"Nice try, Randiriel, but it will never work."
Thranduil caught the last of the three objects he was juggling and stowed it under his arm. "But why?"
"First of all, they're good beasts. We all know they'd never harm you. Second, one of them is a hedgehog."
"I could only find two porcupines," said Thranduil with a frown. "And have you noticed that this place is crawling with Gelyd? They're not exactly canny in their woodcraft --" he paused at the sour look on Elrond's face -- "ah, present company excluded. I hoped the distinction would go unremarked."
"It will definitely go unremarked," Elrond said. "It will take more than two live porcupines and a hedgehog to distract them from your bosom. What are you using this time? They look spectacular."
"Gourds," replied Thranduil. "It was all I could find. They hurt like a demon banging against my chest."
"Well, mind you don't let them dry out, or you'll be accompanying yourself with maracas every time you juggle."
Thranduil was about to answer back when they were interrupted by a knock at the door. "Ladies, are you decent?"
Elrond pitched his voice high. "Yes, we are, Mistress Aiwen." He turned to Thranduil and silently mouthed, 'Why is she coming here in person?'
Thranduil shrugged and hid his porcupine inside his voluminous sleeve. "Come in, Mistress Aiwen."
She looked around at the multitude of flowers and gave a sniff. "Girls, I came to let you know that a gentleman has requested your presence immediately."
"But what about the show?" said Elrond.
"We'll postpone the show until you're free again." She patted a bulging purse on her belt. "Thirty silver coins are worth a short delay."
Thranduil's eyes widened, and Elrond nodded. "Whatever you say, Mistress."
"Splendid. A footman will conduct you."
"What is going on?" Thranduil whispered as the two of them followed the footman along the Mallorn-lined avenues of Caras Galadhon.
"My guess is that Lord Celeborn wants to try a threesome this time," Elrond quipped.
"I'm not enough for him," said Thranduil in a tone so forlorn that Elrond had to hide his grin.
They came to a stop beside a curving staircase over which hung a banner that proclaimed, "Mae Govannen, Lovers of Noldorin Gemsmithery!" in elegant tengwar.
"That's a very small talan ," Thranduil said, looking upward.
"It is a very exclusive society," replied the footman.
Meanwhile, Elrond spied the tail end of a long white train trailing out of sight in the direction of the palace and felt a moment of compassion for the poor elven-laundress responsible for removing those grass stains.
"Up you go, ladies," said the footman. "My job is done." He turned and left them.
Elrond started up the steps. "Do you think I'll get any gems? I'm not really fond of white ones. I hope I get them in colors."
Thranduil gave him a dirty look and muttered a Laegren suggestion that was both rude and anatomically impossible.
The two of them entered the talan , and a figure stepped out of the shadows, fingering his beard. "Hello, ladies. It is a pleasure to see you again."
"Huitho!" Elrond exclaimed. "Círdan!"
Thranduil drew the porcupine out of his sleeve and brandished it menacingly.
"Oh, please," Círdan said wearily. "You're not fooling anyone with that, 'Randiriel'. It's a good beast and would never quill me, even if you did toss it. Set the poor thing down."
Slowly, Thranduil lowered the porcupine to the floor, where it scuttled off and disappeared under a table.
"What do you want, Círdan?" Elrond said.
"To begin with, the two of you could have chosen more original names to disguise yourselves. You boys disappoint me." He sighed. "But I digress. All I want to do is have a little talk."
"Thranduil and I don't want any trouble," Elrond said. "We just want to get home and live our lives in peace. We mean you and Isildur no harm."
"Yes," said Thranduil, nodding earnestly. "Our lips are sealed."
"Well, about Isildur, there has been a change of plan. Poor Isildur was heading for home when he met with an unfortunate accident."
"Home?" said Elrond. "I thought he was tarrying in Gondor to instruct his nephew in Kingly craft."
Círdan examined his fingernails. "That was his intent until I sent him a message by carrier pigeon warning him that his wife had grown bored in his absence and was filling her idle hours -- and Elbereth knows what else -- with a Nandorin minstrel. It's a fortunate thing for Master Lindir that Isildur and his party never made it past an orcish ambush near the Gladden Fields."
Elrond and Thranduil looked at each other and gulped. Had Mistress Aiwen's troupe not decided to divert to Lothlórien, they might have found themselves with Isildur's knife in their backs or caught in the same ambush.
"Yes, it's very sad," Círdan continued. "My one regret is that he made a break for it, tried to swim the Anduin, and lost a certain bit of jewelry off his finger."
Elrond's eyes widened. "So . . .?"
"Indeed. It's gone. Kaput. Pffft." He paused to let the news sink in. "No great loss. I never liked the thing in the first place, and in the hands of an idiot, who knows what mischief might have ensued? It's lost, and best it stays that way. I've just been telling my fellow Ringbearer that it's safe to resume wearing and wielding the Three."
"I'm happy for you," Thranduil said. "Now, can I just go home and forget about all of this?"
"If only it were that simple," Círdan said. "Just in case you two lads think the balance of power has shifted here, that you two could spill some secrets and cause me some embarrassment, I want to remind you that we have one another by the short hairs."
"I'd never think of breathing a word about this," Thranduil insisted.
"Good, see that you don't, because I don't think your subjects would be overjoyed to hear that their new king has been wearing a dress and whoring himself out to the Lady Galadriel's husband for the past two fortnights."
"But . . . but . . ." Thranduil spluttered, "we've only talked!"
Círdan laughed and reached out to fondle the new necklace of white gems Thranduil had received that morning. "Who in their right mind would believe that, with this little bauble proclaiming, 'Touch me not, for His Lordship's I am'?"
Thranduil blushed furiously and made no answer.
"I see we understand each other. Silence for silence?"
Círdan turned to leave.
"Wait," said Elrond, "what about me? I don't want to spend the next Age looking over my shoulder."
"Oh, come now, Elrond," said Círdan, laying an avuncular hand on Elrond's back. "I wouldn't harm a single hair on the head of my favorite pupil. I need you alive to foster the new young King of the Dúnedain at Imladris. And besides, I have a feeling you won't want to be making any hasty accusations, no matter how much you loved your cousin."
Círdan turned and tossed a rope out the window over to the next tree. "I think I'll be leaving by an alternate exit. I don't trust my fellow Ringbearer farther than I can toss her, beguiling as she is. Good-bye, lads, and remember, it's nothing personal, just business."
"He's a real piece of work," Thranduil said on the way back down the staircase. "I'm steering clear of him from now on, even if it means staying here in Ennor until Ardhon Meth and never sailing."
At the bottom, they crossed path with two servants carrying a gigantic confection of lembas with 'Happy Begetting Day O Shipwright!' written on the side in fondant and covered in an unbelievable multitude of candles that were, fortunately for the air quality in the Golden Wood, unlit. Out of the top of the cake a bow protruded and the sound of heavy breathing came from inside.
"Hurry," said Thranduil, "it's almost time for the show."
Elrond nodded and put his hand into his pocket. "Why, that shaggy-faced son of a balrog!" he exclaimed.
"Círdan is what!" Elrond held out his palm to reveal a ring with a bright blue gemstone. "He must have slipped this into my pocket just now. It's Vilya!"
"Don't you see? Now he can say I'm the one who murdered Gil-galad for his Ring of Power!"
"Hard luck for you. But as my father always used to say, when life gives you sour cherries, make wine."
"Ach, you Silvans," Elrond grumbled. "Is there anything you won't turn into strong drink?"
"Very little," Thranduil replied.
They heard music up ahead, from the wide swath of lawn where they held the nightly concerts.
"They've started without us," Thranduil said. "For pity's sake, Elrond, wipe off that woeful look and put on a smile."
They slipped in from the edges, found their seats and took up their instruments. "That didn't take as long as we had expected," said Gwaeloth with a smirk. Elrond ignored her.
Just as Mistress Aiwen was about to raise her baton for the next song, Elrond stood up and cleared his throat. "Lords and ladies, there will be a brief addition to our programme tonight. A young woman from this very realm would like to entertain you with her considerable musical talents." Ignoring Mistress Aiwen's narrowing eyes, he hurried on. "So may I introduce the Lady Celebrían Celeborniel, my partner in song."
He held out his hand and Celebrían rose from her seat to join him. At the mention of Galadriel's daughter, Mistress Aiwen wiped the scowl from her face and replaced it with a diplomatic smile.
"I didn't think you were going to make it tonight," Celebrían whispered as she took her place beside him amid a wave of puzzled murmurs from the audience. "I was afraid you had abandoned me."
"Never," he whispered back. He turned to Thranduil. "Randiriel, can you play the accompaniment to . . ." He bent his head to Thranduil's ear.
"In my sleep," replied Thranduil and struck the first chord.
Elrond pitched his voice high but retained an artificial huskiness to simulate the tones of a woman trying to sound like a man and began to sing. "When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf . . ."
Smiles of recognition appeared on the faces of the crowd. Galadriel frowned and mouthed, "Rustic ..."
Elrond continued on with the first verse and ended with, "Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!"
Celebrían flashed him frightened doe-eyes and for a moment, he feared that she would be unable to go on, but when he took her hand and gave her a smile she returned his smile and began, "When Spring is come to garth and field . . ."
The clarity of her voice brought gasps of pleasure from the onlookers. Galadriel's frown changed to a beam of pride, and she gave Amroth a jab in the ribs with her elbow. Amroth nodded and stared ahead with a fixed smile.
But what struck Elrond was the look of innocent beauty on Celebrían's face. His heart swelled with longing for her, and he let it seep into his voice as he sang of summer with green, cool woodland halls and wind in the west. Her verse answered him, with song of lush harvest and orchard ripe with hanging fruit. "I'll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best."
And that was how it would be, he told himself as he launched into his final verse, telling of winter, with its fallen trees and starless nights. There was no longer any reason to stay now that he and Thranduil had reached an uneasy agreement with Círdan. The two of them could steal some trousers and head for home.
Celebrían would linger in this enchanted land of eternal spring and full moons every night, while he, Elrond, would return to his duties at Imladris, living single until the End of All Things. And he would never forget her.
"When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last . . ."
While Celebrían sang her final solo verse, Elrond watched, memorizing the planes of her face, storing the vision away for the long lonely future. Celebrían finished, "I'll look for thee and wait for thee until we meet again: Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain," and looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin the final verse that the two would sing together.
Then, in the deep recesses of Elrond's mind spoke a small voice that sounded suspiciously like Thranduil: 'Don't be such an idiot.' Instead of singing, he took her in his arms and kissed her full on the lips.
Thranduil missed a chord. Gasps -- this time of shock -- arose from the crowd, which only grew when Celebrían threw her arms around him and returned the kiss with fervor, kicking one foot up behind her. Galadriel let out a little squeak and collapsed unconscious into Amroth's lap. Amroth immediately motioned for servants and began to wave a phial under her nose.
"I love you, Celebrían."
"I love you too, Ronneth."
"Uh . . . about the 'Ronneth' part," Elrond began, before Galadriel snapped upright again.
"Who in the name of Morgoth are you to be groping my innocent daughter, you unnatural . . . thing?" she demanded.
"I'll tell you who I am," said Elrond. He ran a finger through his hair to straighten out his side-curls and reached into his pocket. "I am Elrond Halfelven, Master of Imladris." He paused to grin after emphasizing the humble title of 'Master'. Then he held up his middle finger, upon which sparkled Vilya. "I am your fellow Ringbearer, thanks to the gift of my royal cousin Ereinion before he went off to his death. And I am your new son-in-law, Naneth!"
Galadriel clasped her chest and slumped into Amroth's lap again.
"You will have me, won't you?" said Elrond softly to Celebrían. "I probably should have asked."
She merely laughed. "You have no idea what I have been thinking these past few weeks. Now I understand. Of course I will have you. I love you no matter who and what you are."
"Even if it means giving up being Queen of Lothlórien to be just Mistress of Imladris?"
"I suppose I'm not very bright -- at least that's what Nana says."
"Who cares what Nana says, sugar?" said Celeborn. "Welcome to the family, son!"
With a careful glance at Galadriel, who seemed to be staying out longer this time, Celeborn sidled close to Thranduil and fondled his right chest. "What about you and I, my sweet? Love seems to be in the air tonight."
"Here," said Thranduil, reaching into his bodice and pulling out the gourd. "Take this, since you seem to be so very fond of it. Haul it back to your 'workshop' and knock yourself out!" He put the gourd into Celeborn's hand.
"In fact," Thranduil went on to tell the startled elf-lord, "while we're at it, you can take back your bracelet and your necklace. I accepted them under false pretenses."
"What false pretenses? So you're flat-chested. Many lovely elf-maidens are."
"I'm not a maiden. I spent the last seven years serving the army."
"That's all right," said Celeborn blandly. "I forgive you."
"You don't know me at all. I have a job that will take me far from here, and I curse all the time."
Celeborn looked to where Amroth and a knot of servants were still waving phials under his wife's nose. "That makes no difference. I'm quite used to that kind of thing. You've yet to provide me with any impediment to our continued friendship."
Thranduil uttered a strangled growl of frustration and ripped his gown from bodice to hem, sending the remaining gourd flying amid a shower of lace and velvet. He stood there before them all, as naked as the day he was born. "I'm a man, curse it!"
The chorus of shocked gasps from the onlookers made the furor over Elrond's kiss seem like the wind-breaking of a gnat. Galadriel, who had finally come around for the second time, let out a loud squawk and pitched back over.
Ignoring his prostrate wife, Celeborn gave Thranduil's naked torso a quick once over and smiled a cryptic smile. "Well, nobody's perfect."
And they all lived happily ever after. Elrond and Celebrían married, had three children with their father's dark hair, and presided together over Rivendell for the better part of an Age.
Gwaeloth accompanied the newlyweds to Imladris, where, in time, she met and married fellow musician Lindir. Their signature version of A Elbereth Gilthoniel was always a great favorite in the Hall of Fire on convivial evenings.
Lalie and Eleniel retired from the music business. They settled down in a shared talan in Caras Galadhon, where they were widely cited as an example of chastity, as each of them turned away a succession of disappointed and baffled suitors.
With her minstrel troupe disbanded, Mistress Aiwen remained in Lothlórien as well. By a hitherto unsuspected husband whom no one ever met, as his visits to the Golden wood seemed both brief and infrequent, she gave birth to three silver-haired sons. In time, these three brothers rose high in the favors of Lord Celeborn.
If Amroth was disappointed by the loss of Celebrían, he disguised it well. He ruled Lothlórien for half an Age, until he found true love at last, got silly over her, and drowned, thus saving himself the discomfort of a long sea voyage.
Galadriel and Celeborn took over rulership of the Golden Wood, taking a page from their modest son-in-law and styling themselves Lord and Lady. In time, she diminished and went into the West and remained Galadriel. It is unknown if the Valar found that to be a good thing or not. Citing family loyalty, Celeborn took his own sweet time joining her.
Every year throughout the Third Age, on the anniversary of Elrond and Celebrían's betrothal, a silver-clad messenger arrived at Thranduil's gates bearing a bouquet of red roses. And once an ennin, on a night with a full moon, two tall, pale-haired figures met in the woods south of the Men i Naugrim, where they could be seen clasped in a silent tango until the first tentative birdsong broke the silence and the grey light of dawn lit the eastern sky.
Gelyd: Plural of Golodh, a Noldo
Laegren: Green-elven, Nandorin
The duet that Elrond and Celebrían sing is from The Song of the Ent and the Entwife, JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers.