Over the Years (by faust)

 Summary:    Every ten years, the Elves come to Dale’s Yule market. Sometimes souls touch, bonds form, friendships bud, and then there’s more shared than just arts and crafts. (Not a romance, do not fear.)
Category:  Lord of the Rings
Genre:   Drama
Rated:  G
Word Count:   3,640


 

I.

“Are they coming, yet?”

Tinnia’s voice was a little desperate, and she stomped her feet again, as she’d done a hundred times already, in an attempt to keep them warm. Even though Mother had swept all snow aside and covered the hard frozen ground behind the market stall with an armload of straw, the cold was slowly creeping through the insulating litter, through soles and stockings and the additional rags Mother had wrapped around their feet. But Tinnia wouldn’t say a word about that, wouldn’t tell Mother that she could barely feel her toes anymore. For then Mother would send her home, saying she’d known all along the market was no place for a four-year-old, and all Tinnia’s begging would have been for nothing, and she’d have to wait for another ten years to see the Elven king and queen.

“Patience,” Mother said softly and adjusted Tinnia’s shawl. “They might have been delayed. There’s a good amount of snow on the trail, and they’ve got a long way to ride through the woods.” She laughed, “Don’t scowl,” and then put a finger on the crease between Tinnia’s brows and tenderly rubbed it so as to smooth it out. “They will come. They’ve never failed to do so.”

No, as far back as people could remember, the king and queen of the Great Greenwood had come to grace Dale with their appearance at the great Yuletide market once every ten years. And while the king himself was rarely seen mingling with the crowds on the market, the queen took obvious delight in ambling along the stalls laden with the finest merchandise you’d ever find in Dale. The King of the Woodland seemed less enticed by arts and crafts of Men than his wife and more interested in negotiating trade relations and politics with the Lord of Dale and his counsellors. Most years, straight after the official, public salutation, he would retreat to the Lord’s Halls with the dignitaries of the city, the rich and the influential, for counsels, while he left his queen with a small entourage of valets and guards to stroll the market.

As everyone else, perhaps even more so, for it would be the first time in her young life she witnessed it, Tinnia was anxiously awaiting the king’s and queen’s arrival. She’d heard about the king’s magnificent steed, an elk of almost unnatural size, about the beauty of the queen, about the splendour…

“There, look!” Mother’s voice was almost drowned out by shouts erupting from everywhere.

“Here they come!”

“Hail the king and queen!”

“The Elves, the Elves!”

Tinnia craned her neck. She had seen a few Elves before, all males, merchants mostly, who came to Dale regularly, and they all had been fair of face, graceful of movement, and kind and dignified of manners. If even merchants were that way, how much more so must be the king and queen?

And then they were there and gone, faster than Tinnia’s eyes could see and her mind could comprehend. The king’s elk…oh, the elk truly had been splendid, and the queen’s mare had been the noblest horse Tinnia could imagine, but from where she stood she’d seen just that, elk and horse, and a lot of just as beautiful mounts following them, but of their riders she’d seen nothing more than some glimpses of blue and green and white velvets and silks, and flashes of gold.

Mother sensed her disappointment. She squeezed Tinnia’s shoulder most gently. “Patience,” she repeated her earlier advice. “It won’t be long any more.”

And indeed, after almost no time the general murmur that lay over the market place grew in excitement, everyone stood straighter, the glassblower in the neighbouring stall set a vase straight and wiped another one with his coat’s sleeve; and then Tinnia finally saw the queen of the Elves.

The Lady of the Woodland slowly made her way down the alley, taking her time to closely inspect all market stalls, talk to the mongers, get demonstrations of their various products, and then buy some carefully selected items. She spent some time at every single stall, and it took her a little while to come down to where Tinnia’s mother displayed the books she’d scripted and illustrated.

“Mistress Bronfield,” she greeted Mother. “I was hoping to see you here today. I am in need of some of your fine tomes.”

Mother curtseyed. “Your Highness,” she said. “You are most generous. I hope I can live up to your expectations. If you have a look here…”

Tinnia didn’t listen anymore. Not to what her mother said, not to what the queen answered, not to those words anyway. What she did, was listen to the sound of the queen’s speech. Her lilting voice made the common tongue sound like a fairy tale of old, like some ancient and holy song, full of spirit and goodness and kindness.

And Tinnia stared. Stared into that otherworldly fair face, at that porcelain white skin, those leaf green eyes. Stared at the rich white and silver dress under the lavish pale green woollen mantle, the uncountable silver leaves embroidered on both of it, stared at the richly ornamented rings on those slender, long fingers, and the elaborate pendant resting over that creamy bosom; and for the first time Tinnia realised how truly remarkable it was that someone who owned such fine things deemed Mother’s books a treat to be desired.

Then, as if all that wasn’t wondrous enough already, the most amazing thing happened. Tinnia heard a tiny sound, like the chirping of a bird—but there were no birds in Dale at wintertime, were there?—and the queen smiled and tilted her head down. She brushed the hem of her mantle aside, made a shushing sound; there was more chirping, and then the tiniest hand Tinnia had ever seen appeared from the folds of the cloak and reached out for the queen’s face.

“A baby,” Tinnia breathed. She looked at her mother, who stared just as transfixed as Tinnia at the queen.

The lady’s smile grew wider, she grasped the small hand, and holding onto it she cooed, “Now are you interested in books, too, my little leaf? Fuss not, penneth, I have already seen to it. There will be a fine book waiting for you to be old enough to read, with lots of pictures of all sorts of animals.  Would you like that?”

There was movement under the mantle, it opened even more, and revealed a tightly wrapped bundle, strapped to the lady’s chest. Tinnia made out the tiny face of a nurseling, an almost new born, with the most dainty features, tiny, delicately pointed ears, and a tuft of golden hair.

The queen laughed as the baby turned its head, looked at Tinnia and her mother with huge, sky blue eyes, and waved its little hand at them. “Indeed,” she smiled. “I think he approves. Next time we come, though, he will make his own selection.”

The babe yawned, turned to snuggle even closer to his mother’s chest, and the lady carefully covered him with her mantle again. Then she gestured to one of her valets, and, pointing at the assortment of books Tinnia’s mother had set aside for her, said some words in her own tongue, whereupon the valet counted some gold coins on the counter and stowed the books in a basket.

The queen bade farewell and proceeded to the glass blower’s stall, leaving behind a thoroughly enthralled bookmaker and her daughter.

*****

II.

Ten years later, Tinnia was just as impatient to see the Elves as before. She hoped she would see the babe again, who by then must be a little boy, and she’d even prepared a few books she wanted to show him, items suitable for a boy his age, one of which she’d even scripted and drawn herself, as she had inherited her mother’s talent for bookmaking.

When the queen and the prince eventually came to their stall, though, Tinnia was disappointed. The little boy looked very much like his mother, with his hair almost the same colour as hers and his features delicate as hers, and his eyes were the same sky blue as the babe’s from ten years ago, but he was clearly not older than three, maybe four years.

“That is not the boy from last time,” she blurted before she could stop herself. Being fourteen did that to her: her tongue was quicker than her brain, Mother always said, and, to make things worse, quicker than her manners.

The boy was unperturbed. “You are the bookmaker, are you not?” he said to Tinnia. “I very much like the book you made, the one with the animals. Now I would have another one, with flowers and trees, if you have the like of it.”

“I’m not…my mother made that book,” Tinnia replied. “It was made ten years ago; I was four then.”

Now the boy looked puzzled. “You cannot…”

He said something in his own language to the queen, who shook her head and softly reprimanded, “Westron, Legolas.”

The boy, Legolas, looked down and said, “Yes, Naneth. But I do not understand how…” He gestured at Tinnia.

The queen nodded. “Ah, I see where the misunderstanding lies.” She smiled, first at Legolas then at Tinnia.” You see, Men grow quicker than Elves. Only in body, though, not in mind.”

It was much to comprehend, and Tinnia was glad her mother elaborated on it later, but for now it had to suffice. What was more important was that she soon found that Legolas liked the same kind of books she did, that the animal glossary the queen had bought ten years ago was actually the prince’s most favourite book, and that he’d even started to carve animals after the pictures in the book. He produced a wooden oliphaunt from his pocket, and Tinnia admired his craftsmanship. She had to remind herself that he was older than he looked, but even for a ten-year-old his skills were impressive.

In the end, Legolas chose a plant glossary, a collection of pirate stories, and a small volume about healing herbs with which he wanted to gift his mother for the winter solstice.

Payment went the same way as the last time, but before the valet stowed away the books, Legolas picked up his purchase. “I will carry them,” he said.

Tinnia saw him clutch the heavy tomes to his chest while he walked along the stalls besides his mother, oh-so subtly bouncing on his feet every now and then.

*****

III.

Tinnia was heavy with child when she next met Legolas. He looked like a six-year-old, and even though she knew he was almost as old as she was, she didn’t know how not to feel awkward, didn’t know how much he understood of her…circumstances.

He was polite as ever, wished her luck and good health, and promised to bring her child a carved toy the next time they’d meet.

She smiled at that and said that she’d probably have more than one child by then, and then blushed furiously when he blushed.

“I shall…be prepared,” he muttered.

He bought no book that time.

*****

IV.

The selection of carved animals that Legolas lined up on the market stall’s counter contained an oliphaunt, an elk, two ponies, a cat, six different breeds of dogs, an eagle, a sparrow, a swan, a spider, a whale, a seahorse, a butterfly—and a cave troll.

Tinnia pressed her hands to her mouth and laughed through her fingers. “You have a lot of faith in me, it seems.”

“A child can have more than one toy,” Legolas remarked magnanimously. “And you do have…” He made a show of counting the little redheads staring at him open-mouthed from behind the counter. “…five sons. You are in need of plenty of toys.”

“Yes, that I have. And there’ll be even more.” She laid a hand on her round belly. “I do hope for a girl this time. It seems the talent for bookmaking in this family is handed down from mother to daughter only.”

With the number of books the prince and the queen purchased that year, Tinnia was able to buy toys and clothes and many more things for her children for years—also for the little daughter who was born four days into the new year.

*****

V.

Legolas may have looked no older than Tinnia’s middle son, but his soul seemed mature far beyond even his actual age. Tinnia wasn’t sure if it was a normal Elven trait or if Legolas was exceptionally kind and wise in the way of treating people. Perhaps he just took after his mother, whose compassion seemed endless.

Whatever it was that made him give her a ridiculous amount of gold for the crude drawings of Tinnia’s only daughter (who, by a cruel fate, obviously had not inherited her ancestor’s talents), she sent a silent thank you to the Creator of All Things to have bestowed it upon the Elven prince. It would pay for medicine for her mother, and for her husband and two oldest boys, who’d come down with the coughing disease. It would also compensate for the loss of income due to them being incapacitated.

She did not cry for the relief that gave her, even though her eyes stung.

*****

VI.

It was amazing to see Legolas fully grown. He still appeared a little coltish, and somehow Tinnia would have expected him to grow taller, but it was obvious that he would gain no more than maybe another inch or two. He was tall enough, though, for her to lean into him and weep at his shoulder when she broke into tears after the queen’s inquiry after Tinnia’s mother—who’d passed away only a few weeks prior the Yule market.

She was oddly comforted by the soft lament Legolas sung while he awkwardly stroked her hair, and then went through the rest of the day in a daze. Much later, when she lay in her bed, sleepless and wondering what had possed her to show such lack of restraint, she realised that not the lady’s concerned words had been her undoing but the way the startled disbelief in the prince’s eyes had melted into utter misery and compassion.

*****

VII.

Tinnia was sixty-four already when she noticed the first signs of age: her back hurt in the mornings, her fingers sometimes were too stiff to hold the quill, and her feet seemed to be unable to withstand the cold as she stood behind her market stall.

Legolas, naturally, was as young as ever; and for the first time ever, Tinnia envied him.

*****

VIII.

She didn’t envy him ten years later, when he came to the market alone.

Of course, in Dale they had heard about the death of the Queen of Greenwood at the hand of dark creatures the year before. They had mourned the fair and kind Lady of the Woods, the Lord of Dale had send condolences to King Thranduil in the name of his people, and there had been lots of talk among the townsfolk, about the unfairness of the world that allowed the creatures of evil to extinguish one of the brightest lights among the firstborn.

Tinnia had thought of Legolas, and hoped that he, too, would have a shoulder to cry on and a kind soul that would calm his distress with gently given songs and love.

He did not look as if that had been the case. In fact, he looked…old. Worn out, lifeless, listless, captivated in grief. Clearly, he attempted to hide it and to be just as kind and lively as his mother as he made his way from one stall to the next, but he fooled no one. People answered to his inquiries in a subdued manner, they barely dared showing him their goods, and he bought next to nothing.

When he reached Tinnia’s stall he opened his mouth but no words came out. As his gaze swept over the books it looked as if the sight of them pained him; still he reached a hand out and gingerly touched the cover of a collection of poems.

“She would have liked it,” Tinnia said softly.

He pulled his hand back as if it had been burnt. “I do not wish to…I do not…”

And then he fled.

*****

IX.

The ache in her joints grew stronger with each day, her hands no longer were able to do something as delicate as drawing or writing, but that didn’t matter anyway, for her eyes failed her, too, and only provided her with blurred images of the world. She couldn’t seem to get warm, even when sitting right next to the roaring fireplace, and her legs refused to carry her where she wanted to go if the way was longer than from her bedroom to the kitchen. Therefore it was no wonder her children tried to persuade her not to set up a stall at that year’s Yule market. But Tinnia resorted to the way of begging that had been successful eighty years ago, and to her utmost satisfaction, it did the trick once again.

She didn’t have many books to sell, for she had not made one for years, and none of her children had inherited her gift for bookmaking. Her business would die with her, and she felt in her bones that it wasn’t a long time till then any more.

She had, however, an item to give away, and she desperately hoped that the receiver of it would make an appearance, that she hadn’t chased him away forever.

She need not have worried. Waiting for him took much longer than anticipated—rumour said the prince had been made to accompany his father at the counsel—but shortly before twilight, there was the usual sudden excitement, the straightening of postures and alignment of goods, and then Legolas appeared.

More mature than ever, but without the strain of fresh grievance in his features, he looked just as otherworldly beautiful as the late queen, the resemblance to her striking, both in looks and in bearing. His smile was amiable as he chatted to the mongers, his look open and friendly, and people responded to him as they would have done to his mother.

He seemed genuinely pleased to see Tinnia, even though he took little heed of her goods. “I must apologise,” he said. “I was very rude the last time we met.”

“No, you weren’t,” she replied. “You were grieving. That’s all.”

“You are most generous, Mistress Tinnia.” He bowed his head, then looked up again and continued, a little uncertain, “May I inquire how you are faring?”

“I’m old,” she said, as if he could understand the concept and the implications. “We’re meeting for the last time.”

He blinked. No, he certainly didn’t understand.  He had encountered death already, but that had been a violent death, and he didn’t understand that it could also come as a blessing.

“I have a gift for you,” she said. “A farewell gift, if you will.”

He accepted the small item, weighed it in his hand it for a moment, then looked at Tinnia, and, at an encouraging nod from her, folded back the linen in which it was wrapped.

Tinnia saw his eyes glaze over as he stared at the small picture. It was the last thing she’d ever drawn, the motif taken from her memory but unforgettable and still so vivid as if she’d seen it only yesterday. It showed a mother and her child, the Elven queen gazing lovingly down at her baby son, who rested in her arm, his tiny fist closed around her finger.

“You are most generous,” Legolas repeated. “Have my eternal thanks, dear mistress. I wish I could somehow…reciprocate.”

“Oh, lad, you have nothing to reciprocate. Over the years you’ve given me more than you’ll ever know.”

They parted, eventually. A couple of books changed hands first, but for once Legolas let them be carried by a valet. The prince clutched the small drawing to his chest while he walked along the stalls, like the child he had once been; and Tinnia believed she saw him bounce on his feet every now and then.

*****

X.

The old bookmaker Tinnia died two days after the winter solstice.  It is said that an Elf attended her funeral, but it can’t be verified for none of the other attendees is alive to give account of that.

What can be verified, though, is that every ten years, the day after the Yule market there can be a found a small token next to the marker on Tinnia’s grave: a small animal, a flower, a leaf, all carved of wood, masterfully crafted as only an Elven hand could.

***The End***

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