gravely, though his eyes sparkled. "I would be delighted if perhaps I could have this fair lady's hand for this dance?" He asked Merilwen when her quiet laughter had subsided.
"Of course," she said, smirking curiously. Elrohir took her hand, and she was whisked onto the floor of swirling silks.
"You and Prince Legolas seem to get on rather well," He remarked with a suspicious grin as he took her small hand in his, leading her as they swayed to the soft slow music.
"Well, he is very nice," she said fairly, biting back a laugh as she saw Estel waltz by with a pretty blonde haired elf-maiden who was about four inches or so taller than he was. "Goodness, Elrohir, what are you implying? All I did was sit near him for dinner and you decide to assume things."
He ignored her comment with a chuckle, his grey eyes twinkling mischievously. "It was only fitting you know," He said, his face growing more serious. "You are currently the only resident lady in Imladris, while my sister is in Lórien."
"But--but I'm not... what I mean is...Elrohir, I'm a...I'm not royalty... or anything..." Her stammers trailed off and she glanced down. A blush crept onto her cheeks. She had wondered for most of her life why she was a mortal living in Imladris. What had she or her mother or Estel done, to deserve such hospitality at the hands of Elven-lords? "I'm not like you." She finished lamely.
"What does that matter?" Elrohir asked quietly, seeing the uneasiness on her face. "You have lived your whole life here. You are as a daughter to Father, and you are as a sister to me."
"Yes," He said, looking at her intently. "For the precious few years I have known you, it has been a blessing to see your face in this House. I've been here for your growing up, Merilwen, and you have become a truly wonderful person, and dear to me as Arwen. You have always been so, even when you were very young."
"Elrohir, I don't know what to say," she murmured, touched.
"Then don't say anything," He replied simply, brushing his thumb lightly across her cheek. She smiled, eyes beginning to fill with warm, though welcome tears. She realized he and Elladan were nearly as beloved to her as Estel was; Estel only more so because her was her other half, her twin. The song ended, and she gave Elrohir a heartfelt embrace.
"Thank you," She whispered quietly. "You and Elladan have always been as brothers to me, too."
"I hope so. You know, sometimes I wonder if you should have been Elf-kind. It would fit you." He said and smiled before returning to find the maidens who found him irresistible to their pursuits.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The night passed slowly for Merilwen. She later said that she had been asked to dance by at least half of the members of the visiting delegations, and then some. Prince Legolas found her after Elrohir left, and she passed a bit of time with him. Soon he was replaced by a very tall and handsome elf named Haldir, (who said rather haughtily that he was the March Warden of Lothlórien, though Merilwen liked him all the same), and then an elf from the Grey Havens named Galdor, and then several members of the Woodland Realm decided to ask for her hand. She liked dancing well enough, but didn't understand why so many were so keen on speaking with her.
When at last those gathered began to tire of dancing and gather around the hearth for much needed song, she slipped quietly outside, politely shrugging off a conversation with some of the Lothlórien emissaries.
On the terrace, she gratefully breathed in the night air, letting the still warm evening breeze play about her skirt and long hair. The moon was full, and the innumerable stars winked overhead, bathing the greenery and the stone path to the gardens in a placid silvery glow as the sound of gentle voices mingling together in song wafted through the air.
Merilwen saw a shadow darken the cheery golden radiance that came from the doors to the hall, and heard footsteps she recognized nearly as well as her own. Friendly hands grasped her shoulders as Estel discovered where she was.
"And what are you doing out here all alone?" He asked, coming to stand beside her and leaning casually on the terrace railing.
"Breathing," she replied with a laugh. "It was getting rather difficult inside."
Estel gave a laugh of his own. "Yes, I can see why, you were surrounded with the newcomers at all times. You certainly made a good impression to them," he said with a grin.
"I tried," she smirked lightly. A servant maid clad in a simple white gown was moving about the few others on the terrace, offering a tray with tiny cups. He reached her and Estel, and they each accepted one.
"Miruvour," she murmured, squinting at the golden liquid. She enjoyed Rivendell's signature cordial well enough when she drank it. She sipped her glass delicately. Estel drained his in one gulp, and made every sign of wanting to go back for another.
"Don't you dare, " she whispered severely, grabbing his arm.
"What?" He asked innocently, eyes guarded.
"Don't you dare go for another glass Estel," she told him seriously. "It is strong enough by itself. Last think Ada or Mother need to see is you--" She drew a tense breath and hissed, " drunk. "
He glared at her for a moment, and she returned his stare. At last he sighed and broke their contest. "Very well," he said, not meeting her eyes. "I would hate to upset you on such a fine night." He patted her cheek and strode back into the Hall of Fire.
Merilwen was beginning to consider going for a walk in the private gardens when once again, she heard the approach of steps behind her. They were not her brother's; they were the whisper soft treads of Elvish feet. She turned to see Prince Legolas walking towards her, smiling slightly.
"My Lady Merilwen," he said politely, stopping beside her. "I hope I am not intruding?"
"Not at all, my lord," she said with a gentle smile. They stood in silence for a moment, broken by Merilwen as she spoke. "I was just about to go for a walk, you could accompany me if you wish," she said, wishing to leave the terrace for a quieter place.
"My Lord Elrond will not mind?" The Prince asked.
"No, I don't think so," Merilwen said as they set off down the patio steps onto a stone path. "People can come and go as they wish during the songs, as long as they don't make a fuss."
"Wonderful," the Prince said with a sigh. He offered her his arm, which she took with a awkward grin. "The nights at Rivendell are as beautiful as the summer nights in my home, you know."
"Yes, they are rather nice aren't they?" Merilwen agreed. "Especially during the festivals. You can sing, or listen, and enjoy the air and the moonlight and just--breathe." She sighed contentedly as they walked along, the stars and the moon lighting their way. The silence was a comfortable one.
They reached the rose gardens; Merilwen's favorite place in all of Imladris. Innumerable blossoms grew on bushes and finely wrought trellises. Climbing rose trees coated in white flowers shone in the moonlight. They strolled along, breathing in the sweet tangy vapors of the flowers.
"It must be different, being a Prince from another realm," she said, gently releasing his arm to walk and brush her hand across her favorite bushes, the ones with the delicate yellow pink-tipped blossoms. Their pungent fragrance reminded her of fresh peaches.
Legolas laughed. "Indeed it is my lady," he replied, sounding amused.
"How so?" she asked, genuinely interested as she walked between the bushes. She as of yet had no knowledge of royalty, and was fascinated.
"Well," He began, eyes dancing. Merilwen blushed. "You are expected to have a quiet life, or else journey abroad on errantry. You must have certain knowledge of war techniques, court manners, and be prepared to defend your realm in case of attack. Good impressions upon others are an obligation." He stopped for moment and shook his head, a small smile on his lips. "Listen to me. All you do is watch with your wide innocent eyes, and listen to my freely wagging tongue."
"Well, you need not worry about impressing me, my lord." Merilwen murmured quietly. "I can see that you have good intentions while you are here."
"And how would you determine that?" He asked, chuckling apprehensively.
Merilwen shrugged, grinning in her turn. "I can just tell, I guess. Lord Elrond says I can read the hearts of many more clearly than some, though I don't know why."
The Prince looked at her intently for a moment, a beautiful and inquisitive young daughter of men, walking among the flowers for which she was named. A name he and the embassies had been forbidden to speak by Lord Elrond entered his mind. Anariel. If she was the person he had been told she was, he suddenly realized how she had managed to comprehend so much more than any other child of her years.
"You know, my lady," he said lightly, glancing at the flowers she stood by, "some say roses speak in a language all their own."
Merilwen smirked. "I have heard that. Interesting, how a single flower can say so much, is it not?"
"Yes," he replied, reaching down to pluck a delicate rose from the yellow and pink plants, taking care for the single thorn along its shapely stem as he handed it to her. "As you undoubtedly seem to have a certain knowledge of this...symbolism, might I ask you what this particular flower says?" he inquired.
He smiled. "Then it is most fitting that I give this to you," the Prince said, offering it to her.
Merilwen hesitated. "Am I your friend, my lord?" she asked timidly.
"I would like you to be." He said quietly as she accepted it and held it in her small hands.
Merilwen smiled. "Though I haven't known you for more than a few hours, if you should wish for me to be your friend, then I am--Legolas."
Terribly sorry this took so long!