Iris chose to take a walk that afternoon. It was the first time she went alone with Arnald. The other times Thranduil was not around to be with her, she asked Nionwen to accompany her as she was still too shy to be left alone with Arnald. She knew there would be one or two more guards nearby, but they stayed much farther. They were the ones Arnald would command in case Iris wanted for anything or summon anyone she would want to see.
They went out by the northern gate of the Halls and she chose a familiar spot by a pond that she liked. A blanket was laid down under the shade of a tree and she sat down, raising up her knees and holding them against her chest. It was a cool afternoon, and there was a little wind. She looked around but barely noticed that the wind carried more falling leaves with it. Her thoughts were more on Arnald, and she awkwardly glanced at Arnald with her lips pursed. She never really had a proper conversation with him ever since.
Arnald stood a little distance from her, calmly looking around to check, as was his custom as a guard. Satisfied that nothing was out of the ordinary, he turned to look at his young ward and caught her awkwardly averting her gaze from him. He couldn’t help but smile, he knew that she was not comfortable enough with his company yet, but he let her get accustomed to him at her own pace. He sat down on a rock, not facing her, but his gentle, handsome face looked attentive.
Iris slowly turned her face to glance at him again. She always thought of the dark-haired soldier as very handsome. And tall and noble. It was probably one of the reasons she felt shy to be alone with him. From the first day that she saw him, she noticed him, but she was much more enamored by Thranduil, who was much taller and majestic, and she always gave him her full attention. Legolas was also handsome and noble, as were many other elves that she had seen in the kingdom. She looked behind her and moved so that she could lean against the tree. She remembered her position, and she thought she should behave more matured, more queenly. She sighed at the thought of being queenly. She figured all she had to do was remain quiet and look dignified. She need not appear nor pretend to be smarter than she is, because she’s with elves. Ancient and wise beings. She knew it would be foolish to be pretentious around them. When she was with Thranduil or Nionwen, she felt more comfortable. She missed her carefree ways with her family and friends.
But this is my life now, she thought. She breathed deeply and glanced at Arnald again.
Iris somehow always wondered how his wife could have been able to live so far away from him. Did he do badly as a husband? Maybe he was too devoted to his duties. But it was the way with most elves, she observed. Even Nionwen was not always with her husband as he was with the border guards. Maybe it was the long years the elvish couples spent with each other, and they either got bored with each other’s company or simply drifted apart and found other things to do. Arnald glanced her way and caught her staring at him. She held her gaze at him and smiled. He smiled back at her and gave her a brief but respectful nod.
She remembered the dragonflies and damselflies that she liked to watch and try to catch around the pond, and she got up and slowly walked towards it, an excited smile on her face. She knelt by the verge of the pond, and sure enough, there were a couple of them flitting among the grass and small flowers. She glanced at Arnald, still smiling. Arnald joined her, he knew she was not good at catching them. She kept going after them with much effort at stealth, trying to catch them by their tails. He knelt near her, and cupping his hand, effortlessly caught a small dragonfly with a quick swoop. He gently covered his catch with his other hand and held it by its wing for Iris to see. Her smile widened as she gently took the struggling red dragonfly from his fingers.
“Thank you,” she said, happily handling the insect. He only nodded and smiled back at her, sitting on his heels.
“Would you like another, my Lady?” he asked after a while, after she settled the dragonfly on the grass and released it.
“I saw a big damselfly, but it’s across the pond. See?” she pointed at it. “But don’t bother to catch it, it looks pretty just flying over there.” She gazed into the water and saw insects skittering on its surface. No fish swimming in the shallow pond. She picked a small delicately-hued flower and started to get up. Arnald quickly got up and held her by the elbow to help her. She thanked him and returned to sit on the blanket.
“Can you sit here with me?” she finally asked him.
The soldier obliged, but he sat on the grass not on the blanket with her, maintaining a respectful distance.
“They would be sending food in a little while, my Lady. Would there be anything you would prefer to be served?”
“Oh, no need, the food they send is always good,” she gushed awkwardly. She was a little nervous facing him, but she wanted to be comfortable with him and he seemed very kind. She never had a male friend, not even among her suitors save Jorin and Thranduil. She found Legolas wonderful to be with but he was seldom around. He was either joining the border patrol or going down to the training halls. Sometimes Thranduil made him join them for a few meals, but that was it. Back home, even though Peyton had been working in their household for a few years, she seldom talked to him. He was always busy doing his chores and most often took a bit of the smell of the horse shed with him.
“Were you always here? I mean have you lived anywhere else?” she struggled to start the conversation.
“Yes, my Lady. I have always loved it here. My duty is here,” he calmly answered in his deep voice. He went on to tell her of how he intended to be a healer at first, but changed heart and trained to become a soldier instead. He took it upon himself to encourage her to speak more to him and ask him questions, which he answered gamely. He even told her about his married life.
“That’s what I was wondering about, how come she left you and never returned?” she ventured to ask.
“It’s how we elves are, my Lady. Because we live for hundreds, nay thousands of years, sometimes we would grow interest in other things and pursue them. It is not something that would cause us to lose our love for our spouses. We remain married until we go to the next world, either by making the journey or being reembodied if we perished here in Middle Earth…”
“But don’t you want to go to Rivendell and see her? Like, you know, don’t you miss being with her? …at night?” she smiled sheepishly. She lifted her hand to her neck and briefly scratched it.
Arnald couldn’t help but laugh a little at her innocence. “I am very much devoted to my duties, my Lady, as my wife is to her vocation as a healer.”
“I wonder if…Thranduil would…” Iris hesitated. But Arnald knew what she meant. He only gave her a comforting smile.
“My beloved and I were together for more than a hundred years before she left for Imladris. My Lord Thranduil, I believe would remain here. With you, my Lady.”
“Until I grow old…”
“You’re still too young to think nor worry about that, my Lady,” said Arnald, still smiling. He noticed that she stayed silent and his elvish senses told him she was breathing differently.
“Are you alright, my Lady?”
Iris coughed a little before she answered, “I think I should go back inside.” Arnald promptly stood up and helped her get up. “I hate it when this happens,” she said with her head bowed. Arnald understood. Since Thranduil appointed him to be her aide he had conversations with Nionwen and the healers regarding Iris’ condition. He walked by her side and held her elbow until they reached the hallway leading to the King’s chambers. He gave instructions to one of the guards to summon Nionwen, and once he got Iris inside, he closed most of the windows, leaving only the farthest one from the bedchamber open. He drew the heavy curtains and left only a small opening by the open window, darkening the chambers as a result. Iris settled down on the couch and he lit up some of the lamps and stood by the windows afterwards. He did not leave her until Nionwen arrived.
“Yesterday, I went down to the halls where the minstrels and dancers were,” Iris told Thranduil while they were having breakfast two days after. “Would it be alright if I joined them?” she asked. Thranduil looked at her as he sipped his tea. He put the cup down and took moments before he spoke.
“It seems you’re very much interested,” he said, regarding the anxious expression on her face. “As long as you would not be put in any compromising situation, and as long as it would make you happy, I do not see any harm in it.”
Iris felt excited. “Really? It’s alright for me to join? Yes, it does make me happy! Though I am not sure if I could really keep up, because some of their dances are fast. But I only really intend just to join them when they are rehearsing, I am not sure if it would do good for the group if I joined them when they are performing.”
“I would want you to give more importance to your Elvish language lessons. They would start in less than two weeks.”
“Yes, of course,” her mood changed a little as she remembered.
Thranduil regarded her briefly and thought he would make Arnald tell him more about Iris’ visit at the rehearsal halls, which was previously reported to him. “I am glad that you are keeping yourself busy.”
Iris lightened up once more. “I feel wonderful about it! At least I won’t be cooped up here so much!” she happily. Thranduil reached out his hand to hold her cheek for a moment, a slight smile on his lips.
“One day I would join to watch you there. In the meantime, we are still busy preparing the Halls for the coming winter.”
Iris smiled back at him. “I would go there again this afternoon, and tomorrow they said I could start.”
“Who said? Liron?”
“Yes! The head teacher of the dance group. He’s a nice elf. The other dancers were nice too. I also met the musicians, but I am more interested to join the dancers first,” she enthused.
“As I said, as long as it makes you happy,” he said. Iris nodded happily and they resumed their breakfast.
The next morning, Iris was with the company of dancers and they were through doing a slow group dance. She was dressed like the other maidens, she wore a light tunic over her trousers and soft shoes. Liron was about to show them one routine which he told Iris would go faster, and Iris only smiled in acknowledgment.
Liron was a Silvan elf who had been managing the group of dancers for more than five hundred years in the King’s Halls. He was dark-haired, with sharp eyes and thin lips. He was always ramrod straight whenever he walked or stood with his arms crossed when he was observing the dancers. He looked strict, but he always spoke cordially with Iris and the rest of the dancers.
Liron had his back turned to the dancers and first started with simple steps. He wanted to let Iris blend in slowly with the group. The other dancers were prepared to be patient with her as well. She was cautious with her movements, trying her best to keep up. He was pleased to see that she was graceful at least. Little by little he was showing more complicated steps, and she kept trying her best to keep up. But sometimes she would miss a step or turn because she could not move as fast as the rest. Liron signaled for a break. He was smiling at her, and told her she was doing fine.
“I’m sorry, I’m not as quick and limber as you are…” Iris said to the other elves, catching her breath.
“You’re doing well, my Lady. It is only your first day. You would certainly catch up in no time,” Liron encouraged her. He looked at the rest of the elves. “We will have a breather.”
Iris gratefully took the water canteen that Arnald handed her as she plopped down on her chair, sweating and catching her breath. The other elves were still on the floor and some were glancing at her as they engaged in idle talk. “They don’t even look tired at all,” she complained to Arnald, who stood near her.
“Well, they have been dancing for a long time. They have been dancing way, way, way before you were born, my Lady.”
“You only need to say they’re elves,” she rolled her eyes. She took her towel and wiped off the sweat from her brow.
“You do dance well, my Lady,” Arnald assured her.
“I only get to dance with my friends sometimes. We really like to do it, especially when Avina was around. We always make her teach us how to dance. She gets to travel to some places and have seen different kinds of dancing.”
“You should not tire yourself so. You might start having trouble breathing, my Lady.”
“I would feel it coming. I would stop.”
“Would you like me to speak with Liron and tell him to teach you easier dance movements, my Lady?”
“No, Arnald. Please don’t,” she glanced up at him. “I really want to learn. I don’t want them to think I would only slow them down.”
Iris realized she could not perform as well as the other dancers could, as she could not help but miss a turn or a step a few times. She decided to just dance at the pace she could, and if possible, she would skip a step to keep up with the beat.
The dancers resumed their rehearsals and Iris joined them again. Liron was watching her, and he understood her limits. She would need to stay in the center, he figured. For one thing, she was their Queen. That way she would look like their main dancer and would not look awkward dancing differently from the others. He observed that she was good at remembering the routines and remained graceful and lovely to look at even when she was already tired. Because she danced differently and her body was a little curvier than the elf-maidens, she easily becomes the center of attention. Another thing he noticed about her was that her breasts jiggled so much, he suspected they hindered her movements. He would have to point it out to her. But how? he thought. Perhaps he could have an elf-maiden tell her or tell her handmaiden to bind her breasts. It would be tricky, but she wanted to dance. And if she was serious and wanted to improve, she should understand.