Author’s Note: The Yule speech and customs are courtesy of Altariel, who described them in her story “A Pale Light Lingering”. She was kind enough to let me borrow them.
The great hall was all in darkness, the candles extinguished, the great hearth fires allowed to die down to glowing embers. We sat in silence, intent upon the one pinpoint of light in Elphir’s hands, listening to the traditional words.
"This was the day which was shortest, and this is the night which is longest. But the stars shine upon us, and the year turns now. The darkness passes, and the light shall return.” He touched his lighted taper to mine, where I sat upon his right hand in the place of honor, and I in turn lit Prince Erchirion’s. He in his turn lit the candle of the lady next to him, and the light began to slowly travel around the hall.
In the end, I had returned to the feast after all, having been set upon by the Princess Mariel on my way back to my rooms, drawn into her chambers, combed, stitched and brushed back into a semblance of respectability, and told that I must attend. I had also received the royal thanks, and a tearful hug. Since I could not disobey a royal command, I had complied, and returning to the hall found that the damage I’d done to the high table had been repaired, and that I’d been moved to the seat beside the high seat in recognition of my deeds. This time, when the herald had cried my name, the crowd had cheered, which had embarrassed me enormously. It wasn’t until the second course that I began to recover myself.
The food had done wonders for my disposition, not to mention the prospect of a whole week’s vacation, and it was with a light and festive heart that I found myself actually looking forward to the dancing that would take place when the lights had been completely lit. The three Princes of Dol Amroth had agreed to be my partners in my fulfillment of Lady Tirathiel’s command, and things were looking up all around. As the light passed from hand to hand, and table tapers were lit, the hall began to glow once more. I looked up-and gasped in surprise.
He must have come in under the cover of darkness, his keen eyes enabling him to navigate the hall without difficulty. Unannounced by any herald, quiet on soft-booted feet, his mind veiled to facilitate surprise, he had reached the center of the hall, then simply stood and waited to be revealed by the growing light. Mine was not the only gasp of surprise or admiration. In this court that prized and affected elven airs and graces, he was a wonder to behold.
A silver coronet of leaves crowned his sable head, his silk-floss hair stirring even in the close air of the hall. A fantastic black and silver robe a swirl in leaf designs swathed his slender form, the sleeves so long they almost dragged the ground, their edges cut into leaf shapes that would flutter if he moved. It was girded with a matching belt of silver leaves, and a silky black under tunic, black leggings and boots completed the picture of Elven elegance. His silver-grey eyes seemed to glow with their own inner light as he regarded his admirers with a distant and superior air. Then he turned his attention to the high table, smiled and moved forward. I felt the touch of his mind upon mine at last, warmly pleased to see me again, as he greeted Prince Elphir and his wife.
Standing before them, he bowed, and presented them with a letter.
“A merry Yule to you, my lady, my lord,” he declared. “I bring to you a letter from your father.” Prince Elphir broke the seal, read the letter quickly, then smiled.
“I think this might be arranged-I will speak to the appropriate people. Have you been made comfortable, my lord Elrohir?” Elrohir inclined his head regally, and I had to suppress a laugh. I noticed that Elphir’s eyes were twinkling too, and remembered that he’d been at the Black Gate, and at the very least had met Elrohir before.
“Your castellan,” Elrohir informed him, “is a very efficient gentleman. When I arrived earlier this evening, he lost no time in settling me into a very nice room, providing me with a hot bath, and some food, for you were already at meat, and I did not wish to disturb the seating arrangements. Please commend him for me.”
“Consider him commended,” the Prince responded. “And please, enjoy the remainder of the evening with us.” Elrohir bowed once more, then turned in my direction, and bowed to me as well.
“Forgive me, fair one,” he pleaded in the best romantic fashion. “I had thought you would come to Minas Tirith with the Prince, and when you did not, my heart was chilled by a cold far worse than the winter weather, and I set forth in haste to see you here. Please say that I am excused my tardiness.” A lady further down the table sighed in wistful appreciation.
I blinked a couple of times, and took a moment to collect my thoughts. Finally, I replied in kind, “Of course you are, my lord prince. ‘T’was not your fault you knew not where I was bestowed. Glad I am that you have arrived safely here this night.” Will you stop this-you’re making me look ridiculous! I added through the link. He looked at me as he straightened, and though onlookers would have seen nothing but an adoring expression, I could see that devilish glint in his eye.
I am not making you look ridiculous-I am making you look desired. The most desired woman in this room. Aloud, he asked, “Might I come into your presence, my gracious lady?”
Not for the first time, I contemplated throttling him, but decided it was probably better to play along for now. The courtiers certainly seemed to be enjoying Elrohir’s antics, and it wouldn’t hurt to let them see that I could be polite and courtly as well as disruptive and destructive. Lady Tirathiel, had she been there instead of in Minas Tirith with the Prince and Lothiriel, would undoubtedly have approved.
“Of course, my lord Prince. You are always welcome in my presence.” Elrohir moved gracefully down the high table, and through the gap at the end between it and the side table, then back up to stand behind me. Several ladies openly gaped as he passed, and he gave them his most charming smile. As I had thought, his sleeves did make a dancing, fluttering motion as he moved, and he was quite the picture of exquisite, masculine Elven beauty. Despite my irritation at the airs he was putting on, I could not entirely repress a certain smugness at the knowledge that he was mine.
“I have brought you a small gift, a mere token for Yule,” he intoned solemnly, as I turned my head to look up at him. “Hopefully, it will express the purity of my intentions, even if my execution was less than perfect.” He made a peculiar flick of his wrist, not unlike what Veleda had done, and something slid out of the sleeve of his undertunic. He held it up between his two hands, and I beheld a necklace, crafted of silver, set with pale, oval gems linked together and smaller, matching pale gems depending from them. The gems were interspersed with small crystals which caught the light and sparkled, while they themselves glowed more softly with flickers of red, green and blue fire. Fascinated, my eyes were drawn by the strange stones, and I reached up and touched one hesitantly.
“What manner of stone is this? I’ve never seen anything like them.” He smiled, kindly for once.
“They are opals, beloved of the Elves for the changeable light they hold in their depths. The softest of stones, and care must be used in their crafting, but beautiful, do you not think?”
“Oh, yes,” I breathed, feeling a bit peculiar. Never before had I received so costly a gift-unless you counted Fortune. But somehow, that didn’t seem quite the same... Elrohir stepped behind me, lifted the hair from my neck, and set the necklace about it, his fingers deftly fastening the catch. They paused for a moment to caress the back of my neck, and I all at once felt very warm. It seemed an eternity since I had felt his hands upon me, and I suddenly realized how much I had missed them.
“Such a sweet throat should not go bare,” he declared aloud, for the benefit of those standing nearby. Blushing furiously, I cast a quick glance about and noticed that the looks I was getting were not the usual contemptuous or scornful ones, but openly envious. I had, it seemed, just been transformed from my usual roll as the strange, mannish wallflower to the belle of the ball. Elrohir then looked over at Elphir, who was quite openly grinning, and lifted his chin imperiously.
“Is this Dol Amroth, or is it not? Where are the minstrels? The music? The dancing?”
Elphir laughed, and rose, taking his lady’s arm. “Where, indeed! Come, good folk, lords and ladies all! The light has returned, and it is time to celebrate!” From a position at the side of the hall, minstrels struck up a merry measure, a hum of happy chatter arose and the Prince and Princess moved onto the floor. The rest of their courtiers followed suit, as did Elrohir and myself.
There is another sort of dancing I would like to do later, but this will suffice for now, he sent to me with a wicked grin as we took our places, and I shivered in anticipation and smiled at him.
We indulged in the regular sort of dancing for a long time that evening, more than surpassing Tirathiel’s dictate. Prince Elphir and Prince Erchirion danced with me as well, though Prince Amrothos begged off, saying that with Elrohir’s arrival, there was no longer any valid reason to imperil my feet in such a way. I discovered to my pleased surprise that Elrohir and I were a couple very well suited for that sort of thing-much of a height, and both of us quick-footed, though of course I could not match the gliding grace of an Elf-lord. But making my movements languid and sweeping as Lady Tirathiel had despaired of ever accomplishing, was suddenly much easier when being held by a lord I knew desired me. Certainly, Elrohir seemed pleased, and judging from the surprised looks I received as the two of us swept past, I was exceeding the expectations of the most critical audience in Gondor as well.
“You have been busy learning, it would seem, “ Elrohir remarked to me as the hour grew late, “and here I thought you were merely enjoying a stay by the sea.” I snorted.
“Hardly enjoying. I’m not really doing all that well at this. Not the swordplay, or the lance work, or anything. Well, maybe the horsemanship. And I’ve had no time to practice my bow at all. As for the rest of it-half the time, I trip over my skirts, or use the wrong spoon, or insult someone in their native tongue without meaning to. And I do not even want to discuss how long it took me to learn the math behind aiming a catapult!” He laughed, then sobered a little, and touched my bruised face gently.
“So-did someone aim a catapult at you?”
“Nay. We rode out after pirates yestereve. I got this then.” He raised an eyebrow, but merely nodded and did not question me further, for which I was grateful. I stifled a yawn, and leaned against him. He gave me a concerned look.
“Are you well?” I nodded.
“Just tired all of a sudden. I rode all night, and got very little sleep today. Could we go some place a little more quiet, please?”
“Of course.” With no further ado, we slipped away from the party. He paused in the hall outside. “My room is not far from the Prince’s suite. Can you help me find it?”
“If I am going to spend the night in your room, provided that is what you were asking,” I told him with a grin, “I would like to stop at mine first and get some clothes for tomorrow-it’s not too far out of the way.” He agreed to this, and I led him swiftly to my quarters. He frowned as he looked around at the spartan simplicity.
“I go away for a few months and they send you from one fetid hole to another.” I laughed, I couldn’t help it, he looked so funny in all his elven finery, standing in the middle of my humble room with his lip curled up like he was smelling something he wasn’t sure he liked.
“Don’t start on that again, Elrohir, my room is exactly like all the other esquires’-no better, no worse. Actually, it may be slightly better-I think it’s a little larger.” He seemed unconvinced, and I decided that it would be best to collect my things swiftly, and proceed to his chambers. We did so, my cloak thrown over the other clothes upon my arm, but we did encounter the odd person or two along the way, and I knew that before morning, it would be all over Dol Amroth that I was Elrohir’s lover. I didn’t particularly mind that, but I was not looking forward to overhearing all the conversations that were bound to follow, speculating about exactly what he saw in me.
His room, or suite of rooms, was indeed very close to the Prince’s quarters, and most magnificently furnished with bed hangings and curtains of burgundy brocade, and beautiful, knotted rugs from Harad. He had a sitting room, and a bathing room, and a bed room, all equally opulent. We wasted no time in the sitting room, but proceeded directly to the bedroom. Lamps burned warmly on the bedside tables, and I could see the outline of warm, wrapped bricks under the covers near the foot. Elrohir was already removing his coronet and belt. I laid my clothes for the next day upon the back of a convenient chair, then sat down carefully, and pulled my boots off.
“I like the dress,” Elrohir commented, as I stood and began to unlace it, “though I never thought to see you in one. It is very becoming.” He moved over, removed my hands from the laces and began undoing them himself. “Did you pick it out yourself?” I stroked his shoulders under the soft brocade, then began undoing the little, hidden hooks that fastened his tunic down the front.
“No, Lady Tirathiel had it made up. She said I had to wear it, and dance three dances and that she would have the Prince and Princess tell her how I did.” Elrohir’s clever fingers had amazingly almost completely unlaced the gown before I’d half undone his tunic, and he began to slide it gently off my shoulders. I shivered as the cool air touched my skin. “Of course, I managed to burn a hole in it, and nearly rip the sleeve out tonight.”
“It looks as if it has been mended well enough.”
“Aye, the Princess Mariel and her ladies patched it for me. She says she will have someone embroider the hem, and hide the damage that way. I thought of your sister when she said that.”
Elrohir smiled. “I did hear something about you taking up your bodyguard duties ahead of time,” he said. “I must remember to teach you the Elven trick of saving the day without getting a hair out of place.” He deftly untied the ribbon of my shift, and slipped it off my shoulders as well. His tunic fell to the floor, and I began on the undertunic.
“Aha! So there is a trick then! I always thought as much.”
“Of course. Though we are not permitted to impart it to mortals. See how you have corrupted me?”
“I've corrupted you?” My underdrawers and his undertunic fell away simultaneously, but he stepped away before I could take hold of his leggings, and walked around me once, slowly, looking me over.
“You’ve lost weight-you’re almost as lithe as one of our women,” came the bemused comment. “And you have done that growing that I said you would.” I nodded, and tried to snag the waistband of his leggings, but he laughed and dodged away.
“Aye, they had just finished getting me boots and uniforms made when they had to do it all over again because I’d had this growth spurt. They were none too pleased.”
“Given that the Prince trains young men, Snowsteel, I am sure that it has happened before.” His hand shot out and drifted down my arm. I shivered. “You have laid on muscle as well. I can see I shall have to mind my manners around you. Though you have a few more training bruises than is seemly. Is all well with you here?”
“As well as it can be,” I replied, my hand shooting out and clasping him around the waist at last. He laughed again, and let me draw him close, pressing his forehead against mine and wrapping his arms around me. “The other esquires are not well pleased at my presence here. They play tricks from time to time-small, petty things for the most part. I live with it. They will become accustomed to me in time, I hope.”
“I would hope that they would come to appreciate you, not merely become accustomed,” he said.
“I will settle for accustomed,” I said, and pressed my lips to his. The kiss deepened and lasted for a long, sweet moment; then Elrohir broke off, and moved to the bed, holding the coverlet back for me.
“Slide in Snowsteel, I do not want you to get cold.” I started to do so, then realized I was still wearing the necklace. I started to take it off, but he forestalled me with an upraised hand and a wicked grin. “Leave it on-I like you like that.”
Grinning myself, I did as he bade me and left it alone, then climbed into the bed, sliding my feet gratefully down to the warmth of the bricks at the foot. Frowning in disappointment, I watched as he undid his leggings, dropped them to the floor, and followed after me.
“I wanted to do that,” I complained. He smiled rakishly.
“You will get your hands upon me soon enough, importunate girl,” he replied, and settling back upon the pillows, took me into his arms.
We lay there silently for a little while face to face, while hands drifted softly and the fire on the hearth crackled. Much as I had craved his touch earlier, now that he was within my grasp, I was content for a time just to stroke and study him. Catching his hand in mine, I turned it this way and that, examining it as he rained soft kisses on my face and neck, and was struck by a sudden thought.
His pale fingers twined in my darker ones had the poreless, almost pearlescent quality common to elven skin. Only the youngest children of Men possessed skin of that silken smoothness. Mine were much coarser in texture, the nails chipped, the skin a little chapped and dry from much hard work with weapons in winter weather. Other than the bow and sword calluses I could feel upon them, his fingers, like the rest of him, were unmarked by time or clime. I marked the creases and lines upon mine and could already look into the future and see how they would deepen and change, and not for the better, as would the rest of me.
It did not take the foresight of my people to know that there would come a day when such congress between the two of us would cease, for whether the differences between us bothered him or not, in time I would not be able to support them. And I was both saddened at the inevitability of our parting and glad that I had not allowed him to bind himself to me more than he had, for I could not bear to see such beauty wither and die. How Aragorn lived with the knowledge of what his love would do to Arwen I did not know, nor would I ever ask. But I knew that I was either less selfish or less courageous than he was.
Catching the mournful tenor of my thoughts through the link, Elrohir touched my mind more directly, and as he read them, his silver eyes darkened.
“Can you not simply be glad that I am here after long absence, Snowsteel?” he asked aloud softly and sadly. “What good does it do to dread such a day? It may never come-we neither of us are in a safe line of work! Before we ever reach the time of this parting you fear, you could be dead in battle or I in Mandos’ halls, slain by a lucky orc.”
Remorseful, I kissed him once more, on forehead, nose and finally lips, and stroked his hair gently in that way he liked so well. Sighing, he kissed my temple and tightened his arms around me suddenly. “’Tis Yule, Snowsteel, the season of hope even for my people. The promise that no matter how dark or cold it becomes, the light will always return. You asked me once in Lorien to drive the death out of your head. I had a method then which worked tolerably well, I think. Would you like me to employ it again?”
“I wish you would,” I answered, pressing close to him. And as the winter wind whistled past our window, and in the glow of fire and lamplight, he proceeded to do just that.
The next morning, I awoke, and for the first time in a long time, actually felt rested. The feather bed was deep and soft, the blankets piled high and warmly, the sky outside the window drear and grey, and I was very disinclined to move. Then I remembered gleefully that for the next week, I had the luxury of rolling over and going back to sleep, and even though I’d really had enough sleep already, it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.
After a moment, I became aware of noises emanating from the bed beside me. The last time I’d heard noises like that from Elrohir had been the night before. This time, I was reasonably sure I wasn’t involved. He couldn’t possibly have another girl in bed with him while I slept, I thought, and rolled over. He was alone, sitting propped up against the pillows, black hair tumbling over naked shoulders, a large tray of breakfast in his lap. A small pottery jar was in one hand, a silver spoon in the other, and he was spooning the contents of the jar into his mouth while making the pleasured noises, his eyes half shut.
“You’re supposed to put that on the toast, you know,” I told him, grinning when I realized what was going on. “I know you have jam in Lorien-I had some for breakfast when I was there.” The spoon slid slowly out of his mouth, and he licked his lips.
“Indeed we do, Snowsteel, but it is not made of oranges. This is special, and it is not jam, there is another word for it...”
“Exactly. What a wonderful word. What a wonderful food. I cannot get enough of it.” Pushing myself up on an elbow, I reached out suddenly, and snatched the little pot from him. Looking inside, I could plainly see the bottom-he must have been scraping the remnants from the sides.
“You’ve eaten this whole jar! You certainly don’t need any more of this-you’ll make yourself sick!”
“Elves do not get sick from a surfeit of marmalade, Snowsteel. I am not sure I could eat enough marmalade to be surfeited. I assure you, I ate a jar this size or larger every day I was in Minas Tirith, and no harm befell me.”
I blinked in amazement. “A jar every day...Elrohir, this stuff is expensive! They have to import the oranges from Harad, and make it up specially!” Elrohir smirked.
“It is just as well that my foster brother is a king then, is it not? Consider it payback for the years of lessons in arms and horsemanship, in archery and hunting, in woodcraft and lovecraft...” He trailed off under my indignant glare.
“You are as addicted to oranges as Aragorn is to pipe weed! What are you going to do when you have to return north?” Elrohir smiled, and reaching a finger into the pot, drew it out covered with marmalade, which he regarded with profound approval.
“I had often wondered that myself, till I made this fortuitous discovery. The fruit itself would not survive the journey to Imladris unspoiled. But in this form, it is preserved and portable. I hope you do not mind if, while I am here, I spend some time acquiring some marmalade. And some packhorses. Mortal horses will slow me down, but it is unavoidable-unless you’d like to pass the word along to your Eagle friends that I need some help with some freight.” I just shook my head.
“I cannot contact them from here, and even if I could, you know that Gwaenaur says they are not beasts of burden. Are you seriously considering carrying that much marmalade back to Imladris?” There was a moment’s pause as he licked the marmalade off of his finger.
“Yes.” The finger went back into the pot, then came out, and grinning that roguish grin of his, he smeared it on my lips. I raised an eyebrow.
The marmalade removal process took a while, was very pleasurable, and nearly resulted in the upset of his breakfast tray. Eventually, he set it aside, and lay back under the covers with me in his arms. I stared up at the canopy and sighed happily. I had a week in which to loaf, work on breaking Mischief, practice my archery or do anything else I wanted to do-and I had Elrohir to do it with. I had saved the Prince’s sons’ lives, and made Master Andrahar eat his words. I was finally going to join my fellow esquires as an equal-and perhaps that would help them reconcile themselves to my presence. The sun had indeed returned, and things were looking up.
Soft elven lips brushed my cheek for a moment, and strong elven arms clasped me close.
“Happy Yule, Snowsteel.”
“Happy Yule, Elrohir.”