The Elves of the house had done an excellent job indeed. The Dining Hall looked more like a hall of Kings of old than that of a modest townhouse, its walls artfully decorated with garlands of grape and golden wreaths of ear. The long tables were groaning under the weight of this year’s rich harvest. All sorts of fruits and vegetables were offered in great amounts and variety, and there was also fresh bread and mellow cheese. Traditionally, only the freshly collected fruits of field, orchard and vineyard were eaten on the opening feast of Harvest Time, aside from the honeyed seed cakes that were a symbol of fertility themselves. The pale yellow new wine was generously poured from large jugs, made by the best potter of Edhellond.
The members of the Town Council – male and female Elves from all various clans and tribes that populated Gildor’s small realm – were seated around the main table, wearing their best robes, and even Andrahar, who had grown accustomed to Dol Amroth’s lush pomp where clothes were concerered, had to blink a few times, seeing the beauty put into such ordinary things as pieces of clothing. Yet the places of honour were on either side of the Master of the House were occupied by outsiders on this evening.
Enedrion escorted Imrahil to Gildor’s left (which had been the honorary place of family for Elves since the Elder Days), and Andrahar realized with awe that they actually let him sit next to Imrahil. On Gildor’s right – the place of greatest honour for guests – a young Elven couple sat, and right next to them… a Dwarf.
Of course, Andrahar recognized at once the Prince of Mirkwood, who was now the Lord of the Ithilien Elves – he had met him both in Minas Tirith and in Emyn Arnen, where Faramir’s new house was still being re-built. But the tall, elegant Elf, clad in moss green and silver, differed greatly from the fierce warrior he had seen before the Black Gate. This Legolas looked every bit the royal prince he was said to be.
He had the high cheekbones and finely-sculpted features only the nobles possessed even among Elves, with eyes of emerald green yet slightly slanted like those of the Silvan folk. Thin silver ribbons were woven into the delicate network of his auburn hair. It was artfully braided away from his ears and woven together in a tight ornamental braid atop the rest of his hair and lay shining upon his back, held together by a delicately-shaped silver ring that mimicked the form of leaves. Upon the index finger of his right hand he wore the simple golden ring of matrimony, but on the ring finger of his left he had the symbol of his power: a silver ring with a single green stone.
The Elven lady at his side was of exquisite beauty, too. Clad in silver and white, she had very long, shining hair, pale like the moonlight, and her large eyes were surprisingly dark and bright like a starlit night. Her smooth face was ageless as that of all Elves, yet Andrahar could not help but feel that she was actually rather young… for an Elf. Her golden ring was identical to that of Legolas’, and she wore no other jewellery at all, save a mithril girdle in the shape of interwoven leaves. Andrahar had never seen Legolas' wife before, as they had wedded in the Greenwood and only shortly returned to the South, but he knew at once that this lady could be no-one else.
He recognized the Dwarf with the fiery beard, of course. It was Gimli son of Glóin, one of the Companions of the Ring and now Lord of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. And though Elves and Dwarves usually did not get along too well, ‘twas said that Legolas and Gimli had become close friends during the Quest. Still, it seemed a little… odd, that Gildor, haughtiest of all haughty Elf-Lords, would allow a Dwarf not only to enter his town but also to sit at his table.
“Gildor had always rather good contacts to Dwarves,” murmured Imrahil, seeing his friend’s bewilderment. “Better ones than most other Elf-Lords, in fact.”
No matter how quietly he spoke, he could not fool the keen Elven ears, though. Gildor overheard the remark and gave him an unreadable little smile.
“I like to be unpredictable,” he said, and Imrahil rolled his eyes.
“That is what we mere mortals call an understatement.”
Gildor shrugged and remained standing behind his chair to catch the attention of everyone. Gradually, the gathering fell into expecting silence. Accepting a burning candle-wick from Enedrion, the Lord of Edhellond walked over to the great Harvest wreath, placed on a small table before one of the large windows. The wreath was made of freshly-cut wheat that still had the ears intact and was decorated with grapes and small apples. Two candles were upon it; a red one, facing South, was burning, while the black one, facing North, was unlit.
“Here, with the sun set in the west, we thank the powers of Yavanna that guide us for the summer's growth,” Gildor declared solemnly. “For those things we have tended, and those we have gathered in from the cold, we give thanks. For the coming of narbeleth and rhîv, that will lay the Earth to rest, we give thanks. In the cloak of the chill that will keep us in the house, we hope that we will grow in our own ways, and grow well(*). “
With that, he lit the black candle and blew out the red one. As if it had been some sort of signal, all Elves rose from their seat and raised their clear voices to a song that was sweet and wild and full of joy at the same time – a Harvest song, more fiery than Andrahar would ever have expected from such cold and aloof creatures.
After the song, Gildor returned to his place, and now a loaf of fresh bread was brought to him – so fresh indeed that it still damped a little. Without using a knife, Gildor broke the bread and, as if unaware of its hotness, he began handing small pieces of it to all present people: first to his guests, then to his household, starting with the youngest member (who happened to be little Nenmír) and finishing with Istimor, his seneschal. All ate their bread standing and only sat down when the first cup of wine was offered.
Having emptied that first cup, however, the solemn mood was broken. Elves, Men and even the Dwarf were eating and drinking and laughing and jesting, while the minstrels took shifts to entertain them with their music. They played drinking songs, which were caught up quickly, and the talking gave room for singing. At one point even Gimli could be persuaded to sing something in Khuzdul, but as usual, he refused to translate the words to them, saying that Dwarves do not teach their language other people, especially not Elves. Fortunately, everyone had already had too much wine to take any offence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once all had eaten their fill, the tables were pushed back against the wall and the minstrels changed their music to draw dancers to their feet. Which they followed all too readily. Meandering lines, led by Legolas and his lady, started slowly in an intricately intertwining motion that led back to itself and tangled the dancers into spirals and wheels. They moved gracefully in and out and around like slender flames, ducking under raised and lowered arms, as if they were dancing under tree-branches in a forest. Gradually, the dance sped up, until it became almost too fast even for Elves to keep the traditional steps and patterns. Men could not even hope to participate, but watching the graceful and lithe dancers swirl around, raising their slender arms and waving their delicate fingers was a delight in itself.
Legolas swept by in a swirl of steps, whisking his young wife around like a feather. The pale hair of the Lady Indreâbhan had become loose, flying behind her like a silken veil. They gazed at each other in a concentration that locked out everyone. They were drawn along in the dance, their feet following the quick and complex steps almost on their own. Gildor, too, joined the dance, swirling Mistress Vorondis around with him, all signs of sorrow vanished from his face.
The night crept by and the Elves finally began to wander away starting with the young couples who were holding hands, exchanging gentle smiles and singing softly with the music. A little later even the older members of the household asked for their Lord’s leave to retreat Gildor simply nodded, smiling and humming to himself as the Hall slowly became abandoned.Finally, even the minstrels left. Only young Enedrion remained with Gildor and his guests – that is, with Imrahil and Andrahar, as the others had left for a good night’s rest hours ago.
“My Lord,” Enedrion murmured, “’tis not right that you should spend your last festival alone. I would be glad to offer my… company again…”
Gildor sighed, and – lifting his young aide’s chin – kissed him on the mouth. ‘Twas a long, lingering kiss, but there was no true passion in it, even the two Men could feel it. ‘Twas a courtesy for the young Elf, naught else.
“Enedrion, we have spoken of this many times,” the Lord of Edhellond said. “We both know it would not work – and why.”
“And we both know that you would never touch me again once you are reunited with the one who has your heart in his keeping,” replied Enedrion bitterly. “This is my last chance to be with you – do not take it from me!”
Gildor shook his head in sorrow but at the end gave in. “Well then, come with me. I shall try to make your last Harvest time in Middle-earth a memorable one. Even though I still think this is a mistake. All you can earn yourself this way is more pain.”
“If this is a mistake,” replied Enedrion with a brittle smile, “’tis my mistake to make. And break as it might my heart, ‘tis still better than having naught to remember.”
He dutifully blew out the candles, and the two Elves left the Hall hand in hand, wishing the two Men a peaceful night. Andrahar looked after them with mild disapproval.
“I thought if I accompanied you here, it would make me understand your precious Elves better,” he said. “Yet after all that I have seen and heard here, the only thing I have become certain is that I shall never truly understand them.”
“No mortal Man could ever hope for that,” nodded Imrahil in melancholic agreement. “One thing is sure, though: Middle-earth will be a much less enjoyable place once they all have left. I am grateful that I shall not live to see those times.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(*) Gildor’s speech was Inspired by an outline to a Mabon ritual, found on Juniper’s website, called “Sacred Place in the Wood Between the Worlds”. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have been updated for quite some time.