Thranduil regretfully declined Bregor’s invitation to attend the celebratory feast that night. “I cannot, I am afraid, though I know Legolas will be disappointed. I must go back to Lasgalen immediately – my people believe us both dead. Although I have already sent messengers, we must return ourselves. And I must be there for the mid-winter festival the day after tomorrow. But I will honour the pledge that my son made – I will arrange for shipments of timber for the rebuilding work, and send some warriors – perhaps the older novices as well – to assist. Perhaps we will be able to return to see the progress of the work.”
Before he had to return to Lasgalen, Thranduil made the time for one vital task. With the willing assistance of Arwen, he went to the shop of one of the merchants they had dealt with at the waterside market just four nights previously. It seemed so very long ago now.
It was not long past dawn, and the shop was tightly shuttered. A knock at the door eventually provoked some response, and a window was thrust open above their heads. The merchant looked out, bleary eyed, but his expression sharpened as he recognised his customers.
Within minutes, Thranduil and Arwen were inside the shop, while the owner enthusiastically showed this and that. Arwen proved most decisive. Thranduil found himself holding a rainbow array of brightly coloured ribbons, with a long, woven scarf draped over one arm. “This. And this,” she told him, adding more goods. “Oh, and look at this!” she exclaimed, holding up a thin, gauzy wrap. It shimmered with all the iridescent blue of a butterfly’s wing. Reluctantly, she carefully refolded it and replaced in on the shelf. “It would be far too impractical. Estella and the girl – Tayla? - would never wear it.”
“No, but perhaps this would be of more use?” He picked up a shawl, warm, hard-wearing; but soft and beautifully patterned. “It would keep out the winds that blow down from the Mountain.”
Arwen nodded her agreement, and Thranduil paid the delighted merchant. Finally, laden with purchases, they returned to Bregor’s house and found Estella about to leave with Rammas. She looked stunned at the gifts he gave her. “But – but your majesty, I told you, we didn’t do anything special! I can’t accept this!
“You can and you will,” he told her firmly. “Take it, and remember Oropherion who you helped.” He smiled suddenly. “I told you, did I not, that the King would be pleased at the care you gave me!” He tore open one of the packages, and draped the thick shawl around her shoulders. “Wear this on your journey home.”
She fingered it lovingly, and looked up. “Thank you,” she said simply. “From Elemas and Tayla as well – we’ve never had such fine things before, none of us! Thank you.”
“There is this, as well,” Thranduil added, giving Estella a final small parcel. “This is for Tayla, a mid-winter gift. To say thank you for finding the ‘lady’ in the first place!”
Legolas looked on, his eyes bright with amusement, as Estella flushed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you knew about that! She – she made a mistake, that’s all.” Then she smiled, impishly. “She’ll be that surprised to find out that the lady is really a King!”
Thranduil watched Estella and her son cross the bridge and begin their journey home. There would be a further gift waiting when they arrived home – Tionel had been ordered to arrange delivery of a wagonload of firewood, with regular supplies throughout the year. Thranduil was determined that the family would never again go short.
Legolas could scarcely wait until they were both out of earshot. “A lady?” he questioned gleefully. “The little girl thought you were a lady?”
“It may have escaped your notice,” Thranduil began, “but among these people, only the women have long hair, or braids. The child made a natural mistake.”
Legolas bowed to his father, very formally. “Yes, Adar, of course she did. And I’m quite sure that Tionel would agree. And Alfiel, and Elladan and Elrohir. And everyone else at home.”
Thranduil sighed, then looked at his son sternly. “Elfling, I hope you are not intending to spread this tale any further?”
Legolas shook his head solemnly. “Father, you have my word that I will not tell anyone in Lasgalen about this!”
“Good.” Thranduil was about to relax, when he considered the precise phrasing Legolas had used. ‘Anyone in Lasgalen’ meant that anyone not in Lasgalen could be told with impunity. That meant all the guards currently here in Esgaroth, and all those in Elrond’s party. Then he smiled. He and Legolas were alive. Against that, nothing else mattered. “I see you were well trained in diplomatic skills,” he said dryly.
The return to Lasgalen was the most joyous that Legolas or Thranduil had ever known. All the glades and halls were filled with light and song for joy at their homecoming. Tionel, Thranduil’s steward, had returned earlier that day and preparations had immediately been set in hand for a celebration. Tionel’s wife, Mireth, waited at his side, hardly able to restrain her joy. She had been Legolas’s nurse when he was an elfling, and had been distraught at the news that he and Thranduil were missing. As the King and prince dismounted, she moved forward and hugged Legolas fiercely. “Oh, my little elfling, I was so worried about you! Let me look at you,” she demanded.
Legolas returned the embrace, laughing down at her, and bending to kiss her. “ ‘Little elfling?’ ” he echoed. “Mireth, I am taller than you now!”
“Oh, so perhaps that means that you will not want the sweet cakes I had baked for you specially? Are you too grown up for them?”
He hugged her again. “Never. Thank you, Mireth.”
Much, much later, long after , and after too much rich food, and too much fine wine, Legolas stepped outside the caverns, crossing the bridge onto the lawn that lay before the entrance to Lasgalen. He found his father already there, looking at the stars and deep in thought. They sat in silence for a while, enjoying one another’s company, when Legolas spoke. “Father, this evening was such a joyous time, but I was thinking. What would have happened if we had both been killed? What would have happened to the realm?”
Thranduil was silent for a while. “Tionel would have remained as steward for a time, before other – arrangements – could be made. What do you recall of your family history?”
Legolas frowned. “What part of it?” he asked.
“My father’s father had a cousin, Galadhon. His son was Celeborn. So Celeborn, or Lady Celebrían, and when they are come of age, Elladan, or Elrohir, or Arwen, could all rule Lasgalen. A Council would have to decide.”
“Ellahir could rule here?” Legolas was incredulous. “I had not realised!”
Thranduil nodded. “Your friends’ lineage is complicated. They are kin to every elven realm in Arda, and several realms of men as well. It is as well they are not overly ambitious!”
Legolas was silent, contemplating this revelation. Then he smiled. “I suppose it is irrelevant now, anyway. It is as well that we are still here!” He looked at the stars, realising it was not long before dawn, and yawned. “Goodnight, father. Happy Mid-Winter’s Eve!”
“Good night, my son. Sleep well.” Thranduil watched as Legolas crossed the bridge and disappeared inside the halls of Lasgalen. Tomorrow would be Mid-Winter’s Day, a day of song and rejoicing, filled with the chatter of excited elflings. Gifts would be exchanged in accordance with tradition, some useful, some beautiful, like Arwen's filmy shawl, some frivolous.
This year, Thranduil knew he had already received the most precious mid-winter gift of all.