Chapter 28 - The Gift Giving

The dining hall that night was packed with elves, for Eowidith had planned a magnificent feast for the night of the giving of gifts, the new tradition which her Lord's young sons had requested and Lord Elrond had decreed. Though a secret it was supposed to have been, Eowidith had the news spread far and wide not long after she learned of her Lord's intention. And although to her help, she grumbled and complained of the extra work the feast entailed, secretly, she was pleased at the chance to show off her talent at creating such exquisite fare.

As to the rest of the audience, most elves having a curious nature, there were already bets as to whom would give what to whom and for what reason. So there all sat with bated breath waiting for the meal to end and for Lord Elrond to announce that the gift-giving commence.

At Lord Elrond's table, not all of the revered personages were as assured of themselves as they appeared. Lindir, dressed in a velvet robe of dusky mauve that highlighted the rose in his lovely cheeks and deepened the blue of his eye, was suddenly in doubt of the present he had chosen for Glorfindel. So many had their eye turned his way. It would not be the same as playing the harp in the Hall of Fire. For there, all attention was on the notes that sprang from his instrument, not on he who played the tune. And tonight, he must stand and show to all, the gift he had selected for Glorfindel.

The object of his affection, unaware of Lindir's inner turmoil, was happily eating a rich crème custard while he listened to Haldir, Lothlórien's Marchwarden.

"You must understand," Haldir was saying, "that Rumil had no idea of the value Lady Galadriel placed on the pitcher. So, he did not notice or in any way fathom Orophin's horrified expression when my lady came to stand at the edge of the hole they had dug." Haldir chuckled, "The season they both spent polishing that pitcher taught both not to take without asking, at least where my lady is concerned."

Lords Elrond, Glorfindel and Erestor all laughed at the plight of Haldir's two siblings.

"I daresay my sons have caused their share of mischief, Haldir." Lord Elrond said with a smile.

"Like Father like sons, they say," Glorfindel replied with a wink. "I remember a few…"

"You can dispense with your memories, Lord Glorfindel," Elrond replied, frowning in mock anger at his seneschal. "I will not have the conversation at this table travel those roads again."

Talk soon turned to mundane matters and as Lord Glorfindel finished the last of his dessert, Lord Elrond signaled for the dishes to be cleared. Footmen waiting at each table hurried to oblige. Lindir, who had toyed with his custard and not taken a bite, grew more nervous as the course was cleared away and the dessert wine poured. His hands trembled as he took his first sip of the sweet wine, so much so that Glorfindel, who had finally noticed Lindir's distress, took the glass from his hand and set it back onto the table. Patting Lindir's knee, Glorfindel placed a chaste kiss on Lindir's cheek then whispered softly into his ear.

"Do not worry, my love. Whomever you gift tonight will be well pleased. After all, it is the thought that counts, not the content of your present."

Lindir smiled tremulously and then suddenly laughed off his fear. Glorfindel was right. Glorfindel would like his gift if only because it was Lindir who presented it. Glorfindel would appreciate his words even if he spoke in foreign tongue, and it was Glorfindel he wanted to please, not any other elf. Now that his heart was at ease, the joy that Lindir should have had for the occasion blossomed like a flower and shone radiant upon his face.

Conversation stilled when Imladris' lord pushed back his chair and stood, clearing his throat for attention.

"It appears, "Lord Elrond began, "that a private matter has run the round of the grapevine of Imladris, for I have not seen this many at feast for quite some time."

Laughter dutifully greeted his statement and he waited politely for it to end.

"At the behest of my sons, Masters Elladan and Elrohir, tonight we appreciate those dear to our hearts by giving a small token of our affection. Seven days past, Marchwarden Haldir told a story of a family from Anórien. Each year this family gathered at the table and exchanged gifts. It was a moving story and a wonderful tradition, which we start here now in Imladris."

Lord Elrond signaled to a servant who brought forth a large tray upon which lay an assortment of gifts of various size and shape, each wrapped or decorated so that none could tell what lay inside its container. The servant placed the tray in the centre of the table, bowed to Lord Elrond and withdrew to a spot from which he would be unobtrusive yet, still have a clear view of the proceedings.

"Haldir," Lord Elrond turned to the Marchwarden. "You are our guest and as it was you who told us of Althos of Anórien and his wife and sons, I give you the honour of continuing the ritual this fine man started."

The Marchwarden's hair was freshly washed and braided in an elaborate style. It shimmered with silver highlights from the candles' light as he rose from the table and bowed low to Lord Elrond.

"You are a gracious host, Lord Elrond," Haldir said with a smile. "Ever do I look forward to my visits here in Imladris for the beauty of your valley remains untarnished and your peoples kind-hearted and generous. It is with great sadness I leave on the 'morrow, as I know not when I will once again grace these halls and I am sore to leave those I consider fond friends.

"It is one of those friends here at our table whose name I selected." Haldir removed a pretty package from the tray which was wrapped in a moss green fabric tied with a bowed ribbon of dark silk.

"Lord Erestor," Haldir turned to face Lord Elrond's Chief Advisor. "You are an elf of great worth to Imladris. Tirelessly working in the background to keep your lord's realm running smoothly, each cog turned and oiled to perfection. You accomplish your tasks with grace and poise, never a feather ruffled nor a word spoken in huff or hurry or misplaced anger.

"As councilor, you are a formidable opponent and such battles have I seen you fight and champion with wily speech or naught but pen and words on paper. Lord Elrond is the brick and stone and rock hard foundation of this haven of refuge, Imladris, but you are the mortar that holds the bricks and stones in place. Admirable, my friend…you are truly a most admirable elf."

Haldir walked around the table and handed the gift to Erestor, but as the advisor reached to take it, Haldir pulled it back and whispered. "What thoughts hide you behind those dark, deep eyes, Erestor? What emotions lie in wait for one who dares to breech your walls? Of Alabaster and stone you are carved, like the marble statues in Celebrian's garden, placed on pedestals for all to admire but as cold as ice to the touch."

Erestor drew back his hand as if scorched, his eyes wide; a faint blush slowly suffusing his cheeks.

"Haldir laughed and once more handed his gift to Erestor. "For you my Lord, for I greatly appreciate your talents."

Those at the table who had heard Haldir's whispered words looked on with much interest as Erestor fumbled with the ribboned tie that bound his gift. Uttering a soft curse, Erestor finally removed the last of the wrapping to disclose a wooden box with a hinged lid. On the top of the box was carved in relief, a feather, nothing more. It was simple and elegant, a master's work.

Erestor slowly raised the lid of the box. Inside, nestled in a bed of red satin, lay a cast metal ink stand and a glass ink bottle. The stand was of silver with an artful design of carved flowers and leaves. A dark patina stained the carved crevices highlighting the smooth surface of the lustrous metal. There was a holder for a quill on the left of the stand and a well for the ink bottle on the right.

The stand was lovely, but it was the ink bottle that drew a gasp from Erestor as he carefully picked it up and held it to the light. The bottle was squat and heavy with six sloped sides rising to a conical neck with a rounded lip. A ground glass stopper topped with a round ball kept it sealed tight. The glass of the bottle and top was a rich cobalt blue. Molded perfectly to the base and running halfway up the sides was a silver casing of cut and chased design. The casing on one side extended higher than the others for its design contained a flower in whose center was set a round stone. Caught in the light from the candelabra, the moonstone shone with a soft, pearly luster.

"It is a lovely gift, Haldir." Erestor said, his gaze lingering on the moonstone for some moments before he raised his eyes to the Marchwarden. "I shall treasure it as I do your friendship."

Haldir smiled at Erestor. "I am glad it pleases you, my friend. Perhaps, you will think of me from time to time as you sit at your lonely desk."

"Oh, I shall, Haldir, I shall." Erestor replied, bowing his head in thanks to the one who had given such a thoughtful gift, hiding the slight blush which again had come to his cheeks.

The elves in the dining room burst into applause as pleased as Erestor by the fine gift that Haldir had chosen. Lord Erestor placed the ink bottle back into the box and as one, all eyes turned to Lord Elrond to see who he would call upon next.

"Lord Glorfindel," Elrond gestured to his second-in-command. "Tell us whose name you drew from the bowl."

"As it pleases you, my lord," Glorfindel replied, rising from the table and selecting a large, flat package from the tray.

Glorfindel cleared his throat with a cough and raised his hand for quiet. For no sooner had he risen from his chair than the room had erupted with loud applause and hurrahs. Glorfindel was beloved by all of Imladris, a hero of the first and second age, an elf re-born; a golden lord from a golden era. He was glorious and valiant, but above all, he was theirs, beholden only to Imaldris and Imladris' lord. All that was good and noble and just was embodied in this one they called their own and the news that he had resigned his command had rocked the small community to the core. Happy to see him in his rightful place again, whole and hale and of good cheer, they could not help but show their admiration and it was a long moment Glorfindel stood before he had a chance to speak.

"Lord Elrond, friends, honoured guests," Glorfindel raised his wineglass in salute, "long have I lived on Middle-earth. Of those with whom I began my journey here, only a few remain. Friends they were, brothers all to me. Some fell by the sword, others overcome by sadness and grief heard the call of the gulls and sailed home, to the white shores of Aman. Through war and strife, peace and prosperity, I stayed, here in this land that I love. Those who left these shores long ago, live here still in my heart. And there was room in my heart for other friends who took their places in my life as I passed from one age to the next.

"Gone are the days of the great Elven cities, a golden time when we peopled the earth in majority. How young we were then, idealistic. Lovers sat and courted underneath white fountains, danced at night in silk and velvet under the flags of royal houses. Our future lay bright before us in the voices of the children who played so gaily in the streets and meadows…ah, the little ones, so few now." Glorfindel shook his head sadly.

"As that which I knew and loved crumbled and fell, turned to dust or washed beneath the waves of the sea, I could have followed but for the friends I could not leave behind. Those who stood by with comfort and care, how could I forsake them?"

"Yes, those days are gone and nonetheless, here I remain. For that which so enticed, I find still in the hearts and eyes of those less ancient than this old warrior, Glorfindel. But the children, ah, them I sorely miss.

"In the year 130 of this age, our lord and lady gave to us a truly precious gift, twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir; babes, so cherished by us elves, by this elf." Glorfindel gave a smile to the young ones who watched him in adulation.

"Blessed am I to be so involved with their upbringing. They are the closest I will have to sons of my own, and though I do not regret my loss, I treasure every moment I am able to spend with our young lords.

"It gives me great pleasure now to present my gift to Master Elrohir and I hope child, you will take good care of that which I give."

Elrohir was bouncing with eagerness, reaching for his present the minute Glorfindel said his name. But Glorfindel raised a finger for he had more left to say, seeing Elladan's crestfallen expression when he found that Glorfindel had drawn his brother's name, not his.

"Master Elladan, I love you no less than your brother but it was Elrohir's name that I drew and I am allowed only one gift this night. Your turn is yet to come, let your brother enjoy his moment."

"Yes, Lord Glorfindel." Elladan replied, his jealousy already forgotten. "Give 'Ro his present, I want to see what it is!"

Glorfindel smiled again and placed the gift in Elrohir's outstretched hands.

Master Elrohir with help from his brother made quick work of removing the wrapping from the present.

"It is a book!" Elrohir exclaimed opening the cover, "with pictures. See!" Elrohir held the book up for all to see.

"Aye, Master Elrohir," Glorfindel replied. "It is a very old tome, an illustrated book of the heroes of old. Be careful with the pages for they are fragile."

Elrohir did not reply for he and Elladan were already engrossed in the book, oh-ing and ah-ing over each page with obvious delight.

"Elrohir?" Lord Elrond addressed his youngest son with a nod in Glorfindel's direction.

"I thank you for my gift, Lord Glorfindel." Elrohir belatedly replied. "It is what I have always wanted!"

Whistles and cheers and smiles greeted Elrohir's words as the elves of Imladris applauded Glorfindel's choice and their young master's love of the gift. Lord Elrond stood as Glorfindel took his seat and waited for the noise to die down again.

Haldir meanwhile, was watching one of the parcels on the tray. Unless his eyes betrayed him, and he had not had that much to drink, the present in mention had moved a few spaces from where it lay only a few moments before. In fact, the object of his eye, a sack of loosely woven fabric gathered at the top and tied with a ribbon was now…quivering.

Haldir was not the only one who had his eye on the sack, for Erestor was looking at it also in deep concentration, one eyebrow raised as if in doubt of what he was seeing. Lindir, too, was gazing suspiciously at the gift and once his father stood, so was young Elrohir. Although his expression, unlike the others, was filled with glee and he was giggling softly, hand to his mouth.

Lord Elrond's gaze soon followed the others. He shook his head and with a meaningful smile, told Elrohir it was his turn to offer his gift. When Elrond took his seat, Elrohir quickly stifled his mirth and with much aplomb, stood and addressed all in the room.

"My gift," he said as he reached for the very sack that had Haldir, Erestor and Lindir so entranced, is for my brother, Elladan. He is my stalwart companion and best friend. You must like my gift Elladan for I had a warg's all time catching it!"

"Elrohir!" Elrond chided, "such language!"

"It is true, Adar!" Elrohir replied, stamping his foot for emphasis and earning smiles from all present. "I had to…"

Elrohir mumbled the rest of his sentence as Lord Elrond's visage grew sterner. But as is with elflings, his father's rebuke did not leave a lasting effect. So with a wide grin and a grand flourish, Elrohir placed the sack in front of his brother. It sat, quivering and shaking, leaving a spot of dampness on the crisp linen cloth that covered the table.

Elladan glanced quickly at Elrohir then eagerly untied the ribbon that held the mouth of the sack closed. No sooner had he opened the bag than his present hopped across the table with a loud r-ribbit and jumped into Lindir's lap. Startled, Lindir pushed back his chair while the bullfrog, as frogs will do, leapt to the floor and hip-hopped under the table, two elflings fast in pursuit.

"Got him!" one of them shouted, none was sure which, until Elladan emerged from under the table clutching the large spotted frog in his hands, its back legs dangling free, the pouch of its throat wildly pulsing.

"By the Valar, 'Ro, you crawled in the marsh to find him, all by yourself, for me?"

Elladan was impressed. Wading through mud and slime was nothing to Elladan but Elrohir had never shown interest in crawly creatures nor the cold-blooded animals that frequented the waters near the ponds and marsh. Elrohir was also more fastidious than his older brother although not so much to be called a dandy. That his brother would brave such environment for him was a surprise and Elladan was pleased.

Elladan stared at the frog which stared back with eyes like saucers, dark and luminous. "Ernil," (1) Elladan cried happily, "that is what I will call him, for he is the caun (2) of the pond, a big one!

A footman stepped forward with a small wooden crate lined with moss and Lord Elrond gestured for Elladan to place his prize inside. Elladan did so reluctantly closing the top so Ernil would not stray. (3)

"He is the grandest of presents, Elrohir." Elladan thumped his brother hard on the back and both elflings laughed as Ernil croaked loudly as if in agreement.

Applause and cheers followed and Lord Elrond waited patiently again for the room to quiet.

"Elladan, if Ernil will permit, you may present your gift." Elrond smiled and sat and Master Elladan rose from his chair and took a cloth bag from the tray. It, like Elrohir's offering was tied with a ribbon.

"Marchwarden Haldir," Elladan began, "I drew your name from the bowl."

Elladan was seated a few chairs down from Haldir so he walked over to stand by the Marchwarden. Bouncing up and down on his toes, barely able to contain his excitement, he rushed through his speech hardly taking the time to draw breath.

'Ro and I are always thrilled when you come for a visit, Marchwarden, for you tell the grandest of stories! Father says when I am older and can go to Lothlorien that you will teach me the use of the Longbow. Lord Glorfindel says you are a champion archer and I must learn from the best. I promise to visit soon for I am growing daily."

Elladan moved closer to Haldir and put his hand on Haldir's shoulder.

"Ro said he heard that you were lonely, Haldir. I get lonely too sometimes but I have my twin, Elrohir, to keep me company. You are older than Rumil and Orophin so they probably do not play with you much. So, I made you a wolf for a companion! His name is Carach(4)."

By the end of his speech, Elladan had wormed his way onto Haldir's lap. He gave the marchwarden his gift and had to restrain himself to keep from helping Haldir open it.

Haldir untied the string from the pouch and held up his wolf for all to see. It was brown and lumpy and made of clay and looked as if it had swallowed three sheep. Haldir did not tell Elladan he had other wolves on a special shelf in his room, compliments of his younger brothers, Rúmil and Orophin. Instead, he gave Elladan a warm hug and a huge smile.

"A fine companion Carach will be, Elladan. Lonely it is sometimes on the march and his company, I will enjoy, all the more, as you made him for me with your own hands."

"I made another wolf for you, Haldir, but I forgot to make him hollow inside. When he was placed in the kiln he exploded and it ruined all the journeymens' pots. Master Sandorin was angry and I did not think he would let me craft another. But, he did and Carach came out perfect!"

"That he did, Master Elladan. "I will be the envy of all the guardians with Carach at my side. I thank you from my heart for your gift."

Elladan smiled happily and leaned his head against Haldir's shoulder. The warrior's lap was very comfortable, he decided he would stay there awhile.

All in the dining hall clapped and cheered and Lord Elrond signaled for another round of wine to be served before standing once more to announce the next giver of gifts.

"Lord Erestor," Elrond said, "We are anxious to know whose name you selected."

Erestor nudged Lindir and pointed to a package on the tray. It was large and square and Lindir had to lift it with both hands to pass it to the advisor. Once the gift was positioned in front of Erestor, he stood and faced the head of the table.

"It was your name I drew, my lord Elrond," Erestor said, smiling. "No gift could ever show how much you mean to me and those of us here in Imladris. It has been a privilege and a great honour to serve at your side, to be a part of the family you shepherd in this valley. For you are our shepherd, milord, and we your faithful flock. Here we find what all seek: food, shelter, security, love. Basic needs, yes, but all are met.

"Ever we were searching, believeing we had found a lasting place to rest. But nay, those places now lie broken or buried, lost to us forever.

"Ironic, that the jewel hidden was revealed by an action of our greatest enemy. Did you know, Elrond? Was there some sixth sense that led you this way? When first we crossed the ford fleeing Sauron, was it then you knew what lay hidden deep in the cleft? Ah, Imladris, so aptly named, how she beckoned.

"Staunchly we defended our home then, fearing loss of what we had just found. He came, finally, Gil-galad, and once Sauron was routed he blessed our choice, made it official. I like to believe he thought he would spend his days here, once the war ended. Do you think already he knew his fate? Was that why he was so eager to see us settled?

"Those early days, just a camp of war tents. But you had vision, did you not, milord? We watched her grow, beautiful even then with her falls and rainbows. Our haven, our refuge, Imladris. Look at her now. Who would have believed?

"But never, could we call her home without you here to guide us. It was your arms and hers that kept us safe, keep us safe. I made the decision when first we met. Wherever you would go, I would follow. All that I am, I have learned from you, oh my warrior, healer, protector, liege, king, though you renounce the title, and father. For that is what you are to me and to our people here. I am but your humble servant, one lamb amongst the many. Last Homely House east of the Sea, your gift to us, our pasture. My shepherd, Elrond, in you we place our trust. Thank you for this, our home"

Erestor sniffed, wiping a tear from his eye. "I mean those words, my Lord. Imladris is my final resting place ere you lead us all from these shores to Valinor."

Handing his package to Lindir to pass to Lord Elrond, Erestor spoke again. "It is not much, my gift, but one of your favourites. I have kept it for a special occasion. What better time than now, when we celebrate our affection for our family and friends."

Lindir passed Elrond's gift from Erestor to Glorfindel who gave it to their lord. Elrond rested his hands on the package. "You wax eloquent in your praise, Erestor, I am touched, deeply touched. It is my hope all feel as you about our home here. We all play our part in the welfare of Imladris. Perhaps, we are all shepherds and Imladris our flock."

So saying; Elrond un-wrapped his gift to disclose a wooden crate. Removing the pegs from the top, he lifted it off of the crate and pulled forth from the stuffings a bottle of wine. From the label, it was an early vintage, one made here in Imladris. "Ah, I remember the year of its making," Lord Elrond told Erestor, "this is a special vintage. I thought we had drunk the last of it long ago. This, we shall cherish every sip. We will open it tonight, after we have finished with our gifting. Cheers, Erestor, for such a tasteful present."

Cheers followed from all, the loudest yet, both in tribute to their Lord and to Erestor for his gift to Elrond. Two now were left still to present gifts, Elrond himself and young Lindir. Lord Elrond stood once more.

"I am sure you have guessed, Lindir, whose name I chose but I will wait until you present your gift to Lord Glorfindel before I give you yours. All those sleepless nights, Lindir, you have us intrigued. Your moment has arrived." Lord Elrond smiled at Lindir as he sat back in his chair.

All eyes were on Lindir now. His dilemma had long been revealed and all in the room could not wait to see what the minstrel had chosen for the elf he so loved.

Lindir took a small package from the tray, rose from his chair and asked Glorfindel to do the same. He took Glorfindel's hand in his and placed the gift in Glorfindel's palm. Then, looking into the eyes of his warrior, he spoke.

"I am not good with words, Glorfindel. Know only that I give this to you with my love." Lindir kissed Glorfindel's cheek. "From me to you, open it."

Once the wrapping was removed, Glorfindel held in his hand a small wooden box. He opened the lid and smiled. "It is beautiful, Lindir, perfect. Ah, love, all your worries were for naught for I dearly love your present.

"Do not keep us in suspense, Lord Glorfindel, show us your gift!" Someone in the room called out.

Glorfindel removed the brooch from the box and laid the golden harp in his palm. For that is what Lindir's gift to his love was. A golden harp entwined with enameled flowers, the flowers the same as the simple field flower of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, the Celandine. That representing all which was Glorfindel entwined with the instrument that was the love of his minstrel, the harp. Glorfindel would cherish it forever.

"Pin it over my heart, Lindir, for all to see." Glorfindel watched as Lindir did as he asked. Glorfindel pulled Lindir into his arms and placed a kiss on his forehead. And there they stood locked in each others embrace, as all in the dining hall clapped and whistled and cheered and wished them well. And they only parted when Lord Elrond cleared his throat signaling it was time they return to their seats.

Erestor, romantic that he was, cheered as loudly as the rest when Lindir's gift to Glorfindel was revealed. He had always hoped the two would find each other as evidenced when he had gifted Glorfindel with the moonstone long ago. And now, Erestor had been given a moonstone of his own, albeit it was only a small stone set in a bottle for ink. He wondered, did Haldir know the lore associated with the gem or was the warrior ignorant of such matters. Lost in such thoughts, Erestor was startled as a little hand clutched his robe. Elrohir climbed into Erestor's lap and settled himself comfortably, leaning his head against Erestor's shoulder as his brother had done with the Marchwarden.

It was time for the last of the elves at the table to present his gift. Lord Elrond rose once again and stood with his hands pressed lightly on the top of the table.

"Dearest Lindir, what joy you have brought to my home. I wish only that your arrival had not been due to such sad circumstance. As you know, it was your name I drew from the bowl. My gift to you, however, is not only from me but from all of Imladris and others that hold you in their heart. Lord Gildor and I correspond often for as he travels in his wanderlust, he gathers news and tells me what he believes is to my interest.

He left this for you, Lindir, and asked only that I waited until what I believed was the right time to gift it. Glorfindel measured your finger while you slept and I had it sized to fit. Elrond passed to Lindir a velvet purse embroidered with Lord Gildor's seal. Lindir opened it and drew forth a ring, a duplicate of the one belonging to his mother, engraved with the seal of Gildor Inglorion. His offer still stands, Lindir. You are of age and if you chose to accept your heritage, you do not have to leave Imladris. Whatever your decision, and take all the time you wish to make it, Gildor still wishes you to wear his ring.

Lindir nodded to Lord Elrond. "I thank you, my lord, for keeping the ring in trust. I am not the elf I was when first he came, yet, I need time before I can give an answer to my Uncle."

"He gives you all the time you wish, Lindir." Lord Elrond replied, "Follow your heart. This also is for you, from Master Findal and I. I hope you will choose to wear it, proudly. Elrond passed his second gift to Lindir, a velvet bag of a different colour, red with a brown tie. Lindir opened it and looked at Elrond in surprise. "A minstrel badge, my lord?"

Master Findal rose from his chair and walked over to stand by Lord Elrond. "Aye, Lindir. You are a master musician. Forgive this old master his trespass for I was angered you would not live in our house and was determined to deny you guild membership. You earned this long ago. We would be proud to have you wear the badge of an Imladris harpist."

"No, Master Findal, do not shoulder all the blame. It was I who acted the spoiled child. You were a strict master and I did not wish to stay with one I deemed so restrictive. Those days are long past and I now value your friendship and all you have taught me. I would not have the talent I do now without your instruction. Lindir proudly pinned the minstrel's badge of the Harper's guild to his robe, a golden harp set on a field of red circled by a band of brown, the colours of Imladris (5).

Through the entranceway of the dining hall, two elves of the Harper's guild carried in Lindir's harp and a cushioned bench.

"I took the liberty, Lindir," Master Findal said, it would be an honour if you would play for us I have my pipes if you wish accompaniment."

"Pass on an opportunity to play with the master piper of Imladris?" Lindir said with a laugh, "Never, Master Findal."

And play they did. The music was of joy and spring and waterfalls splashing over silver-grey rocks to fall in clear pools, of pine and beech and ash and oak and Elves and Dwarves, Half-lings and Men. And all in the dining hall clapped and hummed in joyous tribute to the beautiful sounds of pipe and string. All too soon it was over and there were cries for more, more.

The two master minstrels shook their heads and as one bowed low to the audience for the privilege of allowing them to play. As each returned to their seat, amidst cheers and applaud, two more elves entered the dining hall, each bearing trays containing small wrapped gifts. These they passed to occupants of each table, gifts from Lord Elrond. In fact, all residents of Imladris, whether or not they were present in the dining hall, received such a gift. For Lord Elrond was of generous nature and he loved the tradition Haldir had started with his story and was pleased to continue it at Imladris. As a last token of his appreciation, he opened the wine that Erestor had saved for him and shared it with all at his table.

As the celebration finally came to an end and the tables were cleared, most everyone moved to the Hall of Fire. Erestor and Haldir were some of the last to enter for they had put two sleepy elflings to bed. Lindir was there with his harp, Glorfindel sitting on the floor beside him, and it was there Lindir played his promised duet with the Marchwarden, for he had sent a servant to his room to fetch Haldir the lap harp. Laughter and song and merriment echoed throughout the halls of the Last Homely House long past the time when all should have been abed. Until finally, good nights were exchanged and each drifted off to their rooms to sleep.

Wrapped in the arms of Glorfindel, in the softness of Glorfindel's large bed, Lindir slept a dreamless sleep to a lullaby of the tinkling bells of Varda, Elbereth Gilthoniel, kindler of the stars, beloved of all the Elves.

-The Morning after – A Fond Farewell

The air was cool and fresh, the sky a painting of gilt and rose as the sun peeped over the cliffs of the hidden valley. Bells jingle-jangled on headstalls; hooves stamped in impatience, as Lords Elrond, Erestor, Glorfindel, Masters Elladan and Elrohir and Lindir, sat their mounts waiting to escort the Marchwarden of Lothlórien to the Gates of Imladris. Eight of Glorfindel's guardians would ride the rest of the way with Haldir to ensure of his safe journey home.

Haldir checked his grey's tack and the ties on his saddlebags then taking one last fond look at the Last Homely House, mounted and signaled to Lord Elrond he was ready. With Lord Glorfindel in the lead on Asfaloth, the rest of the escort followed two abreast down the path towards the bridge.

Mist from the falls that tumbled into the water of the river below settled as fine droplets into the hair of the riders, reflecting in the morning sun. The roar of the water drowned out conversation but all were too entranced with the beauty around them to care.

The narrow span of the bridge stretched high across the river, forcing the riders to cross single file. The river below churned and rumbled, its surface awash with foam as the water swirled in eddies over polished rock. Once across the river, the path widened and climbed higher entering a stand of tall pine. Squirrels chattered in greeting and birds sang sweetly as they went about the task of feeding their young.

Once past the music of the falls, conversation returned. The twins, riding on sure-footed ponies, were in high spirits and chatted almost non-stop. Haldir, who had moved next to Erestor, laughed at their enthusiasm.

"They are in fine feather this morning, are they not, Erestor? I have grown fond of Lord Elrond's sons."

"Aye, Haldir, they brighten all our hearts here in Imladris, although they can sometimes be a handful." Erestor smiled. "However did you manage on your own, Haldir, with your brothers?"

Haldir's father, a Lothlórien guardian, had been killed shortly after Haldir reached his majority. His mother, who was pregnant with their third child, had died in childbirth, leaving Haldir with two young ones to raise on his own.

"Rúmil and Orophin were all I had, Erestor. I would have gone to Mandos and back to keep my family together." Haldir answered perhaps more heatedly than he intended.

"My apologies, Haldir, I did not mean to pry." Erestor for once was suddenly at a loss for words.

Haldir cocked an eyebrow. One rarely saw Erestor flustered. "Your apology is accepted, my lord. It was wrong of me to answer as I did. Rúmil and Orophin are well-known for their mischief, I assume that is to which you referred."

"Yes, Haldir, forgive my blunder. I am not myself this morning." Erestor could not believe he had been so insensitive. What was it about Haldir all of a sudden that unnerved him so?"

"Oh, Haldir grinned, "You look as you did last night, Erestor, though perhaps a bit off colour. How much of that wine you gave to Elrond did you drink?"

Erestor's dark eyes flashed and he looked askance at Haldir, then seeing the Marchwarden was in jest, he laughed. The misunderstanding was forgiven and forgot.

"Erestor," Haldir's expression was now more serious. "Glorfindel told me about the moonstone. I just wanted you to be aware." And with that statement, Haldir whistled to his grey and rode on ahead to talk with Lord Elrond's seneschal, leaving an astonished Erestor behind.

The rose of the sky gave way to bright blue as the party at last reached their destination. Two sentries guarded the ornate stone gates that marked entry to Lord Elrond's realm. They saluted their Lord and their Captain and reported that all was well. Horses were tethered as all dismounted and gathered around the Marchwarden to wish him farewell.

Elladan and Elrohir wrapped their arms around Haldir's legs, their bright faces suddenly sad as they realized they would not see their story-teller for a long time. Little Elrohir blinked back tears and sniffed. Haldir knelt and wrapped an arm around each of the youngsters.

"Do not be sad, little ones. It is a while yet before the snow closes the pass. I will be back for another visit with many more stories to tell. Haldir kissed each on the forehead. "Be brave, little warriors, no tears." The twins kissed Haldir good-bye then ran to their father. Lord Elrond put his arms around his sons and gave them each a hug.

Lindir gave Haldir a hug also. "I shall miss you, Haldir. Words cannot express how much. I thank you for all you have done. Take care and safe journey home.

"Ah, Lindir, my little bird. You have found your wings and now fly free. Glorfindel is blessed. Haldir winked at Lindir. "At least, I have Carach to keep this poor, lonely guardian company. Lindir threw back his head and laughed. "Haldir, I am sure there are many pining for your return in Lórien, your reputation is well-known here in Imladris."

"Hmm," Haldir replied, smiling. "You listen too much to Master Elrohir and his friends in the laundry. Haldir gave Lindir a warrior's clasp. "Until next we meet, Lindir. I wish you and Glorfindel happiness."

"Until then, Haldir," Lindir replied, stepping back to give Erestor a chance to wish Haldir farewell.

Brown eyes met with hazel as Haldir took Erestor's hand. "Erestor, would you be open to my sending a letter now and then?"

"I must find some use for that ornate inkstand you gave me, Haldir." Erestor smirked. "If you write, I will answer."

"There is the Erestor I have always known," Haldir laughed. "Do you like poetry, Erestor?"

The advisor blushed a deep red. "I am a scribe, Haldir. Of course, I have a love for poems."

"What art thou, oh! thou new-found pain?
From what infection dost thou spring?
Tell me -- oh! tell me, thou enchanting thing,
Thy nature, and thy name;
Inform me by what subtle art,
What powerful influence,
You got such vast dominion in a part
Of my unheeded, and unguarded, heart,
That fame and honour cannot drive ye thence…"(6)

"What?" said Haldir to Erestor, "Believe you words like these have no charm for a mere guardian?"

"N-No, Haldir, I…"

Erestor did not have a chance to finish, for Haldir leaned forward and placed a kiss on the councilor's lips, much to Erestor's chagrin and embarrassment. Yet, the councilor did not pull away as the kiss lengthened.

"E r e s t o r!" Elrohir could not keep quiet.

At Elrohir's outburst, Erestor did break the kiss but whether due to Elrohir's word or his need to draw breath none could say.

Glorfindel cleared his throat and Haldir whispered briefly into Erestor's ear. Erestor smiled and with a longing glance, turned away although he would have preferred to stay.

Much discussion followed then between Glorfindel and Haldir of routes and places to beware. Until at last, the two old friends embraced and exchanged the handclasp of warriors. "May the wind be always at your back." Glorfindel said in formal farewell. Haldir lay his hand on Glorfindel's shoulder and nodded.

"My Lord Elrond," Haldir bowed low before the lord of Imladris. "As always, I am sad to leave for you are a most gracious host and my time here has been memorable."

"You are always welcome to my home, Haldir" Elrond replied. "Nan lû govaded vîn." (7)

"Ir i lû telitha"(8), Haldir replied, hand raised in farewell.

Haldir un-tethered his grey and mounted then joined the escort of guardians who had waited patiently for all the good-byes to be said. With a spoken word, they moved out, and his eyes turned towards home.

Erestor and those left behind watched until there was no more left to see then they too mounted and rode back down the path to the Last Homely House.

The rest of the day passed swiftly. Lindir, whose holiday was over, rode to meet his patrol. Two weeks would pass before he would see his lover, other than when Glorfindel made his rounds. Lord Glorfindel, after rounds, worked on duty rosters and reports for Lord Elrond. Erestor read the reports and others, met with his lord and saw to the running of the household. Lord Elrond spoke with his advisors, seneschal; heads of household, healing house and crafting guilds, and performed the myriad other duties that arose in the daily governing of his realm. The twins were allowed to play until their lessons in the afternoon.

So, the days of the seasons went, the valley quiet and peaceful after the tumultuous events of the week of Haldir's visit. Until, one day a messenger arrived from the Golden Woods and the household was again in uproar.

Almost running down the hall, Lord Erestor clutched the message in hand, heading for Lord Elrond's office. Arriving breathlessly at Elrond's door, he knocked, and was bade entry.

"My lord," Erestor said, "You should read this."

He handed the message to Elrond and stood, tapping his foot waiting for his lord to finish reading.

"She is returning, Erestor." Elrond's voice was jubilant. Celebrían is coming home. We must be ready for her arrival!"

Such flurry of activity had not been seen for some time in Imladris. The household staff cleaned, scrubbed and polished. The gardeners weeded, pruned and planted. Menus were written, produce ordered and hunts organized. Silver was polished to a lustrous sheen. Seamstresses were kept busy sewing and jewelers smelting. The demands on all crafting houses were high. Banners, bunting and garlands were hung and arrangements of cut flowers were placed in each room. Everyone was rushed and harried but full of joy, for all in the realm wished themselves and Imladris preened and ready for their beloved lady's return.

The day arrived with much fanfare. The sky was a glorious field of blue upon which fluffy, white clouds drifted languidly. The peoples of Imladris gathered dressed in their finest with baskets of flower petals over their arms. Lords Elrond, Erestor and Glorfindel with Masters Elladan and Elrohir waited on the steps of the Last Homely House, dressed in robes of state. Other lords and ladies and persons of importance stood to the right of the steps, not part of the receiving line but separated from those of more common birth. Lindir was with the small band of minstrels on a flower strewn dais waiting to play upon the lady's arrival.

The signal was given and not long after, the lady herself and her escort appeared. As they rode down the path to the courtyard in front of the Last Homely House, they were showered with flower petals from the crowd that had gathered. Masters Findal and Lindir and three other musicians played a fine tribute on harp and pipe, flute and drum.

Celebrían, even after such a long journey, was fresh as a rose and shone with the inner light that all Elves of the Golden Wood possess. Her golden hair flowed unbound from under a silver circlet. Her dress was of blue and silver, the colours of Lothlórien. A heavy cloak of pale almost silver grey, draped from her shoulders across the back of her mount, its borders embroidered with a band of stylized Mellryn leaves and flowers. She turned to the leader of her escort, Marchwarden Haldir, who gave her his hand and helped her to dismount. She took his arm and he led her to the steps of the Last Homely House where both she and he bowed in greeting to Lord Elrond.

"My Lady, dearest Celebrían, welcome home." Elrond said as he took her hand.

"It was time to come home, my husband, for I missed both you and my sons." Celebrían replied.

She pressed a kiss to Lord Elrond's cheek, hugged Elladan and Elrohir and gave them kisses then exchanged greetings with Lords Glorfindel and Erestor. Both the lord and his lady spoke briefly to the crowd then Lord Elrond, Masters Elladan and Elrohir escorted Lady Celebrían inside so she could bathe and rest.

The horses of the escort were led to the stable and each guardian shown to a room either in the soldier's barracks or the Last Homely House, depending on their rank. Haldir lingered to speak with Glorfindel and Erestor and Lindir, who had come to join him."

"I have returned," Haldir said with a smile, "much later than I expected." Two other guardians joined the group, both lithe and slender with flaxen hair. Each bore a slight resemblance to the Marchwarden. Haldir introduced Rúmil and Orophin to Lindir, who alone of the group, had not before made the acquaintance of Haldir's brothers. Rare it was they left Lothlórien, for they did not have the inquisitiveness of Haldir for that which existed outside their woods. This was their first visit to Imladris and the wonder of the valley still lingered on their faces. They bowed low in greeting to the three Imladris hosts.

"Do you wish escort to your rooms?" Glorfindel asked, "Or would you care to share a bottle of wine to wash the dust from your journey before you take your rest?"

All three brothers grinned and expressed their desire to taste a bottle of Imladris vintage. Glorfindel walked with Haldir, Erestor with Rúmil, and Lindir and Orophin followed as Glorfindel led them into a small parlor and bade them to sit.

The room was furnished with potted plants and wide, comfortable chairs with cushioned backs and seats. Heavy curtains draped the windows which provided a beautiful view of the gardens. Tapestries hung on the walls from twisted ropes of silken cord. A cabinet stood in a corner of the room from which Glorfindel produced a bottle of wine and wine glasses. He placed these all on a tray and carried it to a small table near where his guests sat. He poured wine into each glass and when all were served, took the last glass and sat in a chair next to Lindir.

"Your journey was without mishap?" Glorfindel asked, after taking a sip of wine.

"The way was clear and the weather mild, we could not have asked for better." Haldir replied.

"Celebrían seems in fine spirit. Lord Elrond and the twins are happy she has returned. For their sake, I hope she stays long." Glorfindel raised his glass. "Cheers to your safe arrival and fond welcome to Orophin and Rúmil and of course, yourself, Haldir."

All raised their glass to complete the toast.

"We were honoured for the opportunity to visit fair Imladris," Rúmil replied, "Haldir's description did not prepare us for the beauty of the valley."

"Nor that of Lord Elrond's councilor," Orophin said with a wink. "Haldir spoke of nothing else on his return from his last visit. "My pardon, Lord Erestor, but it is naught but the truth. Rúmil and I have seen you, of course, on your visits to my lord and lady but we wished to greet personally, he who has my elder brother so entranced. So, my lord, do you feel the same for our brother?"

Erestor's brows rose. "Do you harry the laundresses in Lothlórien, Orophin?"

At the quizzical look on Orophin's face, Haldir laughed. "They have no shame, Erestor. See all, know all. Beware, my brothers!"

The Imladris elves laughed as both Orophin and Rúmil grinned wickedly at Haldir. Conversation continued as Glorfindel refilled glasses until finally, Rúmil begged leave for he was tired.

"I need rest also," Haldir said, yawning. Orophin nodded in agreement. Lord Erestor led the three to their chambers for all had rooms in the Last Homely House. Erestor lingered at the last door, the room of the Marchwarden, long enough for a kiss then made his way down the hall with a smile. His work day was not finished and he had much to do for the celebrations of the lady's return had not ended.

That evening, all rooms in the Dining Hall were opened as the kitchen laid a great feast for the first night of Celebrían's return. The light of hundreds of candles glowed from fixtures bright and polished onto tables set with the finest porcelain, silver and crystal. Seven courses of exquisite dishes and entrees were waiting to be served from roast goose and venison to the most delicate of sugary confections.

As Lord Elrond led his lady into the hall, a herald announced in bold voice the title of the lady and lord and of each guest who arrived thereafter. When all had been seated and the doors closed, the feasting began.

Long it lasted, as footmen back and forth from the tables went with trays of the most of delicious foods. For Eowidith had worked her magic and earned her position three-fold over. The guests were splendid in their finery and the room was bright and beautiful. Celebrían's smiles warmed hearts for all loved the lady that Elrond had chosen for his wife.

All things must come to an end and so full and filled and satisfied, the diners left, some to the Hall of Fire to continue the celebration, others to their homes or rooms to sleep.

Lord Erestor, to no one's surprise did not stay in his room that night. And, in the stateliest set of suites, Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían prepared for rest. But to Elrond's surprise and great joy, his lady did not wish for her separate bed. Gentle kisses led to more and Elrond's lonely heart was lonely no more.

Lord Glorfindel and Lindir retired to Glorfindel's chamber for Lindir had long since moved in with his lover. Wrapped in each other's arms in the softness of Glorfindel's bed, they lay, content.

"Glorfindel," Lindir whispered, "I am happy for Erestor and Haldir. Never will I forget the night Haldir told his story and we chose names to gift to each other."

"And you tossed and turned each night worrying what would please me. Aye, I remember that night well, Lindir." Glorfindel replied. "But I remember most our night under the stars, for that is when you gave me the most cherished gift of all, Lindir, your love." Glorfindel kissed Lindir tenderly and his minstrel returned the kiss in full.

"And you gave me yours," Lindir replied smiling, touching his hand to Glorfindel's cheek.

Glorfindel took Lindir's hand and pressed the palm to his lips then held Lindir's hand in his own and laid two rings upon it. They were tied together with a silk ribbon.

"Love me, Lindir…forever." Glorfindel whispered.

"Always," Lindir replied.

The rings fell to the mattress as Lindir and Glorfindel celebrated their betrothal in the age old way of lovers. Lindir's heart sang to Glorfindel's and Glorfindel's sang in return. Two rhaw(9) merged as they reached the climax of their bliss and each, for that moment, knew the other's thoughts.(10) "Glorfindel! Cried Lindir. "Lindir!" Cried Glorfindel. Stars danced over their heads and bells rang softly as Varda placed a kiss on the forehead of each. But neither noticed the Vala nor her gift. Varda smiled and blessed the couple then faded from view as clarity returned to the two on the bed.

Words were exchanged and love forever pledged, promises sealed with kisses. Tomorrow the news would be told but this night, Lindir and Glorfindel found many ways to express their devotion until at last, sated and happy, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

The rays of the sun shone bright through the windows of Glorfindel's room to rest upon a harp of gold, entwined with enameled flowers.

The End

Elven words and phrases used in this chapter:

1. Ernil - prince
2. caun – prince, ruler
4. Carach – jaw
7. Nan lû govaded vîn. – Until next we meet.
8. Ir i lû telitha. – Until then.
9. rhaw - Fëa, plural fëar), and hröa, plural hröar , are Quenya terms for "soul" (or "spirit") and "body". The Sindarin equivalents are fae and rhaw, respectively. Definition from website.
10. Iyle, a lotr fan fiction writer first wrote of the idea of thoughts and spirits merging on Elven betrothal. The idea is not canon but was adopted by many fan fiction writers. I too, borrowed, as the idea is so very romantic.

Footnotes:

3. My thanks to Jessie for the idea of the frog.
5. I am not sure if Tolkien mentioned a Heraldic device for Elrond of Imladris. So the colours I chose in representation of Elrond's house come straight from my imagination. Perhaps, more fitting would have been blue and black or blue and silver, based on the devices for Eärendil or Gil-galad, but I somehow pictured Imladris in the colours of autumn. If anyone can say different, please send me a note.
6. Excerpt from On Desire by Aphra Behn.