1. Last of the Summer Wine
My nephew nudges me gently, rousing me from my catnap.
“It is growing late, Aunt, and the sun is beginning to sink to the west. Should you not go home? I doubt he comes today.”
“He will come,” I reply. “This is the day he always comes to buy now.” I close my eyes partway, but I do not sleep. Rather, I remember.
How surprising is it still that an old widow with silver hair and a fat body should have become friends of a sort with an elven prince? I recall the day I first met him, when he accompanied that arrogant fool Galion, come to replace the Dorwinion wine that had vanished against his father’s orders. He was handsome, and charming, persuading me to not only split my bespoke stock of Dorwinion, but to throw in two barrels of Cascade white wine at a low price as part of the deal. I was taken with his pretty face, and enjoyed dickering with him, for he was a shrewd bargainer who made a fine jousting partner. He promised to return again, and while I briefly entertained the notion that he might, I dismissed the thought out of hand later upon mature reflection. He was the Prince of Mirkwood, after all, and it was not likely that King Thranduil would turn his son into a mere errand boy. He had come because of the trouble with the special wine, I decided, and I would not see him again.
But Prince Legolas fooled me, quite thoroughly. He did return in two weeks, just as he said, and inspected my new shipment carefully before buying fifteen barrels. He kept coming over the years, not every time the Wood-elves came, but at least every fifth or sixth month. I began looking forward to his visits, for he always had a smile and a jest for me, which was very different behavior from most elves. He liked accumulating new wines for his private cellar, for his palate was not at all like his father’s, and he preferred keeping his own supplies on hand. I taught him to appreciate sweet dessert wines, including the fortified ones, and he in his turn got me to enjoy dry whites, which I never really liked before. We often bantered and bargained, enjoying each other’s wit and finding that neither age nor race was a barrier.
As the years rippled by, I would sometimes bring my baking with me on the days I knew he was likely to come, so he could eat the sweets he enjoyed. He would bring fish that he caught during the trip sometimes in return, or some exotic elven delicacy he thought I should sample. When time and age started sinking their sharp teeth into me, he even brought me small flasks of the strengthening cordials his people distilled in the hope they would bring me better health. I am sure that that rich golden liqueur he gave me this winter—miruvor, I think he called it—was the only reason I survived that bad chill on my lungs.
My nephew shakes my shoulder again, and points at the lake.
“Look, Aunt! The Wood-elves are coming!”
I peer at the raft, cursing my dim eyesight. The sun catches the heads of the elves, and amongst the dark ones I see the gleam of blond hair. I smile, climb to my feet, and use my walking stick to hobble down to the end of the dock, ignoring my nephew’s protests.
The elves are tying up their raft by the time I reach the dock’s edge. Prince Legolas looks up and sees me, flashing me that smile of his. He springs up beside me, as gracefully cat-like as ever, and salutes me with bowed head and hand on his heart.
“I see you still do not trust either we Wood-elves or your nephew not to cheat you, my good mistress,” he says; it is an old joke between us.
I bow my head and grin. “Of course not, Master Greenleaf, for I know all too well to what lengths you go to satisfy your appetite for wine.”
One or two of the other elves look scandalized at this; they clearly are not used to hearing the Prince addressed in such terms. But he and I pay them no heed; we never have, I fear. He studies me thoughtfully as my nephew leads the rest back up the dock.
“You look somewhat better than when I last saw you this spring. I am very glad.”
“I am indeed a little better, but some things are beyond mending, like age.” I motion to one of my crabbed hands. “The cordial you gave me helped preserve me from illness, but even the elves’ knowledge cannot cure that.”
“I know,” he says softly, and takes my arm. “Shall I not help you back to your seat?”
I accept his courtesy with gratitude, and let him guide me back to the chair in front of the warehouse. He gently lowers me into it; I sit, wishing I did not wheeze quite so much. He sits before me, his legs crossed, and looks at me inquiringly.
“Do you have anything special for me today?” he asks.
“I do indeed—I have saved a few bottles of a rare ice wine someone has begun to make around Dale. It is very fine.”
“Excellent! I should give you more miruvor in exchange, my lady.”
I shake my head. “It is a splendid thing, as I said, but I do not wish to use something that could be put to better use elsewhere. Let us speak of other things now! How are you, my Prince? I have heard tales of a great spider hunt in Mirkwood where you killed more than anyone else. Is it true, or were you merely spreading legends of your valor to win more girlish hearts?”
He laughs. “It is true, and I shall tell you of it, my wicked-tongued woman.”
We sit and speak of this and that as the sun turns red and his companions roll their barrels to the raft. At long last, we are silent, and he climbs to his feet.
“It grows late in the day, and we must be off before darkness falls completely. I should say my farewells now.”
“Do you not wish to buy wine today?” I ask, surprised.
“I told them what to purchase for me,” he says, “for I did not want to waste time that could be spent in speaking to you. It is not likely I shall be able to come again, for the shadow in Dol Guldur thickens, and I shall have far more duties to my father and king soon.”
“I understand,” I say sadly. “And surely you understand it is unlikely I shall see another spring, for I am eighty-four and time is rushing by.” I cough. “Yet you stand before me unchanged, one of the immortals. How lucky you elves are.”
He takes both my hands and fixes me with an intense gaze. “Do not envy our immortality, my dear lady. For we call death the gift of the Valar, and sometimes wish it had been granted to the Eldar as well.”
“A gift?” I say in disbelief.
“Yes, a gift and a blessing,” he tells me firmly. “For this world is a vale of tears, and to leave it can be the greatest relief of all. Do you think we do not long for rest? Very soon, you shall be at rest, and free of pain—not just of the body, but of the heart.” He squeezes my hands quickly and releases them. “Now fare thee well, my lady, and may the Valar keep you.” He formally salutes me once more.
I incline my head, feeling the tears stinging my eyelids. “And may they keep you as well, my Prince. Take care, and be safe.”
“As much as I can,” he says briefly. I beckon my nephew over and tell him to fetch the bottles of ice wine. He does so, and the Prince thanks him before pivoting on his heel to leave.
I watch him walk to the raft, leaping upon it as he always does. They push off; I strain to see in the falling twilight, but as bad as my sight is, I realize Prince Legolas is waving goodbye. I raise my hand and continue to wave back until they have disappeared into the foggy darkness. I slump into my chair, my eyes still burning with unshed tears but my heart strangely at peace.
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.