A vignette that can be read as outtake from of my “Sons of Kings” fic, or as a stand alone story.
A Cup of Wine.
Thranduil reverently ran his hands over the ornate engravings that covered the ancient wooden trunk, and taking a deep breath to calm his aching heart he inserted the key into the lock. With an almost tender touch, he carefully lifted the lid, ignoring the slight creaking of hinges that were reluctant to open. One or two drops of oil would have been enough to allow the heavy lid to be lifted without either effort or sound, but that he did refused to do. As strange as it seemed, that simple, dull metallic grind triggered a memory he held dear to his heart. It was a memory of a happier time, admittedly amidst darker ones, that took away some of the grief he felt more keenly than ever on this day each year.
This was the same reason he kept his eyes closed to keep the contents he knew so well from view a little longer. Seeing them again filled him with bittersweet thoughts of one of his closest friends who died long ago but who he wished never to forget, despite the pain.
Once the lid was fully opened, he reached inside and only opened his eyes when he felt the cool glass of the wine bottle on his fingers. Taking it carefully from its cloth wrapping, he set the empty bottle on the tray he had borrowed from the kitchens then reached back into the musty smelling box for the two rough wooden cups that were ever to be the bottle’s companions.
Leaving the trunk open, he carried his treasure out onto the balcony and placed the tray on the small table, and as if he was expecting a guest, he filled the two cups with his coveted Dorwinion from the flask he had retrieved from his wine cabinet. Allowing a small smile to curve his lips, he leaned back in his chair and raised his cup to toast the vacant place opposite.
“We certainly found ourselves in trouble that night, did we not mellon nin?” he asked, speaking to no-one but the shadow of a cherished memory. He tilted his head and laughed as if he heard a response.
“Aye, nor do I know how you convinced me to take part in such foolishness, although at the time it seemed to be an excellent idea.” Another slight pause, another imagined reply.
“Well, of course I was more than pleased at a chance to taste a vintage that was neither sour nor little more than water. As you well knew our resources were limited in the Greenwood and what coin and goods we had were needed to trade for our meagre weapons, not a wine suited to the High King’s palate.” Thranduil stopped to take a sip of the Dorwinion, which he could now afford to stock in his cellars, and nodded thoughtfully.
“True, you would expect that an elf would be able to steal unheard into a tent and ‘borrow’ a bottle of wine, but what we both failed to consider at the time whose tent it was I was expected to raid. Gil-galad was also an elf and a seasoned warrior long before I was born. Fortunately I managed to take our prize but only because you were keeping the King and Elrond occupied.” Thranduil sighed and drained his cup, replacing it with the full one on the other side of the table.
“It was indeed an excellent vintage and a most suitable way to celebrate your birthday and we certainly enjoyed the whole bottle although as I recall we were rather merry afterwards. Perhaps that was a foolish time to try and replace that which we had taken with a bottle foiled with water and perhaps we would have remained undiscovered had not hinges on the storage trunk not developed a sudden need for oiling. It belonged to you. Surely you could have warned me? But nay, neither of us was thinking clearly then and I often think it was the Valar who were punishing us for being frivolous during a time of war.” Thranduil’s eyes lit with a smile as he recalled the aftermath of his little escapade. So much had been made of such a small and harmless incident.
“You were fortunate that you had to answer to no-one, although everyone nearby heard Elrond speak to you with more than a little vehemence on the matter. I suspect he was correct when he said that had you asked, Gil-galad would have given you the wine without question, although I doubt he expected you would wish to share it with me.” Thranduil said sadly.
“I do not believe I had ever seen Adar so angry or so hurt. Aside from the fact that we were defying him by continuing our friendship, he was absolutely livid that he was forced to agree with Gil-galad that my behaviour was totally unacceptable and I will never forgive myself for the anguish I caused him not long before he fell in battle.” Thranduil allowed his tears of grief to fall unashamedly until they were stayed by what felt like the fleeting and comforting touch of a friend’s hand resting on his shoulder. Reaching up to cover the echo from the past with his own hand, Thranduil imagined he was looking into the smiling grey eyes that often lit with a mischievous gleam.
“Aye, some good did come of our attempt to celebrate your birthday, mellon nin. Our tale was told with much amusement for many weeks after and with such embellishment that it brought faint smiles and occasional laughter to the remnants of the Greenwood army after that fateful day.”
Thranduil finished the wine and then took great care to properly clean the wooden mugs before returning them and the empty bottle to the trunk. He shuddered slightly as the hinges creaked loudly when he closed the lid, and as he turned the key in the lock, again reverently tracing the outline of the White Tree and the seven stars that adorned the chest. Speaking softly and in the manner of Men, he silently wished Elendil a happy birthday.