Meg smiled. She enjoyed the evenings when the music was meant to be danced to. It was wild and free, melodic enough to have lyrics set to it but never more than instrumental, and quite invigorating. Of course, being partnered with Wendell was an equal joy, although Lord Celeborn and Rúmil never allowed the wizard to completely monopolize her time. Even Haldir had dropped his suspicions and wariness after the first heavy snowfall sealed the estate for the duration of the winter.
She also knew that by working together with Norwen, the tasks of cleaning up after a meal would go more quickly, so that they both would be able to enjoy the evening's diversion. Meg had requested that she be allowed to assist Norwen in the kitchen as her way of contributing to the wellbeing of the community there; not because she was a good cook, but because she had always wanted to learn to be one. Norwen had been one of her main tutors in Sindarin as well, giving Meg plenty of practice with the new words and ways of putting them together that Wendell insisted on continuing in the mornings, and she had proven a very good instructor in the art of cooking over an open fire or a fire-heated oven as well.
Lord Celeborn, on the other hand, had not ceased his English lessons either, and insisted on trying out his vocabulary on her during meals, even though it never failed to make Haldir roll his eyes and comment on how the need for such foolishness diminished as Meg became more fluent in Sindarin. Celeborn had also taken on the role of Meg's guardian, announcing through Wendell's translation that the time she would be spending until their designated day in Springtime would be considered as if a betrothal period. The silver-haired Elf then proceeded to make certain that, while there were plenty of opportunities for the two to be alone together, those opportunities did not lend themselves to unacceptable behavior very often.
But, as promised, the day designated as Meg's decision day was this day; the dance would celebrate the return of the sun, but Meg knew that Celeborn was also hoping that the dancing would celebrate her decision. Wendell, she knew, was nervous, despite the fact that he seemed quite collected on the surface. His hand sought hers now quietly, and she squeezed it gently in reassurance.
They had faced and discussed many issues together over the past months, including that of her mortality among a community of immortals. She had genuinely considered leaving at the end of her time, hoping to save Wendell from the grief of watching her die. But Lord Celeborn had taken her aside and carefully explained, in a combination of English and Sindarin, that no matter her decision, Wendell would grieve for her until the unmaking of the world. There was no way her early departure could protect him from that doom; but his grief could be balanced by the happiness they would share during their time together if she decided to remain.
That particular issue had been the most difficult one for her to face, for she had eventually realized that Wendell would remain the vibrant, healthy early middle-aged man he was long after she had followed the path of her kind, growing old before his eyes. There was a nook in one of the more private gardens that was more protected from the snow and the cold than the others that had seen her occupancy many times, wrapped in a warm, fur-lined cloak to think and sometimes to weep.
However, as time had passed, and she had slowly begun to fit into the way life moved in Imladris, her feelings of ties to the world beyond the ravine had begun to fade. By now, Mr. Bryant had himself a new secretary to lust after, Mr. Figueroa would have long since emptied her apartment of all its belongings and rented it out again, and the world in general did not miss Meg Litten in the least. Maybe Sally and little Kevin would think of Auntie Meggie from time to time, maybe to wonder whatever happened to her; and then, maybe not.
Still, from the pressure of Wendell's hand in hers, she knew that he was reaching the end of his patience with her. He wanted to know; and she didn't blame him. She had only truly decided the evening before, when he had delivered her to the door of her suite and left her with more of the gentle kisses that made her ache. He had been so gallant, so mindful of the fact that they were merely courting. His hands had stayed in all the right places, even though she would have enjoyed feeling them elsewhere on her body; and because he was behaving himself, she felt constrained to do the same.
But she wanted him to touch her, and she wanted to feel as if it was permitted to touch him back. Their "betrothal" had been both a lesson in what she wanted from life itself and what she wanted from Wendell.
With another squeeze of the hand and a jerk of the head, she easily convinced him to leave the gathering of elves around the nascent bit of green at the end of a nearby twig and follow her into the house. There was an alcove that she had found, not far from the dining hall, that she sometimes enjoyed as a place to be alone with her thoughts. They would need that kind of privacy now.
She saw Celeborn follow their retreat with his eyes, and when their gazes met, he gave a very small bow. He knows what we're going to be doing. Then, smiling that small but quiet smile of his that always made Meg wonder if he knew what people were thinking before they did, he turned his attention back to the group around him.
"Meg, please!" she heard Wendell plead as she led him by the hand deeper into the house.
"I have done little else for months," he grumbled, but his tone disarmed it of any heat. "I have waited for your decision, and you have given me no hints as to your thoughts."
She pulled him into the alcove with a strong enough jerk that he stumbled slightly before he sat down on the bench there. Immediately, she sat down next to him. "I know, and I'm sorry I didn’t say anything before; but I honestly didn't make up my mind until last night."
"You were not certain until then?" His mouth had dropped open. "Truly?"
"I knew it would be very easy to say 'yes' because you and Celeborn and everyone have done so much to make me feel a part of Imladris. And I knew if I wanted to be fair, I had to do more than just act impulsively." She gathered his hands into hers. "But I have decided to stay - if you still will have me."
"If I would still have you," he grumbled, reaching out for her and pulling her close. "I have waited a long time to hear you say those words, and I would wait much, much longer if I knew that, at the end, you would be mine." He framed her face and gave her one of his delicate and gentle kisses. "And now you are." He kissed her again, a little more firmly. "Mine forever." And with that, his hand slipped to her neck as he leaned her into him, his arm pulling her closer into his body at the back and his kiss quickly deepened and made her heart begin to race.
"I take it that she has given you her decision, Radagast?"
Meg surfaced from his kisses with a blush, but Wendell merely chuckled. "You assume correctly, my Lord."
"Then this evening, the feast will be a celebration of your union as you claim your bride at last." Celeborn's smile was wide and pleased. "I will send Iavas to you this evening, Meg, and I do not wish for you to assist in the kitchens for the rest of the day…" His eyes began to twinkle like she had never seen before. "Maybe not even for several days thereafter."
Meg blushed even more deeply, and Wendell's chuckle vibrated through his entire body. "That is my wish as well, my Lord."
"Very well. I shall cease interrupting you." Celeborn's voice held traces of laughter. "Just remember to be at the feast tonight. There is the matter you and I discussed to handle before…"
Wendell nodded. "Yes. If you would arrange that for me?"
"It will be my honor. Please excuse me." And with that, Celeborn bowed to them and proceeded on his way, his delighted chuckle carrying back to them.
"Now, as you were saying before we were interrupted…" Meg said with a wicked twinkle in her own eye.
Wendell gazed at her. "I do not remember our speaking… Oh!" He smiled widely. "Yes, we should resume our discussion, should we not?"
Meg brushed her hand down the bodice of the new gown that had magically appeared on her bed just before she'd returned from her bath, still not certain she could believe anything so beautiful could be hers. Through Iavas' chatter, she gathered that many of the seamstresses had been tasked to complete the garment at the order of Lord Celeborn, and that she had been told the gown was his gift to her on her wedding day.
The color of palest green, the silk draped gracefully down her arms, was caught by a tie anchored just below her breasts with a diamond of fabric decorated with many tiny gems forming a flower bud barely opening, and the multi-layered skirt fluttered as she took each step. Suede slippers of a matching color had been included, and Iavas had come up with ribbons of delicate white and dark green to weave into her hair. Meg knew that the bounty was as much an indication of Celeborn's appreciation for Wendell as it was for her, but she was touched by the generosity nonetheless.
"Good. You ready." Celeborn stood in the open door of her suite that Iavas had left behind her.
"Thank you for this," she told him in her best Sindarin, smoothing her hands down her skirt yet again.
"You make my friend very happy. I am… mmm… glad to give," he smiled at her and then offered his arm.
Meg smiled quietly. Celeborn could be quite formal - sometimes downright intimidating - but he had never been anything but gracious and paternal to her. "My Lord, in my lands, we have a tradition…"
"Yes?" His voice was eager; he always enjoyed it when Meg would give him tidbits about her people and their ways.
"When the woman enters the room where she will wed, she comes on the arm of her father. My father is… mmmm…" She cast through her Sindarin for the right phrase. "…has stepped beyond the circles of the world, so I wish you to take his place."
"You honor me." His voice had lowered, and had an odd roughness to it. "I will do this."
She squeezed his arm. "Thank you." She blinked back tears of gratitude.
They had come to the dining hall doorway, and Celeborn cleared his throat and brought the hum of voices within to a halt. "My people, today we not only celebrate the return of the sun and warmth to our lands, but the union of our great friend Radagast to the newest among us, the Lady Meg Litten."
As if as one, the entire dining hall rose as Celeborn escorted Meg to the front of the room, to stand before the raised platform that held the high table. He left her and made the step up, then turned. "Radagast, come forward to claim your bride."
Meg's eyes widened as Wendell stepped up next to her in robes that almost shone with a white brilliance. He claimed her hand to his arm and turned to face Celeborn.
Celeborn looked down at Meg and smiled, then addressed himself to Wendell. "Is it your wish to make this woman your mate, binding yourself to her alone unto the ending of the world?"
He now looked at Meg. "Is it also your wish to make this man your mate, binding yourself to him alone unto the ending of the world?"
"Yes," she answered softly. This wasn't the same kind of wedding that she remembered, but it felt right to her.
"Then it is my honor to declare before this company that Radagast and Meg shall be henceforth known as husband and wife." He looked down at them. "A kiss to seal the union is appropriate now."
Wendell smiled widely and turned to Meg, pulling her close to him and kissing her quite firmly and thoroughly. When they broke apart, a cheer rose from those who had witnessed the ceremony, and Meg blushed to the roots of her hair.
"And now," Celeborn announced, his arms wide, "we feast!"
A feminine voice ran like a rich, crystal bell. Heads swiveled and then mouths fell open even as the Elves bowed and dropped into deep curtseys when a woman, taller than most present and garbed in a gown that glowed so brightly that it could hardly be seen, glided forward. Meg saw Celeborn's mouth sag, and then even he was stepping from his position of prominence and bowing deeply.
Next to her, Wendell bowed very deeply. "My Lady," he said in a tone of reverence that Meg had never heard before. Self-consciously, she dropped into a deep curtsey herself.
My Servant, it delights me to see you this day, and it is my honor to join you in this celebration of your upcoming union with this Child of Eru. You have chosen well. The Lady's voice echoed, and yet Meg suddenly realized she wasn't hearing the voice with her ears. This voice was in her head, inescapable, and yet delicate and gentle. She shuddered; she had thought she had seen everything when Wendell had shown his truer form, but nothing had prepared her for something like this.
"Thank you, my Lady," Wendell murmured softly. "I have been blest, after many long-years of loneliness."
And yet, even as you celebrate this joy, you already sorrow for a parting that would come all too soon, is this not so?
"She is of the Second-born, my Lady - a Mortal. My joy will be intense, but brief; but I would have it no other way."
Say not so, my good and faithful Servant. For to you I bring a gift from the Blessed Lands, to ease your grief before it assails you.
Wendell looked up, startled. "My Lady?"
Look up at me, Child of Eru.
Wide-eyed and thoroughly frightened, Meg slowly raised her gaze until she was looking into a face that was fairer than any she'd ever seen. Hair that one moment seemed to glow a deep gold and the next shimmer like silver silk framed the delicate face and fell to far below the waist.
To you, Child, is given the choice to either relinquish your Gift to assume the burden and freedom the life of the Eldar would grant you, or to remain Mortal and step past the circles of the world when the days of your life are spent. Think you well on this, and choose wisely. For once you partake of the draught I have brought for you, your life essence will be irrevocably tied to the life of Arda; and any children you bear to Aiwendil will be similarly burdened with long life and ties to the life of the world.
Meg stared. "Do you mean, I won't grown old and die?" She turned to look at Wendell. "It was the only thing that I regret - that I would cause you so much hurt someday."
You will age no further, and your body will be as it is now until the unmaking of the world. Choose.
"It would be a big change for you," Wendell cautioned, although the tremulous smile that tickled the corners of his mouth told the tale of his delight at the development. He turned suddenly and bent low. "My Lady, this is a boon unsought…"
It is a gift, in gratitude for the long days of Service you have given to those who, despite all, remain behind; and for all the work you have done to preserve the beauty of this world. Your happiness should not be fleeting, but bear you forward through the long-years that lie before you - if that be the path taken. The brilliant eyes returned to Meg. Choose. Now.
Meg locked her gaze with Wendell's. Being a part of Imladris, as ageless and deathless as the others, was important; but not causing Wendell to grieve for her for centuries, perhaps millennia, after her death was far more critical. There was no choice. "I choose the draught," she answered with a steadier voice that she'd hoped for.
In the woman's hands appeared a tiny crystal goblet. This is limpe, the secret of which is in close possession of Manwë. It takes three sips to partake of enough to lay aside your Gift of Mortality and don the burden and life of the Eldar. Three sips - no more, and no less.
Meg stepped forward, toward the woman, and tipped her head up. The crystal of the goblet was icy-cold against her lips, and the liquid itself was utterly tasteless. Nevertheless, the first sip raced through her system like a bolt of fire; the second landed heavily in her stomach and roiled for a moment, and the third went straight to her head, robbing her of her equilibrium. She stumbled and would have fallen had Wendell not darted forward to gather her into his arms.
Sleep, Child of Eru, for the moment it takes for your Gift to diminish.
When Meg next knew anything, she was cradled in Wendell's arms at his place at the table. Celeborn was watching her with an expression of pride and concern. "Radagast," he said gently, "your lady awakens."
Meg looked up into the face of the man for whom she'd given up everything she had been before - even her mortality. "What happened?" She looked around in confusion. "Who was that woman, and where did she go?"
"That was Yavanna," Wendell told her with a smile. "The Lady of all growing things, and my mistress. As for where she has gone, I would imagine she is back in the Blessed Lands again." He helped her to sit up a bit straighter. "But how are you?"
Meg stopped for a moment and took stock of her condition. Other than a slight headache, she felt no different than she had walking into the room on Celeborn's arm. "I'm well, Wendell," she answered, patting his upper arm. Then she remembered what supposedly had happened to her. "Should I feel differently?"
"I do not know," he answered and carefully helped her shift from her spot on his lap to her chair. "Limpe is rarely given to anyone." Slowly he began to smile, and he teased a tendril of hair away from her face with a tender touch. "Now you are truly mine forever. I pray that I never give you cause to regret either of your choices, my love."
Meg began to smile as well. "You never will," she whispered so that only he could hear. "I have faith in you."
A/N: The idea of limpe comes from The Book of Lost Tales (HoME 1): 'Now this which we put into our cups is limpe, the drink of the Eldar both young and old ... Thurinqi only may give it to those not of the Eldar race, and those that drink must dwell always with the Eldar of the Island until such time as they fare forth to find the lost families of the kindred.' [p. 5-6]