by Mistress Marilyn
FIC: "Golden Days"
"We must go shopping for our presents," Gimli said. "It won't be long before the night of gift-giving arrives, and we don't want to be left out in the cold, laddie!"
Everywhere in the streets of Minas Tirith special kiosks had been set up, holding items of every description. Shopkeepers were as well-stocked as they had been in years, their storefronts overflowing with interesting treasures. The halls of the King's House and the Tower of Ecthelion were warmed by bright colors, adorned with festive decorations for the upcoming mid-winter celebration. The White City, wounded in the War of the Ring, had made painstaking work of repair in the months since, beginning to rebuild the damaged walls and blemished streets. The people, too, had seemed to renew their broken spirit despite horrible losses, reinvigorated by the now certain hope of a secure future and the long-awaited return of the king.
All around the Citadel, the atmosphere was convivial and anticipatory. While the long winter still lay ahead, the upcoming festival promised a welcome respite from work and worry.
Aragorn, now called Elessar by most, had been crowned and then wed to the daughter of the Lord of Imladris. Faramir, the son of the last Steward, had survived grievous wounds and had been proclaimed Prince of Ithilian by Aragorn. Soon, Gondor and Arnor would be reunited under Aragorn's leadership and certainly a new age would begin.
To me, Legolas, a woodland Elf and the son of a king, these were golden days, full of peace and promise.
As I write this now, hundreds of years later, I can remember every detail of that time. I still smell the fragrant greens and fresh-cut branches dressing the walls, and the rich, simmering meats cooking in the kitchens; I can taste the sweet apples and pungent wine prevalent at our table. I feel the wind that blew across the Pelennor Fields catching in my hair as it did as I rode Arod up to those mammoth gates. I see the lambent rays of sun as they break over the mountains and cast the shadow of the White Tree across the Place of the Fountain. I hear the full voices of the people as they sang the songs of the land:
"Gondor! Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!
Aragorn was 88 years old at the time, a Man in the prime of his life. And I had not seen even a thousand summers, so I was considered yet a young Elf. In the time I had been beside Aragorn, I had known war and danger, friendship and loss. I had forged relationships that would last an eternity. That most recent year of my life had certainly been the most full.
And yet it had left me somewhat empty. Because at that time, one thing I had not known was love.
Now, so much later, I cannot help smiling at the young Elf I was then, so strong and sure and yet so untried in the ways of the world. I feel a strange affection for that Legolas as I sit here writing, warming myself with my memories of those days. From not far away I hear the clear ringing of the silver bells of Valimar. These chimes do not mark an arrival, as those who are coming have long since done so. But for me they hearken back to another time and another place, when the sounding bells signaled a cessation of worldly cares and the beginning of celebration.
It was the custom of the people of Gondor to mark five days of feasting and festivities in mid-winter. On the fifth day, friends and loved ones exchanged gifts and sometimes made one another promises for the new year. A great deal of time and trouble went into the choice of these presents and the plans for the pledges.
As this was my first time participating in the customs of Gondor, I had greatly enjoyed the preparations. I had chosen an especially fine robe for my friend Gimli, for instance, and I had employed a tailor to cut it to the exact size and length to fit my Dwarf friend and to line it with fur. Gimli rarely gave much care to his dress, and I felt this robe was something he could long enjoy in the hours he was at leisure or making his way through some chilly labyrinth of passages under the earth. Its warmth and protection would be forever linked to a memory of me, and this thought pleased me.
Gimli and I had already kept two important promises we had made one another while traveling with the Fellowship. After the funeral of Theoden in Rohan, we had gone to visit the Glittering Caves under Helm's Deep, a place Gimli had become enamored with and wanted to show me. Eventually he would colonize the caves and use the excellent resources there to re-fashion the great gates of Minas Tirith, but that came later.
After visiting the Caves, we had gone to Fangorn Forest and taken the time to explore its vast mystery at our leisure. I had hoped to impart to Gimli my love of the woodland, or to at least help him understand the intrinsic link I had for a place so like my home in Mirkwood and yet so different from the tenebrous land of my father.
More comfortable in recesses under the earth, Gimli was uncharacteristically patient in the forest. "I can see your kinship to this place, laddie. Why should it be strange to talk to trees if one is named Greenleaf?"
I think during that time of travel Gimli and I developed the sort of understanding for one another that will last beyond this life, as it already has the last.
The choice of a gift for Aragorn was a much more difficult one. He was not a man that set much store by material things, as he had traveled from place to place as a Ranger for so many years. He had already been given the excellent gift of a horse by Eomer of Rohan, and it was doubtful he would need another while Brego could still carry him.
I had thought of having a new sword made. Naturally, he had the sword Anduril, but would he want to carry this icon in every battle he fought from here on out? I wasn't sure.
I had heard from Gimli that Faramir planned on presenting Aragorn with a silver-banded ox horn, like the one his brother Boromir had carried on the quest. I thought this a fine gift, and I admit to feeling somewhat envious that Faramir had chosen something so fitting, while I was still struggling to decide on a present. I worried a little that Faramir would find more favor than I.
I can't help shaking my head when I think of my silliness. Remember, I was young then.
While I vacillated over the choice of a gift, I already knew well the promise I would make, and this was far more important. I had practiced in my mind exactly how I would tell him, and I had tried to imagine the look in his eyes as he heard my words and understood their import.
I planned to tell him I would stay with him for all his days and not travel into the West with others of my kind.
This was a sacrifice only an Elf could offer, the same one his wife Arwen had already made when she agreed to marry him. But Arwen was an ancient who had seen many, many summers, and she would probably have children who lived after to fill her lonely days when Aragorn passed on. My future was far more uncertain, since the lord and shipbuilder of the Grey Havens would sail himself before too long, leaving those who had not migrated to either succumb to pining or to hide themselves somewhere in Middle-earth away from the changes being wrought by the Age of Man.
As has been told in other places, I ended up building my own ship with the help of my great friend, Gimli, and we sailed together after Aragorn's death. But that has no part in this tale.
So, the time I now recount was filled with elation and anticipation and only the tiniest bit of trepidation on my own part. I knew I would have a place at Aragorn's side and a role in his future, although I did not know exactly what that role would be.
I was soon to find out.
"You'll love the gift I got you," Gimli told me, grinning behind a mug of ale. It was the second of the five days, and the feasting had begun. The day before had been spent visiting the homes of friends and neighbors to enjoy the intensive cleaning and decorating that had been done. With the exception of vital services (such as cooking and healing), most work in the city had ceased.
I smiled, trying not to imagine just how disastrous that gift might be. It was a strange thing for an Elf to be so close to a Dwarf, and sometimes the combination of our natures brought about events both humorous and infuriating. It was easy to offend a Dwarf, and I had no wish to hurt Gimli by an unfortunate reaction to his present. I wished there were a way to prepare for the surprise, but I would have to put my trust in my own self-governance when I saw what he had chosen.
We were seated in Merethrond, the Great Hall of Feasts, a place that could hold more than a thousand. During the five days of the festival, the King would make his way from celebration to celebration on every level of the seven-tiered city, to be sure none of the people felt slighted. However, attendance in the Great Hall was highly prized and even fought over, especially during the third and fourth nights when the story-telling and the singing would take place, respectively. Many of those dining with us had been chosen by lot.
Gimli and I had spent the first night of festivities going from home to home, as was the custom. After many hours of visitations, I had ended up carrying the exhausted and inebriated Dwarf back up to our rooms in the Citadel. I was left to assure him the next day that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself despite his murky memory of it. We planned to spend night three at the Old Guesthouse on the first level, taking our stories to a more intimate setting with some of those who, like us, were not natives of the White City. We knew there would be many who would want to hear our tales of the Fellowship, of the King and the halflings who had helped to save Middle-earth, but we felt it more seemly to share these things with a few rather than with many.
The fourth night would find us in Merethrond again for the festival of song. I had spent many hours composing a paean to the new King, and this was one of my gifts for Aragorn. I looked forward to sharing it with the hundreds of guests, as well as enjoying the many old standards and new compositions to be sung and danced to that night. Like most Elves, I am an ardent lover of music.
On the final night, we were to be among the hundred or so special guests in the Great Hall of Ecthelion at the private party of the King and Queen. There we would exchange our gifts and promises to one another and welcome a new year together.
Many of the great Elves of that day were in the White City for the celebration in answer to a special invitation of the King. Galadriel and Celeborn had come, as had Lord Elrond, the father of the Queen. My father, Thranduil of Mirkwood, had also been asked but had evidently declined. While this disappointed me somewhat, I intended to travel home in the spring for a visit and didn't dwell on it for long. It was enjoyable to be able to spend time with the others and speak to them in elvish; they were all staying in apartments in the Citadel -- Elrond, in the King's House, and the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien close by. Gimli, who had a deep affection for Galadriel, held back from direct discourse, but watched her with shining eyes. He still carried the golden strands of her hair gifted him nearly a year before.
All of the vespertine celebrations allowed for ample time during the day for welcome rest and necessary preparations, including cleaning away the refuge from the night before, hours and hours of cooking and baking and the always-important choosing of which garments to wear. This was the time of year to show off new vests and gowns and robes to friends and neighbors. Gimli and I, having a paucity of clothing, dressed in the best we had and made do well enough. But the great Elves brought along their finest raiments and displayed them well, striking awe in the eyes of the citizens of Gondor lucky enough to dine and dance nearby.
I'll never forget the pride I felt on the night I sang for the new King. I did not have the great gift for composing or singing that many of my kind possess, but I had worked long and hard to try to express my thoughts and feelings and to do so in the Westron tongue to be understood by all present. My voice never faltered, and though softer than some, I believe it rang out. Here is a bit of that song:
All that is gold glitters not–
But one whose line has been forgot,
A King returned to claim his crown,
Golden Days have come at last;
The quest that claimed brave Boromir,
The song reminded me of the long journey from Rivendell and its historic council to the final battle at the Black Gates and all that came in between. I felt my eyes well up with tears as I sang, and I was unable to meet Aragorn's gaze, afraid I would be overcome before I could finish. At the end, the song was well received and Aragorn rewarded me with a strong embrace and a kiss on the mouth, which surprised me completely. Were I not an Elf, I know I would have blushed.
"Excellent, laddie," Gimli commented as I took my seat, still a bit dazed by Aragorn's kiss.
I know many others congratulated me then, but time and distance and the events that were to follow have blurred my memory.
The fifth day of the mid-winter festival we slept late, having danced and shared drink and song until the moon was finally winked away by dawn's frosty lashes. I woke alone in my bed, as usual, wound in a thick fur to fight the morning chill. For a brief moment I wondered what it would be like to awaken warmed by the skin of another living being instead of that of a dead animal, and I surprised myself by the thought. For some reason living in close quarters with so many others in the White City was increasing my loneliness, not dispelling it. I had no way to know this is a common enough thing for those who hunger for intimate companionship, be they young or old.
It was the final day of celebration, and I was experiencing great anticipation for the gift-giving to come. I sat dressing my hair for some time, once again playing out in my mind how I would express my promise to Aragorn. I wanted privacy for the declaration, and I knew this would mean taking him aside from his guests for that moment. I was set on doing so.
I had finally settled on a gift. So much of Aragorn's work was now administrative, and I knew he tired of it quickly despite its necessity. I had found him a beautiful pen made of painted bone, with the outline of a sword carved into the handle and elven words inscribed there. The words spoke of duty and honor, two important things that held the King to even the most menial of tasks these days. I had also had my own name added, to remind him of me during times I could not be at his side. I knew I was much less use to Elessar the King than I had been to Aragorn the warrior, but I didn't want him to forget my loyal service, nonetheless.
My promise to stay in Middle-earth and not to sail to Valinor was the better gift. And, of course, the song had been yet another.
Overall, I felt pleased with my meager offerings. I had no idea that what Aragorn planned to give me would far outweigh anything I could have chosen.
The long-awaited night had finally come! Dressed in my silver tunic and carrying my wrapped gifts, I made my way to the White Tower of Ecthelion, pausing on the plaza long enough to gaze for a moment out at the vast plain below and the Mountains of Shadow beyond. The air was so cold, it threatened even my elven defenses; my breath sent pale tendrils in front of me. When I entered the Great Hall, I smiled; the room was warmed by a dozen braziers, brightly lit by lamps and transformed by daedal decorations fashioned from both cloth and metal and flourished with greenery. One of the primary features was a beautiful archway set before the throne; this gilded trellis held several hanging plants covered with white and red berries.
Many guests were already making their way around long, decorated tables covered with countless choices of food and drink. I saw the King and Queen standing aside talking with Elrond and the white wizard, Gandalf. Both Aragorn and Arwen were finely dressed and wore their crowns. I found myself wishing I had worn my own circlet.
"What took ya' so long, lad?" asked Gimli, stamping up to me. "I'm hungry!"
"Why wait for me, then?" I asked. "We have a long enough night ahead and plenty of time for eating and drinking, if you haven't had enough of both by now."
He harrumphed into his beard. "I'd never have enough of either," he answered, "even if the Festival lasted all year!"
I paused to greet Elrohir and Elladan, the twin sons of Elrond and brothers of the Queen. We spoke briefly, and then I walked to a table that had clearly been set in place to hold the gifts, many of which had already been deposited there. The cloth chosen for wrapping the myriad bundles was varied, some bright, some plain, and some of the gifts were garnished with the same berry-laden plant that hung from the arch. I set down my own artlessly disguised presents, wondering how we would ever sort them all out.
I then turned to approach Aragorn and Arwen.
Some considered Arwen the most beautiful creature in Middle-earth. Tonight it was easy to see why. Her skin shone with its extraordinary luminosity, her dark lips plush, her deep blue eyes reflecting the shining lamps. She greeted me in Sindarin, reaching out a hand to press into mine. I was entranced for a moment by her comeliness, and I remember now feeling a sense of satisfaction that she belonged to Aragorn and that he had access to the comfort of her arms and her ample flesh every night if he so chose.
Lord Elrond greeted me formally, a twinkling in his eyes belying his grave expression. I inquired about his travel from Rivendell, which would have been difficult during the winter months, especially traveling through the Misty Mountains. He made light of it, asking instead how my trip with Gimli to the Glittering Caves and Fangorn Forest had gone. We exchanged small talk for a time, and when I finally turned away, Aragorn's limpid eyes greeted me.
Aragorn, too, welcomed me in the Elvish tongue, as was our custom. He spoke to me softly, thanking me once more for my song and mentioning his disappointment that my father had not chosen to come to the White City. I smiled, thinking it of little account. My father had small use for Men and less for Dwarves, and I was happy now not to have to explain my friendship with Gimli. It would be enough to face in the spring.
"You look well tonight," he said. A little surprised by this comment, I didn't answer. I had sometimes remarked on his unkempt appearance, usually in jest, but flattery had never passed between us. He ignored my discomfiture. "I look forward to tonight, Legolas. This is the happiest time I have ever known."
I smiled at him, pleased to hear of his happiness. "For me, too," I said, although this was not completely honest. This was no time to reflect on my new sense of loneliness, especially since I did not truly understand the emotion myself.
"Come, let's eat," he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. We moved to the nearest table and surveyed the feast. Gimli was ahead of us, already digging in.
Luckily I ate and drank little that night, despite the heady temptation. I spent my time talking and laughing with friends in the small party which included Faramir and his fiance' Eowyn, Eowyn's brother and Rohan's new king, Eomer, and several of Gondor's most prominent citizens. The atmosphere of the evening was friendly and mellow, and even Celeborn and Galadriel seemed approachable and at ease. Comfortable chairs had been arranged around the throne, and we sat together after the feast, sipping our wine and sharing conversation.
At some point it was time for gift-giving, and Faramir and Eowyn took charge of this activity. Gandalf handed them the wrapped gifts, and they deposited them in the laps of the intended recipients. I should have realized the wizard would know without asking which gift belonged to whom. Within a matter of minutes I had several gifts of my own.
I first unwrapped an elegant new tunic of deep green embroidered with shimmering gold thread. Admiring it, I looked up and saw Gimli's grin. He had certainly been right! I loved his gift. It had been a long time since I had a new tunic.
Another package revealed itself to be a good supply of my beloved lembas, the wonderful elven bread. This was from the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, both of whom I thanked graciously. I also received a book of verse from Lord Elrond and a beautiful carved box from Arwen. Immediately I wondered what I would keep in this special treasure chest.
All around me people were opening presents and exclaiming to one another. I had never experienced anything quite like it.
Gimli immediately donned his new robe, strutting about the commodious room like a miniature lord. "Just what I'll need for my new home beneath the earth," he prophesied, "and certainly enough to keep me warm during the winter here."
I glanced over at Aragorn who was reading the inscription on his pen. He nodded at me and smiled, raising his eyebrows and giving me a long-suffering look. I smiled back, hoping my expression conveyed commiseration. I wondered if now was a good time to take him aside and relay my promise. Before I could act on this thought, he stood up and raised his hands.
"Friends," he said, "Arwen and I thank you all for joining us here tonight. And we acknowledge our Steward, Faramir, for his help in the preparations for this year's festivities. Without him, I never would have been able to proceed." Aragorn smiled over at Faramir. "I thank you, Brother."
Faramir's face glowed in the reflected approval of the King. For a moment I felt a pang of an unknown and unwelcome emotion I now recognize as jealousy. I looked down at the gifts I had received, none of which had come from Aragorn.
The King's speech went on. "Tonight is the night the people of Gondor often make promises to one another of things they hope to carry out in the coming year or in future years. I think you all know the promise I bring is one to reunite this country and help to bring peace to all the lands of Middle-earth. Each of you has already played an important role in this quest, and most of you will continue to do so."
The chairs around the throne were animated by nodding heads as Aragorn spoke. We all certainly shared his dreams.
"I want you all to have time to give each other your promises, and I hope you'll do so in your own way, either publicly or privately. But tonight I wish to have this small company of friends witness a very special gift-giving of my own."
The room grew completely silent, and I was suddenly aware that many of the pairs of eyes watching the King were expecting this announcement. I glanced over at Arwen and caught her staring at me. Certain my confusion showed on my face, my gaze sought out Gimli. He was grinning and nodding directly at me.
Aragorn motioned to me.
"Legolas, my dearest friend, please come and stand with me."
I stood slowly, looking around the room uncomfortably as I did so. Elrond, Celeborn, Gandalf and Galadriel all had small, knowing smiles. I concentrated on controlling my heartbeat as I went to the King who stood waiting under the brightly festooned arch.
Aragorn held out a package to me. It was bound in shimmering cloth and tied with a small cord. I unwrapped it with hands that didn't shake, pleased at my composure. Inside were several pieces of jewelry, golden rings of differing sizes and shapes.
I noticed then that Arwen was at my elbow holding the box she had given me. "You'll find they'll fit perfectly in this," she told me, opening the lid to reveal the plush interior.
"Hand the package to me and take off your tunic," Aragorn said, reaching out for the small bundle. "The room is warm enough. I want you to wear my gifts." Arwen stood nearby and held out the box, and he placed the rings inside.
I did as he said, baring the upper part of my body. Unused to this nakedness, I was shy of looking into his eyes, so I dropped my head. He approached me, lifted my face and swept my hair back with his hands.
"You are so beautiful, Legolas," he said. "I have found the most beautiful female Elf in Middle-earth for a wife, and now I choose the most beautiful male Elf for a husband."
I stared at him, disbelieving. His words were so unexpected, I could imagine no response. But I remember each word he spoke that night, and I now write them down with an easy memory of his every expression and inflection.
"It was the custom of my family, I am told by Lord Elrond, to make a special gift of five golden rings. This was rarely done and only in the most important and long-awaited circumstances. Isildur himself made this gift, but it has not been done since his death."
The silence in the room was palpable, pregnant with anticipation. I could hear the braziers wheezing hot breath as mysterious drafts circled the huge hall and stirred them.
"This is not something that everyone would understand, so I have chosen those most trusted of my friends and family to witness this. Whatever else may be said of it after this night, I expect those of us here to hold it to our hearts as a precious secret shared among us."
He paused and looked around the room. I sensed rather than saw the nods of the assemblage of guests.
"I give you these gifts and I make you a promise. My promise is this: I will honor you as my mate as long as I live. Just as I acknowledge my pledge to the Queen, I make this pledge to you. You are part of me now, tonight, and forever after."
He smiled at me, and finally I was able to smile back, joy flooding my heart and mind.
"And now please wear my gifts."
He reached into the box and lifted out the golden rings, one by one. The first was a rather pliable spiral, and he pulled it slightly apart before he fitted it above the upper muscle of my left arm. The next was thicker and articulated. This he closed around my right wrist.
He stood back a little and studied the gifts. "Perfect for your size and coloring," he said. "You are truly a golden Elf." I heard murmurings of approval around me.
The next ring fitted perfectly on the third finger of my left hand. It was a sturdy gold band, embellished with a silverish filigree. I stared down at it, still struck dumb.
"The fourth ring," he announced in a louder voice, "is the sign of your bond to my royal line." He took a shining circlet from the box and lifted it above my head. "Legolas, you are no longer a prince of Mirkwood. You are now the Prince Consort to the King of the West." With these words he placed the golden crown on my head.
Gimli stepped forward, proffering the new green and gold tunic he had given me earlier. Aragorn smiled at him. "Put on Gimli's gift. It is perfectly suited to this occasion."
I took the tunic from my small friend and pulled it on. The fine material felt smooth and cool against my flushed skin.
Aragorn lifted the final of the five rings from the box, an articulated bracelet too small to fit my wrist and too large for a finger. "And this," he said, "I will put on you myself in private. It is said it will prolong your pleasure well into the new year. We shall see."
He leaned forward and kissed me again, as he had the night before. But this time his lips lingered on mine and instead of embarrassment I felt the first stirrings of something else, something much more unexpected.
This ring did indeed prove to fit me perfectly in a place I never would have guessed. Later, after we had accepted congratulations and toasts from our intimate friends, we retired to the King's House and Aragorn's private bedchamber. Never having spent much time in this room, I was awed by the fine hangings and statuary, as well as the immense size and height of the royal bed. Aragorn used his own hands to help me disrobe and then lifted me up to the plush mattress covered by rich, silken sheets. Shortly he joined me there, and as his deft fingers teased me into a rampant state, Aragorn closed the fifth ring around me, and I gasped with surprise as it snapped into place.
After nearly an hour of passionate kisses and caresses, he finally entered my body with his and possessed me completely. We rocked and shook with the force of our coupling, and all the while I wore nothing but the five rings he had given me, one on my forehead, one on my wrist, one on my arm, one on my finger and the fifth on my tortured male organ.
When he had finished filling me with his seed, Aragorn finally liberated me from this last ring, and I shuddered and cried out with release as my pleasure was ultimately allowed to discharge.
When we had finished with passion for a time, I lay in his arms, completely secure and at peace. I could hear his even breathing and feel his steady heartbeat against my chest. We were as one.
I then remembered my forgotten pledge. "I wanted to make you a promise tonight," I said. "I wanted to tell you I had decided not to sail, but to stay with you for all your years in Middle-earth."
He sighed and stroked my hair with his hand. "I have always held that gift dear," he said. "I must have known of it before you did, my Golden Prince."
Indeed, he must have.
The next morning I awoke wrapped in the warm embrace of living flesh, my limbs entwined with Aragorn's, my hair covering his face; I no longer had to wonder at the craving for human contact that drives most sentient beings, as I myself had finally tasted it. It is said that few Elves have known the love of a Man as I knew Aragorn's, and in this I find myself one of the most fortunate of my kind. I still wear one of the golden rings he gave me that night on the third finger of my left hand; the others I keep in the ornate box given me by Queen Arwen.
I remember a night some time after Aragorn's death and our arrival in the West when I took out the box and opened it in the presence of Lord Elrond and Gimli, who had long ago admitted their prior knowledge of the historic gift. We sat and looked at the rings, remembering together that magical night.
"What was this one for?" Gimli asked, pointing to the smaller articulated band.
I smiled. "That was for private use," I answered. "I never wore it outside our rooms."
I looked over at Elrond, whose face held a knowing smile.
"Men are wonderful creatures," he admitted. "Infuriating and unfathomable. But only someone truly brilliant could find such good use for a ring of gold."