No, I have not forsaken my other stories. I have just been under the gun about a lot of things lately; so far it has not been a particularly good Autumn, but the good Lord has taken care of us and I'm still here. This tale popped out all as a piece, and would not be denied; I almost waited until Christmas to post it, but wiser heads prevailed. Just this once, for the sake of my beta who was adamantly taught otherwise, possessive forms of names ending in s (Legolas, Brethilas...) will be shown here as s' rather than s's, which is how I was taught back in the dark old days when grammar was different. (grin) I have also gone through, much against my usual quirky style, and alterered every sentence that begins with "but" or "and", unless it is dialogue and a speech pattern that I hear in my head. Merry Christmas, al! (grin)

And a blessed Yuletide to you all. Remember in this the dark of the year: Dawn will return eventually, it will be warm again, and life goes on.

May God bless us, every one!


Promises to Keep

A Yuletide Tale



"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

--Robert Frost

(N.B.: Elven ages for the purposes of this tale are reckoned by Tyellas's metric of 2.5 years per human year: hence, fifteen-year-old Legolas is the equivalent of a 6-year-old Gondorian child.)

It was cold in the woods this night, very cold, even for Elves, who generally do not feel such things as keenly as others among the Free Peoples of Ennor. In the bargain, it had been a long day tramping lightly through the winter-darkened forestlands of Mirkwood in search of game. Since the coming of the Darkness, the wholesome creatures of the wood had done as the Elves themselves were doing, moving ever northward and toward the east, in hopes of finding sweet water and a safe haven. Thus the hunt had been difficult, trying the considerable talents of some of the finest trackers in the entire realm.

Finally though, they had encountered success. Three good, big, fat deer that had apparently found excellent grazing before being driven in from the hills by wolves: the creatures had been grateful to fall to the compassionate arrows of the Silvan folk for a swift and honoured death, rather than be hounded to a painful and lingering death at the teeth of the pack. Shortly after, as those tracking the deer came upon their friends and kin who had been hunting elsewhere, the news was equally good: several great boars, numerous turkeys, and ten fat rabbits rounded out the day's efforts, more than they had bagged in many a day beforehand.

Gazing at the bounty laid before him in the snow, King Thranduil Oropherion smiled in deep satisfaction and nodded. Every kill had been clean and merciful, and the creatures had not suffered deprivation before meeting their end; all were well-fleshed, the hides and feathers in good shape. Not only would the Elves feast well for the coming Yule, but there would be fine new leather for garments, warm fur for protection and decoration, and excellent fletching for new arrows. Thranduil's own arrows had accounted for one of the deer, a great stag with seven tines to his antlers, and he bent to caress the proud beast's head in thanks for its sacrifice.

"A most excellent day's work indeed, my people!" the King announced, looking with pride into the flushed, happy faces of his trackers and hunters. "Thanks be to the Valar for these fine creatures, who have given their lives that we might live."

All around him, Elves sank gratefully to their knees; Thranduil knelt as well, and in his strong, melodious voice intoned the prayers of thanks to the Valar, and most especially to Oromë Aldaron, for the kindness of the woodland creatures. Let it never be said the subjects of Thranduil were ungrateful for that which was granted them in favour, especially during these darkest of days!

I have once again managed to keep my promises, my darling, he thought to the spirit of his departed wife, Queen Luthiél. Our people will eat and be satisfied....

When the prayers were done, Thranduil and his folk trussed up the game and prepared to carry it home through the waning day-hours. As his thoughts turned to home, inevitably they turned to the remnant of his family waiting for his return. In the general dimness of Mirkwood, made deeper by the lateness of the year--it was but a week until the coming of Yuletide--none could clearly see his face nor read his eyes, and for that he was grateful. It had been a sad and difficult year for Mirkwood, because of the grief that had visited the Royal Family. Thranduil had no desire to ruin the joyful nature of this well-laden homecoming with more sadness, though his heart was indeed quite burdened.

"There will be much rejoicing this Yule, good my King!" said a cheerful voice to Thranduil's left. The Elven-king did not turn, merely grunted his assent and lightly stepped into the saddle of his favourite hunter, a long-legged mare the colour of oak leaves in autumn.

"Indeed there shall be, with a haul such as this," Thranduil replied, and managed a faint smile. "We will feast well. None shall go hungry, when this is added to that which we have in stores back at the palace."

Faelion, son of Saeros the Tracker and his mate Tuilinal, allowed the remark to stand. He knew all too well of the grief that still ravaged Thranduil's soul, of the pains of parting suffered by the King's sons, the princes Brethilas and Legolas. Nothing would ever be quite the same again, now that Queen Luthiél was gone to Mandos. For that Faelion himself felt a stab of grief, for he had known in their childhood both Thranduil and the lovely warrior who had become his wife and Queen. However, to prevent the sadness from overwhelming either of them, Faelion put a good face on it all. He made a number of pleasant remarks concerning how well received such a feast would be, and how he himself was particularly fond of turkey if properly prepared, and so they rode off toward the Elven stronghold of Thranduil.

Thranduil allowed the words to flow around him like soothing breeze, likewise the cheerful singing of the hunting party as they neared home. Some of the Elven-king's subjects who lived on the farthest edge of the realm had left their summertime dwellings and moved closer in toward the palace, the better to share both the safety and the company of friends and family as the year became colder and darker. As the party drew deeper within the protection of Mirkwood though, it became clear the Silvan folk and their Sindarin comrades were beginning their preparations for the coming Yule festivities. Even Thranduil's heart began to lighten somewhat.

Lanterns of all sorts hung almost everywhere, cunningly wrought of wood and glass and metal, turning the forest into a magickal brightness far beyond what mere daylight could give to it. Greenery of every description, tied with bright bows and interlaced with ribbon, hung in swags and garlands; they were woven about trees, or curled about stair railings, or were simply hung in great sweeping boughs from every building, flet, and post. At the end of one broad avenue, near the great well at the city centre, there was a bonfire burning brightly; an impromptu party had sprung up around it, and the sounds of music, singing, and hilarity reached the ears of the returning hunters. Thranduil glanced sidelong at Faelion, and smiled indulgently.

"It appears there already is much rejoicing, this Yule," he said, and turned to accept the happy greetings shouted to him from all sides as the fair folk realized their King was in their midst. He gestured for their silence, and took the opportunity to invite them all to a banquet in honour of the season, to be held on Yule's-eve one week from this night: "And see to it the cry goes forth to all within the Realm!" he shouted over the general acclaim and cheering that greeted his announcement.

Then, amid the hilarity and celebration, he turned his mare toward the narrow bridge and home. He tried very hard not to think of previous homecomings, when he and his beloved Luthiél would have been out to the hunt side by side, and numerous of their children would have either been along for the fun and the work, or would be waiting at the great entrance for their return. Such could never be again; Luthiél had been slain by Orcs in an ambush near midsummer, and all but three of their six children slept beside her in the royal tombs. One of those three remaining had sailed for Valinor in his grief, and the two that still lived here at home--well, they had their own griefs now, and their own ways of handling them. With a sigh, Thranduil dismounted and made to lead his mare across the bridge by his own hand, careful of her well-being though he knew she could have found her way home blind in the dark.

"Ada! You're home!"

Thranduil glanced up, surprised and yet pleased; it was the voice of little Legolas, who was fifteen summers old. Given the hour, the child should have been in bed--but with Yule a mere week away, the youngest prince had been torn between a desperate desire to be very, very good, and an equally tearing need to be everywhere at once, watching and "helping" with all the preparations for the festival. Thranduil tried to put on a stern face, but could not help the grin that slipped across his mouth at the barely-perceptible sound of tiny bare feet pattering across the flagstones of the grand portico and down the stairs.

"Vanimelda tried to make me go to bed but I said I wasn't tired yet, Ada, and I'm not! It's a'cause there's magic at Yuletide!" the excited little voice piped into the darkness. Thranduil saw the collected leap, the flash of a nightshirt in the twilight dimness, and bent down to catch the child as Legolas launched himself at his sire, utterly confident that he would be caught. "I had a busy day--did you had a busy day too, Ada? We made sugar biscuits, and honey cakes, and little aminals out of almond paste, and I got to help frost a great big cake, Ada, just wait until you see!"

"Slow down, little one, for heaven's sake!" Thranduil chuckled, hugging the wriggling Elfling to his chest. "All the words in your tiny body are going to come tumbling out, and then you shall be silent for the remainder of the Age until all those words get caught up!"

"You're all chilly, Ada!" Legolas exclaimed, giggling. Then he fell utterly still and silent, staring at his father with huge blue eyes. "All my words'll fall out?" he whispered, and clapped both hands over his mouth. Thranduil shouted with laughter, and hugged the child even tighter.

"Faelion, send someone to see to the horses, will you?" he commanded. "I have a princelet here who needs to be put to bed."

"Aww," Legolas sighed, squirming. "But I'm not tired, Ada!"

"Perhaps not now, but you will be in a short while," Thranduil reasoned, carrying the little one into the palace past the indulgent Vanimelda, his nursemaid. "And you will be glad of a nice warm bed. Look at you, wearing nothing but a nightshirt, and it such a cold evening, too. Where is Brethilas?"

Legolas then launched into another monologue about how the Crown Prince was in the Great Hall, supervising the placement of decorations there. The child went on at great length about the greenery and the ribbons, the lanterns and the beautiful carvings. Smiling, Thranduil shook his head and wrapped the Elfling up in a fold of his cloak against the winter chill of the palace corridors as they made their way down into the private quarters of the Royal Family. He had never known anyone who could talk quite as endlessly as his little lastborn son.

"But Ada, no!" Legolas expostulated, reaching out to seize the doorjamb of his nursery chamber, as Thranduil would have carried him past and off to bed. "I cannot go to bed yet! I promised Brethilas (it came out more as Bref'las in the child's youthful lisp) we would find the pretty thing Nana always hanged up!"

"Hung up," Thranduil corrected automatically, prying the child's fingers off the carved doorpost. "What thing Nana always hung up? What can he not find?"

"The thing from Doriath. The Valar-spirit thing of the Lady."

Thranduil made a mental note to ask the royal tutor to work with Legolas on the pronunciation of 'th's' in the near future. Attempting to find the "fing" from "Doriaf" for "Bref'las" was not precisely how the Elven-king wished his Sindarin-bred son pronouncing his cradle-tongue. "I presume we are speaking of the carved figure of Elbereth that was your grand-naneth's, which Oropher rescued from the fall of Doriath?"

Legolas nodded vehemently, causing the ponytail of his child's topknot to smack Thranduil in the jaw. "Yeth! It'ths not Yule wifout it!"

"Ah." Definitely need to work on those more problematic consonant shifts... "Well then, if it cannot possibly be Yule without it, then I suppose it is most fortunate that I know precisely where it is." Thranduil was careful to take both of Legolas' slender little hands within his own before attempting to make it through the door once more. "I will go and fetch it, and tell him where I wish it to be placed. Will that satisfy you?"

Of course he knew it would not, and therefore was not at all surprised when Legolas shook his head just as vehemently. Fortunately this time Thranduil was ready, and caught the ponytail. He gave his son's sunlight-coloured hair a gentle tug. "I want this registered as a weapon, nîn ion," he announced, making Legolas giggle. It struck him that this was a delightful sound indeed, and he much preferred hearing it to what he usually heard from this chamber late at night, which were sobs of sadness from the depth of dreams.

"May I please come with you to fetch it, Ada? Please?" the child begged, looking up with huge, hopeful eyes. Thranduil attempted to look fierce, and frowned as he shook his head.

"Nay, tithen emlin. It is long past time for little Elflings to be asleep."

"Aww, but Ada, it is almost Yule!" Legolas announced, trying to sound eminently logical. Thranduil cocked one eyebrow.

"Enlighten me as to why the accident of a date on the calendar should earn you a reprieve from sleeping at appropriate times."

Legolas cocked an eyebrow right back at him, giving him what Luthiél had been wont to call the "Thranduil look". The originator of the facial expression did his best not to burst out laughing.

"Ada, really," the child sighed, shaking his head solemnly. "I would miss the magic! Everybody knows that nobody sleeps during Yule!"

"No one sleeps at all?" Thranduil responded, contriving to look amazed. Legolas nodded, as if he were imparting some grand secret.

"If you sleep, you miss most of the fun, Ada!"

Thranduil pretended to ponder this, and finally nodded with fitting regalness. "Very well. Perhaps just this once, I could be persuaded to change my mind--if, and only if, a certain Elfling of my acquaintance makes his King a solemn promise."

Legolas' eyes widened; the little rosebud of a mouth rounded into an 'O' of delighted surprise, and he nodded. "I think I know what Elfling you mean, Ada! Is it me?"

"Indeed yes." Thranduil stood the child on his bed, and drew himself up to his tallest, most kingly stance. "If I permit the youngest Prince to accompany me on the Quest of Elbereth, will said youngest Prince then go willingly to bed and get some sleep? For I know if he does not do so he will fall asleep into his porridge at breakfast, and not only will he get barley and oats all over his face, he will then have to have another bath and go back to bed for a nap, thus running a very real risk of missing out on some Yuletide fun. So therefore, do I have your promise, O youngest Prince? You will go willingly to your bed just as soon as the Elbereth carving is found and delivered to Brethilas?"

Legolas considered all this with a great deal of childlike seriousness, then raised one finger in unwitting parody of his uncle Tinuvîl Farafaelion, Luthiél's elder brother.

"If the King will grant me one boon," the Elfling lisped, tilting his fair head to one side. Thranduil schooled his face to utter gravity and cocked an eyebrow.

"A boon in addition to that of the Quest itself? Hmm... seldom done, but not unheard of. What is this boon?"

"That the King will tell the youngest Prince a bedtime story after the carving is found," Legolas announced hopefully, ducking his chin and gazing up at his father in a way that generally resulted in him getting whatever he asked for. Thranduil did not have the heart to tell him it worked because his very indulgent sire loved seeing that look on him.

"Well... I daresay that is a worthy boon to ask--and a worthy one for this King to grant," he said gravely. "Very well. We shall find the carving and deliver it to the Crown Prince, then come back here for a bedtime story. But you must put on a robe and slippers, or we go nowhere."

Legolas was happy to agree to this one condition, and bounced off the bed with a bound. He rummaged in his overcrowded wardrobe for the required items, and gratefully accepted Thranduil's assistance with tying the belt of his robe about his slender little person. The Elven-king then informed Vanimelda that she could go off about her own concerns for the rest of the evening, as he would see to getting Legolas into bed; she smiled at him with motherly affection, having been Thranduil's own nursemaid many a year back, and gave each of them a kiss on the cheek before disappearing to wherever it is nursemaids go when their charges are otherwise occupied.

Fortunately for Legolas, who had begun giving out with the most jaw-cracking yawns almost as soon as he was permitted to stay up a little while longer, it was a short Quest to find the beloved Elbereth carving, without which no Yuletide festivity in Mirkwood could obviously be permitted to take place. Thranduil knew precisely where it was, since it was one of his most beloved heirlooms. It had belonged to his mother, the Lady Aziel, daughter of Ingwion, son of the Vanyar High King; upon her untimely death, it had become the possession of Thranduil's father Oropher, who had given it to his only child and heir. It was one of the few things Thranduil now possessed that was of his mother, and that was reason alone to cherish it. Each year it came forth from the same place: a chest made especially for it, with careful padding all about. The smaller chest was placed within a larger one, holding other precious items of Thranduil's long life: sketches and small paintings of various loved ones; locks of hair from each of his children; books, pressed leaves and flowers, and the like.

Thranduil carried the Elfling into the quiet sanctum of his own private bedchamber, with its deep blue Rhovanion carpeting and the heavily carved walls and ceiling that made it look as if one were in a living forest, instead of within the deep-delved halls of the palace. The servants had already turned down the royal bed, and a cheery fire crackled in the hearth; glancing within the bathing chamber beyond, Thranduil could see that a full tub of invitingly heated water awaited his pleasure. However, there were more important things to do just yet....

He set Legolas down on the carpet, and bade him sit; this the child did willingly, perching cross-legged on the thick, rich wool of the carpet, hugging his knees with excitement. The child watched Thranduil's every move as the King took out a great key and opened the large chest at the foot of his bed. Glancing sidelong at Legolas, Thranduil murmured,

"Well now, will you imagine that."

"What is it, Ada? Is something wrong?"

Thranduil drew out the smaller chest, his expression innocently blank. "Not at all, Elfling. The box is right here."

Legolas gave him an indulgent scowl, his blue eyes twinkling. Chuckling, Thranduil set the chest down in front of the little Prince, and thumbed the catch to open it. "Here is the carving, tithen emlin. Right where it always gets put away."

He drew forth the velvet bag within, and opened it to reveal the glorious carving. It was extremely old, even as Elves reckoned such things; where it had originally been made Thranduil did not know, nor had his father known. Lord Elrond of Imladris, one of the finest of the Lore-Masters, had once suggested it was perhaps from before the First Age, and may well have been carved in Valinor itself by one of the masters there.

It was of oak, with gorgeous woodgrain designs natural to the piece of timber chosen, and had been extremely cunningly carved to take advantage of the grain. Elbereth, the Lady of Light, was beautifully depicted: nearly two feet tall, her arms were stretched forth before her, lovely slender hands reaching as if to welcome a loved one. The carved dress flowed about her slender form as if it were alive, rather than a wooden impression of lifeless cloth; the intricate damasked pattern of the fabric was carefully picked out, and every nuance of the trim could be clearly discerned if one looked closely enough. Yet the whole piece was satiny to the touch, smooth and vibrant under one's fingers.

Legolas got up onto his knees and stared at the statue, enraptured. It was as much an ingrained part of his life as it was for Thranduil, for each of them had had the carving present literally all their lives. It was stories of Elbereth and the other Valar that Legolas loved best, and the Bright Lady figured in many of his more pleasant dreams. "Oh, Ada, it is so beautiful!" he breathed, reaching out one hesitant fingertip, yet not having the audacity to actually touch it. "It almost looks like Nana, do you see?"

Then, much to the little Prince's mortification, he wept.

It had probably occurred to him in the past, seeing the beloved carving brought forth each year to figure prominently in the Yuletide decorations in the Great Hall; but this year there was a sharp and terrible poignancy to the likeness. For Elbereth did indeed rather look like Luthiél--or was it the other way around?--and this year, their first Yule since the Queen's violent and untimely death, it just hurt too much to contemplate. Thranduil gently set the carving aside and gathered the slender Elfling into his arms, enfolding him once more within his cloak. He stroked the child's bright hair and caressed the heaving back in gentle, soothing circles, murmuring little quiet endearments, letting Legolas sob out this latest go-round with his loss, the first and most devastating of his short life.

"There, there, tithen emlin," Thranduil soothed, taken aback but not terribly surprised. "Just let it all come out, little heart. It is all right."

"No, it is not!" Legolas exclaimed in a choked sob, his voice muffled by his father's shoulder. "Warriors aren't s'posed to cry!"

"Well now, I am not certain who told you that piece of errant nonsense," Thranduil reasoned gently, blinking back his own tears and giving a damp smile. "It is well known that grief can take an Elven life, my little warrior. If you were to choke back your tears and hold them in, you would become ill--just as you were right after Nana left us, do you remember?"

Legolas thought long and hard, but could not seem to recall. He did remember seeing Brethilas, his beloved elder brother, take a sword and go stalking out into the woods. He had followed at a respectful distance, and remembered being very frightened to see the usually calm, collected, somber Crown Prince start hacking away violently at deadwood on the forest floor, chopping it up with no apparent intention of using it for firewood or anything. He did not recall having been ill however, and leaned briefly back from the comforting circle of Thranduil's arms to tell him so.

"Trust me when I tell you it is so, then," Thranduil said solemnly, nodding. "You just sat all silent in corners and would not speak, would not eat, not even sugar cakes and tea. Certainly you refused to cry. Lord Elrond had to give you some vandal root elixir to make you sleep--and it made you so woozy that when you woke up you finally started to cry. Even then you had to stay in bed for almost a week, because every time you tried to stand up, the room would just whirl around you like Woses in a dancing circle."

This odd imagery startled a chuckle out of the little Prince, but then Legolas buried his face once more and sobbed afresh. Thranduil kissed the top of his son's head and embraced him gently. "I was very worried about my little bird. So I hope you will pardon me if I cannot chide you for weeping now. Nana would not wish you to become ill."

"Want Nana back," Legolas said rather forcefully into the royal shoulder. Thranduil gave a mirthless chuckle.

"As do I, tithen emlin. As do I. And someday she will come back--but not until Mandos releases her."

"Like Glorfindel?" Legolas asked, raising his tear-stained face. Thranduil got out a pocket square of fine silk and dabbed at the damp blue eyes, then made Legolas blow his nose.

"Hopefully not that long a stay--but yes, like Glorfindel." Thranduil rose up into a crouch and retrieved the carving of Elbereth from its resting place. Rising to stand, he continued hugging his little son to him. "Come--let us get this down to Brethilas before he starts sending out hunting parties. With his usual thoroughness, they will have rifled every box, chest, cubby-hole and wardrobe in the place before dawn!"

As sometimes will happen, Legolas found that immensely funny in the midst of his grief, and went in a heartbeat from wracking tears to peals of giggles. Shaking his head at just how Silvan some of his Vanyar-Sindarin children had managed to become, growing up here as they had, Thranduil kicked the larger chest closed with one booted foot and carried Legolas back out into the corridor. They made their way into the busy bustle of the Great Hall, where it looked as if the entire royal household was somehow occupied. Servitors ran hither and thither, either carrying or placing decorations, or laying out food for the returned hunters. Faelion was over in one corner with his parents, describing with great swoops of his arms some aspect of the day's hunt; Saeros caught the king's eye from across the chamber and gave Thranduil a knowing smile, as if to suggest there were not so many things different, truly, between the Elfling held in the royal arms and the Tracker's own "young one" bragging of his prowess to his sire and dam. Thranduil threw back his head and laughed with genuine amusement, for the first time in far too long.

Brethilas was over by one of the two massive stone fireplaces, directing the placement of wreaths and garlands to set off the beautifully carved limestone hearths. He looked up at the sound of Thranduil's laughter, and began to chuckle himself as Legolas waved vigorously from his tall perch and announced--right in the King's ear, with his piercing child's voice:

"We foun' it, Bref'las! The Elberef carving--we foun' it! Hey, Bref'las!"

"Mind my hearing, child!" Thranduil exclaimed, and set the child down on his feet. Legolas took off at a pelting run to throw himself at Brethilas; both slippers went flying off his little feet as he hurried away. Shaking his head, Thranduil collected the footwear. He handed the precious carving to his elder son, and peeled the Elfling off his brother long enough to restore the slippers to Legolas' feet.

With reverent joy, Brethilas placed the Elbereth carving where it would come to no harm during the Yuletide festivities: anchored in the centre of the wide mantel of one of the fireplaces, surrounded by greenery of pine, laurel, fir, holly, rowan, and mistletoe. Other of the Elves standing around smiled and nodded to one another with pleasure; it was as if finally all was ready for the week-long festival now that the Bright Lady stood symbolically among them, a timeless tradition to bind them all together throughout the Ages. The elder Prince picked up his wriggling sibling, perching Legolas against his hip for a better view; the child leaned against him contentedly, their very similar faces shining with something beyond happiness. Thranduil watched them in silence, only nodding when a servant came to ask if he would like some dinner brought.

Purposefully ignoring the fact that it was now well past Legolas' bedtime, Thranduil sat down with his hunters and both his sons to enjoy a quiet dinner as others went about finishing up various tasks in the Hall that was the heart of the palace. In the days to come he knew there would be feasting aplenty, and music, and dancing; the old tales would be told, and all manner of gifts exchanged. Here and out in the woods as well, the Firstborn of Mirkwood--Avari, Silvan, Sindar and Vanyar alike--would celebrate light and love at the dark of the year, and dance beneath the trees bearing lights, to remind the trees and the hibernating animals that spring would eventually come again. It was a promise kept by Ennor year after year, cycle after cycle, and a promise re-born by the Elves on behalf of that for which they hoped, and cared, and prayed, and fought to protect.

As he gazed upon his two remaining sons, Thranduil felt a kind of peace he had feared never to feel again. Luthiél's death had left a great, gaping, bleeding hole in his being, one that was not even slightly healed after half a year; he did not know if it would ever wholly heal. She had been his soulmate, his heart, his very existence. Of all the losses he had borne in his long years, this had been the most grievous--and he feared all future losses, for saving the loss of his mother, Luthiél had been there to help him through all the dark places of his life. That would never again be the case, unless Mandos did indeed release her.

He thought of Legolas' innocent query: Like Glorfindel? A shudder passed through the Elven-king, and he sighed. Glorfindel had indeed died, giving his life for all the best and brightest of reasons, but for all that, he had spent sixteen long centuries resting in the Halls of Mandos awaiting the summons that eventually brought him back to Ennor. The thought of waiting such a long time to embrace his Luthiél was too painful to handle, so he just put it aside. Instead, he remembered another of the promises he had made to his beloved darling: that he would always protect and care for their children, as best he could.

Brethilas sat there in what was usually Thranduil's own place, a broad-seated, heavily carven chair by the fireside. Legolas was sprawled across his lap, fighting a valiant but losing battle with sleep; curled up against his brother's chest, his eyelids drooping, the bright blue eyes glazing over, the Elfling was slowly but surely falling under the spell of whatever story Brethilas was weaving, pitched for his ears alone. The bright, cheerful firelight both illuminated and shadowed the fine lines and planes of the elder Prince's handsome, beloved features. The soft, rounded lines of Legolas' childish profile were mostly in shadow, but Thranduil smiled to see one little hand come up to latch onto one of Brethilas' warrior braids. Legolas was getting his bedtime story after all. So young, so innocent... Lady Elbereth, help me to keep him safe, and his brother, and all these placed under my care!

He glanced up at the carving, now enshrined in its customary place on the mantel. It was, of course, a trick of the light and shadow--but for the briefest moment, Thranduil would have sworn Lady Elbereth smiled at him. He gave a faint answering smile, remembering his Elfling's earnest declaration concerning Yuletide, and inclined his head respectfully to the Bright Lady. Yes, he had promises to keep, and those promises would help him make it through the dark months of the year, through the encroaching darkness that threatened Mirkwood regardless of the season--through all the dark places he must walk.

"He's asleep," Brethilas murmured after a moment. Thranduil nodded.

"I see that."

"Poor little Elfling, he's so excited about Yule," Brethilas said, rising carefully so as not to awaken his brother. He carefully arranged the child in his arms. "Shall I tuck him in, Adar, so you may have a bath at last and relax?"

He almost said no, wanting to jealously guard his promises, not wanting to squander the remaining years that Legolas would still be young enough to tuck into bed at night, safe and sound. At last though Thranduil nodded, clasping his elder son's shoulder in one powerful hand. Brethilas had yet to find a wife, and therefore had no children of his own; he would make a good father when that time came, though, for he had always been loving and patient with the siblings that had come after him, the lost Minuial and of course, Legolas himself. Let him have some promises of his own, after all...

"Yes, by all means--put the little whirlwind to bed, my son." Thranduil leaned over and kissed Brethilas' forehead. "Then come join me--we'll have a Yuletide goblet of Dorwinion together, to help us get ready for sleep."

Brethilas agreed enthusiastically, if quietly, and turned so Thranduil could kiss Legolas good-night. The little one stirred fitfully but did not awaken, instead leaning into the kiss, a faint smile and a contented murmur his only other response. Then he snuggled back into the warmth of his brother's chest, deeply gone in Elven dreams. Thranduil bade his hunters good-night and wandered off toward his own suite, knowing the servants would have kept the bath water warm; he left word with Galion that a decanter of a moderately old Dorwinion should be brought to him, with two goblets, then Galion himself was dismissed to his own devices upon the completion of that last service of the night.

Ablutions complete, wrapped warmly in a silken nightshirt and a voluminous robe of forest green velvet lined with black squirrel fur, Thranduil settled down before his chamber fire to await his son's coming. It had been a good day, and had proven to be a good night as well; promises made, promises kept, and for once, all seemed well as Mirkwood settled down toward slumber. The Elven-king stretched his slippered feet out toward the fire and sipped his wine, smiling mistily to himself. There would be other days for the grief to bedevil him, for troubles to pile up and problems to irk him. But not tonight--and pray the Valar, not this whole holy week. After all, Legolas had decreed it so.

"It's a'cause there's magic at Yuletide," Thranduil murmured, and raised his goblet in salute toward the chamber in which his little golden bird slept. "Peaceful and pleasant dreams to you, my Elfling. May they all come true!"

For all of us, he added silently to himself. Blessed Elbereth, grant they may come true for us all...

The End


Oromë Aldaron: the Vala in charge of the forests
Ada: Sindarin for "daddy," diminutive of Adar, father
nîn ion: my son
tithen emlin: little bird, an epithet Thranduil uses for Legolas
Nana: Sindarin for "mama," diminutive of Naneth, mother