Wait here, Valandil, said Legolas. I
do not expect to be long. He climbed nimbly from the small
boat and paused on the wharf to get his bearings.
The house he sought was in the north eastern corner of Esgaroth.
He set off down the winding, wooden street, prudently keeping
to the shadows, avoiding the aggressive drunkards who seemed to
own the place at this time of night.
He had passed two tavernsnoisy, brightly lit, and enveloped
in a haze of liquor fumesand a rundown peep show, before
he found the bawdy house with its tell-tale red lanternshis
mission already stirring memories of visits to a similar house,
elsewhere, and kindling the strangest sensation in his loins.
It is the recollection of desire, he thought, but not
He knocked at the door.
Before the Ring war he had visited Esgaroth at least twice a
year, coming personally to select fine wines for his fathers
cellarand for his ownfrom a woman merchant in the
docklands. She was a widowplump, silver-haired, and full
of lifeand she regarded him with unashamed admiration!
He had always looked forward to their meetings: the mild flirtation;
the sharing of food and wine and stories; the fascination of seeing
her grow olderand, he thought, more beautifulas the
years passed by.
The door opened. A young maidservant bade him enter, showing
him into the parlour where her mistressMadam Mabgreeted
him with enthusiasm. Come in, sir, and welcome! Do
sit down and take a glass of wine with meAlmiel, she
shouted over her shoulder, fetch the young gentleman a goblet
of sackwere always pleased to see the fair
folk here, sir.
Yes, thought Legolas, because, compared to men, we
are insatiableand we pay accordingly.
What are you looking for, sir?
Legolas glanced around the room. It was divided across the centre
by two heavy velvet curtainsscarlet, edged with a deep golden
fringedrawn back to provide a tasteful frame to the scene
beyond. But the elf was unimpressed by the five or six young women
reclining, entwined like lovers, on the ornate, gilded day bed.
I am not here to
He broke off, mid sentence.
It cannot be!
On his last visit, they had spoken of life and death.
The wineseller had envied his eternal youth; he had envied her
We call it the gift of the Valar, he had said. It is
both a gift and a blessing, for this world is a vale of tears
and, one day, you will be at rest.
He had waved to her as his raft pulled away.
The illusion lasted for no more than a moment.
The girl, Almiel, had emerged from behind the curtain carrying
a goblet of wine andjust for a moment, with her golden hair
rippling down to her slender waist, her graceful figure, and her
lightly muscled arms, left bare by her chemise and corsetshe
had looked like her.
Just for a moment.
But that moment had been enough to awaken his desirewith
a vengeance. Legolas closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
I came here bearing a message for a friend, he said,
his voice sounding surprisingly calm. But now I find...
He swallowed hard. He could not bed the golden-haired girl, Almiel.
It would have to be one of the others. Dark hair,
he said, softly. I am looking for dark hair, dark skin,
Of course, sirAedith, take the gentleman upstairs.
Are you sure that one will suffice, sir?
Yes, madam. Thank you. He rose to follow the girl.
If my friend should finish whilst I...
I will bid him wait for you, sir.
The wineseller had died a few days later.
Her nephew had sent word to Thranduils Halls, but Legolas
had already left for Imladris and did not receive the letter until
long after the Ring War.
She will miss your friendship in the next world, the nephew
had written. Your words were a great comfort to her at the
He had been a callous fool, Legolas realised now, never thinking
of the pain his unchanging face must be inflicting on a mortal
womanhis friendWhen she was clinging to her short
life with such determination, he thought.
How could I put her through such torment?
The room was small and unexpectedly plain, but clean. Legolas
unlaced his leggings with a sigh of relief, and sat down on the
What would you like me to do, sir? asked the girl.
Legolas tried not to look at her. I... He held out
his hands. Come here.
She knelt before him, pulling aside his tunic. Oh, sir,
you are a horse! She wrapped her mouth around him.
It had been a long time. Not since Lorien, thought Legolas,
leaning back on his hands, his back arching. Not since the
two ellith at the bathing pool. He closed his eyes and concentrated
on the sensation. It was pleasanther tongue rough on his
sensitive flesh, its caress reaching deep into his body...
But she was never going to make him come. Where is the love?
Stop, he gasped, catching the girls head in
his hands. Stop, child.
I am hers, he thought, in body as well as spirit.
Singollo was waiting in the parlour. What is it, Lassui?
My father requires your return, immediately, said
They paid Madam Mab, left a gratuity for the girls, and hurried
back to the dock, where Valandil and the others awaited them.
Legolas glanced along the wharf. You go on, he said.
I will make my own way back.
Singollo frowned. Surely it is not the girl, mellon
nín? he asked, quietly, Not after what
you told me last night...
Legolas smiled. No, Collo, it is not the girl. I need to
talk to a wineseller, that is all, so I may as well stay here
until morning. I will cross the lake by ferry and walk back through
Singollo placed his hand upon his heart and bowed his head. Take
care, Lassui. Le cenithon ned lû thent, he
Legolas sat on the wooden quay, legs dangling over the water,
watching his friends disappear into the mouth of the Forest River.
Would I choose mortality for her sake?
Of course I would, were it possible. Would my love be love,
Good morning, your Highness! The winesellers
nephew bowed, formally; then he took out his keys, unlocked the
warehouse door and swung it open. Its been a few
years! Are you looking for something in particular?
Legolas hesitated. He had not thought of buying wine. Something
that will travel well, he said. To Caras Arnen on
horseback. A single bottleit is a gift.
The nephew scratched his head. For a lady?
Legolas was taken aback. Yessince you ask.
It is just that ladies generally prefer a sweeter, lighter
wine, your Highness. Let me see... He led the elf past rows
of carefully labelled barrels, and crates of glass bottles, and
between shelves of stone jars, to the back of his storeroom. Id
suggest this one, sirits young but smoothlight,
fruity, with just a hint of clover. Comes all the way from The
Shire. Would you like to try it?
Legolas shook his head. I always trusted your aunts
judgement, Master Wineseller, he said, and now I will
trust yours. Will you pack it for me?
Of course, your Highness. The man called to his apprentice,
Fetch a bottle-box and some straw, lad.
I wanted... Legolas began, that is...
He was unsure of the correct words. I wanted to offer my...
No. He began again. I will miss your aunt,
he said, simply. I am sorry you have lost her.
Thank you, your Highness. But it was some time ago now.
YesI am sorryI was awayI did not hear
of her death until a few days ago
The nephew smiled, shaking his head in apology. I just
meant, sir, that time has healed the wound.
How? asked Legolas.
How does it happen? The healing? Is it sudden? Or slow?
Does it leave a scar? Are there some wounds that never
The nephew looked at him intently. You have lost someone,
sir? Was it during the war?
I, said Legolas, quietly, I have made more
mortal friends, Master Wineseller. Many mortal friends...
The nephew nodded, sympathetically. There is no telling,
your Highness, he said, gently. Sometimes the healing
is swift; sometimes the pain lingers. But there is only one medicine,
and that is to get on with your life as best you can, and make
the very most of what is left to you. Yes, there are scarsalways
scars. But, if you are fortunate, sir, they will be the sort that
you are proud bearfond memories of the ones you have lost.
Legolas paid the ferryman and set off at a steady pace, following
the northern bank of the Forest River.
She is unhappyI know she isbut what can I
offer her? For me there will be loss whatever happensperhaps
I will fade; perhaps I will sail. But, for her, there would be...
The torment of growing old amongst immortals.