Disclaimer: The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I'm only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun.
Dedication: for Isabeau with love. Happy birthday!
Summary: Imrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth, has an unexpected visitor. Foreshadows of the upcoming dark days are discussed
This short story is my birthday present for Isabeau of Greenlea, since the actual story I am writing in honour of this big event – the AU called ''Seal On My Heart'' will not be finished ere she reaches Bilbo's age, it seems. :((
Alas, I'm late with this one, too, so my sincerest apologies, and I hope you still like it. :))
Imrahil's castle has been conceived in the likeness of Mount St. Michel in Normandy (France), for that is how Isabeau said she could imagine it (well, more or less, anyway). All facts about Imrahil's family (except the name and fate of his wife) are from "The Peoples of Middle-earth'' (HoME 12), courtesy of the birthday girl, who generously allowed me to borrow her take on the Lady of Dol Amroth.
This is a pre-LOTR story, happening eleven years before the Ring War – shortly after Gandalf has discovered Isildur's Scroll in Minas Tirith. There are absolutely no canon facts that I know of indicating a friendship between Gildor and the Lords of Dol Amroth; nor such that would prove (or contradict) the idea of Gildor Inglorion being the Lord of Edhellond. Just to make things clear. :))
Many heartfelt thanks to Snicklepop for beta reading.
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[The 23rd day of Narquelië (Narbeleth), in the year 3008 of the Third Age]
[Dol Amroth, the Castle of the Ruling Prince](1)
Shortly before sunset upon the shores of Belfalas, in the southwest of Gondor, the golden autumn day was turning into an unusually cool evening, and Imrahil son of Adrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth, was thinking of turning in early, as well. Not that anyone would be waiting for him, though: his bedchamber had been cold and lonely ever since his beloved wife died a few years ago. And now, after having dealt with the Lord Denethor and his councillors for days, made worse by a hard and swift ride home, he longed for peace and some rest.
Dúnedain longevity notwithstanding, the bloom of his youth was gone. And at times, he did feel the burden of years weighing heavily upon his shoulders, even though he hardly looked older than forty, and there was but the odd silver thread in his raven-black hair. Yet still, on this particular afternoon, he felt as if the burdens of all his sires back to the founding of Gondor were weighing upon his shoulders.
The title of a Prince was given to the Lords of Dol Amroth by Elendil himself, with whom they had kinship. They were a family of the Faithful who had sailed from Númenórë before the Downfall and had settled in the land of Belfalas, upon the high promontory of Tol Ondren,(2) much later named Dol Amroth. Although Imrahil was not yet the Ruling Prince, the Lord Adrahil had been weak and sick for years now, and Imrahil had been assuming his father's duties for some time now(3).
It was a great responsibility, but Imrahil had been ready for the burden of the office. In fact, he welcomed it – it took his mind off his grief over Nimrien's passing(4), giving him something useful to do. Even though some days spent in Minas Tirith, like the recent ones, made him wonder if he truly had made such a good exchange.
He sat down heavily in his favourite armchair that stood invitingly near the fireplace of his private library and rubbed his forehead. He only had been at home long enough to take a bath, but – unlike other times – the soaking in the hot water failed to make him sleepy.
''I am too tired to sleep'', he murmured absently, massaging his temples with long, sword-calloused fingers.
''You are pushing yourself much too hard,'' the calm voice of a woman answered, and Tirathiel, the aunt of his late wife(5), stepped forth from the shadows.
Imrahil grinned fondly at his aunt-in-law. Tirathiel was considerably older than him, a rather elderly lady even by Dúnedain standards, and she always wore that stern, hard-to-please look upon her thin face that even the most valiant Swan Knights found downright frightening. Having never married herself, she was clad in black and silver all the time, her iron-grey hair tightly braided and the single braid twisted into a knot covered with a cap of silver lace – a knot so tight that it made every one's scalp hurt at the mere sight. People often compared her to the Queen Berúthiel, save for the lack of cats.
Only those who knew her well – like Imrahil himself and his closest family – were aware of the fact that the Iron Lady, as she was frequently called behind her back, had a heart of pure goodness under that hard shell of hers. Without her help (she was a skilled healer,) Imrahil could never have managed to get through the long years of Nimrien's slow and painful illness – or now, through the equally slow but unstoppable deterioration of his father's health. Imrahil greatly appreciated her presence – more so since Amrothos and Lothíriel were still but young children.
Tirathiel had been the powerful matriarch of their family ever since the day of his wedding, and not only helped him take care of his wife and his father, but spoiled and chastised him under four eyes as if he were a child himself. She also ruled everyday life life in Dol Amroth Castle with an iron fist, frightening the seneschal and the servants halfway to death. Working from sunrise to sunset, and often beyond, gave her life a purpose, and Imrahil was grateful for her. Tirathiel's presence and constant care kept the family together.
''Did you have to fight the Steward about every single thing again, no matter how insignificant it was?'' she asked casually.
Long ago, in her youth, she had been a lady in the court of Ecthelion II, but her acerbic nature had made her less than popular in noble circles. She often used to have heated arguments with a then-young Denethor, despite – or more so because of – the similarities of their natures. That she wrote beautiful poetry in what little spare time she had, mayhap no-one knew, save Imrahil himself.
''The Lord Steward was slightly… agitated,'' the Prince answered in a diplomatic fashion – which earned him a sarcastically raised eyebrow from the old lady.
''More so than usually?'' Tirathiel asked in her customary wry manner. ''What happened this time to upset him so terribly? Did he catch his younger son playing the harp again?''
Imrahil could not suppress a very un-princely bark of laughter. Unlike others, he knew that the relationship between his brother-in-law and his nephews was far more complicated than the apparent preference Denethor showed his older son – something that those who belonged not to the family could not understand. And Imrahil knew that Tirathiel was also aware of this.
''Nay,'' he then answered, quickly sobering again. ''He caught Faramir accompanying Mithrandir to the Hidden Archives.''
There were not many things that still could truly surprise the Lady Tirathiel; she had seen much strangeness in her many years in the court. This time, though, she was genuinely surprised.
''Mithrandir?'' she repeated in awe, caught off guard completely. ''Now I am certain that some odd thing is going on in the world. He has not visited Minas Tirith for what? Ten years? Twenty? Or even longer? I cannot remember. Yet I do seem to remember what he told me during his last visit: that the Lord Denethor showed him less welcome than was the wont of the Lord Ecthelion towards a member of his Order.''
''And yet, he has visited Minas Tirith since then, even though his visits have been few and far between, not to mention rather short,'' Imrahil replied thoughtfully. "And always was Faramir eager to learn from him, no matter how little time or patience Mithrandir had. This never failed to make Denethor seethe with anger, though he was careful to conceal his ill feelings.''
''You cannot blame him for that'', Tirathiel answered with a shrug. "He fears that Mithrandir is taking his place in his son's heart, much as he lost his place in his father's heart those many years ago to a stranger, though he had given his best to please Ecthelion. Of Boromir, he can be certain, for Boromir has the mind of a soldier – he would never question or disobey his father. But Faramir…''
''Faramir is as loyal and obedient a son as his brother is!'' Imrahil exclaimed, feeling very protective about his younger nephew. Tirathiel nodded in agreement.
"True. Yet he and Denethor are very much alike, and I believe that is why the Lord Steward feels uncomfortable around his younger son.''
''They are not alike at all!'' Imrahil protested.
"On the outside, mayhap they are not'', Tirathiel agreed. ''Yet they are very much alike in the inside. Does Faramir not have the shrewd mind of his father? Does he not share Denethor's interest in ancient lore, art and poetry? Can he not read people's hearts and make Men and beasts obey his will, just like his father? Does he not share the gift of foresight all Dúnedain of royal descent are cursed with… more or less?''
Imrahil met her eyes reluctantly, for all that Tirathiel said was true, of course. She knew the sons of Denethor as well as she knew Imrahil's own children, for they had spent many a summer in Dol Amroth in their youth.
''He will be a great help and support for his brother once stewardship passes over to Boromir,'' he said. ''The two of them shall rule Gondor well.'' Then he added the old running joke. "Unless the King should return.''
But Tirathiel laughed not. She, too, was foresighted like many of the noble families of pure Dúnedain blood. And what her dreams revealed made her fear the future.
''There may come days in these times when things happen that no-one would have expected,'' she said thoughtfully. ''So be careful what you joke about. That Mithrandir returned to Minas Tirith might mean more than a simple visit. Much more.''
''That I know,'' Imrahil sighed. ''Mithrandir wastes no time for unnecessary journeys. What do you think he is up to?''
''I know not'', Tirathiel replied. ''Yet someone else might. Mithrandir is not the only unexpected visitor these days.''
''Oh?'' Imrahil raised an eminently elegant eyebrow. ''And who, pray you, has honoured us with such a visit?''
''Someone who has not darkened our doorstep for a long time,'' Tirathiel replied with a wide grin that almost split her face in two. ''I shall send him in – with a bottle of your best wine, in honour of the rare occasion.''
With that she left in a hurry, leaving a somewhat flabbergasted Imrahil behind. If the last remark – and that rarely-seen grin – was any indication, the visitor must be an unusual one, indeed.
A moment later the door opened again, and in stepped the visitor, his soft footfall causing almost no noise at all. He was tall, taller even than Imrahil himself (which was a rare thing indeed,) and slender like a big, sleek cat, albeit reasonably broad through the shoulder, at least in the measure of his own people – for the pale skin and the delicately pointed ears gave him away at once as an Elf.
He wore casual clothes: a silver-hued tunic and black leggings with light shoes and a long, midnight-blue cloak; but his easy, slightly arrogant demeanour showed that he was used to giving orders and being obeyed. His long hair, unbraided save a single plait on the top of his head to keep it out of his face, lay heavily upon his back like molten gold. He wore no ring, no jewellery, nor any weapons, yet he still managed to have a dangerous air about him.
His face, although beautiful like all Elven faces, had a certain hardness hidden in the elegant features – a hardness that told of many bitter memories collected during a very long life. High cheekbones – and coldly glittering grey-blue eyes resembled the Sea on a stormy winter morning – only added to the air of haughtiness that enveloped him like a second cloak.
Regardless of this, however, Imrahil was genuinely happy to see him. As Tirathiel had said, this particular visitor had not darkened his doorstep frequently in recent times.
''Lord Gildor!'' he exclaimed, rising from his seat more cheerfully than he would have thought himself to be capable of even a moment earlier. ''How good it is to see you again! It has been a long time…''
''Too long'', Gildor Inglorion, the Lord of Edhellond – a small Elven haven and a few dozen even smaller Elven settlements scattered between Dol Amroth and the Ringló-vale – replied amiably, clasping forearms with the Prince. Then he circled Imrahil gracefully like a hunting cat, inspecting him thoroughly. ''You have changed surprisingly little, though. 'Imrahil the Fair' – I would say you still give that name sufficient honour.''
Imrahil could not help laughing. He had known Gildor since his birth, practically, considering the centuries-old custom of the House of Dol Amroth to ask the Lord of Edhellond's blessing for their children – a custom that had its roots in the history of their family. According to the tradition of their House, the first Prince of Dol Amroth to wear this particular title was Galadhor, born a thousand years before Imrahil's time, the son of Imrazôr the Númenórean, who dwelt in Belfalas, and the Elven-Lady Mithrellas, one of the handmaidens of Nimrodel, the often-sung-of. There even was a family legend telling that Mithrellas entrusted the fate of her mortal husband and children to Gildor Inglorion ere she stole away from them to sail to the West from the haven of Edhellond(6).
No-one knew, of course, if there was any truth behind that legend, and no-one had ever dared to ask the Elf-Lord about it. However, it remained a fact that Gildor, who had no family on his own, had always acted as a sort of Elven godfather towards the offspring of the princely House. The young Princes and Princesses of Dol Amroth were often invited to Gildor's own House in Edhellond (in the rare years that he spent at home, that is,) even though mortals usually were not allowed any further than the harbour. Imrahil himself had spent two full years living under Gildor's roof – way back in his adventurous youth when he was temporarily at odds with his father and unwilling to act the part of a prince as it had been expected of him.(7).
But in the end, he was forced to return home, of course, for Gildor was leaving for the North with his Wandering Company and flatly refused to take him along. Gildor had explained that mortals could not afford the luxury of wasting time on a simple journey, unlike the wandering Elves, for whom travelling was the only way of life. Imrahil always suspected that there was more behind Gildor's refusal; that there mayhap were places along the travelling route of the Elves where mortals would not be allowed or welcomed, but he knew better than to ask.
However, the short years he had spent in Gildor's house were of great value for him. He had come to know the Elves and their customs better than any Man, unless they were raised by Elves, for he was allowed to share freely in every aspect of Elven life – and he had taken advantage of every opportunity. At times he wondered whether his old-fashioned, strongly opinionated brother-in-law would choke in dismay or simply frown disapprovingly if he were to discover Imrahil's… adventures… in Gildor's court.
''Oh, I have changed, in many ways,'' the Prince of Dol Amroth replied, but Gildor only smiled and shook his golden head.
''Not in aught that count, you have not. Not in your heart, and I am glad to see it. Men get lost so easily among the concerns and sorrows of their hearts. 'Tis good to see that you have kept your fire, in spite of all the hard times fate brought to you. The blood of Númenórë runs deeply and strongly in you.''
Imrahil eyed him suspiciously. Flattery was not part of Gildor's nature, so when he started giving compliments, there had to be some hidden meaning.
''What are you up to?'' the Prince asked, releasing the servant who brought the wine with and absent nod. ''Niceties from your mouth always indicate some ulterior motive. And you make no surprise visits without a reason.''
''I freely admit to both,'' Gildor laughed – a deep, pleasant sound that never failed to make Imrahil shiver slightly, even though his juvenile infatuation with the Elf-Lord had been thirty years past, and had not lasted long, even then.
The amused glint in those sea-hued eyes revealed that Gildor was well aware of (and used to,) his young human charges falling in love with him at a certain age – and getting over the whole affair with equal speed. He had gone through the same thing with various sons and daughters of the princely House many, many times, and considering the enthusiastic tales Elphir and Erchirion(8) had told after their first extended stay in Edhellond nearly a year ago, the trend was still far from ending.
Imrahil shook his head in silent amusement over the past repeating itself in such a blatant manner, then remembered his duty as the host and poured them both a generous amount of the wine.
''So, my Lord,'' he said, sitting down again and nodding towards the other comfortable chair on the other side of the fireplace. "What is the true reason for your coming?''
Gildor turned the finely-cut crystal goblet between his long fingers a few times, as if he wanted to admire the play of light in the ruby depths of the excellent (and very costly,) Haradrian wine.
''Mithrandir,'' he answered simply. Imrahil's whole answer was an arched eyebrow and a noncommittal ''Ah?'' The Elf-Lord sighed, a glint of impatience appearing in his eyes.
''Do not play games with me, Imrahil of Dol Amroth! I know that Mithrandir has come to Minas Tirith, but alas! I have no time to go and seek him out before he leaves.''
''As if you would as much as even go near Minas Tirith at all,'' replied Imrahil wryly, for as long as he could remember, indeed, none of the Elves dwelling in Edhellond had been willing to set foot in the White City. They were of the Silvan folk, mostly, and the seven stone rings of the Watchtower of the South seemed like a trap to them – or like a prison. Just as they were for Finduilas, he added sadly, remembering how his beloved sister had faded to death in that very city, far away from the Sea that she loved so much. ''Besides, he has left already.''
This seemed to surprise Gildor, and Imrahil could not blame him for that. Surely, 'twas rather unusual from Mithrandir to come and go in such hasty manner. In earlier times, when the Lord Ecthelion still was the Steward of Gondor, the wizards (most frequently Curunír the White) used to spend weeks or even moons in the huge, shadowy halls of the Steward's Library – or, less frequently, in the chambers of the Hidden Archive – to study one or another obscure old tome or torn parchment scroll.
Imrahil still had vague memories of those times, when he had been a very young boy visiting the court with his father. He remembered the bent, grey-clad form of Mithrandir, sitting at the library table, indulging in deep conversation with a young, raven-haired Tirathiel about legends and prophecies and ancient history.
''Left already, did he?'' Gildor murmured, waking Imrahil from his memories. ''Have you, by any choice, spoken to him? Do you know why he came in the first place?''
''Nay,'' said Imrahil regretfully. "For I was occupied with the Lord Steward and his councillors, debating more important affairs of state.'' His wry face clearly spoke of his less-than-flattering opinion of the aforementioned councillors. Gildor smiled.
''Who would have thought a mere thirty years ago that you would grow into such an astute diplomat and responsible leader of your people?'' he said teasingly, yet not entirely without fondness.
''Certainly not my own father,'' Imrahil replied dryly. "For at least ten years, he lived in never-ceasing fear that after three thousand years the line of the Princes would end with him.''
''And not without reason, I must add,'' the Elf-Lord said, with slight disapproval behind his seemingly easy manner. ''There were times when even I had my doubts that you would ever calm down and get settled.''
''You are not that much settled yourself,'' Imrahil pointed out, slightly irritated; at times the Elf seemed to forget that he was not sixteen years old any more.
''True,'' Gildor admitted. "But living on the road is not something I would wish for one whom I consider a friend. Going on adventures can be fun as long as you are young, but leading a restless life as I do is for Elves alone; and even only for those of our kin who have naught – or no one – to keep us in one place.''
His eyes grew wide and became unfocused as if he were listening to some voice only he could hear. Imrahil was certain that he did hear something, indeed – the faint and far-away call of the Great Sea that not even dwelling upon its shores could quiet. "Sea-longing'' this was called, and nearly all Elves fell victim to it, sooner or later; even some of the Silvan folk, whose roots in Middle-earth were deeper than those of other Elves. It was said that once the Sea called, Elves had to follow, or they would fade away.
Rarely did Gildor speak about himself, yet Imrahil knew that he had been born in Middle-earth and had lived there since the beginning of the Second Age – which meant that he was more than six thousand years old. The mere thought of such incredible age made the Prince of Dol Amroth shiver at times. He envied not the fate of Elves – on the contrary. His own life was but a wink of an eye for them; yet, Imrahil had seen so much pain and death, and had suffered so many bitter losses already, that memories of them alone had become a burden hard to carry.
Sometimes he asked himself what dark memories, what horrible losses might lie hidden behind Gildor's guarded face? Six thousand years worth of memories – how could the Elf-Lord live with them? Was that the reason for his aloofness, the seemingly haughty distance he kept from every one? Or was it only the different nature of the Elves that no amount of closeness could make understandable for him, a mere mortal?
Imrahil could not understand the Lords of Númenórë of old – the ones who rebelled against the will of Ilúvatar… against the fate that was gifted upon them. Why would they have wanted to endure the slowly growing weariness of the Elves? A weariness that grew slowly and inevitably over the Ages, 'til it became unbearable and sent them fleeing over the Sea? He most certainly did not. The burden of a mortal lifetime was more than enough for him.
''You know naught then of what might have brought Mithrandir to Minas Tirith?'' Gildor asked, clearly disappointed, and Imrahil wondered briefly why this seemed to be so important to the Elf-Lord. As Gildor had told him several times, Elves had their own labours and sorrows and were little concerned with the ways of other creatures upon earth.
''I spoke to Faramir shortly before I left for home,'' Imrahil said. He bothered not to explain who Faramir was; though the Steward's family had no contact whatsoever to the Elves, Gildor knew them very well, even if only from Tirathiel's descriptions – or Imrahil's own.
''Still the wizard's pupil, is he?'' the Elf-Lord asked with a faint smile, showing his familiarity with what ever was happening in Minas Tirith. ''A shame that he had to become a Ranger captain. He would make an excellent lore-master – and an Elf-friend, just like his great-aunt.''
''What about his uncle?'' Imrahil asked, slightly insulted. Gildor cocked his head to one side and scrutinized him in a strange, bird-like manner – an arcane gesture that he had unknowingly picked up from his Silvan subjects. It usually unnerved people – particularly mortals – very much.
''You have learnt much,'' he judged with genuine fondness. ''But, you are still much too restless in your heart to become fully immersed in lore. Which is a good thing, for your people would have little use of you otherwise. They need a ruler, a leader, not a scholar. You will do nicely.''
Imrahil laughed again and shook his head forgivingly. Elven bluntness was something one had to learn to appreciate. 'Twas probably best that Denethor kept no contact to the Elves that dwelt within Gondor's boundaries – Gildor and Denethor would have been at each other's throats all the time. Still, it pained the Prince that Elves and Men had become thus estranged in these days, and that in the slow march of time each kind walked further down their sundered roads. For even in Gondor, Men now feared and misdoubted the Elves, save those who lived in close proximity with them and knew a little of Elvish ways. Once again, Imrahil felt very privileged and grateful for his time in Edholland. For that time has made him know Elves better than most Men.
Gildor, it seemed, guessed the thoughts running through Imrahil's mind, for he looked at him with a smile and sympathy in those otherwise so cold eyes. Imrahil recalled with relief that Gildor could not read other people's minds without their consent, and returned the smile. Despite all that sundered them, they still were friends – a rare thing between Man and Elf in these days, indeed.
''Well?'' Gildor asked, returning to their original topic. ''Could Faramir tell you aught about the purpose of Mithrandir's visit? Mayhap the wizard was less secretive towards him, his only willing pupil in that city.''
''Why is this of such great importance for you?'' Imrahil asked. ''Was it not you who warned me not to meddle in the affairs of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger?''
''Yea, 'twas me,'' Gildor nodded. ''And as far as you are concerned, my advice would be still the same. As for me, though, there are times I cannot avoid some meddling.''
''I always thought Elves were reluctant to give any advice,'' Imrahil teased.
''We are,'' Gildor agreed. ''For unguarded advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. Yet sometimes we have no other choice but speak our mind – and I know you and your kindred well enough to assume that you will use my advice with care.''
''I am honoured'', said Imrahil with a mock bow, without rising from his seat. ''This still explains not, though, why you should have such an urgent interest in Mithrandir's affairs.''
"I have known him longer than you,'' Gildor answered seriously. "In fact, I was the first one ever to run into him on one of our travels, long before any other Elves or Men noticed his presence(9). And since I feel in my heart that you might need to see more than just the most urgent needs of your own lands, I shall tell you this: Mithrandir and his fellow wizards are considerably more than the cranky old lore-masters they seem to be. They are the great movers of the deeds that have been done in the past, and are still to be done, now that the Elves are leaving these shores and even the memory of us is fading to legend.''
''What deeds are you speaking of?'' Imrahil asked, sensing the shadow of dark foreboding rise in his mind.
''They were sent by the Valar to help overthrow the Darkness that has risen again,'' Gildor nodded in the vague direction of Mordor. ''The true nature of their quest is not known to me, as they never revealed their purpose to anyone, save perhaps the Lady of the Golden Wood, and in her councils I have no part. Yet the fight against the Dark One is the only reason I still am tarrying in Middle-earth, instead of following my people to the West. And that is why I must know what Mithrandir was doing in Minas Tirith. My Company is about to leave for the Grey Havens once again – this is a long journey on foot as we travel, and I must know where I am needed more. For I cannot turn back and run home when something unexpected happens. I have to plan carefully.''
''And yet I cannot tell you much,'' said Imrahil apologetically. ''For all Faramir knew was that somehow Mithrandir got leave of Denethor (how I do not know, for the Lord Steward usually guards his treasury jealously) to search among the hoarded scrolls and books that are kept in the Hidden Archive. Also, Mithrandir would search and would question every one above all else concerning the Great Battle that was fought upon Dagorlad in the beginning of Gondor, when He whom we do not name was overthrown.''
''He is questioning the wrong people then, I deem,'' Gildor's customary arrogance resurfaced for a moment, only to give way to deep concern again. ''Your people were not the ones who fought in that battle. I was.''
Imrahil knew, of course, that Gildor had been the Lord of Edhellond long ere Gondor was even founded (well, long in mortal measure, anyway,) and that always made him wonder. As beautiful a little town as Edhellond was, at the end it was naught more but a little town. And yet, the last descendant of the most proud and powerful Elven Kings ever had chosen to live there – or on the road, when the wanderlust overcame him and his company. Even after all the years he had known him, Gildor still remained an enigma in Imrahil's eyes.
''Also, he was eager for stories of Isildur,'' the Prince added as an afterthought, returning to the topic at hand. "Though of him our wise had less to tell; for nothing of his end was ever known among us.''
To his great surprise Gildor straightened all of a sudden, clutching the armrests of his chair so hard that the knuckles of his hands sprang forth white. White was his face, too, as white as chalk – and there was such raw pain upon it that one unguarded moment that Imrahil gasped involuntarily. That sound seemed to snap the Elf out of his momentary shock, and his casual mask slid back into place, his ramrod-straight body relaxing into his usual proud but easy carriage.
''You know what 'tis all about, do you not?'' Imrahil asked softly.
"'Tis still more a guess, really,'' Gildor sighed. ''Though I am almost sure that I am right. Nay, I cannot tell you aught of it – for the sake of your own safety.''
''I am very well able to care for myself, you know,'' the Prince said, mildly annoyed.
''That I know,'' Gildor nodded. ''Yet if I am right, (and alas! I see not how I can be wrong in this,) we have something to fear. The roots of this thing reach far back into the Second Age, back to the War between the Elves and Sauron that caused the fall of many Elven realms as well as the destruction of the great forests of Eriador. If what I fear should come true, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the many cruel battles fought and the uncounted deaths in those battles, all were in vain.''
''And yet you still are unwilling to tell me more about it,'' said Imrahil. It was not a question. He knew Gildor too well to be wrong.
''That I am'', answered Gildor. ''For there still is some hope, however small, that I might be wrong, after all. 'Tis better to let sleeping dragons lie, unless we can be certain that they are already awake.''
''What will you do then?'' Imrahil asked. ''Ride back to your town and prepare for war?''
''I need not to do so,'' Gildor answered. "For we are prepared, all the time, even if it does not seem so. Besides, I have come by ship, this time. Nay, I would like to stay the night, if you do not mind. I wish to see your father and your children again – and say my farewells, in case I should not return again.''
''Do you intend to leave Edhellond?'' asked Imrahil in surprise. ''Are you leaving for the West? But could you not do so from your own harbour?''
''I could,'' Gildor nodded. ''But nay, I am not leaving, not as long as the Dark One still sits in Mordor like a spider in the middle of its net. Yet I have some close kin in the northwest, and I intend to protect them, should what I fear come true. Edhellond has her Council that can lead and protect her better than I could with my mind elsewhere. I shall suggest them to work with you, should the need arise. As for myself, I shall leave with the Company in six day's time. This might well be my last journey – and our last meeting. I know not.''
''I would regret if it were,'' said Imrahil.
''So would I,'' Gildor replied. ''With my closest kin dwelling far in the northwest, your House has become something akin to a family for me. And should I come to the Blessed Realm one day, even there I shall never forget how you and all of your ancestors have filled the emptiness of my house with laughter and song.''
He rose from his seat and walked to an open window, staring out at the never-resting waves of the Sea that rolled foaming against the coast.
'Our time here is almost over,'' he softly murmured. ''I had hoped to have enough time left to invite your younger children as houseguests, too. But, it seems not so that I will have that chance. For even if I do return to Edhellond again, it shall be but for a short time. Long have I suppressed the Call of the Sea in my heart, but 'tis getting stronger and louder with every passing year. When this last war is fought, I shall be gone… one way or another.''
''So there will be war again, you say?'' Imrahil felt drained. Of course he knew the war with the Dark Lord would come – they all did. But Gildor's words made him understand that the war was closer than he would have thought – and that unnamed evil the Elf-Lord refused to speak of filled his heart with dread.
''Do we have a chance?'' he asked. "Or shall we end up like those unfortunate slaves that are said to dwell around the Sea of Núrnen, labouring restlessly just to feed the Orcs and other fell creatures of Mordor?''
''I know not,'' Gildor said with a sigh, still not turning back from the window. ''You are turning to the wrong person for hope – for I have had none for a very long time, even by Elven measure. But I swore an oath at the mutilated corpse of the one who meant everything to me that I shall see the Dark One destroyed. And I shall not rest, nor seek out the peace of the Blessed Realm, ere I truly see it happen.''
''So 'tis vengeance that keeps you still here, is it,'' said Imrahil. It was not a question, either.
''I call it seeking out justice,'' Gildor answered with a shrug and returned to his seat. ''But at the end it might be the same, indeed. For I cannot find peace; not here, nor in the Blessed Realm, ere the Shadow is defeated.''
''Or you get killed yourself,'' Imrahil added.
''There are worse fates for an Elf than spending some time in Mandos' Halls, however long we may stay there'', said Gildor. ''We could be captured and twisted into some hideous monster as happened to many of our kin in the Elder Days.''
Imrahil nodded. Few Men did still know of the true origin of Orcs; he was one of those, having learnt some Elven lore from Gildor's people.
''But that was in the Elder Days, when the Great Enemy ruled over most of Middle-earth,'' he said. ''The Dark Lord we are fighting now might be powerful, but I doubt that he would be strong enough to accomplish the same horrible deeds.''
''He is not as strong as his Master was,'' Gildor nodded gravely. ''And he has even lost much of his own strength. But so have we… and he might grow stronger yet, much stronger, while our numbers dwindle and our strength is fading away. The Elves cannot be of much help when the fighting comes, my friend. Your kind will carry the bulk of this burden – you would do better to prepare for it.''
''So we are alone in this?'' Imrahil asked, a hint of accusation in his voice.
''Nay,'' the Elf shook his head. "We shall do what we can. You know how much the Silvan folk love their land; they would do every thing in their power to protect it. Yet we are but a few windswept leaves, compared to the forces of the Enemy.''
''What do you intend to do, then?'' asked Imrahil. ''For I know you better than to believe that you would lay your hands on your lap and watch the fighting from the outside.''
Gildor sighed. ''I shall seek out counsel… mayhap even help. There still are Elven strongholds in the North and the West – and wisdom and power greater than my own. This journey shall be a very long one indeed – taking turns to reach every one of these places. And should I learn aught of true importance, I shall send you messages from afar.''
''If you can,'' Imrahil said, knowing all too well how easily message and messenger could get lost on the darkening paths of these days. Gildor nodded.
''If I can, yea. But you need not worry, my friend. For thousands of years have the Wandering Companies travelled the paths of Middle-earth, carrying tidings from one realm to the other – we shall find a way. Dark as our days might be, there still is some hope.''
''Even if the very thing you seem to fear so much should come true?'' Imrahil asked doubtfully. Gildor gave him a shrug and a sad smile.
''Even that evil has been defeated once already… though I know not if it can be done again. The Elves do not build the paths of fate – we only walk upon them.''
''And you ask me to follow you blindly out of trust and for our friendship's sake,'' Imrahil noticed dryly. The Elf shook his head.
''Nay – for 'tis not a path you could follow, even if you wanted. You shall have to choose your own path and walk upon it, regardless of the costs… sooner than you might believe.''
''Elves!'' Imrahil said with a snort. ''Elves and their riddled speech! You really enjoy confusing me, do you?''
''I tell you as much as I can… or as it seems wise to me,'' Gildor answered seriously. ''Knowledge could be both a strong weapon and the source of great harm. I am trying to give you the weapon, without causing any harm. Do you not trust me any more?''
''You know that I do,'' replied Imrahil quietly. ''Or else we would not be having this conversation. For my entire life, you have been my friend and my mentor in more ways than I can count. Still, I would prefer it if you were willing to share your mind with me some more.''
''I cannot,'' Gildor said. ''For I, too, have learnt much about mortal Men through you and your people, and I have come to understand that too much knowledge can be harmful for mortals: it can make you hesitate when it comes to hard decisions. I wish you to be free in your decisions. I wish you to be safe. And that you cannot be when I put things in your head that might or might not happen – shadowy tales and old lays that might distract you from your chosen path.''
''I see there is no way to convince you to change your mind,'' Imrahil sighed. ''So, I shall not waste my breath on it. 'Tis getting late. I shall ask Tirathiel to have your old guest room prepared – now that Elphir has his own chambers, it is available again.''
''I am certain that she has already taken care of my accommodations,'' said Gildor with a smile. ''Yet I would like to see your children ere I turn in for the night, if you do not mind. That little girl was not even born the last time I visited your home.''
''They should be getting to bed, soon,'' Imrahil rose. "And so we better hurry up.''
The Elf rose, too, and they left the library together, going down a long corridor towards the end of the west wing, where Imrahil's younger children had their bedrooms. It was time to lay down their concerns for a while and wish the young ones a peaceful night. For indeed, no-one could know how long the uncertain peace was still going to last, and as long as it tarried, one had to value every moment of it.
Here endeth this tale.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(1) Oct. 23, which is Isabeau's birthday. I give the name of the month both in Quenya and in Sindarin, since a Noldorin Elf-Lord would use the former while a Dúnadan Prince of the South the latter. According to the Appendices only the Dúnedain used the Sindarin months' names.
(2) I had to come up with a different name for the place, since at the time of Gondor's foundation Amroth still was alive and kicking; Tol Ondron was supposed to be an island in the middle of Anduin, similar the Carrock in ''The Hobbit''; an idea that Tolkien rejected afterwards.
(3) Actually, Adrahil died in 3010, also two years after these events. I simply assumed that he was feeling poorly and Imrahil had to take over.
(4) In the stories of Isabeau and Altariel, whose leads I follow considering the princely family, Imrahil's wife died about seventeen years before the Ring War of a female-type cancer. Her name comes from these noble ladies, too. :)
(5) Originally, Tirathiel is named as the sister-in-law of Imrahil. I misinterpreted the information first, then got so enamoured in the idea of this matriarch living under Imrahil's roof that I intentionally did not correct my mistake. And yes, I know that a word like aunt-in-law does not exist. But it sounds so funny…
(6) No, there is no such legend that I would know of. The whole relationship between Gildor and the Princes of Dol Amroth is the product of my imagination.
(7) Another fact made up blatantly by me.
(8) The first and second born sons of Imrahil. In 3008 (T.A.) Elphir was 21, Erchirion 18 years old.
(9) Except for Círdan, I would say. Gandalf could have hardly come to land in Mithlond without the Shipwright or his people noticing it.