[Are you not hungry?]
He started audibly, then recovered and came nearer. [I just thought it was a great deal of food to make.]
[I brought you here to thank you for helping me. Offering you a bed included feeding you. It is no trouble.]
[If you are sure.]
[I know my limitations,] I said a bit sharply.
[Forgive me,] he apologized hastily. [I meant no insult.]
There was a burst of laughter from the sitting room.
[You have very happy friends.]
Legolas flushed. [They . . . are glad to not have to sleep outside tonight.]
I looked at him and smiled. [You are a horrid liar. You may wish to work on that.] His blush deepened and I laughed softly. [Very well. Keep your secrets. You need not tell me if it is not my business. I will not pry.]
He relaxed visibly. [And on that note, may I pry?]
[You may. If I do not wish to answer, I will not.]
[Fair enough. Why is it that everyone calls you `Lady’ Kyshri?”]
I frowned at the rice as I swirled it in the pan. [That is a long story, but I suppose with the menu I have to cook there is plenty of time.] I took a breath. [Do you recall how I told you this city was for outcasts and runaways?]
[Well I myself am a runaway. When I was very, very young my father would tell me stories of his travels. I dreamed of going with him on his adventures and he promised me that he would bring me along when I was old enough.
[Then, on one trek, he was ambushed and killed by Haradrim. His travel companions brought him back. My mother died soon after and I was placed in the care of a family friend. He took very good care of me, but it was inevitable that we would clash over something and we did. He wanted me to marry so I that would be cared for, but my head was still full of my father’s stories and I refused.
[It culminated with a warning for me to get my act together or get out. So I made my choice. I packed up one night and left home, searching for the adventures my father had always found. I met a few other runaways and some outcasts and we decided to create a place for others like us. And so Veikai was born. Other runaway and outcast elves have been finding their way here since and Veikai–named, naturally, for our ability to get along by ourselves–has grown considerably. In its three thousand years of existence, it and I have grown together. I have a very strong emotional investment in this place.]
He was mystified. [How old were you when you ran away?]
[Mm . . . Not quite a hundred, I think. In my mid-nineties.]
[And this family friend was trying to marry you off so soon after your parents’ death?]
[He had good intentions, but my own ideals rejected them.]
[Are you sorry?]
I humphed. [Hardly. I have not been sorry and I probably will never be.]
[Have you ever been . . . approached?]
[Quite often, actually. By all types. Even men.]
[None of them have ever been worth my time. They were all show until they thought they had me caught and then they started showing their true colors and I dismissed them. The last one was a century ago; I have avoided any sort of intimate interaction since then. Do not take me wrong–I have male friends, but that is all they are.]
He looked very uncomfortable and probably greatly regretted questioning me. He was saved from cover-up questioning by my falcon’s arrival. The bird of prey swooped in the open window and dropped a rabbit beside me, then banked and settled on his shoulder. He twisted to look curiously up at the falcon, who stared unblinkingly back.
[He likes you,] I informed him. [That is very odd. He usually does not like other males.]
[I rescued him from a man practicing falconry who was mistreating him. Rather to my surprise, he has never even taken a liking to male elves, so I would feel honored if I were you.]
[He will not hurt me, will he?]
[No. If he wanted to hurt you he would have already. Go ahead and scratch his breast. He likes that. And do not mind if he pecks at your hand a little. That is just his way of showing affection.]
[What is his name?]
[The man named him Qil, but he does not seem to like that name, so I call him Telrak.]
He cautiously stroked Telrak’s breast feathers. In answer, Telrak puffed his chest out invitingly. Legolas carefully began scratching the falcon’s breast and I glanced over to see Telrak’s head scrunched back, eyes half closed in satisfaction. It was not long before Legolas calmed down and began carrying on a one-sided conversation with the falcon.
In the sitting room, Ziro snarled as someone knocked on the door. I set the pan aside and went out to investigate, Legolas trailing absently behind me while still bonding with Telrak.
I opened the door to find a pile of clothes stacked in front of me. [Oh.]
[I was commanded to bring these to you!] Sulaine’s disgruntled and muffled voice grumbled around the clothes. [Me!]
I snorted and took them from him. [Well thank you. Come on in.] I went around the sitting room handing out clothes. Left only with Legolas’, I put them on his head, figuring I would never get his attention long enough to give them to him. [So what can I do for you this evening?]
[There is going to be a celebration in honor of your return.]
[What? Already? Who planned this?]
[Hell if I know. But you are expected to attend.]
[I cannot. I have guests.]
[Sulaine! I cannot! Do you un-der-stand?]
[Yes, but they will not like it.]
[Well I did not ask for a party! Besides, what about the ones who died? Am I the only one who cares? The only one who mourns?]
[Kyshri, no one is trying to put you above anyone else, but you are a Patron. If the others had survived it would have been a celebration for them too.]
[I would rather it be a funeral gathering.]
[Better a celebration than a funeral.]
I growled. [I am not going! Period!]
[You are being unreasonable.]
[I shall be as unreasonable as it pleases me to be! How dare they place the living over honoring the dead!]
Arms abruptly went around me and Legolas edged me back a distance so I would not strike at Sulaine. [Kyshri, the dead will be honored later, at a more appropriate time. Do you not think that perhaps they decided to have a celebration instead because you brought us with you?]
That was a good point. No one had ever failed to honor the dead before the living previously, but no one had ever brought guests before either.
[Fine,] I snarled, already cooling a bit. [When is this party?]
[When the moon sheds her glow on the land.]
So I had a few hours. [Very well. I will be there.]
Sulaine inclined his head. [Thank you, Kyshri.]
He left and Legolas released me. I stormed into the kitchen again, scowling, and resumed cooking.
[What is it?] Legolas questioned as he entered after me, Telrak still on his shoulder. [It is not just that the dead are being placed aside until later.]
[Call me selfish, but I hate parties. I hate being treated like a celebrity. They all act as though I am some saint when I am just like them. I am a runaway as well. There is nothing at all magnificent about it. My compatriots may bask in the attention, but I neither like nor appreciate the spotlight.]
As we ate we watched the marketplace transform. Then we were there.
“Why are you all standing around here? I thought you would be with the other hobbits. Or at least dancing . . . You wanted to come!”
“It is unlike the Shire,” Frodo replied. “It is not only hobbits.”
“All the more reason to go talk to them. But if you are worried about getting trampled, do not. Of all the times we have had celebrations, not one hobbit has been crushed. Toes have been stepped on, yes, but that can happen to anyone. Just watch and give it more thought. You are missing out.”
I found the men indulging in a drink (I had already pulled Gimli from the punch bowl and I hoped I would not be doing the same again) and joined them for the moment. “Well? Why are you all not dancing?”
“Can’t,” Boromir slurred, tilting dangerously to his right and then coming back. “Too sloshed.”
“I can believe it,” I assured him, steadying him with a hand.
“Will not,” Gandalf replied with a shake of his head. ” Too old.”
“Oh poo. You cannot be that old!”
“I will not,” he insisted. “Not this time.”
“. . . Aragorn?” I pressed. “I see plenty of females that you could woo.”
He shook his head. “I am bound.”
“Her name is Arwen.”
I sat back. “Oh-ho! Lord Elrond’s daughter! I hope he does not mind.”
Before he could answer, there was a burst of giggles from near the dancing area. I looked that way to see Legolas surrounded by a gaggle of females, both of men and elf, as he had been ever since Pikmon (my greater owl) dropped us off at the celebration. They were tittering at every little thing he said, but he seemed hardly affected, as though this happened all the time where he came from.
“Tha’s a’solutely disgus’ing,” Boromir commented, pointing. “Why does he ge’ all te wemen?”
“Because you do not,” Aragorn jabbed. “It had to be one of us.”
Gandalf looked at me. “You have certainly settled into the good cheer.”
I nodded. “I have gotten over the irritation.”
Aragorn looked up quickly. “With who?”
I gave him a curious look. “Just Sulaine and a few others. Why?”
“. . . No reason.”
I narrowed my eyes as a hand came down on my shoulder and Sulaine bent down. “Excuse me,” he said to my companions. To me, he whispered, “They are performing a dwarf song next and then an elf song and you were asked to dance.”
“I have wounds, for your information, and they are making me stiff.”
“Do not be like that. I have already asked you to dance twice and you did not have any problems.”
“If it is not a group dance then it must be something horribly complicated that I could probably barely do even if I was in top shape. No.”
Sulaine grabbed my neck and mock-choked me. “Kyshri! Why must you be so difficult?!”
“Because you hate it.”
“Come on, Kyshri!”
“You will do it!” he snapped. “Be prepared!”
“Good luck dragging me out there,” I muttered as he walked away.
“If that is what it takes!” he shot back over his shoulder.
I sat around and scowled darkly straight through the dwarf song. I noticed then that Sulaine and Esho were coming for me and started to dive behind Gandalf, but Sulaine grabbed my collar and hauled me back.
“Oh no, you. Esho, grab her legs. And do not let her kick you.”
Sulaine grabbed my arms and he and Esho carried me to the dance area, where I was set on the ground to hearty laughter. I got up and dusted myself off, glaring after Sulaine and Esho as they retreated. The musicians began playing and they went through the whole introduction before I finally decided to go along with this entire charade.
The introduction was played again and I did some discreet stretching. I had not been lying to Sulaine about my stiffness and though it was not enough to keep me from dancing, it would make my movements more difficult.
I glared once again at Sulaine. I hoped he appreciated this. I did not dance like this because it was fun, especially when I was hurt.
I sighed and began to dance.