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Fic: A Minstrel of Gondor
Riffing off a reference from artaxastra's Beds, this started as a birthday ficlet and... grew.

He should not leave the Road, but the music is too compelling. Just a few steps further, he thinks, just enough to make those runs of notes come clear. But he still can’t tease apart the strands of flute and voice and suddenly he is standing between two trees with a thin unfriendly mist rising from the damp ground and the air darkening toward twilight and no idea which way he should turn to find the path again. His head is heavy as though he has been at a feast, and he knows in a distant way that he’s walked himself into terrible danger.  Don’t leave the path, they all said, no matter what you see or hear or feel, don’t stray from the road. Mirkwood is old and dark and dangerous, and Men unnumbered have vanished beneath its eaves. He shakes his head, and loosens his sword in its scabbard for all the good that will do.  He takes a step and then another, his boots too loud among the leaves, and realizes that he can hear the music still.  That is his only hope of safety, and he lets the music reel him on, a golden thread to draw him through the trees.  Then at last he smells clean woodsmoke and sees the light of a bonfire through the trees.

Abruptly there is the creak of drawn bows and a blade flashing before his eyes and a flame-haired elf eyeing him with disfavor at the other end of it.

“What do you in the Greenwood, Man of Gondor, and so far from the Road?”

Arthen lifts his hands slowly, showing them empty. His palms are broad, his fingers crooked, marked and shaped from years of practice at harp and shawm. “I strayed from the path,” he says, in his passable Sindarin, “and I throw myself on the mercy of the Woodland Realm.” The music has stopped, and the sword at his throat has cleared his mind considerably.

“That is not for me to decide,” the red-haired elf says, but he lowers his blade regardless.  “Bring him.”

Two more elves catch him by the shoulders, and a third plucks his sword from its scabbard.  A woman touches the case on his shoulder, eyebrows winging upward.

“A harpist?”

“I am a minstrel of Gondor,” he said, and for all that in this company that is a minor claim indeed, he cannot keep the pride from his voice. “And my name is Arthen.”

“And what brings Arthen, minstrel of Gondor, to the Woodland Realm?” That is a slender elf who steps from the fireside to meet them.  His hair is gilt silver, his face remarkably beautiful even in this fair company, and he is wrapped in a rich cloak trimmed in fox-fur over his leather and mail. The leader, Arthen thinks, and does not need the wood-elves’ ungentle urging to send him to his knees.

“I am on my way to Dale,” he says, “and perhaps to Laketown or to Erebor, but first of all to Dale.  But I have lost the path, and I am at your mercy.”

“Indeed you are,” the captain says, with a fox’s smile. He says nothing more, watching with his head tilted to one side and his silver hair spilling over his shoulders, and Arthen can feel the mud seeping through the wool the covers his knees.

“You have wandered far afield,” the captain says at last, “and it is much too late to set you on the Road again. Sleep by the fire tonight, and in the morning we will put you right.”

They give him food and wine and a spare cloak that smells of damp wool and amber and he settles himself where he is put, not too close to the fire, but not so far that he has any chance to slip away unseen.  He is watched by at least two elves, but it is the captain’s eyes that rest on him — curiously, Arthen thinks, but the expression is unreadable.

After a bit, the music begins again. A red-haired woman produces a flute and another woman and a man begin a cheerful duet. It is an old song, someone says in passing, and Arthen catches one word in five, Silvan words mingling with more familiar Sindarin. Or perhaps it’s simply old:  he has learned Sindarin as it is spoken now, not as it was.  The duet winds to its end, and another song begins; a woman picks up a drum and some of the guard begin dancing, just at the edge of the forest where light and shadow mingle. Arthen’s fingers itch to try the tricky rhythm, to untangle the unfamiliar harmonies, and he strains to miss nothing, each precious tossed-off grace note.

“Minstrel indeed,” the captain says. He has moved so quietly that Arthen looks up in startlement and his breath catches again at the elf’s beauty. He is lean and finely made, his mouth well-shaped, and the planes of his face are elegant in the firelight.

“I do not know these songs,” Arthen says, and for one moment the grief of mortality breaks over him, all the songs there are and ever will be, and so few of them his to learn.

The captain smiles slightly, as though perhaps he’d caught some hint of that thought, and folds himself neatly to sit beside him.  “There are many songs sung in this realm that do not reach the wider world."

If he were a Man, Arthen would know exactly what to make of that sidelong glance, lingering on his face, then trailing down his thigh.  And why should the same not be true of the elves? he thinks, and returns the smile with interest.

The captain offers a wineskin and Arthen takes it; they pass it back and forth a time or three as the music swirls like sparks from the fire.

“Give us a song of Gondor,” someone called, when the dancing slows, and he spread his hands.

“My harp is all untuned from travel, I cannot do her justice.”

“Not all Gondor’s songs require accompaniment, surely,” the captain says, with another sideways smile.

“Not all,” Arthen agrees.  They are all expecting some song of heroes, and Gondor has those in plenty, but such would pale in this company. Instead, he takes a breath, hastily rendering Westron to Sindarin, and begins a lilting song that has been popular in the lower levels of the city, a minstrel’s song for other minstrels.

“When I see winter closing in, oh how I hope a place to win
If I can find a host so kind, who never winds up in a bind
Whose larder’s replete with things to eat
Duck, pork, and beef, and even sheep
Fat goose and game, cooked rich or plain
And cheese that puts the moon to shame.”

There is laughter when he’s finished, and approving glances:  the elves of Mirkwood appreciate both humility from their guests and a sense of humor. One of the singers coaches him in a round, and they chase each other around the tune while other voices weave harmony.  They try another, and a third, and then Arthen retreats, breathless, while the dance picks up again. As he stands watching, too tired to sing but still entranced, he feels the captain come up beside him, standing close enough that their shoulders almost touch.

“Must Gondor’s minstrels go begging?”

“It is the way among Men,” Arthen answers lightly.  “And it is worth it to be free to wander where I will.”

“Yet winter is in the air,” the captain says. He pauses, seeming to watch the dancers as they swing past laughing. Arthen is very aware of his nearness, as though his body is hot enough to scald. If only he would ask, Arthen would gladly say yes, gladly go to his knees again and offer service —

“My larder is full,” the captain says, and abruptly Arthen knows this is no mere captain, but the King of the Woodland Realm himself. Thranduil smiles to see the realization hit home, and Arthen bows his head in answer.

“You could winter in my halls,” Thranduil says, with a lazy confidence that says he already knows the answer.  “I’m sure you could find much to learn.”
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And a splendid present it is, for all of us, as well.

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

I'm certain that he had an extremely educational winter. :-)

Extremely. Exceedingly. Educational. :-)

OH! OH! I want more of this! About sixty pages more! All the details. Er....

*g* There might be more....

There MUST be more!

And now I have a Thranduil icon too. The difference between your Thranduil icon and mine tells you -- well, pretty much everything there is to know about the difference between us! :)

Heh. Yes. Yes, it does....

:D I love this! A lovely present indeed.

A great little story and an awesome birthday present. Loved his choice of song!

Thank you! Arthen... knew what he wanted from the start, really. And I wondered if anyone else knew the song!

I had only heard a Swedish translation, so I wasn't sure if you used an English translation of the same song, or of another song with a similar theme, or if you had written it yourself, inspired by the original. Luckily, since internet was particularly unhelpful, I found a book on Colin Muset's songs in the uni library that had all the lyrics.

Beautiful snippet of this world. Thank you for writing this.

Thank you! I'm very much in love with the elves these days. :-)

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