Merry laughter, festive music from a string quartet and the soft clink of wine glasses filled the grand ballroom of the Tower of Snow. Lanterns of brushed silver and bronze cast a warm glow over long cloth-draped tables laden heavy with food and drink. Guests mingled, making small talk and gathering around the crackling fire that blazed in the enormous stone fireplace. Elves from all parts of Gondolin came to celebrate Penlod, the new Lord of the Tower of Snow and to pay respects to Androth, his father, as he stepped down from many years of distinguished leadership. At the moment, however, the guest of honor was nowhere to be found.
Shortly after the brief ceremony during which Androth had formally turned over Lordship of the Tower to his son, the celebration commenced. For several hours, Penlod dutifully stood next to his father and mother as a host of friends and well-wishers paraded past, offering hugs and handshakes and heartfelt congratulations on his new title. He’d smiled until his cheeks ached and shook enough hands to develop a cramp in his thumb, so the moment there was a break in the line of guests, he’d excused himself and stepped away.
The Tower of Snow was breathtaking at night, with its towers gleaming white and silver like a star in the winter sky. It perched atop a cliff on the highest part of the city of Gondolin, built onto the side of a mountain with sweeping views of the valley below. The forested hillside above it loomed wild and untamed, much like the land beyond the walls.
Penlod slipped out a rear door onto a large paved patio, encircled by a low retaining wall that was covered in a thick layer of snow. He inhaled deeply, the crisp air sharp in his nose, and stared out at the treetops, frosted white and blue in the pale moonlight. The glow from the party inside cast long streaks of light from the tall windows onto the courtyard stones, and peals of laughter broke the gentle silence of the night. He knew he shouldn’t linger for more than a minute or two. A part of him, though, wanted to disappear into the snowy forest and leave his new responsibilities behind, even if only for one night.
“I thought I might find you out here.”
Startled, Penlod whipped his head around.
“Forgive me,” chuckled Ecthelion. “I fear the snow muffled my approach.”
“There’s nothing to forgive.” Penlod managed a half-smile. “Just getting a breath of fresh air.” His gaze moved back to the wintery landscape, ethereal and shimmering under the light of the moon.
“You always did prefer it up here, didn’t you?” Ecthelion joined his friend near the edge of the patio.
“The House of the Pillar is lovely, but the Tower…the Tower is special, almost magical,” agreed Penlod. “Especially in winter.”
“Yes, well, I prefer the Pillar for selfish reasons of course.” Ecthelion nudged Penlod with his shoulder. “Mainly because it is right next door to the House of the Fountain.”
At that, Penlod turned, his eyes soft. “There is something to be said for proximity.”
“Indeed.” Ecthelion pulled a small wrapped box from the inside of his cloak and held it out. “For you, in honor of this festive occasion, Lord of the Tower of Snow.”
Penlod bristled. “It’s too soon for me to be Lord,” he said quietly. “Especially of two houses.”
“Not according to your father.”
“Mother talked him into it. She wishes to leave and sail West and won’t hear of going without him.”
Ecthelion arched a skeptical eyebrow. “Do you honestly believe your father could be persuaded to sail if he didn’t know his houses were in good hands? If he didn’t trust you implicitly, he wouldn’t have bequeathed you the title. He thinks you are capable and more than up to the task. As do I.”
“And what if I fail?”
Penlod’s lips pursed into a thin smile. “I’m glad one of us is confident.”
Ecthelion grinned and thrust the package against Penlod’s chest. “You will be fine. Now open the present.”
Penlod turned it over in his hands. “What is it?”
“Open it and find out.”
Carefully, he pulled at the silvery twine around the slim box and unfolded the tissue paper that covered it. Inside the box, nestled in a cloud of soft cotton, was a silver pendent shaped like a snowflake. He held it up to see it glow in the faint starlight. “It’s beautiful.”
“I saw it in the market square and it reminded me of you, my Snow Prince,” Ecthelion murmured, his breath warm against Penlod’s ear.
Penlod’s cheeks flushed hotly as he remembered the last time Ecthelion had called him that. A snowy midnight ride, an unexpected detour to a frozen lake, a few stolen moments of passion beneath an expansive fir tree. Yearning spiked in his heart. “If we leave now, we can reach the lake before sunrise and watch the sun come up over the valley.”
Ecthelion pressed his palm against Penlod’s warm cheek. “If that’s what you want. You know I’d follow you anywhere.”
Gods, yes it was what he wanted more than anything. Penlod searched Ecthelion’s eyes, and for a split second flirted with the idea of riding off for the rest of the night, but his father would be angry and his mother, disappointed. He couldn’t do that to them, not tonight. “No. It’s enough that you’re here with me.”
Ecthelion took the pendent and fastened it around Penlod’s neck. The silver snowflake shone bright and clear against his dark formal woolen robes. “It suits you.”
Penlod smiled, eyes shining brightly. “Thank you. I love it almost as much as I love you.” He dipped his head and brushed a gentle kiss across Ecthelion’s lips, soft at first, then melting their warm mouths together into something far more heated.
“Tomorrow,” breathed Ecthelion as he kissed at Penlod’s lower lip. “In the evening, after the tables have been cleared and the decorations put away, we’ll go for a ride. Just the two of us.”
Penlod nodded and kissed his lover once more before reluctantly pulling away. “We should return to the party before Father begins to wonder where I am, but yes. Tomorrow. Meet me at the stables at sunset.”
As they made their way back to the grand hall, Penlod stole a glance at Ecthelion, tall and dark and exuding a quiet confidence that one day he hoped he’d have. From now on, their time together would be even more limited. The duties of a Lord never seemed to end, especially when one was the Lord of two houses, but he would find time for them to be together, even if it meant rides at midnight. He fingered the silver snowflake around his neck and smiled.