The Ageless Rose - Chapter Four
Merilwen stood before the mirror in her room, fussing with jeweled pins in her long dark hair. She thought they were very pretty; a gift from Lord Elrond for her sixteenth birthday not four months ago. Tonight, she wanted to look her best, for the Midsummer Festival was beginning, and this was the first night of the feasting and celebrations held in Rivendell on the occasion. This one was exceptional, as embassies from the other realms of Lothlórien and Mirkwood, and even the Grey Havens had come for the event. There would be parties, music, dancing--all things she loved.
With a sigh, she gave a last adjustment to one of the pins and a few tugs to the pale blue gown she wore. It had been made for the night with thin straps at her shoulders and sheer cut sleeves that trailed away in gossamer waves of fabric; the skirt was long and airy with the barest of shimmers to it: perfect for dancing. A bodice laced up her back with silken ties and the neckline was low, rimmed with embroidered silver vines, yet not so as to make the garment seem immodest for one of her years. Satisfied, Merilwen stood up straight, giving her appearance one last going over in the glass.
To anyone who had come to know her, the graceful transformation from adorable girl-child to strikingly beautiful young woman was hardly unnoticeable. She had grown much taller, now over five feet seven inches. Her looks fitted her well; eyes could be drawn to her long slender waistline and dark lashed grey-brown eyes. Her pert nose still kept a remnant of her childhood freckles, yet it enhanced her becoming appearance. Many in the House of Elrond were wont to say she looked more like a fair young elf-maiden than a sixteen year old daughter of men.
There was a gentle knock on the door and a familiar voice spoke. "Merilwen? Are you decent?"
"Yes, of course brother." She replied, opening her door to admit Estel.
She bit back an impressed whistle as he entered the room, grinning sheepishly. Instead she contented herself with arching one of her perfect brows in a look of deep admiration.
"Well?" He asked timidly. "Do I look prepared for a feast?"
He wore a long dark tunic the color of midnight summer sky, embroidered at the hems, and dark breeches. Age had also come to tell on his handsome features; any maiden would fall under the spell of his dancing grey eyes and strong featured face, framed by a mane of auburn hair that fell nearly to his sturdy shoulders. Years had deepened his voice and given him height; Merilwen thought that he still resembled the warrior in the painting on the secret room where Narsil was housed, yet she didn't know why. However there were still the looks that marked him and her as twins; the high cheekbones, long lashes, and bright eyes. More than ever before, Merilwen felt fortunate to have him as her brother.
"Prepared indeed!" she said, laughing. "You shall have all of the elf-maidens wishing to follow in the steps of Luthien Tinuviel with you looking like this."
"As shall all of the tall and proud elf-lords when they see you," He said, smiling and offering her his arm with an overly formal bow.
"Don't be impudent with me, brother," She whispered, taking his arm as they made their way to the dining hall. She cuffed his shoulder gently. "Remember, I used to push you in the fishponds."
Estel sighed dramatically as he led Merilwen to her seat in the vaulted room. She was dimly surprised that she would be sitting at the High Table on the dais before the tapestry covered wall. It was usually only reserved for the high counselors of Elrond's house, and the embassies.
"You only did that once ," He replied as she stood behind her chair, waiting for Lord Elrond to arrive and announce a start to the feast. "And you followed, though undoubtedly it was your aim to only allow me that... certain pleasure." He winked and strode off to his own seat further down the table, across from their mother. Merilwen resisted the urge to give her brother a sharp poke in the back of the head for the remark. The hall was filled with merrily chatting elves, all clad in their finest, standing behind their chairs as she was and awaiting the master of the House. Her action would be... frowned upon. Besides, she was sixteen, and above such petty and childish pranks. Most times.
Merilwen was beginning to wonder who her dinner partner was, just as the great doors at the end of the hall opened. Lord Elrond walked in, followed by the representatives of the other realms. Her adoptive father took his place at the head of the High Table, and members of the delegations did as well.
Her dinner partner was a tall elf-lord, blue eyed, with broad shoulders and long blonde hair that spilled onto his well muscled chest. He was wearing a mild green tunic and on his head was a finely wrought silver circlet. He smiled at her gently; a very attractive smile that made her blush a bit as she looked him over, yet she returned the grin all the same. He was the kind that probably had to swat maidens away with a stick all the time, handsome as he was. She then turned her eyes towards Lord Elrond, who gave a short speech of welcome to the newcomers, and then the traditional start-of-feast prayer:
"To the One who Rules us All, we give thanks for our blessings on this day," Elrond said, deep voice carrying throughout the hall.
"As the thrones of the Valar endure," the gathered host murmured return. Gentle music sprang up from a corner, and in a rustle of silks and talk, the diners sat.
"My lady?" The Elf asked her courteously, assisting her to her seat. He had a melodic and masculine voice, quite pleasant to listen to.
" Hannon le, " she murmured, taking the offered chair with a sheepish grin. Pleasant as such celebrations were, she hated having to be set on maidenly reserve at all times.
"So what brings you to Imladris?" He asked conversationally as servants placed appetizers on the plates. "For it is rare now to see a daughter of men in an Elven dwelling. Are you also a messenger of goodwill from one of their realms?"
"No, my lord." Merilwen said evenly, tasting her food. "I have in truth lived here my whole life, or for as long as I can remember, with my brother and my mother. Lord Elrond is my foster-father."
"Foster-father, my lady?"
"Yes. I am told my own father died shortly after I was born."
"My sympathies," The Elf said, inclining his head, a shadow of sorrow crossing his face. "But who are your other relations?"
Merilwen paused as she delicately sliced her new course; steamed vegetables in a butter and white wine sauce, her favorite dish. "My brother is Master Estel, and my mother is the Lady Gilraen. They are sitting further down the table."
The Elf surveyed them for a moment. "You and your brother look remarkably alike." He said, watching as Estel talked animatedly with Lord Glorfindel. " Estel did you say his name was?"
Merilwen smiled slightly. "Yes my lord. We are twins."
He looked at her with new interest. "Your name would be Merilwen, would it not my lady?"
"Yes," She said, smiling again, surprised. "How did you know?"
"Lord Elrond spoke of you and your brother briefly when the preparations were being made yesterday."
"Did he indeed?" Merilwen asked quietly, more to herself than to him, wondering very much what was said though she did not press the matter. She sighed, wishing to leave this unusual topic. "Enough talk of me, my lord." She said diplomatically. "You would be from one of the other realms?"
"Yes, Lady Merilwen," he replied, in between a bite of food. She grinned; it seemed he disliked standing on formality as she did. He blushed a bit as she smirked. "I came with the Woodland Realm delegation."
"Forgive me, my lord, but I was uninformed as to those that would be coming. Might I be permitted to know your name?"
"Of course, how careless of me," he grinned, showing white teeth as he watched her with his piercing gaze. "My name is Legolas."
Merilwen, who had just been about to take a sip of wine, stopped the glass before it reached her lips and set it hurriedly back upon the table, feeling rather embarrassed. "Your Royal Highness," she murmured, inclining her head graciously, and not meeting his eyes. Suddenly she felt rather unimportant, and wondered vaguely what she had done to end up sitting next to him. Her face was surely glowing red even as she spoke now.
"Lady Merilwen, please don't," He said, voice worried.
"I beg your pardon, my Lord Prince?"
He sighed. "Please stop the formalities." His tone of voice, light and carefree before, was suddenly tense, his face anxious. "It is nice to just talk with someone, you know, without being so...ceremonial." He said quietly, confirming her first impression of him, much to her amusement. "And besides," He continued with a grin. "It was such a nice conversation we were having."
Merilwen relaxed a bit, even gave a slightly embarrassed laugh of amusement. "Very well," she said at last. "I don't really like such form either, my lord," She whispered, eyes dancing. "It is a bit overdone at these occasions."
Legolas laughed. "I suppose," he said. Merilwen smiled briefly over the rim of her wineglass.