Dark clouds raced over the sky, chasing each other along the peaks of the mountains in the distance. Heavy gusts of wind rattled the shutters of the large house and made the trees sway in an age-old dance as if they were telling tales of bygone times and brought news from outside their secluded valley. A figure stood on the balcony, observing the mad dash of the ever changing shapes, and listening to Manwë’s howling voices singing out the storm.
“Elrohir! Come back inside, it’s time for bed!”
Startled, he looked for the source of the voice. Further down the long balcony, a small figure obediently turned towards the pool of light spilling through the open door. Reminded of his promise, Erestor was about to go back inside when a movement below made him stop. Down in the courtyard, a wandering visitor in ragged clothes carrying a worn pack over his shoulder came up from the bridge, a common sight in Elrond’s hospitable domain. His master would welcome this particular guest with open arms, Erestor thought with a smile, as he recognised the stranger by the shape of a bundle he carried. He came every couple of years always in time for the festival, and it had been a while since his last visit.
A small shape emerged from the shadow and wound around Erestor's legs. “Ah, there you are,” he greeted his cat, picking her up and finally going inside.
His destination was easily identifiable, as he had promised Celebrían to put the twins to bed, and the usual laughter and noise was emerging from their bedroom. His knock went unanswered, and when he stepped inside he was greeted with the typical view of an energetic Elladan, jumping up and down on his bed and squealing with laughter as he dodged his mother’s attempts to get him into his sleeping clothes and braid his hair. His brother stood at the window half undressed, his tunic forgotten in hand, mesmerized by the scenario outside and lost in his own world. Erestor couldn’t help but smile fondly as both boys' characters were so much on display here. Nearly undistinguishable from the outside, they were very different in character and still as close as only twins could be, as he knew from their father.
“Good evening,” Erestor said. He was not only one of the twins’ favourite adults, but also their main teacher, and therefore well-used to exuding authority simply by employing his voice. He tried his best to look stern, but Elladan wasn’t deterred one second and raced towards him with a joyful shout.
“Ai, Erestor! Tomorrow is Nosta Lothin and we’re allowed to come, and you have to tell us all about it!” He grabbed the steward's hand and dragged him along.
“Nost-na-Lothion,” Erestor corrected automatically. “Hello, Celebrían. You look as if you could use some reinforcement and a glass of wine.”
The twin's mother laughed ruefully. “I can't tell you how glad I am you're here, Erestor. Elladan is so excited I can’t get him to hold still for one moment. I’m half inclined to let him run until he’s so exhausted he will pass out.”
Erestor chuckled. “Well, let’s see if the promise of a story can make him change your mind,” Erestor addressed the small boy who was bouncing on his feet even as he tried to stand still. “What do you say, Elladan? You need to change and be ready for bed, or there will be no story. Do you think we will manage without your mother, so she can go down to the Hall of Fire?”
Elladan nodded solemnly and went to his bed, where his sleeping clothes lay. He undressed and put on leggings and tunic without any more fuss, leaving his mother standing open mouthed.
“How do you do that, Erestor? I swear you’re a miracle worker with my children.” She went over to the other twin who hadn’t paid attention to what was happening around him, but let himself be helped into his own sleeping clothes and his hair be braided without resistance.
“It’s so beautiful outside,” Elrohir said, “I like the clouds playing catch and changing shape when they get caught.” He turned, his serene face lighting up when he saw Erestor. His mother had finished his braid, and he went over to the steward, holding his hand up to the black and orange feline sitting on Erestor’s arm.
“Hello Erestor and Morusso.” He petted the cat, who gazed at him without interest and jumped down to inspect the room. Taking Erestor’s hand, he guided him to the sofa in front of the fireside, showing much more respect than his brother, but equal insistence. With a laugh, Erestor sank into the comfortable seat and let Elrohir snuggle up at his side.
Celebrían straightened and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Elladan’s patience had worn out after having changed, and she finally gave up on braiding his hair. “Off you go,” she said, “be good for Erestor, you two. I don’t want you to make a fuss when he puts you to bed!”
“Yes, nana,” a double chorus answered. She laughed, kissed each boy on the forehead and went to the door, closing it behind her with a grateful smile to Erestor.
Elladan took the opportunity to race around the room again, happily shouting “Nost-na-Lothion, Nost-na-Lothion, we’re going to Nost-na-Lothion!”. Erestor let him work off some more energy before calling him over. When the boy finally had settled on his other side, Erestor asked: “Now, which story do you want to hear?”
“We don’t want a story today, Erestor, but can you tell us about the festival and why it’s special, please?”
Elrohir looked at him with bright eyes. Erestor couldn’t hide a smile. He hadn’t known Elrond as a child, but the Lord of Imladris must have been much like his younger son, always inquisitive, always wanting to know about the where and why and what.
“Yes, please, Erestor, tell us about it. Ada has explained it, but I didn’t understand.”
“All right, the spring festival it is. You know that tomorrow we're half-way through ethuil, don’t you?”
Elladan drew a face. “But it has snowed again today. How can it be ethuil at all when it’s still snowing?”
Erestor laughed. “The seasons follow their own schedule, not our wishes, Elladan, and it snows often even in ethuil. But it's not the weather that decides the season, but the calendar, and nothing will change the date for the festival tomorrow, not rain or storm or even snow.”
The relieved look on the small face made it difficult for Erestor to reign in his mirth. Instead, he continued: “So, in Imladris, we mark this particular day of ethuil with a big celebration. It’s called Nost-na-Lothion, as you well know.” The boys nodded eagerly. “But you probably don’t know what it means: the Birth of Blossoms.”
“But there aren't any blossoms yet,” Elrohir said.
“There are snowdrops. They are blossoms, too,” his brother objected.
“You are both right. The flowers are very late this year, since we had a severe rhîw, but the snowdrops are blossoms, too, of course. Indeed, on the very first Nost-na-Lothion we celebrated in the valley, there were only some snowdrops as well.
Now, you need to know Nost-na-Lothion is a festival from Gondolin, but it hadn't been celebrated since the city had fallen. But some of the first settlers here were from Gondolin and suggested that we celebrate it again as the birth of blossoms, or rather the first green, became very important to our people.”
Elladan frowned. “Were there snowdrops in Gondolin, then?” he wanted to know.
The twins had started their lessons only the previous autumn and, while they knew about Gondolin in general as part of their family’s history and the home of their friend Glorfindel, they had no actual knowledge about the history of the period.
“Perhaps, but I was never in Gondolin, so I don’t know,” Erestor said. “To my knowledge, the festival was always celebrated in Gondolin when the main bloom began, regardless of the calendar. Here in Imladris we celebrate it at a fixed date as it marks our own history and traditions which were more important to us, but we kept the name to honour the past tradition of our people. You know how our people came to the hidden valley, don’t you?”
The twins nodded again. Eager to show off his knowledge, Elladan said: “They were refugees and came here in firith, and it was difficult to survive!”
Erestor, who had his arm around the boy’s shoulder, squeezed him slightly. “Yes, indeed. Most of our people lived in Ost-in-Edhil before, and when the city was beleaguered by Sauron, many of us fled to the north led by your father. We didn’t know what awaited us, as the lands there were unfamiliar. We found the valley, and your father considered it to be a good place for us to live.”
“So you built shelters in the caves on the other side of the river and collected food,” Elrohir said. “And you were there, Erestor, and Captain Carmanthir and Mindoniel and Mistress Faeneth and Lindir when he was a boy, but neither naneth nor Glorfindel.” Elrohir stopped to draw breath, and Erestor laughed.
“Yes. We were fewer back then, as some of the refugees had found shelter elsewhere and only came here later. It was a good thing, too, since we had very little food. You see, we hadn’t been able to bring much from the lost city, as we couldn’t use wagons, and everything had to be transported by ourselves, or on the few horses we had.”
“You also brought Morusso,” Elladan chimed in, petting the soft fur of the cat who had jumped back onto Erestor’s lap and was now grooming herself.
“No, Morusso is far too young to have been on the trek. Cats don’t live that long, you know,” he explained. “But she is the daughter of the daughters of the first Morusso, and that first Morusso's mother was on the trek.”
Elladan found the itchy spot at Morusso’s neck and scratched it which caused contended purring.
“But why don't we celebrate the festival like they did in Gondolin?” Elrohir wanted to know.
“Your brother already answered that,” Erestor explained. “As he said, we were refugees and came here very late in the year, when firith drew to a close and rhîw was near. The valley was rich with game and plant life, but we didn’t have much time to gather food and hunt for sufficient winter stocks for all of us. We knew it was going to be a hard winter, but we prepared as well as we could.”
The twins were now listening with rapt attention. They had heard this tale already many times but could never get enough of the compelling story of the founding of their home.
“And then rhîw came and the snow fell, and you all sat around the fires in the caves and told stories,” Elrohir said.
Erestor chuckled. “Rhîw is the best time for telling stories, as you well know. This rhîw was a very long one, and we told all the stories we knew, and the new ones from our flight and our journey, and about the life we hoped to live in this beautiful valley.”
“And then the food ran out,” Elladan stated with a somewhat morbid satisfaction. He always loved the scary parts best.
“Yes, eventually the food ran out, but not for a long time. All through rhîw, hunters went out for game, and the gatherers still found nuts and berries in sheltered parts of the valley where little snow lay. There were also fish in the river, and while we had to ration the food, there was at least a small amount for everybody until yestarë.”
“What does ‘ration’ mean?” Elrohir asked.
“It means the food is divided in equal parts, and everybody gets as much as he needs, but nothing more. Adult elves can go a long time with very small amounts of food, or none at all, but the children needed more, as did the injured and the pregnant women. We had so little the adults could only eat every couple of days.”
“I would have given most of my food to the others!” Elladan proclaimed proudly.
“Of course you would.” Erestor caressed his head. Elladan might be a whirlwind and a little rascal, but he was always the first to show kindness and help others.
“What did you do when the food ran out?” Elrohir wanted to know.
“Well, when yestarë had passed and no change of season was in sight, and even hunting became difficult as the animals didn’t find any more food and moved away, we rationed the available food even more carefully and left all we had to the children and others in need. It was not easy, but we still had some herbs for tea, and we knew the snow had to melt eventually. Every time the hunters were successful a large cauldron of broth was made so everybody got at least a cupful. And we prayed to the Valar to send us the turn of the season and new growth so we would survive.”
“And then the miracle happened, and it became really ethuil!”
“It was a miracle,” Erestor confirmed. “One morning, after the longest stretch without successful hunting we had had, we were all feeling hungry, miserable and cold. And then the sun came out for the first time after over a week. We all went outside and saw the first green buds, the first growth. Ethuil had finally, truly come, and we had survived.”
“And then you had a big celebration!” Elladan exclaimed, satisfied.
Erestor laughed. “Yes, that we did. We knew it wouldn’t be long until we could find food again, the growing greens would attract game for hunting, and the thaw would allow us to go out to gather again.”
“But how did you celebrate when you had no food?” asked Elrohir, the ever practical.
“A very good question, Elrohir. Celebrating is not only about a big feast, or eating at all, as you certainly know.”
“Yes, you dress up and there is music and dancing.”
This was said with so much disdain that Erestor laughed out loud. “Most people quite like to dress up and dance, and listen to the music,” he smiled. “But there was some food to mark the occasion as well. The cook made a stew from everything we had on that day, enough for everybody to have at least a little. It wasn’t much and nothing special, but for us, it was the best feast we could imagine.
“Now, as you know, the refugees stayed here in the valley and built the settlement, and many others came to live here in that first year. Most settlers were refugees from Eregion, but there were also elves from the woods in the east who came, Silvan and Nandor, and when the next yestarë had passed, we decided to celebrate the date which had marked our survival of this first and hardest rhîw. Since the date was close to the Gondolin spring celebration, the Noldor suggested bringing this back, and we decided to join it with the Silvan spring festival which celebrates the renewal of life when the first greens are coming out, combining all our traditions. So now we have the birth of blossoms, no matter if there are blossoms or not, with a feast, music and dancing, and other customs.”
“What other customs?”
Erestor blushed a little; he hadn’t meant to mention this as he didn’t care to explain the wild, unrestrained Sindarin dances or the Silvan fertility rites to the twins.
“Those where all the unbound males make eyes at the girls and the girls giggle all the time,” Elladan explained with all the wisdom of a fifteen-year-old.
“Exactly,” Erestor dead-panned, trying not to laugh at the disgusted face of the twins. “You’ll understand that when you’re older.”
“Is this when we will also enjoy music and dancing and dressing up?” Elrohir inquired, and Erestor nodded.
“Very likely so. But I thought you two love music, don’t you?”
“Ye-e-e-s,” Elrohir said hesitantly, “but not the boring things they play for dancing. I like the songs and stories with music better.”
“Ballads,” Erestor helped. “I see.”
Again, he couldn’t hide a grin. During the previous weeks when everywhere preparations for Nost-na-Lothion were made, the twins, who visited workshops and craftspeople regularly as part of their schooling, had been present at several rehearsals of dancing tunes as well as the dances themselves. They had been bored to death by the slow, seemingly simple, melodies and the complicated steps of the processional dances and declined to learn the steps with as much politeness as they could muster.
“Don’t worry, there will be songs and ballads, and also other dances than those you have already seen.”
“Why didn’t they rehearse these, too?” Elladan asked.
“They don’t need to, because most know them well, and they are simple enough even for those who don’t.”
“Are you going to dance?” Elrohir wanted to know.
Erestor smiled. “I suppose so, yes. Everybody dances, because it’s part of the festival. You don’t feel the new life if you don’t dance, they say. You can join some of the simple dances, too, if you find them to your liking.”
Two small noses scrunched up at the thought, but they didn’t refuse outright.
“Well, you have until tomorrow to decide. It will be lovely to have you two at the festival for the first time! But you need to sleep now, or you will be too tired and miss all the fun.”
“All right.” Elrohir, the ever-practical, was already in bed before Erestor had ended, while Elladan, true to type, jumped up and down on his own, chanting again “Nost-na-Lothion, Nost-na-Lothion, we’re going to the Nost-na-Lothion!”
Erestor got up and gave Elladan his sternest teacher gaze. This made the boy giggle, but he stopped and let himself fall down, enjoying one last bounce, beaming up at Erestor.
“Tuck me in!” he demanded, adding “please” after Erestor had raised a questioning eyebrow.
Erestor did so and gave him a goodnight kiss on the forehead. Morusso jumped up and padded over the small form, eliciting another giggle and a squeak when she started to lick Elladan’s nose.
“Morusso, down,” Erestor said, and the feline shot her master a glare, not very dissimilar to the one he had just given Elladan, before settling for a nudge and a bit of kneading on the coverlet.
Erestor went over to tuck Elrohir in.
“There will be lights,” Elrohir said dreamily.
“Lights? What do you mean?”
“Coloured lights,” Elrohir explained. “Ada took us to the glass blower’s workshop, and they were making globes in many colours to hang in the trees. They’re going to be filled with water and a little oil on top and a wick swimming in it. We came back in the evening to see them lighted, and they are so beautiful.”
Erestor smiled. “Ah, yes, the festival lights! They’re really special, aren’t they?” He gave Elrohir his kiss.
Morusso took an elegant leap over to Elrohir’s bed, who gave her a quick peck on the head as well. “Good night, Morusso.”
Erestor extinguished the lights and called for his cat. “Good night, you two. May you walk on pleasant dream-paths,” he said.
“Thank you for the story,” Elrohir mumbled, already half asleep.
“And for bringing Morusso,” Elladan added, giving Erestor a final happy smile before he turned on his side, searching for the stuffed gull which was his favourite cuddling toy.
With a last glance over his young charges, Erestor closed the door.
Outside, a bitter-sweet melody drifted up from the Hall of Fire. This was another part of the tradition they had formed in Imladris, since the first time their visitor had sung it on the eve of Nost-na-Lothion, and Erestor went down to join the others listening to the Noldolantë, once again sung by Maglor himself.
~ The End ~