“Is this your first time?”
“My... my what?” Artanis spun around to see who was speaking to her, the gauzy fabric of the dress she had borrowed from Aredhel moving with her, nearly sweeping against the floor as it settled back again. It was the tall, handsome elf whom she had spoken with the day before; the one who had the farm in the valley. He smiled warmly, his elbow leaning against a pillar, hand resting upon his cheek. The other hand held a glass of brightly colored liquid that fizzed and snapped.
“Your first Laire Namarie- officially, that is,” he said. “Surely you have celebrated with your family before.”
“Oh!” Blushing and turning away in hopes he would not see, Artanis looked back when her flushed face cooled. She was giddy with delight to see the elda still standing as he had been, gazing upon her, waiting for her answer with an amused smile. “Yes, this is my first away from home. And on my own!” She scolded herself mentally for sounding so childish. “That is, I have not yet had the time to see one for myself,” she said hurriedly, wishing she could find something wittier or more intellectual to say. “This one seems good,” she finished, turning to look at the couples dancing again. She knew her face was bright red again, and felt like crying for making such a fool of herself in front of him.
When she finally gathered the courage to look behind her, the elf was gone. With a sigh, she began to indolently fiddle with the trim around the waist of her dress. Yet another couple brushed past her on their way to the dance floor, and feeling so very young and unwanted, Artanis shifted closer to the wall. Aredhel had convinced her to come down tonight for the celebration, but the longer she stood against the wall without a partner, the more she wished she had not come. Her cousin was, as many of the ladies were, the most perfect elleth. Everything about her was dainty and lithe, and her face was fair and pale. While it was true that Artanis was fair, she stuck out- or rather, up. She was already a little more than an inch over six feet, and was disappointed to learn that she would likely still continue to grow.
“Funny how the snow came this year before Winter truly did.”
With a start, Artanis looked around, finding the dark elf only a few feet away. “It happens that way sometimes,” she answered, both delighted and terrified that he was near her again.
Erestor held out a glass of pale pink liquid to her. “I thought you might be thirsty,” he said.
Politely, Artanis took the drink from him and thanked him for it. She looked into the glass apprehensively, for her brothers had warned her that sometimes sly ellyn would pray upon young, unknowing ellith by heavily intoxicating them. It was rare, very rare, but not entirely unheard of. However, she also knew she could not be so rude as to stand with the glass untouched, and so she brought it to her lips and sipped a tiny bit. A smile spread across her lips when the sweet, lemony taste hit her tongue.
“Thank you,” she said again, much more sincerely this time. She took note of the fact he had exchanged his drink for a glass of lemonade as well.
“Excuse me?” The voice of a third party kept either from saying anything else to each other. A young ellon, strong and able by his size, stepped between the pair and looked straight into Artanis’ eyes. “May I?”
“Ah... ahm... may you what?” she questioned in confusion.
With a charming smile, he said, “May I have this dance?” Extending his arm to her, it appeared he was not about to take no for an answer.
“Well, I would love to, but...” Looking down at her drink, she was surprised when it disappeared from her hand. Beside her once again, Erestor was holding both glasses.
“I will just put this over on the counter, right over there for you,” said the dark elf, nodding in the direction of the bar. Before she could protest, thank him, or otherwise say anything else, she found herself being swept out onto the floor. She kept her eyes on the ellon she was dancing with, making polite conversation, but the entire song she spent trying to look past him to see where Erestor had gone to.
She had been exchanged at least a dozen times, from others who had cut in to pairs that had swapped with whomever she was dancing with at the time, and her mind was just beginning to stop wandering when she heard the now familiar low voice speak. “Pardon, young sir, I was hoping I might have a chance to dance with the lady.”
The ellon she was currently dancing with slowed them to a stop and bowed to her while she curtseyed to him. As he walked away, Artanis turned to face Erestor and prepared to curtsey to him, but found herself being pulled close and waltzed into the midst of the other dancers.
Unlike the other partners she had had that evening, Erestor was not so timid or so awkward. Thousands of years of practice and practical use made him light on his feet and graceful in his step. Artanis herself knew how to dance, as any proper lady should, but never had she appeared so skilled before. “Just follow my lead,” he whispered to her, the first words they had exchanged since he had cut in, after she accidentally stepped on his toes.
“Sorry,” she squeaked when she misstepped a second time. Frustrated on the third time, she stood still completely, and let out a breath of relief as the song thankfully ended. Before the next one began, she found herself being taken over to a secluded area of the hall. A slower song was played, but they did not join in immediately.
“Relax,” he instructed. He rearranged her hands so that instead of using the modern placement, she was holding the side of her dress out with one hand and had her other on his shoulder. “You have got to stop leading.”
“I am not,” she protested.
“Yes, you are,” he laughed. “Concentrate less on where our feet are going on and more on looking like a graceful princess. Let me keep track of our feet.”
Looking quite insulted, Artanis dropped the dress from her hand and turned to leave. She was yanked back by one gloved arm and pulled back into Erestor’s arms. “Look around. What do you see?”
“Couples dancing,” she answered without actually looking.
Erestor turned her around in his arms, his hands resting on her hips. “What do you see?” he asked again.
Artanis’ heart fluttered and leaped about as she felt the contact he was making. “Just... dancing.”
“What are the ladies doing? Tell me, are any of them staring at their feet? Are they the ones choosing the path?”
“No,” she finally said.
“No. They are not.” Erestor spun her back around again. “Hand on my shoulder,” he instructed as he positioned her other one off to her side and lifted a bit of her dress up to her. “All night, you have been leading. Perhaps your other partners had no problem with this, but I do. Let me do my job; you do yours.”
Again they started to dance, and again- she stepped on his foot as she tried to get them to move into the crowd. Bringing them to a full stop, Erestor said, “Close your eyes.”
“How will I know where we are going?” she questioned in alarm.
“You are not supposed to. I will take you there. Close your eyes.”
As soon as she did so, she felt Erestor move again. With no way of seeing where the other dancers were and how close she and Erestor were to the walls, she was forced to feel the music and the steps and the way he guided her to know where to go. “I think you can open your eyes now, but do not look down.”
He had danced her into the center of the hall, where others were admiring the elegance the pair exhibited. Artanis kept her eyes focused on Erestor, lest she accidentally let her gaze drop to the floor. “You dance very well,” she commended as they paused to applaud the minstrels at the end of the song.
“As do you. Shall we continue?” he asked, but without giving her the chance to refute him, he had already taken hold of her waist with one hand, and her hand with his other, switching from the classic style of dance to one slightly closer and a little more intimate. “Did you plan to retire early?”
“Actually, yes, that was my intention,” she replied.
“Allow me to escort you to your room, then,” he offered. He removed his hand from her hip and began to lead her away from the center of the room. With a little gasp of disapproval, Artanis stepped back into his path, placing her hand on his shoulder. “After this dance then?” he asked, flowing right back into the dance again.
“When I say it is time, I will let you see me to my room,” she corrected him. He nodded and continued to weave them around the other couples.
It was during the next song that she came to the realization that they were not moving from one side of the room to the other as most of the others were, but instead remained fairly close to the middle of the hall. “May I ask why?” questioned the young elleth after revealing her discovery to him.
“See all of those wild young ellyn stalking about on the edges of the room?” Erestor turned them so that she could observe a particularly obvious bunch who were sharing a bottle of wine and laughing to one another as they leered at the young ladies who danced with others close to where they were standing. “They have been drinking, they are excited to be here. For many of them, like you, this is their first time at a party such as this without supervision. If you really want to have one of them cut in and dance with you-“
“No,” she answered quickly, spying Ecthelion among those who were trying to spy whom they would next dance with. Nearby, she saw Thranduil as well, but he was not of age yet and had it not been for the fact that his father was the proprietor of the Kings’ Kastle, there would have been little chance he would have been here. As it was, the very young elf, still an elfling by some standards, was sitting on a stool and leaning on the table he sat at, half into his bowl of wine. She did not know many of the others, but simply by looking at them, she knew her answer. “I suppose, if they are all young and wild-“
“The alternative of dancing with a calm, old Elda is a slightly more desirable way to spend the evening,” finished Erestor for her. Artanis blushed, but he chuckled. “Go on, I know what you are thinking, ‘Tis like dancing with your father to dance with me.”
“Actually, not at all,” she said in defense, but not sure what else to say without again sounding her age, she said nothing at all.
Taking another turn around the room, Erestor leaned in a little closer and said, “Right. More like... dancing with one of your brothers, then? Or am I so old, it is more like being with your grandsire?”
“No! Not at all!” Her quiet scolding made Erestor smirk and straighten his neck back up again. Finding she was no longer needing to think of what they were doing with their feet, she boldly removed her hand from his shoulder and moved it to his back as she saw many of the couples who looked more relaxed with one another doing. Her head came to rest on his shoulder.
With a look of surprise, Erestor glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention to them, but found the room too dark and the hour too late for most to notice what was happening with anyone else. “Artanis,” he whispered into her ear.
She felt light and giddy, hearing him say her name in his thick, deep voice. “Erestor,” she answered, half in a daze.
Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Ar-tanis,” he said, biting his lip for a moment and trying to keep some distance between them, “only couples who are bound dance in this way.”
Opening her eyes wide, not only because of his words, but because of something that her thigh brushed against, a lump of some sort that was not there earlier. Practically leaping back, Artanis broke her promise not to look down as she searched for what exactly she had bumped into.
Erestor tilted her chin back up, took hold of her hand with one of his and her waist in his other. “Perhaps you wish to retire soon?” His steps were somewhat stilted for a bit as he took them back into the midst of the other dancers.
Artanis said nothing, for they somehow ended up in very close quarters with a number of the other couples and did not want anyone else to hear their conversation, for they could hear what others around them were saying.
“I simply love the parties Oropher throws,” said an elleth to her husband- at least, from the way they were dancing, Artanis assumed they were bound. “What do you think of the musicians?”
The ellon nodded and mumbled something inaudible as Erestor and Artanis danced away from them and closer to another pair.
“... but no matter what she says, I still think dancing is a lot like making love. At least, you can find out a lot about the other party by dancing with them. Does the lady try to lead? Probably aggressive in nature. Does he not give in to it? Likely a strong soul. Simple deduction and...”
“Did you look at how much wine that child is drinking?” said another elleth to her husband. Artanis frowned now that she was hearing about the alleged ‘drinking problem’ that this lady thought the son of the owner had, wishing she could hear more of what the last couple was discussing. As Artanis strained to hear the previous conversation, her eye caught that of the young ellon she had first danced with that evening, for to dance out of the crowd Eretor had to bring them dangerously close to the edge of the room.
When Artanis let out a little squeak as the elf began to approach, his eyes on her, Erestor pretended not to have noticed, but danced them out of the way, hurrying their escape as the ellon came nearer. “Do you want to dance with him?” questioned Erestor, though to him the answer was obvious even before Artanis shook her head. “Alright. Duck down.”
She could not question him as he suddenly crouched down behind the couple they danced past, pulling her with him. They kept themselves hunched over as Erestor led Artanis swiftly though the other dancers, into the back corner beneath a balcony, and around a break in the curtain of fabric that hung down from the upper level.
The decorative curtain masked the sounds of the minstrels and created a wide corridor, above which was the balcony which encircled the hall, creating a low ceiling in the darkened area they were now in. “Shall we?” asked Erestor after Artanis’ initial awe of the beautiful, hidden place he had stolen her away to wore off. She nodded, and they once again found themselves in each other’s arms.