In the 52nd year of King Elessar's reign, Middle Earth experienced one of its worst blizzards in many decades. For three days, its cities, villages and countrysides were blinded by high winds and drifting, granular snow. As the storm clouds receded, a period of bitter cold descended on the kingdom and surrounding regions, shutting down businesses and government services for several days.
(Excerpt from Karlmir Stonewain's Minas Tirith journal)
The King's House, Minas Tirith
Aragorn scraped thick frost from the window of the royal bedchamber, the better to see what was going on in the Citadel just to the south of the White Tower. The Tower itself, and most of the government buildings beyond, were lost in the darkness of late evening. From his vantage point on the second story of the King's House, he observed an army of torch-bearing Orcs industriously clearing the paths and walkways connecting the royal mansion with the Tower and surrounding buildings.
“Estel, please close the curtains!” Arwen exclaimed as she emerged from the lavatory, followed by her two handmaids. “I can feel the cold air all the way over here!”
Aragorn looked over his shoulder as he drew the heavy drapes together. His squire had just finished stoking the chamber's porcelain-enameled woodstove and adjusting its air vents.
“That will be all for tonight, Arvellon, he told the youth. “Go to bed now.”
“Goodnight, Sire,” the squire replied, bowing respectfully as he departed for his own quarters.
Aragorn pondered on the unusual weather conditions as he shuffled toward the bed, his fur-lined slippers making faint scuffing sounds upon the polished oaken flooring of the royal bedchamber. He had experienced many a fell winter in his long lifetime, yet never could he recall temperatures so severe that the bitter cold would penetrate the very walls of the royal mansion.
“What's all that guttural chanting down below?” Arwen asked as Elweena and Freida turned down the bedcovers.
“A few dozen Orcs are clearing the walkways,” Aragorn replied. “They've certainly got their work cut out. The snow is waist deep. At least the wind has lessened somewhat.” He looked on appreciatively as his wife shed her robe and donned a pair of his flannel pajamas. As she bent over to pull up the trousers, he got a brief, albeit delightful, glimpse of her bare bottom. “What? No nightgown tonight?” he chuckled as he shook off his slippers and got into bed.
“Your flannel pajamas are much warmer than any of my nightgowns,” Arwen grinned, fastening the waist cord. “I had the girls add an extra blanket to the bed while you were in the lavatory. We’ll be warm and comfortable tonight” She hiked up the pants legs as she made her way to the bed. The pajamas were about two sizes too large for her.
“Will there be anything else, Lady?” Elweena asked. Freida was already extinguishing the candles and lamps about the chamber.
“No, my pet,” Arwen replied, slipping under the covers. “You and Freida may retire for the night.”
Aragorn yawned widely as his wife snuggled against him, her head nestled upon his shoulder. For several moments, she shivered from the cold. He drew her close as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. Her freshly-shampooed hair smelled of herbs, even through the thick woolen nightcap she wore.
“This is nice,” Arwen murmured as she settled down. Her shivering gradually ceased. “I feel all snug and warm. Our cozy nest is an island of warmth in a sea of cold. If only it wasn't for all that racket the Orcs are making down there. It sounds as if they're off to war or something!” One of their number was beating a drum in time to their rhythmic chanting.
“I hardly hear anything, my love,” Aragorn muttered sleepily, “but I forgot how sensitive your hearing is. Here,” he said, pulling the covers over her ears. “Is that better?”
“Yes, that's much better,” she replied. For several moments she clung to him as they silently enjoyed each other's warmth. “I want to talk to you about Eldarion,” she murmured in a harsh whisper. “Have you heard that he's been bedding that kitchen wench, Corunes?”
Aragorn could not stifle a wide yawn before replying. “Not directly, but I've suspected it for the past couple of weeks. Why?”
Arwen raised her head slightly, although it was now too dark in the room to see into her husband's eyes. “Estel, he was betrothed to that young baroness from Pelargir several months ago! What if he gets too involved with this young slut? What if he gets a child on her?”
Aragorn sighed tiredly. “It's late, my dear,” he yawned. “Must we discuss this now? The boy is just entering his prime and won't be married for another two or three years. Sooner or later he's going to have to begin sowing his wild oats.”
“It preys upon my mind,” Arwen replied in a muffled voice, settling down beneath the covers again.
“Look,” Aragorn whispered, patting her hand affectionately beneath the blankets, “I'll have a talk with Eldarion in the morning. Get your handmaid Gilda to advise Corunes about taking precautions. Gilda is the mother hen for most of our female staff. She knows about these things.” His voice trailed off in yet another weary yawn.
“Mmmm,” Arwen sighed, drifting into slumber.
“Well, I guess that's settled for now,” Aragorn thought, much relieved. Lulled by the Orcs' rhythmic work chant and Arwen's warm presence, he quickly fell asleep.
* * *
“I should have come in here earlier to get the stove going,” Frieda remarked as she ignited the kindling in their bedchamber's black iron woodstove. “I never thought I'd see a winter's night so severe that we could see our breaths steam in our own room! This sort of weather must make you miss your balmy days in Lothlórien.”
“Yes, you're certainly right about that,” Elweena replied as she hastily took an extra comforter from the linen bureau and added it to the already thick covers on their bed. “The winter nights would be so depressing here, if not for the fact that I have such a darling lover to hold me and keep me warm.”
Freida grinned and rubbed her arms vigorously through the thick fabric of her robe. The stove was quickly beginning to radiate soothing warmth, but it would be a few hours before the room was truly comfortable. She added a chunk of birch and placed a small teakettle on the stove top. They would each need a warming nightcap of herbal brew before retiring.
Vainly attempting to control their shivering, the handmaids combed each other's hair and tied up their tresses in silk ribbons for the night. They donned woolen sleeping caps for additional warmth.
Before long, the teakettle was boiling merrily. Freida stirred in a packet of their favorite herbal mixture and poured the steaming brew through a strainer into a small teapot.
“I wonder if we could borrow a couple pairs of the King's flannel pajamas,” Elweena giggled as the girls sat on the bed to sip their tea. “I could barely keep a straight face when the Queen slipped into them. They were so baggy on her!”
“Yes, that was funny,” Freida tittered. “The Queen has the right idea, though. Maybe we should look into the purchase of some flannel cloth. Gilda could help us sew our own pajamas.”
“We should first find out if there is material already available in the sewing room here,” Elweena said over the rim of her cup. “The streets are impassible now. The drapers' shops will probably be closed for days, maybe more. Besides, Queen Evenstar will probably let us have the cloth for free if we ask her nicely.”
“Yes, especially if we approach her with our best doe-eyed expressions,” Freida giggled mischievously. “My, but it's cold!” she said, shiveringly, draining her cup.
“Let's finish the tea before it cools,” Elweena said, reaching for the pot. The herbal mixture contained red nettle, which would calm their nerves and induce sleep.
The young women finished their tea in silence as drowsiness overtook them. Freida shuffled to the stove and added enough chunks of seasoned oak to last the night. Elweena extinguished the candles, leaving but one lit on the nightstand, doffed her robe and hastily crept beneath the thick bedcovers. There hadn't been time to properly heat foot-warming stones, so both women had slipped their feet into heavy woolen socks.
“I hope the Queen lets us sleep in tomorrow,” Freida said as she adjusted the stove's vents for a slow burn. “I doubt that she and the King will want to get up early. Surely, their official meetings and other business have all been postponed for a few days.”
“Actually, we'll get an extra hour's sleep even if we have to get up at the usual hour,” Elweena said happily as Freida slipped into bed beside her. “Maybe you didn't notice, but the royal couple retired about an hour earlier than usual tonight──probably on account of the cold.”
Freida yawned widely as Elweena embraced her and drew her close. “And if we wake up an hour early,” she added, “we'll have ample time to snuggle and enjoy our cozy nest.”
“Our island of warmth in a sea of cold,” Elweena sighed contentedly. She drew the covers up a bit higher as they settled down. The fire crackled softly and soothingly as slumber overtook them.
* * *
Eldarion pursed his lips as he made a notation to the architectural drawing he was working on. His hands felt a bit stiff, despite the open-tipped hand warmers he was wearing. For a few seconds he warmed his fingers over one of the candles on his work bench. The wind howled fiercely just outside his window. “I think it's time to add a bit of wood to the fire,” he thought.
The Prince's engineering designs for the new East Gate on the Pelennor were a necessary part of his studies and might not be used in the actual construction, but he found great satisfaction in the knowledge that they would be included in the many plans presently under consideration and review by the Royal Board of Architects.
Eldarion congratulated himself for the umpteenth that he had chosen one of the lesser chambers in the princely suite for his bedroom. Its smaller space was easier to heat in bitterly cold weather. He had a larger den with a fireplace if he needed more room to study, entertain guests or perform official duties in comfort, but this was surely a night to spend in a cozy nook.
“At least I've got plenty of fuel for tonight,” he noted with satisfaction as he added short logs of seasoned maple and oak to the stove. The woodbox had been filled to the top during his absence. He briefly parted the heavy drapes from the window as he returned to his work, hoping for a moonlit view of the Citadel's south quarter. But he found the window covered by a rime of thick frost. Frowning, he pulled the curtains shut and returned to his drawing. Scarcely had he picked up his pencil again, however, when he heard a faint tapping at the door.
Eldarion grinned, his work immediately forgotten. In a trice, he had bounded across the chamber and unlatched the heavy oaken door to find his secret mistress Corunes shivering in the narrow, unheated hallway. She wore a shapeless woolen nightcap in addition to her heavy robe. The Prince continued to smile wryly as he contemplated what she might be or not be wearing underneath. He hastily pulled her inside and shut the door before more cold air could invade the room.
“I feel like an icicle!” Corunes simpered, embracing him intimately. “It's a long walk from the maids' quarters. I think it's just as cold in those hallways right now as it is outside! That guard down the passageway noticed me,” she added worriedly. “I hope he doesn't have a big mouth.”
“Don't worry about him,” Eldarion said, giving her back and arms a vigorous rubbing. “He's a good friend. I gave him a couple of coins to insure his silence.” He kissed her deeply before regarding her more closely in the flickering candle light. “You look as if you've had a rough day.”
“I have,” she sulked as she shiveringly clung to him. “I had to go outside this morning and help with the snow shoveling. I thought I'd freeze my arse off! Then, in the afternoon, I had to carry firewood from the cellar up to the kitchens and refectory. I swear it took about two or three hours. And two of the workers with me were Orcs. They smelled awful!”
“The economy has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past three decades,” the Prince explained. “There are increasingly more menial jobs available than there are workers to fill them. It's no wonder that Orcs from Mordor have been coming here seeking employment.”
“Well, enough of that,” Corunes said, producing a small pot from beneath her robe. “I can barely read and write, much less understand discussions about the economy. Here's a pot of savory broth to warm us up before we retire. I hope it hasn't cooled off too much while I carried it up here from the scullery.” She placed the pot atop the stove to bring it back up to its proper temperature.
“Have a look at my latest design for the bastions and gates at Rhunannest,” Eldarion said enthusiastically as he took two large soup mugs from a corner cabinet. “The old forts that were nearly demolished during the Battle of the Pelennor are finally being dismantled. The foundations around the East Gate will be excavated, replaced and topped with bastions which will command the approach from Osgiliath.”
Corunes pored over the Prince's meticulous drawings for a minute or two, then gave a reluctant sigh. “I'm sorry, Your Grace,” she said, drawing her robe more snugly about her, “but I can't make heads or tails of this. I'm sure it's a great feat of engineering which you have put a lot of effort into, but I'm no judge of such things. It's a very handsome drawing, however,” she tactfully concluded. “I'm cold!”
“Don't worry about it,” Eldarion replied, rubbing her back to warm her. “Ah! The soup is beginning to simmer. Fill the mugs while I put out the lights and add more wood to the stove.”
The young wench grinned eagerly as she poured the soup and placed a full mug atop the nightstands to either side of the bed. “It's terribly cold,” she sighed as Eldarion extinguished the overhead lamps. “Must I remove my nightgown?”
“No. Tonight is not a night for lovemaking,” the prince replied as he changed into his pajamas and nightcap. “It's a night for snuggling. As you can see, I have placed an extra comforter on the bed to keep us cozy.”
In the light of two or three remaining candles, the sleepy couple sat in the warm bed, sipping their hot soup between tender kisses. Their ritual completed, the lovers slipped beneath the covers and snuggled intimately. Corunes giggled happily as Eldarion rubbed his feet against hers. “Our island of warmth in a sea of cold,” he whispered into her ear as he drew her close.
“Mmmm!” Corunes purred. “It's been a long day,” she yawned. But the Prince scarcely heard her, for he was already nodding off.
* * *
An arctic wind moaned through Redhorn Pass, down the narrow valley of the Silverlode, and across woods and dales of Egladil as a bitterly cold night descended. Clouds of granular snow were whipped between the trunks of Lothlórien's majestic Mallorns. The great trees swayed and groaned.
Luthillia scraped frost from the pane of her bedroom window, the better to catch a glimpse of the spacious, snow-covered lawn in front of her house. The storm clouds had cleared, giving way to a brilliantly lit, wintery landscape as a full moon rose over the distant hills of East Lorien. The lawn's fountain and surrounding hedges were nearly hidden by waist-deep snow drifts. Luthillia's peephole was already frosting over as she secured the window's heavy drapes against the cold.
“Can you add more wood to the stove?” Urwen asked, peeping from beneath the thick covers of their bed. Only her eyes were visible, for her flaming red hair was covered by a woolen nightcap and she had drawn the blankets up to her ears. She was shivering uncontrollably, albeit not entirely from the cold. One fierce gust of wind after another buffeted the sides of the sturdy, two-story chalet, which had been built just below the former home of Celeborn and Galadriel shortly after the war of the Ring.
“The stove is already stuffed to its limit,” Luthillia giggled as she stepped out of her robe. “If I cram in even one more stick, it will probably burn the place down.” She hastily slipped beneath the covers and drew her lover into an intimate embrace.
Another fierce gust buffeted the chalet, bringing with it a cloud of granular snow which rattled with an ominous hiss against the shuttered windows.
Urwen emitted a squeak of fear as she pressed her face against Luthillia’s neck. “The roof if going to blow off the house!” she whimpered. “Either that, or the whole place is going to fall down and we’ll freeze to death!”
The bed began to shake, so violent was Urwen’s shivering. Luthillia was hard put to hold her. She was not unfamiliar with Urwen’s fear of storms, however. She had also had to deal with this sort of behavior during the spring or summer when the occasional thunderstorm occurred. Urwen had been a naive Elf as far as natural weather phenomena were concerned, having never ventured outside of the magical realms of Lothlórien or Rivendell during inclement weather.
Urwen emitted another frightful squeak as more icy granules were carried by the fierce wind with violent intensity against the chalet’s outer wall. “Why can’t you control the weather like Galadriel once did?” she whimpered. “We never had storms like this when she was here!”
Luthillia sighed. They had been over this subject many times. As Galadriel’s protégée, she did indeed possess a ring of power, but its properties and magical abilities were strictly limited. She probably could control Lothlórien’s weather for a brief time, but her ring’s power would be quickly exhausted.
A mournful howl sounded in the distance, followed by several others in unison. This was not the howling of the wind, but something far more dangerous and sinister.
“Wolves!” Urwen whimpered. “Maybe even Wargs! Even now, they watch the house, waiting for us to emerge.”
“You’ve got to calm down, my pet,” Luthillia whispered soothingly. “Even Wargs cannot cross the deep fosse surrounding Caras Galadon, nor can they scale our protective wall. And this house has weathered storms worse than this. Let the power of my love dissipate your fears and ease you into gentle slumber.” She brought her fingers to Urwen’s chin, gently lifting her head so that their lips might meet.
“Mmmm,” Urwen purred, feeling a delightful warmth spread through her being as the kiss continued, long and deep. Was it the power of Elven love, Elven magic, or maybe both? The howling of the Wargs and wind now seemed, somehow, muted and unimportant.
“Better now?” Luthillia whispered.
“Mmmm,” Urwen purred again as she snuggled against Luthillia’s side. Her shivering quickly abated. “I feel safe and warm now,” she murmured drowsily. “Let’s go to sleep.”
Luthillia yawned widely and heaved a contented sigh. Despite the stove’s radiant warmth, she could see her breath steam a bit in the faint candlelight. It seemed unimportant now. Another gust of wind howled across the garden. “Be quiet, giant!” she whispered. “We are safe here in our snug haven. Your icy breath cannot touch us.”
An hour passed, maybe two. The winds abated. The Warg pack, fierce hunters in any weather, turned northward toward the Gladden Fields, leaving Lothlórien in peace. In the brilliant moonlight, the snow sparkled and smoke curled gracefully from the chalet’s chimneys.
Greenwood, North Ithilien
Legolas hummed tunelessly to himself as he gathered up an armload of firewood inside the woodshed near his woodland cottage. The air here was thick with the tangy scents of split oak, sweet birch, maple and dusty earth. A pair of mice sat upon their haunches, curiously regarding the Prince from atop one of the neat stacks of wood before scurrying for the safety and warmth of their nest. Outside, the light of the full moon revealed a landscape covered by myriad diamonds of granular snow.
“Thank goodness the wind has finally abated,” he thought, gazing from the open doorway. Only an occasional light gust swept a meager cloud of white powder across the forest floor. Late that afternoon, he and Meril had braved the icy blasts and spent several hours shoveling paths through the waist-deep snow from their cottage’s rear door to the various outbuildings around their modest abode. Drifting snow had partially filled some of the paths, but they could be quickly cleared in the morning.
The snow made faint crunching sounds beneath his boots as he hastily carried his burden the thirty steps from the shed to the cottage. Despite the short distance, his face began to grow numb. The biting cold quickly assaulted any exposed flesh and even penetrated the thick fur parka and trousers he was wearing. Fortunately, this was the last load of wood for the evening. All of the wood boxes in the house were now filled.
The Prince glanced briefly at the full Wolf Moon before unburdening himself in the kitchen and securing the door. “It must be a bit after midnight,” he mused. “The moon is at the zenith.” He added a bit of wood to the stove, basking in its radiant warmth as he removed his fur clothes and boots. He had previously placed his slippers next to the stove so that they would be comfortably toasty when he was finished with his outdoor chores. For a short time, he relaxed as he sat on one of the kitchen’s rustic, but sturdy, oaken chairs around the supper table. The air smelled faintly of rich venison stew and pipe weed. The former was what they had consumed for supper, the latter from the pipe of his friend Gimli, who had accepted the Prince’s invitation to spend the winter in Greenwood.
Legolas rose from his chair and stretched as high as he could reach. His chores had left him with with a few aching muscles, but they were satisfying aches resulting from a job well done. His chores had also left him with a ravenous appetite, despite having eaten well at supper. He placed his boots next to the stove to dry before checking the stew pot his wife had left on the chopping block. A grin of satisfaction spread across his face. The pot contained one last serving of the savory stew. He placed the pot atop the stove and rummaged in a cupboard for some bread.
The Prince yawned widely as he crossed the adjacent hallway to his bedroom. He found Meril wrapped in a heavy robe, adjusting the vents on the cast iron stove at the center of the chamber.
“I’m warming up the last of the stew,” he said quietly, “and there’s a crust of bread left. “Do you want any?”
“No, I already warmed myself with some hot tea,” she replied. “Finish it quickly and come to bed. I’m exhausted and need to cuddle with your arms around me.” She began extinguishing the candles about the room as her husband returned to the kitchen.
Legolas silently grinned in amusement as he paused at the kitchen door and glanced down the hallway. Gimli’s snoring could be easily heard, even through the heavy oaken door of his bedroom. Well, the aging Dwarf could snore to his heart’s content as far as the Prince was concerned. Despite his advancing years, and against Legolas’ protests, Gimli had shoveled the longest path that afternoon──all the way from the back door of the cottage to the dairy barn. He had even tended to the cows and goats afterward.
Savory steam rose from the stew pot as Legolas stirred its contents with a wooden spoon. Satisfied, he placed the pot on the table and poured himself half a tankard of ale. Most Elves preferred tea or wine to ale, but he had acquired a taste for the brew while spending time with his Dwarvish companion. Even Meril consumed a tankard now and then. The couple had been making their own home brew for nearly a decade, much to Gimli’s delight whenever he was their guest.
“No sense soiling a clean bowl,” Legolas thought. He spooned the stew straight from the pot, pausing between bites to dip his bread in the tasty gravy. At last, he pushed away the empty vessel, drained the last drops from his tankard, patted his stomach and loosed a satisfied belch.
“Now, to bed,” he yawned.
He placed a small pile of dried moss and kindling on the table for the next morning’s fire, extinguished the candles and returned to the master bedroom. “Where are you, my love?” he sniggered, creeping into the darkened bed chamber. A single candle burned atop the dresser and the stove gave off a faint red glow. There came no reply.
Legolas undressed and hastily slipped into his woolen pajamas. The bedcovers rustled slightly as Meril emitted a partially restrained giggle of anticipation.
“Here I come,” Legolas whispered mischievously as he got down on his hands and knees. Stealthily, he crept across the floor, stopping momentarily as his fingers fell upon the cotton foot mat at the edge of the bed. Meril’s giggles were now a bit muffled. Clearly, she had ducked completely under the covers.
“Here comes the Tickle Demon,” the Prince intoned in a mock growl. Slowly he lifted the covers and slipped between the flannel sheets. Not until he was fully inside the snug nest did he sneakily reach for his wife’s midriff and administer a playful and vigorous tickling.
Meril squirmed and wriggled beneath the blankets, all the while squealing with delight. She finally resorted to putting the edge of the quilt in her mouth to stifle the noise, lest she awaken Gimli in the next room.
“I guess that will be sufficient stimulation to send my goodwife into a happy, exhausted slumber,” Legolas laughed.
“Happy, yes,” Meril sighed, “but the exhausted part has already been taken care of. After this afternoon’s snow shoveling in that bitter cold, I’m ready to sleep until noon. Mmmm,” she purred as Legolas drew her into an intimate embrace.
“You’re right about the bitter cold,” he yawned. “I could see my breath a bit while I was undressing. The cold has penetrated the walls of our humble cottage. I may have to get up and replenish the stove in a few hours.”
“Not to worry,” Meril murmured sleepily. “You probably have noticed that I put an extra quilt on the bed.
“Indeed,” Legolas responded, yawning widely again. “We’re surrounded by a sea of cold, yet we’re safe and warm in this cozy nest.”
While a chilly night descended upon the humble Elven cottage, the moonlight shone brightly and the surrounding trees cast their shadows among a field of crystal diamonds. Smoke curled peacefully from its fieldstone chimneys.
* * * * *
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