Winter had come to Imladris again. The valley lay under a pristine layer of soft white snow.
Maeglin was putting the finishing touches on a circlet for the Lord of Imladris when she heard boisterous shouts and laughter outside the foundry’s shuttered windows. Reluctant to leave the cosy warmth of the smithy, she tried to ignore it. There were many voices, but there was one voice, one laugh that she could not mistake.
A loud burst of silvery laughter, loud cheers and claps, interlaced with several cries of dismay.
Curiosity getting the better of her, she wrapped her cloak around her, pulled up the hood, and stepped out into the cold of the winter day.
In an Imladrin winter tradition, the Commander of Imladris had challenged his captains and elite corps—twenty-odd warriors—to a snowfight. Him against them all. There had been the odd year when a branch had broken beneath him, or when the snow had slid out under his feet on a roof slope, but apart from that, for the past three millennia he had almost always won. The battles the warriors talked and sang of for years after were the handful where their coordinated attack on him had actually succeeded. The same strategy never worked twice against him, and each year the warriors looked forward to the challenge with an extra gleam in their bright eyes, plotting and planning for days ahead how they would take him down.
Glorfindel loved snow. In Gondolin, he had delighted in the first snowfall each winter as only a Noldo who had never crossed the Helcaraxë could. In Aman, where most of the land basks in an eternal spring and summer, he had been drawn every now and again to scale the Pelóri range past the snow line, or wander north past Formenos, to where majestic ancient glaciers still towered.
North of Imladris valley, in the Coldfells, blizzards howled in winter and snow trolls brought icy avalanches down on the unsuspecting traveller. But here, in Elrond’s sheltered valley which lay under the power of Vilya, the winters were clement and beautiful, with soft, deep falls of white snow in its coldest month.
Right now, their battle had moved into the apple orchard outside the smithy. Glorfindel was quickly picking off his best warriors with well-aimed snowballs. All of them never ceased to wonder at the swiftness and skill with which he managed to shape and throw his snowy projectiles while staying on the run. The rule was the game was simple. A hit to any part of the body meant you were out, and so far he had knocked out eleven of them and was still untouchable. Those already eliminated from the game stood around cheering.
Glorfindel’s musical laugh rang out in the frosty air. “Come on, my brave captains! Is this the best you can do this year?” he called out tauntingly as he ran, leaving next to no prints on the soft snow. “Has winter feasting has made you so slow?”
He was a golden and grey blur of fluid movement in his winter cloak, almost dancing as he dodged the white missiles flying at him. His white missile landed in the face of another warrior and he laughed merrily as cheers broke out. Without a pause, he swung himself up a tree with one fluid move, dispatched another warrior with a snowball to the chest, and hurled his last snowball into Erestor’s face—just for fun—as the hapless counsellor emerged round the corner of the house.
“Surely you can do better than that!” he sang out to his warriors as he leapt from his tree into another, landing with a grace and surefootedness that would shame a cat. “Put some heart into it, my worthies—”
And then his eyes met Maeglin’s.
For just a fraction of a moment the balrog-slayer lost his concentration and almost his footing. It was enough. A relentless volley of white snowballs from the best warriors in Imladris pelted the elflord and knocked him out of his tree and onto the snow below. To give him credit, he landed on his feet, but all twenty-six of the elite were upon him at once with howls of triumph, and rapidly buried their laughing Commander in a snow drift. Soon, so much snow was being flung in the air that a mini blizzard seemed to have erupted, and all the fair, brave warriors were giggling and snorting with laughter and tumbling about in the soft, deep snow.
And through the flurry of snow, lithe bodies and long elven hair, even as he gave Gildor a faceful of snow, Glorfindel saw his black-eyed maiden leaning against an apple tree and laughing helplessly till her eyes had tears.
And he thought he hadn’t minded his pride taking a tumble just to see that.
Snow blanketed the fair city of Gondolin, white on white. The Lord of the Mole, walking through the square, stopped to watch the Lord of the Golden Flower making a public spectacle of himself. Yet again.
The youngest Lord of Gondolin was only ninety-five years old that winter but he felt that the Lord of the Golden Flower, the second youngest Lord and three centuries older than himself, behaved infinitely more childishly.
Sixteen children of the House of the Golden Flower were chuckling and squealing with delight as they ran after their golden-haired lord, rolling snowballs in their little hands and flinging them at him. Glorfindel loved these moments with the elflings, simply for the joy in innocent play they gave him. That it also gave him a chance to talent-spot those with exceptionally good reflexes and deadly aim was far less important, but well, still useful.
“Nai! You got me!!” he cried as one tot barely reaching his knee successfully hit him in the thigh with snow.
He fell dramatically to the ground, grabbing his thigh, and with wild squeals they were clambering over him, sitting on his chest and legs, and wrapping their arms around his neck and pulling at his long golden hair. “We got him! We got him!” “Kill the giant!” “Tie his legs!” They rolled about in the snow laughing, as elf matrons rushed in fearful for the safety of both their lord and their children.
“’Tis fine, goodwives, all happy and no harm done,” said the golden elflord, somehow managing to rise to his feet with a child in each arm. The little girl on his back had her arms so tightly wrapped around his neck that he could barely speak. Another five little ones of various heights latched onto his legs, and squealed with delight as he tried to walk. The ladies retrieved their children, a few of them brushing snow off the elflord’s clothes and hair.
“’Tis time to sup, lord.”
“Will you come partake with us?” said one as she removed a child trying to pull out a handful of the elflord’s famous locks.
“Thank you for the generous invitation, goodwives, but the lords sup with the king tonight,” Glorfindel said with a smile and a graceful bow, taming his rumpled hair with his fingers. Catching sight of the Lord of the Mole, he hailed him cheerfully. “Well met, Prince Lómion!”
Must the irritant always be so confoundedly cheerful?
“Well met. Reliving elfling days, I see, Lord Laurefindil.”
As this was more loquacious than usual for the taciturn, black-haired lord, Glorfindel was encouraged to reply, “Ah, ’tis a joy not merely for elflings, Prince Lómion. A little snow play does everyone a world of good, methinks.” He stooped to roll a snowball and said, “Come! Join me for a short one, I pray!”
“I think not—” Maeglin began, and got a faceful of snow.
Eyes gleaming with mischief, Glorfindel said. “That was the challenge. Now. The rules. Very simple. A hit to any part of the body of the opponent decides the victor.” He had rolled another ball in his hands, and was holding it in readiness. He cocked his head to one side, waiting. “Cundunya?”
Glorfindel smiled in anticipation as Maeglin, glowering dangerously, stooped and picked up a handful of snow.
Glorfindel was faster and lighter, but Maeglin was alert and quite agile himself. The two darted around the square, unleashing a rapid series of missiles, none of which found their target. Despite the slight smile on his face, Maeglin was in deadly earnest. What angered him was that he sensed Glorfindel was larking around and barely trying, whereas he was putting all he had into both assault and defence. Complacency will be the dolt’s undoing, he thought grimly with narrowed eyes.
Into every snowball he flung, Maeglin loaded thirty-eight years of anger and resentment at the golden-haired lord. He thought of Idril laughing at Glorfindel’s silly jokes, dancing with him at feasts, holding his arm as they walked her gardens, fair heads together deep in talk. He saw in his mind Idril planting a loving kiss on Glorfindel’s cheek, rumpling his golden hair affectionately, calling him “my golden knight”. The rage of jealousy spurred him, and the violence of his icy projectiles was so great that when he finally hit Glorfindel on the side of the head as they chased each other around and over the frozen fountain, the Lord of the Golden Flower fell face down into the snow and lay there stunned for a short while. As Maeglin compacted his snowballs more densely, his snowball had packed quite a blow.
The prince gave a shout of victory, and the crowd that had gathered to watch burst into applause, which gathered in volume as Glorfindel got to his feet rubbing the side of his head ruefully, but grinning from ear to ear.
“Good shot, Lómion!” Glorfindel said, brushing snow from his face, which was glowing from his exertions. He came forward to shake hands. “You throw a mean snowball!”
And Maeglin found himself grasping the proffered hand firmly in his own, and returning a wry smile.
“See you later at the palace, my prince!” Glorfindel called as he waved and headed home to dress for dinner.
Going on his way, Maeglin felt his blood warm in his veins, and his heart lighter than it had been for many seasons.
A little snow play could indeed do one a world of good.
Cundunya [Q] – my prince