MidSummer

Aug. 22nd, 2008 02:49 pm
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[personal profile] aearwen
Once more, the intrepid - and insistent - team of Thranduil and Elara have insisted on having more of their story told. Enjoy.



“But… I’m not an Elf!” Elara complained as Míriel gently but firmly pushed her down onto the edge of her bed and began running a comb through her hair.

“It matters not. This is MidSummer – everyone will be outside. For this one day, we all go outside the hall, to remember what it means to be a part of Arda itself. There will be music, dancing, food – oh, Elara! Just wait until you taste some of the food we make at this time of year!” Míriel chattered on as she braided Elara’s hair into a crown. “Now, wait a moment while I bring some flowers…”

“But I can’t participate,” Elara shook her head and spoke just a little louder, knowing that Míriel had stepped out into her little garden. “I’ll only get in the way.”

“No, you won’t,” the elleth replied, returning to tuck things into the tight braids that felt like small twigs. “Aran Thranduil has asked that you be brought to him when you’re ready – and he told me he intended to be your escort for the day!”

Elara felt some of the excitement that her friend’s chatter had stirred within her dampen. “Surely he has others whom he needs to be more attentive with than a blind mortal! This has to be an important enough occasion that he needs to be with his own…”

A light rap sounded on the apartment door, and then Elara heard the sound of the hinges moving to let someone in before she could even call out a welcome. “Míriel? Are you just about ready? We begin the procession shortly – and Randirion won’t wait for you forever…” a deep voice announced in a joyous tone.

“He can cool his heels, Sire – I won’t be that much longer,” Míriel giggled, making Elara chuckle as well. Míriel’s husband was a rather jolly Elf with an easy manner, an infectious laugh and a deep love for his wife; and Elara had spent several very enjoyable evenings with them over the past few months. Randirion had, of necessity, long since reconciled himself with the fact that his healer-wife often arrived at things a little late. Thranduil must be in a very good mood, Elara decided, to be teasing her so blatantly in front of others.

“There. What do you think, Sire?” She pulled Elara to her feet by both hands. “Will this do?”

Elara felt the huge hand of the Elvenking claim hers from Míriel. “Very nice, Míriel. The rosebuds were a good choice.” He leaned down into Elara’s ear. “She has you looking very pretty today, Lady – very much in the spirit of the holiday.” He straightened again. “Run along, my dear – when last I saw him, your husband looked ready to begin the dance by himself.” Míriel’s diminishing giggle told her that the healer had followed his suggestion.

“I’m not even certain I understand the celebration, Sire, to know what kind of ‘spirit’ I should be in,” Elara shook her head as her hand was guided to its familiar spot on a high arm. “And I’m quite convinced that you should have others to occupy your attention on what is evidently an important event, and not me.”

“Nonsense.” Thranduil covered her fingers resting on his arm with his other hand to gently yet firmly pin them in place. “Last year, at this time, you were still fighting for your life. This year, you are fully healed and beginning to bloom again. Let that thought guide your spirit. And as for the best use of my time, I can think of nothing I’d rather be doing than showing a good friend the way we celebrate MidSummer.” Again she felt him bend to her a bit even as he began to lead her onward. “I even think today that I could convince you to dance.”

“Me?” Elara laughed aloud at the very idea. “I’d trip all over my own feet – not to mention trip you!”

Thranduil’s full laugh was one that never failed to raise Elara’s spirits. “You might be surprised,” was all he would say before Elara knew that she’d entered the Great Hall. The sounds of many collected Elves speaking softly all around her and then hushing as she moved through them on the arm of the King sobered her immediately, making her far more self-conscious than she’d ever been. It was one thing to be the invited guest of the King, sharing his table during a meal or keeping him company during an evening’s entertainment. It was quite another to be at his side as he officiated over an Age-old celebration.

“Let the horns sound!” Thranduil called out in a loud voice, obviously reciting ritual words. “We go to take our proper place in the forest!”

The hair on the back of Elara’s neck rose at the sound of horns sounding beyond the Great Hall, and then Thranduil had her moving once more. This time, however, she felt sure that the King led his people forward as well as leading her. She was standing in the place of an elven queen, not a wood-gatherer’s daughter. “Sire!”

“Lady?” His voice sounded soft and almost carefree.

“I really don’t belong here,” she whispered at him urgently. “Perhaps I could ask Tarion for his other arm so that you…”

“I’m not turning you over to my seneschal,” the deep voice was bent once more into her ear. “Our tradition is that we each choose someone with whom to share our MidSummer celebration. If one is married, one naturally shares it with their spouse and any children. If not, then one chooses a friend. It is a question of simple companionship on a day meant to be enjoyed with others – nothing more and nothing less.”

“But you are the King…” Elara began.

“So I’ve been told by some…” Thranduil chuckled back at her.

“Be serious!”

“Absolutely not!” he exclaimed. “Today, all matters of state are set aside – all worries left behind in the Great Hall. Today is a day to enjoy in the blessings the One has given us, and to do so in the company of those in whom we find friendship or the bonds of love and family. Today, while I may wear the crown of the King, I become just another wood-elf in the forest of my people. And today, I celebrate MidSummer with a good friend. Relax and enjoy the day, Elara.”

“I’m no Elf,” she reminded him primly.

“No, perhaps not…” he drawled, “but you can be taught to be a part of us nevertheless – and this celebration will go a long way toward that goal.”

Elara could feel the warmth of the sun on her face as she was led from the shelter of the Elvenking’s hall, and hear the sound of running water not far away. The grass was even beneath her slipper-clad feet, and each step sank into its rich softness. Behind her somewhere in the line of Elves, someone began a paean to Arda itself – one that Elara hadn’t heard before – and even Thranduil took up the melody in a rich bass as they walked. She’d never heard the Elvenking sing before, and she felt utterly entranced and delighted. The words he sang she couldn’t understand, but she quickly found her mind walking through sun-dappled forests filled with birds and deer that gazed at her unafraid.

“We’re here,” the deep voice announced into her ear as she felt him stop and then turn slightly to those behind them. “The trees welcome us, and the bounty of Arda beckons us! Let us feast and make merry – and give thanks for the blessings we have received!” Thranduil loosed Elara’s hand but didn’t move from her side, and she felt the arm she had been clinging to suddenly raise high above her head. “Bring forth the fruit of the vine and the tree and the bush and the land!”

“Here,” he whispered to her as her hand was guided to take hold of a tiny goblet of delicate glass. “A toast, Lady, to warm days and good friends.”

“True blessings in this life,” Elara agreed and then felt another goblet gently touch her own. The wine within was like nothing she’d ever had before – it burst on her tongue like another facet of the summer sun. “What is this?” she asked after a second, equally impressive sip.

“An apple and apricot wine from my own orchards to the south,” Thranduil told her. His large hand took hold of her elbow and led her off from the larger group of Elves which, from the sounds of the many conversations going on around her, was breaking off into smaller parties. “Here is a seat for you.” He retrieved her goblet and guided her to where a large stump made for a comfortable bench, whereupon he returned her drink to her and parked himself on the other side of the stump. “The wine is made especially for this celebration and served at no other time.”

Elara took another sip and then put her head up and smelled the air. The scent of newly-baked bread with an enticing herbal overtone made her mouth water. “Míriel said that the food would be good – and the smells tell me she was right,” she commented, then turning her head to sniff in another direction. “Please tell me where we are – what does it look like here?”

“We are in a meadow in the middle of a circle of trees,” came the reply. “The sky above us is a deep blue. Anor has already traveled far past overhead and begins to close on the western treetops.”

“What is everyone else doing?”

Thranduil chuckled. “They are doing pretty much what you and I are doing now. Some have brought blankets and are sitting in the sunshine. Musicians are setting up their instruments near the center of the meadow – and we will have dancing after our meal and once the stars have come out. Others have wandered off into the trees to enjoy a more private – even intimate – exchange with their chosen companions.” His voice lowered and shimmered with repressed laughter. “Did I ever tell you that in Ages past, many Elflings were born on MidSummer – making this, for many, an even more important occasion? It could be we may return to that custom next year…”

“Really!” Elara blushed, remembering Míriel telling her about how Elflings were generally born a year to the day after they were conceived and realizing what Thranduil alluded to in his dry way. She blushed even deeper as she heard him chuckle again at the reaction he’d received. Determined to change the subject, she turned her head and located the sun from the warmth on her cheek. “You say we are in a circle of trees. What kind of trees?”

“Oak,” the King replied, serious once more. “Very old ones, as a matter of fact. These are trees that have celebrated MidSummer with us for a very long time – and their ancestors and their ancestors’ ancestors shared them with us before them. They were scorched in the fires, but have recovered well this past year. It is good to see so much green again in the world.” He was quiet for a moment, and then: “Have you finished the cordial yet?”

Elara took the last, delicate sip of her MidSummer wine and held out the goblet. “It was very good,” she told him. “It tastes like summer itself.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” The goblet was removed from her grasp, and then Thranduil stood again. “Come with me.”

Elara pushed herself carefully to her feet and put out a hand. “Where are we going now?”

“I want to introduce you to the trees,” the King replied gently, allowing her to find her balance and then weaving his fingers among hers. “It is time that they come to know you – and you to know them.”

“Know… the trees?” Elara’s brows climbed to her forehead. “But…”

“Trust me,” Thranduil told her and led her away from the sound of elven voices raised in yet another song. They walked in silence for a while, Elara using all her remaining senses along the way and enjoying the walk. He finally drew them to a stop. “Give me your hand.”

Elara did as he asked, and he guided her hand to rest against a solid trunk of a living tree. The bark lay firm and rough beneath her fingers. “What do I do now?” she asked skeptically. “I’ve never met a tree before – I didn’t even know such a thing could happen.”

Thranduil tutted at her. “Like all living things, trees are aware – and they are very wise,” he told her firmly. “Listen now – but not with your ears. Clear your mind and listen within. The voice of the forest is very soft – but very powerful.”

Elara tipped her head and closed her eyes – but then opened them again when all she could hear were the leave rustling above her head. “I’m sorry, Sire, but I don’t…”

Before she could finish her sentence, Thanduil had captured her other hand and pulled it to his chest. “Listen!” She heard the King’s deep voice ring like a crystal bell; and it echoed through her entire being, bringing her thoughts to a sudden halt as something seemed to tilt inside, and then righted itself.

Elara’s mouth dropped open as slowly, a new and profound sense of peace and antiquity invaded the quiet corners of her mind – and a wordless pulse filled her until she could hear nothing else. It throbbed as if a heartbeat – but not of a single creature. The pulse was in the rough bark beneath her fingers – it was in her, and in Thranduil. Fascinated, she reclaimed her other hand and placed it on the tree trunk as well.

“Is that…”

*It is.* The Elvenking’s voice shimmered in her mind over the pulse like a flute’s descant. *Hear me, my friend. This is Elara, who lives among us now as one of us. She is elvellon and deserving of your care. Sustain her as you sustain us all, my friend – and let her know peace when she seeks you. Guard and guide her steps when she walks beneath you, and always lead her back to my halls, where she now belongs.*

Elara couldn’t help the tear flowing down her cheek. All her life, she’d walked in or near the forest, and never had she imagined such beauty, grandeur or power to be so close at hand. And the sense of profound peace swelled to overwhelm the regret – dismissing it with a gentle nudge like a parent correcting the faltering step of a child.

And then the hidden world around her opened its doors to allow her a glimpse inside of a far greater reality, expanding her senses far past their mortal limitations in a moment removed from time. Elara suddenly knew the way in which all life was intertwined, connected, each piece dependent upon the next. She could hear the song of the trees, the plants at her feet, the birds that flew overhead, the deer and the mice that walked the earth, the very soil on which she stood. She could feel how the very pulse of life had grown strong with the waxing of the season – and how, in months ahead, it would slow and sleep again, only to awaken anew in due time in a cycle that was as old as Arda itself.

Slowly – very slowly – the intense pulse of the song of Arda withdrew from her until only the faintest echo of it could still be felt through her hands as she leaned against the ancient oak. Elara took a deep, shaken breath as she resumed her place in her limited and darkened world; and then she reached out an empty hand, suddenly feeling very alone and diminished. “Thranduil?”

*I am here.* The deep voice sounded in her mind instead of her ears, and a huge hand caught hers and wove its fingers with hers. He continued aloud, “I have been with you all along.”

“I never imagined…”

Thranduil’s voice sounded triumphant and very pleased. “I was hoping that having robbed you of one of your senses, the Valar would be merciful enough to open you to the possibility of another. I’m glad that my hope wasn’t misplaced.”

“But…” Elara was glad for the guidance of the King now, for she trembled with her reaction to the powerful experience, her feet unsteady. She breathed a sigh of gratitude when she discovered that he had led her back to the stump and then joined her in taking a seat again. “How is it that I can hear you in my mind now?”

Strangely, she could feel the Elvenking’s confusion and alarm as if it were her own. *She can hear me?*

*Yes.* She felt him physically start at the response that never left her own mind.

“I have no idea,” he finally responded aloud, the confusion she had felt within her as coming from him now obvious in his tone. “This is not supposed to happen this way.”

Elara trembled. *If Thranduil is alarmed, something must indeed be wrong.*

“Not wrong, exactly,” he answered her thoughts as if she’d spoken them aloud. “It’s just that…” He took a deep breath and then continued in total seriousness. “For my kind, it usually takes bonding between ellon and elleth to bring two faer close enough to communicate in that fashion.”

“Bonding?” Elara pulled away from him, her mind taking her into thoughts that made her face burn with the possibility that this was not another example of his wry, earthy sense of humor. “What do you mean?”

“Exactly what you’re thinking,” the King answered gently, as if sensing her discomfort and embarrassment. “And yet…” He paused as if listening in another direction. “The bond with Lalaith is unbroken!” he exclaimed with relief. *This must be something else – something…*

“Something that your son perhaps has with his mortal friends?” Elara finished his thought for him aloud and then blushed at the surprise that poured from him once more. “My apologies.”

He took her hand again. “No apology is necessary. It’s just…” He paused for a moment and then chuckled weakly. “It’s just going to take a while to get used to the idea.” His voice grew thick with memory. “I haven’t had anyone in my thoughts for a very long time – and even now, her voice in my mind grows fainter with every passing year.”

“I’ve never had anyone in my mind before,” Elara said softly, squeezing the large hand holding hers. “But I think I would have enjoyed hearing Timon’s thoughts in this way.”

Thranduil breathed in deeply, as if shaking himself free of his grief again. “I think, however, you may be correct in pointing out that this may be something similar to the bond my son shares with his mortal friends – especially Elessar.” He covered their clasped hands with his free hand. “I am once more convinced that you have been a gift to me from the Valar – for what I’m being rewarded, however, I’m not entirely certain. I haven’t always thought kindly of them, as you can imagine.”

As another long moment of peace stretched between them, Elara marveled that she could so clearly share the deep satisfaction and contentment of the Elvenking sitting next to her. *He really doesn’t mind this?*

*He really doesn’t,* a deep voice whispered in her mind with a soft chuckle, and then became wistful. *Do you?*

“No,” she answered truthfully after a long moment of examining her feelings. “I suppose I don’t. But like you, I think it’s going to take a while to get used to.”

For a long time they sat there, each trying to adjust to the sudden added dimension to their friendship and Elara still subtly aware of the deep pulsing that was the voice of the forest. Silent Elves brought them plates piled with fragrant herb breads, tangy slices of cheese, cakes made with nuts and berries gathered from the forest, and the juice of apples and berries mixed with wine. As time went on, the music around them eventually changed from choral paeans to Arda to a rousing instrumental reel, and the sound of gentle Elven laughter began to filter through the wood.

“Tell me, Lady,” Thranduil asked finally, breaking their comfortable, companionable silence, “in this day of strange beginnings, would you like to try something else new?”

“What is that?”

“A dance?”

Elara snorted. “Surely you don’t still think I can be taught to dance without causing a disaster, do you?”

He bent toward her, and his deep voice thrummed. “Do you trust me not to let you fall?” Thranduil’s tone made Elara catch her breath, very aware of a new and fragile warmth between herself and the Elvenking that really couldn’t bear close examination – ever. This was a precipice that neither of them dared approach any closer, and she knew they both were aware of it. That such a thing had been given even the briefest voice and been recognized by the both of them for what it was would have to suffice.

Determined to lighten the mood with humor and steer the two of them away from danger, she shook her head and laughed softly. “If you can trust me not to trip you and send you sprawling on your royal backside, I suppose I can trust you not to let me fall.”

Thranduil burst into gales of laughter, and Elara found herself laughing with him in relief.

She let him pull her back to her feet and, with a warm hand at her elbow, guide her to the center of the meadow to join with the others as they celebrated the One and the gifts they had been given.

FIN

~*~*~*~*~*~

Author’s Note:

I know that some believe that osanwë-kenta is the province of the elves alone However, I took my inspiration for this development between Elara and Thranduil from the essay Osanwë-kenta itself, where it is said in the very first paragraph:

“Of them Pengolodh says only, “Men have the same faculty as the Quendi, but it is in itself weaker, and is weaker in operation owing to the strength of the hröa, over which most men have small control by the will.”

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