Looking out of the kitchen window into the living forest, where one giant fir stood, its darkest green in bold contrast to leaves of the red and gold of autumn, Pityë slammed the bread dough viciously against the board. She kneaded it violently and again punched it hard in the middle with an evident strength incongruous with her pretty, slender arms and small white hands. The dense verdant forest across the meadow in front of her that widened on both sides, should have presented a vision of bucolic loveliness had she not been acutely conscious that morning of the danger that moved inexorably closer month by month. The peace of this lovely day does not fool me. Beautiful and compromised, a cruel illusion all of it, she thought.
Pots, which covered every available surface on the stove, bubbled with fragrant soups and stews. A true harvest feast, that would serve as an impromptu wedding party as well, was in the making. Her breads and rolls would add a final wholesome, but elegant, touch. Grandmamma had talent, she grudgingly admitted to herself, and passed it on to me. My cousins have other skills. I have heard that in Lothlorien the most skilled bakers are men. Indeed, it is heavy work. Wiping a single drop of perspiration from the end of her nose with the back of one hand, she thought bitterly, In Lothlorien there are more men. Here in Mirkwood, generations of Elves have been pruned of their best and brightest. The older Elves have haunted, wounded, indecipherable eyes that I do not care to probe for fear of what I might find. And the youth, so handsome and so bold, with their careless merry laughing eyes, oft appear to me as naught but Orc fodder!
Poicellë came into the kitchen and saw her daughter give the loaf one last brutal clout. "Darling, why are you downcast of mood?" she begged, wrapping her arms around Pityë. "You are not envious that Gellwen has already taken a spouse, are you? And not just any Elf, but the greatest prize in all of Mirkwood, such a good catch…"
"A good catch? What nonsense, mama. Oh, Legolas is splendid, fearless and kind, and we all love him like a brother. But, a prince among Elves? One who will always be the first into battle, in front of all the brave banners, and the first to die too, no doubt in a blaze of honor and glory, with our dearest Túgann falling at his side? A good catch?" she shouted, flushed with anger, before wrenching herself from her mother's embrace to weep passionately.
Poicellë moved a step closer to her daughter and once again enfolded her in her arms, "I am sorry to be insensitive, my dear. You and your cousins change so quickly. I know you have always loved Gellwen as a sister and that all of you, Legolas included, have grown closer yet throughout this difficult summer. But, you must accept what cannot be changed. You cannot spare Gellwen such pain, for she has already chosen her fate."
Pityë relaxed into her mother's arms and said, "It is so heavy, oppressive here. Of course, I them wish joy. I do try to hope, mama. I do. But I cannot stop thinking."
Poicellë spoke kindly and sweetly, "I know, my darling, it is hard for us all and you are so young. I spoke with Thranduil this morning. We will leave for Lothlorien in two days, so that we may arrive before the first snows. Do you even remember Lothlorien at all my sweet? We visited when you were a child. You will rest there. Thank Eru! It holds a stronger magic. You will not feel the shadow there. Now, look what you have done today. Your grandmother would take such pride in you. Let me be your scullery maid. Then you can finish more quickly and rest before tonight's festivities."
Finally, Pityë, satisfied with her work, surveyed lines of breads and pastries arranged on the counters. "Thank you, mama," she said calmly, kissing Poicellë on the cheek. A small army of Elves walked to and fro on the lawn in front of the compound, setting up tables and chairs, pounding torches into the ground, creating with simple rustic materials, what she knew would be transformed into a magical wonderland under the night stars.
"You will feel better soon. Go rest and talk with your cousins."
Pityë entered the top loft bedroom to find Gellwen and Laitaine, hands on hips, surveying the large bed, which was covered with a rainbow of gowns.
"You look so flushed and pretty. Come and help Laitaine decide what to wear," Gellwen said, holding out her hand to her cousin.
Pityë kissed Gellwen on the cheek and laughed, flopping onto the nearby window seat and rubbing her feet, "If the exhausted, overheated look is so attractive, perhaps I should stand over a hot oven for fours hours before every party."
Laitaine jumped up and wet the corner of a small towel in the washbowl and bathed her cousin's hot face. "Gellwen insists on wearing the same blue dress she wore on Midsummer's Eve."
"I do not want to discuss it further. Legolas fell in love with me in that dress. He says he often thinks of how I looked dancing in that gown." The cousins could not control their inelegant guffaws.
"She is as blind as she is besotted," Pityë replied. "He has loved her all of his short life. I do not think it has much to do one way or another with her blue dress." Then she chanted, her lovely voice deliberately marred by a mock-tragic whine:
was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.
"Fine. I surrender. Then she may wear the blue dress. What does it matter that everyone saw it at the last fest. I am certain that Legolas cares not what dress she wears, or if she wears anything at all, for that matter," Laitaine added.
"And to think I actually thought you might leave me in peace when we were finally bonded and wed," Gellwen said exasperated.
"But, tell us, Gellwen, when did he decide to finally leave?" Pityë asked, glancing in the direction of the small flet-like structure perched in a large oak that could be seen from the bedroom window. Gellwen and Túgann had built it as children and it had passed through many incarnations: playroom, secret hideout, Túgann's bedroom and most recently was being used by Gellwen and Legolas. "The two of you have scarcely left your little nest for three days. "
"He never did decide to leave. His father came looking for him and dragged him away," Laitaine interjected.
"No!" Pityë said with a pretense of horror.
"Oh, do not fret. If anything, Thranduil looked quite smug; probably filled with fatherly pride that Legolas was fulfilling his husbandly duties with such energy and enthusiasm," Laitaine giggled.
Uncharacteristically, Gellwen felt her irritation with Pityë and Laitaine softening rather than growing as the imaginative level of their nonsense threatened to increase. "Oh, how will I survive without the two of you for three months while you are gone to Lothlorien?"
At that moment, Túgann appeared at the doorway and drawled, "You will not have to. You will not be staying here without them. Thranduil just came by with plan."
Poicellë and Callë had spoken with Thranduil and explained their wish to visit Lothlorien, of the desire to visit kin, long unseen, and their concern for the prolonged affect of the pervasive oppression of Mirkwood on their daughters. They had offered to carry any messages he might have and asked for an escort. In turn, he has asked Poicellë and Callë report to Celeborn and Galadriel increased sightings of foul creatures and encroachment of evil from the south and east that oppressed the spirits and polluted the forest. He had suggested that Legolas and Túgann accompany the party, with four of their comrades in arms. Thranduil assumed that Legolas would not want to leave his young bride, so it was understood that Gellwen would go as well. She would be an asset. Although she was not battle-tested, she had skill with a bow nearly equal to that of her brother and husband.
The rest of the afternoon in Aranwë's household, which would have been spent in preparation for the evening's festivities, was instead filled with discussions and plans for travel.
Finally, twilight in the open glade passed into night. In the silvery moonlight, beneath a ceiling of stars, the open banquet hall was bordered by dozens of torches. Tables covered in white cloths lit by hundreds of candles encircled a dance floor laid upon the grass with all the Elven skill that Mirkwood possessed. At one end, upon a raised dais, the luminous beauty of the couple at his side for once eclipsed the Eleven King's charismatic glory. Legolas and Gellwen sat at Thranduil's right and were clad in silvery green and shimmering palest blue, crowned with wreaths of blossoms of late summer and early autumn, threaded through with every gem of emerald and adamant of Aranwë's family store. Whether it was the brightness of their youth and hope or the reflected glow of moonlight, stars, candles and flaming torches, they shone like High Elves of legends of ages past. Thranduil looked at the couple and the beauty of them smote his heart and he stood, raising his goblet high, and said:
"I present a toast to my beloved son, Legolas, and his radiant bride, Gellwen, daughter of Cálale and Aranwë. I salute them as standard bearers for the latest generation of Elvenkind to come of age in this great, though threatened, woodland dominion. They came into their majority after the Battle of Five Armies on the slopes of Erebor, the last major combat joined by this realm. Although their generation has not marched into great battles nor joined in grand alliances, neither has it ever known peace. It has placed itself in harm's way, time and again, paying the price, without the glory, of maintaining our defense. You, my people, have all sought to cherish and protect them, to love them and instruct them. And you have done that well. Now they step forward, with a courage and optimism that heartens me, although much too soon for a father's ease, to defend and safeguard the future of this kingdom, nay of Arda itself. And this they need do with wisdom and discernment that must surpass our past efforts if it is to succeed. I beg of you all to toast their future, for it is our own."
A shout as of one voice went up among the Elves who gathered in that fair field that night. Legolas shifted uneasily in his seat, holding more tightly to Gellwen's hand that he had not loosed the entire evening. How am I to be expected to respond to such excess of expectation? But thankfully a tenor, accompanying himself on the harp, immediately began a love song so passionate and heartfelt that every lover on the field leaned in a bit closer to their beloved. Thranduil turned to Legolas and said sadly, "His voice of rivals that of his grandfather, one of the best of Lindon; I saw him fall in the Dead Marshes, along with too many other singers, artists, and musicians."
Gellwen left her seat and leaned in between her husband and his father and wrapping her arms around Thranduil's broad shoulders placed her cheek against his and kissing it said gently, "My Lord, we must take pleasure in the beauty of this moment and rejoice that we hear his grandson. Would you like me to request a merrier tune? He is very good with those as well. And I would very much like to dance with you, Sire."
Legolas watched amazed, as his father grinned at her. I have suffered his dark brooding for my entire life and Gellwen banishes it one kiss.
By the slightest nod toward the musicians, Thranduil, requested a livelier tune, and immediately the tempo shifted. With the widest of smiles, he took Gellwen by the hand and led her on to the dance floor. She was Elven grace incarnate and Thranduil made a handsome partner, whose skill with woodland dances, unbeknownst to him, was flavored with Sindarin refinement. When the music moved from Sindarin, with a heavy woodland influence, to a purely Silvan strain throbbing in communion with the spirit of the great forest, Legolas approached and with a short bow and affectionate smile to Thranduil took Gellwen from him. Their cousins quickly found partners and joined them.
Wind instruments and clashing tambourines united in an increasingly frenetic pace and the younger Elves cast off all restraint and danced as the music demanded, that is with a joy that approached the orgiastic and a sensuality that stopped just short of the overtly sexual. Thranduil took his seat, with a heavy sigh of pure relief, turned to Cálale and Aranwë on his left, and laughing, said "I will never understand how they do that." "Nor I," Cálale responded, raising her elegant Noldorin chin. "It does, however, have a certain primitive beauty does it not?"