The Turning of the Year
Winter Solstice, Eryn Edhellen (Ithilien), Fourth Age
As the low winter sun gave up its struggle to stay above the horizon, and the trees around them filled with the chatter of birds going to roost, Legolas and Rowanna were up in their talan preparing for that evening's feast. This year they had declined Aragorn's invitation to the mettarë ball in the Citadel of Minas Tirith; the Elves' colony in Eryn Edhellen had grown considerably that spring and summer, and plans had for a moon-round and more been afoot for the most substantial winter solstice celebrations the settlement had yet seen. Bonfires were already being lit, lanterns hung, and the spicy scent of great cauldrons of mulling wine drifted on the air. Rowanna had changed into her favourite deep-red velvet gown, and was brushing out her river of dark hair ready for Legolas, who loved to braid it and put it up.
He was looking out at the sunset colour as it faded from the winter sky, singing softly in the Grey Tongue in his sweet clear tenor:
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown;
O! the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer;
Let us dance and sing in the Greenwood
At the turning of the year...
The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
We should dance and sing in the Greenwood
That the Dark come not to power.
The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
We must dance and sing in the Greenwood
Lest the Shadow cover all.
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
We shall dance and sing in the Greenwood
That the Dark turn at the flood.
The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
We'll yet dance and sing in the Greenwood
That the Dark give way to dawn!
As he came back to the refrain and lapsed into humming, Legolas turned his gaze back to the talan and realised that Rowanna had ceased brushing and was sitting stock still, staring at him. He moved swiftly across to kneel at her feet.
"What is it, melethen? You look, as Mortals would say, as though you had seen a ghost..."
"That song." Rowanna slowly put down her brush. "I'd – I'd never listened, not really listened, to the words before. I've heard you all sing it at the winter solstice year in and year out – but I just heard yet another lilting Wood-elven tune with words all about singing and dancing in the woods. But – it's..." She struggled for words.
"Most other races are apparently convinced that all Elven songs are about nothing but singing-and-dancing-in-the-woods, as you put it," her beloved observed wryly. He reached for the jug of steaming mulled wine that stood on a low table nearby, poured them each a beaker and settled himself at her side to begin braiding her hair. "And that tune seems to have been taken up by the Gondorrim and often sung at their mettarë as if it were just a cheerful rustic folksong, it's true. But the Wood-elves' version is far, far older..."
"And darker," Rowanna pointed out with a shiver, taking a grateful sip of her wine.
"And like many of our songs its roots go much deeper – and, yes, darker – than Men know," Legolas agreed, dividing the glossy dark fall of her hair into sections and beginning to weave. "The winter solstice may not be our New Year, as it is the Dúnedain's... but for the best part of an Age now, the Wood-elves have danced and sung at the darkest time of the year; because we had to."
"I always thought –" Rowanna shook her head, puzzled. "That the Firstborn loved the time without the Sun; before the coming of the Sun and Moon..."
"But that was never darkness," Legolas said softly. "That was twilight, starlight, tinnu and gilgalad, that only the Eldest of the Eldest remember. And when the Sun and Moon were made, still the turning of the world from darkness to light and back again was as natural as the seasons. But then... the Shadow came. Gradually it encroached upon the Greenwood; first Sauron, and then his creatures, reached their icy black fingers out from Dol Guldur until the forest darkened and died, and Men named it Mirkwood, and the Forest of Great Fear. Our folk were driven back, and back, and back..."
"And yet you never gave in." She wanted to turn and look at him, to see his face, but his deft fingers were still working to and fro at the back of her head, holding her in place.
"Father never gave in." Pride, and love, radiated from Legolas. "He had lost so much, after the Dagorlad: limped home with a broken third of an army, with thousands slaughtered and Grandfather dead; and it was years, they tell me, before he so much as smiled. But he would not break. And so the more the Shadow grew, the more determined he was that at the turning of the year... at the moment of greatest darkness... we should dance." He chuckled as he swept the braids up and wove them together securely, ducking his head to kiss the nape of her exposed neck. "I know you always say that our feast-nights have a thousand times more life than any ball in Minas Tirith... but truly, melethen, you have not seen anything. Drinking, dancing, leaping the bonfires... when the Necromancer, as we thought him then, was at the height of his powers, our solstice nights were wild."
"You're almost making me sorry I missed them." She twisted in her seat, hooking an arm around his neck and drawing him in for a kiss. Legolas returned it with interest.
"I'm not sorry. The feast-nights, yes – but the rest; living always on edge, wary of every stranger – especially Dwarves! – the orcs, the spiders; never knowing when we would have to bring our people in from the forest to crowd into the safety of the caverns, always patrolling, always on watch... I would not have had you endure that, my love, for the world." He shook his head. "Sometimes I still cannot believe it is all gone, in a heartbeat. That what shadow remains is in the hearts of the Free Peoples, and that we alone must amend it for ourselves. And that our winter solstice nights, now, mark nothing more than the turning of the year, from the darkness back to the light."
He drew back for a moment to look at her, and suddenly – with one of those quicksilver changes of mood she so loved in him – his eyes were dancing and he broke into a smile.
"Which is not to say, melethen, that this solstice night here in our new Greenwood, with wine and fire and feasting with the Elves of the Wood... cannot be as wild as you like!"
With that they drained their wine and threw their cloaks around their shoulders; Legolas took Rowanna's hand and led her, laughing, down into the clearing to join the feast.
Eryn Edhellen – the Wood of the Elves – is the name which in the Powers-verse has been given, probably by the Men of Gondor rather than the Elves themselves, to Legolas' settlement in Ithilien.
The death of Legolas' grandfather Oropher, and two-thirds of the Wood-elves under his command, took place at the end of the Second Age at the Battle of Dagorlad, the decisive battle of the War of the Last Alliance, and is recounted in Unfinished Tales.
The Shadow (the influence of the Necromancer, later discovered to be Sauron) began to grow in Greenwood the Great – subsequently known as Mirkwood – about a thousand years into the Third Age.
I was singing The Holly and the Ivy to myself the other day when it occurred to me how little adaptation this traditional carol would need to make it perfect for the Wood-elves. A winter solstice mathom for my LJ/DW/HASA/online friends, who bring light into the dark corners for me.
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.