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‘ Noon?’ said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘ Noon of what day?’
‘The fourteenth of the New Year,’ said Gandalf, ‘or, if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King….’ The Field of Cormallen, pages 277-278 in my copy of The Return of the King.
A New Year
‘You do realise, do you not,’ Elladan remarked, ‘that half of our acquaintance has decided that we are quite mad?’
‘While the other half realised it centuries ago,’ Legolas grinned. ‘I really care not one jot or tittle. They can think what they like.’
The elves under their command continued to busy themselves with preparing the wide clearing that the twins had settled on as the best place for the evening’s activities.
‘I told you we would be better establishing this celebration in Taurevron.’ Legolas watched critically as a group of novices began to prepare a pit for roasting a deer. ‘They are too close to those trees, Elrohir,’ he objected. ‘We do not wish to risk scorching their roots.’
‘Tell them to move themselves a couple of dozen paces to the north and start again,’ Elladan called to the older elf in charge. ‘Really,’ he said in more confidential tones, ‘the elves here have very little sense when it comes to spending time among trees.’
‘They do not generally hold uninhibited outdoor festivals of eating and drinking and dancing,’ Elrohir said. ‘Not to mention…’ He grinned.
‘That is why we should have held it in …’
‘Oh, do be quiet, Thranduilion,’ Elladan complained. ‘You are repeating yourself. We do not need to hold this festival in Taurevron – your people know only too well the significance of this day. It is the same in Emyn Ovornen. We are already inclined to spend this time remembering the past – and in being grateful to those who managed against all the odds to pull off a victory. It is here in Tirion that elves need to learn why we celebrate this day. I am sick of them looking down their noses at us as if anything that happened east of the sea is terribly insignificant in the great scheme of elven smugness.’
‘He feels strongly about it,’ Elrohir announced, nodding wisely.
‘Clearly.’ Legolas grinned. ‘So you decided to start at the top. With the High King of the Noldor in the glades before Tirion.’
‘We might as well begin with a bang,’ Elladan insisted.
‘And that is where I come in.’ Olórin was still able to don the gruff wizard, Legolas noted as he turned to the voice. He was dressed in gleaming white – and he looked somewhat better groomed than he ever had in Middle Earth, even after he had been promoted to the head of his order. His beard looked less part of him – organic, grown up out of the bones of the earth like a patch of brambles – than a disguise, but it was still heartening to see the bright eyes of the wizard of the Fellowship.
‘Well – this is important to you as well,’ Elrohir said unrepentantly.
‘I am not denying it.’ Mithrandir raised his bushy eyebrows. ‘I have argued ever since I returned that an understanding of the trials of Arda should be drummed in the ears of these elves of Aman until they know enough to be grateful to those who suffered while they lived at their ease. But it is not a comfortable tale – and, on the whole, those here would rather believe that the troubles east of the sea are purely the fault of those who live there. Because they rebelled against the Valar, or because they are not of the Quendi, chosen to follow Oromë to the Blessed Realm.’
Legolas’s eyes narrowed.
‘I am not saying I agree with them.’ The Istar seemed to be settling more into his role of irascible wise man with every word he spoke, as he became less Olórin and more Gandalf.
Elrohir gave him a knowing grin. ‘So you are enjoying yourself, then?’
‘I would not say there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in trying to hammer some sense into those who persist in seeing themselves as wise,’ Mithrandir told him irritably. ‘It is rather like trying to mould water.’
‘Moulding water is easy,’ Elladan told him. ‘You just need to pour it into the right container.’
Mithrandir stared at him. ‘You have a very simplistic view at times, Elrondion,’ he declared. ‘And you think this is the right container?’ The wizard nodded at the preparations.
‘It – is a start,’ Elrohir said.
‘They will eat and talk and dance – and listen to the songs and weep – and tomorrow they will have forgotten all about it.’
‘Then we will do it again,’ Legolas shrugged. ‘And again. Until the message starts to get across. And we will live our lives in the knowledge that a pair of halflings did what the wise dared not – and, in time, the understanding will spread.’
The wizard sniffed contemplatively. Three pairs of elven eyes settled on him with amusement. Olórin seemed happy to have abandoned the elegant Maia to resume the semblance of the old man in grey. ‘What does your Andaeradar think?’ he asked.
‘He agrees with Daernaneth,’ Elladan said promptly. ‘He saw enough in the War of Wrath to know the courage of the elves and men who fought against Morgoth – and he is prepared to accept the courage of the halflings, even if he never visited Frodo on Tol Eressëa.’
‘To my mind,’ Legolas admitted candidly, ‘he could ignore the Ringbearers as easily at the rest of them – had Lady Galadriel not told him straight that Frodo and Sam were more worthy of respect than any of the heroes of the First Age.’
‘That,’ Elladan suggested, ‘could be because neither has he much admiration for many of those who showed their courage then.’
‘I would not go so far as to say that,’ Mithrandir reflected. ‘Finarfin is a lot more observant than many credit – and he is honest, even with himself, which is more than you can say for most.’ He looked sharply at Legolas. ‘Has your adar come to join in this … display?’
‘He has.’ Legolas stated. ‘Although Naneth has remained in the forest. She said that she does not like it east of the mountains and that, as she played no part in the events that ended the age, there would be little point in her presence.’
‘Elrond?’ The wizard turned his gaze on the twins.
‘Of course,’ Elrohir said with a lift of his eyebrow. ‘And Naneth. With, should you wish to know, the remainder of our families.’
‘Equipped with newly-written songs?’ Mithrandir smoothed his beard. ‘I think this is the first battle I have seen fought with harp and flute.’
‘Songs and stories, both new and old,’ Elladan told him unrepentantly. ‘And, of course, your contribution to the excitement – which we imagine will have an instant impact on our guests.’
The wizard shook his head incredulously. ‘I cannot believe I allowed myself to be inveigled into taking part in this nonsense,’ he muttered. ‘I doubt I will ever live it down.’
The twins exchanged a swift grin. ‘Come, my friend,’ Elrohir coaxed. ‘For Frodo.’
A scowl completed the transition from shining Maia to the Gandalf familiar to those who had known him over his time in Arda. ‘I am going to see Elrond,’ he said. ‘I will leave it to you to –,’ he threw a comprehensive glare round the preparations, ‘play,’ he concluded.
‘He, at least, is enjoying himself,’ Legolas remarked as the wizard stomped away. ‘I think he has been rather bored in recent years – perhaps we should try to draw him west more frequently.’ He turned his attention to the glade. ‘I am still not entirely happy with those roasting pits,’ he said. ‘I am going to check on them – we had better make sure that everything goes smoothly. I would not want some foolish lack of attention to detail to reduce the power of our message.’
‘To work, then,’ Elladan grinned. ‘Before Miriwen comes out and reminds us just how irresponsible we are.’
The apparent chaos in the wide glade gradually diminished as groups of elves organised areas for music and dancing, established areas for sitting, set out tables and chairs for those who would not wish to dirty their clothes by relaxing on the smooth turf and brought out barrels of wine and stacks of simple cups. The smell of roasting meat began to make mouths water, and trestles started to groan under the weight of the dishes brought from the kitchens by troops of flustered ellyth. By the time twilight began to shadow the grass, everything was arranged.
‘Elladan!’ Miriwen placed her hands on her hips and looked over her husband with amusement. ‘You look as if you have been climbing chimneys.’
He smiled engagingly, his teeth remarkably white in a face that was showing more soot than customarily attached to him. He was tempted to clasp his wife in his arms and transfer some of the grime whilst kissing her thoroughly – just to remind her how much he loved her – but he thought, on the whole, that he had better not. ‘You look beautiful, my heart,’ he said.
‘I will look even better,’ she assured him, ‘once I have had time to change.’ She stepped back hastily. ‘Do not dare,’ she said as he absorbed the admission that she was not yet dressed for the evening and showed signs of reaching out to clasp her. ‘There is not enough time for me to rid myself of that much dirt! Has Elrohir already gone to ready himself? And Legolas?’
‘They clearly felt the need to spend extended periods on preening,’ her husband told her, shaking his head. ‘I cannot understand it. I can make myself stunning in next to no time.’
‘Is everything prepared?’ Miriwen cast a slightly harried glance around the glade. The glow of the fires flushed the faces of the elves sharing out the task of turning the spits – and there were already one or two who had taken on the duty of testing the wine. ‘I will send Iavas down, I think,’ she sighed. ‘She should be able to keep most people in line until we are able to join them.’
‘Well, I know better than to cross her,’ Elladan admitted. ‘Sweet as she is, she gets rather fraught if she thinks anyone is taking liberties.’
‘I hear experience talking there, I think.’ Miriwen smiled at Elrond’s son. ‘I cannot imagine she let you get away with bad behaviour when you were an elfling.’
‘Actually,’ her husband told her, ‘she would allow herself to be managed much more willingly when we were small – it was when we were adolescents and rather full of our own importance that she started to squash us.’
‘Understandable.’ Miriwen sighed. ‘Elrin is beginning now to have moments now when he is rather too sure of himself. I always suspected he got it from you. Where is he?’
‘Elrohir grew tired of their ubiquitousness and set him and his friends to working one of the spits,’ his adar admitted, ‘but I sent him back to change – Andaeradar would not be impressed, I imagine, to find him engaged in manual labour, and since the whole purpose of the event is to make our point …’ He grinned. ‘He was most reluctant to go – I think he would much rather have stayed with Nadhras.’
‘He has been practising his song,’ Miriwen confided, ‘but he is fretting about performing it in front of everyone. He is afraid of looking foolish.’
‘Lindir would not have suggested him had he not felt he could manage,’ the proud adar smiled. ‘He always said we were only fit to listen to after either a very large intake of wine or after a long, hard patrol in the wild – when anything other than the howls of wargs would be thought to sound good.’
‘You can tell me as you bathe.’ Miriwen grabbed her husband’s hand and pulled him up the hill towards the house. ‘Your robes might be able to conceal a great deal, but you are still going to have to get your face clean and arrange your hair – and it would be most rude for you not to be ready when your great grandparents arrive.’
In Celebrían's sitting room, an impatient Elrin controlled his desire to sigh as his Daernaneth gave his cheek an extra and totally unnecessary wash. It was bad enough that he was going to be forced to stand up and sing – and such a strange song, too. Lindir had done his best, but there was no real way he could take a lay written by a man and turn it into something fit for an elven feast. Really, the ellon thought privately, he only hoped that nobody thought he had written it. For all Adar had sat him down over the years and told him the story of a small creature who had carried the Enemy’s Ring into the heart of his domain to its destruction while the heir of Isildur and his adar and uncle had challenged the forces of the Dark Lord, he had never found it a very likely story. Battles were won by warriors – not by the quiet persistence of those who sneaked through the lines.
‘There!’ Celebrían smiled at her grandson. ‘That has rid you of the smudge. You look very handsome!’
‘May I return to the glade?’ he asked, ignoring her comment as the sort of foolishness that was only to be expecting from his loving daernaneth.
Her eyes sparkled. ‘I am not that naïve,’ she told him. ‘I did have the rearing of your adar, remember. Find Lindir – and stay with him until after you have sung.’
‘He is growing so fast,’ Sirithiel sighed as the ellon sidled out of the room. ‘It seems hardly any time since he was the twins’ age.’
Nimloth bounced at the reference to her, but contained her desire to protest at the general unfairness of life when it related to their treatment compared to their older cousin. After all, a tantrum would have completely the opposite result to the one she desired. She tilted her head and blinked winningly at her naneth. ‘Can we not stay for a little while after supper?’ she asked. ‘If we promise to be good?’
Her daernaneth and naneth’s eyes met, exchanging a look of glee that they carefully kept from their faces. ‘Well…’ Sirithiel said doubtfully.
‘You have said that before,’ Celebrían pointed out. ‘And, I seem to recall, the last time you promised to be on your best behaviour you and Galenthil dipped into the punchbowl and were decidedly unwell.’
‘That was Aewlin,’ Nimloth said before thinking that perhaps the subject would have been better ignored. ‘And it was an accident. We would not do it again.’
Aewlin smiled winsomely. ‘Please let us join in the fun,’ she said in reasonable tones. ‘We will be helpful – and not do anything you would not like.’
‘Well…’ Celebrían drawled. ‘If it is acceptable to your Naneth, you may stay until you are fetched. But no arguments!’
The young twins beamed at them.
‘Go and put on your blue dresses – the ones with the silver embroidery,’ Sirithiel instructed, ‘and then come back so I can arrange your hair.’
Elrond stepped hastily to one side to avoid his granddaughters as they rushed from the room. ‘Why are they in such a hurry?’ He looked at Celebrían ruefully. ‘I am beginning to wish I had never agreed to this,’ he said. ‘Mithrandir has gone to arrange his surprise, it is getting dark and the guests are starting to arrive.’
‘Already?’ Celebrían shook her head. ‘Do they not understand the principle of ‘fashionably late’? Do I look all right?’ She brushed the shimmering silk of her gown over her hips and shook her hair into place.
‘Just one thing that might add to the effect.’ Elrond drew his hand out from behind him and offered her a slender chain from which was suspended a single faceted sapphire the size of a pigeon’s egg.
His wife beamed at him. ‘You have become a romantic, my husband.’
‘I missed you too much ever to take you for granted.’ He fastened the chain round her throat. ‘Shall we go?’
Thranduil stood back in the shadows and watched as Elrond’s family spread out and began to circulate among the early arrivals. It was quite disconcerting, he thought, to see Elrond managing an event that clearly owed so much to the customs of the Wood Elves. Or perhaps, he mused as his eyes settled on the Lady Celebrían’s parents, it was not as surprising as all that. And, at any rate, he found that these days he felt a great deal closer to those who had endured to the end of the Third Age and beyond –whatever their origins – than he did to those who had spent many centuries in this comfortable refuge between the sea and the mountains. He smiled. He was glad to have found a place better suited to his needs where his kin could live as suited them. Not to mention the deep joy of having rediscovered the depth of his love for his wife, returned to him so unexpectedly.
‘Do you not wish to join us?’ Celeborn’s voice, Thranduil noted, from time to time carried still a hint of Doriath in its cadence – mostly when he wished to appear guileless.
‘How will Finarfin respond to this, do you think?’ The former king of Lasgalen indicated the musicians and dancers who had already begun to celebrate.
‘He will think it very quaint.’ Celeborn lifted an eyebrow. ‘And he will wonder where so many wild Wood Elves came from.’
‘Do not patronise my atar.’ Galadriel’s cool tones came from behind his shoulder. ‘Be sure that he knows just how many people of what ancestry live in his lands – and that he is quite capable of adapting to a forest festival.’ She looked down her nose at both of them. ‘When you have deigned to spend a solstice in Alqualondë and seen him dancing on the sands, you will have a better perception of the elf he conceals beneath his shell of royalty.’
Thranduil frowned. He always found himself wanting to contradict his cousin’s wife – for no other reason than that she had said something. His own wife laughed and told him he had clearly not yet outgrown his youth, which made him feel that perhaps he should fight against this tendency to snap at imagined insults. ‘I am sure you know him better than I do,’ he said, forcing himself to be conciliatory. This evening was not one for squabbling – and he did, he admitted on glimpsing a group of new arrivals, have some reasons to be grateful to Galadriel.
Linevendë had known that any attempt to distract her husband from their son-in-law’s shortcomings was doomed to end in failure. She sighed. It would have been relatively easy to convince him to refuse this invitation, had the High King not been certain to attend. Once it had become apparent, however, that all those who had pretensions to being anybody would be here, there had been no chance of getting Taryatur to look down his nose at Elrond’s strange festival intended to celebrate some event that took place in those lands east of the sea.
‘Look at him!’ Taryatur muttered. ‘Has he no sense of what is fitting? He is not even dressed as befits our daughter’s husband!’
He looked, Linevendë thought, inspecting Legolas as he seized an opportunity to dance with the Wood Elves, magnificent. But, of course, she sighed, she could not expect her husband to appreciate the sight of the graceful yet athletic leaps of the willowy blond prince – or, even more to the point, the sight of their carefully educated daughter laughing and cheering him on.
What upset her most, though, was the way the light in their faces died away as they noticed that she and Taryatur were approaching. Legolas shrugged on the robes of gold-embroidered green that a slight dark elf held out to him and, with them, donned a more formal manner that should not, she thought fiercely, be part of their relationship. They all loved Elerrina – should that not be enough to create a bond between them?
‘Andatar! Andamil!’ Eleniel beamed and dropped a formal curtsey before inserting herself between her grandparents and taking a hand of each. ‘I am glad you came. Aunt Nisimalotë said she thought you might be away.’
‘Are you not rather young to be attending an event such as this?’ Taryatur disapproved.
Linevendë closed her eyes, aware even from this distance that her daughter and her husband had both stiffened.
Her granddaughter laughed. ‘Galenthil and I are to stay until some time after supper,’ she said easily, ‘and then we will go back to the house with Aewlin and Nimloth.’
Taryatur was clearly aware that he had spoken out of turn. ‘That is all right, then,’ he said with false heartiness. ‘I would not want you to tire yourselves out.’ He avoided his son-in-law’s eyes. ‘Where is your brother?’
‘He took Súrion to find Elrin.’ Eleniel smiled. ‘It is good to see you,’ she said.
Her granddaughter, Linevendë decided privately, was probably the only one to feel that way – but she could not help but be glad that someone did. She looked wistfully towards the wide space beyond the glade where Elrond’s sons were disappearing and sighed. There was no escape for her there.
‘Do you need any aid?’ Elladan asked hopefully, ignoring the musical cacophony of elven voices behind him.
Mithrandir ignored him, which was, Elrohir admitted, exactly as he had expected. He and his twin had circulated, drawing as many of the local Noldor as possible into groups with those who had experienced Arda’s Third Age and trying to ensure that everyone would hear tales of heroism and disaster, watch dances that told unspoken stories, listen to songs of last stands and indomitable courage. It would probably not make one iota of difference – elves were naturally drawn to melancholy tales of suffering and endurance, but refused to let that change the way they lived.
‘Because,’ his twin added, ‘we would be only too happy …’
‘Do you want this to be effective?’ Mithrandir asked, the glint in his eyes suggesting that he had no desire at all to have Elrond’s sons act as assistants.
It was remarkable how a beard-wagging Istar could make you feel like a disruptive elfling. Elrohir curbed an urge to squirm.
‘Interference has never improved the results of my efforts,’ the wizard declared.
‘Debatable,’ Elladan muttered for his brother’s ears.
‘The best thing you can do is keep everyone back out of the way.’ Mithrandir hid the twitch of his lips behind his abundant whiskers. ‘Does anyone else know what to expect?’
‘Well – Legolas,’ Elrohir shrugged. ‘Apart from him – no, not specifically, though doubtless Adar has guessed.’
‘And you cannot hide much from Daernaneth.’
‘They might find it a trifle disconcerting.’ Mithrandir considered them. ‘You would be better off making sure there is no panic – and preparing to listen to a lot of complaints.’
Elrohir drew a breath. ‘As the official supper comes towards a close,’ he said, ‘there should be a hush when Elrin sings Frodo’s lay. When he stops…’
‘I am not a fool, Elrondion. I know when you want this to start.’
‘I have often wondered,’ Elladan said irrelevantly, ‘if you call us both Elrondion because you cannot tell which of us is which.’
Mithrandir sniffed. ‘To remind me that your adar would not be amused if I treated you as you deserved, more like,’ he snapped. ‘Now – be assured that I am in complete control here. Why do you not go and annoy somebody else? Try your Daernaneth’s Adar – he might enjoy your company.’
Finarfin smoothed the soft mossy-green fabric of his robes. Perhaps he should wear other colours more often, he thought smugly. His avoidance of official blue had clearly proved more of a talking point than he thought it would. His wife had – as usual in these matters – been right. His granddaughter’s husband had raised an ironic eyebrow at the sight of him, whereas his son-in-law had been unable to control a brief laugh. And green was such a good colour. One that suggested a courteous bow towards the customs of the Wood Elves, while at the same time indicating that he was here as a kinsman rather than a king. And, had they wanted any different, they should have taken him into their confidence.
He leaned towards his wife. ‘They are up to something,’ he murmured.
Eärwen smiled. ‘Have you not worked it out?’ she asked. ‘Perhaps, my lord, you should listen a little harder.’
‘Has our daughter been talking to you?’ Finarfin’s fond gaze reminded her of his constant love and Eärwen sighed again at how easily he could bend her to his will.
‘Not recently,’ she answered truthfully, ‘but she spoke of many things in the long empty years – just for the sake of hearing them and reassuring herself of the value of her life in Arda. You listened to her yourself – but you were mostly trying to control your annoyance that her husband had chosen to let her sail without him.’
‘Ah.’ Both his granddaughter and his daughter had arrived on the shores of the Blessed Realm alone – and he had not been pleased. Elrond, of course, was of his brother’s line and he had always expected to like him – once Celebrían had explained so earnestly why her husband had been right not to accompany her on that desperate voyage, but the Sindar… The High King of the Noldor was prepared to admit that he had spent many centuries resenting bitterly the silver-haired scion of Elwë’s house who had stolen his daughter and kept her east of the sea. And then, having stolen her, he had not had the sense to cleave to her side, as one whose luck was far beyond his deserts, but had remained behind when, at long last, she had sailed, wounded and heart-sore. Unfortunately, he had to admit that, on meeting him, he had unexpectedly taken an immediate liking to the elf – and had been hard pushed not to agree with him that Artanis – Galadriel – could be difficult.
‘Perhaps,’ she smiled, ‘if you paid some attention to the songs and stories that are being told this evening…’
‘The Dark Lord?’ he hazarded. ‘Morgoth’s henchman and his eventual defeat?’
Eärwen tilted her head so that her waterfall of silver hair swung to one side. ‘And who was instrumental in bringing it about.’
Casting a thoughtful eye round the glade, Finarfin allowed various recollections to sift through his memory. ‘Perhaps I should have come clad in formal splendour.’
‘You would do men and halflings so much honour?’ Eärwen enquired plainly.
‘Do not forget the dwarf, my lady. I am sure he would not have forgotten you.’
‘Dwarves are capable of devoted loyalty, Atar,’ his daughter informed him from behind his shoulder. ‘And Gimli admired the Lady Eärwen greatly.’ She examined the High King coolly. ‘So Ammë has succeeded in persuading you out of Noldor blue at last.’
‘But you, my daughter, have reverted to wearing white!’
‘Ah well,’ she said, ‘there are times when it seems appropriate.’ She turned her attention to the laden tables. If you would care to eat, my lord and lady,’ she suggested. ‘I doubt many here will help themselves before you are seen to do so – and we do not have all night!’
Finarfin grinned. ‘There seem to be some,’ he said, ‘who do not care – and a few have clearly been availing themselves freely of the wine.’
The noise of elven conversation and laughter faded to a more subdued level as the guests allowed themselves to sit with plates of food. The musicians continued to play, replacing each other at intervals so that all could share in the variety of dishes available, but they kept their voices low, so that those who wished to listen to their songs had to sit close or strain their ears to hear the words.
Elrin looked at his plate with revulsion.
‘If you do not wish to eat it, I will.’ Nadhras leaned over and speared a slice of venison. ‘It is very good.’
‘It is all very well for you,’ his friend grumbled quietly enough not to attract his parents’ attention. ‘You are not going to be made to sing in front of this lot. And,’ he thought of another injustice, ‘you are not dressed up in embroidered velvet with a stupid circlet in your hair.’
‘You will feel better once it is over,’ his friend consoled him. ‘And at least you are not going shortly to be sent to bed with the babies.’
Elrin brightened. ‘Naneth said that I could stay up as long as I could keep awake – as a reward for courage.’
‘And I get to stay up with you. So you had better make sure you sing well.’
Taking advantage of his friend’s awareness that retaliation just now would not be a good idea, Elrin elbowed him in the side. Nadhras started coughing as the large bite he had just taken went down the wrong way. Both ellyn blushed as the eyes of the adults around them inspected them.
‘Are you all right?’ Miriwen patted the ellon on his back firmly. ‘Here, take a drink.’ She raised her eyebrows at the amount of food her son had left untouched. ‘Never mind,’ she said with understanding. ‘You can eat your fill after you have performed.’
‘Which will not be long,’ his adar grinned. ‘Come on, my son. Lindir awaits you.’
Sheer courtesy compelled the guests to fall silent when Elrond’s grandson stood in Ithil’s light in the crowded glade and raised his silvery voice to the accompaniment of a single harp. It was a strange song, many thought, set out in a form that was hauntingly unfamiliar and the story it told had surely not originally been set in the tongue of the Blessed Realm.
Miriwen glowed with pride as her son sang of the Ringbearer’s journey and eventual success. Sauron’s Ring melted in the fires of Orodruin and the Great Eagles bore two weary halflings to safety where the whole of Arda acclaimed them for their courage and perseverance.
Silence greeted the end of the song, but Elladan could see from the expressions of some of the faces that, to many there, the story it told was just that. He almost despaired. What would it take to make these elves aware that what went on in Arda as a whole affected them, whether they knew of it or not, whether it hurt them or not, purely because they were of Arda, even if they were settled in these cosseted lands west of the sea?
Finarfin moved to rise, but his daughter’s hand on his arm stayed him. ‘Wait,’ she said.
The bang that followed was louder than thunder and had the elegantly clad elves looking up, puzzled, at the clear sky. Suddenly the darkness lit up as a dragon of light swept overhead, crackling white and gold, with the nose-stinging scent of explosives. Some were unable to restrain squeals of alarm, but most watched wide-eyed as the apparition faded. Cries of surprise from those at one end of the glade drew the stares down to the ground as wolf-like forms snarled round a group with gleaming blades. Those who had fought in the War of Wrath eyed each other as another even more terrifying vision appeared – a light-eating flame, with a whip of fire for a tail, before which even the hideous goblin shapes fled. Then, above the passing visions, a ball of flame appeared. An eye, a hideous eye that burned with a demanding hunger so that, even though the elves shielded their faces, they could see it before them, bright and all-consuming in their minds. And a Ring – a plain Ring of gold that weighed more than granite, cut more than glass, fed on the darkness around itself and yearned to rejoin its master. In defiance of that eye – a small light as bright as Eärendil’s Silmaril, a light that confronted the blasting crimson flame of a fire mountain and blazed with an intensity that outshone the seething of the molten rock. Before that brightness the eye tumbled until, within moments, there was nothing left but the smell of sulphur and the drifting smoke. The brilliant light remained a moment and then appeared to soar, crackling into a thousand pinpoints of white before winking out, leaving the soft light of the stars to gleam in the clear sky.
Finarfin began to breathe again. ‘Olórin?’ he asked.
‘I do not know why he used the dragon,’ Galadriel mused. ‘I do not believe that a dragon was involved in the events.’
‘It depends where you start them.’ Elrond took a sip of his wine. ‘With Bilbo, perhaps – and the Lonely Mountain. And you cannot deny that a dragon is a very good way of getting people’s attention.’
‘Yes.’ Finarfin looked at the gossiping elves. ‘I cannot deny that Olórin has managed to get everyone’s attention. I am not so sure it is in a good way.’ He sighed, then stood, poised and authoritative in a way that drew the eyes of those near him. As if a pebble had been dropped in a pond, the silence spread across the glade in a wave. ‘My friends,’ he said. His voice filled the space without any apparent effort, and any eyes that he had not already gathered settled on the High King. ‘A toast. A toast to those whose courage in a desperate quest brought about the downfall of Sauron and his hordes. To the Ringbearers – to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. May their names and deeds never be forgotten!’
Legolas raised his glass and drank. ‘To Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and Gimli, son of Gloín. To Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. To Boromir, Captain-General of Gondor. May we meet again in the days beyond days.’
His wife slipped her hand in his and squeezed gently, but remained silent.
Taryatur’s lip curled. ‘I have seen men in battle,’ he said. ‘I am afraid I find it hard to believe that they would have any chance of standing up to the massed forces of any kind of Dark Lord – not without elves to support and protect them. And even then…’
A wave of fury surged up in the usually amiable Legolas and he tensed in his desire to respond to his adar-in-law by punching some sense into him.
‘You have no idea what you are talking about.’ Thranduil’s voice was icy enough to cool some of his son’s rage. ‘Each of the races of Arda fights with courage and skill – their determination would put many elves to shame. Yet, despite the lives sacrificed on the battlefields of the Pelennor, the Black Gate, under the eaves of Lothlórien, in Lasgalen and Erebor, victory was won by the valour and resolution of a pair of halflings – who were prepared to surrender a thing of power that was not theirs. More than any …’ Thranduil caught himself before he could say anything unforgivable, ‘elf has managed to do.’
‘It is, I agree, a remarkable tale.’ Finarfin managed to make it appear that his arrival was pure chance instead of a response to an appeal from his daughter. ‘Halflings are a lesson to the rest of us. I wish I had actually met Frodo Baggins – and Samwise. I always meant to travel to Tol Eressëa to greet them, but their time passed so swiftly and I was too late. My wife made the journey several times in my daughter’s company. She says they were surprisingly modest – and seemed to feel that the others of their company were even more deserving of respect.’ He looked at Legolas and, with carefully hidden amusement, noted that his flush had faded. ‘Frodo Baggins had many complimentary things to say about you, Thranduilion.’
Pink stained the Woodland Prince’s cheeks again. ‘He had an extraordinary strength of mind – and a belief in service to the greater good,’ Legolas said quietly. ‘His achievements should be respected.’
‘Aman is part of Arda still, Andaeradar,’ Elrohir said. ‘For all the seas are bent, the elves are of Arda and bound to it until the world’s end.’
‘What happens east of the sea is as relevant to us as it has always been.’ Elladan noted the press of Taryatur’s lips. He would not argue in front of his king, but it would take more than a short conversation to change an opinion that had been in place since the First Age.
‘I wish they would stop arguing,’ Eleniel sighed, as she and Aewlin edged away. ‘It makes Naneth unhappy – and it is so uncomfortable.’
‘Never mind that now.’ Aewlin grinned. ‘Nimloth is saving us a place under the trees so we can watch the dancing. If we keep out of the way behind the bushes, our parents will forget about us and we will get to stay as long as we want.’
‘I think I would find it hard to sleep anyway after that eye,’ Eleniel shivered. ‘It was horrible. As if it was boring into my head.’
‘It is unlike you not to be reminding us that we were told to return to Naneth after supper,’ Nimloth greeted her. ‘Aewlin had no difficulty persuading you to sneak away.’
Eleniel shrugged. ‘Adar will find me easily enough when he wants. And I would rather be out of doors – and with company.’
‘Naneth said that, if we had nightmares, Adar could deal with it,’ Aewlin observed. ‘And that it would serve him right.’
‘I brought some food,’ Nimloth ignored her, ‘and Iavas let me have a jug of watered wine – it is mostly water with just a dash of wine – but she said not to ask for any more.’
Aewlin wrinkled her nose. ‘That will be enough,’ she said. ‘I am not really thirsty.’
They leaned in a comfortable group against the tree, picking at their food and watching the dancers, until the swirling music soothed them into an easy silence that ended with them dropping off to sleep in a companionable heap of elflings too relaxed to notice when the dancers moved away and the music quietened.
‘They are here.’ Legolas picked up his daughter and held her gently as she settled back into sleep. The twins each took hold of one of Elrohir’s daughters. ‘Elerrina says we are to put them in the same room – she seems to think it might stave off bad dreams.’
‘Camentur agreed to leave Súrion with Elrin and Galenthil,’ Elladan remarked. ‘Your adar-in-law could not decide whether to be pleased or horrified.’
Legolas sighed. ‘He is a prime example of what we are up against,’ he said. ‘Not even Finarfin’s words made any impact on him – and Mithrandir’s fireworks he seemed to think were no more than a light show.’
‘Well – if ever there was anyone who would not be impressed by the eye of Sauron,’ Elrohir said wryly, ‘it would be the elf who comes closest to possessing a similar look.’
The glade had quietened and the fires had died down to embers. A few elves were still occupied in clearing the debris of a busy celebration, but the breeze blowing off the distant lake was cool and fresh.
‘We never thought that we would be able to convince everyone in an evening.’ Elladan looked round. ‘Those who are convinced knew already what the Ringbearers achieved – and those who look on it as – as something that happened a long way away to people who matter not because they are not us… well, it will take a lot more than a few fireworks or a toast or two from the High King.’
‘We have time,’ Legolas said as he shifted his grip on his daughter. ‘It is one thing that we have in plenty. It may be that it is our task to make sure that over the yeni to come, we make sure that the elves of Aman understand that the world is made up of all its parts – and that they owe a debt to those whom they have left behind them.’
‘My brother is not noted for his patience.’ Elrohir’s eyes sparkled. ‘He likes a solution that can be hammered in swiftly.’
‘You spent too many years fighting at the side of the Dúnedain.’ Legolas grinned. ‘It has brought out the Edain side of your ancestry and made you headstrong.’
‘Be thankful I am holding my daughter – or I might feel a need to point out to you just how little of our ancestry is Edain – and how much we have in common.’
‘I am even more thankful that your adar managed to bite back that word hovering on his lips.’ Elladan stopped and sighed. ‘Is it my imagination or are these ellyth getting heavy? ... If Thranduil had said Noldor instead of elf, there could have been an incident comparable to Fëanor drawing his sword on Fingolfin.’
Legolas grinned reluctantly, but remained silent.
‘Elerrina does not have the easiest of families,’ Elrohir commiserated. ‘But she is worth the pain, my friend.’
With a sigh, Legolas rested his cheek on his daughter’s head so that his wheat-fair hair blended with her slightly warmer tones. ‘Taryatur reminds me constantly of why we need to do this,’ he said. ‘The Blessed Realm has been too – too isolated for too long. There are too many who cannot see beyond the ends of their noses.’
‘But as many whose hearts are as pure as these.’ Elrohir squinted down at Nimloth. ‘And many who lack only the experience of a world beyond their own. We must be patient – elves are always prepared to hear, even if they do not always listen.’
‘I suppose,’ Elladan said thoughtfully, ‘that we have little better to do with the passing centuries. Perhaps we should undertake a small wager – on how long it will take for this festival to pass into the customs and lore of the Eldar.’
‘And who will be the first to patronise us for not knowing why Tirion spends this night exploding Olórin’s fireworks,’ Elrohir grinned. ‘And singing traditional songs about the legendary hero, Frodobaggion.’
‘And offering each other vast quantities of food and wine – and letting their children stay up all night.’
‘Come, my friends – let us tuck these ellyth in their beds and let them sleep. Then we can go and start planning the next stage of our campaign over a mug of tea and a plate of sweet bread.’
Legolas turned his head briefly and looked back where the steel grey of dawn consumed the softness of night at the beginning of what he, at least, counted as a new year. ‘It is a start,’ he said.
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