Summary: Falling snow, a warm fire and haunting memories. A grieving Elrond determines to skip the holiday festivities, not realizing how much he is needed, especially when it comes to his devastated sons. When a mysterious trunk is uncovered, the contents help return hope to the Lord of Imladris and his household.
As this is a Solstice story, I wished to post it on the actual Solstice which is the 21st this year. So, Happy Winter Solstice to you all! And no matter what holiday you are celebrating at this time of the year, I pray it will be safe, joyful and filled with the love of family and friends.
This story is part of the Undying Friendship Series, but can be read as a stand alone.
By Nieriel Raina
Elrond gazed into the fire. Outside, the snow fell softly over the valley. He could feel the cold seeping through the stone. He shifted closer to the hearth, his gaze never wavering from the dancing flames.
It did not feel like Gift Night without Celebrían. Perhaps he would never celebrate it again. Nothing was the same since she had left him in the spring.
He tried to turn his thoughts elsewhere, but could not manage it. Her face floated in his memory, her laughing smile and silver hair taunted him with their clarity amid the tongues of gold fire, and he could see her dancing there with the flames on the log. Then the vision faded, mutating into someone else entirely, while her beloved features remained the same. The same silver hair, only dulled by grief, the same grey eyes, no longer shining with laughter, and in place of a smile, her mouth was drawn, expressionless, joyless. She turned from him, her eyes haunted with images he could not erase, and walked down a gangplank to a waiting grey ship. It sailed away, and his heart left with it.
Elrond reached for his goblet of spiced wine and took several long gulps. The warm liquid could not chase the vision from him, however. She was lost to him, at least on these shores. He only hoped she had found healing in the West. That one day he would find her whole and laughing once more, dancing amid the trees as she once had…
He pulled his gaze from the fire and slammed the goblet down on the table. The wine sloshed over the lip, splattering onto the pristine white cloth that covered the dark wood – cloth embroidered by loving hands, her hands. He watched the red stain spread. How symbolic of what had become of his beloved.
The door opened, followed by the sound of rustling cloth. Elrond kept his eyes on the spreading stain.
"It is time." Erestor's voice, always matter of fact, sounded different, a bit strained.
Elrond turned his gaze back to the fire and decided. "I am not attending." His own voice sounded flat, empty, like his heart.
Swirling black robes cut off his view of the fire, but Elrond refused to look up into his friend's face. "No, you will go, Elrond." The words were spoken with grim determination.
Elrond jerked his head up, surprised to find Erestor's grey eyes full of concern and hard as granite. Shaking his head, Elrond started to speak, but was silenced by Erestor's raised hand.
Erestor took a deep breath, and then started speaking, his voice tinged with compassion, something quite out of the ordinary for the stoic Councilor. "I know the last year has been hard for you. It has been hard for us all, especially the twins, but for you, it has been the worst. Your pain – I know it runs deep, but for your people, for your sons, you must go."
The words gave Elrond pause. "What about my sons?" It struck him as odd that he did not know where they were, had not spoken to them since their mother had sailed West, indeed, had hardly thought of them! And what of Arwen? Elrond swallowed hard as the realization he had removed himself from not just life, but his children, sank in. For months the running of Imladris had continued around him, but it had not been due to his doing, or his care.
"Your sons show their own way of grieving, but it is dark and dangerous. They hunt Orc, Elrond!"
Elrond's heart clenched within him. His sons sought out the darkness, the very creatures that had brought all this sadness to them? It should be him out hunting the foul creatures! His skill as a healer had failed, but he could still wield a sword with proficiency. To Mordor with all that nonsense about preserving his power for healing! It should be his steel impaling the vicious beasts. His hands ripping, tearing, plunging…
A hand grasped his arm, bringing him out of the daze he had sunk into. Sympathetic eyes regarded him as if Erestor knew where his thoughts had wandered. "They take their anger, their grief out on every servant of the enemy they can find. I fear they will come to irreparable harm if it continues, and not by the stroke of a sword." Erestor held his gaze long enough that Elrond could not miss his meaning.
But he simply did not care. Could not bring himself to care enough to fight that battle. How could he when his own battle yet raged?
"Your sons, and Arwen, need you. And so you will go to the celebration and allow us to help you begin to heal so that you can help them. They need you." Erestor paused, and Elrond gasped when his friend knelt before him and bowed his head. "We all need you, my lord."
Laughter filled the Hall of Fire as families and friends gathered to celebrate Gift Night: the night when the elves celebrated the gift of returning light. Food and drink passed freely from long tables set up at the sides of the room and musicians played by the hearth, some joining in by singing. Elrond watched the festivities, detached from the joy the others shared. He had performed his usual duties, but without Celebrían at his side, the night was empty. He was here as he had been asked, but it was not — could not be the same.
He watched as most of his people flitted about the room, exchanging small gifts and trinkets in celebration of the return of light on the morrow. He had nothing to give, had not thought to bring anything. Celebrían had always…
Erestor placed a familiar, blue sack in his hands. "You should give these out."
Elrond blinked, his curiosity roused just enough to untie the cord and peek inside. An assortment of trinkets lay inside: Small wooden flutes, tiny scrolls tied with red ribbon, sacks of nuts and dried berries. The gifts! He glanced up, but Erestor had gone, blending into the crowd.
Dutifully, Elrond made the rounds, forcing smiles he did not feel and handing out his tokens to delighted cries of thanks. Through the crowd, Elrond caught a glimpse of the small table near the fire, where many small gifts began to accumulate – gifts to his family. Arwen stood there, fingering a pine cone festively painted, her eyes lighting briefly as her fingers traced the decoration. But then her eyes shifted to him, or rather the empty place beside him, and the cone slipped from her fingers, glancing off other gifts and rolling to the floor and under the tablecloth.
A couple drifted between them, blocking his view of his daughter for just a moment. When he could see the table again, she was gone.
He searched the crowds for her, and his sons, but did not find them. As he looked, it crossed his mind that someone else was missing, though he could not bring forth the energy to truly note just who.
He handed out the last gift, thankful his duties had ended. The fire died down as midnight approached, and many gathered in groups of twos and threes to speak and sing quietly. Through a window, Elrond could see the snow still drifted down, covering the trees of the valley in a white blanket.
A hand was placed on his shoulder. "Elrond?"
Elrond turned and met his friend's gaze. He felt no different. His pain still burned in his chest. His anger still festered within him. "What?"
"You are needed in your rooms." Elrond raised a brow. "Now."
Elrond stared at the wooden trunk, his heart hammering in his chest. He knew it well. He had carved it himself as a gift for his new wife from one of her favorite trees that had been felled in a snowstorm their first Gift Night together. It sat before the fire.
Arwen was seated close by, her eyes glued to the trunk as if a ghost stood in the room. Elrond knew how she felt. He glanced over at Erestor, unable to ask what he needed to know.
Erestor stared at the door, his arms folded across his chest and his foot tapping. Elrond could not imagine what his friend waited for, and truly did not care. He needed to know why a trunk he had seen his wife packing had not sailed West with her. Why was it still here and what significance did it have for this night of all nights — The Gift Night?
A thud sounded out in the hall, then the door was thrown open, banging against the wall. Elrond glared at the mark it left, but Arwen's gasp turned his attention to the golden-haired captain entering, dragging his sons with him.
"Glorfindel? What is the meaning of this?" Elrond asked, noting the surly expressions on his sons' faces.
"I brought you something for Gift Night. You had misplaced them."
Elrond took a moment to truly look at his sons. Dismay filled him as he noted the darkness in their eyes, the hatred and bitterness shining for all to see. He sat in the chair opposite his daughter and dropped his head in his hands. "How have we come to this?"
"It's not your fault, Ada."
The voice of reason and comfort; she ached with the loss of her mother, but she had tried to remain strong for her family. He realized that in the last months his daughter had reached out to him, but he had been in too much pain to pay it any notice. He heeded it now. She sought to remove his blame, but he deserved it all. He had failed them all.
Glorfindel dragged Elladan and Elrohir further into the room, pushing them down onto the cushioned settee before the fire. "What you choose to do on the morrow is none of my concern," the captain grumbled at them. "But this night, you will sit, and you will listen and take heed of what you hear!"
Elrond raised his head in time to see his sons cross their arms simultaneously — their silent manner of rebelling. Oh how his heart ached for them! He should have been there for them, put a stop to the damage he could see so plainly now.
Erestor cleared his throat and pulled a folded piece of parchment from an inner pocket of his robes. He took a deep breath, and began to speak. "Before the Lady Celebrían sailed, she laid a task upon me. Tonight I fulfill my vow to her. It was her wish to be a part of Gift Night tokens with her family." Erestor paused, unfolding the parchment to reveal a small key. He walked to Elrond and handed it to him. "Open the trunk."
Elrond took the key with shaking fingers, his eyes straying to his wife's trunk. He feared to open it. Feared what lay inside. The woman who had left him had been broken beyond his ability to heal, a shadow and only a shell of the woman she had once been. What could she possibly have left them?
"Open it, Ada," Arwen whispered, sinking from her chair to kneel beside the trunk. Her long fingers traced the carvings lovingly. Then she turned her large grey eyes on him, pleading with him to open the trunk. A piece of her mother hid inside.
The twins seemed indifferent to the announcement and the chest. And it was that indifference that caused Elrond to move. He sank down on the other side of the trunk, fit the key in the lock and turned it. The sound of the click seemed to echo in the small room, as did the creak of the hinges as he lifted the lid.
Inside, on top of a green cloth lay another folded piece of parchment with his name on it. He stared at it, afraid to touch it.
His name, as plain as day, was written in her hand, and it was as if her voice called out to him from across the sea.
"Are you going to read it or not?"
Elladan's voice caused Elrond to jerk around. He glared at his son for breaking such a reverent moment. Then he reached out and took the paper in his hand, running a finger over the writing. Unfolding the note, he read it silently to himself, his breath catching in his throat and tears filling his eyes. Then he refolded it and tucked it into his robe, close to his heart as the tears overflowed and a smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
Elrond opened his eyes to see his son looking at him with curiosity.
"She's right," he murmured, then turned to the trunk without explaining. His children began mumbling amongst themselves. Lifting the length of cloth, he handed it to his daughter with a smile. "For you."
Tears filled Arwen's eyes and she unfolded the light green silk, her favorite color. There were many yards of the material – enough to make a dress. Arwen clutched the material to her breast and bowed her head over it.
With the cloth removed, Elrond discovered several more pieces of folded parchment. One with each of their names, including another with is own name on it. He reached for his own, reading it quickly, his smile growing, his heart warming. Then he handed the next one to Arwen. She took it with trembling fingers, but did not open it. Knowing his daughter, she would wish to be alone to read the letter from her mother. He set the other notes aside.
"What about us?" Elladan asked in a sulky tone Elrond had not heard since his son had been an elfling. Elrohir had never used that tone of voice. No, Elladan had been the whiny child.
"What about you?" Elrond asked without looking up.
"Don't we get letters?"
Elrond nodded and continued fiddling in the trunk.
"Later." He pulled out two folded bundles and set each at the feet of one of his sons. "From your mother."
He watched as the two, like elflings on Gift Night, unfolded the new tunics sewn by their mother's hand. Elrond knew Celebrían had done some sewing before she sailed, but she had not shared with him what. And now, instead of the bitter creatures they had become, for a short while, his sons sat in their place.
"What else is in the trunk?" Elrohir asked eagerly, lifting himself up to peer into it.
Elrond shifted his position so that Elrohir could not see and lifted another bundle – a tunic just for him. He ran his fingers over the stitching and swallowed hard. He set it aside and reached for the next item, which he handed to Arwen with a repressed smile.
Arwen unfolded a short length of creamy lace, then suddenly screamed, dropping it. Lurching to her feet, she continued screaming and stomping her feet, then darted up on the settee, nearly climbing over and behind Elladan, all the while screaming. "KILL IT!! KILL IT!!!" She pointed to something dark that had dropped to the floor. Elladan's feet jerked up onto the settee with him and Arwen, his eyes wide.
Elrond held his sides. Glorfindel's laughter filled the room, and even Erestor seemed to snicker. Elrohir squinted at the dark object on the floor. "Is that a… By the stars!" He jumped up and rushed to where the thing sat on the floor. Bending down, he lifted it up, his eyes marveling at the shell the size of his fist. "It's a locust shell!" He turned, grinning at Arwen and Elladan. "It's good luck!"
Arwen slipped over the back of the settee and threw herself into Glorfindel's arms. "Make him kill it!" she whimpered.
"But it's already dead," Glorfindel told her.
Arwen paled. "Naneth gave me a dead bug?"
Erestor shook his head, smiling. "No, she gave you the shed shell of a bug. It is tradition that a locust shell given on Gift Night will bring you luck if you save it until the Midsummer's day."
Elrond watched the exchange, every minute his soul becoming lighter as, for a time, Gift Night had become normal, as if Celebrían sat with them handing out the gifts. Elrohir stalked his sister with the locust while she screamed and darted around the settee. Elladan leaned away from it, his feet still having not touched the floor since Arwen had trampled him. In the background, Glorfindel urged Elrohir on, while Erestor called out tips for Arwen to escape.
Laughter filled the room, a room that had not heard laughter in over a year of the sun. Elrond knew this night would not heal them of their grief. It would not change everything and make it well. But it was the start they needed, the beginning to finding healing.
Item after item was pulled until only one remained for the twins. With a smile, Elrond handed each of his sons the letter from their mother. He watched their eyes widen then laughter shake their shoulders. Then they dove for the last item in the trunk.
A soft jingle resounded as they both opened the last package, revealing a number of small, silver bells. The sound caused Elrond's breath to hitch. In it, he could hear her laughter, like the tinkling of the bells.
Elladan read his letter aloud, causing Glorfindel's face to pale. "To my sons, my final gift for you is actually a request. I would ask you to affix what you find in your gift to the harness of Glorfindel's horse. I've always thought his pompousness needed an announcement of his arrival…"
Elrond heard no more. He threw back his head and laughed wholeheartedly. Gift Night had been a gift in itself this year, a precious gift from his wife and the return of his family.
His fingers moved to rest over the first letter resting against his heart. And the return of his hope. In his mind, he could hear her voice as if she spoke the words written on the folded page.
My dearest Elrond,
You have never failed me.
Thank you for reading. This is something I wrote last year for a gift fic exchange, but never got around to polishing it and posting it publicly. By the time it was edited, it seemed unfitting to post it mid-summer. :) I hope you enjoyed it. Please take a minute and review? It is much appreciated!