Winter Solstice

by LOTR lover

Disclaimer: The Tolkien Estate owns the setting, any language used other than English, and the characters.

Chapter One

Gilraen would have turned to flee, but for little Aragorn's crow of delight at the merry music and the dancers in their glittering costumes. She was in no mood for festivities so soon after Arathorn's death, be they DĂșnadan Yule or Elven Winter Solstice observances. Indeed, the only reason she and the child had left their room was to creep down to the kitchen to find something to eat, since it appeared that everyone else in Imladris had gone to the celebration. 'Twas not her fault that a coterie of chattering kitchen helpers had descended upon them at the very doors and borne them off to the Hall of Fire, then left them just inside and gone swirling off in the dance.

Aragorn wriggled in her arms, almost succeeding in throwing himself to the floor. Gilraen hurriedly set him down and took firm hold of one pudgy hand. "Fine, little one. Stand on your own feet, but hold fast to my hand lest you be trampled." Despite her mood, she couldn't help the wicked thought of a whole line of elegant, graceful Elves dropping like dominoes to avoid stepping on the small obstacle in their midst.

A group of cushioned wooden benches sat unused about two thirds of the way up one side of the great rectangular room, and she made her way to it, Aragorn in tow. She plunked him down on one bench that had a good view of the merriment and ordered him to stay where he was, then scavenged several flat pillows from the other seats and brought them back to him. She piled three pillows on one end of the bench, then propped two more against the back. Then she helped the child to stand on the pillows and sat down herself beside him. She cast the last pillow onto the floor in front of him, just in case, and took a good hold on the back of his tunic lest he overbalance in his eagerness to see everything at once.

And there was much to see. The room was almost as bright as on a summer evening, with slim tapered candles in tall candelabra ranged along the walls, chunky columns with three and four wicks sitting in dishes placed on tables near the benches and chairs, and oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. Pine logs burned in fireplaces spaced along the walls, adding their familiar scent to the holiday bouquet of beeswax, spiced wine, and exotic food that permeated every part of the room. Garlands of evergreens, fruit, and carved wooden ornaments adorned the fireplace mantels and twined around the pillars that supported the roof.

Despite her unwillingness to celebrate, Gilraen could not suppress a pang of disappointment that there was no huge Yule log dominating the great main hearth at the back of the hall; it was yet another reminder that she and Aragorn were among strangers who kept strange holidays. Arathorn had been so insistent that if anything happened to him, she and the baby were to travel to Imladris and live with Master Elrond, instead of going back to her parents. He had even insisted on her learning Elvish Sindarin instead of their own Mannish dialect, schooling her for hours before the fire on his visits home.

She felt her cheeks tingle at the memory of the rewards he had given her for good pronunciation, and the ones she had given him for helping her conquer lenition. A loud squeal of delight brought her back to the present, and she looked over at her bouncing son with a fond smile. He had been the direct result of learning to conjugate verbs!

Her smile faded again at the sight of Master Elrond sitting on a long chaise with his back to the great hearth, flanked by his own two sons. Arathorn had loved them so much, but when he needed them they hadn't been able to save him. No, that was an unworthy thought. Other DĂșnedain who had been on that fateful hunt had told her Arathorn was dead before he fell from his horse, and that the twins could do nothing but avenge him. All three Peredhil had honored him in death and had willingly given his wife and child a home.

A commotion arose at the front of the Hall and the dance suddenly came to a halt, with everyone turning toward the great doors as the music died out. Gilraen turned to see what was happening just as a tall figure entered amid a sudden flurry of cries of joy. The newcomer was attired in a splendid green brocade robe and practically dripped with golden ornaments on his clothes and in his shining, ornately-braided hair. Elrond and his sons stood at their places, and one of the twins began to applaud. Applause spread quickly over the hall as the other twin left his seat and hurried toward the newcomer.

"Glorfindel!" he called as he strode up the center of the hall. "You, my lord, are the living example of the Winter Solstice itself: a new day dawning after the long night!" By the time he finished this compliment he and Glorfindel had met halfway, and Elrond's son bowed low, spreading his hands out to either side and sweeping the long pointed sleeves of his midnight-blue robe on the ground as he did so.

As he rose from his bow, the Elf-lord so named took him by the shoulders, then pulled him into a tight hug and released him. "Elladan, seeing you whole and in the company of your father and brother is worth all of it."

Gilraen gasped. She and Aragorn had been at Imladris only a short while when, at the beginning of winter, the Twins' troop of Orc hunters had swept into the courtyard, two of the horses carrying double loads. She had watched from her balcony as Elrond had come dashing out the door followed by a crowd of other healers. Shaken out of his usual calm, he had barked orders and sent others scurrying to do his bidding as two swooning, blood-covered warriors were lowered gently into waiting arms, then placed on litters and carried into the great house. One of the twins had allowed someone else to take his horse away to the stables while he followed the litters into the house, white-faced as the snow that dusted the ground and sobbing bitterly.

Later Gilraen had found out that the wounded were Master Elrond's son Elladan and Glorfindel, his mysterious and intimidating friend and advisor. The hunters had been trailing a pack of Orcs for some time, and had finally swooped down on them, wiping them out. Unfortunately, the Orcs had been on their way to meet another pack, who, hearing the battle, had charged in on the victorious but exhausted Elves. Elladan had been attacked by three Uruk-hai and Glorfindel had gone to his rescue. Elladan had been severely wounded before Glorfindel could kill two of the attackers. The third had been able to fight the Elf-lord to a standstill before he had managed to take off its head.

Elladan had recovered quickly in the manner of Elves, but Glorfindel had not. The third Uruk's sword had been dipped in no less than four noxious poisons, and Elrond's healing abilities had been taxed to their limits as he fought to keep his oldest friend alive. None but Elrond, his sons, and his most skilled healers had seen the golden Elf for weeks. Rumors had flown that he would not live through the winter, and some of the folk of Imladris began openly to debate the wisdom and the worth of staying in Ennor to resist the darkness.

Now Elladan stepped to Glorfindel's side and took his arm, and together the two moved slowly down the hall toward the great hearth. Others crowded in to greet and touch the recovered hero, and Gilraen lost sight of both of them in the press.

Aragorn tugged on her sleeve. "Naneth? Want music, Naneth. You tell them make music."

"Hush, sweetheart. They'll play again in a bit. You'll see."

Her son stamped a foot into the soft pillow and almost fell. Gilraen caught him and plopped him down onto his bottom on the pillow. "Just a moment, lovey--" She broke off as his little face creased into a fearsome scowl and he scrambled back to his feet, using her sleeve to haul himself up.

"Now! Want music now!"

Surprised at the impending tantrum, Gilraen remembered that neither she nor Aragorn had eaten dinner, and that it was probably past his bedtime as well. She quickly sat him back down, slipped off the bench, and crouched in front of him. "Listen, lovey. You sit right here and be a good boy, and Naneth will go and get us both something tasty to eat. Yes? Something with honey in it?" Aragorn nodded. "Good. Stay right here, understand? Do not move, no matter what."

The child nodded again, and Gilraen darted off toward a nearby table loaded with pastries and other foods. The musicians begin another lively dance as she filled a plate with sliced fruit, some squares of bland cheese, and some small honey cakes. What she had chosen wasn't really a proper dinner for a small child, but the meat pies would be too spicy for him. She stole a quick glance back toward Aragorn and found that a line of dancers had blocked her view. She quickly filled two cups with plain water, took them and the plate and hurried back.

As she rounded the last few dancers, she was startled to see Glorfindel himself drop rather stiffly onto the bench beside her son.