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Among the Ainur and Other Animals

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The summer was fading towards autumn, and the windy grey skies over Tol Eressëa were full of the wild calling of gulls. The sea was still a rich clear shifting green-blue.  Celebrían and Maglor walked along the beach below the cliffs, listening to the gulls and waves, and looking out for the small shining deep-blue shells that were often washed up along this coast at the start of autumn. Celebrían had taken a fancy to set them into a headdress.

There were people from Gondolin lingering on the clifftop as usual.  Duilin and Egalmoth, again, today.  They were there to to watch Maglor for their own peace of mind.  Those who had fled Gondolin to the Havens of Sirion and met the attack of the Sons of Fëanor there had long memories.  Their king might have officially reconciled with the last living member of the House of Fëanor, but his people did not all trust Maglor.  Elrond had at least managed to persuade them to watch from a distance.

“Do you think they’ll go away when the autumn rains come?” Celebrían asked, looking up at the Gondolodrim across a space of grey wild wind and gulls. She at least seemed to be entirely willing to take Elrond’s word for it that Maglor was not a danger.  A little unexpected, from the daughter of Celeborn of Doriath, but Maglor was duly grateful.

“I’m not counting on it,” Maglor said, resigned. “They all walked across the Grinding Ice. I doubt that rain will trouble them.  It could be worse.  I always thought if I surrendered, I would be tried by the Valar and required to stay within the walls of Valimar, if I was not sent to the Halls of Mandos.  I was surprised that Elrond managed to secure a pardon for me.  I didn’t expect it to be unconditional!  These are my own people, and they do have reasonable cause to be cautious. I’d much rather have them than an escort of Maiar.”

“All the same,” Celebrían said,  “Having them invite themselves to watch one of my guests seems a little impolite, to me. I suppose we must put up with them, but I don’t like it. And if it rains, then I’m not going to invite them in to get dry!”  

Maglor, amused and rather touched, thought that might be one of the worst threats that Celebrían had ever delivered.  He spotted a shell half-hidden by seaweed, and gave it to her.

“Would it be best if I went somewhere else, while your cousin Nimloth is visiting you?” he asked. “It might be awkward for her, if I am here.  I expect the Gondolodrim could camp outside my mother’s house in Tirion.”

Celebrían smiled. “That’s very thoughtful, Maglor, but my cousin Nimloth isn’t delicate.  I am not sure that she knows the meaning of the word ‘awkward’ and if she did, I suspect she would find it interesting but not personally applicable!  If you would feel awkward, then of course, do go to stay with your mother, and I will send you a message once Nimloth has gone home again.  But don’t feel you must do it for the sake of her feelings!”

“Really?” Maglor said, intrigued.  “I don’t know anything about Nimloth of Doriath, except about...” he was unsure how to finish the sentence. It was one thing to speak of it to Elrond, but Celebrían was a gentle soul. Many of her relatives had died when Maglor and his brothers had attacked Doriath, searching for the Silmaril.  Nimloth, of course, had been among them.

“Her death?  Her children’s deaths?” Celebrían finished for him, eyebrows raised.  Perhaps not so gentle as all that then.  

“Well, yes,” Maglor admitted.

“She’s... unusual,” Celebrían said, searching for a more suitable word and clearly not finding one. “It might be as well to get to know her.  If you know Nimloth then it may make my father less furious when he finally comes across the Sea and finds that you are living here! I must admit, I’m just a little worried about how that conversation might go.  Elrond and my father have been friends for a very long time, of course, but I don’t think they have ever talked much about his childhood.  Elrond’s childhood that is. Though I don’t suppose they talked much about my father’s childhood either! I’m sure he’ll come around, once he’s had a chance to think about it. I sometimes feel my father is more willing to listen to Elrond than he is to me.  But he was a good friend of Nimloth too, in Doriath.  My father, not Elrond.  Well, you know who I mean!”  Celebrían’s words tended to come out all at once in an excited wave of tangled thought.

“I shall do my best to be friends with Nimloth, if you think it would be a good idea,” Maglor promised.

. . . . .

Nimloth, like her kinsman Thingol, was tall and strong, at least as tall as Maglor, and her hair was an unusual white.  It was also, even more unusually, cropped short below her ears. Her face was long, with a prominent bony nose, which looked as if it had been broken at some point and set badly.

That much, Maglor had noticed when he had met Nimloth briefly before, an awkward formal gesture of reconciliation, among a crowd of her relatives from Doriath.   

He remembered the hair and face.  He had seen her body lying with her husband in the great hall of Menegroth, her blood mingling with that of three of his brothers.  Her nose had not been broken then. That must have happened since her return to life.

Now here she was, outside the door of Elrond and Celebrían’s house, accompanied by a tall white hairy goat with long yellow horns embellished with silver tracery,  pulling an elaborate three-wheeled cart filled with boxes of many different sizes.  

Nimloth had greeted her cousin Celebrían, and her grandson Elrond, and various others of their household, and now she was examining Maglor closely, from a distance of about four inches from his face.  From this angle, her nose looked more like a beak.   He blinked at her, and had to make an effort not to step backwards.

“Elwing is, I think, correct.” Nimloth announced, after an unnervingly long moment of silence. Her voice, like her, was strong, her Sindarin flavoured with the distinctive lilt of Doriath. “The one that I fought was a bit different to this one.  Eyes closer together, I think. Rather more worried-looking.”

“Curufin,” Maglor said. “My third-youngest brother.”

“Ah!” Nimloth said, sounding slightly surprised, as if she had been looking at a painting of a face, and had not expected it to speak.  She stepped back a little, which was a relief. “Very likely.  Seven of you, weren’t there?  A bit excessive, isn’t it?”

“A number of people have said so, yes,” Maglor replied, wondering if that was an intentional insult.  It was hard to tell from the expression on her face.

“Hm. I bet they did.  People said that to me, and I only had three. A good thing I did, as it turned out.”

“I am very sorry about the death of your sons,” Maglor said, although it seemed an inadequate way of putting it.

“Yes, so was I, “ Nimloth said. “Nasty pieces of work, your brother’s servants, to turn on children like that.”  

“Yes,” Maglor said bleakly.  “We looked for the children.  It was too late.”

“Yes, well.” Nimloth said, with a glance at Elrond. “It’s fairly clear it wasn’t you. It seems unlikely they will turn up now after so long, though Elwing still hopes they might. I think they took the path of Men. Dior chose the Elves, naturally, when we got to the Halls and Mandos asked him. I’m glad he did, but he’s always wondered about the other choice.  Well, you would, wouldn’t you?  A pity to lose them so very young, but if they did, I’m rather proud of them for grabbing the chance when it came.  Very brave of them.”

“It must have been,” Maglor said, deciding that agreement was the safest path to take through this conversation, which seemed more risky than any journey through the terrors of Nan Dungortheb.

“Dior killed the fair one.  Celegorm, was it?  Him with the unpleasant servants.”

“Yes,” Maglor said.

“He gives you a good death, I’ll give him that, your brother Celegorm,” she said, to Maglor’s considerable surprise. “I’m afraid the people that I killed didn’t get such an expert send-off. But then, I had less practice in that line of work. His was painless, a very tidy job.  I hope your standards are as high.”

Maglor glanced desperately at Celebrían. She looked a little wide-eyed, but not alarmed. “I have not received any complaints,” he told Nimloth, “Not about the technique.”  

“Glad to hear it.” she said, apparently entirely seriously. “One of your people I killed said later that I shouldn’t have had a sword if I could not use it better.  I felt most embarrassed. He seemed quite miffed.”

“Our people came to you to complain ?” Maglor asked, alarmed, and wondering what possible protocol applied.  Was he supposed to issue a reprimand?

How did one reprimand someone who probably would still consider himself to owe allegiance to the House of Fëanor, but officially must now be attached to the House of Finarfin, about being slain by a righteously angry Queen, while under the command, probably, of Caranthir?  

And how on earth was he supposed to track them down after six thousand years?  Perhaps Finrod would know. They called him ‘the wise’ after all.

But “Not at all, not at all,” Nimloth said.  “I went and asked them what they thought, of course. I don’t like to do a job badly. I may ask you for some tips.”

Deciding that this conversation could not get any more peculiar, Maglor said “Celegorm was widely considered a formidable opponent.  Dior must have been an able swordsman at a young age.”

“Yes.  He was young.  Young, beautiful and very proud.”  Nimloth shook her pale head, and her silver earrings jangled. “Not a cause I thought worth dying for, myself.  Pretty enough, the Silmaril, but I’m sure we could have got the Nauglamir patched up and put a diamond or something in the setting.  Or one of those shiny star-bottles that Galadriel makes, if the glowing was essential.  We could have handed the Noldor jewel back to the Noldor, and the Dwarf necklace back to the Dwarves. Dior would have looked just as lovely with the starlight on his hair and the colours of earth and sky around him. Ah well. Easy to be wise now, eh?”

Maglor blinked at her. “I suppose it is,” he said, wondering which of Elrond’s people in hearing were most likely to be offended.  But then surely if Nimloth of Doriath made comments about Silmarils, nobody would complain?  Nobody was complaining, at any rate.

“It does mean that I always have the final argument if I think Dior is about to do something idiotic,” Nimloth said.  “Though I usually have the final say anyway. That occasion was an exception.”

“Grandmother,” Elrond said, to Maglor’s intense relief, before he had to come up with a reply to that. “Stop terrorising Maglor, and come in and have a drink.”

“You could have warned me!” he said to Elrond, as Nimloth vanished with Celebrían into the house.

Elrond shrugged “How could I describe Nimloth? You have to meet her,” he said.  A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “Also, I thought it would be funnier not to warn you.”

Maglor gave him a look of outrage.  “You were always a horrible child. I should have left you behind for the orcs,” he said.  To his surprise and amusement, Elrond stuck his tongue out at him.  Then he pulled his dignity around him like a cloak, turned and swept off gravely into the house in a thoroughly stately manner.

it occurred to Maglor belatedly that though that was an old and cherished joke, not least because it had been Elros that had started it, Elrond’s people, and particularly Celebrían’s might not see it that way.  Fortunately, most of them had already gone inside, leaving only Lindir, who seemed to have drawn the short straw, looking at the goat with considerable suspicion.  The goat was looking back at him through narrowed yellow eyes, clearly unimpressed. It seemed entirely possible that this was where Nimloth had acquired her broken nose. Still, at least the goat was unlikely to ask for tips on the most efficient ways of killing people.

“Lindir!  May I offer you a hand with that goat?” Maglor said.

. . . . .

Nimloth, it turned out, was an enthusiastic entomologist.  She had come to Tol Eressëa in pursuit of swarming dragonflies, which could be seen in great numbers on warmer days in autumn on the island, near the shining inland pools in the north of Alalminórë.

But at present the weather was cloudy, and intermittently wet, which was no good for the viewing of dragonflies.  Nimloth stayed indoors, watching the rain through the small octagonal panes of the leaded windows, going through her notes and maps, and talking about dragonflies instead to anyone who would listen.  

Maglor resolved to show an interest, since he had promised Celebrían that he would.  He bolstered his courage, prepared a couple of possible diversions, in case she demanded practical lessons in killing people, and went to talk to her.

He was pleased to discover that Nimloth was one of those people who can convey an enthusiasm on the most unlikely subject to almost any audience.   This was professionally interesting, since she was clearly not doing it deliberately by a planned use of voice or power, but also much more entertaining than Maglor had expected.

Furthermore, Nimloth had what Maglor considered an excellent taste in wine.  The afternoon was looking up.

“We’re told that all creatures that have ever lived in Middle-earth are found somewhere in Aman.” Nimloth said, sipping wine before a table full of maps marked with careful notes and crosses in green ink.   “But we are now almost sure that is untrue. At least, as far as the subspecies go.  There are species that I saw around the Pools of Twilight on the Sirion that I never have found here, and believe me, I’ve looked high and low, in every place that seemed it should fit them!  But you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to prove the negative.  There’s always someone who will say, ah, but there are places that you haven’t looked! Maddening, but true.  Dragonflies aren’t so large that there might not be one somewhere, lurking overlooked behind a twig or in a bush! This map shows the areas I usually survey, but as you see, there is far too much of the island that I can’t possibly cover.  And no doubt even if I did, the nay-sayers would still cry ‘all creatures that have ever lived are found in Aman!’ like a flock of silly sheep bleating!”

In a pause after a discussion of migration patterns, Maglor took a risk.  “It’s a pity that you never had a chance to talk with my brother Celegorm,” he said.  “He speaks their languages.  Or, he did.  No doubt they have changed considerably in the intervening years.  But he used to be able to call a dragonfly to his finger and send it off to catch a moth, and hold a discussion with it afterwards, I recall.”

“Hawking with dragonflies!” Nimloth said, not at all disconcerted. “I used to do that when I was a child beside the River Sirion!  They are very swift, effective hunters. It’s a fine sight to see them take a moth on the wing.  But we never spoke to them, except to give them the commands to come and fly.  Your brother could have them reply and understand it?  That’s quite a gift.”  

Maglor racked his brains for things that Celegorm had said long ago of dragonflies.  Unfortunately, Celegorm did not have Nimloth’s gift for speaking entertainingly, though of course he had considerable skill at bending an audience to his will.  They all did.  

“I believe the tongues of the insects are not full languages as we define them, but can carry emotion and desire.  Or they were not, full languages then.  It has been a long time, and longer still for dragonflies, no doubt.  They may have changed.”

“Insect linguistics isn’t my field,” Nimloth said, shaking her head “Now I wonder if there’s something we’re missing there. I’ve been working mostly on identification, migration and habitat.   That’s not easy!  You need a really good look to make sure the one that you are watching is the species that you think it is, there’s no point seeing them whizzing by in the distance and making assumptions.   You’d think Yavanna would keep records, but I get the impression that over time, the faster-breeding species have got away from her.  Even the Valar are not what they were, in the Ages of the Stars, or so I hear from those who knew them then.  Of course the Valar left us alone, in Doriath.  I never met any of them until I came to the Halls of Mandos.”

“Presumably though, you knew the Lady Melian well?” Maglor asked.

“Melian was more interested in birds,” Nimloth said, frowning.  “More your sort of thing than mine, I imagine, songbirds.  And as to Melian... we have not spoken, since she went off from Doriath. I don’t know quite what to think about Melian. Not now.”

“I have wondered about that,” Maglor admitted. “It must have been quite a shock, to suddenly lose your main defence when she left.”

Nimloth frowned again, sternly, and crossed her strong arms.  Maglor found himself remembering Doriath, the strength of that desperate, elusive defence, that vanished into tunnels and came at you again when you thought you had defeated it for good. He remembered coming down into the hall where Nimloth, Dior and his brothers lay dead in the light of the great golden lamps.  He had come too late to see it, but it had clearly been a savage fight.

“If she hadn’t abandoned us,” Nimloth said, suddenly, bitterly. “If she’d overruled her husband. If she had helped her daughter to leave with Beren.  Or further back; if she had not held our king so long that he was lost and we loyal ones were left behind with him.  We thought it didn’t matter so much, since we were well protected, that we were left in Middle-earth under the stars.  Only we weren’t protected.  That was only him.  The rest of us didn’t matter at all.  If she’d done things differently...”

“Then we might never have been enemies,” Maglor said, barely able to believe it.

“No,” Nimloth said.  “No, we might not.”  She grimaced.  “I feel a traitor saying it.”

“There are a lot of ifs,” Maglor said, very carefully.  “Mine include ‘if I had not sworn’, ‘if I had refused to slay my kin’, ‘if I had died at Alqualondë...  A long and dismal list.  They mostly come down to ‘If I had been braver.’  I spent a lot of time regretting them. You must know the Silmaril burned me, when I touched it.  It judged us unworthy.  It did not judge Beren, Lúthien, Dior or Thingol like that.  Just from that I know there were better choices I could have made. I try now to speak only of the paths I did not take myself, and not excuse myself with what other people could have done.”

“That doesn’t sound easy, put like that.” She looked at him consideringly. “Still, if you can do it, why not I? If I had overruled my husband? If I had taken the responsibility on myself? If I had given Lúthien more help, or made the case to Thingol that we should send our forces out to join with your alliance?  I don’t suppose he would have listened, but still, I didn’t do it, so I’ll never know.  These are ifs to think about... The responsibility isn’t all in one place, is it?  And it’s not quite as simple as good or bad, no matter what the Silmarils may think, or else my grandson would be dead too. Hm.  I haven’t thought about all of this for a long time.”

Nimloth looked away, out through the windows at the rain streaming down across the bay. Then she looked back at him. “You apologised to me, before, for attacking Menegroth, for my children and your brothers’ horrible servants. Not seeing my daughter grow up, too.  But that’s not the only wrong here.  I’m sorry.  For not speaking for returning the Silmaril, at least.  And perhaps even for the death of your three brothers.  Because I didn’t try to find a different way, either. Will it do?”

Maglor could feel an amazed smile creeping across his face. “It certainly will!” he said.  She held out a hand, and he shook it.

“I wish I’d spoken with this Celegorm of yours,” she said.  “A pity, when he was only across the river all that time, that we never met to speak of dragonflies, only at the end, to kill each other.  Perhaps if he had known us, things might have gone differently — with Lúthien, too.”

Celegorm’s behaviour to Lúthien had been hard for Maglor to swallow. “I wasn’t there in Nargothrond,” he said slowly.  “and I didn’t have the heart to ask him about it, afterwards. Or Curufin.  Why they took Lúthien prisoner, when she came to them freely, asking for help... Oh, the Oath made that a hard dilemma, but they didn’t have to do what they did. I wish I had asked, now, but I was angry with them both, and Maedhros was caught between us and trying to build alliances the while.”

He thought about it for a moment, topping up their cups with wine from the jug.  “What I cannot understand is why Lúthien let him. She went against Sauron on his own ground, went into Angband, cast Morgoth himself into sleep and persuaded Mandos to pity.  I remember the strength of the gates of Angband! Why did Celegorm trouble her at all?  Why could Nargothrond hold her, when neither Doriath nor Angband could?”

“I can guess the answer to that riddle,” Nimloth said.  “Firstly, she did not force her way from Doriath, she hid. Nobody thought she’d try to leave.”

“But who could stop her?” Maglor asked puzzled.

Nimloth paused, looking for words, and took a sip of wine.

“How can I put this so it makes sense?” she asked herself.  “Lúthien...  Lúthien had a great power.  So all her life, she was taught that she must be cautious with it, must listen more than speaking, must not impose her will on others. Because of what Melian did, when she and Thingol met. They were caught up in a dream. Neither of them planned to be caught out of time so long.   But Thingol was sorely grieved, when at last he woke and found his people were gone without him, and so much time had passed. And so Melian was cautious, after that, and both of them were cautious with their daughter, that she should not overwhelm those around her against their own desires. So easy, to love Melian, or Lúthien, but it would be like... It would be like loving the forest in a storm, or the river Sirion in full spate.  Beautiful and terrible and unstoppable.  You could be carried off and overwhelmed, without the river meaning it.  It would mourn you later, but you would still be drowned...”

Nimloth tucked her strange short hair behind her ears, and took a gulp of wine. “Dior can be a little like that,” she said, “But he has more of the beauty, and much less of the strength. Lucky for me!  There are those who look at me and wonder why Dior chose me.  I know that very well. There were lovelier faces in Doriath than mine! But he is lovely to look on himself.  He didn’t need beauty, he needed someone strong, who would not be overwhelmed, to rely on.”

“I never met Lúthien,” Maglor said.  “You make her sound almost like one of the Valar.”  

“I suppose the Valar are like that too.  Probably even more, but they hide it better.    Against Sauron, against Morgoth, I can believe Lúthien would be strong.  But against elves or men... that would have been hard for her.  She had been taught from childhood that she should not use her strength like that.”

It was almost the exact opposite of what Maglor himself had been taught, and Celegorm too.  The sons of Fëanor had been trained to use their abilities to their limit, and never to be reluctant about them.

It explained a good deal, both about how Celegorm had acted, and why Lúthien had let him.  But if Celegorm was ever to return from the Halls of Mandos, it might be safest not to talk too much of that to Nimloth.

Chapter Text

Bilbo looked up at the horse, and then further up, with an expression of some alarm.  The horse leaned down an enormous velvet nose, and snorted at him. He took a step back.

“Now really, Master Elrond!” he said.  “You can’t expect me to ride a creature that size!  I am only an old hobbit!  What if I fall off? I should end up as flat as a pancake!”

Elrond gave him a look of amusement.  “I am afraid, Master Baggins, that Aman is sadly lacking in hobbit or dwarf-sized ponies trained for riding.  Everyone here is far too tall!  But it would be a very long walk to Valimar, and since you are indeed the very oldest of hobbits, I thought such a walk might be a little much for you.  In any case, I am going to ride, and you would have to run very fast to keep up!  You can ride with me, and if you do manage to slip off in such a way that Rohael here cannot catch you, I will do my best to do so myself.”

“Hmph!”  Bilbo said.  “I thought my riding days were long over.  But I must say, my aches and pains are greatly improved nowadays.  I am feeling twice the hobbit I used to be, and a good fifty years younger at least.  But how do I get up there? Her legs are taller than I am!”

“I will lift you,”  Elrond told him.  “Shall we go?”

Bilbo looked up at the horse again and sighed.  “Well, a chance to explore the shining city of Valimar is not to be passed by lightly!” he said. “It’s hardly something that most hobbits ever get a chance at. Come on then.”

“Excellent,” Elrond said. “I have never been to Valimar either. I am looking forward to seeing it.”  He lifted Bilbo up carefully and placed him on the horse’s back, where he clung somewhat nervously to her mane, then mounted behind and put an arm around him to hold him in place.  “Try not to wriggle!  That will improve your chances of not becoming a pancake considerably.”

“You don’t even have a saddle!” Bilbo protested. “Where do you put your feet?”

“At the end of my legs, Master Baggins,” Elrond told him, “I find that’s the most convenient place for them!”  He urged the horse forward towards the road that led from the long quays of Alqualondë beside the sea, up towards the pass of the Calacirya and the white city of Tirion.    

Bilbo laughed. “Oh, very funny. But surely you used to ride with a saddle and stirrups in Rivendell?  Or is my memory playing tricks on me?”

“I did, most of the time,” Elrond told him. “When fighting from horseback, stirrups are a great help, and most horses feel a saddle is more comfortable then, to spread the weight of a rider in armour evenly across the horse’s back, and help him stay there if he hits something.  But we are not going to war.  In Valinor, horses are unaccustomed to saddles.”

“How far are we going today, anyway?  From the map it looks like several days journey, even for a horse this size!”

“I thought we would ride today as far as the city of Tirion, and stay there tonight in the house of my great-grandfather, Turgon,” Elrond suggested. “We can stay for a while in Tirion, depending on how tired you are, before we go on west.  It’s not too long a ride.”

Bilbo sat up cheerfully and began to recite;

The fair white walls of Tirion, upon a high green hill
high in the tower a shining star, the silver lamp shines still
In the City of the Deep-elves,  the work of cunning hands
Looks West to golden roofs and bells, and East to wider lands
Looks east across the Open Sea, where wild waves foaming curl
winds blow forever wild and free, into another world.

Not that that exactly does justice to the original, mind you.  And I need to polish it a bit. But it is a bit more cheery, at least. Not so much of the doom and gloom.”

“Does Maglor know that you are making a cheerier version of the Noldolantë, in the Westron of the Shire?”  Elrond enquired laughing.

“I haven’t finished it yet,” Bilbo said.  “When I do, no doubt he will groan and clutch his head while I read it, and that will be a very fitting revenge for his Song of the Sackville-Bagginses .  It almost made me feel sympathy for Lobelia!   And it’s a terrible ear-worm, you can’t stop humming it. Not that I wouldn’t still jump into the hedge to hide from her, if I saw her coming.”

“Hmm.  A tempting approach to handling meetings with relatives.”

“You still haven’t decided what to say to the ladies Indis and Findis, then?”

“Not really,” Elrond said. “They have very deliberately taken themselves very far away from anything that I know anything about.  But perhaps seeing Valimar will help me talk to them.  I feel very much the young country cousin.  Here I am, appearing from the distant, war-torn and forgetful East beyond the limits of this world, into a land of perfect memory and peace. All those long hard years trying to preserve the memory of times long gone, in Rivendell, and here they have barely noticed the years at all.”

Bilbo chuckled. “If you’re young, what does that make me?  A new-laid egg?”

“In Rivendell,” Elrond said, amused, “I was almost the oldest person you knew, apart from Gandalf. Here, I must be one of the youngest.”

“And I am youngest of all, apart from Frodo, and those two children we met in Avallónë.” Bilbo said “In the Shire, even the children would be in their tweens. And yet I still feel like a grumpy old man surrounded by giggling children sometimes, among elves!”

“It’s a strange land, with so few children, no Dwarves or Men, and only two Hobbits,” Elrond said.  “I’m glad you came with us, Bilbo, for my own sake as well as yours!  I always felt very elvish, in Middle-earth, but there is nothing like an entire land of elves to make it clear I was never quite one thing or the other before.  Living with nothing but elves forever will still take some getting used to. ”

“How long can hobbits live here, anyway?” Bilbo asked, looking around at Elrond. “Not that I’m complaining! I feel almost like a youngster again. But after all, I am older now than the Old Took, and old Gerontius was considered something of a marvel in his day.  It can’t go on forever.  It’s not natural, as we say in the Shire.”

“Nobody can take away death, which is the Gift of Men, forever,” Elrond said to his friend. “But time sits lightly here, and memory is strong.  It’s not hard for your body to remember its youth, here.  And the Valar do have authority to grant the grace of the Edain, to die only when you are weary and choose it.  They gave that to my brother Elros.  When we spoke with the Valar about bringing you both to Aman, Gandalf said that Frodo must come, and would need company of his own people here.  So I would say there is nothing to make you move on before Frodo chooses to do so, and maybe not then, unless you become weary yourself.”

“Well, just at the moment I don’t feel at all weary,” Bilbo said.

“I’m glad to hear it.  You have been sleeping a great deal,” Elrond pointed out.

“So do babies!  I don’t think sleepiness and weariness are anything like the same, do you? There is a good deal to see here that I have never seen, and so many songs to hear in full that I have only heard in snatches. I don’t think I am likely to get weary of all that very quickly.  But I’m sure I read that the messengers that came to Númenor out of Valinor said something about mortals growing weary swiftly here. Moths in a light too strong and steadfast . I think those were the words.”

“Yes,” Elrond said,  “I too have wondered about that. But there are plenty of elves that prefer starlight to strong and steadfast light. The Valar do not go to Tol Eressëa, save for Ulmo. And there is my grandfather, Tuor. He isn’t an elf, nor is he half-elven. Yet, there he is, counted among the elves, and still living on Tol Eressëa! I think those caught up in a great story may be carried along by it to unexpected places, even if they think they have fallen out of it, as Frodo would say.  It was also said to Númenor: the mind of Ilúvatar concerning you is not known to the Valar . I’ve heard that many times, over the years... Usually when I asked a difficult question!  I think it means ‘don’t ask us, we have no idea’.”

“I don’t know if it’s comforting or fearsome, to think that the Powers might have no idea either!” Bilbo exclaimed.

“Comforting, I think myself. Who’d wish to serve a lord who believes he knows everything, takes no counsel, and never admits to a mistake?  That sounds like Sauron.  All things weighed in the scales of malice, but only one measure to judge them by.”

“Or Smaug?” Bilbo suggested. “He was so certain of his jewelled armour, in his arrogance thinking he could never be slain, when there was a great big hole in it that anyone could see with half an eye, apart from him!”

“I hear that dragons are notably arrogant.  I heard it from you, in fact: you’re the expert on dragons! See, we’re coming up into the foothills of the Pelóri now. You get a better idea of the scale of them from here, where the land opens out, and we can look up into the pass of Calacirya.”

“Bless me!” Bilbo said, craning upwards. “They make the Misty Mountains look small!  And these are the fortifications that they raised to protect them from their enemy?  They must have been sorely afraid.”

“Yes,” Elrond said. “And all the rest of us outside of it.  Very much a defence of the Ainur, don’t you think? Raise the mountains high until only an eagle can pass over them.   It reminds me of Ephel Dúath and Ered Lithui, on the borders of Mordor.  Angband, too, for that matter.  The Dwarves would look at that and consider the enormous potential for going underneath, and Men would look at it, see the pass and wonder how many warriors they would have to throw at it to get through if it were defended.  And they’d wonder if it’s really the only pass, and get out ropes and grappling hooks to check.”

“And hobbits would think, what an enormous pass that is, with hills and trees and bushes growing!  Nobody will notice us if we walk quietly and ignore the signs that say ‘no entry’ or ‘keep off the grass’!” Bilbo said cheerfully.

Elrond laughed. “And of course, once the hobbits have got in, it’s all over!  Only elves might be deterred, because elves mostly follow the shape of the world as it is made.”

Bilbo looked at him quizzically.  “Really? I’m not so sure about the Noldor!”

“A good point,” Elrond acknowledged. “Particularly our friend Fingon!  I’ve wondered what might have happened here if it had been Fingolfin who was king in Tirion when the might of Númenor came to shore. I have some difficulty seeing him pulling all his people back to Valimar without a fight!  But the Vanyar are the Children of Ilúvatar that the Valar know best.”

He looked around at the rolling green hills that ran up towards the vast purple heights of the Pelori which loomed impossibly high above them. “These must be the hills that fell upon the hosts of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, I think.  And they did not die, either.  They lie sealed in sleep, so the songs tell, until the last battle at the end of the world.”

“And yet it looks such a kindly land now, with the sun high, and the autumn crocuses and daisies flowering among the grass,” Bilbo said.  

He turned to give Elrond a bright-eyed smile over his shoulder, almost exactly the Bilbo he had been when Elrond had first seen him arrive in Rivendell in the company of thirteen dwarves. Except perhaps... perhaps,  there was something about Bilbo’s eyes.  A touch of strain, the shadow of a kind of darkness that was never supposed to hang about a Baggins of Bag End. But in answer to the shadow, there was a strength there too.

“I hope you brought some lunch,”  Bilbo said.

“I did not expect to have to play quartermaster to such an experienced traveller, Master Baggins,” Elrond said, with a smile.    “But yes, I have indeed brought lunch, sufficient, I hope, even for a hobbit!  Let us stop here for a while to eat, and remember the sleeping Men of Númenor.  I hope they will awake to a better purpose than the one that brought them here.” He jumped down from the horse’s back and lifted Bilbo to the ground as well.

 


The walled city of Valimar shone in the evening sun, as Elrond and Bilbo made their way at last down the long straight road that led west to the wide-open golden gates from Tirion, where they had stayed for several days before travelling further west.

Tall golden domes glittered above walls of white and blue, and bells rang out.  Woven among the bells were the sound of great choirs of voices singing.  They dismounted, passed in through the gates, and looked around.  

To Elrond’s eyes, the streets were thronging with life, but it was a strange kind of life: golden-headed Vanyar in loose white garb, but among them, figures seeming made of mist or shadow flickered. An ordinary painted hoop bowled along along the street, chased by a child made only of light. Some of the people had the forms of hounds or flames or great birds, and some had no form at all.  He was not sure how many of them Bilbo could see, but clearly from the way he looked around in fascination, he could see something.

There was a sound of wind blowing in tree-tops and yet the air was still and there were no trees in sight, here by the Eastgate of Valimar.  Scents moved past them: cinnamon, rosemary, the smell of a pine-forest after rain, and other fragrances for which Elrond had no name.

“It’s very different to anywhere else I’ve been in Aman,” Bilbo said, looking about him with interest.  Elrond looked down at him with some relief : small, solid and ordinary-looking in his purple waistcoat amid the light and shade of Valimar, the people of Valimar weaving ethereally around him as if he were a rock and they were made of mist.  Bilbo at least looked firmly attached to this world, not any other.

“In Tirion,” Bilbo said thoughtfully. “Everything was made very solidly, of the best materials, with enormous thought and care.  Everything made as if a door or a window or a flowerpot was one of Maglor’s songs.  All triple meanings woven through it yet somehow managing to rhyme and scan perfectly. Rather like the Lonely Mountain, in a way, but with a different style, and more... nothing improvised, you know?  As if there was more than enough time to make anything perfectly, even a clothes-peg or a basket to hold fruit. But here, it’s... it’s almost as if they haven’t made things with their hands at all.  It’s like it’s partly made out of ... thoughts. Or poems.“ he stopped in confusion. “I am a foolish old hobbit.  I don’t think I’m making any sense at all!”

“It makes sense to me,” Elrond said.  “Or at least I think it does.  This is a very confusing place.”

Bilbo grabbed his arm and pulled him urgently back against the wall, his eyes wide, staring down the street.  A long narrow serpentine head had poked around the corner of a tall white building, bright scales glinting, golden eyes narrowed.  A great clawed foot followed, making a clear ringing sound as it came down on the silver pathway.  

“That isn’t really a dragon, is it?” Bilbo said.  “It’s... it’s something that looks like one. It must be.”

Elrond stared at it. “Nobody seems alarmed,” he said. “And I see no darkness lying on it. Evil things cannot come to Valimar.”  

Bilbo puffed out his breath all at once as the thing that was not a dragon turned and ran off, agile, lifting its shining feet high as it moved. It was unwinged, and had red and yellow ribbons tied around its neck.  “Well I never did!” he exclaimed.

Elrond laughed in amazement.  “Nor did I!”

Someone was plucking at Elrond’s hand, pulling at him, calling. Distracted, he turned to it and found himself coming into pieces, his hand fragmenting into translucent shades of colour.  The golden shade, the faintest, was pulling away from the rest of him, following the tall golden shape that was tugging at it.   

His mother had warned him about this, when he had spoken of visiting Valimar. It was a particular peril for those who were made up of strains of Men, of Elves, and of the spirits that sang before the world was made, that it might be that not everyone would recognise that he was all one person, and must stay in one piece.

He shook his head firmly at the being,  disentangled his hands, all of them, and tried to pull them back together. Valinor was hallowed, the heart of Elvenhome in Arda, but that did not mean it was not perilous. He had no desire to come to pieces here and lose parts of himself he might never find again.

“Come, Bilbo,” he said, wrapping one hand into his horse’s mane, and holding the other out to the hobbit.  Bilbo’s small hand in his felt like an anchor, holding him into the shape he was supposed to be.  “Let us find our way together through this very strange place.”

The first person that Elrond stopped to ask for direction turned out, a little embarrassingly,  to be a memory-reflection, and faded as he spoke. Usually, he would have seen it at once, but he still felt a little shaken.

The second person he stopped paused a moment, in a cloud of poppy-red silk skirts, then laughed joyfully and danced off singing in some language that Elrond, for all the languages and dialects of Middle-earth that he knew, had never once heard before.  

But the third, a tall stately Vanyar woman with a spear, wearing only a linen skirt and a wide necklace of golden beads, was helpful enough, and directed them along the street, to the house of Ingwion, son of Ingwë the King.  

Elrond had known Ingwion son of Ingwë the High King a little, a very long time ago, when Ingwion had been leader of the Host of the Vanyar that had come to Beleriand to fight the War of Wrath.  He did not know anyone else in Valimar, particularly, so he had written to Ingwion, and received in reply a courteous invitation to visit.

“It’s very beautiful and strange, this city,” Bilbo ventured,”But it doesn’t seem altogether homely to me.”

Elrond shook his head as they walked along the silver-paved street, etched with a fine tracery of leaves.  “No. Nor to me.”

“What are the things I can’t quite see, that keep flickering past the corners of my eye?”

“Is that what they look like to you? I think they are either elves who have mostly let go of shape and form, or perhaps some other kind of spirit who never had it in the first place.”

“That all sounds very Elvish, and extremely peculiar.”

Elrond smiled at him. “Peculiar by the standards of hobbits, perhaps, but then, hobbits are quite peculiar too, until one gets used to them.  This is what happens to elves, in time. The body becomes thin and worn by light and thought and life.  Spirit and memory is most of what is left.  I’ve never seen it happening like this though. Some of these must be very old indeed.”

Bilbo looked up at him, rather startled. “So you’ll all end up becoming those things I can’t quite see too?”

“So we believe.  Long ages from now, I hope. I’d like to keep my spirit within my body as long as possible. It feels more comfortable that way! Though, it may be that most of the people you can’t quite see here are not elves, but other kinds of people. I don’t know the city; I am guessing.”

“Oh,” Bilbo said.  He thought about it as they walked.  “I thought fading only happened in Middle-earth.  Wasn’t that the reason why you came to Aman?”

“Fading is faster in Middle-earth, and different. Elves dwindle and forget, there.  And then sometimes they can fall into darkness and doubt and become spirits of terror and despair, as you know.”

He caught his own words and stopped short.  “ We can fall, I mean.  I must remember to be an Elf now, entirely, not half-elven... But you are right, that was why I had to come here, once the Ring was destroyed, and the power of the Three began to fail.  The years came surging back, like a wave, just as they did for you.  Still, I’m grateful to Celebrimbor and his people for their art, that held memory in place so Rivendell and Lórien could last unstained for so long. ”

“So will they let him come back into life, do you think?  Your friend, Celebrimbor?”

“I can only hope so,” Elrond said. “I’d very much like to introduce you. He too had many friends among the Dwarves. I’m sure you would find much to talk about.  But here, this must be the house of Ingwion.”

They walked the horse through the tall golden archway into the quiet courtyard behind, where there were purple-flowering vines running up the walls, and something that was either a golden sparkling fountain, or a person that glittered in the sunlight, or possibly it was both at once.  

Ingwion of the Vanyar was at home, and seemed, to Elrond’s relief, more or less as Elrond remembered him: tall and fair, athletically built and entirely solid. He looked a little different, in the thin white linen worked with heavy gold embroidery that most people seemed to wear here, than he had in the scaled Noldor-made armour of Beleriand, but he stepped forward to welcome Elrond as if they had last seen each other a few days ago.

Elrond introduced Bilbo as a Ringbearer and hero of Middle-earth, and Ingwion in return, introduced his family, which included several people who were of unexpected form; not quite Maiar, but spirits of the city who had for one reason or another chosen to live with its prince.

It took a little while to work out which language both Bilbo and the Vanyar could most easily speak and understand, but once that was sorted out, they talked for some time of Valimar.  

Bilbo had many questions to ask about the things they had seen and heard.  Elrond let him get on with chatting merrily away, and only put in the odd word, here and there.  

The light outside had faded,  and voices outside could be heard singing songs to Varda as the stars came out.  Great golden lamps lit up the columns and the bright tapestries that lined the home of Ingwion, and a creature rather like a small long-legged silver bear had brought refreshments. Bilbo came abruptly to a point.

“Of course, we didn’t come to Valimar only to see the city, delightful though it is, of course,” he said, in that rather brisk way that Bilbo called ‘his best business manner’. “We came to ask for your support, Elrond and I,  when Elrond asks the Valar for the return to life of the Ringmaker, Celebrimbor, and his family.”

“The House of Fëanáro?” Ingwion said, clearly startled, in his rolling voice like polished bronze. “The wrath of the Valar lies on them.  They are dispossessed forever.   So the Valar have spoken.”  It was very clear he considered this to be all that could be said on the topic.

“Well, yes, so I understand,” Bilbo said.  “But where I come from we feel such matters don’t always have to be taken quite so literally. There’s always room for discussion, don’t you think?”

“The decisions of the Valar cannot be challenged, Bilbo,” Ingwion said, leaning forward a little, the long deep-golden waves of his hair framing his solemn face. “They are greater far than we. ”

“And you are so much greater than I am!” Bilbo said, squeaking a little but determined. “And older and wiser, too. I feel quite absurd suggesting it, in a way, but after all, if you kick a stone in anger, you’ll only hurt your own foot, as we say in the Shire.  Decisions made in wrath do tend to be regretted later. I and my nephew Frodo, and Master Elrond here, we have learned a few things about Rings that may not have come to the attention of Valinor.”

Ingwion looked at Elrond in surprise. “Say on then, Bilbo of the Shire,” he said courteously.

“The decision of the Valar was that the Rings of Power were things of Middle-earth”, Bilbo said carefully and looked at Elrond.  

Elrond nodded. “Yes.  When Frodo came to Rivendell with the One Ring, I asked if it could be sent across the Sea, and I was told that it was judged a thing of Middle-earth and must stay there.”

Bilbo nodded.  “And so, my nephew had to see it destroyed, at a cost of considerable distress and inconvenience to himself and to his friends, poor lad.That ring was made by Sauron himself, alone. I carried it for years, not knowing what it was, and used it: it gave me as much of his power as I was able to make use of, being only a hobbit.  And I don’t see, myself, how Sauron or his Ring could honestly be called a thing of Middle-earth.”

Elrond said, “Eönwë didn’t think so, when Sauron offered his surrender, long ago after Thangodrim was broken, Ingwion. He meant to take Sauron back to Valinor for trial.”

Ingwion dipped his great golden head, shining in the lamplight, in acknowledgement.  “True. Sauron offered his surrender at first, but then fled and could not be found.”

“Yes,” Elrond said said. “Then later, when the Valar called upon the One to overwhelm Númenor, Sauron was considered a threat to Valinor and taken very seriously.  So seriously that instead of speaking with my poor kinswoman Tar-míriel and her people, many of whom had very little choice, the Valar laid down their guardianship, withdrew their protection, and very nearly all of my kinsmen died. It may seem an unimportant thing, whether they should go beyond the world at one time or another, but believe me, to my mortal kinsmen the timing and the circumstances are very important indeed.

“Ingwion, when the thralls of Morgoth came crawling from the wreckage of Angband, broken and afraid, and we brought them aid and comfort, that was the right thing to do.  To whelm them into the sea to cleanse the world, because they had been forced to live in darkness, fear and terror would have been wrong.  You would never have done that, no matter who gave the order.”

Ingwion gave Elrond an uncomfortable look.  “I had not thought of it quite like that,” he said.

Bilbo said, “I am told that I, and later, Frodo, were intended to have Sauron’s Ring. If I may say so, giving me and my nephew the job of dealing with a thing made with all the power of Sauron was something of an imposition. We did our best, of course, and Frodo in particular handled the situation in the finest tradition of both Tooks and Bagginses!  I am very proud of him, of course.  But Sauron was no kin of mine.  His family were the Ainur. And it really should have been down to his family to deal with him and put him in his place!  It really isn’t on, to just drive people away, when they become inconvenient and let them be a nuisance to someone else. It’s most unfair.”

Ingwion’s eyebrows lifted in astonishment.

“And this is the argument that you would put to the Valar?  That they were remiss in leaving Sauron free in Middle-earth?  But what has that to do with the doom of the House of Fëanáro?”

“And that very question shows why we had to come here to talk to you!” Bilbo said.

“When Sauron’s family let him wander in Middle-earth,” Elrond said gravely, ”he came to the People of the Jewelsmiths, to the last of the House of Fëanor.  To Celebrimbor, who never swore an oath, who had, in sorrow, renounced his father's deeds, who served Gil-galad loyally through the War of Wrath, and yet was grieved that his family must suffer the wrath of the Valar forever, and that their doom was to find little pity.  

“And so Celebrimbor offered to those who came to him, pity and mercy and a new chance. It was a terrible risk.  I advised him against it.  But I cannot blame him for not taking my advice. It was a great and noble thing he tried to do, a thing deserving of song.  He suffered terribly for it, but he gave us a great gift.  A mighty work of understanding, making and healing.  After Sauron lost the One, we used the Three Rings that Celebrimbor made, Galadriel, Círdan and I, to try to heal the wounds and bring peace.  And then, when the Valar at last sent the Istari to our aid, Círdan gave his Ring to Mithrandir to aid him in his work.  The Enemy of Sauron was helped through all his deeds by the work of the House of Fëanor.

“The making of the Three... it was a great deed, as worthy of honour as the making of the Silmarils.  More so, I would say!  For the Silmarils, I understand, were made in peace and light, for the joy of making something new. But the Three were made in sorrow and in pity, to heal and preserve Middle-earth, torn with cruelty and blighted with despair.  Their creator died in torment to keep them from the hands of Sauron.  For the making of the Three, for his death to protect them, for that alone the House of Fëanor deserves honour.  Their tale is not only of a fall into darkness.”

Bilbo said, “Gandalf — Mithrandir—  tells me that the reason that I could carry Sauron’s Ring for so long and yet be able to give it up, is because I began my ownership of it with pity.  With Pity, and with Mercy, not to strike without need.  It was pity, as it happens, for someone who, I now know, taking the long view as Elrond does, was one of my family, one of Frodo’s mother’s people.  Gollum, he was called, though his name was Sméagol.  Long ago, our people drove him away in fear and loathing, because he fell under the domination of Sauron’s Ring, and became a kinslayer.  They could not forgive him.  It was easier to drive him out and pretend he had never existed.  There were a good many who suffered, because of that.  He became a horror: a ghost that drank blood.  He crept in through windows, to find cradles. And yet, I couldn’t not pity him.  Frodo too. You could hardly do otherwise, if you could see him.  He was utterly wretched.  And in the end, it was not entirely his fault, that he gave in to the temptation of one of the Ainur.”

“Your words move me, Bilbo!” Ingwion said. “It seems this song does not end where I had thought. What would you have me do?”

“Join the voices of the Vanyar with ours to counsel Manwë to change the ending of this song, and offer pity and mercy to the House of Fëanor!” Elrond said. “We have spoken with my kinsmen, Olwë of Alqualondë and his children. They are with us.”

“Are they indeed!” Ingwion said, obviously surprised. “Despite the blood upon the quays of Alqualondë?  Despite Doom and Oath?”

“The Teleri live outside the mountains,” Elrond said.  “They do not live safe lives behind the fences of the Valar.  They go out across the ocean, where Ossë rages.  They sing to him and call out to Uinen for protection with the same voice. In Middle-earth their kin have endured the Shadow for ages of the world, and many lived under the protection of the Three Rings.  Olwë would have the Noldor reunite, and have the Sons of Fëanor become his friends and allies once again. So would I. Will you aid us?”

“That seems to be where the song is taking me.  Who am I, a mere elf, to stand against a song?” Ingwion said, and laughed deep and joyously. “I will speak with my father. I remember Fëanáro and his sons well.  Proud as eagles, all of them.   The deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda , he said. It seems that he was right about that.”

 

 

Indis

The last day of the long ride to Valimar, followed by long, intense conversation, had left Bilbo looking tired, and older than he had for some time. He woke slowly,  the next morning, blinking sleepily from his low bed in the corner of the tall sunlit room in Ingwion’s house.  Beds in Valimar did not have legs, and that, at least suited the old hobbit very well.

Elrond looked at him in some concern, and suggested he should sleep for a while longer after breakfast.  The breakfast was composed of yellow flatbreads with unfamiliar fruits and a dish of spiced eggs. Bilbo regarded it initially with considerable suspicion, but managed in the end to finish off with enthusiasm.  

“I am only going to visit Indis,” Elrond said. “You have met a great number of my relatives already. It would be best if you rest today. Perhaps tomorrow we can go and see Ezellohar, and the remnants of the Trees of Light, or walk along the silver river Oiolairë and look for more friendly dragons.  Ingwion tells me that some of the people in Valimar bring their Oliphaunts down to bathe in the river in the evenings.  I’d like to see that.  I’ve only ever seen them twice, at a distance.”

“Oliphaunts!” Bilbo said delightedly,  “I’ve always wanted to see one. That would be wonderful. But it can wait a day. I’ve waited a hundred and thirty-two years for them, after all! And I am feeling rather tired.” He yawned, lay back on the pile of pillows, and gave Elrond a shrewd look. “You aren’t going to come back with pieces missing, though, are you?  I’m sure the lady Celebrían will have a thing or two to say to me, if I bring you back without your shadow, or something similarly important!”

“I shall be very careful,” Elrond said, and gave him a smile as he left.

. . . . .

“I heard that you had brought the last of Fëanáro’s sons with you back to Aman,” Indis said, frowning at Elrond rather fiercely.  There was something flame-like about her golden hair, and a definite resemblance in her face to her children Fingolfin and Lalwen, and also to Gil-galad, although Gil-galad usually did not direct that fierce expression at Elrond.  

He had expected to feel rather sorry for Indis, who had been Finwë’s second choice, who had then been left behind when her husband had first gone to Formenos for the sake of his eldest son, and then chosen to stay forever in the halls of Mandos, leaving Indis, robbed of most of her family, to go home with only her eldest daughter to Valimar.

This fierce bright-eyed spear of a woman was not what he had expected.

She went on; “I was very surprised that it was permitted by the Valar, for Makalaurë to return.  I thought we’d seen the last of them all, after the kinslaying at Alqualondë.  I wouldn’t put it so strongly as to call it the silver lining to the cloud, but I wasn’t at all sorry to see the back of them.  I was only sorry that Fëanáro managed to trick two of my children and most of my grandchildren into following him! But then, I heard that Makalaurë had been brought back by you, and that you had forced him to apologise, which seemed well overdue, and fair enough. So then, I was surprised to hear you had not brought him with you to Valimar.”

“Maglor would have come here with me, if I had asked it,” Elrond said, very calmly.  “I’m sure he would have apologised to you gracefully and sincerely.  He has been doing that, ever since we arrived in Aman, as you say.  But I have not forced him to do so! And I am not aware of any apologies that Maglor owes to the Vanyar, or you in particular.”

“I consider him, and his brothers, and his father, responsible for the unrest among the Noldor that led to the rebellion, kinslaying and the death of my children and grandchildren,” Indis declared.  

“That is something I only know about at second-hand, of course,” Elrond said. “But it was a very long time ago, and your children and grandchildren have all reconciled with Maglor already.  And  I confess, I am by now rather weary of hearing Maglor turning away insults from people who dislike him for things that nobody could have predicted, and that he had very little choice about.  I love Maglor dearly, and I was one of the people who he injured most, after all.”

Of course, another reason for Maglor not to come to Valimar was that, like the Silmarils, the city of Valimar was hallowed by the Valar. The Silmaril had burned Maglor.  Elrond was hardly likely to ask Maglor to come here and force him to take the risk that Valimar might do the same.

But that did not seem like a good thing to mention to the formidable Indis.

“Mmm,” Indis said. “You were injured by him.  But that is another thing I hold against him, that he not only stole children of my family away from their parents, but he stole their love too! Very shameless, that.   Did he tell you that he was some pathetic tool of his father, unable to resist him? No, that doesn’t sound like them. More likely, he would say his father was a shining star that all should follow, and blame Morgoth for his woes. Or did he pretend that it was all your mother’s fault that she did not return the Silmaril that her grandparents took from Morgoth at such cost?”

“None of those things,” Elrond said quietly. “If he had done that, I do not think I would have loved him.”

“You were a little child,” Indis said. “And it was very much in his interest to be loved.  Easy to portray himself as wronged and helpless, so that kind children would swiftly come to love him.  But you know, everything that happened to him, and his father, was richly earned.”

“I don’t think so,” Elrond said. “I didn’t think so then, or now.  And I am far from young now.”

“Well, no, of course you don’t think so!” Indis said, kindly. “He is one of the Sons of Fëanáro. All of them could play emotions with their voices like a harp, and Makalaurë more than most. I don’t blame you, of course. But so far as I can see, the Sons of Fëanáro became servants of the Enemy.”

“Of the servants of the Enemy, at least, Lady Indis, I know far more than you,” Elrond said, with a small, polite smile.  “I have fought the Enemy since my childhood, down through the Ages of the World. His servants have certain characteristics, and I am entirely confident that Maglor is not one of them.”

“None the less, even if he regrets it now, I’d advise you not to have any further involvement with him.  I don’t see, with Fëanáro's sons, how one can really be at all sure that any repentance is genuine. They are very cunning.”

Elrond thought about that very carefully for a long moment. “There are, as I say, certain characteristics of the servants of the Enemy,” he said.  “They are often deadly, as Maglor is deadly, Lady Indis.  I have seen him kill, of course, many times.  He’s very expert at it.  But then, so am I. He has seen me kill too, orcs, and wolves and spiders and trolls and evil men.  I was born into a bitter war, after all.  So that is not much of a distinction. And yes, there is the darkness that lies on many of the people in Middle-earth, that lies on Maglor too.  I am afraid that is hard to avoid entirely, for those of us who have ridden out against the Shadow.   But you mentioned cunning. It is true, that sometimes the servants of the Enemy are cunning.  Sometimes, they are intelligent, too. Occasionally, you encounter one who is well-read, and amusing, as Maglor is amusing.

“But in over six thousand years, Indis, I have never once known a servant of the Enemy to be kind.  I have never, in all that time,  known even one of them to choose their own suffering over the suffering of the innocent, or to turn away from power, as Maedhros and Maglor did. Maglor is kind.  He always has been, and he still is.”

He stood up, and now his anger was burning, a slow fierce flame, white-hot. He opened his mind a little, so she could see the savage brightness of it, burning.

“Believe me, Indis, when I say that if Maglor were a servant of the Enemy, he would not have walked alone upon the shore, regretting his deeds and grieving for those he slew.  He would have come down on us as a leader of terrible foes out of Angmar, or out of Mordor, and we would have died.  He would have brought war to Aman long ago for the Silmaril my father bears.

“We were not mere lost elf-children.  We were of the Children of Lúthien, Elros and I, of the Houses of Hador and of Bëor!  We were not fools.  We were not weak.  We had all the power, and the foresight, and the vision of the great houses of the Eldar, we had the strength and will of Men, we had the spirit that comes out of the light and song and darkness before the world was made.   We knew exactly what they had done.  We saw it.  They did not try to hide that, or excuse it.   And love grew between us anyway, Indis, because Maglor and his brother were not servants of the Enemy.  They were worthy of being loved.  Are worthy of being loved.”

“Well, don’t beat about the bush,” Indis said, and she smiled. “I was starting to wonder if you were a changeling, or really one of ours, you seemed so meek.  Perhaps you are ours, after all.  But all the same, even if Makalaurë is not himself a servant of evil, you admit yourself he has done terrible things, and so have his brothers, and his father. And you brought him here.  How sure are you, really, that he’s safe?”

“I am not sure,” Elrond said.  His anger, once woken, did not fade swiftly.  “How could I be? How could anyone be?  There is no certainty. No peace is forever, in Arda Marred, not even here, hidden behind the mountains, outside the circle of the round world, leaving evil things to those who have no choice but to suffer them, in Middle-earth.  There is only the perilous path between the Shadow and the Light and the depths of the sea.  But I’d rather have love and friendship to guide me on that path, than fear or hatred or the lust for power.  For the rest, I’ll rely on hope.”  And with that, he bowed rather stiffly and left.

Outside the house of Indis,  there were many of the the half-seen people of Valimar, looking at the door in curiosity and some alarm, as if the house was going up in flames.  They turned and bowed back away from Elrond as he left, leaving a wide ring of space around him as he walked swiftly back towards the House of Ingwion.  He could feel the echoes of his anger echoing away from him among the buildings.  This would not do. He took a deep breath and pulled himself back to calm. There was no point in being angry.  He had probably only allowed himself to become angry, because he was feeling unsure.

He went in and went to talk to Bilbo.  Bilbo had got up, and was sitting on the end of the bed, observing Valimar through the window.

He explained about Indis, and that he had become angry.

“Oh dear!” Bilbo said. “Perhaps you should have hidden in the hedge, after all!”

Elrond smiled. “Perhaps I should.”

“At least she doesn’t sound much like the Sackville-Bagginses, apart from a talent for being somewhat infuriating, that is.  But in any bag of spuds you’ll get an ugly-looking one, as the Gaffer liked to say.  There was a hobbit with a fine collection of hideous vegetables, if you like.  Used to cheer me up no end, if I ended up having to be polite to the Sackville-Bagginses, to chat to the Gaffer afterwards across his garden fence, and be shown some grotesque turnip that he swore blind looked just like loathsome Otho.”

“Am I doing the right thing, do you think, Bilbo?”

“Is that a question that you should be asking a silly old hobbit?” Bilbo enquired.  “I mean, it’s expected for an elderly hobbit to dispense reams of advice, wanted or not! But not usually to elves, and very rarely to people who are named among the Wise.”

Go not to the Halflings for counsel, for they will ever say the matter is none of their affair..." Elrond quoted wryly. "I’ve had more than enough counsel from the Great and Wise. I asked you.  Not as a hobbit, as a friend.”

Bilbo looked at him and sighed.  “I can’t say I have much idea about the House of Fëanor, or about what they did and what they may yet do.  But it seems to me they drew the short straw, and with rather more excuse than horrible Gollum!  I do like old Maglor, you know.  He seems all right to me.  And I trust your judgement over pretty much anyone else that I have ever known.  If you think this is the right thing to do, I’d happily wager money on it.  You were right about the Ring, and that Frodo and Sam were the right ones to deal with it, though I’m sure the Lady Indis would have thought that most unlikely.”

“It would be easier,” Elrond said thoughtfully, “if Maglor had done as she suggested, and told us only good things about his family to make us love them.  He never did, though...  You know, I call him my foster-father, sometimes, and there was a time when that seemed very important, because so many of my family were dead or gone beyond the Sea.  I let the children of the Edain call me that.  Aragorn, when he was young, I counted as my own child, long before he was my son by marriage.”

“I remember!” Bilbo said.  “You introduced him as your son, the first time I met him.  He was, what, nine or ten? I thought he was an elf. I was most confused when I got back again to Rivendell and realised he wasn’t.”

“There was a time when he wanted to be. But he wanted a father, mostly.”

“That sounds familiar,” Bilbo said. “I didn’t adopt Frodo only to annoy the awful Sackville-Bagginses. Although of course, that was extremely important.”

“Of course it was, Master Baggins,” Elrond said, with a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “But Maglor has never called me anything but Elrond.  Or cousin, very occasionally, and you know how many cousins we both have!  Very correct and never asking for anything more.  But now, I realise that I know all the bad things people say about Fëanor, and very little else.  Except that his sons loved him, and his wife would have him back.  Perhaps that is all that I need to know, after all.”

“If in doubt, trust your gut.  Mine says, Elrond is right.”

“I hope your gut is right.”

“I’ve found it pretty reliable, on the whole,” Bilbo said.  “We’re blessed with sound digestions, in the Baggins family. I’ve written a few more verses of my cheered-up Noldolantë, while you were out.  Can I get your opinion on them?”

Chapter Text

Elrond and Bilbo stayed for a number of days in Valimar, seeing oliphaunts and dragons, hearing the golden bells ring and listening to the singing of the great choirs of Valimar.   They visited the mound of Ezellohar, and the great gaunt and blackened shapes of the Trees, looming still impossibly tall against the blue sky.  Groves of smaller trees with shining white and golden bark, had been planted on the lower slopes, making it a pleasant place to walk, and there were many singers there, wandering among the groves.

But at last they said farewell to their host, and rode on West, towards the Gardens of Lórien.

You could smell the fragrance of them, first, before you came close enough to see anything but tall trees and an understory of dark bushes against the brightening evening glow of the Western sky.   

There was no road to the Gardens of Lórien, only short, close-cropped green turf starred with tiny blue and golden flowers, that grew thicker and brighter the closer they came to the Gardens, until at last you could hear the nightingales and the singing of the Maiar of Lórien, and see the great red poppies and the scented white flowers of silver-leaved rowans dipping low, reflected in the dark pools that shone beneath the trees.

They let the horse take herself off to graze, and wandered through the trees and pools, down through the winding paths that led through the gardens to the lake of Lorellin.

There, beside a deep dark pool under tree-shadow, singing, Bilbo and Elrond found Melian, who long ago had been Queen of Doriath, with nightingales singing around her.

“Ah,” she sang, with no sign of surprise. “Elrond, Elwing’s son, O vault of stars beloved!”  and she stood and made a deep curtsy to them, almost as if she were beginning a stately dance.

“You came at last!” she said.

“I have been somewhat occupied in Middle-earth,” Elrond said to her.

“So I have heard,” Melian said her rich dark musical voice. “You have made yourself into a song. And this is Bilbo. I have heard songs of your deeds too, little one.”  

Bilbo bowed, uncharacteristically short of words and rather pink about the ears, Elrond noted with amusement.

“Galadriel has told me much about you,” Elrond said.

“Clever, lovely brave Galadriel! She too is a song. And has she too come home from Middle-earth?”

“She has come home at last,” Elrond told her.  “She was unable to return until now, of course, under the Ban of the Valar.”

“Hmmmm?  I had not noticed,” Melian said.  Elrond blinked at her. Losing track of the years for a while had not been unusual in Rivendell, or in Lórien, particularly in time of peace, but losing track of thousands of years of prohibition placed upon a dear friend still seemed an unusually severe case of inattention.

“I have been perhaps a little inattentive to the words.” Melian said, smiling. “I have had a great deal to listen to, since I returned to Valinor. Birdsong and leaves and roots growing under starlight.  And I have been trying to grow my heart back together into a whole.  It seems to be very difficult, doing that, but perhaps it is that I am going about it wrong.”

“Galadriel has been in Aman for some time,” Elrond said.  “Did you not wish to visit her?”

“I expect she will turn up here, eventually,” Melian said.  “Most people do.  You did.”

“I suppose we did,” Elrond said. “Shall I tell her that you would like her to come and see you?  I shall be seeing her again soon.”

Melian smiled, lifted her long brown arms high, and sang a string of wordless liquid notes full of joy.  Around her the trees lifted up their branches, and the nightingales sang. The light was dying, and glow-worms were shimmering into blue-green light.  

“I will tell her,” Elrond said. He looked at her thoughtfully.  “There is a question I have always wanted to ask you, if it does not bring back memories that are too painful. Why was it that you left Doriath so swiftly, leaving it undefended?  Did you not worry for the people you left behind?”

Tears welled in the corners of Melian’s dark eyes. “Oh!” she cried.  “I wept for them.  Of course I wept for them.  But the time was come for the doom of Doriath, and I could not turn it aside. We had the joy, and I had hoped that it would be for longer.  But Elu would not heed my advice, and the shadow of doom fell.  It was always going to fall on us eventually.”

“I suppose it was,” Elrond said, thinking about it. He sighed.  It seemed, on reflection, a very familiar situation.

“I am not like you,”  Melian said “You would have stayed to fight, I know. But I am not a warrior, and I am all one thing, not made of many.  I lifted up my heart and voice to spin my defence around my lover’s heart and home.   But then my heart was broken, and the music ended, as I always knew it must, from the moment that I saw my love in the shadow beneath the stars. I was not Beren, to forge my own path against all that has gone before.  I am only Melian, and I saw my doom and had to go to meet it.  Without him, I was so much less than I had ever been before.  I could not have held Doriath without him if I had wished to.  I wept for Doriath, as I wept for Elu.  It was all that I could do.  And Lúthien is gone too far beyond the world... All the lights go out, one by one, and the broken heart is left in darkness.”

That too seemed a familiar thought, though it was not one that Elrond had ever allowed himself to entertain for more than a passing moment. But he was not wearing Vilya today, and anyway, Vilya’s power had passed out of the world, and Rivendell, soon, would be empty, as Doriath had been.  

The nightingales were singing, and the song was a sad one, but it was very beautiful, and very strange, as the darkness under the trees grew and shifted beyond the small light that the glow-worms cast.  

“Elrond?” Bilbo said, and there was an odd note in his voice, almost apprehensive.  It occurred to Elrond that most of what Melian had been saying had been voiced outside of anything that hobbit ears could easily hear, and moreover that the woodland was now very dark indeed, to hobbit eyes, as the light had died in Melian’s thought, and the shadows had woven around her.

He shook his head, to clear the shadows from it.

“We had better go and find some supper, don’t you think, Bilbo?” he said.  He bowed to Melian and rummaged in his pack for the small Noldor-made crystal lamp, to light their way as they walked up through the quiet woods, to find the way back up into the starlight, where they found some of Lórien’s people sitting around a fire, preparing their evening meal.

The Herald

A wild and windy day in March, and the waves could be heard thundering along the shores of Tol Eressëa, though the dark clouds were shredding and blowing away over Avallónë, and the sky showed patches of pale blue.  

Frodo was ill again, troubled by the shadow of grief that always fell over him in March, and all of Celebrían’s house smelled sweetly of the scent of dried athelas steeped in water.

“He has gone back to sleep,” Elrond reported, coming outside to meet Maglor, Lindir and Bilbo, who were returning from a windy walk along the cliffs.  “Celebrían is going to sit with him for a while. I think the shadow over him is less than it was last year.”

“Well, that’s something, anyway!” Bilbo said. “And at least it doesn’t seem to haunt him for too long.  He will be himself again in no time, I’m sure.”

The sun was starting to show through the vanishing clouds.  The dark wet trunk of the old wind-bent plum tree outside the house, and the droplets of rain caught in the faded winter grass glinted brightly in the light.

Eönwë, Herald of the Valar, did not arrive on foot, as Gandalf always did.   He arrived along a sunbeam that glistened brighter and brighter and then took on a form, until suddenly, there was a person standing there, a person made of light, that cooled from sun into nearly-living flesh.

“Well, bless me!” Bilbo exclaimed, amazed.   Maglor stepped backwards, alarmed, one hand, out of old habit, on his sword hilt. Lindir bowed his dark head in respect.

“I bring the greetings of the Valar,” Eönwë said in a voice that sounded like trumpets. “I have brought thanks to Bilbo Baggins and to Elrond son of Eärendil for their counsel.”

He turned to Bilbo, and bowed low to him. “To you, Bilbo Ringbearer, and to your kinsman Frodo, I bring a message of my own.”

“I’m afraid Frodo isn’t feeling quite the thing at the moment,” Bilbo said, a little apologetically.  “He’s in bed.  But if you give me the message, I’ll make sure to pass it on.”

“I bring you my regret,” Eönwë  said. “You and your kinsman were put to sore trouble, because I was unable to do my task in full, to bring an ending to our war and bring back Sauron as a captive to Aman.   I thank you for your aid in finding his Ring and ending it.  And also for your aid against one of Morgoth’s winged dragons. We were unable to bring an end to those, either.”

“Oh, well,” said Bilbo, flushing red. “That was Bard.  And the Ring was Frodo and Sam, really.   And lots of other people, not me at all.  But I’ll tell Frodo.”

Eönwë bowed gracefully, bending in slightly the wrong way to be moving as a body made of flesh would do.   “To you, Elrond, I bring you word that Celebrimbor son of Curufin is to be permitted to return to life.”

“And the rest of the House of Fëanor?” Elrond asked him, smiling.  Maglor was frozen, staring.

“The Valar are still reflecting upon it,” Eönwë said. “It is not an easy choice.”

“But they have not denied the request?” Maglor asked, with some difficulty.

Eönwë turned and looked at him, a bright expressionless gaze, and Maglor remembered, as the Oath shifted and coiled within his mind, the last time that Eönwë had looked at him.

He had stood at bay among all the great host of Valinor, bloodstained, desperate, sword in hand, back to back with his last living brother, ready to die for his Oath and for the Silmarils they had stolen. Neither of them looking at Elrond or at Elros, but feeling them staring in horror from some distance away, all the same.

He could feel Elrond looking at him now, and slammed his mind shut. He did not want Elrond looking at his thoughts just now, with Eönwë standing there and the Oath moving hideously inside them.

The great camp of the host of Valinor, upon the new shore of the land that had once been Ossiriand, and was not yet called Lindon, where they had slain the guards around the Silmarils, he and Maedhros, and the host of Valinor had come pouring out to surround them, thousands strong.

Eönwë had said in a great voice filled with pity that was sharp as knives and just as merciless; Stand back. Stand back, all you Elves and Men of the West. Let the Sons of Fëanor depart this place.

Condemning Maglor to live on, in grief and pain and vain regret.  Condemning Maedhros to find his own escape, without the help of the Valar.

And all the great host that had been all around the Sons of Fëanor, swords in hand, all of them had stepped backwards silently, and made a wide path for them...

And Eönwë had said...

“There has been enough of death,” Eönwë said, in that voice that was like golden trumpets.

But now under the plum tree, in the thin bright rain with the sun slanting through it that had begun to fall again, Eönwë bowed his shining head, and said to Maglor again; “There has been enough of death. I do not know, Maglor, son of Fëanor, what the Valar will decide.  But I regret that I took no counsel about your Oath, and did not try to turn enemies back into friends.  For I was strong, and free to choose, and you were not.”  

And Eönwë, Herald of the Valar, held out his hand. Cautiously, Maglor took it.