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28
A Cen-Gwaeth

To Mistress Altra Nénharma, from Marpol Thorenhen Tintehlë, greetings!

I have the honour to inform you that your daughter, Mistress Altáriël
Nénharma, has graciously agreed to become my Lady Wife.
We are betrothed and shall be hand-fasted by Lord Elrond tonight in a
private Ceremony, with friends about us.

I know that she misses you, as do I, but we look forward to your presence
at our Wedding when we return. Pray give Vorondor the enclosed message
from me.

Dear Mother Altra, if I may so address you, thank you for the miracle that is
your daughter! I love her with all my heart, and shall endeavour to be worthy
of her regard every hour of every day.

With greatest esteem and affection,

--Marpol



Gwaeroval must have spoken to Lord Elrond, for our host swept into the room a few moments later. Alta would have moved apart from me to curtsey, but I kept my arm around her. The Elf bowed, smiling. “I believe that I should offer congratulations?”

“We are betrothed,” I said, grinning. I could not seem to stop!

He looked me over. “It is fortunate that you are leaving tomorrow, for otherwise you would have to keep your chambers; no one even glimpsing you would believe that you suffered so much as a hangnail, let alone were seriously injured! Lady, you have eased him far more than any remedy of mine could. I am heartily glad for you both! May I have the honour of presiding over a cen-gwaedh, a hand-fasting commemoration, tonight? Such an important event should not go uncelebrated, even if it must be quietly.”

I stammered our thanks, and went out to the outer room to announce the news to our staff. How satisfying it is to use plural pronouns!

The moment I came through the door, I had their attention, and my captains began to grin even before I opened my mouth. “Bright the day! I want you all to be silent for a moment after I tell you some news. Mistress Alta has consented to wed me—“

Dir and Cardin clapped hands over their mouths to stifle whoops, and Rihan nodded vigorously as he turned to Tambaro. “I win!”

“Nay, I win, because I said it would be before we got to Arnor, and you said ‘twould be before we got back to the city!”

“That was what you said!”

“I did not!”

“You did!

“Didn’t!”

“Did!”

Disgarding their mock arguing, I said, “Enough! I might have known that you two would bet on anything, even something as important as this!” But I could not maintain my sternness, grinning again before I even finished the sentence. I emerged from their rough hugs and back-pounding to say, “Everyone, keep in mind that supposedly I’m not far from Nandos’ halls; you will have to pretend to be worried. Alta and I are leaving with Gwaeroval before dawn, so the rest of you must keep up the façade that we are still here while I heal.”

“Well, that’s one way of deciding who goes with you,” Tambaro remarked.

“A bit extreme, extraordinary and exceptional,” Rihan added.

“We have much to do! I leave it to you to continue our researches. We need to pack and make plans—“

Alta appeared, rosy-cheeked, in the midst of a bevy of elleths who must have come in from the outside door. “And also be fitted for new garb. Lord Elrond is giving us a small party tonight. A quiet party; remember, he’s recovering! Tambaro and Solarian, you get measured first.”

Cardin beamed at me. “My lord, I am so happy for you both!”

“My thanks, lad,” I said as I embraced him.

Dir smiled. “May you both give each other joy and support for many long years together, my lord, my lady.” He held out his hand, which I took and pulled him into a hug as well. For an instant he was stiff, then relaxed and hugged me back as I spoke with them.


It was midnight when we stole through the courtyard, one or two at a time, to a small clearing by a waterfall and pool. The space was lit with many candles; beds of flowers and blossoming shrubs decorated it and perfumed the air. I was surprised by the number of folk who were there, members of Elrond’s household and Master Baggins, as well as my staff.

Lord Elrond awaited us beside a small table draped in white. Alta was radiant in a deep green gown, a flower-crown upon her unbound hair. I wore a matching tunic, and had a green garland on my head. She had asked Frejwyn and Islilta to stand with her as witnesses, the mearh doing so with a smaller garland around her neck. I had asked Gwaeroval and Tambaro to stand with me. The Great Eagle stood very carefully, his wings tightly furled. Swords drawn, Glorfindel, Rihan, Cardin and Corrigar stood around us as honour-guard.

Our wrists draped with the hand-fasting cord intricately plaited of mearh-hair and ribbons in my House colours, before that company we spoke of our love and vowed to wed in a year. Elrond tied the cord loosely, in symbolism of the bond between us, then coiled it carefully into a small box for us to use later at the wedding. I didn’t think I could wait an entire year!

We exchanged tokens. I gave Alta a pair of eagle earrings, each with tiny deep emerald and sapphire beads below the bronze birds with their open wings. She gave me an unset emerald stone about the size of a fingernail, beautifully incised with a flying bird over a mountain. These had been purchased separately from Aonghus.

The ceremony over, platters of food and glasses of beverages were brought out. “A pity that there can be no music,” Alta said wistfully.

Overhearing, Glorfindel smiled grimly. “Oh, there will be music and dancing, my lady, for he whom we most suspect has imbibed a drink laden with a soporific that should insure his not so much as turning over until mid-morn tomorrow. What is a cen-gwaedh without a chance to dance and drink the health of the happy couple? And when you choose to seek your rest, you shall not be disturbed by our continuing festivity.”

“Is that due to a spell, my lord?” Alta asked.

“Only the kind your betrothed can also create,” he answered, bowed, and vanished into the throng as harps, drums and flutes began a lively tune.

“What did he mean by that?” she asked lightly. “Have you magical powers of which I know naught?”

“Merely that this space is designed to allow little noise to escape it,” I replied, for I had expressed similar concerns to Lord Elrond earlier, while she was being fitted for her gown. “It has to do with the way the stone is curved and the use of plants and water. I could learn so much here…”

“Would you not be able to come again?” she asked.

“Did you not hear that the Elves are leaving?” The thought made me melancholic.

“But ‘soon’ to them is much longer than it is to us,” Alta pointed out. “You yet have time, my lord.”

I smiled at her. “So formal, my lady?”

“I schooled myself to be so, even in thought, to make it a habit.”

“Why?”

“Because I never thought you would choose me. You could have any woman in the realm.”

“I don’t want any woman in the realm; I want, need, love, and choose you,” I told her truthfully, lifting her hand to my lips.

“Ah, they are flirting, billing and cooing, and dallying already,” said Rihan, coming up with Tambaro and Cardin.

“Then let us leave them to it—unless you’d like some suggestions, Marpol?” my other captain inquired.

“My thanks, Tam, but I have no need.”

“Are you sure? You’ve practically been a cleric for as long as I’ve known you.”

“And you’ve been so outstandingly successful, victorious and triumphant?” jeered Rihan. “I’ll tell you what, Tam, we need to find some libations, potations, and tipples, and show, demonstrate and exemplify to these Elves how to carouse, celebrate, and make merry!” They wandered off, arm in arm, disappearing into the crowd.

It was a wonderful, memorable evening, dancing, talking, laughing, enjoying — within a limit I set myself — the refreshments. At one point, Lord Glorfindel detached me from some other Elves. Although he had been matching my Captains drink for drink, he showed no sign of inebriation.

“I hope my Men aren’t annoying you, my lord,” I said.

“Nay, I’ve known some of your folk before. Worry not, my lord, they will neither embarrass you nor themselves, nor cause any ill will. Here,” and he put a package, beautifully wrapped in shining fabric, into my hands. It felt like a book. “Open it when you return to your chambers.”

“My thanks! I shall leave it here until our return, lest it be damaged.”

“On the contrary, my lord, I insist that you take it with you.” His eyes danced as he dexterously draped it in a more nondescript covering. “An early wedding gift. Not all are Elves, to wait. And not all of us wait, regardless.”

Another gnomic utterance from the Firstborn!

“My thanks,” I repeated.

“You might wish to examine it alone, although I intend it for you both.”

“I shall do as you ask,” I said, managing, I hoped, to prevent any ironic tones, for his “request” sounded more like a command.

He flashed me another grin, and drifted away into the crowd.

When I caught myself yawning for the second time, I decided I’d better get some rest. Alta too was ready, and accompanied Swift and me as far as the outer room of my suite. Our good night was lingering and both satisfying and unsatisfying; I had noticed the shadows of guards at the corner of the courtyard and in the passage.

After she left and I had watched her enter her chamber and wave to signify that it was safe (and one of Glorfindel’s guards took up an unobtrusive stance nearby), I went to my bedroom and freed the book from its wrappings.

Oh. Valar. Oh, Melyanna(1).

(Although the Love-giver was more a Maia, not that I was in any mood to quibble….)

I had heard of a Haradaic book about lovemaking, reputed to cost a fortune. I knew of but had never seen a partial copy of only a few pages that had cost an incredible amount, sold to the brothel-owner of the Golden Bell in Dol Amroth; Nararië had told me of it enviously and implored me that if I ever found a copy to please let her read it for only one quarter-mark, for whatever price I chose to name. “It would be worth a fortune in mithril to any courtesan!” she had said.

This—this was the far older Elvish one, rumoured to be even more exotic, the Mírí o Melanthryn(2). It was written in Quenya, Sindarin and Adûnaic, and as I turned a few pages, I saw that it was beautifully, copiously and in detail, illustrated….

I did not get a great deal of sleep.

~~~

1) Melyanna – An ancient High-Elven name for Melian, the Maiar mother of Lúthien, friend and mentor of Galadriel in Doriath, before the death of her Elven husband Elwe Thingol. She is most akin to Yavanna, and is a protectoress of Mankind and lesser beasts. One of the greatest singers to ever walk Endor, she taught the nightingales to sing, and is beloved by them and all songbirds.

2) the Mirí o Melanthryn (Q.” Treasures of Melyanna”) – similar to the Kama Sutra, an illustrated book on lovemaking, very rare. I know I read a fanfic about a similar but more recent book from Harad someone gave Aragorn, that was later read by Faramir (and both their ladies) but cannot recall the title or author. Sorry.


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