As lovely as the warm, sunny day had been, there was no denying that the evening was indeed far more beautiful. Ithil shone full and bright in the black night sky, lighting the path to the glade with a soft glow and casting ghostly shadows in the dark places between the trees. Not wishing to disturb the tranquillity that had descended with the fading of the day, the three elder Eves made their way silently through the woods savouring the cool sweetness of the fresh air exhaled by the trees.
“On nights such as this I can understand why you and Thranduil wish to remain in your forests rather than sail West with us,” commented Erestor, exchanging a private smile with Glorfindel as they noted the rapture on Celeborn’s face as he communed wordlessly with the living forces that came alive at night.
“Ai, but until you have seen the stars glittering above the shores of the Blessed Realm, you have not seen true beauty,” Glorfindel said wistfully as he recalled the sight he had seen so often so many centuries ago.
“That may be so, but as Legolas so wisely pointed out to me earlier when he informed me he was not ready to leave Middle-earth just yet, Valinor will still be there when he finally sails,” Celeborn replied, also sounding somewhat melancholy.
After they had collected sufficient wild strawberries for all to enjoy, he and his young kinsman had wandered among the tress, speaking of many things, but mostly the fading of the Elves. Legolas knew that Thranduil had no desire to leave his woodland realm as yet, but was a little surprised to learn that Celeborn felt the same desire to remain. However, his understood more clearly after their discussion had turned to his plans to set up a colony in Ithilien. Celeborn had spoken with as much enthusiasm for the venture as Legolas felt, offering the younger Wood Elf advice or any other assistance that might be required. Both Elves had been quite taken aback when they sensed the delight of the ancient trees, and the songs of joy of the softly rustling leaves sang on hearing that the light of the Firstborn would soon be gracing the forests of Ithilien once more.
“Does he not hear the call of the sea, does he not yearn to sail?” Glorfindel asked, fully aware of the younger Elf’s plight. Over the years he had seen many kindred who were unable to resist the siren song depart for the Havens.
“Aye, the Blessed Realm calls to him, yet some ties are not so easily broken and his heart speaks with a stronger voice. For the love of his mortal friend he will remain until the day Aragorn draws his last breath,” the elf lord said with immense sadness at the thought of what the future held in store for Aragorn and Arwen as well as the grief that awaited Legolas.
“Much sorrow lies ahead for us all,” commented Erestor as he recalled his own feelings of despair that had all but disappeared as the day progressed. Aware of the advisor’s distress, Glorfindel placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder and was rewarded with an appreciative smile.
“I assume Glorfindel will return to Valinor when Elrond sails?” Enquired Celeborn. The Balrog slayer nodded his affirmation. “Will you also go with them, Erestor?”
“Of course, as difficult as the task is, someone must see that Glorfindel’s mischievous ways do not land him in trouble, especially with the Valar,” declared the advisor with an exaggerated sigh of resignation at the burden he was required to bear as the seneschal’s friend.
“Me? In trouble? I hardly think so, my dear Erestor,” replied Glorfindel, feigning insult even as his eyes sparkled with affection.
“I fear you have already failed in your charge, Erestor,” commented Celeborn as he took one of Glorfindel’s hands and held it palm upward in the moonlight so that the dark stains were clearly visible. “It seems you did not manage to keep him away from the mischief made by my grandsons.”
“Nay he did not, nor was he immune to their little prank,” Glorfindel told Celeborn who shook his head with mock disappointment when he saw similar discolouration on the advisor’s hands.
“Speaking of impudent young Elves, I suggest we collect the remainder of the food and wine and return to the others before they decide to enjoy our share of the evening meal,” suggested Erestor, deftly changing the slightly embarrassing subject. Although he teased Glorfindel in regard to his vanity, the Noldo was of a similar disposition as the seneschal when it came to his own appearance and could hardly wait to make use of special powder he had invented to remove ink stains, certain it would do as well on blackberry juice.
“A very wise suggestion,” agreed Celeborn as he walked over to where the packs containing the cheese and rolls were to be found, continuing his inquisition as he shook the grass from the makeshift chess board and wrapped the cheese in it. “Tell me, how did they manage to achieve their success?”
Erestor watched in alarm as the Lord of Lothlorien reached to pick up one of the black chess pieces. Although the juice had dried somewhat, the wood was still damp and he was about to call out and warn Celeborn not to handle it when he felt a warm hand cover his mouth, muffling his words. Unable to free his moth from the determined grip, he turned his head far enough to glare angrily at Glorfindel, who wore cheeky grin and a wicked gleam in his eyes.
“Hush Erestor, this is likely to be most amusing, do you not agree?” he whispered into the advisor’s ear. The seneschal obviously intended for their companion to share their fate, and after a brief moment of indecision, Erestor recalled that he enjoyed being just a tiny bit wicked. He nodded his agreement and felt the hand fall away from his mouth.
“Who made these?” enquired Celeborn as he turned the rudimentary king around in his hand before picking up the black queen. “Never mind, I can guess. Elladan and Elrohir,” he said with more than a little sarcasm as he studied his slightly stained fingers. He glared accusingly at his companions who were both trying to look innocent whilst containing their mirth.
“Celeborn, beware of the chess pieces, they are rather wet,” Erestor managed to say before bursting into laughter.
“I do apologise, Celeborn. It seems my friend’s warning came too late,” Glorfindel chuckled as he walked over to the irate elf lord and vainly attempted to wipe the dark patches from his fingers with a small cloth.
“You two are even worse than my grandsons! There is no excuse for such childish behaviour from Elves of your apparently questionable wisdom and maturity,” he declared. Although there was genuine ire in his voice, his eyes glittered with amusement.
“Fear not, Erestor assures me he can remove the stains, once we return to Minas Tirith, that is,” said Glorfindel with the utmost confidence in Erestor’s word. Celeborn definitely looked relieved to hear that information, but was obviously unwilling to risk any further damage and carefully wrapped the other pieces in the cloth.
“But we have not informed Elladan and Elrohir of that fact, nor do we wish to for the moment, if you understand my meaning,” Erestor informed Celeborn with an almost evil smirk that the Lord of Lothlorien imitated in reply.
“I see. Then they will not hear such from me,” he said with a nod of agreement, willing to participate in some harmless teasing of his grandsons.
Carrying a pack each, the three elder elves were about to leave the glade when an eerie silence befell the surrounding forest, and their keen senses alerted them to someone approaching. Glorfindel and Erestor drew their weapons and took a protective stance on either side of an unarmed Celeborn who had left his sword back at the swimming hole not expecting to encounter any danger in the short while they had planned to be away from the others.
“Put away your weapons. Surely there is no need to fear an old man?” The warriors relaxed at the sound of the well known voice, and smiled warmly at Mithrandir as he entered the glade.
“Well met, Mithrandir,” said Celeborn as he moved forward to clasp the Istar’s hand in greeting. “What brings you so far from the city in the darkness of night?”
“A little bird told me of the return of Elves to the forest and expecting nothing less than an evening of merrymaking, I sought to join my friends,” he replied.
“The little bird’s name did not happen to be Galadriel, by any chance?” queried Celeborn, eliciting a chuckle of mirth from the wizard.
“Nay, although she did ask me to remind all three of you that you are expected at a private midday meal with the King tomorrow,” he said.
“I had not forgotten, and we fully intended to return on the morrow,” Erestor said.
“Not before you apply some of this to your unbecomingly coloured hands.” Mithrandir produced a small pouch that Erestor immediately recognised as the one containing his ink removing powder. Had anyone other than the Istar brought the much needed remedy, the three Elves would have been astonished by his action, but they were well accustomed to Mithrandir and his unfathomable ways, and simply accepted his foresight.
“Come, shall we join the young ones? I am quite hungry and I would dearly love to quench my thirst with a drop of that excellent wine you have with you, Celeborn.” Mithrandir said, unerringly leading the three bemused Elves to the swimming hole.