JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
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Not Fade Away: 10. Go, Leaf, It's Your B-Day!
Time passed. The Yule came and went, and the tree in the throne hall was divested of its jewelry and returned to the forest. Life in the cave settled into an easy routine for Mariposa. Every morning, right before the noon meal, she went to the library for lessons in the lovely lilting language they called Sindarin. The elves took turns teaching her, on an informal rotation among Leaf, Linda and Glenn, although Aaron had showed up once, and so, on one memorable occasion, had the older mortal woman, Tovah.
Tovah spoke her English in a heavy accent that Posey found hard to place. While she was reaching for a pen, Tovah's sleeve had fallen back from her wrist, revealing a faint line of numbers tattooed on her left forearm. Noticing Posey's blink of surprise, Tovah had smiled sadly.
"Sobibor. I was a teacher in my native Poland, so when the Nazis came, I was doubly cursed in their eyes. A Jew and an educated woman -- they couldn't have that. I ended up in the camp there, and I was one of the lucky ones who survived to fight in the breakout.
"I was wounded and separated from the rest when we fled into the woods. I don't know how long I wandered before collapsing and lying down in the snow to die. When they found me, I thought the angels had come for me. But it was my Morrie and the one they call Haldir. They brought me back here and when Aran heard my story he sent them out again to bring in as many as they could. For the next few years, these halls were crammed, and the mountain too. I bless him to this day!"
She sighed. "It wasn't his fight, and in saving as many of my people as he could, he lost a few of his own. I know what a sacrifice that was. But, oy -- you should have seen them fight! I went back out with them many times until I was shot again," she indicated her leg and the walking stick she used, "and there was no more fighting for me. But I can't complain. How else does a Rabbi's daughter from Kosalin, who expected to spend her life as an old maid, end up with a handsome husband who thinks a limp and grey hair are, how do you say it, sexy?"
* * *
Mariposa was still thinking about that conversation when she bumped into Leaf in the corridor.
"I'm glad to see you, Mariposa," he said, a smile lighting his face. "I have a little something to give you, and it will be too hectic at the feast tonight."
"Feast?" she asked. Did these elves never stop partying? "What's the occasion this time?"
He dropped his eyes a bit. "It's rather embarrassing, really, the thirteenth day of Narvain is my Begetting Day, and Father always insists on making a big fuss. After all these years, I'm used to it."
"I suppose a father might be understandably proud of a begetting," she said dryly. "Do you people actually know that sort of thing?"
Leaf laughed. "For us, it's one year to the day before our births. This is the equivalent of my birthday, for it is indeed the day I came into the world."
"It's always that predictable?"
"Our bodies work perfectly. At least nearly always," Leaf said, his face clouding briefly. "But here, I hope you like this." He placed a small package wrapped in parchment into her hand.
She broke the wax seal bearing Leaf's acorn symbol, and opened the package. "Oh my!" she said, her eyes beginning to mist. "This is beautiful!" She held a flat piece of carved light stone with a wide, shallow bowl and another deeper well in the upper right corner. Around the edges ran a tracery of vines and leaves in an Asian design. Along with it was a fine fox hair brush and a dark rectangular block of solid ink with Chinese characters embossed in gold.
"It's nothing very expensive," Leaf said, sounding almost apologetic. "It isn't jade or anything like that -- just soapstone. But the ink stone is Nineteenth Century Chinese. You would use it for Asian brush painting, but I thought it would come in handy for learning your tengwar and your cirth."
"I don't know what to say," she protested. "I don't have anything for you."
"You don't have to. On my Begetting Day, I'm the one who gives a present to everyone else."
"Please don't tell me this is another elvish custom!"
"No," he said, smiling softly. "This custom is one of my own, in honor of some very old friends."
"You'll bankrupt yourself!"
He laughed and gestured around him. "How could I ever be poor with all of this?"
"So, what are you giving your father?"
Leaf grinned impishly. "What DOES one give the man who has everything? In this case, I give him what I've given him on my every Begetting Day since my fiftieth. I deck myself out like the Solstice tree and wear something very special."
"And what would that be?"
He favored her with an enigmatic wink. "You'll see!"
* * *
Her stay in the caves had seemed like one long party, but this night was special. The wine was the best; the cooks had outdone themselves. Aaron sat at the head of the table in robes of gold to match his hair, and he seemed to gleam in the torchlight. Beside him, Felice wore a gown of soft dove grey velvet, and in her dark hair was a slender circlet of silver. There was always a palpable affection between the two of them, Mariposa had noticed; but it was different tonight. Felice seemed to lean into her husband, and often, his hand would stray to her forearm and rest there, stroking. They were lover-like.
"She's like the moon to his sun," Mariposa whispered to Linda, who was seated beside her at the high table.
"Tonight is a special anniversary for them. A beginning, an end, and a new beginning," Linda replied with a sigh. And if they are the sun and the moon, here comes the Earth."
A murmur of drawn breath passed over the hall as Leaf entered, bowed to his parents and sat down at Aaron's other side. He wore a velvet tunic of forest green, with tiny gems at the collar and silver embroidery on the sleeves. And in his pale hair was a circlet as fine as Felice's.
"He looks just like . . ."
"A girl in that crown," Linda finished for her. "He will do almost anything to avoid wearing it, except disappoint his father. And, I am amused to tell you, Aaron looked the same way in that crown when he was the Prince of the Greenwood. He felt the same way about it too." She smiled. "And the rest of us thought they were beautiful."
Mariposa laughed softly. "Is it polite to ask what he gave you today?"
"No, but I will tell you anyway," Linda replied good-naturedly. "Leaf gave me a book he bound himself. Shakespeare's Sonnets, transcribed into Sindarin and written by his own hand. A sweet gift."
Mariposa looked sidelong at her friend. Just how clueless was Linda, anyway? She looked up and caught Glenn's eye as he sat across the table. He winked and raised his glass.
'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment,' Mariposa thought. And then she looked down the table to Magorion and Tovah. 'Love is not love that alters as it alteration finds.' Truly, she would never understand these elves if she lived a thousand years, which she knew she would not. Why waste a precious minute, even if you have all the time in the world?
The dinner had ended and the tables were cleared away. The harps came out and the dancing began. The wine continued to flow.
Mariposa had yet to understand the music and the dances of the elves. The music was wild in its notes and its rhythms, sounding like Romanian folk tunes to her untutored ears. She would never have attempted the dances herself, as most were a series of intricate leaps and twirls, all in a circle. Leaf, as the guest of honor that night, was dancing every dance. Linda, as usual, stayed on the sidelines with Posey.
"Why don't you get out there and dance?" Mariposa said, after seeing Leaf flick them a surreptitious glance for what must have been the tenth time that evening.
Linda shook her head. "I've never mixed in. I'm not very good at it."
"Nonsense," Mariposa said. "It's Leaf's birthday and I think you owe him one." Before Linda had a chance to protest, Posey had taken her by the arm and propelled her out into the circle. Meril, who had been dancing with Leaf, fanned herself as if in sudden exhaustion and stepped aside, leaving him unpartnered. Taken by surprise, Linda had no choice but to join in with good grace.
For all of Linda's bashfulness about dancing, she was the personification of grace as she and Leaf leaped, twirled and circled about each other. Leaf's pale hair caught the torchlight, and the gems at his collar glinted like so many tiny stars, but his eyes had gone dark. Mariposa felt a subtle change come over the room as heads turned ever so subtly and eyes began to keep a discreet sidelong watch on the dancers. Mariposa sensed Glenn stepping up beside her, and he stood swaying slightly to the rhythm of the music.
Posey had seen this dance before. At the end, it was traditional for the couples to touch in some way, usually palm to palm, or touching foreheads. Some of the married couples would even kiss lightly on the lips if enough wine had been consumed.
One of the harpists missed a beat during the last measures of the tune, so intent was he on the dancers. As the music died away, Leaf stood staring at Linda. He reached out and touched his hand to her cheek, tentatively at first, then, as she reached out to him in return, he caught her hand and kissed the palm.
No one in the hall drew breath as the couple stared into each other's eyes. And then Leaf kissed Linda full on the lips and kissed her hard. Linda seemed to draw back for a moment and then her arms were around his velvet-clad shoulders, hanging on as if there was no tomorrow.
'I'll bet she's seeing stars,' Mariposa thought as the kiss drew out.
The kiss and the embrace broke. Leaf had Linda by the hand, bowing briefly to his parents before he and Linda left the hall, practically at a dead run. Posey could not help but notice that Aaron was grinning like a fool and clasping his laughing wife around the shoulders.
'Sometimes,' Mariposa told herself, 'all it takes is a little push across the floor.'
"Well, who could have seen that coming? Only me . . . Since the Napoleonic Age!" The tone was decidedly ironic, and a little slurred.
"Glenn, are you drunk?" Posey asked.
"Without a doubt," he answered. "I've been drunker, but not often. Would you mind, Miss Mariposa, taking a walk in the night air with me while I clear my head?"
They took some cloaks from a room near the gate. "Used to be the guardroom" Glenn muttered, "but there's no need for guards anymore. Orcs and spiders are all gone." Outside, snow was falling soft as soap flakes and a full moon made the forest glow brightly enough to read by.
A few yards up the path into the forest, Mariposa promptly sank up to her knees in a snowdrift. Glenn, who was having no trouble in the snow, turned, laughed, and fished her out. "Sorry, I forgot," he said, as they retreated to the end of the bridge. They stood in the pool of light from the bridge torches, and watched the half frozen river flow sluggishly past beneath.
"Oh, well," Glenn sighed, "I'm not a one for moonlight strolls in the woods anyway. In the old days, it was suicide, and I've never really been able to develop a taste for it. Are you all right here?"
Posey nodded. "I'm fine. A little chilly, perhaps." The temperature was not cold enough to freeze the river solid, but it was still enough to chill even a constitution used to Midwestern winters.
"Forgot about that too," Glenn said. "Here, come on under." He held his own cloak wide and wrapped it about her.
She huddled under his arm, sharing the heat of his body, and finding it disturbingly enjoyable. He was a head taller than she was, and his torso was lean and muscular for someone who spent his time at a desk. He smelled just as nice as he had on the plane ride. 'Damn,' she thought, 'it's too bad he's gay.'
"But I'm not," he whispered, turning her to him and kissing her.
Whoa! It was Posey's turn to see stars, as she tasted the sweet mixture of red wine and Glenn. And that answered at least one of her nagging questions about elves. There was a Tab A to fit into Slot B just like with regular people. And from what she felt poking into her midsection, Tab A was more than adequate to the job.
"Passion," he murmured, pulling back at last. "I never thought that I'd feel it again. After all these years! What am I going to do with you, Mariposa?"
"What would you like to do?" she said, fresh out of witty remarks.
"It's only the wine that gives me the courage to say this, but I'd like to take you back to my bedchamber and do with you what I very much suspect our Prince is doing with our Lady Healer as we speak."
"Well . . .?"
"It's . . . a little more complicated than that."
Jeez Louise! Elves! Posey thought. Always making things more difficult than they had to be. "So what's the problem? You seem to be in working order, liter of wine or not!"
He laughed. "My prowess has never been an issue. It's just that we take these matters very seriously. If I bed you, I wed you. And that's the long and short of it."
"You mean you don't . . .? That Leaf and Linda are . . .?"
"Yes, Mariposa. You saw a wedding tonight. A very hasty wedding, to be sure, but quite legal and proper by our customs. Often, we wait a little while for courtesy, but if I know Thranduil, he has been wanting to lock those two up together for the last two centuries, just to get the suspense over with for the rest of us."
"So, it's the 'code of the forest' that if you sleep with a girl you have to marry her?" That did make things a little more complex.
"Not 'have to,' Mariposa. If we ah . . . consummate, we ARE married, according to ancient custom. Lately, Sid has been suggesting that it might also require the vows to make a spiritually binding contract, but so far no one has been willing to make the experiment."
"Wow," she said. "That must complicate your sex lives!"
Glenn sighed. "You have no idea."
"Well, I understand how you might be reluctant to take such a big step with a mortal." Posey stared down at the snow as it collected on the thin ice sheets bordering the open currents of the river. About her own willingness to make a commitment with Glenn, she was not so sure. His friendship had become indispensable over the last months. He was always at her side, making her laugh, looking out for her. And now the prospect of something more...
"No, my dear little Butterfly. You mistake my meaning. It's been such a joy watching you come out of your cocoon over this last year. It awakened feelings in me that I haven't felt in ages. You have my heart. For me, the bond is made, for better or worse." He paused and held her a little closer. "But . . . you need to know that I was married before."
"Glenn, I was married before, in case you've forgotten. I could hardly object if you had a few exes here or back in Chicago."
"She's farther away than Chicago, I'm afraid. My first wife died a long time ago, in the early years of the Shadow's fall over Mirkwood. We hadn't learned to treat the spider bites effectively yet, and she was one of the first to be lost that way. Although, sadly, nowhere near the last."
"But if she's . . . passed on, why is that a problem for us?"
He sighed. "We don't die. Not really. If our bodies are destroyed by accidents or trauma, our faer - - you would call them souls -- are called to the Halls of Mandos in the West. After a time of healing, we're given new bodies. But we can't come home. The road to the West is one-way. Except for once -- and unfortunately, my wife chose not to accompany Leaf when he brought the others back. I don't know why -- fear of the Belain, I suppose. She was a good woman, I loved her, and I wish her well, but we are effectively parted, for I intend to meet the end of all things here, with my king.
"Equally unfortunately, according to our ancient rules I'm still a married man. After much thought, Aaron has changed the laws to allow for second marriages, but that was only after his own conflict of interest had ended, and he had broken with the Belain forever. When Leaf brought Felice back home to him."
Suddenly Felice and Linda's mysterious conversation at the Thankgiving party made sense to Posey. Living in the West. "Do you mean Felice didn't sail?"
Glenn shook his head. "Felice leave Aaron for any reason? Hardly. No, she died soon after Leaf was born, and it nearly broke his heart. That's why I won't leave him." Glenn paused and burst out into a sudden fit of coughing.
Posey realized she had never seen one of the elves ill in any way. They sneezed occasionally, but never a cold or a cough. "Are you all right, Glenn?"
He shrugged. "I'm fine. The cold air irritates my lung. It's an old wound, but it never really healed."
"Some wounds never do," she said. He looked so handsome in the moonlight and the glow of the torches, and a little sad. Very quietly over the past months, he had become such a part of her life that she could not imagine being without him. His declaration of love was sudden though, and the thought of the sort of serious commitment these people required was rather daunting. Prudence told her she should take some time to think it over. But a small voice in her head whispered her own thoughts of earlier in the evening back to her: Why waste a precious minute, even if you have all the time in the world?
She didn't have all the time in the world. She only had the rest of her life, which she realized she didn't want to spend without this man. "Glenn, are you asking me what I think you're asking?"
He nodded. "But you deserve better than second best. I may not be able to give you children. And I can only vow to be with you for as long as you live. After that . . ."
Posey almost laughed. "My first marriage was supposed to be until death do us part. And all I got was seven mediocre years. I don't consider what you're offering to be second best. Children . . . we'll worry about that later. And let's let Eternity take care of itself. The answer is yes."
He smiled and kissed her hand. "I suppose you'll be wanting a long engagement . . .?" His tone was tentative, hopeful.
"Very long. Ten minutes at least," she laughed. "So, how do we do this thing?"
"We ask the blessings of Eru the Allfather upon our union, and we promise to bind ourselves to each other for as long as you shall live. You can make your vow to Jehovah, Yahweh, Vishnu, or whatever higher power you prefer. I'm open minded when it comes to religious matters."
"What does Eru mean?"
"The One. The Only."
"Then that'll do. But, Glenn, there's one thing I need to know first." She paused and a look of worry came over his face, as if he might lose her at this last moment. "What's your real name? I'd like to know the man I'm marrying."
He smiled and chuckled. "Galion. That was the name my mother gave me . . . a very long time ago."
They held hands while the snow fell around them, and Glenn helped her to recite the vows in Sindarin. That done, he put his arm around her and led her back toward the great gate.
"I love you, Galion," she whispered happily.
"I love you too, Mariposa. I promise that I will cherish you for all the days of your life and I will remember you until the breaking of the world. Now comes the good part."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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