Elves Do Not Celebrate, They Remember|
Rating: K+, for mention of canonical tragedy
Word Count: 2,337
Disclaimer: The characters of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” were created by J.R.R. Tolkien, not by me, and I am not claiming otherwise. I am merely using them as a tribute to his genius. This story was written for love, not for money, so please do not sue.
Summary: Legolas experiences one of the differences between the lives of Elves, and the lives of Men.
“Was it truly necessary for me to come with you, Father?”
“Legolas, we have discussed this,” King Thranduil of the Greenwood said, in a tone that indicated he was not about to open the discussion again. “There is more to being a leader than deeds of arms.”
The younger Elf stared at the countryside flowing past; he and his father were seated in the middle of an Elven-crafted boat that moved almost soundlessly along the river while other Elves from his father’s kingdom smoothly and seemingly effortlessly rowed the boat through the water. It was midwinter and the trees were bare, which suited Legolas’ mood. “It is just that I believe that I am better suited to killing orcs and other fell beings than to engaging in talks with merchants.”
“That is exactly why you must accompany me to Laketown. You are more than skillful at both hunting and fighting. It is time that you learned something of bargaining, of negotiating.”
“Of trade,” Thranduil’s son said with distaste.
The Elven King turned his intimidating gaze on his only son. “Precisely. Or do you believe we should attack this village of Men, and take what we wish?”
Legolas was startled. “Of course not, Father. These Laketown Men seem like harmless enough folk, and they have not attacked us.”
“That is right. So the alternative, which I trust you will agree is the preferable one, is to trade with them for what we want. That is what you must learn, whether you find it interesting or no.” Thranduil turned his gaze back to the scenery alongside the banks of the river.
Legolas subsided, although rationally he could understand his father’s point. He could not resist making one final argument, however. “Why is it necessary that I learn this? You are the ruler of our people, Father, not I. These Laketown Men are already accustomed to dealing with you. Our kingdom is not like one of theirs; there is no reason to believe that I shall need to take your place for many, many lifetimes yet of Men.”
Thranduil nodded slightly. “True, although none of us knows what the future will bring, my son. But do you deem it appropriate or wise that the King of Greenwood the Great himself should always deal with these Men when it is necessary to meet face to face? The Secondborn are not only far different than we, these of Laketown are lesser beings than those who once comprised the kingdom of Dale. Better I should send my son as the need applies, rather than go myself.”
“What are they like, Father? I know nothing of mortal Men.”
Thranduil made an indifferent gesture. “There is little to know of them. In earlier Ages, some of them were occasionally capable of great nobility, but these mortals with whom we shall deal are for the most part a simple folk, easily astonished by what they call ‘magic,’ wanting only to eat, sleep, work, and breed.” Thranduil was silent for a moment before adding quietly; “That is not entirely their fault. When the dragon Smaug destroyed the mortal kingdom of Dale, most of the inhabitants were killed. The Secondborn die so easily, my son, which is why it is wise not to become too attached to them.” He indicated the town they were fast approaching. “Those who did survive came here and built a town on the lake, which with typical mortal lack of imagination they called ‘Laketown.’ It has been here for perhaps a couple of hundred years now.”
Legolas looked around as the boat was docked. He was more impressed than his father was—more impressed than Thranduil would have believed he should be, had the King known of his son’s thoughts. It was true that by the standards of the Elves of the Greenwood, the place was poor, crowded, noisy, and stank of fish and other things even less fragrant. But for something that had been assembled by a mere handful of bedraggled survivors of a calamity, and had existed for only a couple of centuries—no time at all by Elvish standards—it was rather impressive. Legolas had the brief but traitorous thought that his own people, had their kingdom been so thoroughly destroyed, might not have rebounded so rapidly.
Houses were decorated with sprigs of mistletoe, holly, and evergreens, which pleased the Prince of the Greenwood, and the locals all seemed to be in a good mood, laughing and joking among themselves as they worked and shopped. Some of the closest stopped to gape at the Elves, especially at Thranduil, who was even more richly clad than usual and wearing one of his finest crowns. The King ignored the people and their stares, but Legolas smiled at them. He found it impossible to be offended, as the residents of Laketown were gazing at the Elves with the wonder of children. Unlike his father, the Elven Prince felt himself warming toward these members of the Secondborn.
“They appear to be happy folk, Father, these residents of Laketown,” he commented.
“They are having one of their many holidays,” Thranduil said in a dismissive tone, his voice so low that it would take Elven-hearing to hear his speech. Even Legolas, standing as close to his father as he was, could barely discern the words. “Men use their holidays as excuses to eat, drink, cease work, make love, dance, play childish games, and bestow useless presents on each other.”
“We have holidays, too, Father,” Legolas felt compelled to point out.
“We have days of commemoration, in which we sing and remember the past,” his father said reprovingly. “Elves remember. We do not celebrate as the Secondborn do.”
Their conversation was curtailed as the new Master of Laketown bore down upon them in greeting, sweeping off his hat and bowing low to Thranduil, who offered a politic smile in greeting and inclined his head. Recently elected by a board of merchants of the town, the Man was as tall as a male Elf, but all resemblance to the Firstborn ended there. His looks were not impressive, although he had adopted a regal bearing. His hair was thick and reddish, and he sported a large, limp mustache. Most of the men of Laketown wore facial hair, although to Legolas’ relief not nearly so much as did Dwarves. The Master’s complexion was florid and although still a young man he was already rather flabby, which hinted at possible health problems in years to come.
“Greetings, Your Majesty and honored guests!” the Master boomed. “Welcome to Laketown! You have arrived at a good time. We are just beginning to celebrate Yule.”
“Your Midwinter Festival,” Thranduil said. “I trust you will be in a generous mood, then?”
The Master laughed heartily. “Indeed. We have a cask of wine that I wish to offer you as a gift! Please, come inside with me, and we shall all partake of a glass.”
“He also hopes we will enjoy the wine so much that we will place a large order for it,” Thranduil murmured to his son in the same low tone as previously. The Elven King smiled at his host and said in a normal tone, “We would be honored.”
While his father and the Master were exchanging pleasantries, Legolas’ gaze had rested
on a young boy who stood on the dock, staring in fascination at Legolas. No, not at me,
the Elven Prince mentally amended. At my bow and arrows.
“May I ask, sir, where you got such fine weapons?” the boy blurted out.
“I made them myself,” Legolas answered.
“Truly?” the boy said, and stepped forward, clearly fascinated.
Conversation between the Master and the King had paused at this interruption. “You—er, Bard, or whatever your name is,” the Master said, in a tone just barely polite. “Run along now, and unload a boat or something. The adults are talking.”
Legolas ignored the Master and pulled the bow and quiver full of arrows from his back to show them to the lad. “I made them myself, when I was not too much older than you. Of course,” he added with a warm smile, “that was quite some time ago. I made both bow and arrows from the wood of yew trees in our forest, and paid special attention to the fletching. My arrows always fly true, and the fletching indicates they are the weapons of Legolas Thranduilion of the Greenwood.”
“They are the most beautiful bow and arrows I have ever seen,” the boy said, his sincerity clear. “I wish I were as skilled as you, Master Elf.”
“Pray forgive this interruption, Your Majesty, honored guests,” the Master said to Thranduil and the others of the King’s party.
Legolas ignored him, continuing to focus on the boy. “Do you know how to use a bow, Bard? Do you practice every day?”
The boy nodded in answer to the first question. “All the men of my family are archers, sir, and I would practice every day if I could. But my father died last year, before he could show me how to make my own arrows.” The boy’s expression grew sad as he spoke. “Otherwise, I would indeed practice every day.”
The Elven Prince surrendered to a sudden impulse. He held out the quiver of arrows to the boy. “I learned from my father—” He glanced at a bemused-looking Thranduil with a smile—“that you folk of Laketown are celebrating a holiday called Yule, and at such times it is traditional to offer gifts. So, please, Bard, accept these arrows as a gift from me.”
“Legolas…” Thranduil said.
A look of such astonished joy appeared on the boy’s face that for a moment he seemed not so much delighted as transfigured. “Truly, Master Elf?”
“Truly,” Legolas assured him. “And my name is Legolas, son of Thranduil. Use these arrows to practice, Bard, and when next I return to Laketown, I shall demonstrate how to make your own arrows.”
“Thank you, Legolas,” the boy said, taking the arrows from Legolas reverently, and with care as great as if he were taking a newborn babe in his arms. “This is the greatest Yule gift I have ever received!”
“Ah, you see,” the Master said quickly and loudly to all those folk assembled, Men and Elves alike, “what kindness and generosity, that the Prince of Greenwood should bestow such a gift upon a boy of our town. Surely such generosity will be extended to our trade! Hurrah for the Elves! Hip, hip, hurrah!”
“Hurrah!” the Master’s people shouted.
“Sir,” Bard said to Legolas when all the shouting had died down, “I should be honored if you would join me and my family at our home for our Yuletide feast.”
“I would be honored to accept,” the Elven Prince said, before his father could forestall him.
Later, much later, after the King and his only son had finished their business in Laketown and were returning home, Thranduil harangued his son about the latter’s choice to accept Bard’s hospitality.
“Are you mad?” he demanded of his son, as the Elves navigating and rowing their boat attended to their duties and pretended not to hear. “I understand your offering the arrows as a present, it was an inspired gesture to impress such simple folk—”
“Father, it was nothing of the kind. It was no ‘gesture,’ but a gift.”
Thranduil ignored him and continued. “But it was hardly necessary to go to the boy’s home, or to offer to see him again.”
“I promised to see him again, next Yule, in fact. And to show him how to make his own arrows. You wished for me to take your place when necessary to deal with these folk, did you not, Father? So why do you berate me for my actions?”
Thranduil’s handsome features hardened. “My son, do not attempt to turn my words against me. And do not make the mistake of getting too close to the Secondborn. They are ephemerals, they do not last. That is why they need so many holidays; they are short-lived, and not of Middle-earth, as we are. The three months of winter seem very long to them. It is…unseemly for an Elf to celebrate as they do. We are Elves, my son. We do not celebrate, we remember.” Thranduil turned away, clearly having said as that he intended to on the subject.
Legolas fell silent as well, realizing that there was nothing he could say to his father that would change Thranduil’s mind about the Secondborn. But it occurred to Legolas that if it is the fate of Elves to remember, then he would have a great many fine memories of what had transpired this day. He liked the boy, Bard, and he had enjoyed the company of Bard’s family; once their initial awe had worn off, had treated him as an honored guest, no more and no less. Their feast had not been lavish, especially by the standards of the son of the King of the Greenwood, but they had been generous. The Yule log had warmed the small home delightfully, the family and their assembled friends had laughed and enjoyed each others’ company, and Bard had proudly shown everyone the gift of the arrows, praising Legolas and the latter’s generosity to the skies. A pretty young mortal maid had been particularly impressed; she had blushed after she and Bard had exchanged a kiss under a sprig of mistletoe. It had all been so much less dignified, yet so much more relaxed and happier than the typical Elven festivals of remembrance.
So Legolas said nothing, but as he remembered the events of that day, he found himself glancing back from time to time, even feeling rather wistful of mortal Men and their holidays. You are right, Father, but not in the way that you believe. Elves look back; Men look forward. Our holidays are for remembrance: theirs, for celebration. Perhaps it is the shortest-lived flame that burns the brightest.