| Eowyn stared worriedly at the
green gown she had laid out on her bed; the pleasures of the afternoon
had come to an abrupt halt.
Eowyn generally refused the use of a lady's maid, arguing that
a woman who had slain the Witch King of Angmarand his Fell
Beastcould certainly manage to lace up her own gown. But
at this moment she was dearly wishing that she had a second opinion
to call upon.
She had been transferring reports of orc movements onto her map
of North and South Ithilien when Faramir had announced that, as
Prince of Ithilien, he had decided to send her to Legolas'
festival"One of us should attend,"and she
had packed very quickly, simply choosing the first green gown
she had found. Green had seemed an appropriate colour to wear
to a festival held by a wood elf butnow that she had seen
Legolas' beautiful colonyshe felt completely under-dressed.
I should have known!
When had she ever seen Legolas look anything less than elegant,
even in the heat of battle, smeared with orc blood?
Though, if asked, she would have had to admit that the leather
pauldrons he had chosen to wear at Helm's Deep seemed better suited
to sport in the bedroom than to protection on the battlefield...
Bad thoughts, Eowyn!
She had been hoping to speak to Legolas about her orc map. It
was her belief that, by tracking where the orcs had been,
she could predict where they would attack next. None of the commanders
of the North Ithilien guardnot even Faramir himselftook
her ideas seriously; she had hoped that Legolas would be different.
But Legolas had obviously been far too preoccupied, and far too
nervous, to think about security today. She would have to wait.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed. Lying on the
beautiful, embroidered coverlet, her green gown looked rough and
Beside it, on her pillow, was a small gauze baga personal
gift, the Chief Counsellor had said, from the Lord of Eryn Carantaur
to his lady guests. She opened it and examined its contents: a
leaf-shaped cake of soap, clean smelling, with a hint of ginger;
a small earthenware jar of salve, which smelled delicately of
roses; and, best of all, a tiny, cut-crystal bottle of perfume
oilshe remembered Faramir's telling her that Legolas planned
to develop a crystal manufactory in South Ithilien.
She pulled out the glass stopper and sniffed. It smelled of rainno,
it smelled of forest rain; it smelled like Legolas.
She dabbed a little on her wrist.
Gods! What was she going to wear? How could she possibly
attend a banquet held by the exquisite Lord of South Ithilien
in her old green gown?
Perhaps she should wrap herself in the coverlet?
She was so preoccupied, she did not hear the knock on her window.
She turned to see Arwen framed in the doorway, a picture of elven
elegance, with the evening sunlight setting her glossy, dark hair
Oh, thank you, gods!
"Is something wrong, Eowyn?"
"Yesnooh, I don't know, Arwen, I just feelI
What? Graceless? Ugly?
"Are you missing Faramir?"
"Yes," Eowyn lied.
"Well... I hope you do not mind, Eowyn but, as my maid was
unpacking this,"Arwen laid a gown on the bed,
next to Eowyn's green monster"I thought it would look
far better on you than on me."
It was made of the finest elven silk, in a pale shade of cream,
and embroidered all over with leaves of yellow, green and delicate
orangeSpring, summer and autumn, Eowyn thoughtdecorated
with tiny beads of pure mithril that glistened like raindrops.
"Oh Arwen," said Eowyn, feeling slightly embarrassed
to be so moved by an item of clothing, "it is beautiful,
"I would be honoured if you would wear it. Would you like
me to help you dress?"
Eowyn hesitated at the thought of Arwen seeing her naked, but
the practical part of her mind was forced to admit that her shieldmaiden
training had not equipped her to deal with the tiny fastenings
and the intricate lacings of an elven gown.
Moments later, she was examining her reflection in a full-length
The dress fitted surprisingly well and the colours seemed to
make her skin glow. The lightly gathered neckline, scooping far,
far, lower than she would normally have worn, flattered her small
bosom, and the bodice clung softly to her waist and hips, showing
her slender figure to its best advantage. But there was something
rather suggestive about the lacing down the front...
She lifted her hands to tug the edges together
"Perfect!" said Arwen, delicately deflecting Eowyn's
hands. "Aragorn and I will collect you in half an hour, and
we shall all go down to the banquet together. And Eowyn,"
she added, as she stepped through the door, "I think you
should wear your hair loose tonight."
Despite having been told earlier that she was a disgrace to the
Harvest Ceremonyand would never be allowed to officiateLady
Lessien had decided to act as though nothing had happened. After
all, it was not the first time that the Mistress of the Ceremony
had threatened to end her noviciate.
When she arrived at the annex to the banqueting hall, where the
potions to be used in the rite were being prepared, the Mistress
of the Ceremony was carefully adding ingredients to a steaming,
sweet-smelling liquid. Lessien waited patiently for her to finish,
anxious not to disturb her at a critical moment.
The Mistress of the Ceremony picked up a bunch of dried uil
fronds, selected five, and crumbled them into the cauldron. Then
she took up a small piece of aeglos root and, with a sharp
knife, shaved off three slivers and added those to the potion.
Finally, she added two large pinches of ground alfirin
petalsLessien could smell their distinctive odourand
began to beat the potion with a willow-twig whisk.
That is not right, thought Lessien. "My lady,"
she said, "what are you doing?"
The Mistress of the Ceremony spun round, startled. "What
are you doing here?" she demanded. "I told you
that you would never be allowed to take part in the Harvest Ceremony.
You are not permitted in here. Guards! Guards!" she
She looks guilty, thought Lessien. But, before she could
get a better look at the book the Mistress of the Ceremony was
working from, two palace guards seized her by the arms and, courteously
but firmly, ushered her from the annex.
The banquet was everything Eowyn had expected from the Lord of
South Ithilien. He has chosen the perfect food for his guests,
For the dwarves there was roast chicken, suckling pig, red meat
on the bone, and limitless dwarven ale. For the men there was
a spicy ragout of beef and vegetables with warm farmhouse bread
and strong, red, elven wine. For the elves, who ate like birds
and loved sweet things, there were ripe cheeses, sweet fruited
breads, honey buns and elderflower champagne. And, especially
for the ladies, there was a delicate confection of whipped cream,
flavoured with mead and decorated with candied lavender.
Eowyn looked at her host. Gods! He is beautiful, she thought.
Beautiful, inside and out. His long, embroidered robe was
tied with a sash around his waist but was otherwise open, which
left most of his chest bare.
As a shieldmaiden, Eowyn had seen many men stripped to the waist,
but never one so perfect as Legolas. He is so slender,
she thought, yet so muscular, strong but graceful. And his
hair... She had never seen his hair loose before. It makes
him look wild, like a force of nature, like a creature that might
carry a helpless woman off into the woods and ravish her...
Oh, stop it!
Legolas suddenly looked straight at her and Eowyn, feeling as
though he had heard her thoughts, turned quickly to the guest
on her left.
Elrohir, on Eowyn's left, and Arwen, on his right, were discussing
the harvest ceremony.
"A lord's first time," Elrohir was sayingand
he winked at Eowyn"is a very auspicious moment to choose
Eowyn had met the twins only briefly before, but she knew of
their reputationand they were certainly living up to it
"What better way to ensure that his wife is amenable than
to test her before all his friends?" continued Elrohir.
"And, perhaps, let his friends test her a little, too,"
Eowyn looked at Arwen, expecting her to rebuke her brothers.
Instead, she said, "How much do you know about the rite,
"Only that it means a great deal to Legolas, and that he
does not deserve to be ridiculed," she answered, looking
at the twins, icily.
The three elves exchanged knowing nods.
"The rite is a sacrifice to the Valar. It takes place on
the ceremonial threshing floor," said Arwen, gesturing to
the circular patch of earth, strewn with ears of corn, at the
centre of the hall. "When it is time, Legolas must choose
a lady from the company and lead her onto the floor. Then the
Mistress of the Ceremony," she pointed to the forbidding
elleth sitting beside Legolas, "will join them, as if in
marriage. And Legolas mustconsummatethe marriage by
making love to her."
"He takes her to his chambers?" said Eowyn, thinking
how painful it would be to sit waiting in the banqueting hall,
knowing that Legolas and his lady were making love elsewhereand
then to see them return, the elleth flushed with pleasureNo,
she could not endure that. Perhaps she should make an excuse
and retire to her chamber before it all began. Then she could
always leave for North Ithilien first thing in the morning. It
was not that far, and if anyone knew where to travel to
avoid roaming orcs, it was she
Her thoughts were interrupted by Elrohir. "No, sweeting,"
he said, smiling, "he takes her here."
Eowyn's blood ran cold. "And we must watch?"
"We must play our part in the ceremony," said Arwen.
"The guests tend to find themselvesexcitedby
the rite. It has been known for them to spend the whole night
making love, some of them giving pleasure to many partners. It
is a beautiful festival."
Her brothers agreed.
That does it, thought Eowyn, I am certainly not staying
here with two rampant elves. I must make my excuses and leave.
Then a thought suddenly struck her: "That is why those ellith
are so excited," she said, softly.
The three elves nodded.
"But he need not choose one of those silly creatures,"
said Elrohir. "He can choose any elleth here."
"Or woman," said Elladan. And his brother and
sister nodded in agreement.
Eowyn shook her head. "No, he cannot. I am the only
woman here, and the other ellith are all married."
"It is considered a great honour, for the husband,"
said Elrohir, "if the lord chooses his wife."
Eowyn was appalled. "But how can the husband possibly bear
it?" she asked. "And what if the wife does not want
to cuckold her husband?"
"Any ellethor womanwho attends the banquet has
already given her consent by being here. No one can leave before
the rite endsand no one can say nay," said Elrohir.
Panicking, Eowyn glanced at Legolas.
And, at that very moment, Legolas chose to look at her! She blushed
crimson and looked away.
Faramir, did you think this would cure me? she wondered,
angrily. I will kill you when I return home.
So far, thought Legolas, so good.
A group of excited ellith, carefully selected by his Chief Counsellor,
was seated, with their families, at the far side of the table.
Some of them, he noticed, were somewhat the worse for wine. When
the time came, the Valar would help him choose the one.
He tried to remember the girls' names.
There was Idril, the daughter of Tathar, a highly respected sword
smith; she seemed a quiet, likeable elleth. There was Nerwen,
the daughter of Findecáno, one of the colony's healers;
Legolas had heard that she intended to follow her father's calling
and had already demonstrated considerable skill, and she seemed
pleasant enough, if a little drunk at present.
Then there was Angaráto's daughter, Alatáriël.
Valar! That elleth thought of nothing but sexthe
number of times he had tactfully had to repel her clumsy advances!
Tonight she looked like one of those so-called 'bathing attendants'
that had been offered to him in Edoras, her bodice cut too low
and her transparent skirts revealing her thighs.
The rest of the ellith, he simply could not remember.
He sighed. He supposed they were all pleasant enough and could
all be considered attractive, though not to his tastenot
Dear Valar, he prayed, if only you would give me her!
But, then, the rite is not about love...
At least, he thought, most of my guests seem to be
enjoying themselves. Gimli was busy winning an ale-drinking
contest with Haldir and Prince Imrahil; Aragorn, seated beside
Chief Counsellor Caranthir, appeared to be discussing a question
of ethics; Arwen, happy to see her brothers again, was talking
animatedly; and Elrohir and Elladan were clearly enjoying teasing
Only Eowyn seemed uncomfortable.
In fact, she seemed embarrassed. And when Legolas managed to
catch her eye, she blushed deeply, and quickly turned away.
"Is he not handsome?" whispered Idril, daughter of
Tathar, to the elleth sitting beside her.
Idril had been surprised to receive an invitation to the Harvest
Ceremony, for she was the daughter of a lowly, though well-respected,
sword smith and had never been counted a beauty. If only he
would choose me, she thought and her heart danced like a butterfly
at the prospect. But such things do not happen to me...
Her neighbour turned to her and gave her a long appraising look.
"You need not look at him so longingly," she said, "he
will not choose a little mouse like you."
Idril fought back, gamely. "They say that the Valar themselves
guide him in his choice," she said.
"Then they had better guide him to me," said the elleth.
"Because I want him. And I always get what I want."
"My lady?" said a serving elf, placing a goblet of
wine before Eowyn.
"Thank you." She took a sip, but the wine tasted strangesalty,
and very potent. "What is this?" she asked.
"Lord Legolas asks you to drink it, my lady."
Eowyn took another sip. It was going straight to her head.
And to some other, rather more private, parts of her body.
She looked across at Legolas, but he was no longer looking at
her. Why did he want her to drink the wine? "Did he say why?"
she asked, but the serving elf had gone.
Eowyn looked around, but there was no sign of him. He had vanished.
"Did you see where he went?" she asked Arwen.
"The serving elf who gave me this wine. He was here a moment
"No," said Arwen. "I did not see anyone. In fact,
I have been trying to catch the eye of one of the serving elves
for quite a while."
Eowyn looked at the twins, but they both shook their heads.
"I did not see anyone," said Elrohir.
"Shhhh. The rite is about to begin," whispered Elladan,
The wine had created a glorious, glowing sensation in Eowyn's
lower body and she gulped down the rest, hoping that it would
somehow make watching Legolas perform the rite a little easier
"My lord, it is time," said the Mistress of the Ceremony,
placing a goblet in Legolas' hand.
The lord of Eryn Carantaur took a deep breath, lifted the goblet
to his lips, drained it, and waited expectantly.
Legolas looked slowly around the assembled company, examining
each female face in turn. Nothing was different. None of the eligible
ellith had changed in any way.
Something is wrong, he thought.
What if the Valar do not bless our Harvest Ceremony. What
if, by lusting after Eowyn when I should have been secluded in
meditation, I have doomed the entire colony to bad harvests...
And then he sawout of the corner of his eyea faint
silvery glow surrounding one of his guests. And, as he turned
to watch, the glow grew into an aura, shimmering and sparkling
and completely surrounding the lady who, suddenly becoming aware
of his attention, dropped her gaze and stared fixedly at the table.
No, thought Legolas, it is just my wishful thinking.
She is mortal and is already married. The Valar would never give
her to me. And yet, when he looked once more at the rest of
his female guests, he could see quite clearly that she
was the only one that was glowing...
The Valar had answered his prayer!
Legolas stumbled to his feet and, with something less than elven
grace, half ran towards the radiant woman, holding out his hand:
A murmur of surpriseand some disapprovalrippled through
his guests, but Legolas ignored it. The Valar have answered
my prayer, he thought, she is my heart's own choice.
Slowly, the woman raised her eyes and studied his face. For a
long, heart-faltering moment Legolas though she might refuse him.
But then she rose to her feet and accepted his hand.
And suddenly, Legolas could restrain himself no longerhe
swept Eowyn into his arms and, whirling her round, carried her,
both of them laughing, to the centre of the threshing floor, where
he lowered her to the ground and kissed her, passionately.
"Arwen was right," said Elrohir, "he is
in love with herand she with himand now we will have
to make do with an elleth."
"A pity," said Elladan, "for I have heard there
is nothing to match the carnal appetites of a woman."
"I have heard," began Elrohir, "that they
can" and he whispered the rest in his brother's ear.
"No! 'Tis not possible."
"I have it on the best authority. From one who has tried
They both laughed. "I fear poor Legolas may be in for a
shock!" said Elladan.
Sensing that Aragorn was about to protest, his wife wrapped her
small hand firmly round his wrist. "He has chosen her, Estel,"
she said, "and she has accepted. You cannot stop the rite
"But does she know what will happen to herwhat he
will do to her? Before the entire company?"
"She knows." Arwen did not mention that Eowyn had not
seemed to approve of the rite.
"And you knew that he would choose her! That is why
you gave her your gown! Did he tell you?" Aragorn knew that
Arwen and Legolas were as close as brother and sister.
She shook her head. "I only knew that he was in love with
her." And I hoped, she thought.
Aragorn sighed. "She is a married woman, Arwen. Married
to a Man. I know that an elven husband would count this a great
honour, but Men are possessive, especially when it comes to their
wives. A wife's reputation reflects directly on her husband."
He sighed wearily. "This could turn into a major diplomatic
"A woman," hissed Idril's neighbour. "He
has chosen a woman." She pronounced the word as though
it referred to a particularly nasty type of vermin.
Idril turned to her, and smiled sympathetically.
Unnoticed, Gimli left the banqueting hall.
He would return later.
When the worst was over.