First Snowfall - a short story
A breeze, sharp and cold, billowing the quilt awoke Faye from a quiet sleep. Sunlight was filtering in from the balcony door, brighter than she ever remembered it being before. She sat up. The light was hurting her eyes.
The valley of Imladris had been experiencing a steady change in the seasons for several weeks, something Faye could easily feel in the crisp morning air. The trees had been dropping their brilliant red and gold leaves with each gust of wind. The night brought chilling cold, from which the warmth of the hearths were most welcome. Faye had never experienced such things before. The changing of the leaves from green to red and gold in itself had been a source of wonder.
But on this morning, Faye possessed no interest to look outside. Turning away from the sunlight, she stood and walked to the wardrobe. Gowns and tunics of heavier, thicker fabric had replaced the light dresses she preferred, but it had not taken her long to get used to the feel of long sleeves and leggings. Though she suffered no ill effect from exposure to cold temperatures, she still found such available sources of warmth to be comfortable.
Early morning routine passed quietly, with Faye finding relief from the sun in her dimly illuminated bathing room. Sounds of life were echoing pleasantly from the corridor, and she smiled slightly as she caught the scent of warm spiced cider. This was already promising to be a pleasant day. Giving her hair a few more strokes with the brush, she turned and quickly headed out into the corridor.
Faye had long since learned that Imladris was a fine place to call home. Friendly faces greeted her as she walked, and the smells of sweet foods and hot drinks were growing ever stronger. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in deeply. Though she no longer needed such foods for sustenance--she had not for many years--she could not resist their appetizing aromas.
"Good morning, Lady Faye."
Faye opened her eyes and looked around. Erestor was walking towards her, an open book in his hands and a warm smile on his face. He was an advisor to the Lord of Imladris, and one of the first to show her hospitality on her arrival in the Valley. He closed the book and offered her his arm, which she accepted with a smile.
"Good morning," she replied. "Though it is rather cold today."
"Of course," Erestor replied. "It is the first snow of the season."
Faye blinked. She had heard others mention "snow" before, but had no earthly idea what it was. Erestor, however, did not seem to notice her confusion.
"We had better move more quickly, or we shall be late for breakfast," he said jovially.
They continued on together, talking of light subjects. Faye's mind was quickly distracted from snow, and she thought no more on it until the corridor opened out onto a covered walkway, revealing the Valley in all its morning glory. The light was no longer painfully bright, so she looked around. Faye immediately froze in her tracks. Releasing Erestor, who had stumbled when she stopped, she turned a full circle, gaping open-mouthed at the sight before her.
The entire Valley was blanketed in glittering white. A breeze blew from the north, pulling light clouds into the air and gathering it against the pillars and railings that lined the many open corridors. Many others were standing as she was, admiring the beauty that had become Rivendell. Faye stared for several long moments, until Erestor burst out laughing.
"Do you not know what snow is, Lady Faye?" he asked. "Have you not seen it before?"
"No," Faye replied, still wide-eyed. "What is it?"
Erestor paused for a moment, clearly trying to think of how to answer in a way she would understand. Faye continued to gaze at the snow, and Erestor finally nodded.
"Snow is rain that falls when the weather is cold," he said. "It is a source of great amusement among the children. I daresay Arwen will have you playing out in it all day."
"Frozen rain?" Faye asked, still confused. She gazed down at the empty courtyard below. "I want a better look."
Faye quickly made her way down to the main doors, Erestor following with an amused grin on his face. She walked out onto the veranda, gazing intently at the snow that had gathered on the steps.
"Is it safe?" she asked, her question startling the guards into chuckles. She ignored them, glancing at Erestor.
"Of course it is safe!" Erestor declared, his cheeks flushed with the effort to keep from laughing. "Go on! Take your closer look."
Faye started walking down the stairs, listening to the snow crunch pleasantly under her slippers. She was leaving perfect footprints behind her, but guessed that was what usually happened. She brushed some off the railing, and watched as the snow coating her fingers melted, revealing that it was indeed just frozen water. Smiling, Faye gathered more in her hands, brushing it between her fingers like she would flour. Though it was very cold against her skin, she was starting to like it immensely.
Taking another step down, all thought of liking vanished instantly as her feet abruptly came out from underneath her. She had slipped with startling ease, and gave a yelp of surprise as she toppled head over heels. For a few moments, the world was a spinning blur as she tumbled through the air and landed in the courtyard, thoroughly bewildered. She had come to rest in the drift of snow at the base of the stairs, her arms and legs sprawled out awkwardly. Shouts and murmurs filled the air, but were muffled by the snow around her ears.
"Lady Faye!" Erestor said worriedly, appearing above her. "Are you hurt?"
Faye shook her head, and felt strong hands grasp her arms and lift her to her feet. The guards stood on either side of her, their faces masks of concern. Erestor had begun brushing snow off her back and shoulders.
"What happened?" Faye asked, blinking and wiping snow from her eyes.
"You slipped on ice," Erestor replied. "I should have warned you. The stairs become rather treacherous when it snows."
Now that it had become apparent she was unhurt, Faye was beginning to hear soft laughter from the balconies above. Glancing around, she blinked when she realized at least half of the denizens of Imladris had witnessed her flight down the front steps. She turned away from them, trying to keep the color from rising in her cheeks. Silently, she allowed Erestor to guide her back inside the house, then took her leave and walked dispiritedly back to her rooms to change. The snow had long since melted and soaked into her hair and dress, giving her a rather sodden appearance. To their credit, those she passed on her way did not laugh, though Faye glimpsed several poorly hidden smiles.
Faye finally managed to reach the dining hall, slipping into her seat without glancing at anyone around her. The lovely smells that permeated the air were rapidly cheering her mood, and she smiled when a warm, sticky pastry was placed upon her plate before she had picked up her napkin.
"I saved it for you," came the voice of the young Elfling she so loved. "Erestor said you were going to be late."
"Did he ever mention why?" Faye asked as Arwen settled back into her seat and smiled brightly. She looked over to where Erestor sat and saw the merriment in his eyes as he briefly met her gaze.
"He did," Arwen replied, giggling. "But falling is not a proper way to go down stairs."
Faye overheard more than a few muffled chuckles at Arwen's comment, and glared halfheartedly at their makers. Up at the head of the table, the Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian were trying to hide their smiles, but failing just as much as Erestor had done. She sighed, resigning herself to the inevitable. There would be friendly teasing coming her way to the end of the day. When in jolly moods, Elves always took pleasure in such youthful games. And as far as Faye could see, the only one that was in a less than joyful mood was herself.
In an effort to distract herself from her thoughts and wounded pride, Faye turned her attention to the pastry on her plate. Although it was not as warm as it would have normally been, the taste of cinnamon and honey nevertheless brightened her spirits. She ate quietly, listening to the happy conversation around her, which had resumed now that she was settled. As Erestor had warned, Arwen was excitedly talking about going out into the meadow to play in the snow. Faye managed a slight grin, catching Celebrían's humored glance.
Arwen's excitement seemed to build as Faye finished her food. The instant she had set down her emptied glass, Faye was yanked from her seat by the young Elfling and towed unceremoniously from the hall, leaving in her wake a chorus of laughter.
"Arwen!" Faye protested, gently removing the Elfling's hand from her wrist. "I do not think the snow will disappear anytime soon."
"But we have to go out early!" Arwen replied. "There is so much I want to show you!"
Unable to argue with her, Faye followed Arwen into the main foyer without further protest. Cloaks and gloves had been set on a low table, but none were small enough for the Elfling.
"I have to go get mine," she said after scanning the clothing. "Be right back."
Arwen darted away down the corridor, leaving Faye standing alone. She shook her head, allowing a half-grin to form on her face. The child's excitement was impossible to ignore. Though her early morning experience was making her prefer a long rest in a comfortable chair over going back outside in the snow, Faye was quite willing to risk another fall if it meant seeing Arwen smile. Even if it meant enduring months of playful teasing.
"You seem quite enthusiastic, my friend."
Faye turned. Elrond and Celebrían had appeared from the corridor leading to the dining hall. Both were already dressed in clothing fit for the snow, and Celebrían was holding a pair of boots in her hands. She smiled as she offered Faye the boots.
"I think these will fit you," she said. "You will need all of this if you truly intend to spend the day with Arwen."
Faye accepted the boots and settled onto the bench to put them on. They were a dull green in color, and the inner surface was lined with rabbit fur. Though snug, when laced up she found them to be quite comfortable.
"They will do," she said, standing and taking a few steps, testing the boots. "My feet, at least, will stay dry." Faye glanced around, giving the Lord and Lady a smile. "But if I am to endure the wet and cold, I fully expect you both to be by my side."
Before Elrond or Celebrían could protest, Arwen appeared with her cloak and gloves in hand. She was instantly delighted when she saw her parents. Faye could not help but laugh aloud as Celebrían attempted to hold the Elfling still long enough to lace her boots.
"There," she said finally, sighing in relief. "You are ready, my Undomiél."
"Then let's go!" Arwen declared happily. "Come on, Faye!"
Sighing in resignation, Faye followed Arwen out onto the veranda, glaring at the guards when they chuckled as she passed them.
"Safe day, Milady," one said with a slight bow, to which the other almost choked with laughter.
"Ignore them, Faye," Celebrían added, and Faye felt a hand settle on her shoulder. "They mean nothing by their teasing."
"I know," Faye replied truthfully. "What else can I expect of Elves?"
Celebrían laughed, the sound echoed by Arwen, who was already skipping through the courtyard below, followed closely by her father.
"Where are Elladan and Elrohir?" Faye asked quietly, for she had not seen them at breakfast.
"Hunting with Glorfindel," Celebrían replied. "They will return before nightfall."
Together, they walked down the stairs, Faye taking special care to avoid the ice she had slipped on previously. A cold breeze was still blowing in from the mountains, causing her heavy cloak to billow around her legs.
"So," Celebrían began after a moment. "Your little morning incident aside, what do you think of snow?"
"I do not mind the snow," Faye admitted with a grin. "It is the ice I wish to avoid."
But it was then that Faye realized she was no longer eye-to-eye with Celebrían. Glancing down, she received a shock when she saw that the Elf-maiden was walking on the surface of the snow. Celebrían also glanced down, her smile growing wider.
"How. . .?" Faye began, looking around. A few others were in the courtyard, but only one or two of them were walking as Celebrían was. The rest were trudging through. Glancing ahead, she saw Elrond also walking on the snow, but Arwen happily kicking it about as she plowed a path onward.
"It is a talent unique to Elf-kind," Celebrían replied, a note of humor in her voice. "I cannot explain how or why. Some can do this from birth, while others learn as they grow older. Some never succeed at all."
Faye blinked, even more confused at this new phenomenon than she had been upon seeing the snow itself. Thoroughly convinced this was some kind of a trick, Faye pressed her foot into the snow at Celebrían's heels. She was expecting to find Celebrían standing on some hard surface, like a stone, but was surprised to see her foot sink easily. Faye quickly repeated the process in the snow right in front of Celebrían's feet, but found the same result.
"I am not standing on anything, Faye," Celebrían said with a laugh. "If you still do not believe, follow me."
With those words, Celebrían leapt forward, following Elrond and Arwen down the path towards the meadow.
"Come on, Faye!" she called back. "Follow in my steps. See that this is no trick upon your eyes."
Seeing the playful look on the Elf-maiden's face finally conquered any remaining hesitation Faye held. She bounded after the others, her heavy cloak fluttering behind her in the speed of her passing. The snow was becoming deeper, and sure enough, it gave way to her in each spot Celebrían had stepped on. But Faye was no longer thinking of this. She was having far too much fun with this newfound game.
They quickly caught up with Arwen and Elrond when they reached the meadow, a vast, clear expanse of pristine white. Several others were also at play here, tossing handfuls of snow at one another and skating gracefully along the surface of a pond, which appeared to be completely frozen over. Faye watched this activity for several moments, perched upon a low hillock. The pause was instantly rewarded by a handful of snow right between the eyes.
"Excellent aim, my Undomiél!" Faye heard Elrond declare as she wiped the snow off her face.
Faye glared at the guilty Elfling, who was laughing gleefully from behind the Elf-lord. Arwen peeked around her father, smiling mischievously.
"You are not supposed to remain still so long!" she said. "Snow is dangerous to those who are not paying attention."
"I am aware of that," Faye replied, tossing her hair back with a slight flourish. "But can your slim little legs, oh mighty Elfling, keep me from taking my revenge?"
Arwen let out a yelp of surprise, but Faye was already in motion, leaping towards her with hands outstretched. Elrond laughed, stepping in Faye's path and giving Arwen a few more seconds head start when she was forced to move around him. Faye scowled at Elrond as she passed, but he and Celebrían were already moving off, their laughter trailing into the cold morning air. She rolled her eyes and leapt forward again, following Arwen's path as the Elfling ran down towards the frozen pond. Sure enough, the snow was greatly slowing her progress. By the time Arwen had stepped upon the more level ground at the pond's edge, Faye had caught up. With a victorious laugh, she jumped forward, prepared to grab the little Elfling and swing her into the air.
However, for the second time that day Faye felt the bewildering sensation of the world spinning around her. The level ground Arwen was standing on was not firm snow-coated soil, as she had believed it to be. It was solid, snow-coated ice. When she came to her senses a few moments later, she found herself sprawled several feet away from where she had been before. Arwen was doubled over in laughter.
"That is not how you play on ice!" Arwen gasped between laughs. Faye grunted in annoyance as she watched the Elfling skip towards her, never once slipping on the smooth surface. "You do it like this!"
Faye watched as Arwen kicked out her leg and started skating across the ice, her cloak billowing around her as she turned a few quick circles. It reminded Faye of dandelion seeds floating in the wind. For a moment, she could only stare in wonder at the grace of the little Elfling she so loved. It reassured her. Arwen, at least, would never feel the sting of embarrassment from slipping on ice.
"See?" Arwen said, returning with a bright smile on her face. "It is easy. Now you can try it."
Faye slowly raised herself to her feet, glancing around uneasily at the small audience that had formed around the pond. She felt Arwen take her hand, and returned her attention to the Elfling.
"All you have to do is balance on one foot, and push with the other," she said, gripping her hand more firmly.
Arwen gave her a slight tug, and Faye stepped forward. The Elfling shook her head.
"Not like that," she said. "Push yourself forward. Don't walk."
Faye gritted her teeth, unsure if she would be able to accomplish what Arwen was asking of her. She usually had excellent balance, but there was a difference between perching upon the high limb of a tree and trying to skate across ice. At least the tree limb provided a way to grip something. But she did not want to disappoint the Elfling, so she planted her right foot on the ice and pushed herself forward with her left. She felt herself slide forward a little ways, and then immediately began to overbalance as she lost momentum.
"Now do it again the other way around," Arwen called.
But it was too late. Though Faye tried her best to steady herself, she swayed too far backwards, and her feet came out from underneath her once again. As she lay there, spread-eagled on the ice, she wished she was back at the house, safe in her bedchamber.
"Come on, Faye," Arwen said, grabbing her arm and tugging. "Let's try again."
"I do not think I can do this," Faye replied, sighing as she stood and rubbed her smarting backside. "Please, Arwen, let us find a less painful activity."
"Just one more time," Arwen pleaded. "I promise I won't let go of you."
Faye sighed, nodding dejectedly. Arwen beamed at her, then pointed down at her feet.
"Watch me, and do what I do," she said.
Very slowly, Arwen began skating forward, keeping her eyes on Faye. Faye attempted to copy her movements. Finally, after several uneasy moments, she began to settle into the pattern of shifting weight from foot to foot, and started gaining speed.
"That's it!" Arwen cried in delight, her voice echoed by applause from those standing on the pond's edge.
Faye smiled, enjoying the feeling of the cold wind against her face. This actually was fun! She felt Arwen release her arm, and gave a strong kick forward, laughing in equal delight with the Elfling.
However, her delight was very short-lived. Faye soon realized that she was heading straight for a large dune of snow, and could not think of a way to slow down.
"Arwen!" she cried, eyes growing wide. "How do you stop?!"
"You have to turn!" Arwen cried back. "You. . ."
But whatever else Arwen had to say, Faye never heard. She had just seen the edge of rock sticking out of the surface of the ice, and before she could do anything about it, she tripped over it and toppled forward. She plunged head-first into the snow, feeling it press in around her as the pile collapsed. Only the lower half of her legs seemed to be free. She kicked out, trying to find something to grip on to, but all she could feel was ice.
"Faye! Faye!" Arwen's voice was almost indiscernible through the snow. "Are you hurt?"
"I am stuck!" Faye yelled back, spitting snow out of her mouth. "I cannot move!"
There were more voices echoing, but Faye could not tell who was speaking. She tried to kick out again, and heard a protest.
"Faye, do not try and kick at us!" came the merry voice of Erestor, and at which Faye groaned. "Wait a few moments, and we will dig you free."
Now Faye could hear the laughter, and tried to imagine the absolutely ridiculous sight she must be presenting. Half-buried in the snow, with only her legs visible. . .she was never going to be allowed to live this one down. The last thing she needed was. . .
"Well, I can see someone is not having a very good day." Faye groaned again. It was Celebrían this time. "Faye, are you sure you cannot move?"
Faye would have responded, but by then she was at the end of her patience. She forced her arms to bend underneath her, and with all the strength she could muster, heaved herself upward. The snow gave easily. She stood, shaking her head and arms to rid herself of the bitingly cold snow that had already soaked thoroughly into her clothes and hair. She felt hands on her back wiping away the snow, but she shoved her would-be rescuers away, stepping out of the dune and onto more firm ground. The laughter silenced immediately. Faye knew all could tell she was in a very bad mood.
"I have had enough," she growled, scowling as she wiped her eyes clear. She glanced at Arwen, and saw that the Elfling appeared close to tears. She softened her expression and tone slightly. "I am going back to the house."
With a dignified shake of her head, Faye turned around and started walking away. There were no smiles on the faces of those she passed, and nobody moved to stop her. Alone, she trudged back up to the house, running her fingers through her hair every few moments and dislodging more bits of melting snow. She could still smell the scent of the pastries from breakfast lingering in the foyer when she entered.
Her appearance turned many heads as she walked back to her bedchamber, but Faye ignored the confused inquiries. Her cheeks were burning with embarrassment. Within the hour, every being in the Valley would know what had happened. The great and mighty Faye had made a complete fool of herself. Never before in her long years of life had a day gone so foul so quickly.
It took only a few minutes to change out of her sodden clothing, but her mood did not improve. Slowly, Faye dragged her armchair closer to the fireplace and sat down, closing her eyes. How she wished she could have the morning back. She had long since decided that snow and ice--the entire winter season, for that matter--were nothing more than curses from the gods.
Arwen had appeared in the doorway, her voice soft and tentative. Faye opened her eyes and turned to look at the Elfling. She was still in her outdoor clothes, and her cheeks were wet with fresh-fallen tears. Faye frowned, sensing the child's inner turmoil.
"What is it?" she asked.
Arwen shifted her weight, clearly nervous. Faye continued to gaze at her, her remaining temper quickly fading away. Seeing Arwen so upset was perhaps the worst thing she had experienced all morning. The Elfling was trembling, fresh tears falling from her eyes.
"It was all my fault," she said shakily. "Are you mad at me?"
"No, my dear, not at all," Faye replied, her tone soft and gentle. "Arwen, do not cry. Come to me."
Arwen crossed the room and crawled into Faye's lap. Faye gently helped her remove her cloak, gloves, and boots, cradling her and whispering words of comfort.
"It is not your fault, Arwen," she said. "This weather is a completely new thing to me. You know I have never seen it before. It will take a long time for me to learn how to compose myself when facing it."
"But you had a bad time out there," Arwen pressed, still sounding worried. "And I was the one who brought you there. You wanted to stay here."
Faye chuckled slightly, kissing the little Elfling's forehead.
"I would have followed you outside today even if I had known then what I do now," she said with complete sincerity. "The fact that I was less than graceful is nobody else's fault but my own. I can stand on ice just about as well as I can ride a horse."
At this, Arwen giggled. Faye's troubles with the Valley's horses were very well known.
"I think next time I will content myself to watch you play," she continued. "And who knows. . .perhaps someday I will learn how to dance on ice as you do. But not any time soon, I fear. I think I have had enough of such things for one season."
Arwen smiled, wrapping her arms around Faye's neck. Faye accepted the hug, joy and contentment filling her heart once more. As she gently rubbed Arwen's back, she glanced towards the balcony, and released a startled gasp. Arwen sat up swiftly, looking around. After seeing what Faye was looking at, she laughed in delight.
"See?" she said. "What do you think of that?"
Outside the balcony doorway, large white flakes were drifting down from the gray-white sky. Faye stood and approached, Arwen in her arms. For several minutes, they watched the snow fall, a scene of peace and beauty the likes of which Faye had never beheld before.
"You can build things out of snow," Arwen commented, finally breaking the silence. "And we don't even have to go out to the meadow. There is plenty of snow in the gardens."
"So you want us to go back outside and build things out of snow?" Faye asked, an eyebrow raised.
Arwen nodded. Faye glanced out once more at the Valley beyond, then smiled.
"Now that, my dear, I think I will enjoy very much."