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A New Road or a Secret Gate

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Elrohir was in trouble. It was not something he was eager to admit to himself, but there it was. An experienced campaigner of Middle-earth should not find himself at any risk, here in the distant West Beyond the World. Danger was supposed to be something he had left behind him.

The enormous bear on the ground far below him reared up on its hind legs, and brought two massive paws thudding into the trunk. The entire tree shook under the impact, and Elrohir hastily braced himself against a branch with one elbow and tightened his grip upon his bow. He had put five arrows into the beast already, but its thick hair and hide were strong as armour and probably the arrows had done no more than annoy it. He did not feel very confident that his sword would have much more effect.

The oak tree stood alone in the clear morning light of a wide grassy clearing, gnarled branches wide-spread and laden with dark leaves starred with morning dew. Far beyond it in the distance, woods stretched quietly away, fading into golden morning mist. It would have been a peaceful scene, if it had not been for the bear.

If he could manage to find just the right angle, perhaps an arrow to the eye... But a thick branch was in the way. He dare not venture too far down the tree to the branches that might carry the bear’s weight if it decided to climb up after him.

The tree groaned and creaked as the bear set long black claws into the trunk and pulled.

Of course, if the bear pulled the tree over entirely, then the branch would no longer be in the way of the line of shot to its eye, but that would probably be irrelevant to Elrohir by then.

Usually, he had been told, it took around a thousand years in the Halls of Mandos, from death to being permitted to return to life, if Lord Námo decided there was no obstacle...

Being eaten by a bear would probably be quite painful, but worse was the thought that Mother would cry, and Father would make his hurt, unhappy face when he thought that nobody was looking. Elrohir had left Rivendell and sailed from Middle-earth largely because he found that thought difficult to endure.

Great-uncle Finrod had been let out of the Halls of Mandos within weeks, and after all, Elrohir was Lúthien’s great-great grandson. There must be a trick to getting out of the place.

The bear pulled its massive bulk up into the tree, and now there was only a mass of twigs and foliage between Elrohir and the bear, but still no clear shot. The sheer weight of the monstrous bear was pulling the entire tree sideways. Elrohir retreated, bow in hand, to a higher, thinner branch.

A movement far below caught his eye, grey animals running silently towards the tree. Wolves? The first had reached the tree-trunk and it lifted its head and began to bark, and then the others joined it.

Not wolves. Hounds. Some way away, a horn called merrily, and then riders on tall white horses came cantering through the deer-grazed scrub towards the tree where Elrohir stood, small bells on their harness ringing merrily. He thought of Glorfindel, but of course it was not: Glorfindel lived in Tirion now, among his friends from Gondolin, and would surely not be out hunting here in East Beleriand.

One of the riders saw him, and called out to his fellow across the baying of the hounds. “A good hunt today indeed! We have caught not only the bear, but the bear’s breakfast too!”

The other laughed and called back, “Is it polite to interrupt the bear’s breakfast? Perhaps we should wait for him to finish his meal.”

The bear’s attention had been distracted away from Elrohir in the tree above by the sound of the barking, and it had turned to swipe at the hounds with one vast clawed paw, growling. They leaped out of the way, barking furiously.

“He has found a rare morsel indeed,” the first Elf laughed, putting an arrow to the string as he spoke. “He must be most unhappy to lose it. There aren’t many who get a chance to taste the blood of the Children of Lúthien.”

The bear turned in the tree below him, and now at last Elrohir had the clear shot at his eye.

The arrow sped true. It sank into the bear’s eye until there was a bare hand-span of the arrow and the fletchings standing proud of the head. A brief moment of silence, as if even the hounds had caught their breath, and Elrohir thought, surely, surely it can’t live with an arrow right through its skull like that?

Then, slowly, massively, the vast bear toppled from the tree, and fell to the ground, dead. Around it, the hounds cried furiously, and darted in to grab at their prey.

“It seems this morsel is not for the bear today,” Elrohir said, in Quenya, because these elves would probably not speak his own modern Westron, “Though some would call that a joke in bad taste, from your family to mine, Amrod.”

Amrod jumped up and stood upon his horse’s back to bow apologetically to Elrohir. “A fair point,” he said, wryly. “Don’t tell Maedhros, I’m trying to convince him that I’ve finally learned to think before I speak...”

“A hopeless cause, he knows you far too well,” Amras advised him solemnly, and looked up at Elrohir. “You have slain our cave-bear for us, cousin. Come down and take a cup of wine to celebrate!”

“Very well then,” Elrohir said, putting his bow away in its carrier. He swung down from the tree. “I am glad to see you, truly. That was an alarmingly large bear.”

“You didn’t seem to need much help,” Amrod said grinning. “When I saw you up there, I thought I’d have a chance to boast to Maglor that we had rescued his honorary grandson. Then you went and killed it yourself — with one shot at that!”

“Not quite one shot,” Elrohir admitted, “I’d bounced a few arrows off his hide already, before you arrived... here’s one of mine in the grass, and another, barely through the fur.” He picked the spent arrows up and restored them to his quiver: he had a small supply of arrowheads with him, and could make a few more arrows if he needed, but there was no point in wasting them. “I’ve never seen a bear of such a size before.”

“We have a plentiful supply of similar bears, in Beleriand Arisen,” Amras told him, pouring out a cup and presenting it to him with a flourish.

Amrod turned to the fallen bear and prodded it with a foot. The hounds growled enthusiastically, and he began to cut off a strip of the flank to give them. The bear’s thick fur and hide had defeated their teeth. “Perhaps the bears of Middle-earth have dwindled?” he said over his shoulder. “I hear that’s how it goes. But most of the bears of Beleriand are large, but peaceable enough — as long as you don’t steal their breakfast. This particular bear was an exception, that’s why we were hunting him.”

“You were looking for this bear in particular?” Elrohir enquired, sipping from the cup.

“Yes,” Amras said. “Your bear had a taste for cattle, and that was a great nuisance, but he took a farmer last month, and that was when we started looking for him in earnest.” He gave Elrohir an appraising look. “Some would say you were travelling rashly, coming through cave-bear country on foot and alone.”

Elrohir shrugged. “I’m on my way to Nan-tathren, to see my grandparents. Galadriel and Celeborn, I mean.” He had still not quite got used to having more than one set of grandparents that could be visited. “I’m used to walking : the Dunedain Rangers of Arnor used to patrol that way a good deal. ” Possibly Amrod and Amras would not know who the Dunedain were. No matter. He shrugged. “I am in no hurry. On foot I don’t have to fuss with fodder, forage, or fretting that my horse might go lame or be stolen by orcs. ”

Amrod shook his head. “No orcs in Beleriand, “ he said. “Not any more.”

“Of course,” Elrohir said, and made a gesture of acknowledgement with the cup. “I forgot... We were fighting orcs for a very long time, my brother and I.”

Amrod threw the bloody scraps he’d made to his hounds, then wiped his bloody hands upon the grass. “So Maglor has told us. That is your brother Elladan, who stayed in Middle-earth?”

“That’s right.” Elrohir said. He looked from Amrod to Amras, their faces almost indistinguishable, as he and Elladan had been, and found that he had more to say. “He chose the path of Men, and I chose the Elves. We agreed that he should go with my sister, Arwen, and with our foster-brother Estel, and I should stay for my father and mother. You have to choose someone to lose... This was the nearest we could come to being able to take both paths at once.”

Amras looked at him thoughtfully. “I see. A hard choice.” He hesitated for a moment. “You hadn’t thought of travelling back to Middle-earth?” he asked. “You know my father has woven paths through from the Straight Road to Middle-earth, where Eru bent the ways. The road is not all in one direction any more. I could show you the start of the path that runs from Beleriand into the lands of Men...”

Elrohir looked away at the hounds milling around the fallen bear. “I know the path is open now,” he said. “But in Middle-earth, no-one can turn back the river of years. Elves may stand by the river and admire the ripples passing, or even walk upstream a little way along the bank, but the children of Men are carried swiftly out to Sea, whether they go willingly in joy and hope, or swim against the tide. My brother, my sister and my last foster-brother are dead and gone beyond the world, and no work of cunning thought can amend that. Our paths are parted.”

“Cruelly is Arda made,” Amras said, frowning.

“Cruel and kind at once, and very fair,” Elrohir said. “My mother thinks the darkness makes the stars shine brighter. Most of the time, I think she’s right. The bear died, and that will be a fine thing for the young calves and the farmers and their children, yet the bear too had his beauty though it was wrapped in terror." He cut himself off short. "I’m sorry, travelling alone has left me too many high-flown thoughts. At any rate, I thought that I would come and explore Beleriand Arisen, returned to the world beyond hope, and remind myself of the brightness of the stars.”

“We too have returned beyond hope,” Amras said. “We shan’t complain at thoughts that fly like larks against the sky.”

“But you weren’t coming to visit us?” Amrod asked. “This is a strange way to take to get to Nan-tathren, if you landed at New Eglarest!”

Elrohir shrugged. “I decided to take a roundabout route and see more of the land.”

“Never mind,” Amras said with a meaningful look at his brother. “Can we persuade you to visit us, even if you weren’t intending to, Elrohir? In a few days, we shall ride up to Lake Helevorn for the Feast of the Lighting of the Lamps. We would be greatly honoured if you would join us.”

Elrohir began a polite refusal, but Amrod interrupted him “You really should,” he said persuasively. “You’ve been in Tirion and visited Fingolfin, and you are on your way to Galadriel. It would do nobody any good if Fingolfin, or our father, got the idea that you were favoring one side of the family over the other.”

Oh. Father had been very clear that one thing they must avoid above all things was causing tension between any of the great Houses of the Elves. The potential for doing so, for both Elrohir and Elrond, who were members of all of the Houses, seemed to be considerable.

“I don’t have any festival clothes with me,” he said. “I’m travelling light.”

“We’ll lend you some!” Amras said, beaming cheerfully.

Elrohir put on what Arwen used to call the Tactical Rivendell smile, the one for those occasions when Durin’s folk, Wood-elves and Men from Arthedain and Rhudaur happened to be all visiting at once. “In that case, thank you, I’d be delighted,” he said.

Chapter Text

The Sun was rising behind them in the south, and the northern sky shone a clear blue. Lake Helevorn lay in a great fold in the hills, darkly glinting in the evening light under the long purple shadow of Mount Rerir.  Tall dark trees shadowed the eastern end, but the south-western approach was open and the land was green and fair. Amrod had insisted on lending Elrohir a tall grey horse for this part of the journey; a very fine animal with a long free-flowing stride and a bold eye.

Elrohir blinked as he looked over into the West.  For a moment, he could see a strangely doubled landscape: the green pastures and wild woods of Beleriand fading away into mist, and in his memory, Lindon as he had known it, a old windswept grassland with smooth worn rocks and sand-dunes falling down to the Sea that lay deep over vanished Beleriand Fallen: a land vanished into time in the impossibly distant Elder Days; before the Round World had been called into life, before ever Númenor was raised, and fell again.

He shook his head, and Beleriand Risen returned, impossible, yet clear and bright and real before him. He could see in the far distance across the lake the white walls of Caranthir’s city under the mountain-side.   

“It was built for defence of course, long ago,” Amras told him as they rode along the lake-shore.   “Caranthir called the whole place back in perfect detail from his memory and insists that it be kept as a working stronghold, complete with steel-spiked gates and sally-ports, as well as as a market town. I can’t imagine who he thinks is going to attack him now that Angband is long gone.”

“Better safe than sorry, he says,” Amrod said with a grin. “My theory is that he doesn’t want to be caught unawares by Celegorm.”

Amras explained: “They don’t always get along. That’s why, back in the old days,  Maedhros put Celegorm out there in the west at Himlad, and Caranthir here in the east at Mount Rerir, with himself and Maglor in the middle.”  He waved vaguely north and west towards the wide misty gap in the long line of hills that long ago had been called Maglor’s Gap.

Elrohir laughed. “Rather like arranging tactful seating at a feast, but on a much larger scale.”  

The shape of Beleriand was familar to Elrohir from old histories, maps and songs, but it was still jarring to remember how he had walked on the grey shores of Lindon and looked out west across the waves that had covered this land...

His companions were names out of songs too; songs that were dark and fearful.  Those songs had not been much sung in Rivendell, where there had been still a handful of people, who remembered Amrod and Amras, though Elrohir had never met anyone in Middle-earth who had known them well. But he had heard songs that spoke of Ambarussa, from time to time in Lórien and in Thranduil’s halls in the Greenwood.

Well, if he had wanted to be safe, he would have stayed on Tol Eressëa with Father, defended by the Great Sea.  He had not come to Beleriand Risen for safety.

But so far, Amrod and Amras were pleasant enough company. They were less alike than they appeared at first glance, Elrohir thought. It was not just that Amrod’s hair was darker and he was a little shorter than Amras: he spoke more quickly, moved a little more extravagantly, and his jokes had a sharper, more brittle edge to them.   

But of course, people always noticed the likeness of twins first.  People had always said that Elrohir and Elladan were the same, even when they made a point of dressing differently...  Nobody would ever say that again.

He had thought that it was Arwen, Estel and Elladan who had taken the stranger path: to die, as Men died, and go far beyond the familiar ways of Arda.

If one day beyond the breaking of the world they should ever meet again, Elrohir could at least surprise his brother, sister and foster-brother with the news that he had been an honoured guest of Ambarussa the Bloodyhanded, and they had taken him to visit Caranthir the Cruel.

Best to check again the shields upon his mind and make quite sure that thought would not be noticed by his hosts.  

He could tell Erestor about it, perhaps, when he got back to Tol Eressëa.  Erestor, unlike so very many generations of the Dunedain, could be relied upon. Yet Elrohir would rather have told Elladan, or Estel, or reaching further back, Arahael, or Arahael’s great-great grandson Araglas...

There was, Father said, no point in burying oneself in grief, and he should know.  No point pining after the Dunedain. They came to the world for a while, and then went on.   He would settle for telling Erestor.

Amras began to sing, a song so old that Elrohir had to concentrate to make out the words, though the melody was familiar.  It occurred to Elrohir that he had been silently introspective rather longer than was, perhaps, strictly polite, so as the rest of the company began to sing along, so did he, though he used the Weston words that Bilbo had written, enjoying the contrast of a song whose words were probably seven thousand years newer than the music that went with it.

They came up at last to the gates as the last daylight was fading into blue shadow and stars were pricking out overheard, and the lord of the city came out to greet them joyfully.

“Look who we found wandering the wilds of Beleriand, Caranthir!” Amras said cheerfully.

Caranthir turned and his usually rather solemn face lit up in apparently genuine pleasure.  “Elrohir!” he exclaimed. “This is an unexpected delight! My father will be so pleased.”

“The High King is here?” Elrohir asked.  “Amrod said that he was not sure if he would be able to be here for the feast.”

Caranthir smiled, looking neither cruel nor as angry as his reputation made him.  “I think Mother insisted. They arrived two weeks ago, though I wasn’t expecting them until yesterday!  But now he’s here, he has found a new idea to work on with Celebrimbor, so I’ve not seen much of either of them.  Come in, come in! For once in her life, Mother is not deep in any great work; hence her hurry to come visiting. Let’s find her, then we can winkle father and Celebrimbor from their workshop.”

This was good news.  Elrohir did not know any of Fëanor’s sons well apart from Maglor.  He was inclined, given their reputation, to be somewhat cautious about them.  But Nerdanel was another matter. She had welcomed him kindly to the strange lands west beyond the world, back in the days when Fëanor, Celebrimbor and six of her sons had been in the Halls of Mandos and seemed unlikely ever to return. 

“What are Celebrimbor and the King working on?” Elrohir enquired as Caranthir led them up through the city, but all three of Fëanor’s sons shook their heads immediately, and Elrohir wondered if he had breached some obscure protocol of ancient Valinor.  

“I’ll let Father tell you,”Caranthir said. He looked thoughtfully at Elrohir as they came through the gates, and seemed to come to the conclusion that Elrohir could be counted as a family member to receive confidences. “Mother says that it’s better if he talks to as many people as possible. It stops him brooding and turning inward.”

 

****

 

They found Nerdanel alone and looking disconsolate.  Her wild red hair was curling loose around her shoulders, and she was sitting with her knees tucked up by a window that looked out across the lake.  Around her on the rug were many crumpled pieces of paper. But she leapt up enthusiastically to embrace Elrohir, saving him from the awkward dilemma of whether to greet her as a great-grandmother, or as the Queen.  She was wearing her work breeches, but in Gondor, or in long-lost Arnor before its fall, he would still have bowed.

“I take it that the inspiration still isn’t flowing then,” Caranthir observed with a glance to the many discarded notes and sketches, once Nerdanel had greeted Amras and Amrod too.

“Oh, don’t talk about it!” Nerdanel exclaimed.  “I keep hoping that if I don’t think about it, inspiration will come stealing up on me, but so far it hasn’t happened.  It’s an absolutely desperate feeling. But you’re all here now, so finally I have an excuse to interrupt Fëanor. He never struggles for inspiration, Elrohir, I can’t tell you how infuriating it is! Celebrimbor is almost as bad, and Curufin too. I want to lock all three of them in a cellar for a week, as well-earned vengeance for the fact that I’m sitting here without a single good idea when Fëanor is brimming with them. The worst thing is that they probably wouldn’t even notice.”  

This was a lament that Elrohir was familiar with: his mother Celebrían, who was no mean creator in her own right had said very similar things about her own mother, Galadriel, on a number of occasions.  But drawing parallels between Fëanor and Galadriel in front of three of Fëanor’s sons who were also Galadriel’s considerably-older cousins might be unwise.

“Is Curufin here too?” he asked instead.

“No,” Nerdanel said gloomily.  “He said I was being impossible and went off hunting with Celegorm.  They still don’t listen to a word I say. I should have had daughters.”

“Yes,” Amras said, entirely straightfaced.  “I’m sure if we had been like Aredhel and Galadriel, they would have been entirely sympathetic with your fits of artistic frustration.”  Nerdanel made a furious face at him, then she laughed.

“Or Arwen, for that matter,” Elrohir put in. “She took after her grandmother, Mother always says.” Nerdanel looked at him for a moment with a curious scrunched-up expression on her face, and then put an arm around him to give him another swift and clumsy hug.   

“Perhaps you’re right,” she told him.  “I had trouble enough with sons. Come on.  Let’s go and bother Fëanáro.”

They found Celebrimbor and Fëanor down near the lake, in a building that seemed to be half a boat-house, and half an elaborate decorative confection of twirling copper, pale green with verdigris, that looked as if it might at any moment take flight.

Fëanor looked much less like a High King than his brother Fingolfin had, the last time that Elrohir had seen Fingolfin in Tirion.  Fingolfin had been dressed in fine-worked silks in the blue and silver of his house, with a star upon his brow, taking counsel with Gil-galad, his daughter Aredhel and his niece by virtue of her marriage with Finrod, Amárië of the Vanyar.

Fëanor, by contrast, was alone but for Celebrimbor.  He was crownless, in brown breeches much like those that Nerdanel was wearing and a plain overshirt. The only bright note Elrohir could see about him a pair of shining arm-rings wrapped around his strong upper arms that had a definite look of Celebrimbor’s work about them.   

He was also lying on his back on the floor, half-under a great clear dome of crystal, far taller than a person,  that rippled the light that fell upon it strangely, casting rainbow shades of light upon the blue-tiled floor and the green-copper walls.   

Celebrimbor was peering doubtfully down at him, but he turned in surprise when Caranthir and his visitors came in, and gave Elrohir a welcoming grin.  Elrohir smiled back. Celebrimbor, at least, was a presence both familiar and reassuring. Elrohir had not met him in person until he had sailed to Valinor of course, since Celebrimbor had been killed long ago, and had returned only recently from the Halls of Mandos.  But Father had always spoken of him warmly, and they had met a number of times recently on Tol Eressëa. And beyond that, there was about Celebrimbor an air of both Imladris and Lothlorien, where the Elven rings that Celebrimbor had made had held the land under the protection of living memory.

“Fëanáro!” Nerdanel called. “Ambarussa are here at last, and Elrohir has come to visit!  Come out from under that thing and greet them!”

Fëanor slid neatly backwards and came to his feet, looking surprised, and Elrohir remembered with something of a shock that even when Fëanor wore no gems about him, the bright flame of his spirit reflected in his eyes marked him out.

“Elrohir! Welcome! ” Fëanor said, and then hopefully, “Did Maglor come with you?”

Elrohir decided not to mention that he would not have been here himself if it had not been for Ambarussa the Bloodyhanded appearing at the same time as a particularly large and persistent bear.  

“I’m afraid not,” he said. “I was travelling on foot, exploring the land. I came to Beleriand with Bilbo Baggins and Glorfindel of Gondolin, but they decided to go West to Old Gondolin, and then to visit Maedhros and Fingon by Lake Mithrim.  I think they thought my path across East Beleriand too wild and lonely,” It could not hurt to enlist the reputation of the Ringbearer to make the point that Elrond’s household was not favoring any of his various families unduly. “You know Maglor has had enough of wandering alone and sleeping on the ground.  He’s in Tirion still, so far as I know.”

Elrohir’s honorary grandfather Maglor had longed for his brothers and his father Fëanor to return to life, had invested all his considerable determination into healing wounds and winning friends and influence to allow them, beyond any expectation, to return from the Halls of Mandos, where everyone had expected them to remain forever.

Elrohir had never once heard Maglor voice a word of criticism about Fëanor himself, and everyone on Tol Eressëa and in Tirion knew that one should speak only praise of Maglor’s father unless you were quite sure that Maglor could not hear you.  

Yet still there was a strange awkwardness between Fëanor, who had made an oath and died not long afterwards, and Maglor, who had sworn the oath, killed his own kin seeking to fulfil it and walked alone down through all those long years afterwards. Elrohir did not entirely understand it, but he knew it was there.

He hesitated then added.  “My father says, it’s best to give things time to heal.”

“Yes, I know,” Fëanor said, his face troubled.  “Elrond told me that himself. Well, they say he’s wise, and it’s been a very long time since anybody has said that of me, so I had best take his counsel I suppose.”  

In fact, Elrond had said rather more than that. He had said that he suspected Maglor in Tirion to have set himself beside Fingolfin, between the House of Fëanor and the Valar, and was not sure if Maglor himself was aware of it. An odd idea, and complicated, and Elrohir was certainly not going to mention it to the High King of the Noldor if neither Father nor Maglor himself had done so.

“You know what’s Maglor’s like,” Caranthir said to his father.  “He probably means to visit, but hasn’t got around to it yet. He seemed well enough when I saw him when I was last in Tirion.”

“Fëanáro,” Nerdanel said, “Elrohir has not heard about your new project yet.”

“Oh well,” Fëanor said making a dismissive gesture. “It’s a small thing.”

Nerdanel gave him a meaningful look. “I’m sure Elrohir would like to hear about it,” she said rather pointedly.

“It’s for going about under the water,” Celebrimbor said with enthusiasm.  “Made of a sort of living crystal, so it can breathe and swim. Grandfather designed the crystal, of course.”

“Breathe is something of a simplification,” Fëanor objected.  

“Well, obviously, but that’s effectively what it’s doing,” Celebrimbor told him and they argued about that for a while until Nerdanel reminded them they had an audience.

Elrohir tried to think of something to say that would not mention Galadriel and her work with catching light in water and crystal, but also would not make him sound a fool.  

“Are you planning to use it in the lake?” he asked, which was not an inspired question, but at least made some sort of sense.  

“Yes indeed!” Fëanor said with some enthusiasm, so perhaps it had been a good question after all.  “Caranthir mentioned that he would like to map the underwater area of the lake, and so I thought of this.  It should allow us an excellent view, even of the lake-bottom.”

“We are hoping that some of the Dwarves may one day remove here to Beleriand, you see,” Caranthir said.

“But I am concerned that not all of the land has been fully restored to the world of the plane, in which we live, away from the Round World,” Fëanor interrupted, gathering speed and enthusiasm.  “Clearly it would be most unfortunate if we invited the Dwarves to dwell in Mountains that were incompletely rendered on the inside. Aulë has done some work on the Ered Luin, of course, when the mountains were raised here,  but he will not return to Beleriand now. He says Beleriand is for the Elves, not for the Ainur, which is all very well and good in one way; I would not wish it otherwise — it is only frustrating that those of us who are not of the Ainur cannot reach through rock, except by tunnelling. I would like to inspect the inside of the mountains for myself. The lake-bottom seemed the obvious first step.”

“And the next step is...?”

“Well, to travel through the rock itself, of course,” Fëanor said. “But that is rather more complicated. Water is easier.”

“But,” Elrohir ventured, “I thought the whole of Beleriand was sung back out of memory. There must be Elves who remember Belegost at least.  My father has spoken of the dwarf-city before its fall.”

“Oh yes. Nogrod, too,” Celebrimbor told him. “Father and I were there on a number of occasions, and so was Caranthir. The great gates and the entrance-halls are there: we can ride up to see them, if you like. So strange to see them empty and forlorn, with nobody going in and out or working in the workshops near the Gate...  But dwarf-cities are not made for Elves, after all. There is much of Nogrod and Belegost that no Elf has ever seen; gates that are shut, and we do not know what lay beyond them.

“They might not wish Elves to see,” Elrohir suggested, with vivid memories of diplomatic missions to Dwarves who had sometimes seemed to make a great virtue of keeping secrets for no obvious reason except to be awkward.

“I think that they would not be eager to fall through into Aulë’s halls before they must, however, if their secret gates prove to lead to realms where reality is incomplete, and Arda unfinished,” Fëanor said practically. “Not unless Gimli is a most unusual representative.  He seems a person of excellent sense. His wood-elf friend seemed rather difficult to talk to though, I thought.”

“The Children of Aulë must have a good deal in common with the Noldor,” Elrohir said diplomatically, remembering that Legolas had said something rather similar about Fëanor.  

“Gimli is an unusual representative of the Dwarves,” Celebrimbor said, and grinned broadly at Elrohir.   “Brave even by their standards, to sail away to a land where there are only Elves. But both Aulë and Gimli have agreed to this.  I went and talked it over with both of them. I am sure that there would be plenty of dwarves who’d argue with it, even so, but since they aren’t here, we’ve decided that the best thing is to go ahead, and not talk too much about it later.”

“That sounds a very Dwarvish approach to things,” Elrohir admitted.

“Isn’t it?” Celebrimbor said with another light-hearted grin.  The grin seemed very different to the serious expression that he had usually worn when Elrohir had seen him acting as the leader of the House of Fëanor in Aman, before Fëanor and his sons had returned from the Halls of Mandos.  Celebrimbor was rather obviously enjoying being one of the youngest of his house again, instead of its leader.

“You’re running ahead too fast again,” Fëanor told his grandson. “Water first, rock later. We were just about to get this first prototype tested,” he said, looking speculatively at his sons. “And since you have all appeared in such a timely manner...”

“Very well,” Caranthir said.  He shrugged off his long embroidered robe and slung it over a chair, and began to roll up his sleeves.

“Where are your rollers?” Nerdanel enquired looking around as she rolled up her own sleeves.  

Fëanor put an arm around her and smiled rather smugly.  “Trust us to organise things better that that!” he said. “We built a gantry first.  It’s embedded in the roof-beams, look, there, with the copper curlicues. All we need to do is guide the vessel and prevent it bumping as it goes.”

Nerdanel peered upwards thoughtfully at a confection made of what looked like a kind of gilded bronze. “That’s rather nicely done,” she allowed. “It doesn’t look like a crane at all, more like a well-balanced traditional spire or something along those lines.  Will you put one in my workshop? It would be handy for my heavier stuff.”

“I was thinking that I might,” Fëanor said. “Only if you want one, of course. We’ve come up with a couple of improvements since we built this...”

Caranthir shook his head. “This was designed to be a boathouse,” he told Elrohir, sounding rather annoyed. “I don’t know what it’s turning into. I’ll be lucky if it has a roof, by the time they leave...”

Celebrimbor laughed at him. “It will be better , uncle,” he said. “It will work better and it will be more pleasing to look at, and you really don’t need it to be defensible, honestly. Stop grumbling!”  

Caranthir sighed.  “At least I shall get my lake-mapping done, I suppose.”  He gave his father an accusing look. “Weren’t you supposed to be giving an audience this afternoon?”

Fëanor looked suddenly guilty.  “I was,” he admitted. “You’re quite right Caranthir.  This will have to wait. I’d better hurry. I have a couple of matters that need checking through beforehand.”

“Your crown is in the Hall,” Caranthir called after him as he left. “Behind the high seat, in a box!”

Fëanor gave him a wave of acknowledgement and hurried away.

“Can I offer you something to eat?” Caranthir asked them generally.  “I think we have time before the audience. If any of you are going. I feel I should.  It’s my Hall after all.”

“Thank you, lovely,” Nerdanel said.  “Or at least, thank you, to the food.  I think I’ll skip the audience.”

“Me too,” Celebrimbor said, already looking back towards the crystal sphere and the tools scattered around it.  “If I have a little more time, I might just make an adjustment or two...”

“Come and have lunch first, Celebrimbor,” Nerdanel said firmly, taking his arm.  “Lunch first, adjustments later. Come on Elrohir, Amrod, Amras. Are you going to see Fëanáro give his audience, or will you skip it?”

“Skip it,” Amrod said. “I went to the last one.”

Amras sighed. “My turn then,” he said.  “I’ll go along with Caranthir and offer moral support. Would you like to come too, Elrohir?”

“I’ve never been to one,” Elrohir said, intrigued.  “I’d love to.”

******

On one side of Caranthir’s tall tapestry-decked hall, Elrohir sat next to Amras, watching Fëanor, who had apparently found the crown that was in a box, speak from Caranthir's high seat, ask questions and give judgement. Elrohir had attended audiences before, of course; in the North-kingdom at Formenos, in Thranduil’s halls in the Greenwood. More recently, too, in Gondor, with Aragorn catching his eye, both of them remembering how Elrond had preferred to avoid such formality in Rivendell, and exchanging smiles.

But Rivendell was one small valley, with its own well-established ways of doing thing that everyone who lived there understood.  Beleriand Risen, like Gondor Renewed, was a wide land filled with people who had undergone considerable upheaval recently, and could not be left to govern itself.  Elrohir was curious as to how the legendary Fëanor would go about it.

“He’s good at this,” he whispered to Amras, after a while.  

Amras lifted a russet eyebrow in mild surprise. “Of course he is.  Why wouldn’t he be? He was High King before, and for a long time before that, a prince. The Noldor choose their lords for their ability, and my father is thought more able than most.”

Amras was definitely the less prickly of the twins.  Perhaps it would be all right for Elrohir to be a little more open with him.  “I do know that, of course,” Elrohir said quietly. “But it was a very long time before my day, and what has come down to us in Middle-earth through tales and songs made him sound... rather a hasty maker of decisions.”

“Perhaps on that one occasion,” Amras said, half under his breath. Fëanor was listening gravely to a petitioner from Hithlum, who had apparently not had the answer that he wanted from Fingon on the matter of the establishment of a new marketplace.

Amras waited for his father to ask a question, then looked sideways and fixed Elrohir with a clear green eye. “If there had been no good reason for it, no-one would have followed him. Was it not your mother who was taken by the orcs? I thought you, of all people, would understand that sometimes there is an urgent need to go to war. ”

Elrohir thought of the tale of the battle that had been fought beyond the distant deeps of time at Alqualondë, and wondered for the first time what side he would have taken, if he had been Amras. What side he might have taken if it had been Elrond leading his people out to war.  

He had a sudden vivid memory of finding his mother chained in filth and darkness, and felt the automatic surge of savage, biting fury that came with it.

He was entirely certain that Father would never do what Fëanor had done. He was rather less sure about himself and Elladan.

“It’s strange to meet people out of our most ancient tales, and discover they have their own opinions of the story,” he said quietly.  “I intended no offense.”

“None taken,” Amras said, and grinned at him.



******

 

Once the audience was over, they wheeled the crystal sphere, suspended from a gantry-crane so curved and delicate that it seemed impossible that it might take the weight of an object so large, out of the boathouse and down the short slate-paved slipway to the lakeside.

They paused and Nerdanel tapped it, and a high clear chime rang out across the water.  “It seems very light,” she said, frowning at it with an expression that made her look oddly like Caranthir standing next to her. “Are you sure it will be robust enough, Fëanáro?  It’s pretty, I’ll give you that, but there’s no solidity to it. It feels ephemeral. Like a bubble.”

“It’s not a sculpture,” Fëanor told her.  “Weight is not intrinsic to the work. We can’t all work in stone you know.”

“It honestly is very strong,” Celebrimbor assured her. “It might feel like it, but it’s nothing like glass.  See.” He stepped forward and said a word that echoed strangely across the surface of the lake, and the surface of the crystal sphere rippled into shining rings and opened. He looked at Fëanor. “Want to try it?”    

Fëanor looked thoughtfully at it,  tapped the shining surface as Nerdanel had done, and inclined his head to listen carefully to the note it made. “Come on then,” he said, and smiled.

“We’ll be standing by with ropes to fish you out if it breaks,” Caranthir told him.

“It won’t,” Celebrimbor assured him with absolute confidence, “Not a chance.  Don’t you know who made it?” Fëanor stepped in side and as Celebrimbor followed him the crystal shell closed around him. As the two figures faintly visible within the shining globe sat down crosslegged, it slipped forward into the water, making barely a ripple as it went under and sank into the depths.

Elrohir stared. “Was it supposed to do that?” he asked.  Amrod shrugged, frowning.

Caranthir, a coil of fine grey rope in his hand, made a frustrated noise.  “I was about to suggest we anchor it, at least for the first trial!” he said.

Elrohir went down to the waterline and knelt to peer under the surface. The lake was clear enough at the shallow, reedy margins, and he could see patches of pale rock and sand and green weed shimmering, but a little further out, the bottom of Lake Helevorn fell abruptly away into blue-green shadowy darkness.   “I can’t see anything moving,” he said.

“We’ll give them a moment or two,” Nerdanel decided.  “After that.. I don’t know. What can we do, if something’s gone wrong?  Drat the man! Why does he always do this?”

“It’s too deep and cold to dive into,” Caranthir said staring out at the water.  “That’s why they started building the thing in the first place.”

“I can dive into it,” Elrohir told them. There was still no movement in the quiet blue depths of the lake.

“It’s very deep and very cold,” Caranthir said  doubtfully. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Elrohir.  I’m always very careful about the fisher-people on the lake, they carry buoys and rope, and all the boats are designed so you can climb back into them easily...”

As he talked, Elrohir pulled off his tunic and undershirt and handed them to a surprised Amras, who took them and opened his mouth to argue.

“I have an advantage, though,” he told them briefly, before they had a chance to say more.  He went to his knees beside the lake and, pulling himself forward onto his hands, he began to change his skin, leaving breeches, boots and socks that were suddenly the wrong shape and size behind him.  

He glanced back for a moment at astounded relatives who, his eyes and senses told him, were far too tall and bright-eyed and all smelled wrong , and he slipped quietly into the suddenly-inviting cool intriguing lake in otter form, bright bubbles trailing from his fur.   

The water was clear as green crystal to his eyes, and full of  life: the flicker of small fish among the reeds, a shoal of something silver-scaled larger moving far out under the surface, the taste of a water-rats somewhere not very far away, and the distant taint of something else: rather like a crayfish, but not quite...

Now he was in the water, he thought he could see a glint of something reflecting,ahead and far below him, and behind it, darkness and a faint sense of water moving.  Elrohir flexed his tail and dived.

His eyes adjusted to the gloom as he glided down through the water, broad-webbed feet thrusting him on.  He could see the crystal sphere clearly now, lit from within with a clear light, and around it... Elrohir blinked and slowed for a moment.

Around it were far too many dark reaching arms, clutching, holding.  As he looked, the sphere pulled forward, and then was caught and held back.   Elrohir hesitated for a moment. The thing— or were they things? Whichever, they were huge, far larger than he was.  

If he went back for help... But what could the Noldor of Lake Helevorn do against an adversary so far underwater?  The Noldor were not the Falmari of the coast or the Teleri of Alqualondë.

His otter-shape could taste the thing with arms, and did not like it.  His sharp teeth bared in an automatic snarl.

If he, Fëanor and Celebrimbor arrived together at the Halls of Mandos, Elrohir would have the easiest time of it.  It was rare that anyone returned to life after a second death. Admittedly, the otter-shape might require some explanation, since strictly speaking, skin-changing was a thing for Men and not for Elves, but...

He thought of Father’s face, if Celebrimbor should die again, and then of Maglor, and of Nerdanel, and he dived.

The sphere pulled forward again as he came up to it. He could see the figures of the two people inside it outlined against the light, as outside the long arms snaked through the green water.  

He swam around the sphere, found the wiry boneless muscle of a arm. A sharp savage bite, and away from the thing as it flailed in sudden agony, dark blood jetting into the water, tasting of rust and slime, and something worse too, something that reminded him of Angmar, of chains around his mother’s wrists and dark skies over Gondor.   

Another arm.  Another bite. The water full of clouding darkness, and his otter-form was running out of breath.

The sphere lurched forward, moving faster this time, and Elrohir sank his teeth deep into an arm that lashed out to intercept it, and was knocked aside by another, his lithe otter-shape flexing against the blow, letting out bubbles of precious air.   An arm caught and wrapped around him, squeezing painfully tight, and he greeted it with savage teeth and claws.

His legs were aching now and the need to breathe was urgent, but the sphere was away, and he began to struggle up towards the light of day, far, far above.  The otter-form, usually so strong and supple, was bruised and aching. The water’s cold struck bitterly into him and the light seemed very far above, as behind him darkness coiled, following far too quickly as he struggled desperately to swim up.  

And then, unexpected light, a warm strong hand around him, pulling him sideways, a rush of water carrying him, and then air, blessed air, as he panted exhausted in the water washing against curved crystal that felt warm and slightly alive to the touch.

He rolled over, too exhausted to change his skin for now, and saw the sphere elongate and move against the water as it rushed away from the following darkness.

The light grew brighter, and brighter still, and then with a great surge the sphere broke the surface and leapt out, up over the reeds and up onto the land.

He was scooped up again,and found himself hanging  limp in Celebrimbor’s arms, his back legs and tail swinging and the grip around his chest painfully tight, as Celebrimbor scrambled hastily from the sphere and Fëanor after him, already shouting a warning, and the Elves around the lake turned to run.

Celebrimbor stopped running once they had reached Caranthir’s gatehouse, and scaled the long steps to the top of the walls.  The stone paving seemed blessedly firm and dry. Elrohir coughed water, shook himself painfully and struggled up onto his paws, to see that Nerdanel was there too, staring down from the wall in horror at the lake, where great arms were feeling, horribly, blindly, along the lake-shore. He could hear cries and the sound of running, but it did not look as though the beast had caught anyone.  Not yet.

Amrod and Amras were firing arrows at long range, down at the lake. One by one the arms withdrew and their owner, or owners, retreated beneath the lake leaving the blue shining surface of the lake almost as quietly tranquil as it had ever been, but just beneath the surface, darkness coiled.  

“What is that?” Celebrimbor asked, almost to himself.

Fëanor shook his head, staring at the now-calm lake beyond the walls. “I have never seen anything like it.”

“Does it matter what it was?” Nerdanel demanded. “Fëanáro, what were you playing at to provoke it like that?  Isn’t it enough that you dragged us all here away from home, without putting all your family at risk again?  When are you going to stop ?”

Fëanor drew a breath as if to reply passionately, and then, for a moment, paused and stood entirely still.  Then he stepped back half a step.

“I am sorry,” he said, his voice very controlled, almost flat. “It was not my intent to put any of you at risk, Nerdanel, nor to force you to come here if you did not wish it.  Would you like me to accompany you back to Tirion, or would you prefer to go without me?”

Nerdanel stared at him wide-eyed for a long awkward moment, and then she flung her arms around him. “Fëanáro, don’t,” she said. “I didn’t mean it.  I was scared.”

“Are you sure?” Fëanor said, putting one arm around her very cautiously, “You know I value your wisdom, and I have no desire to ignore your counsel.”

“Oh, fiddlesticks to my wisdom!” Nerdanel said. “What do I know about living in Beleriand or fighting monsters? If I have any wisdom, which frankly I’m not at all sure about, it’s not to overrule people who actually know what they are doing by getting in a panic,  but to keep clear and let them get on with it. I’m a sculptor, not a hero!”

“But I would not keep you here if you would prefer to be in Tirion,” Fëanor said, his fingers moving up to tangle in her wild curling hair. “You could be safe at home.”

“I could be in Tirion, bored stiff, annoyed, and either worrying that you’ll get into a fight with your brother or the Valar, or terrified that you were far away and about to drown or be eaten by some horrible tentacular thing and that Mandos will never let you go a second time,” Nerdanel said.  “If you are here, I’d much rather be here too. You need space to be you , Fëanáro, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know that; it’s what I fell in love with in the first place.   Elrohir, Amrod, Amras, I think this is something you are likely to know a good deal more about than me. Perhaps you can advise us how to proceed.”   

It was hard to speak in otter form, so Elrohir took a painfully deep breath and tried to change his skin.  It seemed much harder than it should have been. Amras put down the bow, and came over to steady him as he got the otter-skin over his head and adjusted himself.

Fëanor stared. Celebrimbor looked to see what he was looking at, and his eyes went even wider.  “That was Elrohir ?  I thought you were an otter!”

“Yes,” Elrohir said, wrapping the otter-skin around him for lack of other clothes, and shivering a little; the air was chill on his wet bare skin.  “Thank you for your assistance, Celebrimbor.  I don't suppose you still have my shirt?” he asked Amras.

“I’m afraid not.  I was rather taken by surprise when that thing came out of the lake and started grabbing at everyone,” Amras said.  He pulled off his own overtunic and offered that instead. “Will this do until we can find something else? Those are some very nasty bruises you have there, Elrohir.”

“I think I may have cracked a rib,” Elrohir admitted, looking at the over-tunic and wishing it did not pull on over the head.

“Have my jacket instead,” Amrod said, with the air of one who had considerable experience with cracked ribs. He handed it over. “Can’t have our littlest cousin getting a cold.”

“Your cousin Elrohir has just fought that lake-monster with the arms with nothing but his teeth, Amrod,” Fëanor said sternly. “And with notable success, I would add.  Thank you for your assistance, Elrohir.”

“You’re a skin-changer, like the Beornings?” Celebrimbor said, delighted. “But I thought they all changed their skins to bears?”

“The Beorns are all bears,” Elrohir said, and coughed, which hurt considerably. “But not all of us are kin to the bears of the Mountains. My great-grandfather Tuor is a sealion.”

“Is he, really?” Fëanor said, much interested,though with one eye still on the lake. “I hadn’t realised. I have only seen Tuor in man-form. Amras, find Elrohir a chair and some warmer clothes.”

“A moment,” Amras said to Elrohir and ducked away through a door set back within the courtyard.   

Caranthir came out through the door  to join them with three of his people, all carrying heavy war-bows and wearing breastplates.  Apparently the gatehouse was not just well defended, but well equipped as well. “What were you saying about it not needing to be defensible, Celebrimbor?” he asked rather pointedly.

Celebrimbor sighed.  “You were surely not expecting that , were you?  If you were, you could have mentioned it! I’m very much determined to take warnings about enemies seriously nowadays, you know.”

Caranthir laughed rather awkwardly and came over to give him a light apologetic tap on the shoulder.  “I suppose you would be. No, I had no idea that there was anything but fish in the lake. I’ve never heard of anything like that... thing.”

“I have,” Elrohir said. “There was a beast much like that which made its home in a pool outside the Westgate of fallen Khazâd-Dum.  We think the Balrog drove it out and set it there to guard its gate. There was no record of anything of the kind in Middle-earth, but Celeborn thought that it might have been a beast from the dark tunnels far below the world of light.  The Dwarves killed it.”

“How?”  Caranthir enquired urgently.  Amras came hurrying out with a thick green cloak and a chair, and wrapped the cloak around Elrohir, who received it gladly and sat down.

“Oh, well,” he said, “The circumstances were rather easier, there. The pool it lived in had been built for it, by orcs, we assume.  They had dammed a stream. I wasn’t there to see the final attack, but I believe that King Durin had the dam removed with pulleys and then they went at the creature with axes and hacked it to pieces.  Its strength is in the water, so it was not so hard to kill once the pool had all run away. ”

“Hmm,” Caranthir said. “We can hardly drain Lake Helevorn.”

“Do we need to?” Nerdanel asked. “I mean, is it dangerous, if it’s not provoked?”

“It seemed dangerous to me,” Elrohir said drily. “The taste of it was tainted with darkness.”  Nerdanel gave him a look that he could not entirely interpret, but certainly had an element of alarm in it.  Elrohir smiled at her reassuringly. Nerdanel had lived all her life in Aman, after all, and even Glorfindel had sometimes found the realities of battle in Middle-earth a little jarring.  

“I have people who make their living fishing on that lake,” Caranthir said.  “They should all have had the word by now to keep clear, but I can’t keep them from it indefinitely.  How did the beast come there? We brought all this land back out of memory. There shouldn’t be anything in it that none of us can recall.”

“I say we ask the River,” Amras said quietly.

Caranthir shook his head dismissively. “The Helevorn is not much more than a stream.  I doubt she can help us in battle,” he said. “Perhaps fire-arrows, or some kind of harpoon...”  

“I meant the Gelion, not little Helevorn” Amras told him. “The Gelion is the second River of Beleriand, after all. She knows a good deal.”

“Will she speak with us, Amras?” Fëanor asked.

“Of course she will,” Caranthir said dismissively.  Fëanor looked at him with that gaze filled with flame, so that Caranthir blinked, took half a step back, and elaborated in a more careful tone. “The Gelion kept my borders for near five hundred years. I would count her an ally, father.”

“More than that: she is as joyful to return to her life as all the rest of us,” Amras said. “I saw her in the spring, singing among the golden gladdon-flowers, and she danced with me.  I think she would like to meet you, Father.”

“Very well then,” Fëanor decided.  “Caranthir, ensure that your people will stay away from the lake.  I will go and meet the River before we try any other path.” He glanced at Nerdanel for a moment.  “You don’t have any objection?”

“Of course I don’t,” Nerdanel said. “I told you, Fëanáro. I’m an artist, not a queen. I never have been, and I’m not one now, thank you. I’m nothing like good enough at pretending I know what I'm doing for that. When I’m completely clueless, I admit it. And at the moment, clueless is exactly what I am!”

Fëanor began to laugh. “You are also devastating to the pride of any king or prince, Nerdanel,” he said. “But since it seems this is the only lead we have, let’s follow it. I’ll do my best not to pretend to ideas I don’t have, and aspire to being an artist, and not a mere dull king.”

Nerdanel put an arm around him. “You always have ideas, Fëanáro,” she said.

Chapter Text

“Would you not prefer to stay in bed, Elrohir?”  Amras asked him the next morning in some concern, when Elrohir, arriving in the tall white room where Amrod, Amras and Celebrimbor were eating breakfast, declared his intention of joining the elves riding west to the river Gelion. “Or at least stay here and take things easy?”

“I feel a great deal better for the night’s rest, and anyway, it’s only a cracked rib and bruising.  The horse you lent me has a good smooth pace: it will be no trouble as long as I don’t ask him to trot,” Elrohir reassured him. “It won’t be the first time I’ve ridden with a few bruises. Is there any news of the beast in the lake, do you know?”

Celebrimbor shook his head and took a mouthful of dark rye bread.

Amrod turned and looked out of the window at the lake, shining tranquil in the morning light. The purple mountain-wall that enclosed it on two sides reflected in the water, white birch-trunks shimmering near the brink.  “Caranthir says there’s nothing new, but nobody has gone near the lake since we saw it. I shall be staying here, at any rate, as Caranthir’s second, in case he needs one.”

“I can stay, if you need my assistance,” Elrohir offered.

Surprised, Amrod laughed sharply.  “I think we can manage without you.”  He hesitated and added; “Though the offer is appreciated, of course. You have fought one battle on Father’s behalf already.  If you really want to insist on riding on down to Gelion only a day later with a broken rib, you will be leaving a well-equipped fortress behind you, and two not inexperienced commanders too.”

“Well, I did come to Beleriand seeking adventure,” Elrohir said, to make it clear that he had not intended any disrespect to his host’s abilities. “But it’s not every day one gets a chance to meet a River. I know the River Lune, who must be some relative of Gelion’s across the Mountains, I think.  Lune was a true friend and ally in our long battle against Angmar.”

He looked at Amras, and wondered if he had any idea where Angmar had been, or why they had been fighting at all.

“I don’t, really,” Amras admitted with a grin, catching his thought. “I have never crossed the Ered Luin, and I admit, my knowledge of Eriador is shaky at best.  But I gather they were servants of the Enemy?”

“They were. It was a kingdom North and East of Imladris — you know where Imladris lies?”

Amras screwed up his face in comical embarrassment.  “Somewhere near Celebrimbor’s city in Eregion?” he said, and laughed. “I’m guessing; you can probably tell.  Celebrimbor has told us a fair bit about Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion, but we had little news when we were in the Halls of Mandos.  What news we got second-hand was only what Fingon and Grandfather saw in the tapestries of Vairë and came to tell us later. Fingon had never been to Eriador either, and Grandfather was there only briefly long before the Sun rose, so the details were probably somewhat confused.”

“So I imagine,” Elrohir said politely.    

“Occasionally we’d hear they had seen Artanis — Galadriel, I mean. ” Amrod put in from the other side of the table, where he was spreading yellow butter thickly on fresh warm bread. “They spotted Maglor twice in six thousand years. Typical Maglor, that, he can slither out of anything.  And occasionally they would see someone who was probably Elrond. Neither of them had met your father, of course, and recognising someone you don’t know in the weavings of Vairë is difficult, I’m told, though they looked out for him particularly, because Maedhros always used to ask after Elrond, when he finally started talking properly again.  But details like exactly where he lived were not very clear.”

“I’ll draw you a map,” Celebrimbor said seriously, pulling out a notepad and a pencil.  “Here are the Blue Mountains, in the West, with the river Lune flowing down into the Gulf.   And then running north to south here on the other side of Eriador there are the Misty Mountains. Here’s Eregion, and the capital Ost-in-Edhil, near the mountain Caradhras and...”

“... Khazâd Dum,” Amrod and Amras said simultaneously, and laughed.  

Celebrimbor glared at them, and Elrohir quickly straightened his face into a polite listening expression.  “If you don’t want to know...” Celebrimbor said.

“Of course we do, Celebrimbor,” Amras said, and leant forward seriously to look at the map.

“So, Lindon is over here, West of the Blue Mountains,” Celebrimbor said, making neat notes with the pencil. “Here’s  where we are, which would be under the Sea in the Round World, of course, but there is some overlap, since a lot of the Blue Mountains are in both places at once. How that works with both Lindon and Thargelion and the Ered Luin being at once here in Beleriand Risen, and in the Round World, is an interesting mathematical problem...”

“Tyelpë,” Amrod said firmly.  “No interesting mathematical problems.  We are talking about strategy in Eriador.”

Celebrimbor sighed extravagantly and rolled his eyes at Elrohir.  “Yes, Uncle Ambarussa!” he said with considerable sarcasm.

“Hush, brats,” Amras said, assuming an air of enormous authority. “Pearls of knowledge will be wasted on us simple types, Tyelpë, you know that. Tell Father later, he’ll appreciate it.”

“Bah,” Celebrimbor said and smiled, an unexpectedly sweet and shy smile.  “He’s no fun to show off to. Far too hard to impress. Anyway, the rivers used to run roughly like this...”

“The courses of Greyflood and the lower Loudwater have moved north a little since then,” Elrohir said, pointing at Celebrimbor’s roughly sketched map across the table. “But Imladris is here, on the upper Loudwater, not far from the Road that goes from Mithlond over the mountains to Greenwood the Great.  Angmar lay here, to the North. About five days march from Imladris to the Ettenmoors, and another five to Carn Dûm the fortress of Angmar, near Mount Gundabad. That would be after Angmar had fallen, of course. When it was at its height you wouldn’t have got near the place unless with an army: it was crawling with orcs.”

“So near Mount Gundabad?” Celebrimbor said, and blinked in surprise at the map.  “But that’s a holy mountain of the Dwarves, the waking place of Durin himself. What did the priests do?”

Oh.

“I am afraid Mount Gundabad was overrun by orcs not long after...  after Eregion fell,” Elrohir said gently. “It has been a goblin stronghold all my life.  Long before the rise of Angmar, Gundabad was the home of orc-chieftains. My father thinks they escaped the fall of Angband and stayed hidden, breeding in the far north until Sauron began to stir again.”

Celebrimbor took a long breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he let the breath out explosively.  “I should have wrung his neck the first time I saw him,” he said furiously. “Gundabad was not a fortress.  It was at peace.”

“That doesn’t matter to them. Orcs take what they want, peace or no peace,” Elrohir said, then realised that of course, Celebrimbor must know that perfectly well.

“Every time I feel I’ve left him behind, there’s one more thing he’s smeared his filth over.” Celebrimbor’s hands were clenched and his shoulders bowed.  Amrod put an arm around him wordlessly for a moment.

“His Black Gate is broken, his Tower fallen and his Ring destroyed,” Elrohir said, wondering if Celebrimbor needed to take miruvor, and if so, where they kept it here. He put the vision of the Barad-dûr in ruins into the forefront of his mind.  “I saw it fall. He is only a voice on the wind now. Arda may be marred, but she is no less fair.”

Celebrimbor heaved a long sigh, and some of the tension went out of him.  “Yes. But I sometimes still desperately want to kick Sauron very hard. Right in his perfect teeth,” he admitted.

“Imladris stood against him with the help of the Ring you made, and so did Lothlorien. And Mithrandir rode out against him with the strength of your ring upon his finger.  Not a bad kick in the teeth, that.” The familiar feeling of Celebrimbor’s strength was even stronger than usual in the air now, and it reminded him sharply of the last few years at home, when Father’s strength that wrapped the valley round and kept it safely hidden from unfriendly eyes had been laced through with the strong clear sapphire sense of Vilya.  

“Tell us about Imladris,” Amras suggested, glancing briefly across the table at Celebrimbor.

“It’s a deep valley in the foothills of the Misty Mountains,” Elrohir said, and perhaps it was because Celebrimbor was there that he could see the path home ahead of him, clear in the morning light, and the resinous scent of the fir trees in the sun came back to him.

"There are several ways down from the high moors into Imladris, but all of them are narrow and steep, winding through sharp rocks and thin heather. It’s a good stronghold: if the enemy manages to pass the Ford of Bruinen to find the valley at all, they can send only a few people at a time down the paths.  On the upper valley side there are steep woods of dark fir-trees, and here and there along the valley-side there are waterfalls running white against the stone, filled with rainbow light as the sun catches in the spray...

“Everywhere in Imladris you hear the song of water falling, except in the coldest winters when the streams on the heights freeze into long icicles... In the valley-bottom the River runs clear and cold over golden stone with snow-melt from the mountains, singing to herself, and there beside the water are woods of oak and beech, apple-orchards bright with blossom in the spring-time, and rich green pastures that are filled with yellow flowers. We used to sing the night through among the beeches sometimes, in the days when there was peace, the stars tangled in the treetops and the enchantment of the Ring folded around the valley until you could almost not remember what was song, what was memory and what was here and now...  

"Then in the morning when the sunlight creeps above the valley side, you would cross the river on a narrow high-arched bridge, wide enough for only one horse to pass, and climb up singing to the House through the meadows, silver with a net of dew."

Elrohir sighed. "Dwarves and Men and Elves from across Middle-earth come there to rest on their journeys and take counsel... Or they used to, anyway. Some of the Dunedain still live there, so they probably still at least see visiting travellers.”

"It sounds very beautiful,” Nerdanel said from behind him. Elrohir started. Caught up in memory, he had not heard her come in. “And I think that is the most words I’ve ever heard you speak all in one go, too, Elrohir.  You must miss Imladris a great deal.”

“My Quenya is perhaps still a little unpolished,” Elrohir said apologetically. “I have to think what words to use.”

“Oh, not at all!  Your Quenya is very good, really!” Nerdanel exclaimed. “Fëanáro would say; better than mine, horror that he is when it comes to languages. I can just feel him wincing when I use slang.”

“To be fair,” Amrod said, leaning back in his chair, “You do wince at him quite a lot too.  And you call him a horror, which under the circumstances is not very tactful. He has been politely refraining from ever commenting on it.”

Nerdanel wrinkled her nose for a moment, looking annoyed. “Thank you Amrod, when I require commentary on the state of my marriage from my unmarried sons, I shall ask you for it.  Your father can stand up for himself, believe me.”

“Have some breakfast,” Amras suggested to his mother, and poured her a cup of tea. Nerdanel sat down and helped herself to rye bread and smoked salmon.  

Celebrimbor said hurriedly, “Imladris was where Elrond led the survivors of Eregion, wasn’t it, Elrohir?  I was very glad to hear that at least some of them had escaped.”

“I believe so. That was long before I was born, of course,” Elrohir said obligingly. “They were retreating north and stumbled on the valley by chance.  Father held it for almost three years until the Numenorean navy landed, relieved Lindon and marched inland to break the siege at last. The soil of the valley-floor is rich and there are many nut and fruit trees.  That was fortunate indeed, since my father had ridden out in haste and had not brought supplies for a long siege.”

They had ridden out in haste to the aid of Eregion, but still had come too late; Elrohir had grown up with the tale.  The army that had besieged Rivendell then had carried Celebrimbor’s broken body as their banner. Better not mention that, perhaps.  

“As I said, it’s very defensible.  Even when Angmar invaded Arnor, broke the tower of Amon Sûl and wrecked both the kingdoms of Rhudaur and Cardolan - that’s here, just North of Rivendell and here to the south and west — we were able to hold the valley itself.  Five hundred and sixty-six years that war lasted, and in the end all the kingdoms of the Edain around us had fallen and Rivendell was a refuge for the Dunedain who had not fled west as well as the Elves... Then at last Gondor came to our aid and Angmar was defeated. But it was too late to save the North-kingdom by then.”

“Was it not very strange, Elrohir, to have the Edain living beside you?”  Nerdanel asked him, with a wondering look.

“The Dunedain are my cousins,” Elrohir said, baffled. “My father’s brother’s children. Why should it be strange to live with them?”

“Well, they live such short lives.  A couple of hundred years, isn’t that right?  It must be... well, it must be terribly sad.”

“Oh, I see,” Elrohir said, and thought about it.  “Yes, I suppose it is. You see them born, and grow up, and you fight beside them and they are your friends, and they grow old and tired, and there is another cousin growing up, and you fight beside them instead.  That’s just how it is, in Middle-earth. We remember them, and they go on. I think it’s harder for them than it is for us. But it made it easier to choose, that we knew them so well, Elladan and Arwen and me. We knew that whether we chose to stay in Arda or go beyond it, we would have friends.”  

Amrod hunched his shoulders and screwed up his eyes for a moment in obvious discomfort. “It seems so strange to me, that you and your brother chose different paths.”  He looked at Amras and grinned at him deliberately, showing his teeth. “It’s not that I have never been tempted to drop him off a cliff, obviously, but still, to walk away knowing it was the last time...”

“Amrod,” Nerdanel said warningly, but Elrohir waved the objection away with a slice of rye bread.

“It is something of a tradition for us,” he pointed out. “You and Amras have been together always, isn’t that right? And you knew you probably always would be.  But Elladan and I grew up knowing always that we might choose different paths one day, as my father and my uncle did, and knowing that... Well. When we were very young, we spent a good deal of time with our cousin Eldacar.  He was often in Imladris. He taught us to ride, took us hunting, we went with him to visit his home, Annúminas, the city of the Kings of Men — it was here, beside Lake Nenuial, Celebrimbor. He was like the best older brother you could imagine.  But after two hundred years, he was gone forever. Unless we chose to follow him. Yet our mother is an elf and bound to Arda unto world’s end. The choice was not the same for us as it would be for you.”

“It’s still not a completely unfamiliar dilemma, as it happens,” Amras said.  He got up and stood behind his mother, with his arms loosely around her shoulders. “Even if it was not quite so long-lasting in the end.”   Nerdanel put up a hand and squeezed his arm.

“I don’t know whether to think Celebrían lucky or unlucky,” she said unhappily, and ran a hand through her thick hair, tugging at it distractedly.  “At least I got my children back in the end, but not one of them chose me when it counted. Still wouldn’t.”

Amrod got up abruptly, pushing his chair back so hard it scraped on the pale sandstone floor.  “Curvo’s right,” he said. “You are quite impossible when you are in this mood.”

“She has a point,” Amras said.  “And tell me honestly you never regretted it, and I’ll have to call you a liar.”

Amrod stood poised for a moment, still looking annoyed, and then abruptly he laughed. “All right!” he said.  “We all regretted it sometimes.”

“I certainly did,” Celebrimbor said with a wry grin.  “Making a list of occasions when I thought: I wish I’d stayed with grandmother! would take me quite some time.”

“But you’d still do it all again, if Fëanáro asked you,” Nerdanel said sceptically.

Celebrimbor made a face. “I’m glad I got to meet Elrond and Elros, and I’m glad I got to work with the Broadbeams and the Longbeards. I did my best in a number of battles, and who knows?  Perhaps I made a difference? I’m glad that the Rings I made helped. But... I don’t know. It’s a very hard question.”

Nerdanel sighed, wrapped wild red hair around her fingers and tugged.  “Yes.”

“Your hair will be like a doormat if you keep doing that to it,” Amrod said, pulling out a comb from the pouch on his belt.  “Let me sort it out.” Amras sat down again to give him room to comb Nerdanel’s spiralling curls.

“So, did you ever decide?” Amrod said to his mother as he combed, long rhythmic strokes that pulled the shining hair out to its full length before it sprang back.  “Which one of us should have been Umbarto the fated?”

She looked around at him, and then at Amras for a long moment before she replied, and her eyes were sad and tired.  “All of you, in the end,” she said. “All of you were fated. I saw your doom ahead when you were born — not the form of it, no, or I would have tried to change things, or warn you. But the darkness, yes. Each of my children one by one, I looked into your eyes, and saw you had been born to go under the shadow. It was only my last two, my sweet Ambarussa, where I thought there might be a chance, for one of you at least.  But Fëanáro would not choose either of you to be the fated one, and neither of you would turn aside. So in the end it was both.”

“That must have been very hard to live with,” Elrohir said, moved by her sadness.

“Yes,” she said. “And of course I wonder.  If I had not seen it, if I had known nothing, would anything have been different? Would I have loved them more, somehow, would I have said something different, would they have stayed.  Would I have gone with them.” She sighed. Amrod began twisting her hair into a wide plait.

“It’s all over now,” Amras said, but his voice sounded uncertain.

“I know what you should make next,” Celebrimbor said to her, and his voice had a strength and a confidence behind it, a power worn but undefeated that reminded Elrohir again forcefully of Imladris.  “It has just come to me, what you should make next, and I would work with you on this, if you agree.”

“Of course, Tyelpë,” Nerdanel said, eyebrows raised in surprise.  “You know I enjoy working with you. But what is this idea?”

“We should fold the Shadow into our art,” Celebrimbor said.  He got up, his eyes bright. “We should take what you have seen, what I... all of it, the darkness and the hate, the lies, the pain.  All he did to me, all we lost, the bitterness that came from it. We should make something with that.”

“Smoked glass and black marble, perhaps,” Nerdanel said thoughtfully.  

“And gold,” Celebrimbor told her firmly.  “Definitely gold.”

“Mmmm.  You might have something there, Tyelpë,” she said. “Where’s my sketchbook?”

“I expect it’s where you left it yesterday,” Amras said, with considerable amusement. “Stay there and let Amrod finish your hair, and I’ll go and find it.”

“Would you?  Thank you!” Nerdanel exclaimed.  “But don’t take ages. Fëanáro will be here soon. I left him furiously scribbling plans for a sort of giant spear thing.  The Teleri use them to hunt whales, apparently. But if we’re going over to the springs of Gelion today, we’d better get going soon.”

Chapter Text

A narrow pass led across the rugged grey shoulder of Mount Rerir. It took them north away from the lake; fortunate, that, since it meant there was no need to risk passing the lakeside and the Watcher that lurked beneath the surface.

Elrohir found the steep ride more exhausting than he had hoped. Fëanor himself had spoken words over his bruises and broken rib, but healing did not seem to be one of his stronger abilities: Elrond would certainly have done a more thorough job. But then, Father would have insisted that he spend a few days “resting just in case,” which was always dull. Fortunately, that seemed to be an unfamiliar concept to Fëanor.

But despite the smooth pace of his horse, the rough ground was hard on Elrohir’s bruises. He was glad when they were done with the uneven path through the hills.

Fëanor dismounted, and Elrohir gratefully followed, sitting down on a reed-tussock to rest his aching ribs, while the High King took out his Silmaril and set it on his brow. The warm light from the jewel went shimmering like summer sun through birch leaves, and sparkled merrily upon the clear surface of the young stream that ran away south to become the great river Gelion.

One Silmaril lived with Elrohir’s grandfather Eärendil, sailing in the sky as a star, and the Silmaril that Maedhros had taken was still buried deep within the land. But this last gem had been flung by Maglor from the coast of Lindon. It had lain upon the sea-bed for many long years, and when Beleriand had risen again, it awaited its creator, shining still.

It seemed, as far as Elrohir was able to judge, happy with recent events, and brightened joyfully in Fëanor’s hand, as he had seen Eärendil’s gem brighten for him.

Elrohir glanced cautiously at Amras, who had been called the bloody-handed by the survivors of Doriath and the Havens. He wondered if the jewel would endure the hand of Amras as joyfully as it did Fëanor.

This Silmaril was the one that had burned Maglor so fiercely that his hand was still scarred. Amras had attacked the Havens too.

But that was all a very long time ago, and even if the Silmaril had not forgiven it, Elrohir had no inclination to bear a grudge that his father would certainly disapprove of. He would keep his grudges for the orcs. There was nothing complicated about orcs.

Fëanor, untroubled by such questions, beckoned Amras over to the stream. Amras made introductions, and after a moment, the River Gelion stepped up from her bed to greet them.

Here at her springs she took the form of a child, her small body shining bright as if with dew, though under the bright sheen there was a dark strength. The River’s hair was green and gold, and it flowed around her as if it felt a current in the air that no-one else could feel. She reached up wonderingly to the Silmaril with a glistening finger, and laughed as Fëanor knelt smiling to let her touch it and its light ran over her.

He held out a plain green stone, not faceted but smooth, with a faint golden fire set deep within it: a work of wonder by any measure. “A gift, to the River of the Land.”

"A joyous day blessed with light!” she exclaimed, and took the stone and looked into it for a moment, smiling, before she cast it into the water by her feet. Then she looked up, and caught Fëanor’s hand and Amras’s and whirled them both into a swift dance among the yellow buttercups. Fëanor reached out with his other hand to pull Nerdanel into the dance, and then all the Elves were dancing, forgetting grief in the endless music of the River.

Elrohir got up to join them, a little cautious of his ribs. It was worth a little stiffness for the joy of the moment lit by sun and the light of a Silmaril. Around them, the plume-eared long-legged hounds that followed Amras pranced joyfully, and the horses shook their long manes and tails.

Then the River broke away from the dance, and the dancers swirled to a stop as swiftly as they had begun.

“My children have advised me to seek your counsel on a strange matter,” Fëanor said, all at once intensely serious, and he described the matter that had brought them there.

The River listened in silence to his words. Then he called on Elrohir to speak of the Watcher that had guarded Moria, and of what he had seen and smelled in the lake. As he spoke, the River grew tall and strong, as if in spate, until she towered above the Elves before her, and her waters roiled, brown and strong now, and full of shining flecks.

“There are people like that who dwell far below the land,” she said, her face uneasy as the waters. “They live in the secret caverns where our waters dive deep into darkness. We remember their names, we, the rivers and the streams that carry tidings of the sunlit lands even to the uttermost depths. But their songs are not cruel or evil, though they never come up into the light of moon or star. It is not their place.”

“This one did,” Celebrimbor said, his sharp face, so much like his grandfather's, looking serious. “It came right to the surface and felt along the shoreline as far as it could reach.”

“It took hold of our boat and gripped it as if with a will of iron,” Fëanor said. “How can these... people... be fought?”

“Perhaps they can be fought,” Gelion said, frowning like a thunderstorm. “Perhaps. It is not a thing that I have ever had to do, not even when the Darkness came.... A bitter time.” She looked away along the valley into the south where the land widened and opened upon the endless plains of Beleriand. “Perhaps I and Helevorn could rise in flood in the lake and so dislodge it. But perhaps not. They are very strong. The lake is wide and deep: a bowl of strong stone. It might be that we would only bring ourselves to helpless shallows, and yet still it would cling to the rocks. We are not so able at war as the Elves,” she said and the shadow of old pain came into her eyes.

Amras took her hand, and she dwindled to face him. “You were an able ally in our great need,” he said meeting her eyes steadily. “We are grateful. I hoped only that you could aid us with knowledge, and you have done that. Is there more that we should know?”

She sparkled at him gratefully. “Such knowledge as I have I will give you freely. What can I say of the people of the Great Deeps? They do not see with eyes, they...” she made an expressive gesture with her hand.

“Hand-speech?” Celebrimbor suggested. “Like the iglishmêk of the Dwarves.”

“Yes! Hand-speech. Body-speech, you might say. And when the land is dry high above and the flow of the stream is gentle, they sleep long in their darkness, and murmur soft words to the water. But when the rain comes and the time comes for the rivers to dance in the wildest floods, they cling to their rocks and dance with us, as trees in the storm.” She shook her streaming head. “But who knows what this creature of the lake may do? If it is twisted and broken and turned from darkness to which it was born towards terror and Unlight... I do not know.”

“Sleep,” Fëanor said thoughtfully, and looked, for some reason, at Nerdanel. “They talk in their sleep? You asked before if it would be dangerous if not provoked, Nerdanel. I had thought of killing it, but now I wonder. If we could cast it into sleep at first, then perhaps Celegorm could speak with it.”

“It is a servant of the Enemy,” Elrohir pointed out, startled enough to interrupt. “They speak only lies, and their will is cruelty and torment. You can only flee them, or slay them. They will entrap you, if they can.”

Fëanor gave him a swift flame-fierce look, and Elrohir had to restrain himself from recoiling. But Elrohir had near two thousand years of fighting the Enemy in Middle-earth behind him, and Fëanor had had, perhaps a month. He met Fëanor’s eyes and did not flinch, and after a moment, Fëanor nodded.

“Yet Morgoth is gone, and Sauron is a voice on the wind, and his remaining servants scattered now, they say,” Fëanor said,and touched the Silmaril upon his brow for a moment, his narrow face stern with thought. “It seems a pity to lose this one chance to find out more about these people that live so far below the land, even if this individual is not at its best. Still, one thing at a time. We know that it can sleep, and is likely to be quiet when it does so. That gives us a first step, at least.”

Elrohir might have said something more, about whether Celegorm the Hasty was really the person most to be trusted in speaking with a servant of the Enemy, but he had won his main point, and that was enough for now. Giving public counsel to a king required a light hand, and Elrohir was very practiced at it.He had lost count of the kings of Middle-earth to whom he had brought news and counsel from Rivendell. Admittedly, few of those kings had been Elves. None of them had been at all like Fëanor.

“I came to ask your counsel in this matter,” Fëanor said now to the River. “Have you more to say of this water-beast — or water-person, if that is the correct way to speak of it? If we cast it into sleep, what path would you counsel me to take afterwards?”

The River looked over at Elrohir, a long cool deep look, with quiet reserves behind it like deep pools under willow-trees.

“I cannot tell,” she said. She looked away and trailed one foot in the stream behind her as if distracted, and rubbed at her left wrist with her right hand.

Fëanor looked down at her and frowned in puzzlement. Then he bundled his formal cloak behind him and sat down on the grass next to her, beckoning Nerdanel over with an abrupt jerk of the head, and dismissing the other elves with an equally abrupt wave of one hand.

Celebrimbor and Amras turned away as if this was entirely usual. “Come on,” Amras said to Elrohir. “They’ll be talking for a while, I expect. Let’s get some lunch.”

They had brought with them white bread, honey, cheese and apples: simple food but plenty of it, and the Elves that had come with Fëanor scattered in small groups along the bank and through the trees. Elrohir sat down beside Celebrimbor and Amras to eat.

“She was a captive of the Enemy herself,” Amras said quietly, when he saw Elrohir glance back curiously across at the River and her two guests. The River was now lying against a low shingle bank, having dwindled to the form of a small child. Fëanor was lounging on the bank, and Nerdanel, wearing a very serious expression, had taken her boots off, rolled up the bottom of her breeches and was dabbling her bare feet in the water.

Elrohir raised his eyebrows enquiringly. Even Sauron at his greatest had been wary of the powers of the waters.

“Ulmo’s power retreated from the rivers of Beleriand, at the end,” Celebrimbor said, glancing over at the small figure upon the shingle-shore. “Even the rivers were fouled, darkened and enthralled.”

Amras nodded. “A bitter time for her and all her sisters. Now the rivers and streams have woken again to life, but they have not forgotten. Easier for her to speak of it in private, than to many listening ears, I think.”

“Surely though, what happened to the rivers before Beleriand fell is very different to this Watcher in the Water?” Elrohir asked. “The Watcher of Moria was as much a thing of darkness as any orc, by all accounts.”

“I don’t know how to judge a water-beast that serves the Enemy, against a River fouled,” Amras said. He gave Elrohir an uncomfortably perceptive sideways look. “But then, there are probably those who would say I was next thing to an orc myself...It must be strange for you, Elrohir, to come among us kinslayers.”

“Oh, come on, Amras,” Celebrimbor said uncomfortably. “That’s all over long ago.”

“It was for us,” Amras said and gave his nephew an unrepentant grin. “I fought my war and waited long enough in the dreary halls of glum old Námo to pay for it. But Elrohir has only recently come from his war, and by all accounts, he was always on the side of right and the will of the Valar. Don’t you ever wonder what we look like from those sunlit confident uplands, Tyelpë?”

Celebrimbor shrugged uneasily, and did not reply.

It was the kind of thing that mortal cousins often said, as if the Elves of Rivendell and the Valar were entirely of one mind, and the war in Middle-earth entirely a matter of self-confident light against the darkness. Strange to hear Amras speak as if he were a younger cousin of the Dunedain.

“No-one in Rivendell would blame Celebrimbor for anything,” Elrohir said firmly. “I’ll admit your reputation is darker, Amras.” That might have been a little provocative, but after all, Amras had started this.

“Ambarussa, the butchers of Doriath, hunters of our own kin,” Amras said, not without a certain relish. “Perhaps the orcs have similar names for you, Elrohir.”

“Oh, they do,” Elrohir said, and smiled deliberately, since they seemed to be leaving tact and diplomacy behind in what was probably a thoroughly Fëanorian way of going about things. “The orcs began our fight, and they more than earned everything that we did to them.”

Celebrimbor winced and looked away. “Dear Celebrían. If there was anyone in Middle-earth who should not have had to endure anything like that, it was her.”

“Nobody should have to endure the attentions of orcs,” Elrohir said. “We were fighting to survive. That means drawing a clear line between friend and enemy, and the orcs were always very definitely on the wrong side of that, all of them. It wasn’t a line any of them would ever choose to cross.”

“I wonder,” Celebrimbor said quietly. “I would have agreed with that once, Elrohir, but now I wonder. They were terribly afraid of us.”

“But when you are struggling to survive at all, you do have to be careful who to trust,” Elrohir pointed out kindly. “Even when Eregion and Lindon were strong, the armies of the orcs were stronger. By the time that Angmar rose to power, Rivendell was balanced on a knife-edge.”

“I heard,” Celebrimbor said, and sighed. “And yet, there’s something very sad about a line drawn between friend and enemy. Once that’s done, you’re stuck with it.”

“True,” Elrohir admitted. He took a bite of apple and thought about it. “And it wasn’t always as simple as it was with the orcs. I don’t know what the opinion of the Valar would have been, when my cousins’ kingdom of Arnor fell apart around us. Rhudaur entered into alliance with Angmar on our very doorstep. The few that we thought we could probably still trust from Rhudaur fled to Rivendell for sanctuary, and then went on to Cardolan. It might be that there were wraiths among them, walking in borrowed bodies, or simply that there were those who were not friends as we hoped. Cardolan fell to the wraiths, later, you see.”

He shook his head and then shrugged. “ I don’t know myself if every choice we made in those days was right. If the Valar had opinions about it, they would have been most welcome to come and lend us a hand. ”

Amras laughed. “There’s a familiar feeling!”

Elrohir grinned at him. “I imagine it is... It doesn’t feel like you’re inevitably on the side of right and justice and the will of the Valar, when you find yourself in the middle of a civil war.”

He looked at Celebrimbor. “Three of the Nine Ringwraiths were our cousins, men of Númenor.”

Celebrimbor made a face. “That’s grim to think of.”

“Yes. But we all know that Númenor has not always been on the side of right, or justice... nor it did it always follow the will of the Valar. My father hoped for a long while that they might not be entirely lost... But there are some people who are set on a course that ends in darkness, and cannot be won back. Those who choose the wolfs-head and will not turn back must be hunted as wolves, before they take you by the throat.”

“Hmm,” Amras said, offering Elrohir a second apple from the bag, and throwing it over to him when he nodded. “I find myself very glad our wars did not overlap, Elrohir, or at least that we never found ourselves on opposite sides. But here’s a thought. When you are surrounded by enemies and darkness, there’s no choice but to hunt the wolf whenever you see him. It’s him or you. But in the light of peace, you might take the risk that the wolf cub might grow up and choose not to bite you.”

“I suppose you could,” Elrohir said, lying back on the grass, rather cautiously lest he should catch his bruises. “But why would you risk it?”

“Well, because the wolves too have their place. They are hunters, as we are. And they are beautiful,” Amras said with a smile. “There are wolves that run with Oromë, you know: you should get him to take you hunting, sometime. I... doubt I’ll get a chance to do that again myself: I’m not quite sure enough that Oromë would count me as one of the hunters and not as quarry. But you should try it.”

“Perhaps,” Elrohir said comfortably. “Though the game sounds somewhat risky. Perhaps I shall stick to hunting beside my kinsmen. You did a reasonable job distracting that bear.”

Amras waved a hand. “You’d have got him anyway if we’d hung on another moment or two. We could go salmon fishing, what do you think? Fishing beside an otter would be something new... Though I thought you were in a hurry to be off to Tasarinan to visit Artanis?”

“I was,” Elrohir said. “But no doubt the salmon will be here next year... unless the creature in the lake eats them all. I can’t see your brother Caranthir being too happy about leaving such a creature to roam his fishing grounds.”

“He’s bound to grumble,” Celebrimbor said, looking more cheerful. “He always grumbles. But if Grandfather makes the decision, he’ll carry it through, of course.”

“And you think that’s a good thing?” Elrohir asked.

Celebrimbor shrugged and looked sideways at Amras through narrowed eyes. “Perhaps not,” he said after a long assessing look. “But it’s not as if Grandfather doesn’t have people to argue with him and make him think twice. Grandmother. Me. You. Elrond. Turgon sends him long, complicated letters that are very well-researched, he loves them. They make him think. Then there’s Galadriel, of course. The Ents! He had a ten-day argument with old Fangorn when he arrived, did you know? I was somewhat worried, but nothing got singed and I think they both enjoyed it in the end. And then there’s good old great-auntie Lalwen, and his brothers... He’s a king, not a tyrant.”

Amras said, very quietly and unusually for him, very seriously. “Maglor. Maedhros.”

“Yes,” Celebrimbor said. “That, too. Though I hope we can avoid arguments there, it hurts them all far too much. Oh, it looks as though they’ve finished their private chat with the River. Shall we go and ask if they have come to any conclusions?”

 

***

 

Farewell

The Feast of the Lighting of the Lamps was over at last, and Elrohir, now fully recovered from his bruises, was riding out on the horse that Amras had given him.

He had said his farewells, and was now heading South and East, on his way to the willow-meads of Tasarinan where Galadriel walked beside the rivers Narog and Sirion among the unfading trees — if she had not already set sail back to Tol Eressëa, or to visit her mother in Alqualondë. Elrohir had ended up staying in the Eastmarch considerably longer than he had intended.

If Galadriel had gone, then no matter. Elrohir had arranged to go hunting again with Amrod and Amras, next spring. He could visit his grandmother then.

There would be time enough to speak with her again in peace, and perhaps he would sail home for a while, and tell Mother what he had seen and done.  It would be a fine thing to talk to her about the work that Nerdanel and Celebrimbor had begun. That was sure to interest her.

Beleriand was not quite Rivendell or Lórien, and nor was Tol Eressëa and nor was Aman, but it was a fine thing to have time to explore them all.

As he rode along the the lakeside road, he noticed Celegorm, who had arrived at Caranthir’s fort some days previously, reclining in the sunlit grass. One hand was trailing in the clear water.

“Away to visit Artanis?” Celegorm asked Elrohir as he checked his horse to greet him.

Elrohir nodded. “I had meant to travel there some time ago, but when I met your brothers, they invited me to attend the festival.” His eyes went to the water. “Is that...”

Celegorm nodded. “It reaches up from time to time and just touches my fingertips.” He looked up at Elrohir with eyes narrowed against the light of the sky, his long shining hair spread loose around his shoulders. “Of course, if I were you, I would be able to swim down and speak with it more easily.”

“The conversation I had with it was not a very amicable one,” Elrohir said wryly. “I prefer it half-asleep.”

“I can feel it dreaming,” Celegorm said. “Dark dreams, most of them, filled with cruelty, greed and malice. But not all of them are evil. There are dreams of sweet water bubbling cool over bright stone. Dreams of sunlight on green weed deep in the lake. Perhaps in time there may be more of them. I think it will be happier if there are.”

“I hope so,” Elrohir said, sincerely, and rode on.