"—so then Elrond told Dan and Ro that they shouldn’t be running around naked and—"
And Glorfindel stopped listening again. He’d already heard this story.
He hid a yawn by turning his head, leaping lightly over a snowdrift that his charge had to wade through, looking up at him with a disgruntled frown. "You don’t have to show off," the boy mumbled.
Glorfindel laughed, and grabbed the struggling youth by the collar, hauling him out of the snow and onto the fallen tree he’d found himself on.
Estel’s beaming shock faded into cutting disappointment when he figured out why he wasn’t sinking more than an inch into the snow any longer.
Glorfindel began walking, parallel to the trunk, again hiding his expression with movement. As of yet, it wasn’t noticeable. Estel was still so young…
Soon, though, even the blood of the line of Kings would not allow him to keep from aging at a pace unnatural to the eldar. It stung at the best of times.
Stabbed and burned at the worst.
"—ry? Gloooorrryyyyy? Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory Glory? Glllllooooooooo—"
"Enough!" Glorfindel turned back with lifted hand and a gentle laugh. "My apologies for drifting into thought, my young friend. I did not intend to ignore you. What is it?"
Estel pointed straight up. "Something green."
"Many plants are," Glorfindel countered dryly.
"Not this time of year," Estel rebutted. "And we are out here to get some decorations for the hall."
The old warrior just didn’t have the heart to explain they were there so that the others could put up the decorations for the hall. Estel tried so hard to be helpful…
And it truly broke his heart to see the boy stumbling clumsily, seeing the pained knowledge in his grey eyes that it wasn’t his youth to blame in not being as graceful as the beings around him… So he had drawn him away, out into the world, forgetting that even the snow would remind the boy that he wasn’t an elf, that—
Glorfindel blinked in shock and turned in a quick circle, seeing no sign of his charge…
It took only a second for sense to reappear. Sometimes, Erestor really loved pointing out the color of his hair.
He followed the deep blundering marks in the snow to the base of the tree Estel had been looking at so rapturously earlier, and looked up just in time to stick out his arms and catch the boy, losing his own balance in the impact, sinking deeply into the snow.
He grimaced and shuddered as it worked its cold way under his tunic, as he’d given his cloak to Estel when the boy had managed to soak his own by walking under a branch full of melting snow before they had fully entered the wood. The youth’s cloak was now waiting with their horses at the meadow’s edge.
"Sorry, Glorfindel," Estel murmured, the joyful light of being helpful fading.
A bright laugh from the trees broke into Glorfindel’s automatic response at the unwarranted self-chastisement.
"The Golden Glorfindel bested by a child!" the voice laughed. "Oh, wait until everyone hears of this!"
"Show yourself, you scoundrel!" Glorfindel growled, even as his lips twisted into a small smile despite himself.
Another bright laugh, and a dash of white fell to the ground—much as the snow had fallen from the branch and doused Estel.
But that bit of snow hadn’t straightened to full height and swept back the hood of the white fur cloak, nor had it laughed so cheerfully even as the still-falling snow clung to light golden hair. "A scoundrel now?" he asked, mocking a very serious face for an instant before good humor overcame the attempt. "Whatever would Father say?" he laughed.
"I daresay His Majesty would not be amused," Glorfindel asserted dryly.
Estel was blinking between them, looking back and forth in shock. "His Majesty?" he asked.
"Mm. My father, King of Mirkwood," the newcomer shrugged, flicking the king away with a quick move of his hand. "Are you hurt?" he added on a frown. "It didn’t look like the landing would have hurt you."
Estel blinked again, and then realized he was still sitting on Glorfindel and scrambled up. "S-sorry, Glorfindel."
Glorfindel waved off the protest only to have his hand snatched mid-wave and tugged, pulling him firmly onto his feet and into arms that embraced him warmly.
"Well met, Glorfindel," he said, smiling as he backed up a bit.
"Well met, you tree-crazy fool," Glorfindel returned, his lips betraying him again with a small upwards curve.
"Well, I am a wood-elf. And wood-elves are notorious for liking trees. An unusual association, that. I can’t imagine where people get that idea."
A grin crinkled the corners of bright eyes, eyes which swiftly turned to the youth beside them. "You aren’t hurt?"
Estel shook his head. "No."
"Good. Now, what were you doing climbing that poor tree without its permission?" he asked sternly.
Glorfindel looked away to keep from laughing. That elf trying to pull off stern was like Elrond trying to pull off silly.
Estel blinked largely. "I… I… I was just… I need the tree’s permission?" he asked, his dismay so apparent that Glorfindel gave up and laughed aloud, the Prince’s bright laughter joining his after managing a mocking look of dismay in his direction.
"Of course not, child."
Estel drew himself up. "You don’t look much older than I."
"I’m nearly two hundred. And you’re… nearly half grown?" The sadness in his voice sobered Glorfindel. "You don’t remember me, do you, Estel?"
"I… who are you?"
"Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, at your service." He bowed mockingly, and promptly ignored the awe and sudden burst of near-questions by launching into speech himself. "Now, why were you trying to climb a tree while most boughs are coated in ice?"
"I… just wanted to get the greenery for the decorations."
Legolas blinked, his eyes meeting Glorfindel’s briefly. They needed no more than that look. They both knew that the decorations had been taken care of. That Estel was merely out here to be kept busy while things were prepared. That the boy had to return with something, or his already fragile self-image would be further damaged. It was hard to be a human raised among elves.
All that was known in that look, with an understanding Glorfindel rarely saw in the eyes of those around him, save Elrond and Erestor. Two hundred was young for an elf, but a prince—especially of wood-elves—was rarely allowed to remain young for long.
"Well, while pretty enough," Legolas declared, looking up, "I daresay a parasitic plant like mistletoe wouldn’t be the best choice for decorations. Though if we told them of how the men from Laketown use that stuff for the winter feast I daresay the twins and several musicians and a few guards I know would be quite grateful to you for bringing it back."
Huh?Was Glorfindel’s most coherent and sensible thought.
Estel had him beat. "What do they do with it?"
"They hang it in doorways and under eaves—any two who are beneath it at the same time are compelled to kiss."
Estel blinked and Glorfindel was taken quite aback. "There’s a spell on it?" Estel asked in horror.
Legolas’s good humor reasserted itself in bright laughter. "No, no! They simply—" he had to stop to laugh, "they simply do. They don’t have to. It’s done for the spirit of celebrating."
"I don’t know, really. It’s not done at the solstice, like we do, nor at the changing of years, like you do. But it doesn’t really matter. A celebration is a celebration. Should we foist human customs upon a stuffy celebration of flowing wine and laughter?"
Estel looked uncertain, and Legolas winced slightly, noticing his own slip of the tongue. Human customs.
And it was back to Glorfindel. "Why not? Of course, we’ll have to plot to trap Erestor with that maid he’s been eyeing for the last decade," he added dryly. "I don’t think the old boy would do anything, and she’s rather… innocent."
"In other words, na´ve and thick as a post?" Legolas translated, laughing at Estel’s shocked look. "Elladan and Elrohir haven’t corrupted you yet? They’re slipping. According to Da it only took them a week before they had me completely ruined."
Glorfindel chuckled. "So he’d like us to believe. If anything you corrupted them."
Legolas tipped his nose back haughtily, sniffing. "I did nothing of the sort," he declared, before opening gleaming eyes. "I merely leant them some subtlety and deviousness."
Another chuckle, and both elves relaxed upon seeing Estel’s eyes bright with curiosity and the wonder of the world that was as yet unknown to him. Legolas ruffled the dark hair and then leapt into the tree, climbing with a rapidity that would have been as stunning to Glorfindel as it clearly was to Estel—who was about to fall over backwards he was so focused on watching the ascent—had he not seen it many times before.
Legolas pulled the parasitic plant from its grip upon the old tree, and looked down, letting it go with a teasing "Catch!" before sheathing the blade he’d used to help clean things up and dropping so quickly from limb to limb that neither Glorfindel nor Estel spared the falling greenery a thought, both holding their breath to see if the elf would slip on one of those icy boughs and fall messily to the ground.
But the blood of a reckless, tree-crazy fool of a wood-elf won out, the prince reaching them in the same immaculate condition of his first decent to ground, scooping up the plant with a clicked disapproval that was so obviously feigned it drew a grin from Estel.
Legolas handed Estel the plant, then whistled sharply to call forward a horse who struggled to step through the snow. He drew the lad forward, telling stories about the Men that traded with Mirkwood, and the Men who were Wild to the south, and the Men who kept wolves as pets, and the Men who had a place forever in the History of Elves…
And walking behind them with the struggling silver horse, seeing the bottom of his own cloak becoming utterly soaked as Estel stumbled time and again, watching as Legolas finally gave up waiting for those moments and wrapped a strong hand firmly around his arm while letting it remain a simple, friendly gesture, Glorfindel listened to Estel laugh.
And he smiled.