23. Rivendell Nine to Five: 3
I didn't die.
Just before ten, Legolas came to fetch me for supper. He walked in on me huddled on my bed in the cold and dark, clinging desperately to the friendly glow of the computer screen, and asked me why I hadn't turned on the lights and heat. I told him I didn't know how. He went over to the box on the wall with all the knobs and dials, fiddled with a few things, and there was light! Then something started whirring, and he said there was heat! He showed me how to work both things. There is no central heating here, only an electric wall heater, so I have to remember to turn it on and off manually. The light controls are on the same unit as the heating panel. Nothing is marked, so I'm not sure how I'll remember it, but at least I know now that I won't die. And I may not be in a third world country after all. It's only second world.
I asked him if there were any outlets where I could plug in the computer, and he showed me these weird holes in the wall that I originally thought were for ventilation purposes. Maybe because they had cold air coming through them. But Legolas explained that the cold air was only due to poor insulation (as if there's any insulation in this place!), and that the holes were indeed power outlets. I think I'm going to need an adaptor. I'll get him to take me shopping tomorrow. I also asked him if he could make my sink work, but he said no, it was just plain broken. I have to use the communal sink in the bathroom down the corridor.
Then we went for supper. I guess people in Mirkwood eat supper very late, because it was nearly ten thirty by the time we sat down. We had: some weird stew, mashed vegetable (I couldn't tell if it was potato, turnip, or something else I've never heard of), abnormally long green beans, cabbage, and a pudding-like thing with bland, creamy sauce on it. Thranduil kept trying to talk at me while I ate, but I was so tired I couldn't manage anything more than an occasional yes-I'm-still-paying-attention nod. Eventually he gave up and talked at grandpa instead. Grandpa's been here four days and already looks like he regrets ever thinking Fiommereth in Mirkwood could be a good idea. The electric wall heater in his room doesn't work, so he has a plug-in unit. It buzzes loudly. I know exactly how annoying that can be, having lived with a buzzing P in my office for six weeks.
I fell asleep as soon as I got back to my (slightly warmer than before) room, but woke up at quarter after five this morning because my sleeping schedule is all screwed up. There was nothing better to do, and I couldn't fall back asleep, so I bundled up in the least itchy wool blanket and went to sit by the electric heater and read. I stayed there until seven, when I went to find Elrohir. He was sitting on the floor in his room by his heater, reading a comic. Legolas was with him. Legolas explained that it's a tradition among Mirkwood youth to turn on the electric wall heater after getting up of a morning and read a while before breakfast. I have accidentally participated in a special Mirkwood family tradition. Legolas also said that when he used to share a room with his brother, they'd fight over who got the better spot on the floor. That was also a tradition. I couldn't argue with that, so I shoved Elrohir out of the way and made myself comfortable by his electric heater, itchy blanket wrapped snugly around me. I must admit, it was rather satisfying in a rustic sort of way. I'll have to invite grandpa to join us tomorrow.
After breakfast (Frosted Flakes- I was almost hoping for something more ethnic, but not really), we sat around by the heaters some more until we were warm enough to do things. Then we sat around by the heaters longer because there was nothing to do. Then we watched television. It was mostly reality shows and low-budget movie-of-the-weeks. After lunch (fried pork in some weird white sauce that tasted a bit like yoghurt) I decided to have a shower, but that was a mistake. The water pressure here might as well be non-existent. It took me twenty minutes to wash the first shampoo out of my hair. I didn't bother doing a second, and used a minimal amount of conditioner. I think I'm going to have baths from now on. I can't spare forty minutes each day to shower.
Actually I can, because there's nothing to do here apart from sit around by the electric wall heaters, but I just don't want to.
We spent some more time in the afternoon around the heater, then watched more television, and then Elrohir had the bright idea of hauling Legolas' small television into the bedroom so we could watch reality shows while sitting around the heater. We did that until supper time. My eyes sort of hurt now. But at least that's one day wasted. Only thirteen left to go. I am looking forward to the flight back to Rivendell on January 3rd so much it isn't funny.
Today at one o'clock Thranduil came in, turned our electric heater off, and insisted we go do something. In particular, he wanted Legolas to go to the market and buy some special holiday foods. Elrohir and I had to go with him by default, as he is our trusted guide in this strange place. We got dressed, shovelled the snow and ice away from the garage door, and drove to the market in a very small car that I'm pretty sure was made of fibreglass. That can't be safe.
The market was down a narrow, tree-lined street. Everything here is down a narrow, tree-lined street. I can't tell one from another. I'm not sure how Legolas can. We finally wound up parked haphazardly in the middle of a square, surrounded by other small fibreglass cars stuck at odd angles. Legolas explained that Mirkwood car parks have no order, that everyone just parks where they fit in the big jumble of cars, and woe to whomever is stuck in the middle of the mess because they're not getting out any time soon. Then we walked down some narrow streets to the outdoor market.
Really, only a completely brainless culture would think of having an outdoor market in the middle of winter in a climate that boasts the most snowfall and coldest temperatures of all non-mountain regions. The whole market was full of vendors wearing furry parkas so huge that they ceased to look like Elves and almost looked more like bears. We could tell they were Elves, though, by the way they were sitting around their portable electric heaters in their little vendor tents. They were all selling various seasonal products, from baking to ornaments to roasted nuts. Elrohir bought a newspaper cone full of the roasted nuts, and we were both highly disappointed to discover they had a taste and texture very similar to potatoes, only less good. Legolas bought a bag of cookies, some odd-looking fruitcake loaves, a few bottles of a wine-type drink, a sack of holly leaves, some hard candy, and a large braided bread. I wanted to buy some little wooden ornaments, but I couldn't because I've still not gone to the currency exchange and the ornament vendors didn't take Visa.
When we were done at the market, I made Legolas drive me to a store that did take Visa, so I could buy an outlet adaptor. After we waited around in the car park for an hour until the jackass blocking our way out saw fit to move his stupid fibreglass car, that is.
We made frozen pizza for supper, because Thranduil and his wife had taken grandpa out cross country skiing and there was no grand eating plan. We ate it while sitting around the heater in Legolas' room.
Legolas' older brother, Glorion, and his wife, Lerael, arrived today. They live in Belfalas and have a small son who is ten months old. I'm not sure what his name is, since they only ever call him "Baby". He is just starting to walk and talk. I can see how this is going to get annoying very quickly.
Glorion owns condo complexes in Belfalas. He wears suits and ties around the house, all the time, even while watching telly. He reads the financial section of the newspaper. I dislike him already. I also dislike Lerael, mostly because her name sounds too similar to Legolas' mum's name (Liril), and she always assumes everybody's trying to talk to her when they say "Liril", which makes no sense. Why would I want to ask her were the spare toilet roll is kept? But mostly I dislike Baby. The second most annoying thing about him is that he poops all over the floor. The most annoying thing is that Glorion and Lerael don't care. They do not believe in diapers, so instead they let Baby wander around with no bottoms on so he can go whenever he wants, wherever he wants, and they clean it up. But not always right away.
So at dinner today, in the middle of some bland sausage soup, Baby came toddling over to Glorion's chair and whispered, "Oos." This, I have learned, means, "I pooped." Glorion picked him up, wiped his bum with a paper napkin, put the napkin back onto the table, and continued eating! None of the Mirkwood folk seemed to even notice, but grandpa looked horrified, and rightly so! Even Elrohir wrinkled his nose, and he is usually in favour of all ideas of the zany, preposterous, impractical, or just plain stupid variety. We had to sit through the rest of dinner with the smell of poo wafting through the air. Baby had done his business right by one of the electric wall heaters.
When the airport rang to say they had located Elrohir's luggage and we could either come collect it or wait and have it couriered to us tomorrow, I was all for driving out to get it. Two hours out of the house and away from Glorion's family is not something I'm about to turn down, even if it is two hours spent on the highway to and from the airport.
After the airport, I made Legolas take me shopping. Mostly because I just wanted to stay away from the house, but also because I figured I should probably buy presents for everyone. Legolas helped me. We bought:
*Scratch-and-win lotto tickets for Glorion and Lerael. I feel obliged to get them something, but at the same time, I don't care enough to get them something good. Also threw in a plastic rattle toy shaped like a strawberry for Baby. It makes a terrible grating sound when shaken. My wish is for it to thoroughly get on Glorion and Lerael's nerves.
*Ski wax for Thranduil. Legolas assured me this is what he wants. I'm a bit uncertain, but who am I to argue? Legolas probably knows what his dad wants. Probably. But then as we walked past an apothecary I saw a big cardboard display of some amazing new product that's supposed to cure muscle pain, so I picked up a bottle of that. From what I remember of Thranduil, he loves any and all random pharmaceuticals with the words "NEW!" and "As seen on TV!" embossed on the label.
*Slippers for Thranduil's mum. Who doesn't want slippers? And they were cheap. If I did the currency conversion right.
*One of those crappy ocean sounds relaxation CDs and a bottle of calming aromatherapy oil for Liril. She seems like the type who would use such things. I'm always seeing her take anti-stress pills.
*Bath stuff for Legolas' sisters. Only had to buy four perfumy gift baskets, since the oldest one is staying with her uni boyfriend in Lórien this year.
*A gift card to a DVD store for Legolas. He was watching while I bought his present. Actually, he told me what to get for him. He promised to look surprised when he opens it. That's good enough for me.
We got back home just in time to visit for a while before supper, and by "visit" I mean "listen to Thranduil, Glorion, and grandpa argue about politics". Thranduil is a socialist. Glorion is a capitalist. Grandpa is somewhere in the middle. They can't agree on anything. Mostly just Thranduil and Glorion yell at each other, but sometimes grandpa interjects with something neither of them care about. The visit ended with Glorion storming off when Thranduil accused him of being Noldorin, and Thranduil yelling after him that, "Anyone who thinks like that is the cause of all the problems in this world!" Glorion, Lerael, and Baby went out for supper. As an appreciative gesture, I made a point of sitting by Thranduil as we ate and pretending to be interested in what he had to say. That took some effort. He was complaining about faulty stringing on a generic hired badminton racquet he was forced to use at the Court Club this afternoon when he forgot his own, and how it caused him to ruin a twenty-nine game winning streak against the chief of police.
Glorion and Thranduil have made up. I was hoping Glorion would be angry enough to stay distant for at least a few days, or maybe even go home, but the rift only lasted until shortly after breakfast this morning.
Thranduil was by the back door, bending down to tie up his ski boots. Glorion was leaning against the kitchen archway, looking surly. Baby had just escaped from his mother's watchful eye and was tearing around the place as fast as his legs could carry him. He ran right up to hunched-over Thranduil, smacked him on the bottom, and yelled, "BUM!"
Glorion applauded. "Bum" was a new word for Baby. And Thranduil, proud to be the teacher of this new word, was laughing and reminiscing with Glorion within seconds.
I didn't stay around for the celebration. I talked Legolas and Elrohir into going to a movie. Baking a cake in honour of a small child learning to say "bum" isn't really my idea of a good time. Also, Baby looked like he was in a pooping mood.
Legolas and Elrohir are perpetually in trouble. Glorion snitched to Liril this morning that they were up to no good, and she discovered them in a bathroom, decorating themselves with permanent marker. Elrohir has "FLAMING BEE" written across his back. Legolas' chest says "BOOTY CLUB".
As punishment, Elrohir had to help Thranduil's mum peel approximately seven million potatoes for the big community supper tomorrow. Legolas was sent out to get the tree. I was a bit surprised to hear this, since I thought Fiommereth trees were a Noldorin tradition, but Thranduil yelled at me for being stupid and corrected my misconception. Decorated trees, he claims, are actually a Sindarin tradition from their old pre-colonial winter festival. In those days, people put presents on the tree, and strings of berries and cookies. The invading Noldor stole the tradition, altered it so the tree represented one of the Two Trees of Valmar, and then proceeded to ruin everything else about the celebration. For my ignorance, I was sentenced to go help Legolas get the tree. I tried to point out to Thranduil that I am now a respected world political figure, and he can't just boss me around like a little kid, but he didn't seem to care. I had to help Legolas get the tree.
Getting a tree in Mirkwood is way more of an ordeal than getting a tree in Rivendell. In Rivendell, we drive to a tree lot in a shopping mall car park, fork over too much money, and the hardest part is getting the tree bungeed onto the roof of the car. In Mirkwood, getting the tree involves bundling up in so many layers of winter clothes you can hardly move, finding the rusty old saw under a pile of extension cords and dirty plant pots in the garage, wading out through knee-deep snow, and finding the one reasonable tree in the middle of the forest to cut down and haul home. It took us six hours. Finding a tree of the proper size and shape was the hardest part. Legolas was far too picky. I'm not sure why he said no to the one with two tops. Apart from having two tops, it was completely fine.
Once we found the perfect tree, or as perfect as we could find, we had to saw it down with a blade that really didn't work too well. It worked even less well in our frozen, mittened hands. Dragging it home wouldn't have been too bad if we hadn't already been exhausted from trudging through the snow and so cold we couldn't feel our legs. I could have punched Elrohir, waving cheerfully to us from his stool in the nice warm kitchen as we hauled the tree inside. The most dangerous thing that happened to him all day was a piece of potato skin falling into his lap and making a starch stain.
We set up the tree in Thranduil's crappy aluminium tree stand (I think it must be a Fiommereth tradition worldwide to have to wrestle with tree stands that don't work properly) while Liril and Thranduil unpacked the decorations. I can't even begin to describe how relieved I was to learn Mirkwood trees don't have minilights on them. After my experience with the string of mini-unlights, I was beginning to get an unpleasant churning sensation in my stomach at the thought of Thranduil criticising my inexpert lighting abilities.
Now that I've very thoroughly experienced both cultures, I think I can safely say that the only similarities between a Rivendell tree and a Mirkwood tree are as follows:
1) The tree is an evergreen.
2) It is put into a precariously tippy metal stand.
Apart from having no minilights, Mirkwood trees are also devoid of all shiny gold and silver plastic crap. Most importantly, this means no tinsel to stick to everything and cause a huge mess. I like Mirkwood trees a lot better already (apart from the bit about going out into the forest in the middle of a blizzard to saw them down). All the decorations are carved, painted wood, in the shape of toys, food, children, animals, snowflakes, and other wholesome things. Trying to make up for my earlier ignorance, I asked Thranduil if the little wooden doll and drum ornaments were meant to represent actual gifts that would have been placed on the tree in earlier times, and he said yes, now I was catching on to things. As a reward, he told me I could be the first one to string a cookie onto the long thread to wrap around the tree.
Putting cookies onto thread is a lot harder than it sounds. First, the cookies are tiny, about the size of my fingernail. Second, they are very brittle. I broke four trying to pierce them with the oversize needle before I finally managed to get one onto the thread. The plus side to this, though, is that we got to eat all the broken cookie halves. And they're damn tasty. We started with an enormous bowl full of cookies, and ended up with a whole ten feet of widely spaced, useable cookied thread. This was probably because we were all eating cookies that weren't even broken. I know I was. I couldn't help myself. I had a stomach ache from eating so many, but it was impossible to stop. I swear those things are addictive (even though they look like dog food).
Thranduil wrapped the ten-foot cookie thread around the middle of the tree and pronounced the evening's celebrations officially started. Liril brought out a tray of mugs filled with hot spiced wine, Thranduil's mum brought out a selection of more cookies, cakes, and breads, and we all proceeded to get a bit tipsy and silly. Disaster almost happened when Baby tried to pull the tree down to reach the cookie string, but luckily Liril caught him in time. The tree did start to lean dangerously to the left because of him. We couldn't get the stupid stand straight again, so Thranduil had to tie it up to the overhead track lighting with some fishing line.
Around what should have been supper time (though there was no supper, as we were all far too full on cookies), people started showing up at the door to sing. Thranduil gave them cookies. I don't know where all the cookies were coming from, but it looked like Thranduil's mum must have been baking all year to produce that many. I also don't know where all the wine was coming from. I don't remember ever refilling my mug, but it was always full somehow. Holiday magic, I guess.
The uncontrolled revelry went on until midnight. Then, when the singers had all gone home and the cookies had all somehow been eaten (I lost count of how many I had), we sat around by the tippy tree and exchanged gifts. I got:
*An incredibly soft and fuzzy pair of pyjamas from Elrohir.
*An electronic daytimer from grandpa.
*A gift card for a DVD store from Legolas. (I told him what to get me, too.)
*A book about outdoor fitness from Thranduil and Liril.
*A bag of the tiny, addictive cookies from Thranduil's mum.
*Socks, crossword puzzle books, a calendar, and a family pack of Smarties from Legolas' various sisters.
*Lotto tickets from Glorion and Lerael. (Who the hell do they think they are, giving me such a cop-out gift?!)
There was some photo-taking, and some more singing, and more eating even though we were already stuffed, and Baby (who was tired and owly by this point) had a temper tantrum in the middle of the used giftwrap pile because Thranduil accidentally dropped a warm cheese puff onto his head. Lerael accused Thranduil of being careless around children. Thranduil retorted that the safety of his children was the most important thing in the world, only he gesticulated a bit too wildly, and Legolas, who had the unfortunate timing to lean down right then to pick up the dropped cheese puff, got smacked in the eye. Glorion started laughing and pointing out Thranduil's numerous flaws, Thranduil started swearing at him, and Liril chose this perfect moment to announce that she's pregnant.
Everyone in the room immediately shut up, and sat where they were, stunned. Everyone, that is, except Thranduil, who started cheering. He flung his arms out as a grand celebratory gesture, and promptly knocked over a candle, which in turn knocked over a cup of hot wine. It spilt all down Baby's front. The temper tantrum resumed. Lerael started to have a temper tantrum of her own. Thranduil was too busy kissing Liril to notice. Unlike most people who have been married longer than I've been alive, they have no shame, and their kissing involves all kind of slimy things and groping parts that are more appropriate for a porno movie than a holiday family gathering. I was really, really relieved when Legolas tugged on my sleeve and asked if Elrohir and I wanted to go watch television in his room and escape the gong show. We left Baby howling, Lerael raging, Glorion complaining, and Thranduil working his hand up Liril's skirt at a steady rate. Grandpa was pretending to be asleep in the rocking chair by the fire. I don't blame him.
So now I'm sitting on Legolas' bed and eating some chocolate-covered biscuits we lifted from the pantry (I'm not sure why, because I'm not the least bit hungry, but I can't seem to stop). Legolas and Elrohir are watching the Telerin game show channel, on which contestants are trying to jump off a springboard and land on a giant inflatable mushroom. The other channels only have sappy old black and white holiday movies, so the choice is limited.
I am wearing my new pyjamas, and they really are hazardously fuzzy. I keep rubbing my arms just to feel the fuzz. Legolas keeps rubbing me, too. He says he can't help it, due to the overwhelming fuzziness, but I'm suspicious. He could always rub my arms or knees instead of my thighs and bum.
It makes me ashamed of myself that I haven't asked him to stop.
I didn't really get to sleep last night. I mean, I did sleep, but not in any significant way.
I remember that after about two hours of Telerin game shows, Elrohir switched to the Vanyarin game show channel, which isn't as physically hilarious but is for the most part equally bizarre. Only there weren't any Vanyarin game shows on. They had been pre-empted for some kind of charity telethon. The charity telethon was hosted by Glorfindel.
I don't think there are adequate words to describe how very odd it was to be sitting in Mirkwood at three in the morning, watching Glorfindel on television from a different continent. He was walking around some run-down huts in a hot, dry place (probably Valmar), talking about how your donation of only thirty dollars a month can help feed hungry children. Or something like that. It was all in Quenya and sort of hard to understand, but I'm sure that was the gist of it. His message was undermined, though, by repetition of the same shots of bored-looking women in dirty shawls holding a fat baby. It probably would have been more effective to show a skinny baby that wasn't struggling to escape.
Elrohir tried to ring the toll-free number to pledge a one-time amount of seven dollars, but was told by a Quenya-speaking robot that the charity was not equipped to accept overseas donations. By this time he was tired and ornery enough that having a robot tell him he couldn't send seven dollars to a fat Vanyarin baby made him really mad. We quickly decided that the only reasonable course of action would be to ring Glorfindel and complain.
We had to do this from Thranduil's office. Thranduil is terrified of long distance telephone charges, and has his whole place rigged so that only no-charge numbers can be dialled. The only way to telephone long distance is to go through his computer. This is about when I should have started to suspect that one thing could very easily and very quickly lead to another, and before long, we would certainly be up to no good. Should have, but didn't.
We turned on the modem, turned on the computer, and ate some toffees from a bowl on his desk while waiting for everything to load. I had time for three toffees, since Thranduil has his computer set so that about fifteen programs load at startup. We had to wait for everything from Outlook to Kodak Camera Centre. Once it was good to go, we were about to close Outlook and telephone Glorfindel on Skype, but a new mail message popped up just in time. The mail was from Glorfindel, with the subject line, "NINJA ATTACK!". Legolas opened it before I could tell him it probably wasn't a good idea. My mouth was too full of toffee.
The email's text said, inexplicably, "Ninjas, like their primitive ancestral forefathers, are still roaming at large to devour your crops, challenge your livestock, and confuse your attractive streetwalkers with the art of indecent dance." Attached were three photos of Glorfindel with a red sash tied around his head, wearing a cheap printed kimono and flipflops. In the first photo, he was cramming grapes into his mouth, and in the second, he was posing menacingly toward a toy monkey. In the third, his kimono had slipped off one shoulder, and he had adopted a disco-like stance as Aralindë (who was wearing a miniskirt with fishnet tights, and far too much makeup) looked on in exaggerated horror.
The three of us stared in shock for a good few minutes. Then Elrohir broke the silence by saying, "What the hell?!" Legolas and I could only nod in agreement. We looked over the pictures again, read the message again, and noticed the email had also been sent to dad, Erestor, Círdan, grandma, grandpa, and some names I didn't recognise. After another minute of silence, Legolas noticed that there were other attachment messages from Glorfindel in Thranduil's inbox. He opened one. Then another. Then all of them. We stared in disbelief at pictures of Glorfindel pretending to be a Tiki man, Glorfindel being attacked by a plastic dinosaur, Glorfindel wearing a wig made out of dryer lint, Glorfindel posing nude behind a strategically placed frond, Glorfindel being a zombie, and so on. After more bizarre pictures of Glorfindel than I ever needed to see in my life, Elrohir pointed out that there were similar attachment messages from Thranduil in the "sent" folder. Thranduil bending to touch his elbow to his heel, sticking a carrot up his nose, sitting cross-legged on the toilet, being hit in the bum with a promotional X-Box foam ball, drinking a glass of vinegar, putting a fake moustache on a cactus, and so on. There were hundreds of these messages, some dating back years. We had unwittingly stumbled across some kind of Twilight Zone photo exchange club.
The madness should have ended there. The three of us were too disoriented by the evidence of perfectly boring adults doing such silly things to say or do anything more, so it was an ideal opportunity to just go to bed quietly. And we probably would have, if Glorfindel hadn't sent us an instant message.
Legolas was dumb enough to answer it. Then we were stuck pretending to be Thranduil for the next hour while Glorfindel wrote miles of inane comments about himself, his family, his car, his new condo, his loud neighbour, the statue down the street, the weather, weed, public transportation, pigeons, his hair, his wardrobe, recreational drugs, and whatever else popped into his head. Elrohir asked what the deal was with the charity, and Glorfindel said (in a long roundabout way that included a lengthy digression about falafels and sesame seeds) that the expense to allow overseas donations was greater than their likely overseas profit, given that the show only aired in Quenya and most of the eastern population likely didn't understand. Then we asked why he showed such a fat baby when a skinny one clearly would have been more heartbreaking. He informed us that the fat baby was Elairon.
Elrohir accused him of lying, and being high, and being a high liar. That sent him into another long explanation (including a digression about daylight savings time) of how poor and ignorant Vanyarin women, such as the kind he wanted to be in his show, refuse to be videotaped because they consider such things to be worse than prostitution. When they told Glorfindel and his film crew this, he had the bright idea to hire actual prostitutes at ACTRA union wage. So Elrohir was devastated to learn that the women in dirty shawls were prostitutes paid to look like wholesome beggars, and that the fat baby was just Elairon. I think this might put a damper on his enthusiasm for Vanyarin culture. Also for charitable giving. It'll be a long time before he's able to trust again.
We excused ourselves from the IM session as soon as was reasonably possible, which wasn't very soon at all. It took our overtired minds a good long while to think up a Thranduilish enough excuse as to why we had to go to bed, and in the end we told Glorfindel we had to get back to the television in order to tape a Dr. Who marathon that started in five minutes. I'm pretty sure he knew we were giving him the brush-off. He'll probably be mad at Thranduil next time they talk. Oh well. We went to bed with no more thoughts on that matter. Only when I got to my bed, it was ice cold because I'd forgotten to turn on the electric wall heater to warm up the room. I grabbed my pillow and a blanket and went to go join Legolas. I guess Elrohir had the same idea, because at seven this morning, a full two hours after we went to sleep, we all woke up in the same bed.
We only woke up because Thranduil was yelling at us that it was time to participate in something dumb. And by "something dumb" I mean, "The Community Association Winter Festival". He promised it would be a grand time, with sledding, skating, skiing, cider, snowball fights, prizes, a bonfire, and all kinds of good things. He said we were all signed up for the cross country ski race. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, sure that this was some annoying dream, but it didn't work. An hour and a half later, I was outside in a borrowed snow suit, leaning against my ski poles wishing like nothing else that I was back in Rivendell where I could have stayed in bed until three if I wanted.
The ski race is the main event in this winter festival. Every year, over five hundred people gather to race Thranduil around a sixty kilometre course through the woods. Anyone who beats his time gets entered in a draw for a big prize, like a fibreglass car or something. I could have told him right off the start that Elrohir, Legolas and I (or at least Elrohir and I- I have no idea what Legolas' skiing abilities are) would have absolutely no chance whatsoever of winning that car, so we might as well just sit in the Community Cabin and eat stew, but he said we had to at least try because there were news crews about to videotape the awesome power of the Prime Minister of Rivendell trying to out-ski the King of Mirkwood. So not only do I get to make a fool of myself trying to ski sixty kilometres in a bright orange snow suit, I get to do it live on the air! Brilliant. This is just what my political career needs. I bet the unscrupulous Mirkwood networks will sell their footage to the A-Channel, too, just so everyone back home can see what a national embarrassment I am.
I was about to slink off into the stew line while rehearsing my excuse ("What? The race started without me? Well darn, that's disappointing."), but a rogue news crew trapped me by the Port-A-Johns and started asking about my chances in the upcoming race. I said, truthfully, "I'll be happy if I can do it in less than ten hours." Then they asked me how I was enjoying my visit to Mirkwood so far. I don't remember what I said. I hope it was at least partially intelligent.
The news crew followed me to the starting gate. I was unable to escape the watchful lens of their camera. I lined up with Legolas and Elrohir, adjusted my scarf, and tried not to do anything too embarrassing (like scratch my bum or fall over) while the news vultures were there. Then with the loud honk of an air horn, the race began. Hotshots like Thranduil in neon spandex racing suits and wraparound sunglasses took off at a world cup pace. Duds like me in snowsuits and knit hats slogged along at the back. I was tired within two minutes. After five, we took our first break, lying in the snow under a fir tree. Thereafter, we took breaks every ten minutes, and were soon the very last people in the race.
After two kilometres I had to eat my first energy bar, the chocolate one. After three kilometres, my water bottle was empty. After four kilometres, when I was sure for the second time this holiday season that I was going to die in Mirkwood, a miracle happened, and Elbereth answered the prayers I didn't even know I had made. Elrohir had a ski malfunction. One of the screws on his binding came out, and the binding began to wobble. This happened, conveniently about twenty metres away from the place where the trail forks off into a secondary path called "Chicken's Choice". It was the short (ha!) eleven kilometre loop for those who felt they couldn't do the whole sixty. We had a legitimate excuse for taking it. The referee at the check point still looked at us disparagingly, though.
Halfway between kilometres five and six, the second screw came out of Elrohir's binding. We had to slow down even more, so he could wobble along behind us with one foot constantly pivoting sideways off his ski. Almost two hours had passed since the start of the race when we finally intersected with the tail end of the main trail and made it to the Bonfire Rest Stop at kilometre seven (kilometre fifty-six of the long loop). We were the first ones there. The referee looked so impressed and pleased that dear Legolas was ahead of his father for the first time ever that we couldn't tell him about the short cut. We let him give us free cocoa, and we sat around the bonfire for a while eating the rest of our energy bars (peanut butter flavour, completely frozen from being in the uninsulated pocket of my borrowed snow suit). I almost fell asleep leaning on Legolas' shoulder. I can't remember ever having felt that exhausted in my life. And there were four kilometres left on the vile ski trail.
Kilometre nine saw the third and final screw falling out of Elrohir's binding. He tried continuing on with only one ski, but his foot kept sinking down through sixteen inches of snow, and forward movement was impossible. We had to dig around for ten minutes, freezing our fingers, before Legolas found the screw and somehow fixed it back on with a luggage key he luckily had in his pocket. By this time, the first few of the neon spandex speed demons were starting to zip past us. I don't think any of them was Thranduil. Good thing, too, because he probably would have died of shame not only to see us pawing up the track, looking for a lone screw, but knowing that we took the Chicken's Choice route.
The time stamped on our participation cards as we reached the finish line was four hours and twelve minutes, almost two hours behind the fastest posted time. Twelve people beat Thranduil's time of two hours and forty-one minutes. I didn't notice him passing us, but then, everybody looks the same while wearing a hideous neon spandex sports suit. Sure enough, when we went to get in the stew line for a chance to eat something warm while sitting down in the Community Cabin, Thranduil was right there to yell at us for taking the cheap way out. I had to explain in my most pathetic voice about Elrohir's broken ski. Elrohir had to show him the ski as evidence. Thranduil was forced to agree that no, we didn't have a choice in the matter, but he did forbid us from collecting participation medals on account of how we didn't ski the whole sixty kilometre loop. I really didn't give a toss. All I wanted was a bowl of stew. Which I had, in the Cabin, sitting by the electric heater vent.
Elrohir and I found grandpa in the Cabin. He'd been hiding out in the volunteer bathroom all morning, just in case Thranduil decided he did have to ski after all. I asked him what excuse he'd used, and he said he couldn't go skiing for the very practical reason that there's no snow in Lórien, and he didn't know how. For good measure, he also kept complaining about how much his knee hurt. I wish I'd thought of that. My knee really did hurt, but it was because I'd just been forced to ski eleven kilometres.
I didn't stick around for the big celebration supper or any of the other festivities. As soon as Legolas was done his royal duties of important stuff like drawing the name of the winner of the fibreglass car out of a big purple plastic clown head (the winner turned out to be some nutsack in blindingly bright neon spandex), I discretely informed him that we were leaving. He had no choice in the matter. We went to tell Elrohir, but he looked like he was having too much fun on the sledding hill with little kids stuffing snow down his parka, so we opted to sneak away without him. I was glad the news crews had finally decided to leave me alone. After my disastrous ski, they knew I wasn't worth the effort. They were interviewing grandpa about his knee pain instead.
Legolas and I made it all the way to the car park before we were accosted. Not by Thranduil or a news crew, but by old university acquaintances come back to haunt me at a very inopportune moment. Talathuir and Nova. I'd forgotten about him and had been trying not to remember her. I had to stop and have a brief and awkward conversation with them while Legolas warmed up the car.
They're getting married this spring, on a couples cruise to Tol Eressëa, and are spending their last Fiommereth in Middle-earth in Mirkwood of all places, with his aunt. They asked me what I was doing now, and I asked them what they were doing until their cruise wedding. They still live in the Grey Havens, where Talathuir fixes computers and Nova sells orthopaedic shoes at a store frequented by people like grandpa. I told them I'm the Prime Minister of Rivendell, about to get into a cold fibreglass car with the Prince of Mirkwood. Then they told me the funny story of how they got together. Turns out Talathuir's old girlfriend dumped him on the same day Elrohir dumped Nova, and they went to the pub together the next night out of mutual self-pity. They've been together ever since. Something seemed a bit odd with this scenario. An uncomfortable pause dragged on until I said, "Well, we're just heading out." They said, "Right, see you," and promised to send me a clever postcard from Aman. I didn't tell them to look for Elrohir on the sledding hill, as I'm sure that would have only caused a conflict.
Legolas drove home in tired silence. He looked sort of like a zombie. I felt sort of like a zombie. We listened to bad classic rock on the radio and didn't even care. When we got back to the house, which seemed strangely empty, he asked if I was hungry, then asked if I liked Nandorin food. I answered yes to both questions. He wanted to know what I liked best, and I told him hot and sour soup and pan fried dumplings, figuring we'd probably order in so we could eat greasy goodness while sitting like zombie lumps in front of the television. But the weirdo proceeded to get a bunch of things out of the fridge and pantry, and make hot and sour soup and pan fried dumplings! From scratch, without a recipe! It was sort of like he knew what he was doing. The end result was some of the best soup I've ever had, and a plate of damn good dumplings. I never even suspected Legolas could cook interesting food. I mean, I've seen him screw up Kraft Dinner. This shook my whole axis of perception. I may have to re-evaluate the universe.
I ate two bowls of soup and seventeen dumplings. We're now sort of watching television, indeed like zombie lumps, unable to move. I'm beyond the point of ultimate tiredness, where I'm no longer tired in a sleepy way, but am completely unable to do anything but stare meaninglessly at the computer screen and poke a few keys every now and again. I should really go to bed.
Or else I could just sit here and stare at Legolas for a while.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.