A/N: The Challenge: For a friend who is spending the holidays in hospital, write a Yule story featuring Legolas, Aragorn and Glorfindel. You may include other characters, but those three MUST be included. You MUST include a naked elf, a horse, snow, and someone's confession. You must also incorporate a real world Christmas image that can be adapted into a Middle-earth culture. For example: mistletoe, holly, Star, lighted tree, shepherds, wise men, mangers, little drummer boys, Yule songs, Yule logs, angels, etc. The rest is up to you!
At the Last Minute
Aragorn looked tiredly at his companion as they rode into the courtyard of the Last Homely House West of the Mountains. The graceful trees that surrounded the building had only recently given up the last of their foliage, and the graceful branches were adorned with white instead of the copper, golden and scarlet leaves they'd born not long before. "They'll be surprised to see us." His breath misted before his face and he adjusted the collar of his cloak to more warmly drape about his neck with the fingerless gloves he wore.
Legolas grinned sympathetically back at him and drew his mount to a halt. "You're the one who decided that you wanted to come home all of a sudden. No wonder we didn't encounter any orcs in the high passes—you were moving too fast for them to see us! And I still don't know why."
The young Ranger swung down from his horse, landing ankle deep in snow. He grabbed his saddle bags and bedroll before a young ellon in Imladris livery, who had run down the steps to take the reins of their mounts, could lead the gelding away to the stables. Ignoring the implied question, he asked, "Are you saying I actually tired out the Prince of Mirkwood?"
Legolas sighed. "Estel, I have to admit that even the best of us elves can become weary from time to time." Then he grinned, "But not me, not now." He turned his own mount over to another groom, murmuring something to the horse, then followed his young mortal friend up the stairs toward the heart of Rivendell, slinging his own belongings over his shoulder as he went. "But after that ride, I want to go soak in the hot pools and get clean. I'll present myself to your Adar tomorrow morning when I'm more presentable."
"It's freezing out here, Legolas!" Estel shuddered at the thought of bathing in the outdoor pool, no matter how warm the water was. "I'll wash up in my room before I go see Adar."
"Fragile mortal," the elf teased.
"Arrogant elf," the Man retorted, then laughed for the first time since they'd ridden out of Thranduil's realm.
Legolas didn't show it, but he was relieved to hear it. Aragorn had hidden the grief he felt at the loss of his mother from most of the Mirkwood court, but Legolas knew him too well, and the somberness of the Dúnadan went beyond the reputation for stern dourness that the Rangers of the North cultivated.
Then they passed through the entryway into the elegant foyer that led to the Hall of Fire and the dining hall, and the stairs that one would take to the sleeping rooms of the elf-built edifice, and Aragorn's laughter abruptly halted along with his steps.
Legolas watched his friend's eyes sweep from one side of the chamber to the other, first lighting on the stair railings, then the graceful crystal lamp that hung suspended from the arched ceiling, finally letting his gaze fall on the bare mantle of the hearth opposite the door. The sparkle fled from the grey eyes, and the tall mortal seemed to shrink inside himself somehow. Although he'd kept his shoulders straight and his face controlled, his fingers tightened on the straps of his saddle bags until his knuckles were white. He stood thus frozen for a moment then murmured, "I'll see you in the morning, Legolas," before heading for the stairs with his long-legged stride.
Rather than follow his friend up the stairs to the chamber that was always his when he came to visit the home of Lord Elrond, Legolas waited until he was out of sight and turned down a corridor away from the hall of fire, heading for a door that would let him out into the garden near the bathhouse,
Glorfindel soaked in the largest of the hot pools, his long golden hair floating around him, and his face turned up to the stars that glimmered brilliantly overhead. Wisps of steam rose from the warm water's surface, and gradually dissipated into the cooler air. He floated, weightless and utterly relaxed in the stillness of the night, and his eyes began to glaze over as he slipped onto the Path of Dreams—
--and suddenly a ball of icy cold snow struck him right in the middle of the chest, and he was rudely jarred awake, spluttering from the water he'd taken in as he gasped in shock, his long limbs flailing, splashing the heated water onto the slate and granite flagstones that bordered the pool. It only took him a moment to get his feet under him, and ignoring his nudity, he sprang from the water to grab for the sword that lay with his discarded clothing and fell into a defensive posture, the weapon at the ready.
"That's a bit of an over-reaction, Glorfindel," Legolas stepped through the gap in the hedge from which he'd thrown the snowball, carrying a couple of large towels and his saddle bags. He glanced around and then back at the Balrog-Slayer. "Who were you expecting, since we didn't send any warning we were coming?"
"Elladan and Elrohir pulled that on me a few weeks ago after a patrol up by the high pass. Except that they—mistakenly—thought the snowball would distract me and keep me from being able to defend against a joint attack." He gave the prince a jaundiced glare, "It seems that you and they have spent too much time together, young one."
Legolas set down his bags and raised a hand in a placating gesture. "I apologize, my lord. I thought at first you were one of the twins."
Glorfindel gave him a look of patent disbelief and flicked his free hand at a lock of his dripping blond hair. "Hello, does this look like one of the sons of Elrond to you?"
"The water made your hair darken," the prince protested, then continued, "There will be no more snowballs—at least not this night and not aimed at you," he added.
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow and laid down his sword before returning to the hot pool and lowering himself into the water once more. "I hope you have an explanation for that comment."
Legolas quickly stripped off his boots and travel clothing, and dropped into the hot water with a sigh of relief. From a Mannish perspective he might have appeared pristine—particularly when compared to his mortal friend—but cutting the normal journey time from Mirkwood by half meant that he'd had to forgo the luxuries of bathing en route.
"I was intending a payback to Elladan and Elrohir for the prank they played on Estel and me when we were here last," he began after he'd entirely submerged himself and surfaced again to float alongside the other blond elf lord. "And Estel is still grieving the loss of his mother. He was to have spent the winter with me at my father's palace, but at the last possible chance of making it over the passes before the winter weather truly set in he decided that he wanted to come home."
Glorfindel rolled onto his front and swam the length of the pool to where an underwater ledge provided a seat for the bathers, and settled there with the warm water lapping at his shoulders. "His grief will ease in time, Legolas. It is the way of men and the Gift of Ilúvatar."
Legolas joined him on an adjacent ledge and sighed. "But I hate seeing him this way. And the look on his face when we came into the front hall and there was no holly, nor ribbons, nor kissing boughs hung—I know that Yule is only a day away now, but do you think that there might be some way to—to cheer him up? I know that Gilraen always ensured that he celebrated Yule, even though it is not our custom."
Glorfindel looked up at the Last Homely House and found the windows of Estel's chamber—the only glassed in portals in the entire structure, for the mortal's comfort—and hauled himself up out of the water. "We'll make it happen."
The star-lit quiet of the night blanketed Imladris like the snow blanketed the gardens and grounds—save for the kitchen, where a pair of warriors were confounded by an environment into which they'd not expected to find themselves.
"It's got to be here somewhere." Glorfindel frowned as he flipped through the pages of the thick book he'd found on the Cook's desk, in which were recorded the recipes that led to the feasts that made Imladris' table famous.
"Biscuits need flour and sugar," Legolas told him. "I remember that much from my elflinghood." He went to the tidily arranged shelves and began to peer at the labeled canisters and boxes, looking for the required ingredients.
"And ginger. Look for the crystallized ginger too," Glorfindel directed as he perused a recipe that looked promising, but turned out to be the base for a ginger-spiced soup instead. "And leavening," he added. "Ah, ha! Here it is!" The reborn ellon ran his fingers down the list of ingredients, calling them out to the Mirkwood prince.
"I don't know why I'm the one finding all of this," Legolas grumbled as he carried the containers to the broad work table in the center of the room. "You live here, after all, and should know where everything is."
"Me? Since when do I cook?" Glorfindel asked.
"Well, while I can cook on the trail, baking isn't one of the skills my father thought necessary for my education," Legolas retorted, as he thumped the large flour bin onto the table. "We'll need a big bowl, I suppose, to mix it in."
"Butter. Where's the butter?" Glorfindel muttered as he compared the list to the ingredients now filling the work table.
"In the cold room where it belongs, my lord. May I ask just what you are doing in my kitchen at three o'clock in the morning?"
Legolas jumped and nearly knocked the glass container that held the pieces of crystallized ginger off the table as the sharp tones of Rivendell's chief cook, Glassiel, startled him from behind.
She swept up and caught the jar, pushing it away from the edge of the table. "Well?" Hands on her hips, garbed in a sleeping robe, her grey-eyed glare still managed to cow even the Balrog-Slayer.
It rather amused Legolas to see Glorfindel's manner shift into that of a guilty elfling, until she turned her scowl on him. "Um, we—we wanted to—to make Lady Gilraen's Yule Ginger Biscuits for Estel," he managed to stammer, wondering how it was that an elleth could reduce even the bravest warrior into feeling so foolish.
"For Estel? I thought he—and you," she added to Legolas, "—were in Mirkwood."
"Estel came home late this evening, after the meal," Glorfindel told her. "And he noticed that we aren't celebrating Yule this year."
"Ahhhh." Glassiel's eyes widened briefly as she understood what they were trying to do. "With Lady Gilraen beyond the Circles of Arda, and thinking Estel was in Mirkwood, no one bothered with it." She tied the sash of her night robe more tightly about her waist and rolled up the sleeves. "Well, gentlemen? What are you waiting for? Wash your hands if you are going to make biscuits for him."
Feeling a mixture of relief and chagrin, Legolas joined Glorfindel at the sink and obediently scrubbed up to the satisfaction of the Cook.
"I think I'm glad she's Lord Elrond's Cook and not my father's," Legolas confessed an hour later when the pair of ellyn were shooed from the fragrant kitchen, "I never would have been able to sneak sweets from under her nose!"
"She's got a soft spot for Estel," Glorfindel admitted. "Elsewise, you and I would have been feeling the sting of her wooden spoon for messing up her kitchen. Let's go wake up Elladan and Elrohir. If we are going to decorate this place, we need to get Estel out of the house until sunset."
Elrond was already up and seated at the desk in his study, although he was ignoring the book that lay open before him and was staring out the window at the pre-dawn wintery landscape beyond. He could have used Vilya to moderate the weather, but somehow the snow and chill seemed appropriate for the day, and so he'd let it remain, in memory of the mortal lady who had placed her son in his care. Yule had been her favorite time of year; when even the grief of having lost her husband far too early was moderated by the joy that Estel had in the Mannish holiday.
He had been surprised to see his foster son appear at his bedroom door the night before, but had welcomed the exhausted and unhappy man back to the home of his childhood. Aragorn had not been forthcoming with the real reason for his unexpected return, and it grieved Elrond that the Dúnadan did not feel able to express what was wrong besides his mourning for his mother. The Master of Imladris had provided the Heir of Isildur with warmed spiced wine and a light snack before sending him off to sleep with the word that Arwen was spending the winter here instead of having remained in Lothlórien as had been her original plan. That, at least, had drawn a smile from the 49-year-old, although it had faded too quickly.
There wasn't much time, but perhaps it would cheer his mortal son if they could give him a Yule celebration after all. It was what Gilraen would have wanted, he was sure.
Elrond rose and left the study, dimming the lamp as he went, as the tasks he intended would keep him from returning to his research for much of the day. He silently headed towards the stairs that led into the attics, noting the faint scent of ginger as he paused on the landing that led down to the entrance to the kitchens on the lower level.
The soft call from the kitchen stairway arrested his ascent, and he turned to find Glorfindel and Legolas coming upstairs. Was that flour on their clothes?
"Could we please speak with you?" Legolas asked, brushing at the white powder on his green suede tunic ineffectively.
Elrond nodded. "Tell me as we go up to the attics." He began to climb the stairs once more.
Glorfindel motioned for Legolas to follow Elrond, and took up the rear.
The wood-elf elf trailed in Elrond's wake up three full flights of stairs, each flight seeming steeper and narrower than the next lower flight. "Er, my lord, why are you—we—going to the attics?"
"I'm getting Gilraen's trunk of Yule decorations. Since Estel was to spend the winter at your father's court, and there are no other mortals in residence at this time, we didn't prepare to celebrate Yule. There's not much time left, but—"
"That's what we wanted to talk to you about," Legolas interrupted excitedly, feeling relieved that the Lord of Imladris knew how important this would be to Aragorn. "We're going to ask Elladan and Elrohir to take Estel out hunting for the day so we can get everything ready, the evergreen boughs and the garlands and ribbons, and Cook is making the ginger biscuits, and—"
Elrond paused at the door to the attics and hushed the Sindarin prince. "Make haste slowly, Legolas. Yes, there is much to do, but rushing will not make it happen faster. It may be the shortest day of the year, but we will have time to make all as it would have been if Gilraen were here."
The twins were more than amenable with Glorfindel's suggestion. "We know just where to take him, and we promise to have him back on time," Elladan said as he divested himself of his nightwear and began to dress for the hunt.
"We can keep him safely away from the gardens and the area you can send the elflings to gather holly and such," Elrohir added. "Don't forget to hang up the Star of Eärendil in the Hall of Fire. He always liked that best, you know."
The prospect of brightening the sad mood of their foster brother had the twins reacting as ellyn much younger than their twenty-five hundred years would call for.
Glorfindel grinned, "At least let him have a proper breakfast before you haul him out to chase the deer. I'll go talk to your Adar about the star now."
Legolas followed Glorfindel out of the twin's shared suite, casting a glance over his shoulder as he went. Once down the corridor, he asked, "Will they be able to keep the secret, do you think? I do want this to be a surprise."
"Oh, yes. The prospect of seeing Estel gobsmacked is more than enough to keep it behind their teeth. And I must confess that I'm rather glad to get them out of the house for awhile. They've been driving me crazy since they tried that snow ambush on me. We can get Erestor to marshal the elflings after breakfast to go get the holly and evergreen boughs—" Glorfindel broke off as the door to Aragorn's room opened, and the Chief of the Dúnedain emerged, dressed for the day, his hair still somewhat in need of a brush, and yawning widely.
Aragorn would have preferred to have stayed in bed a while longer, but knew that if he didn't make an appearance at breakfast, his Ada would not approve, and he'd likely find himself the target of his foster-brothers' inventive minds.
A yawn took him as he came into the hallway and found Glorfindel and Legolas approaching. He blinked as he stared at their clothing, surprised to see the normally pristine elves' garments marked with smears of white powder. He shook his head and decided not to ask as Glorfindel shot an annoyed glare back over his shoulder at the entrance to the twin's suite. If Elladan and Elrohir had anything to do with their disarray, he didn't want to know about it!
He bid them good morning as if nothing was out of the ordinary and headed down to the dining hall to meet his Adar for breakfast.
"Welcome home, Estel." Arwen beamed at him from her seat next to her father's, and beckoned him to sit next to her. "I thought we wouldn't see you again until spring," she added as she accepted a slice of ginger-raisin bread from one of the servers.
"I—I just needed to be here," Aragorn said quietly as he sat down next to her, laying his hand on the table between them. After she'd placed the bread on the edge of her plate, Arwen discreetly brushed her long, elegant fingers across his fingers, her touch lingering on the Ring of Barahir that glinted in the candlelight that illuminated the hall, for the sun was late to show her face this morn. It was only a momentary touch, but Aragorn's breath caught and he had to fight to retain his composure under the eyes of Lord Elrond, who had glanced their direction.
"I understand," she said softly.
"Estel!" Elrohir cheerfully strode up to the family table and clasped hands with Aragorn in a warrior grip. "Just who we need. I bet Elladan that you were a better tracker than he is. Since Glassiel needs more venison for the larder, you can help me get some for her, and win my bet!"
"You oughtn't count your dragons before they are hatched, brother," Elladan warned as he joined the group at the table. He was garbed in his hunting gear, and Aragorn belatedly realized that Elrohir was likewise wearing his riding leathers and was armed with a beautiful sword and his favourite bow. "I could still win, you know. Good morning, Estel. You'd best finish eating, because we need to go out and bring in some venison for the kitchens."
"I only just got back home last night; I don't want to go out again," he protested.
"It's only for a few hours," Elrohir said. "Come, brother. If you don't come with us we'll have to wait to hear your adventures. Besides, I've missed you, Estel. Please?"
Aragorn made the mistake of meeting his foster-brother's eyes—and knew that he would be out in the woods with them, regardless of the fact that all he really wanted to do was curl up somewhere and—he had to be honest with himself—mope. Maybe he just should have stayed in Mirkwood instead of dragging Legolas back across the mountains. He'd have felt just a miserable there as here, but at least there he'd had no expectation of a Yule celebration and would not have suffered the sharp disappointment he'd felt as he crossed the threshold the night before.
He suddenly realized that Elrohir and Elladan were waiting expectantly for his answer, and he gave in. "All right. After the meal, I'll change clothes and get my bow." When Arwen smile brilliantly at him, it made him feel a bit better at acquiescing to the twins' wishes. Maybe she and he could find some time to themselves when he got back from the hunt.
Elrond wished the twins and Estel, "Good hunting" as they left the dining hall, and continued to eat his breakfast while discussing patrol schedules with Glorfindel, who with Legolas, had come in a bit late for the meal, but devoid of the evidence of their night time excursion to the kitchen. It wasn't until his sharp hearing told him that Aragorn was far enough away to be unable to hear him that he stood and drew the attention of the elves who remained in the dining hall.
"We've left it late, but by the time Estel returns home from the hunt, I wish Imladris to be decorated for Yule as it has been in years past. Erestor, please organize teams of younglings to harvest holly and evergreen to make garlands from. They should leave in about half an hour, which should give Elladan enough time to get Aragorn out of the immediate environs of the House."
"I'll help them, Adar," Arwen volunteered.
Other elves offered to take care of the other traditions of the holiday as celebrated by the Dúnedain, and shortly thereafter, only Glorfindel, Legolas and Elrond remained in the dining hall.
"Well," Elrond smiled at the two blond elves. "We had better get started hanging up the star in the Hall of Fire."
"Why did we have to dress the deer, Estel?" Elladan complained as he heaved the carcass over the rump of his horse with Elrohir's help. It was a magnificent specimen with a large, many-branched rack of antlers and would feed the residents of the Last Homely House well for several meals.
"Well, I've already done my job by bringing it down. Time for you and Elrohir to do your part." Aragorn was examining the fletching on the arrow that the twins had removed from between two of the buck's ribs for damage, and looked up from the grey feathers to grin at his brothers.
"You're just grumpy because I won our bet, brother mine," Elrohir cheerfully said as he secured his side of the deer with a length of smooth rope and passed it under the gelding's belly to Elladan.
"Took you long enough to win it," came the retort. "It will be nearly sunset by the time we get back to the house." Elladan tied the necessary knots and looked up at the sky visible through the bare tree branches above.
Aragorn, satisfied that the arrow had taken no damage from the heart-shot, tucked it back into his quiver and mounted his own horse. "I've spent most of the day giving you details of my adventures; I think it's more than time that you returned the favor. What did you do to make Glorfindel so upset with you?"
The tale of their last patrol near the High Pass occupied the time it took to return home. They tended to their mounts after the stable hands hauled the deer carcass away to hang it for skinning and butchering, then headed for the main building, their boots crunching in the snow. Elladan fell back to walk next to Elrohir as Aragorn headed up the entryway steps, both twins carefully watching their much younger foster-brother.
The Ranger was already reaching for the clasp of his cloak, to remove it once he'd come inside the beautiful building and had his eyes down to check that he wasn't going to track in any snow, when he passed through the door that had opened before him.
It was the silence that caught his attention. While Imladris was serenely beautiful, basking in the peace that had made it a sanctuary for mortal generations, there was always some slight noise or other; the hushed swish of long robes brushing the floor, murmured conversation between the ellyn and ellith who were responsible for the daily maintenance of the building and the people within it, the sound of someone singing as they worked.
He looked up and stared at the greenery festooning the railings that framed the sweeping stairs and graced the mantelpiece. Red ribbons and sprays of winterberries were fastened to the sconces, and the welcoming fire in the hearth burned with flashes of green and blue as pinecones suddenly popped and released their unique resinous tang to the accumulated scents of pine, spruce and wintergreen that filled the hall. And standing at the foot of the stairs with broad smiles on their faces were Elrond, Glorfindel and Legolas, each garbed in their best winter finery.
Elrond stepped forward and pulled Aragorn into his embrace, "Happy Yule, my son."
The future king of Gondor and Arnor felt his eyes prickle as his emotions welled. "You remembered," he whispered into the Peredhel's pointed ear.
"Go and change from your hunting gear, Estel. Everyone is waiting for you so we can serve the feast." Elrond hugged him tightly then set him free with a smile and a push towards the stairs.
Aragorn smiled back—a true smile—and ran up towards his room, joy and hope in his heart for the first time since he'd received word of his mother's death.
Dressed in the brand new green velvet robes he'd found laid out on his bed, Aragorn sat next to Arwen, his grey eyes sparkling in the light of the multitude of candles which lit the dining hall. Platters of the finest foods ever presented by Glassiel's kitchen followed one after another until even a hobbit would be sated. The hall rang with laughter and song, and he finally felt as if he'd truly come home, particularly when Glassiel placed a large plate filled with the fragrant ginger biscuits that his mother had always made before him as the last of the wine was served.
Over the wine, Elladan and Elrohir confessed to him that the hunt was really only a reason to get him out of the house so the place could be decorated to surprise him.
"You lied to me? For that I think you shouldn't get any of these biscuits! Mother always said they were only for good boys and elflings, after all." He attempted to look stern and then laughed, holding the plate out to them when Elrohir mumbled something about it not really being a lie, as Glassiel would definitely make good use of the venison they'd provided that day.
Then they adjourned to the Hall of Fire and gathered beneath the star made of thin translucent shell and mithril wire about a small lamp which glowed brightly, representing the Silmaril which Eärendil bore upon his brow as he sailed Vingilot across the star-strewn heavens on this longest night of the year, raising their voices in a hymn to Elbereth. When it was done, Aragorn bowed his head and said a silent prayer of gratitude to the Valar for his elvish family.
Arwen was standing before him when he opened his eyes and raised his dark head, her grey eyes and pale face luminous in the glow of the star, her generous mouth smiling mirthfully. "Estel, look up."
Legolas nudged Glorfindel as they watched Aragorn realize that besides the star lamp, there was a kissing bough suspended above him. Arwen said something that even with their superior elven hearing they couldn't make out, then she reached up to draw the dark-haired Ranger's mouth down to her own, leaning into his embrace as she kissed him deeply.
"Well, I think Estel got what he wanted for Yule," the Prince of Mirkwood whispered to the Balrog Slayer with a grin. Yes, seeing Estel at this moment was well worth the hasty and uncomfortable trip over the mountains, and the sleepless night and busy day it had taken to give his friend the holiday he had been missing.
A/N: In canon, in the year that Aragorn turned 49, he left Gondor after the Battle of Pelargir, and traveled to Lothlorien, where he met Arwen and plighted his troth with her. Canon does not state where Aragorn traveled to after leaving Lothlorien, nor that Arwen stayed there after their meeting, so I've taken the liberty of having her come home for the winter after Aragorn set out for Mirkwood. This fic goes along with the idea that Legolas has been part of Aragorn's life, if not since childhood, since he'd gone out on his own as Chief of the Dúnedain; long enough to have come to be someone who would travel on such a mad journey through the passes of the Misty Mountains in order to try to ease his friend's grief.
The Star of Eärendil was inspired by the illuminated Moravian Star my mother always hung each Christmas during the latter years of her life.
Gilraen's Ginger Biscuits were inspired by a lovely Crystalized Ginger Cookie recipe that I made during this year's holiday baking. For those who are interested, here is the recipe:
GILRAEN'S YULE GINGER BISCUITS
(1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup dark molasses
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ ounces crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1. Cream butter with molasses, sugar and egg.
2. Sift together dry ingredients (except crystallized ginger) and add to creamed mixture.
3. Blend well.
4. Fold in candied ginger.
5. Chill for one hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375° F.
7. Form into 1-inch balls (approx 1 tsp of dough), roll in granulated sugar.
8. Put cookies about 2 inches apart from each other on a greased baking sheet (or one you have lined with parchment paper). (NOTE: You do not have to grease a non-stick baking sheet.)
9. Bake 8-10 minutes.
10. Let sit on baking sheet for one to two minutes, then move to a wire rack to complete cooling.
If you wish, you may make the balls ½ inch in diameter to get more cookies from the recipe, but you'll need to start checking on them at 6 minutes, because if you aren't careful the smaller ones will burn.
They were a huge hit when I shared them with my church ladies group, so I figured that I'd share the goodness! Happy Christmas!