Prince of Winter

A Tale in the "Dark Leaf" Arc,

Set in the Early Years of the Third Age

By

JastaElf

Dedicated to the patient, persevering, loving, wonderful bunch of people who have honoured me with becoming fans of my writing and of "Dark Leaf" in particular. I am moved beyond words!

Author's Note: If you experience any confusion on the subject of ancestry and whatnot, never fear: there's an author note at the end to help explain. The most important thing you may need to know is this: Celeborn and Thranduil are cousins through their sires, and Amroth was the son of Celeborn and Galadriel, not of Amdír. Amdír was Amroth's foster-father. But poor Amroth was still besotted with Nimrodel. Translations as usual are at the end of the tale.

"I want to go home."

"I am aware of that, Legolas nín. And I appreciate the reminder."

The young face crumpled into a petulant scowl; the bright blue eyes were perilously close to overflowing with tears. He scrubbed impatiently at his face to prevent such a thing from happening and decided to try re-wording his request. "I want to go home now. This moment."

"So you have made abundantly clear. Alas, the answer must remain no."

Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Greenwood the Great, stamped one foot in aggravation. Celeborn of Doriath, likewise a prince of the selfsame lineage as Legolas (save for a slight jog to the right), did not look up from his scroll—but he did mark the stamping, and his eyebrows twitched with a kind of approval. It was not so many weeks past that, rather than contenting himself with a stamp of the foot, the young prince would probably have attempted ripping down a portion of the talan to break over his knee, just to remind people that he could. Progress of a sort was being made for one so recently rescued from the dark tower of Dol Guldur and an upbringing largely prosecuted by Orcs and traitor Humans.

"Why can I not go home?" Legolas demanded now, having been frustrated yet again. "It is Yule. Everyone is with their family except me."

Celeborn did look up at that, dark silver eyebrows curving over the molten pewter of his eyes. "You are no longer claiming kinship with me?"

"That's different. You know what I mean. Stop being such a grown-up." Legolas bit the words off familiarly, for all the world as if Celeborn were another Elfling—or conversely, that Legolas was one of the Lord's own peers. From one day to the next it was difficult to judge which was the case, so mercurial had the son of Thranduil become in the long years of his captivity.

Celeborn laughed at him with the same familiarity. "Shall fish stop swimming? Shall birds not fly? Forgive me, Legolas, but a grown-up I most assuredly am and shall remain." When the scowl and the ever-threatening tears did not abate, Celeborn gave his young ward a patient, compassionate smile and rose to walk around the desk here in his study. Leaning back against the desk, he placed a hand along either side of his hips and gazed back at the rebellious youth. "You have asked a fair question, pen-neth, and it deserves a fair answer. Simply put, you cannot go home right now because it is winter. The way is shut."

Legolas did not relent. "Elves can walk on snow."

"Indeed they can. And they can be buried by it should there be some mishap, and they can die for lack of air under snow like any other being." He shook his silver head with regret. "I am sorry, Legolas, truly I am. But you cannot go home now."

"When, then?"

Celeborn tilted his head and gazed at the hurting, angry Elfling before him. "Am I incorrect to recall that you made a certain promise to your father?" he asked gently. Legolas opened his mouth to say something—what, Celeborn never learned, for a kind of realization crossed the youth's face a heartbeat later, and he snapped his mouth shut on whatever words had been about to come forth. Lower lip quivering, Legolas stared back at him in silence for a very long moment; then he quietly but strongly said a very bad word indeed, such that nearby tree branches drew back and the squirrels briefly stopped playing in the canopy above their heads, for it was in a language most Elves did not even know, much less employed. He turned away, angry, frustrated, hurting, and crossed his arms over his chest—partly in pique and partly to hug himself for comfort.

"I wish I hadn't ever!" he said, trying to make it a fierce growl. Instead it came out as a quiet, heartfelt piece of would-be magic, the way the very young will sometimes attempt to un-make some word or action from the past. "I wish I hadn't ever said!"

"Well, I can see that—and hear it," Celeborn said mildly, the very lack of anger a rebuke sufficient to make Legolas's shoulders jerk in sorrowful response. "I could just as easily wish you had not chosen to frighten the wildlife by using the Black Speech in my study, too, but it would not make the utterance any less real."

Legolas shot a sidelong glance at the tall, austere Elven-lord who was his Adar's cousin, and hunched his shoulders in disobliging sorrow. It was clear to see he had not meant to use the word; it had just sort of popped out. Celeborn mused that in the Dark Tower such an outburst would barely have been noticed, unless one of the Orcs happened to be in a particularly bad mood and chose to take it amiss. But then, one of the things he realized the young Prince had learned very soon after being given his freedom was that things in the outside world were very, very different from the reality he had known in Dol Guldur.

"I'm sorry, my lord," Legolas whispered now, hanging his head and watching warily from the corner of his eye. He had also learned that Celeborn could move a lot faster than he looked as if he could—and even after months of freedom, Legolas was, with justification not completely out of line, still wary of just about all the Galadhrim except Lady Galadriel. At times Celeborn felt certain the lad expected the calm, quiet Elves to turn on him, just as the Orcs and Uruks and Humans had done on a regular basis before. "I—just—want to go home."

"I know," Celeborn said softly, guessing at some of the thoughts that were making the child so stiff and unhappy, and wishing he had some special magic to make the pain less. Silence stretched between them for several moments. Celeborn waited patiently, observing the youth as he fidgeted his way through the process of trying to look everywhere but at his host. Just when he was certain Legolas would give up and excuse himself, Celeborn learned afresh the most frequently repeated lesson in the care and feeding of this sad Elfling: that there was seldom anything so simple as an encounter with sorrow. Legolas raised his eyes and stared at Celeborn with what many had found a disconcerting directness, then skewed his mouth to one side—a gesture they had come to realize meant the princeling had something he felt needed saying, but suspected would be taken amiss.

"It is because I'm a freak, isn't it."

"Isn't what?"

Legolas scrunched up his face a bit, trying to find his way through the confusion in his mind. "Isn't it—the reason why I cannot go home?" he ventured. "Because I am a freak?"

Celeborn raised an eyebrow. "No, child. The reason you cannot go home is that it is winter." He waited, knowing there would be more. When Legolas wore that look there was always more. It seemed as if this particular subject had been a long time coming.

"But—I am a freak." He said this matter-of-factly, though his eyes were huge in his too-slender face. Something in those eyes willed Celeborn to say something, anything, so long as it was the utter truth and somehow made sense of all the jumble in that confused mind. The Lord of Lórien gave a faint, sad smile. Another thing they had learned was that Legolas had a very finely developed sense of when he was being cozened or lied to...

"No, Legolas." Celeborn shook his head decisively. "You are not a freak."

The youth stared harder, narrowing his eyes somewhat. "But they said so."

Celeborn closed his eyes very briefly. "They?"

"An elleth and her friend. And his friends. They did not know I was there, for I was in the tree and heard them talking." Legolas gave a nod, for all the world as if thinking I know, I would scarcely credit it myself, and I was there... "They all agreed. They said I was a freak and an un—umm, unnatural creature."

He supposed it had been inevitable that sooner or later someone without compassion, someone who had not learned the lesson of Thranduil's eighteen sorrowful sojourns or had been paying insufficient attention to notice a campaign to destroy Dol Guldur, would say something thoughtless and cruel like this. If he were completely honest, he supposed he had suspected all along it would be one of his own folk that would say it—that did not mean Celeborn had to like it. But for the moment he schooled himself to calm for the sake of his fragile young guest. Steepling his fingers before him, he gazed down at the patterns made on the front of his robe by the shadow of the conjoined tips.

"It is true that words have power," he began quietly, and raised his head to gaze back at the tense youngster. "To utter a thing is to give it life and a certain amount of strength. This is why we must always be careful of what we say and how we say it."

Legolas nodded his agreement; his stillness otherwise was compelling. The youngster's entire attention was focused on his host in a way few youths had ever done, and Celeborn found it curiously refreshing.

"But let me caution you." Celeborn straightened, hands clasped behind himself, and stepped a pace or two closer. "We should never give power to things unless they deserve it—and not all words do."

"I do not understand," Legolas murmured, his eyes widening fractionally in nervousness. He took a half-step backward, looking anxious as if he feared offending but did not want to be too close just yet.

"The words spoken by that thoughtless elleth and her friends do not deserve the power you are giving to them," his host replied, pausing and giving Legolas his safe distance. The youth looked rather confused; Celeborn made himself not smile at the closeness of the resemblance between Legolas and Thranduil when the son tilted his head slightly and stared at him with a furrowed brow. "Shall I give you an example?"

"Yes, please."

Nodding, Celeborn gazed up into the branches of the mallorn for a moment, then looked back at Legolas. "Suppose I was to say, 'the sky is very green tonight.'"

Legolas appeared taken aback. He stared upward and frowned. In Lórien the trees were tall, their branches thickly intertwined, and it was rare to see the sky from this particular vantage at all unless one climbed the great Tree that made up the foundation of Caras Galadhon. "But—the sky is not green at all," he protested, sounding a tad irritated.

Celeborn nodded gravely. "No indeed, it is not. It is blue or gray depending on the clouds—and at night it is quite black." He held up one finger to make the point. "But I have uttered the words. And words have power. Therefore, is the sky green because I have said so?"

"No." Legolas scowled. "It is not green no matter how much you say. Because it is not green."

"And therefore?"

Silence. The youth's face was both guarded and confused, a rather interesting combination; Celeborn could all but see him thinking through the last several minutes of conversation, to reach whatever conclusion he was being led toward.

"Oh."

"Tell me."

Legolas raised his shoulders slightly, either trying to shrug off the conclusion in his misery, or shield himself from the blow of it. "Umm—no matter how much the elleth says so, or her friends, I am perhaps not a freak because—umm—I am not?"

"That would be the happiest interpretation to give it, yes." Celeborn ventured a faint smile. "Legolas, you must find it in your heart to forgive the stupidity of others," he sighed, shaking his head slowly. "You have gained a weight of understanding that many Elves never have the chance to learn—and you have gained it at great price. You are impatient with the worry and suspicion you see in others, and yours is a House that has not always dealt well with impatience."

Quite the opposite of the expected reaction, Legolas giggled. Surprised, Celeborn gave him a wide-eyed, pleased look; it was a delightful sound, and one to which the Lord was not as accustomed as he would have liked. He felt a curtain part between them, just for a moment, until he saw the knowing look in the youth's eyes far beyond the measure of his years. Celeborn felt a jolt of sadness, but hid it well behind his smile. "Well, you know it to be so," he rejoindered.

Legolas nodded. "Yes—but sometimes impatience is a good thing," he said—and unaccountably giggled again.

Celeborn lifted an eyebrow. He could think of a thousand times when impatience had indeed been a good thing—and easily a hundred times that many when it had not. He suspected, however, that Legolas was not interested in a history lesson. "I have a recommendation, if you will receive it," he murmured gently.

"Perhaps I will," the youth replied quietly, his lips pursing slightly. "It would probably be proper and Elven to do so."

Celeborn almost laughed. He knew his eyes were twinkling, but that could not be helped. "Generally speaking that is so," he admitted. "Here is my recommendation. It is easier to make time fly past when you have something to do. If you could do anything besides going home, what would you like to do?"

Legolas scowled, making it clear his answer would have been just that: another plea, perhaps worded differently in hopes of getting around the refusal. "I do not know," he complained, huffing and looking a little younger than his age. "I cannot remember everything we do at Winter Festival, so I do not know what else I could want to do."

"Must it be constrained by the festival?"

Legolas had not considered that. The scowl deepened; his gaze sidled off toward the bookshelves built into the décor of the talan, so cleverly done as to barely seem like bookshelves at all. "I suppose not," he allowed. "But everyone else is doing festival things, and I want to, also."

"You are feeling left out," Celeborn guessed, and moved slowly to fetch a certain couple of books from the place he always kept them. "That is perfectly understandable—you have never been to Lórien before. Are you in the mood to sit for a while and read?"

"Perhaps." Legolas looked positively dubious; he watched with suspicious eyes as Celeborn placed the books on one of the window seats and opened one volume. Even from across the study Legolas would have seen that there were large, detail-filled pictures on the two pages of a rather large book. With obvious wonder, he took a step closer. "What are those?"

"They are books I have had for a very long time," Celeborn said, smoothing one hand lightly over the vellum pages. "They were made for my son when he was very young." He smiled faintly, his eyes going distant for a moment. "They are about festivals, and how they are marked in the different Elven realms. Things were… different back then—there were different realms than there are now. Some are gone, most are… changed."

Legolas heard the sorrow that lay just under the ever-present calm of Celeborn's words; he took a few steps closer, head tilted slightly like a little bird. "I—did not know you had a son," he whispered.

"A long time ago, it seems now." He looked up slowly, blinking as if he had momentarily lost his place in the stream of time. "His name is Amroth. He is resting in the Halls of Mandos. Or perhaps even now he has been reborn—but I do not think so. We will see one another again someday." Celeborn patted the cushion next to him, careful to keep the books between him and the place where he wanted the little wild bird to land. "Will you come look at them?"

His expression was one of curious sorrow, but Legolas came to perch on the edge of the cushion, poised for flight if necessary. He looked down at the pictures, angling his head to try and view them right side up; cocking an eyebrow, Celeborn half-turned the book. "This is an artist's picture of a Yule festival in old Hollin," he explained, gesturing toward one picture. "Many of the scenes within this book are from that land. Certain of our customs here in the Golden Wood mirror those of the Mirdain, for some of their folk took refuge here with us when that realm fell."

Legolas was riveted. Within a quarter hour Celeborn had successfully gotten the lad to sit back and relax by tucking one of the larger books into Legolas's lap and encouraging him not to let it fall. Less than half an hour after that the young prince was hip-deep in several books, and Celeborn was seated beside him helping him read the more difficult words. With the assistance of his Silvan elders and of several tutors from Lórien, Legolas had quickly regained the ability to read—but it was frequently difficult to get him to stay put long enough to do much of it, and so from time to time he stumbled over longer words in different Tengwar styles.

"What's that?" he asked for perhaps the twentieth time in as many minutes, pointing at a figure standing against a tree, plucking at a harp. "Are they celebrating too?"

"Music always happens when Elves celebrate," Celeborn said with a smile. "The caption says he is singing the Lay of Nimrodel."

"That's very sad," Legolas grumped, scrunching up his face and slouching down on the bench. He was less than a handspan from Celeborn now—and crossed the small distance to nudge with his shoulder against that of the other. "And it's long. No one's going to sing that tonight, are they?"

"Probably not, nor during any night of the festival," Celeborn retorted with a soft huff. "I am not overly fond of that story—it makes Nimrodel seem very silly."

Legolas gave him a sidelong, rather speculative look. "Do you know Nimrodel?"

"That depends on what you mean by know. She is the beloved of my son, so when she was alive I did of course know her." Celeborn turned the page. "We have archery contests at our festival—you would probably enjoy watching those."

"I'd much rather be in them," Legolas sighed, and then he did turn to look at Celeborn, from very nearby and rather owlishly. "If you knew Nimrodel, then you must be really old."

Celeborn turned to look at him, pretending to be taken aback to find him barely four inches away. "I am very old," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. "And you are not. But that is all right. If I was not very old and you were not very young, it is entirely possible we would knock the universe out of balance or something. Have you been practicing archery at all?"

Legolas blinked at the change in subject, then sat back and sighed. "A little. Saeros won't let me use anything but a baby's bow."

"A baby's bow?"

"Not even fifteen pounds of pull!" Legolas exclaimed, clearly aggrieved. "It is very embarrassing! I pull as hard as I can and the arrow goes plop, does not even hit the target. Just—plop."

"Ah." Celeborn half-turned in his seat and lightly touched Legolas's elbow. "Here—raise your arm into a shooting position and make a fist for me."

Looking rather alarmed and a little suspicious, Legolas nevertheless did as he was bidden. He drew his right arm up in the customary posture somewhere between his jaw and nose, holding his left hand out in front as if he held a bow; he wriggled a little, trying to stay still as Celeborn gently ran his fingers along the raised forearm.

"Can you close your fist as hard as possible, please? I want to feel the muscles," the elder murmured, and tapped Legolas's right fist gently. Legolas did as asked, though every line of him made it clear he was poised for flight just in case. Celeborn calmly ignored all the fidgeting, not wanting to set the youth off. "Your muscles are regaining strength at a healthy, steady rate," he said at length, smiling into Legolas's eyes. "The more often you practice in small amounts, the stronger you will become. Soon enough you will be able to shoot a stronger bow. But then again—patience is wanted."

"How can you tell?" Legolas demanded, staring at his arm where Celeborn's fingers had been. "How do you know how strong the muscles are?"

"Do you wish to feel what I felt?" the Lord asked. "It is easier to do so on the arm of another, than on your own." He pushed back the sleeve of his robe, unlaced the wrist of his shirtsleeve, and rolled the cloth back out of the way. "Here—poke your fingers right here," he invited, indicating a spot on his forearm, midway and slightly toward the top of the pale surface. "Note that my hand is relaxed, not tight as yours was. What do you feel?"

He waited in patience while Legolas worked up the nerve to poke, first tentatively then a little more strongly, at the arm displayed before him. Blue eyes met grey. Even in repose Celeborn's arm was taut and hard, the skin smooth; Legolas could see the outline of muscles beneath, and thought back to pictures the Lórien healer had shown him of anatomy under the skin.

"You are very strong," he said finally.

Celeborn gave a faint smile. "Sometimes one must be," he said cryptically. "Now I will make a fist. Here—put your hand over mine, and your other hand here. I will make the fist and tighten the muscles in my arm—that is what happens when you do such a thing. If you wish to, poke the muscles again and see if you can feel the difference."

No longer quite so wary, Legolas put his own right hand over Celeborn's right; his left he rested against the other's forearm, taking a moment to try and understand what he was touching, how he might describe it. Then he nodded. "All right."

"Just so. Here is the fist…" Celeborn tightened his hand just enough to demonstrate, in hopes of not startling the youth; Legolas tilted his head and leaned close to watch. "Can you feel the muscles in my arm tighten as I make the fist?"

Legolas's eyes got big. He stared at the fist beneath one hand, then at the arm under the other. "I can!" he cried out, surprised. "I can feel it! Your arm is harder! Are they connected?"

"Indeed they are." Celeborn gently extracted his hands from those of Legolas, and illustrated his next words with gestures. "There are ligaments and muscles and all manner of things that are interconnected, here in our wrists and here, in the forearm. They are then connected to the bones, to help them move when we command our muscles to move. Everything works together."

"Except when it does not," Legolas snorted, sounding very like Thranduil. Celeborn gave a wry smile.

"Indeed. When the denizens of the Tower hurt you as they did, Legolas, they disrupted the song of your hroä," he said quietly. "Your muscles and bones and all still want to do what they know they can do—what they were formed to do—but the injuries inflicted upon you were very grave. Saeros does not give you a baby's bow to hurt your feelings. He gives you a weaker weapon so you do not overly work those bones and muscles before they are ready."

"I hate the Orcs," Legolas growled, his eyes filling with tears again. He brought up both hands to rub those eyes, scowling all the while. "What they did was mean. I hate them."

"Well, they have paid for their presumption in much coin," Celeborn said gently, patting Legolas carefully on the knee. "And you are healing as fast as you can. When you arrived here, you were weak from blood loss and injury; you were starved and in pain. If you think about it, you will see how much progress you have made in six months. Now you can walk unaided, and climb trees again when you are careful. You can see without headaches, your hands hardly shake at all any more, and daily you look better and better. If you practice often with Saeros and the others and treat yourself gently in between, making certain you eat well and rest much, I think you will begin to see the improvement as well. In a twelve-day, make a fist and feel the muscles in your arm again. I predict you will feel even more strength and see less shaking than you do right this moment."

Legolas stared at him, fingers ghosting over his own arm and hand as he thought about all this. Hope and skepticism warred in his expression, but he gave a kind a resigned shrug. "All right. I will do that."

They returned to looking through the books again. Eventually Legolas felt confident enough to be talked into reading aloud; he only occasionally needed assistance, and it was clear he was very taken with the pictures. After they had been at this for a time, Celeborn became aware of his March Captain, Haldir, standing in the doorway to the study. There was a faint smile on his face as he observed the scene before him. He and Celeborn exchanged a look; words were not needed between them after so long, and presently Celeborn cleared his throat.

"Legolas, Haldir is here to see you," he murmured gently, drawing back from the youngster and tipping his chin toward the entryway. "Perhaps you would like to go with him and see how preparations for the festival are commencing?"

Legolas raised his head but did not turn to look directly at Haldir. They had all grown accustomed to the youth's little peculiarities, so Haldir only smiled as Legolas glanced sidelong at him then looked away again.

"There are a number of things still needful, my lord, and I thought I would see if perhaps Prince Legolas might like to join in with us," the captain said quietly. Legolas almost vibrated with interest, though for whatever reason he chose not to say so. Haldir's smile broadened slightly, but then he schooled his expression to calm civility. "The Wardens who are not on duty have elected to assist the maidens in hanging the greens and other decorations in the dancing grove. Lady Galadriel is there, and suggested I invite our Prince to join in the fun. There is much work, but there is also singing and refreshments."

Legolas bit his lip. If Lady Galadriel was there, he wanted to be there—that much he could say without hesitation. Even Celeborn could see this. But still... "Are there many helping?" he asked in a dubious tone, his brow furrowing.

Haldir nodded. "A goodly number, yes. But they are all very busy, and I know the Lady will welcome your assistance."

There. The cards were on the table; Legolas could fold, or choose to pick up the hand and take his shot. Celeborn watched with interest to see what the outcome would be, gratified to see Haldir's handling of it. Having been involved in the young Prince's care since his arrival, the Captain was well-versed in the concept of standing back and giving Legolas breathing space; he reached over slowly to pick up one of the books from the window seat, and carefully paged through it while the lad pondered.

The princeling's ponderings could sometimes take a while, they had learned….

"Oh, I recall this book from when we were young," he said with a marvelously casual air. He smiled over at Celeborn. "Orophin loves the pictures in this one."

"Yes, I do recall that." Celeborn made himself not look directly at Legolas. It was often problematic for the youth to gather his thoughts or make a decision, even all this time later; they assumed it was because his life in the Dark Tower had been so bizarrely regimented and difficult. Celeborn watched sidelong, even as he pretended to look at the pictures Haldir indicated; his heart went out to his young cousin, and it was a trial not to let that sorrow show on his own face.

Legolas sat poised on the edge of the cushion, his expression a study in worry. He was nibbling on his thumb—a habit from which they had been so far unsuccessful in weaning him—and staring toward the door of the study as if he expected a horde of Shadow minions to come boiling through it at any second. His eyes were huge in his slender face, and dilated with the anxiety of having to decide. To go down to the dancing grove and be part of the fun, while risking the stares and whispers he dreaded so? Or stay here where it was quiet and safe, because Lord Celeborn was a deliberate, non-noisy person of regular habits, who never stared and only whispered when he was being droll? Decisions, decisions….

They both heard him swallow at the moment of deciding. "A-all right. I—suppose I can—go for a little while." Legolas shifted his feet nervously, drawing himself up as if he wished he could curl into a ball like a hedgehog; his long fingers twisted together in his lap, trying to hide in the hem of his tunic. "I could—perhaps—come back if it gets noisy. Or—you know."

"Indeed you could," Haldir said neutrally. Legolas swiveled his gaze briefly upward; his eyes slid past Haldir after the briefest twitch of one corner of his mouth indicated he had almost—almost!—smiled.

"It could be fun."

"Probably, yes."

Legolas sighed. It was a deep sound that seemed to come up through the floor, through the roots of the Palace Mallorn itself, a large and venerable old tree on the crest of Caras Galadhon. When he spoke his voice was barely audible, the merest whisper of a breath. "If I am glass, they might even see through me and barely know I was there. Or I could be wood, and not mind if they look at me."

Celeborn closed his eyes slowly and counted to twelve, his heart briefly wrenched with sorrow. Haldir turned another page in the book and pretended to look at a lovely illumination of a harvest festival in the Havens of Sirion. Legolas sighed again and levered himself to his feet, wincing slightly when his arm twinged at the pressure of pushing off against the cushion.

"Can we go down the rope? Or must we take the stairs?"

Haldir let his own mouth twitch. Legolas had shown a decided affinity for taking the more adventurous route in nearly anything. "I am not certain you are up to a clamber of quite that distance," he demurred, raising an eyebrow at the youngster's disobliging scowl. "What if we compromise? We could go halfway down the stairs, then go the rest of the way by rope—if you will allow me to help you."

The blue eyes became impossibly larger. "You would have to carry me."

"Yes."

The scowl deepened. Legolas pondered again, long and hard. He was not at all certain he wanted someone who was not Ada or Lord Elrond or Lady Galadriel holding him like that. But Ada was home in the Greenwood being King, and Lord Elrond had things to do in Imladris. Legolas was not at all certain it would be considered proper to ask Lady Galadriel to don leggings and a shirt just so she could carry him down a rope for fun… though he suspected she would do it if he asked. He bit his lip and sighed once more. "All right. But remember that I am glass."

"I shall of course remember," Haldir promised, and carefully put the book away on the shelf. "If you will excuse us, my lord?"

Celeborn gave a calm smile, covering the turmoil in his fëa. "Certainly. Have fun—I can hear the music from here, it sounds lovely."

It was only when they had gone that he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and covered his face with his hands in echoed sorrow….

Moments Later:

With only a minimum of fuss and bother, Legolas and Haldir made their way down the stairs. Neither spoke, for Haldir was allowing Legolas the necessary space to converse if he wanted to, and Legolas was still working over in his mind the concept of being held, even for an adventure. When they were partway down the spiraling stairs, the March Captain paused.

"Well—here we are," the Warden said matter-of-factly, and leaned against the massive trunk of the great mallorn. Legolas stopped almost in mid-step and stared at him, round-eyed; Haldir tipped his chin toward the banister. "We're just about exactly halfway down, my prince. We have to make a decision here."

"Oh," Legolas whispered, skewing his mouth sidewise and biting the inside of his mouth as he was wont to do when pondering. Haldir flinched inwardly at the thought that came to him then: perhaps that is the only time the child ever got to taste decent meat in that hellhole! It took every ounce of self-control he had not to flinch again at the sub-verbal growl from Galadriel resounding in his mind…

"Are you all right?" Legolas asked softly, leaning a bit closer.

Haldir blushed. "I believe so, yes." He put a hand to the length of rope at his belt. "So—do you wish to continue down by the stairs? Or shall I carry you down by rope? I have some hithlain here."

Legolas stared first at the rope, then at Haldir. He narrowed his eyes, humming quietly under his breath. Haldir waited patiently. He was accustomed to this by now, as was anyone who had spent any time with Legolas since his arrival here. The young prince was all long silences and odd looks, likely to say just about anything in almost any tone or attitude, though he was by now much improved over the commonplaces he had been prone to blurt a few months back. Little by little he was learning anew what it meant to be Elven—but Haldir suspected Legolas would always be just the smallest bit 'different' from others. It was his private feeling this would be a good thing indeed, as some Elves, in Haldir's opinion, could use the sort of shaking up that came with the reality of a survivor among them.

"You—do know how to carry glass properly," Legolas said at last, in a voice that was both tentative and a little irritated, rather like Thranduil when he has first awakened in the morning and has not yet had his morning tea. Haldir blinked.

"I believe I have proven it a time or two in the past."

"Oh. Yes. Well, then." The prince stared at the banister, then sighed heavily and let out a solemn breath. "What kind of knot?"

"Something that will hold us both would probably be a good thing." Haldir gave him a puckish quirk of the eyebrow as he pushed away from the tree trunk and began to secure one end of the hithlain around the base of an inboard banister pole, one of the thicker, stronger ones nearest the trunk and able to bear weight better. Elves did not tend toward heaviness of body and were lighter anyway than most other beings their size, and of course Legolas weighed significantly less than he should, even given nearly seven months of recovery. But when one was carrying glass, one took no chances. He quelled a grin to realize Legolas had stepped closer, scrutinizing his work with a jaundiced and prejudicial eye. Once the rope was secured, Haldir gave it a tug then slowly rose, extending a bit of it toward the prince. "Tight enough?"

A stout yank, then another; Legolas sighed and nodded. "Tight enough."

"You are certain you want to do this?"

"Anyone can take stairs." Disdain dripped regally from every word, and at a rather lowered temperature. Haldir chuckled kindly, then secured the rope about himself and leaped up onto the banister railing. The hithlain uncoiled and fell below, its end invisible in the evening dimness of Lórien. Holding out a hand to Legolas, he waited. To his surprise, he did not have to wait very long; apparently Legolas had come to some kind of conclusion on his way down from the study, for he reached out readily to take Haldir's hand and allowed the Warden to pull him up onto the railing alongside.

"Remember how we did it last time," Haldir murmured, remaining motionless once the prince had joined him. It was always easier on both of them if he allowed Legolas to make the moves. This Legolas then did, nodding, biting his lip again in concentration; he carefully put his arms about the Warden's neck and made himself wriggle close, so that Haldir could secure his free arm about the very slight person of his self-proclaimed vitreous princeling. "Can you wrap your legs about mine?"

"No."

The word came out flatly. Haldir glanced at the face very close to his; Legolas had that closed look in his eyes, but his nostrils had flared, and he was quivering very slightly. Best not to push this particular frontier just now….

"All right then. Ready? Down we go."

Legolas gave a nervous little huff as Haldir pushed off; he clung more tightly around the Warden's neck, but his eyes were wide and avid as he looked down toward the rapidly-approaching ground. His breathing quickened; clearly he was enjoying the trip. They landed on the loamy soil with a soundless thump; the prince clung to Haldir for a moment longer, catching his breath and settling his feet under himself once more.

"That was fun!" he whispered. "I wish I could do that myself."

"You will. Someday, before you realize the time has passed, you will. All things in their time, pen-neth." Haldir gave an economical twist of his wrist; the hithlain came undone at the top and slithered downward, where he caught it quickly back into its customary bundle. He kept his hands where Legolas could watch him make the easy slip-knot that held the hank in shape, having figured out that the youngster tended to remember very well indeed that which he could clearly see done. That the blue eyes narrowed was all he needed to know Legolas had indeed been observing. "Shall we go to the dancing grove now?"

They headed off, being as silent as a March Warden and a prince generally desirous of not being noticed could possibly be—and that was fairly silent, all things considered. Haldir knew the shortcut, of course, and showed it to Legolas; they skirted past the kitchen gardens that served the palace telain, and were just approaching the back end of the grove when they heard voices. From the sound of them, it was a pair of lovers; Haldir placed a finger over his lips to gesture Legolas to deeper silence, and gestured to indicate they should go further down before crossing over, so as to not disturb. Legolas nodded, covering his mouth with both hands and looking rather embarrassed—until something he heard made him stop in his tracks.

"I think next time, I shall be a Human brigand and you shall be the Elf-maiden who is captured away from the safety of the borders," a male voice murmured in an affectionately menacing purr. A throaty laugh was his response, making him chuckle; there was a squeak of surprise, followed by giggles and the rustle of feminine garments. "Or perhaps I shall be a big, bad Orc! Would you like that, pretty elleth?" Then there was a growl and more sounds of feigned alarm. Grimacing, Haldir reached to tug at the sleeve of Legolas's shirt. The last thing the child needed to hear was something like this.

"No—I think I prefer the brigand," came a cool, clear feminine voice, fraught with humour. "I would not want to have to pretend to be that dreadful little Mirkwood creature—you would not want that of me, would you? Or… would you!"

From nearby there were more sounds of laughter; there seemed to be another couple nearby engaged in silliness. Legolas stood as if rooted to the spot, his eyes huge in the dimness, tears gathering. His hands dropped to his sides and fisted in the hem of his tunic; his shoulders slumped and he paled, staring miserably at the ground. Haldir felt he might explode with anger.

"Ellinariel, really, that's just disgusting!" another male voice murmured. "Who would want to be had by Orcs anyway?"

"Well—the princelet seems to have survived it for eighteen years," said the first female voice. Haldir growled softly. Ellinariel, the daughter of a minor Noldorin lord who had brought his family to Lórien years ago after the fall of Hollin, had long been a thorn in his side. She had at one point been the love interest of his brother Orophin, before he came to his senses upon realizing she was as shallow as a puddle, and about as appealing. But she had a thing for March Wardens, and Haldir recognized both of the male voices as belonging to soldiers of his… soldiers who ought to have known better.

"Ouch—that's mean," one of those soldiers said now, as Haldir moved closer to Legolas, gesturing that he should come along and leave these idiots to their own devices. "It isn't as if the child asked for what happened."

"No—but he certainly is odd in the aftermath," Ellinariel sniffed. "I wish they would send him back to his ugly forest. We do not need him here, ruining everything. Ai—you don't suppose he'll be at the dancing tonight, do you? I cannot abide the way he stares so!"

Enough, Haldir thought furiously, and gave Legolas a gentle push. "Go on to the grove, pen-neth," he whispered. "Tell the Lady I will be there in a moment."

Legolas shuffled a step or two away then stopped to watch what happened next, for he had seen the look in the Warden Captain's eye and was intrigued.

"Excuse me," Haldir said sharply, tugging his cloak back into place and putting on his most officially grim expression as he stepped around the trees. Ellinariel and her friends—another elleth and two suddenly panicky-looking Lórien Wardens, both still in uniform—jumped up, the second pair from a bench beneath some nearby climbing vines, and Ellinariel and her escort from the soft ground. "I was under the impression you lot were helping decorate, not carrying tales and being silly."

He glared forbiddingly at the two Wardens—Galulas and Aegthelion—and was rewarded with anxious looks of embarrassment.

"Is—the Lady—were we missed?" Galulas asked worriedly, glancing back toward the grove. "We were almost finished, honestly we were!"

Haldir had no idea whether they were missed or not, but he had no intention of letting them know he had not been sent to find them. He rested his fists on his hips and glared. "Finished with what?" he demanded. "Over here larking around with each other when you are supposed to be helping? And then I find you making fun of Prince Legolas, and making light of all he has endured! It is shameful!"

"No, it is not!" Ellinariel protested, pouting. She advanced toward Haldir, putting out a hand as if to touch one of his fists—and had the temerity to look affronted when he pulled back from her. "You need to relax more, Haldir. I am not one of your Wardens to be ordered about—and that freakish child does not belong here. Can the King of Mirkwood not clean up his own messes? Must he leave everything to his betters? That is what is shameful!"

The other elleth, Mithwen, gave a demurring mumble of distress. "Ellinariel! King Thranduil is kin to Lord Celeborn—you should have more respect!" she exclaimed softly, her expression clearly indicating that she was anxious about speaking up against her friend, but felt strongly enough to do so. "And—the young one has done nothing to offend you—"

"His presence offends me," the other sniffed self-righteously. Behind Haldir, Legolas made a muffled sound of sorrow; his footsteps, clumsy with upset, sounded through the fallen leaves and frost-browned bracken as he ran off into the forest. Almost instantly a dark, tall shape separated itself from the eaves of a nearby tree and went after the youth; another dropped right beside the group, and all five of the Lórien Elves started in guilty surprise, Haldir included.

"It is your presence that is offensive, hênelleth-hû," Saeros the Tracker growled in his deceptively soft, compelling voice. He stalked toward Ellinariel, hazel eyes glinting with fury. "You are an embarrassment to your parents and a fool. Stay away from my prince. And mind when I tell you that your every word will be heard by the trees and brought to my ear." He turned slowly and pinned her escort, the whey-faced, wide-eyed Galulas, to the spot with his centuries-weighted gaze, as if measuring him and finding him wanting. Then he stared hard at the other two. "Take your friend home," he growled at Aegthelion.

The warrior lost several shades of colour and glanced pleadingly at Haldir; the Captain gestured sharply. "You heard him. You are both dismissed."

They disappeared with alacrity, while Galulas and Ellinariel, silenced for once, watched and wished they could go along. Some reasonable part of Haldir's brain suggested this might be a good moment to have pity on them, but for the life of him, he could not summon the emotion. His heart was hammering in his chest as it was; he knew the Silvan elders had been following, for anywhere Legolas went they were not far away. But Saeros was just plain scary, and had yet to make any sound Haldir had been able to detect while doing that following. Having him appear practically out of nowhere had seriously threatened the Captain's equilibrium. He thanked each of the Valar specifically by name—twice!—that he was not the object of the Tracker's ire.

"May we go?" Ellinariel asked, her voice soft and shaking.

Saeros invaded her personal space with a nerve-wracking felinity of movement and stared down at her. "Of course you may. You may go and tell Lady Galadriel what you have been saying and doing."

The elleth's eyes widened. "No!" she exclaimed, causing Haldir to raise both eyebrows and Galulas to look as if he might be suddenly and violently ill. "I mean—I cannot—I do not want—no, I will not! And you cannot make me!"

The air immediately surrounding Saeros became very, very still, as if he carried in his pocket a precursor to a terrible thunderstorm. His ancient gaze bored through her and he was motionless for perhaps twelve rapid, nervous heartbeats (by Haldir's count); then he quirked an eyebrow and laughed. It should have been a pleasant sound. "No one need make you, whelp. But you will. For I know you do not wish her to call on you at home."

Ellinariel raised her chin defiantly. Haldir had to give her this much: she had more guts than her Warden, who was beginning to go that dreadful shade of pale green cream turns when it has gone seriously awry. "It is none of your business—and regardless, you cannot make the Lady do such a thing," she grumbled, though at last she did not look very convinced of her own bravado.

"Well—in any case I ought not to have to," Saeros agreed. Before Ellinariel could commit the error of demanding to know what he was talking about, however, the Silvan elder had already snatched her up by the waist and tucked her unceremoniously under his arm. Ellinariel yelped with alarm and struggled, but she might as well have been a gnat trying to affect a cave troll for all the notice she received. The Tracker gave Haldir a slightly amused once-over. "Bring your warrior."

"Right. Yes."

They made quite a sight crossing the dance grove; everyone stopped to look, including the two Silvans, Thalas and Hellan from Saeros's scouting party, who were teaching Galadriel's ladies how to properly wind greens into a thick, handsome rope for decorating. Thalas nudged Hellan and said something that made him laugh shortly. Haldir thought he heard Hellan say something which, had it been in Sindarin with less of an accent, might just have meant "about time, too," but he could not be certain. Once again he reminded himself of a need to ask Lord Celeborn for any books he might have concerning the northern speech of their Silvan brethren.

Galadriel, to no one's surprise, knew exactly what was transpiring. She calmly told the musicians to go back to playing, suggested that everyone ought to continue with their work if they were ever to be ready for tonight… then she took Ellinariel firmly and painfully by one pink ear and led her off into the forest. There was a long moment of silence, then Haldir cleared his throat. The sound seemed to remind everyone they had been told to do something—preferably elsewhere. Once more there was music, and the soft hum of conversation. The Captain was certain, however, that the topic was slightly different….

"I like her," Saeros murmured, a scapegrace grin lurking about his mouth.

Haldir almost choked. "Ellinariel?"

Saeros turned slowly and stared at him in deep, disobliging silence for a very long moment.

"Idiot," he snorted, letting the Captain off easy with only a deeply etched frown and one cuff to his ear. He then disappeared toward the other side of the grove.

Haldir cupped a hand over his sore head and sprinted after him. "Wait—Legolas? Where is he? I promised—" Then he sighed. Fortunately Legolas had left a trail a child could follow, so hasty had his departure been….

Later That Evening…

The evening progressed on a significantly happier note once things actually got underway for Lothlórien's festival, of which this night's feast and dancing was the opening gambit. None of the four fools who had come close to ruining things for Legolas were in evidence, having been uninvited by a formidably annoyed Galadriel, but they provided much amusement for others in attendance as a fascinating topic of discussion. Following Celeborn as he went wandering through the celebration, Haldir was pleased to overhear any of several conversations that made clear Ellinariel's opinion of things was not the common thread. No, in fact there seemed to be a great deal of pleasure taken in the fact that the sad, broken child who had come to live temporarily in Lórien at Midsummer was well on the road to health and making fine inroads toward socialization and some measure of calm. Celeborn and Haldir both saw to it that Legolas learned of these more general impressions—and were rewarded with a significant relaxing of the youngster's taut, unhappy stance, and the nearest thing to a real smile that anyone had seen since his arrival.

As the evening progressed, Legolas had been soothed down from his angry sorrow by the combined force of Tuilinal, Saeros's mate, and Galadriel, who had gone to find them once she finished correcting the course of Ellinariel's education, as it were. Saeros took the young prince in hand to dress him in the handsome, simply-made robes that were part of his festival gifts from the Lord and Lady: pale green silk shot with delicate touches of mithril thread, discreetly embroidered with the emblems of the House of Oropher: oak, ash, thorn, ivy and holly interwoven and discreetly beaded with tiny pearls. Because Legolas's hands still occasionally fumbled a little over finer tasks, the Tracker asked for the boon of tending the youngster's hair. So it was that Thranduil's son attended the festivities with his warrior braids in place, as well as the six-strand braid of his House, this last finished off with a uniquely Silvan ornament of small silver beads, a pendant shaped like a perfect little leaf, and the pin-feather of a raven to mark the dark of the Long Night.

He got through dinner without a single table mishap, remembering that finger-bowls were not in fact some kind of weak soup. There had been a moment to cherish: when his pale, solemn face had brightened with pleasure as the Lord and Lady asked him to carry the torch and walk between them, as their son would have done were he still in life, to set flame to the bonfire that lit the dancing grove to signal the beginning of the post-dinner festivities. Legolas had danced with Tuilinal as his partner when the Silvan Elves of the Greenwood were asked by Celeborn to perform a dance he recalled from his childhood, and later he danced with Galadriel also in a stately measure to honour Winter, as performed in the very Noldorin court of her father King Finarfin when she was a child. Her pleasure gave him pleasure as well, and he very nearly smiled again at the end when she kissed his cheek amid the applause of the onlookers.

Right at midnight, with the celebrations just getting into full swing, the musicians played a fanfare that everyone seemed to recognize. Everyone moved aside to form a circle about the open grove—and Celeborn stood forth in the centre of the dancing area. He was clad in a beautiful cloth-of-mithril robe with hanging sleeves, all decorated and beaded with little glittering crystals; over his shoulders was a mantle of white silk, and the long, thick fall of his hair flowed down his back like a river of molten silver. His hands were clasped loosely before him, and there was watchfulness in every line of him. He caught the attention by doing nothing; he commanded the eye simply by being.

"He looks like a big, beautiful snowflake!" Legolas whispered to Tuilinal, who smiled faintly and patted the prince's hand.

"Yes, intentionally so. Listen now—this is what we spoke of before when you asked if they follow the old way in Lórien."

Silence bathed the grove as the Lord waited, watchful and calm, until it seemed every heartbeat, every breath drawn in the place was as soft and soundless as possible. At length, very quietly, he began to speak.

"Comes now the shortest day, and the death of the old year," he murmured, his gaze going long off into the forest. "We gather tonight as we have done at the Solstice every year, no matter where we have been. We sing and dance, light lamps in tree and home, and make desperately merry to say farewell to the old, whiling away the night to greet the new and drive the dark away."

He gestured slowly, sweepingly with both hands, raising them out to either side and then above. As if he commanded the universe, the light cloud cover that had governed the sky most of the afternoon gave way—and the full, compelling brightness of a rare, full Solstice moon blazed down into the grove, setting alight every facet of every crystal in his garments. There was a soft, community intake of awe-struck breath, and it seemed that thousands of Elven souls from all over creation had gathered to join the celebration.

"So then, here, now, this year and every year, we keep the promise and dance the sacred steps of our ancestors," Celeborn continued, his voice rising slightly. As he spoke, he walked toward the circle of watchers and picked Galadriel out from among them, taking her by the hand; she stepped forth, clad in crystal-covered garments as he was, save that hers were deep green like the forest. Watching avidly, Legolas suddenly had the thought that he was watching the Valar at their business; his eyes were huge in the dark, his breath quick and shallow. Smiling faintly, Saeros closed his hands softly on the prince's shoulders to anchor him to Ennor; it was indicative of his absorption that Legolas never even noticed.

Galadriel walked slowly, carrying in her hands a large silver cup; moonlight reflected off the surface of the pure water therein. She placed it in the centre of the grove with a graceful dip of movement, then walked once around it; her face was turned upward toward the astonishing brightness of the moon, and her expression was one of deep peacefulness.

"As the promise of eventual Springtime wakes in the sleeping land, even now in the dark of the year do we rejoice," she said, matching her tone to that of her Lord. "We feast and give thanks for the abundance granted to us by Ennor; we cleave to our friends and loved ones, and sing into being the new day and year."

She paused and dipped into a deep curtsey before Celeborn, who returned the homage solemnly. Then with a ringing sweep he drew from beneath his mantle a sword of great age and length, which he brought up before himself in salute, then swept it above his head in a wide circle before kneeling to lay it beside the cup on the ground.

Galadriel reached down to take him by the hand and brought him to his feet; together they paced around the sword and cup, then peeled off to approach the circle of onlookers again. They went once around, then halfway again and paused before Saeros and Tuilinal. The silence about them trebled; Legolas looked up from his seat, taking in everything as his Silvan elders stepped gracefully into the circle of moonlight. Haldir slipped noiselessly into place beside the princeling, bending toward him to whisper.

"Wait… watch."

Saeros pushed back his long, full cloak; as it fell to the ground it revealed raiment as white and silver as Celeborn's own, hidden heretofore and very different from his customary forest-coloured clothing of earlier in the evening. Tuilinal, her raven hair falling straight like a living cloak to the backs of her knees, wore a gown and mantle like to that of Galadriel, deep as the winter night in the Wood. The two male warriors of Light and brightness made a startling contrast to the Shadow mystery of the females; this was an older magick than that of the evil that assailed Ennor, twin to that which had met the threat of darkness in the ancient days. Regardless of age, every Elf present felt the power thrumming through the grove now as the foursome walked about the circle with silent intent: Tuilinal placing her hand over Celeborn's arm, Saeros leading Galadriel.

Once around they paced, then halfway again; again they moved from the circle to the centre, and took hands in the very middle over the cup and sword upon the ground. Four more times they walked around, right hands conjoined; then they broke away, Celeborn in the south, Saeros in the north, Galadriel in the west, Tuilinal in the east. As each spoke, they spun about to face toward the circle.

"Ancient watchers at the gate of time, hear me!" Saeros intoned, raising his hands as if in beseeching. "Come Winter, come night, come dark, come rest; bring peace and safety as the land sleeps! So!"

"Ancient watchers at the gate of time, hear me!" Tuilinal continued, picking up the thread of energy handed off to her by her mate. As she raised her arms toward the east, it almost seemed one could see that energy like ribbons of silver in the sky, glittering in the moonlight. "Come Spring, come dawn, come light, come waking; bring thought and inspiration as the land quickens! So!"

Celeborn spoke next, turning to face the south and raising his arms like a father embracing the night. "Ancient watchers at the gate of time, hear me! Come Summer, come noon, come sun, come passion; bring power and ardor as the land renews! So!"

At last Galadriel, completing the inner circle, turned gracefully and reached to take in the forces, gathering them as a mother gathers her children. "Ancient watchers at the gate of time, hear me! Come Autumn, come twilight, come evening, come harvest; bring abundance and healing as the land gives! So!"

They held their positions for a long moment; then together they lowered their arms slowly, and turned back to face inward toward one another. At the edge of the circle Haldir turned to accept a small firepot from his brother Rúmil who appeared silently out of the darkness; he held it while Rúmil struck new fire to it with flint and tinder, and together they shepherded the small spark into glowing life. Their eyes met over that little hopeful flame, and they smiled softly at one another. Haldir then turned to meet the bright eyes of the Prince of the Greenwood.

"It is fitting this should come from youth," the Captain murmured. "Will you help me bring the fire in?"

Legolas blinked anxiously. "But—I do not know what to do!" he whispered.

"You will know. Come." Haldir held out a hand. Legolas thought for a long moment, then gave a short nod and stepped forth to join him. The pale green of his festival garments were struck silver in the moonlight; the stark simplicity of his robe and his pale winter-wheat hair gleamed as he stood before Haldir and accepted the firepot in his two hands. Worried eyes met the confident orbs of the Captain; Haldir nodded once, a faint smile touching his lips, and together they turned toward the inner circle. At some point Legolas found himself walking directly toward Galadriel; their eyes met and something passed between them, such that he never noticed when Haldir stopped and knelt, letting him go on alone.

As he drew closer, Galadriel smiled at him. "What do you bring, pen-neth?" she asked, and somehow he recognized it as no commonplace question. Legolas briefly bit his lip and came to the realization that the simplest answers were sometimes the best.

"I bring fire, Lady," he said in his soft, lilting voice. Galadriel nodded and held out her hands; he placed the firepot in them, and was only a little startled that she encompassed both the pot and his own hands between hers.

"Is the fire newly born?"

"Yea, Lady, it is!"

"What does the fire signify?"

He looked her deep in the eyes, and all time and circumstance faded away. They might as well have been alone in the grove, for he no longer was aware of any other soul save Galadriel. Legolas quirked a faint almost-smile and tilted his head.

"It signifies warmth and light," he replied softly. "It can hurt and heal. And until the day returns, it brings us hope."

"That is a good answer, pen-neth," she told him approvingly, and half-turned, drawing him with her. "Come then, place this new-born fire in the centre of the circle as a symbol of hope."

He felt quick tears start up in his eyes, but followed Galadriel's lead; together they knelt and placed the fire pot there with the cup and sword. When she rose, she lightly touched his shoulder to keep him there, youth tending the flame in hopefulness, beside the cup of inspiration and the sword of truth.

"The rite is ended; so comes the Solstice, so comes our hope, so comes the winter of sleep and resting," Celeborn intoned. "Exchange the kiss of peace with your loved ones and friends, and celebrate all this long night!"

It was as if his words had released a flood of emotion and energy into the grove, in all the best ways. Suddenly there was movement and laughter, cries of welcome and joy, singing and everywhere, people embracing and kissing to celebrate another year done. Saeros caught up an exuberant Tuilinal and lifted her from the ground, their mouths touching in a fierce celebration of their love; Celeborn and Galadriel were only a little less emotional, as the silver Lord spun his golden Lady about, laughing, then shared with her a long and sweet kiss.

In silence at their feet, Legolas stared at the symbols of the Solstice: the fire of hope, the cup of inspiration, the sword of truth. In grateful thanks for his freedom, and the sacrifices of many to bring it about, he solemnly kissed the tips of his fingers and touched them to the blade of the ancient weapon; his thoughts turned to the many who had died over the years in hope of freeing him, and of the many whose lives had been forever changed. He bowed his head, smiling faintly through his tears, and only jumped a little when Galadriel knelt beside him.

"What are you thinking, little Prince?" she asked softly.

Legolas gave her a deep look of piqued amusement. "I am not little."

"No, indeed. Forgive me. But share your thoughts with me?"

He sighed. "I wish… I wish I could say happy Solstice to my Ada," he whispered, shivering slightly. "I miss him."

"What else would you tell him if you could?" she asked, and suddenly it seemed to him that she sounded as she had during the rite, her voice deeper, stronger somehow. He stared at her in some surprise.

"I would tell him that I miss him—but I understand why I cannot yet come home," he said, taken aback to realize he suddenly did understand. "I would tell him that I have been too long gone to come home less than whole—and that I must find myself again the same way I got my freedom. With the help of others. It… is not only my victory."

His brow furrowed a bit in confusion. "Does—that make sense?" he asked softly, unsure. Galadriel took his face in her long-fingered hands, and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead.

"It makes perfect sense to me, hên lend," she told him just as softly. "All will seem better come morning, and better still come Spring; you are a Prince of Winter, Thranduilion, and you will rise to go forth with the return of the green leaves for whom you were named. Your Ada will know your thoughts; send them to him, he will hear. All will be well."

She rose then, effortlessly drawing him to his feet; Galadriel handed him off to the others for Solstice kisses, then gave her Lord a long, deep look full of promise and led him away to continue the festivities of the night. The others drifted away too, and the music returned, and the soft laughter under the winter trees; eventually maidens came to take the ritual items away. They bowed to Legolas and his Silvan elders as if they were still the elemental personalities they had become during the Rite, and disappeared silently into the deep of the forest.

Legolas gave a pleasant shiver and tipped his head back to look at the huge, bright, full moon, his eyes half-lidded.

"What do you see?" Tuilinal asked softly, her breath ghosting over his ear, making him shudder again.

"The moon waxes then wanes and then gets full again," he whispered back, almost smiling at the gleaming orb riding the scudding clouds in the night. "Everything changes, but somehow the moon remains the same." Legolas lowered his head and glanced sidelong at her. "Is that what they call a mystery?"

Tuilinal kissed him on the cheek and gave him a quick hug. "Indeed it is, child. Indeed it is."

Together she and Saeros drew him back toward the dancing, and so the night flowed on in mystery and fulfillment.

The End

Author's Note:

Elwean Ancestry 101:

In this story, Amroth of Lothlórien is not the son of Amdír, but his foster-son; Amroth's parents are Celeborn and Galadriel. This is derived from Tolkien's notes in the Unfinished Tales, when he was trying to decide on an origin and family for Celeborn. Further, Celeborn is the son of Galadhon, son of Elmo, younger brother of Elu Thingol (Elwë) and Olwë.

After looking at a LOT of Michael Martinez's essays and reading other folks' thoughts on the matter, Legolas's paternal grandsire Oropher is hereby postulated to be descended from a yet-younger brother of Elu, Olwë, and Elmo, whom I am naming Olossë, to keep to the family pattern: E-name, O-name, E-name, O-name. Oropher's wife, Thranduil's mother (and hence Legolas's grandmother) is postulated to be the Lady Aziel, daughter of Ingwion, son of Ingwë, High King of the Eldar in Valinor and Lord of the Vanyar—all with the permission of AC, author of the wonderful "Folly of Starlight" stories. Her discussion of Oropher's ancestry can be found on her website at ithilas (dot) com and in the story notes to her marvelous "We Are Finding Who We Are".

In my universe, Legolas's mother Luthiél is the daughter of a Sindarin warrior noble, Farafael, and his lady Meluwen, who is in turn half-Telerin and half-Moriquendi (the so-called Silvan Elves). Luthiél grew up in Balar and Lothlórien, moving north with her parents when Farafael accompanied Oropher; she met Thranduil in Balar when they were both Elflings, Thranduil being a few years her elder.

Therefore the "Dark Leaf" Legolas is Vanyar, Sindar, Telerin and part Moriquendi in ancestry. Confused yet? Just assume Celeborn and Oropher are second cousins—because they have a great-grandfather in common (the father of Elu, Olwë, Elmo, and Olossë). This means Legolas is a second cousin twice removed from Celeborn (since Legolas is the grandson of Celeborn's second cousin, y'see…) and for those keeping track, Legolas is thereby a third cousin of Celebrían (Celeborn's daughter) and a fourth cousin of Elrond. And you thought HUMAN ancestry was confusing!

Many thanks to Ithilien for her stellar job as beta on this one—I am always made better by the labour of my betas!

Translations:

elleth: female Elf

fëa: spirit, soul

hênelleth-hû: literally, young female dog—Sindarin construct for 'little bitch'

hên lend: sweet child

hithlain: literally "mist-thread", the Elven rope made in Lothlórien

hroä: the body; opposite of fëa

nín: my

pen-neth: young one

telain: plural of talan, the platform homes in which the Galadhrim dwell.

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