Chapter 17: Ode to Beards
Ode to Beards
"What is he saying?!" Gloin demands in a voice like rock being splintered, charging forwards an accusing finger at the Elf Lord, "does he offer us insult-?!"
"No, Master Gloin," Gandalf proclaims in a dry tone, "he is offering you food."
"Well," he grumbles, "in that case, lead on."
Lord Elrond extends his hand to the stairway, and we follow up after him and Gandalf. As we pass the guards with their immaculate visages and tall figures I find myself looking away, embarrassed at my own appearance; I'm covered in dirt, grease, and other unsightly tit-bits' from my journey through Middle Earth so far.
The Lord of Rivendell excuses himself at the entrance to the palace, and disappears to change; he returns a few minutes later wearing an extravagant robe of gold and crimson, his dark hair parted over his shoulders and brushed through. I marvel at the carvings in the walls and the ivy creeping up the high walls as we are . lead through to an indoor garden room, which has been speedily prepared for us. There are two small stone tables set up with small chairs around them, and a group of Elven men and maidens have been brought in to spread food along the tables and to play ornate musical instruments of silver and gold.
It is then that I catch my first glimpse of the Elven maids and almost have a heart attack as my self-confidence is flushed down the toilet, evaporating from my core like steam off a window pane. They are the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Awe, astonishment and jealousy flood through me as I behold the angelic beauties; all of them are tall with lean figures, round eyes and tiny rosebud mouths, hair flowing down their backs in either strands so straight they mimic waterfalls, or weighed-down loose curls which never seem to loosen, despite the heavy breeze. All of the Elves here, both male and female, are dark or red-haired and are wearing dresses of pale gold satin with velvet panels down their fronts. I take my seat before a male and female who sit plucking away at harps with gentle fingers behind me, whilst another Elven woman floats around the room playing a flute. Our party sit down rather uncomfortably, observing the food which has been laid out before us. It looks like something you would be offered at a Weight Watchers banquet. I've never been a big fan of leafy food- I glaze over the platters of salad and nuts with little interest, despite the fact that I'm rather hungry... listening to a bunch of trolls discussing the best way to cook you and a marathon-style run through a field can do that to a girl. There is, however, a lot of fruit. I eye the thinly sliced strawberries with eager eyes, not wanting to seem rude by being the first to eat something; the Dwarves do not share my sense of courtesy.
Dwalin, sat beside me, grabs hold of a ceramic bowl of lettuce leaves before us and delves his hand into the greenery; he throws the vegetation left and right before growling, "Where's the meat?!"
Oin pokes at the shell of a quail egg with one of the salad servers, practically growling at the tiny morsel.
"Try it," Dori tempts his younger sibling from across the table, "just a mouthful."
Ori shakes his head, staring down at the leafy meals uneasily and placing a stick of cabbage down on the mat before him. "I don't like green food... have they got any chips?"
Gentle music continues to be played by the Elves; I look across to Kili, who is staring somewhere behind us, head bowed and eyes locked on to whatever is there. He looks utterly enchanted by whatever he sees, and slightly bewildered. I turn as subtly as possible to see one of the dark-haired Elven maids poised on a white driftwood chair, her lithe fingers dancing delicately across her golden harp. Her eyes are as wide with curiosity as his own, though she does a better job of hiding it.
Oh hells naw. Back up, Princess Perfect. Find your own Dwarf.
She watches Kili with her wide, intrigued eyes, her taffy lips parted gently. God, she is beautiful. I feel an innate pang of envy at knowing that I can never compete with the beauty of these slender, angel-haired, flawless-skinned women who float around the Elf Lord's palace.
I turn back to Kili; he is smiling at the girl now, a wink having just fluttered in his bewitching eyes. I feel a burning flame of jealousy flicker in my soul, and find without meaning to that I am staring at the Dwarf with the most angered expression I can summon. He looks away from the Elf maiden and catches my eye first, then Dwalin's beside me; his face drops at the second glance, fear glazing it, and he begins to ramble wildly.
"Can't say I fancy Elf-Maids myself," he hurries, fingers plucking at the salad in front of him absently. Dwalin raises his brow, face otherwise set in stone, inviting Kili to go on. The young Dwarf turns to Bofur and says, "they're too... thin." Bofur nods with a smile in agreement, and Kili carries on. "They're all high cheekbones and creamy skin. Not enough facial hair for me." Bofur nods again as another dark-haired native passes by behind the pair; Kili glances up quickly at the elf's face before nudging Bofur. "Although... that one over there's not bad."
I look up at the Elf Kili had admired a moment ago, and realise something that he has clearly not noticed; I nudge Dwalin with a malicious grin, who leans forwards in his chair with a smirk. Kili catches his eye and the older man says,
"Look again, Laddie. That's not an Elf-Maid."
Kili's face drops; I find myself grinning as he turns around to see that the 'not bad' Elf-Maid is, in fact, just an Elf, and definitely not of the maiden variety.
Beside me Dwalin throws the boy a wink, and Kili's face contorts in horror.
"Very funny," Kili chokes as Bofur slaps him on the back, the entire table erupting with raucous laughter. Bombur throws a cherry tomato down the table and it bounces of Kili's temple, making him flinch; this causes even more laughter, and the young Dwarf frowns. "Very funny."
"Do not bully my little brother," Fili jests, leaning across Bofur and stealing Kili's ale much in the way he did that first night in Bilbo's house, "it's not his fault that he cannot see a difference. Look at them all," the Dwarf says, a slightly mortified expression on his face as he observes the Elves, no longer joking. "They're all so... hairless. How are you supposed to distinguish the men from the women?"
"Some of us can't," Nori smirks, and Kili flushes red.
"Surely it's just the same problem you guys have," I say with a shrug, "one of you said when I first met you that the beards make it difficult to tell whether someone's an Adam or an Eve."
"Yes, but at least Dwarven women have some... form to them," Gloin interrupts. "Meat on the bones, gives them a little shape; Elves all have the bodies of scrawny young Goblin boys."
"You can't tell Dwarven women by shape!" Bofur proclaims, dismissing Gloin's absurdity, "anything that would give away a scrap of femininity is hidden behind their mountainous beards."
"I'd take a beard over a bald face any day," Gloin cheers, "there's nothing more attractive on a woman than a good, solid beard."
The others jeer in agreement, and I get a sudden icky sense that this is conversation is the Dwarven equivalent to ogling over a girl's curves or legs. Bearded is the new sexy, I suppose.
"Perhaps you ought try for a beard, Lassie," Oin suggests, "I'm sure it would suit you well."
"Unfortunately, I can't," I say with mock sorrow, "I'm physically incapable."
"Oh," Dori breathes sympathetically. "You poor lass."
"I've tried many times," I say in a dramatic voice, veiling my smile with a leaf of lettuce, "but to no avail. Not so much as bum-fluff will grow."
A few of the Dwarves mutter in sympathy. I glance up quickly to Kili to see that he is smirking behind his hand. I return the gesture as Bofur taps my hand from across the table reassuringly.
"I think you look fine as you are, lovely Lavender," he says sweetly, that kind smile on his face again, "beard or no beard."
"Thank you, Bofur. You always say the sweetest things."
"Well never mind about the beard," Nori tries to reassure me. "Looks aren't everything, as they say."
I glance back at the Elf-Maid who is playing the harp- she really is stunning. I don't know whether to break down in tears, scowl at her in jealousy or give her a wink myself.
"You've got a thing for brunettes, then?" I ask Kili quietly once the fever has died and the Dwarves are once again distracted by the food before them, cheering now that some sliced meat has been brought out. I pluck a piece of salam-ish stuff from the platter opposing the young Dwarf, roll it into a ball and pop it into my mouth. I start twiddling the ends of my own hair, staring at them with mild disappointment. Kili swallows back a fistful of wafer thin meat and chokes,
"Yes- I mean, no- I... well, all hair colours are fine, I suppose. Yellows and whites and reds and oranges browns and blacks and... uh... blues."
"...Yes. I suppose. I've never met a blue-haired woman, but I'm sure it would look... quite... fine. I suppose."
"The lad has never been overly picky," Oin says, biting into a sliced leg of lamb with all the gusto he can muster. "We ought keep an eye on him tonight; we don't want him disappearing with any of these bald-faced Elven maids."
"If he does that, I'll run him through," Fili says, flicking Kili's nose as the younger brother tries to hide his embarrassment again.
"You'll have to get in line," I tell him, nodding down at my sword. I smile and start picking at the platter of to my left; it is smothered with more cut strawberries and grapes, apples and pears zested with citrus so that they do not begin to turn brown. Kili watches from the opposite side of the table to me as I indulge in the floral banquet, his expression one of mild revulsion.
"How can you eat that stuff?" he asks me, "it's horrid."
"It's lovely," I scald him, "sure, I'd rather be eating a mars bar, but it's light... refreshing. Besides, you'll get scurvy if you don't get enough vitamin C."
"What's a scurvy?'"
"You know, the pirate disease. Makes you all withered and shattered if you don't get your five-a-day."
Fili intrudes from beside Bofur, holding one of his moustache braids to the side as he pushes his food past it. "What's Fiva Day?"
I smile. "...Never mind."
All goes quiet for a few minutes more; one of the Elves begins to play the flute behind us, and Nori, having just slipped some of the silverware inside his coat pocket, turns to her. "Change the tune, why don't you?! I feel like I'm at a funeral."
Oin squints and adjusts his earpiece, clearly having not heard correctly. "Did somebody die?"
"Alright, Lads, there's only one thing for it," Bofur reasons, jumping from his seat and pouncing upon the table, kicking away a bowl of rocket and iceberg; the others jeer excitedly, and all goes quiet with expectation. The Elves cease their music-playing and stare in horror at the Dwarf's horrendous table manners. Bofur points over to the stern-faced, immaculately dressed Lord Elrond and begins to sing to the company, arms outstretched and dancing on the table-top. The others join in, banging their cutlery and bobbing their heads as they sing along. Well, I say sing- Dwalin practically roars the entire number. I overcome my mild embarrassment and join in, a grin on my face as I clap along and stamp my feet to the Dwarves' lament.
'There's an inn, there's an inn, there's a merry old inn beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown that the Man in the Moon himself came down
One night to drink his fill.
The ostler has a tipsy cat that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow, once squeaking high, now purring low,
Now sawing in the middle.
The landlord keeps a little dog that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests he cocks an ear at all the jests
And laughs until he chokes.
They also keep a hornéd cow as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale and makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.
And O! the rows of silver dishes and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair and these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.
The Man in the Moon was drinking deep and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced, the cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased his tail.
The Man in the Moon took another mug and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale 'till in the sky the stars were cold and pale,
and dawn was in the air.
Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat: 'The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits but their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!'
So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle, a jig that would wake the dead,
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune and the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
'It's after three!' he said!
They rolled the Man slowly up the hill and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear and the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.
Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle, the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads, the guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.
With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke! The cow jumped over the Moon,
The little dog laughed to see such fun, and the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.
The round Moon rolled behind the hill as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes, for though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!"
"I know that one!" I proclaim happily through the cheers as the Dwarves finish their song, throwing bread, salad and fruit left-and-right across the table, "I know it!" The company cheer again, Dwalin smacking my back encouragingly but far too hard as he laughs, so that I almost choke up my strawberries and grapes. "Your version is better," I acknowledge, returning my breathing to normal and brushing a smile. I thank one of the Elves as he places a blood-red goblet down in front of me. It is tiny, it's head the size of a golf ball, suspended on a glass stem which appears far too long to hold the weight of the bulbous goblet. Inside it is an astringent, bright purple liquid. I look across to Kili with a confused expression, and he shrugs, staring at his own glass.
"Aye, Gandalf," Oin calls over to the Wizard, his trumpet screwed into his ear as he sniffs at the drink, "what's this here, then?"
"That, Master Oin, would be evening wine," Gandalf says, "it contains a remedy to help you all get a good night's sleep."
"They plan on poisoning us!" Gloin yammers; the others rile in agreement, Dwalin throwing his goblet across the room so that it shatters against the arm of Lindir's seat. The quiet Elf stands hurriedly and moves out of the line of fire.
"They do not wish to poison you," Gandalf corrects the rowdy gang. "The wine will ease your weary bones and provide you with the best night's sleep you have had in an age. Pray, drink quickly now, and then to bed with you all. There is a long journey ahead."
A good night's sleep?! Count me in.I grab hold of my goblet and raise a toast to the others.
"To Dwarves, to Erebor and to fine thick beards!"
The group cheer, smashing their glasses against one another's and stamping their feet again; Dwalin is given a new glass, which he smashes sharply against mine before downing the liquid in one gulp.
"It tastes like poison," Kili gurns, trying to scrape what is left of his own portion from his tongue. I sip at mine uneasily, the sting of the liquid burning my eyes, before eventually forcing myself to down it in one.
"Oh, wow," I breathe, "that is... that is pretty damn strong."
"Oh, the lass can't handle her drink!" Gloin laughs across the table, and I pull a face as best I can, but the strength of the powerful liquid has left me in quite a shock. I smack myself in the side of my face to clear my head, and end up following the Dwarves as they retreat to their quarters, made up of a dormitory with fifteen separate rooms and a parlor which has been constructed on the balcony. We sit out there, having brought some of the food with us, and Dwalin grabs a chair from one of the rooms and snaps it in half, splitting up the wood in order to make a fire. In typical fashion Bofur uses a wick of the nearest Dwarf's hair to use as kindle for the flame, and soon a warm red flame is burning in the heart of the company.
Our resident klepto Nori stuffs the tapestries from the walls into his saddlebag as Bifur roasts a cabbage on the fire absentmindedly, the glow of the flame glinting on the axe embedded in his forid. Bombur sits on a creaking table which is clearly insufficient for its immense weight, and I see Bofur looking with wicked eyes at a sausage which he now holds in his hand.
"Bombur," he calls, and throws the stick of meat to his brother; the ginger Dwarf catches it gratefully, and the gentle influx of weight is all it takes to being the table down. The wood groans before splintering with a thud and cracking beneath Bombur's weight, sending the spherical Dwarf to the floor with a surprised yelp. We all laugh thunderously, Bofur actually rolling out of his seat, and it takes a long while for us to calm back down again.
As night draws in, I sit in the alcove of the balcony with Kili, legs pulled up tight beneath me and toying with the frayed edge of my dress, humming the tune that the Elves were playing earlier. Kili, legs tucked beneath a fur blanket, pulls out his pipe and hands it to Bifur to light on the flames. He sits smoking away quite happily, staring at his own knees and listening in as the others laugh about how odd it must be to be an Elf and the possible issues that might arise as a by-product. The smell of the pipes starts to get to me, making me feel even drowsier than the specially brewed wine.
"You really shouldn't smoke, you know," I say to Kili, eyes closed now, "it's pretty bad for you. And I don't think it's nicotine you've got in that pipe of yours."
"It's only a little pipe weed," Kili dismisses, waving some of the musk away, "we picked it up back in the Shire- it's a little stronger than the roots which grow at home, but it isn't all that bad."
"It'll be 'all that bad' when you've got no brain cells left," I tell him with a frown; clearly he doesn't fully understand, so instead exhales his next breath in rings into my face. I waft them away dismissively.
"Wow," I say sarcastically, imitating the first thing that comes into my head, "many skills. Such impress." I am a little impressed.
"You ought try it," he offers, and I shake my head, lying down and putting my head against the furs near his feet. "I could teach you how to blow rings, if you like."
"You're alright," I reject, snuggling down against the fur pelts and closing my eyes briefly. "I'd rather stay mentally efficient... goodnight, Kili."
"Oh, we're going, are we?" he murmurs. I glance up with one eye open, registering the use of 'we'. He blots out his pipe and closes his own eyes, and I feel his hand grab hold of my own beneath the cover of the blanket. I smile and give it a little squeeze. "You have to show me your world this time, remember. You promised, and a promise should always be kept. Show me the best that your world has to offer. I'll see you soon, then," he breathes quietly, squeezing back a little too hard.
I smile, eyes closed again now as the warmth of the fire and pelts lulls me to sleep.
"In a while, crocodile."
AN: Elves, man. I wish I was an Elf.