4. The Tradition
"You look beautiful!" Eitheliel beamed as Cellinn twirled for her mother to see.
Blushing, she toyed with the sleeve of her formal blue gown. "Naneth, I feel so…"
"Stop it. You are beautiful, and you are going to have a wonderful time. You only come of age once, and it is not as if you have never attended a formal celebration," her mother tried to reassure her.
But the fluttering in Cellinn's heart refused to cease. She sighed and closed her eyes. It was true that she had attended many formal occasions in the past, but never had she gone as an adult, never had she been the guest of honor, and never had she attended without… She put a quick halt to that disturbing train of thought. "But Naneth," she paused a moment, dreading to ask, but needing to know. "The dance? Will I have to dance with one of the king's family?" Her question was in reference to the custom where a member of the king's family danced with the guest of honor at their coming of age celebration. She opened her eyes and looked into her mother's face, her heart pounding as she waited for the answer.
Exhaling heavily, Eitheliel shook her head in annoyance, her dark braids slipping over her shoulder. "That is the tradition, child. Why are you so nervous?"
"Do you know who my partner will be?" Cellinn's lower lip trembled as she searched her mother's face, hoping it would be either the eldest prince or the king that she would be asked to dance with.
The older lady smiled softly, understanding showing in her eyes at last. "No, I do not. That is decided between them. Usually, any unwed elf of the family is chosen, if there is one, so I assume it will be Prince Legolas."
When Cellinn flinched at her declaration, Eitheliel reached out and pulled her daughter into a comforting embrace. "He still has not spoken to you?"
Cellinn shook her head, the sorrow filling her heart. Pulling back, she looked in the large mirror to make sure her hair had not been mussed by the tight hug. But she paused and winced at her reflection as she recalled a certain recent incident. "Well, he spoke to me a couple weeks ago, when we nearly collided in the halls after turning a corner from opposite directions," she mumbled.
Eitheliel smiled and nodded for her to continue. "And what did he say?"
"He said, 'Excuse me,' and kept walking!" Cellinn snapped, her ire returning in full force after she remembered his abruptness. Even after she found out he had been late for a meeting with the king she could not forgive him, for his silence since last summer greatly troubled her, as did certain rumors.
"Cellinn," her mother's voice and gaze were full of exasperation. "You cannot stay angry at him forever, child. You are the one who ended the friendship. I imagine that must have been very painful for him. You were his closest friend. He is simply honoring your request to leave you alone. You must take the first step if you wish to be reconciled."
"Perhaps he just does not care and only wished for someone to tease all those years," Cellinn responded angrily, lowering her eyes.
"Sometimes, child, I would like to shake some sense into you! If you really believe that, then you never knew him at all. If you took the time to look into his eyes, you would see he is still in pain over the loss of your friendship - as are you," Eitheliel finished softly, lifting her daughter's chin with a long finger.
"He never stays in a room long enough to look at me," Cellinn whispered, her anger slipping away as the pain was renewed within her. Tears filled her eyes.
"Perhaps tonight, he will."
She was not sure if her mother's words comforted her or not.
The Great Hall was decorated with greenery and flowers for the celebration, and cheery candles filled the room with light. Cellinn felt very nervous at all the attention, but managed to graciously receive the well wishes from the many acquaintances and friends who passed by the table of honor, where she was seated for the grand feast. Their table was closest to the head table, where the king and his family dined, so she could see Legolas from where she sat. He was seated next to his mother, on his father's left hand, facing her table, but he did not look in her direction, even once. At least not that she saw, and she glanced his way often. He looked nervous, and she suspected even more that he would be the appointed representative of the king's family with whom she would be expected to dance. Her heart raced at the thought, and her stomach flipped in nervous anticipation.
The meal ended all too soon for her unsettled emotions. Those gathered began to drift towards the large dance area, where the musicians were tuning their instruments. There was not much time left to get her heart to stop pounding! She forced herself to take a deep breath. Her father came and offered her his hand, as tradition gave him the first dance, to be followed by the dance with whichever member of the king's family Thranduil had chosen. Cellinn somehow managed to make it to her feet with a smile on her face, and as the music began and her father took her in his arms, she finally relaxed. This was her coming of age celebration! She would enjoy every moment of it…no matter how unpleasant the next dance turned out to be. Her skirts flared out as Angalar twirled her around the floor, a proud smile his face.
The dance was wonderful, one of her favorites, and somehow she lost herself in the music and forgot about her nervousness. When the music came to an end, her father bowed and she curtsied. He straightened and met the eyes of someone over her shoulder. Her heart began to race again. Angalar smiled and nodded his head to whoever stood behind her, before making his way back to Eitheliel.
Cellinn could not force herself to turn around to face him. An elegant hand appeared before her, and she could put it off no longer. Only one more dance and she would not be the only one out on the floor; the others would join in as soon as the third dance began. Taking a deep breath, she looked up and nearly collapsed when her gaze met eyes a brilliant…green?
Arandur smiled kindly at her and covered for her moment of shock by pulling her unresisting body into his arms as the music began. Since she had befriended Minuialwen, Cellinn had come to know the eldest prince much better; at the moment, she did not think she could be more relieved. Still, her confusion must have shown in her eyes, for he explained his presence. "Father asked Legolas to have this dance, but my little brother thought you would feel much too uncomfortable to truly enjoy it with so many eyes upon you. So Legolas asked me to take his place. He cares much for you and your wellbeing."
Cellinn's heart lurched at the words. "He is not still angry with me?"
Arandur shook his head with a sad smile. "Cellinn, he was never angry with you, only at himself for being so insensitive to your feelings that you felt the need to remove yourself from him."
"I deeply regret my words that day. I cannot tell you how many times I have wished to take them back." She felt her eyes mist and blinked back the tears.
"Then speak to him and tell him this! Do not continue to cut him out of your life."
Cellinn dropped her eyes. "I cannot," she whispered dejectedly.
Arandur almost stopped in the middle of the dance. "Why not? You desire his friendship! I can see it in your eyes."
She glanced up at him and took a shaky breath. "I could not bear him refusing me."
He shook his head at her. "He would not."
The slow music came to an end, and Cellinn brought her wayward emotions under control. She would now be expected to dance with whoever asked her, and already others were moving out onto the floor. Arandur bowed, and she curtsied according to proper etiquette, and as she brought her eyes back to him, she caught his slight smile and nod to whomever was again behind her, seeking her hand in a dance.
Now relieved that the official dances were over, she turned with a bright smile on her face, her hand already reaching to the elf behind her…and froze.
Her gaze collided with bright grey eyes in a handsome face…a face that had haunted her dreams for almost a year.
Legolas watched his brother approach Cellinn, and he winced when she turned to Arandur so hesitantly, almost as if in fear. Legolas knew her reaction was because she had expected him instead, and her obvious relief when it was not made his heart ache. He began to wish he could just leave instead of waiting for Arandur's signal to let him know whether to proceed with the plan or to wait for a better time. The thought of having to go longer without speaking to her was unbearable, so he forced himself to move closer to the pair.
At the dance's end, Arandur nodded subtly and smiled his approval, the signal Legolas had been holding his breath waiting for. And then she turned, smiling so brightly before freezing in place. He gulped; her distress at seeing him there caused his heart to pound with fear. Would she reject him yet again? He bowed and waited.
For a moment, he was sure she would refuse him, but Cellinn just stood there, her hand still extended uncertainly towards him as she gazed at him in shock. He pleaded with his eyes, begging her to dance with him, to give him another chance but at the same time giving her the opportunity to turn away and chose another partner if she preferred.
Her bottom lip found its way between her teeth, and Legolas thought he could almost hear her heart pounding over his own thundering chest. He glanced at her fingers, then back at her lovely eyes, unsure of what to do. Wanting nothing more than to take her in his arms, he forced himself to only offer his hand instead of just reaching for her, allowing her to accept or walk away. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done.
His patient acceptance of her choice seemed to be the deciding factor for Cellinn. She closed the distance between them and placed her hand in his, offering a small, uncertain smile. He returned the gesture as the soft music began to play once more.
The two of them had danced many times in the past, but this time it was obvious that something was different. Their eyes remained locked as they floated across the floor, moving in and out of the other dancers. It was a full two minutes before either spoke. Legolas found he was thankful the song was a long one. He did not know if he would ever have the chance to speak with her again, and he wished time would stand still.
"I apologize for being so rude a couple of weeks ago. I was in a rush, and I-I had thought you were someone else at first. It did not occur to me until later that it was you I almost ran over in my haste
Cellinn looked up at him shyly through her eyelashes. "You are not the only one at fault. I was not watching where I was going." She paused and dropped her gaze.
They spoke simultaneously, their eyes each drawn to the other. Legolas made himself continue. "Cellinn, I must also apologize for my…thoughtless behavior over the past years. It was heartless of me to disregard your feelings for my own amusement. It was a game to me…and one I never thought would cost me your friendship. I was inconsiderate, and I am very sorry. I should have ceased acting so childishly long ago—"
She lifted her hand from the silvery blue tunic covering his shoulder and pressed her fingers to his lips, silencing his ramblings. "Stop." When he frowned in confusion, she added with a smile, "Let me speak, please?" He nodded, his frown fading as she removed her fingers, placing her hand back on his shoulder.
"Legolas, it was wrong of me to end our friendship over something so…" Her voice rose somewhat when he began to interrupt. "NO! Let me finish!" He nodded once more and waited. "I could have…should have talked to you, not allowed my anger to grow in silence." Her voice trembled over the words. "I have long regretted my words that day."
"I do not."
He had startled her with his words, for she flinched, but he smiled to remove any sting from his statement. "I do not regret your words, for they made me look at myself and realize I needed to mature, made me realize how important your friendship is to me. I only regret that I caused you pain." His thumb wiped away a tear that slipped down her soft cheek. "I have tried to give you the space you needed, but I miss you, Cellinn. Can you find it in your heart to give me another chance? Please?"
She laughed, her tears replaced by a look of joy. "You stupid prince! I already have. I did months ago. Can you forgive me?"
He nodded, sighing in relief as a warm smile drew the corners of his mouth upwards. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his chest. He pulled her closer and rested his cheek against her hair when she inclined her head against his shoulder. For a moment in time, his world was perfect, and he treasured the remaining minutes of the dance.
When the music came to an end, he was loath to release her, wishing he could slip her out to the gardens where they could speak for hours as they used to do. But tonight was her special night, and there were many others waiting to dance with his beautiful friend, so Legolas pulled back and bowed.
Before any other could claim her for the next dance, however, he leaned forward and whispered for her ears alone, "Save me the last dance?"
His heart somersaulted when she smiled and answered, "I would like that very much."
The rest of the night seemed to drag by for Cellinn as she danced with one after another. But her heart was much lighter now that she had spoken with Legolas. She felt relieved to learn that he had only avoided her because he thought it was what she wanted. Her mother had been correct, as usual. There had been much pain in his eyes before they had spoken, but when she had agreed to give him the last dance, his eyes had shone with joy.
Unbidden, her eyes roamed the room, coming to rest on Ninglorwen. The lady's cold green gaze was fixed on Legolas, who danced with his mother. Cellin could hardly keep her own eyes from searching the room for him, distracting her from her many dance partners. But all during the hours of song and dance, Legolas only danced with his mother and Minuialwen, which Cellinn found odd. Ever since he had come of age, the king had insisted that he mingle with the unwed ladies at events such as this. Cellinn thought Thranduil would not be happy until both his sons were married and had children running through the halls.
Legolas? Married? And with elflings? She chuckled to herself, but the thought of him married to someone also caused an unpleasant flutter in her stomach. Her eyes strayed back to Ninglorwen, and uneasiness welled up in her chest. Were the rumors true? Ninglorwen's desires were obvious, but what of Legolas? She worried for her friend, but he seemed to take no note of the lady. Perhaps he was over his adolescent infatuation with her. Cellinn hoped so, though she didn't ponder why that was so important to her. She convinced herself she simply didn't wish to see him hurt.
After a time, Dúrion asked her to dance, and she accepted since they had become friends over the past couple of months. They laughed as they chatted, enjoying each other's company. The song was a merry one, and as he twirled her around, she giggled, her face warm from all the dancing. But something changed in his face, a look she did not understand but had seen several times in the past weeks. It made her feel uneasy. This time, it was far more intense, and her breath caught in her throat when he pulled her close to him, the same way Legolas had done earlier.
But she did not feel comfortable so close to Dúrion. She felt forced, and self-conscious. Pulling back, she questioned him with her eyes, but he was no longer watching her. His gaze now focused on someone across the room - someone he made sure she could not see by angling her away.
"Dúrion?" she asked, uncertain at his strange behavior.
He dropped his eyes to her face and the coldness in them softened. "Cellinn, I would be honored if you would grant me the last dance this eve. Perhaps afterwards, we could walk in the gardens…and talk?"
Her eyes widened in surprise. Dúrion had never shown such interest before, had he? "I have already promised the final dance to Prince Legolas. Perhaps another time?" Her voice remained pleasant, accompanied with a soft smile, giving no sign of the confusing emotions stirring within her.
Dúrion frowned in obvious displeasure, glancing back across the room. Then, he shrugged. "I will take you up on that." He winked and smiled in satisfaction as the music ended, and Cellinn was grateful to be passed to her next partner.
Legolas's eyes never left Cellinn as Dúrion moved them across the floor. He did not like the looks he'd received from his brother's friend since he had danced with Cellinn earlier in the evening. He liked the looks Dúrion bestowed on her even less. At first, the couple laughed and talked, obviously enjoying the dance, but then Dúrion had noticed Legolas's observation of them, and his eyes had turned to blue ice. When that gaze heated upon looking down at Cellinn, Legolas's blood ran cold. He understood exactly what that look meant, and it troubled him for he could not see Cellinn's face to see if she understood or reciprocated.
Anger flared within him, and when Dúrion pulled Cellinn close in his arms, Legolas started across the room, only to be stopped by Arandur's tight grip on his arm. "It is not your place, Legolas. Let it play out on its own. Trust me," his brother pleaded. "You will make it worse if you interfere now."
"But Arandur…." His anger and anguish were evident in his voice.
"No!" his brother interrupted. "Remember your plan, for that is what will move the lady. Ignore his interest. Your jealousy will not win her heart." The anger did not leave him as Legolas continued to glare at his rival. Arandur sighed. "Dúrion is within his rights to pursue her. He has not behaved inappropriately. It is time you realize you are not the only who desires her, Legolas."
That gave him pause. When he looked back across the room at the couple dancing, Cellinn was no longer held so closely in Dúrion's arms. They seemed to be just talking, and Legolas took great satisfaction in the displeasure on Dúrion's face. But then his rival smiled, looking way too pleased with himself, and Legolas felt his heart clench again. Why would he look so satisfied with whatever Cellinn had told him?
"Legolas," Arandur released the hold on his arm. "Do not say anything to Cellinn about him unless she mentions it…and even then, be very careful of what you say. If anyone knows the folly of jealousy when pursuing a lady, it is I. Trust me in this…and do not seek out Dúrion either. Ignore him."
"But that is letting him get away with an attack on my honor!" Legolas spit out, looking at his brother in disbelief.
"No - he has only tried to turn her away from you, Legolas. He is attempting to stir you up and make you jealous! That is how I almost lost Minuialwen, remember? Dúrion learned from my experience, and he is now playing the part Tegilel did between me and Minuiawen. He is attempting to succeed where Tegilel failed. Do not let him, little brother. Dúrion is a good friend, but it is you whom Cellinn loves."
Legolas blinked, shocked at those words. "She does? How do you know?"
"I just do." Arandur answered with a small smile.
Legolas rolled his eyes in frustration, and turned back to watch the end of the dance. There were only a few left before the last, when Cellinn would choose her partner from the crowd. He was surprised when he began to feel nervous, for he had been looking forward to it since she had promised him the dance. She had forgiven him; he should feel comfortable with her again. But his new knowledge about his feelings for her made him anxious, especially since...
Seeing an older noble of the court offer his hand to her, he allowed himself to avert his eyes. If he was going to make it through the remainder of the night, he needed something to help him relax. He neatly sidestepped Ninglorwen, who had attempted to waylay him all evening, and headed for the wine.
Cellinn was beginning to wish she could ask for the night to end. There had been a time when she loved dancing, but usually she did not have to participate in every single dance at a feast! And, she found herself looking forward to dancing with Legolas again. How she had missed him! And he understood her feelings. She was sure he would respect her from now on, and they could resume their friendship as it has always been. A smile tugged at her lips as she thought of him, but a lingering sadness remained in her heart for the time they had lost.
The music ended, and Cellinn curtsied to her most recent partner. She glanced around in surprise when no one else stepped forward to claim her hand, and she blushed as she realized she stood alone, surrounded by a sea of smiling faces. King Thranduil walked out to her, smiling as he came to stand beside her. Her stomach flipped. He had that look about him, the look that said 'I'm about to make a grand announcement!' And from the building feel of anticipation from the crowd, such an announcement, she feared, would be found amusing to everyone but her. Her face burned hotter.
"Tonight has been a wonderful celebration of Lady Cellinn's coming of age, but now the festivities come to a close." The king looked down at Cellinn with a wicked smile, a smile that distinctly resembled Legolas's when he was thinking of his latest prank, and that caused her to fidget nervously. Here it came!
"It is customary that no one under age may attend a coming of age celebration, and for a good reason. It is hoped that all adults keep the last dance and the following tradition a secret. Are you aware of the tradition, Lady Cellinn?"
Cellinn felt her knees go weak. How very much like the king to keep certain traditions a secret! Legolas got his sense of humor from his father, after all, and she dreaded to hear what she would now be forced to endure. Her mind raced but she could not think of what it could possibly be! If she had remained friends with the other young ladies, she would in all likelihood already be aware of what was to come. They always knew such secrets, but she had kept her distance and none had offered to tell her what to expect.
She took a shaky breath, feeling the blush spread up her ears. "I am not sure, my lord. I know I get to choose my partner for the last dance. Is that all?" she asked, looking up at him with a hopeful smile.
Thranduil chuckled in a manner that made Cellinn sure it was not. "Yes, you get to choose your partner for the last dance. But, choose well, my lady, for at the end of the dance, the fortunate elf gets to claim your first kiss…here, on the floor…in front of all. He then has the honor of escorting you wherever you wish to go. A walk in the gardens, perhaps?" He winked at her.
How she remained on her feet for that announcement, Cellinn did not know. Her eyes darted amongst the people lining the floor, distressed at what was now required of her. What a cruel tradition! She felt ill and considered fleeing in tears, but then her eyes landed on a comfortingly familiar face. Legolas held her gaze and silently mouthed the words, "Trust me." Somehow her feet moved, and she found herself standing before him, searching his eyes, for what she was not sure. He whispered, "It is all right. If you wish to choose someone else…"
She cut him off by reaching for his hand, and with an unexpected boldness, turned to look at the king. "I choose Prince Legolas, my lord. Is that allowed?"
Laughter rippled across the crowd, and the king grinned at her. "My Lady's choice is not to be questioned. Enjoy your dance."
To Be Continued…
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.