Another beautiful evening in Paradise - as if there could be any other kind, Elladan thought cynically. He gazed with a critical eye about the small glade that he and Elrohir had selected for the evening's activities. The stars will be bright overhead, when it finally gets dark, and the air has just the right level of briskness to keep those of us outside alert, and there is even the soft hoot of an owl from the forest that surrounds the little glade. Not a hint of a dark cloud or discouraging thing to be sensed. Dammit!
He sighed, as he normally did when the paradox of life in Valinor intruded into his thoughts. Long ago, in another world, similar evenings in Imladris had soothed his faer; now, with the extraordinary an everyday occurrence, he felt disappointed by it. He powered his frustration into the force with which he struck the steel to the flint, igniting the kindling. It was time; and like moths drawn to the brightness of the growing bonfire, those he had summoned – along with a few others – quietly gathered.
Elladan gazed with fondness or respect at the various faces of those sitting on the logs he and Elrohir had dragged into a circle around the fire pit, astonished that all those he had invited had actually come and even more pleased by those who had appeared without direct invitation. Veterans they were, all of them: warriors and kings and lords with long experience in leadership and strategy. And despite their many Long-years of residence in these so-called "Blessed Lands", all of them still found themselves considered "newly arrived" by those who either had never left Valinor or had returned early on during the struggle against the Long Defeat. For the most part, all of them remained bereft of the kind of authority they were used to wielding in Middle-earth as well. Their loyalty and service to former lords or those killed long ago and now restored from Bannoth had been expected to resume the moment they had arrived and then taken for granted ever since.
And now all of them gazed back at him in expectation as he rose, wiping hands suddenly moist with nervousness surreptitiously on the legs of his trousers.
"Thank you all for coming. I'm certain you are all wondering why you are here…"
"I am not," Elrohir mumbled, shaking his head. "I know exactly why we are here, and all I can say is that it is about time!" No, Elladan knew, his brother was more than aware of what was intended tonight. Knowing he wasn't alone in his feelings had sustained him for a very long time.
To Elladan's left, his father wore a wry expression and gave a resigned shake of the head. Elrond knew all too well his sons' discontent, having heard it often enough during their visits to his home in the mountains outside Alqualondë. Beyond him, Glorfindel and Erestor leaned their heads together and exchanged quick whispers. Elladan could only hope that those two hadn't accompanied his father with the intent of speaking against anything that might arise from this meeting.
"Considering just who it is that sits in this circle, the number of reasons we would have been called together dwindles to a very few," Thranduil commented dryly. "Get on with it."
Thranduil's arrival in the company of his son, to whom the invitation had been extended originally, had been a pleasant surprise. The last Elladan had heard of the King of Eryn Lasgalen, Thranduil had been stubbornly determined to remain in Middle-earth until the Breaking of the World. Five centuries later, he evidently had changed his mind at some point, managed to find or build a ship, and made his way across the Sea to join his wife and son. Given that development, and knowing the former Elvenking's contrary nature and less than favorable opinions about the Belain in the past, Elladan decided that perhaps Thranduil's presence at this particular get-together wasn't all that unexpected after all.
"I take it we are all more or less agreed, then, upon the problem we face?" Elladan's heart pounded in his chest. The invitations had contained broad hints as to the topic of the meeting. If those he had invited weren't agreed - if he had misread some of the rest of them after all this time… He didn't want to even consider the consequences of that.
"That Aman is both everything we were promised and much less than we would have liked to expect?" asked Legolas, looking at no one, but staring into the fire. Elladan worried about him; and from the look on Thranduil's face, he knew he was not alone. Legolas had not weathered Gimli's demise well; and even now, three Long-years later, the signs of grieving had yet to lift. "You will have no argument from me."
"One might as well say it aloud: we should have stayed in Middle-earth, where we had purpose." Celeborn's deep voice rang out the truth like a bell. Celeborn's attendance this night had been a given. His decision to accompany the both of them West after Arwen's death had been a difficult one, and Elladan knew his grandfather still continued to wonder if he'd made a mistake in leaving Imladris. After nearly three and a half Long-years now, he still was as discontent as ever and willing to state aloud what others only barely dared think secretly.
What was more, since his arrival in Tirion that morning, Celeborn had not made a single mention of Galadriel - nor had Haldir, who had accompanied him - and that, in itself, was worrisome. Elladan knew that the relationship between his grandparents had always been volatile, even in the best of times, and his grandmother had made it abundantly clear the few times he'd visited that she was not pleased at her husband's lingering attachment to Ennor. The supper shared by the extended family just before coming out to the glade had been a real delight, but the reason they had come had proven a nazgûl seated at the table with them and been scrupulously avoided by all.
Elrond shook his head. "I could not have remained." As he often did when considering anything to do with Ennor, he toyed with the knuckle of his left forefinger, where he had worn Vilya for the better part of two Ages,.
"We understand you genuinely had to leave, my friend." Glorfindel patted the upper arm of his former lord indulgently. "You would have faded otherwise. We, however…" His gesture included the rest of them.
A soft voice filled the meaningful pause. "I too, would have faded in a not too distant time." Círdan never spoke loudly, but his voice carried nevertheless. If Thranduil's attendance had been unexpected, Círdan's was astonishing. The stately, bearded Shipwright had simply appeared without invitation at the edge of the light cast by the fire at the designated hour and quietly found a place on a log. He now sat, hands extended to gather in warmth, his grey eyes glistening with a rare excitement. "But I too begin to chafe with things as they are, and I question if these are the same people that I knew so many yeni ago. So much of the spirit I remember seems lost from those we found here."
"Granted, the Ringbearers among us needed the healing offered only here. But the rest of us, I think you'll all agree, are not completely content with our lot now that we have come." Elladan sat down, using body language to throw the discussion wide open.
"That is a diplomatic way of putting it," Elrond commented in surprise, smiling as he patted his son's thigh. "You have been far less tactful with your opinion in the past, my son. I'm proud of your restraint."
"However he puts it, the fact of the matter remains that he is correct." Erestor leaned forward and openly agreed with him - an occasion that Elladan would treasure. Rare were the times when he and his father's irascible assistant agreed on anything of any true weight lately. "After the first rush of relief and joy at seeing those lost to us for so long, the reality of day to day living has been less than we had hoped. What is more, we all know we have made statements similar to that lately to one person or another, either publicly or privately. Face it: that we are all here in the first place, and are still involved in this discussion shows just how much we agree."
"It is a strange and empty feeling to merely exist." Elrohir mused aloud as he picked up a brand that had fallen away from the blaze and tossed it back in. "At least in Arda, we lived. As Grandfather says, we had purpose there, something which is very lacking here. Yes, we have the time and opportunity to do all the things we wished we could before - see the places spoken of only in lays, master crafts and skills to levels far beyond what we could have before, speak and come to know those whose names have been mentioned only in stories and legends - but nothing we do serves a greater good, only the self. Now I find myself often wishing I were anywhere else than Valinor."
"I cannot believe I am saying this aloud, but perhaps Fëanor had the right idea." Glorfindel paused and looked around the circle, then breathed a relieved sigh when no one apparently wished to dispute the statement. "Things here are too perfect. The only thing outside personal improvement that holds anyone's attention or raises ire is politics - and so much of that is bound up in mistakes and arguments Ages past or present-day pettiness that hearkens back to those long-dead arguments. Among so many of the long-time residents, there is no interest in moving on; and, to be honest, I had enough of politics on Middle-earth to last me until the Breaking of the World!"
"I know I have said little on the subject before now - mostly because my sons have been so vocal in their discontent as to not need my input to add fuel to the fire - but I must admit that even I begin to feel stifled by this... inertia of the Eldar." Now it was Elrond's turn to lean forward. "As coarse and yet fleeting as the edain were in their lives, their lives moved constantly forward in an effort to make life better for all; and in our way, our lives and the tasks we accepted in assisting them all functioned for the preservation - if not betterment - of all Middle-earth. Back then, I saw this almost single-minded impulse toward a nebulous but better future as a curse, one that looked backwards only to make certain not to commit the same errors as before; but now I can see that looking forward instead of simply preserving what they had kept their lives fresh and filled with new reasons to rise every morning. The tendency here in Aman is to live in the past or completely wrapped up in self-centered pursuits, and the days grow stale."
"What wears on me the most is that so much of what I spent centuries mastering is no longer necessary," Legolas added, nodding slowly. "What is here that needs defending? Of what use is a warrior in a society that faces no danger - no outside threat? Yes, I could choose to learn another craft, another art-form; but no matter what I choose, the one I chose first - the one that gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment - is useless, except in tournaments. Were it not that the Belain closed the Straight Road behind me, I would again be building a ship. What we are fighting here, now, is another kind of Long Defeat - one that can have no good ending."
"But the fact is that the Straight Road is shut," Erestor challenged the sulking archer. "And I assume that the reason we are here, together, is to figure out just what we should do about the situation."
Elladan drew in a deep breath. Here, now, he would make the statement that would either open a new chapter of Elven history, or make him have to think of some other, probably far less acceptable, course of action. "My brother and I have been wondering exactly that. And I think, perhaps, the time has come for those of us who feel this way to take responsibility for our lives and leave that which we find stale behind."
"You are suggesting we leave Aman?" Haldir was aghast.
"There is no need for anything quite that drastic," Gildor soothed the Lothlorien warrior. Like Círdan, Gildor Inglorion did not need to raise his voice to make himself heard; but unlike Círdan, his materializing at the edge of the ring of firelight as Anor dipped below the horizon had startled no one. Gildor had an uncanny awareness of much that went on in Elvenhome, no matter how much effort went into keeping those things quiet. His Wandering Band had made the circuits between central Tirion and the two other larger cities on the continent many times each over the centuries; indeed, some in the Elder King's court referred to his people as an informal Messenger Service. Considering what he and Elrohir had intended to propose, Elladan heartily welcomed Gildor's presence in their circle; his experience would be invaluable.
"What do you mean?" Haldir demanded. "What other option is there?"
"Aman is more than just the populated lands between Alqualondë, Tirion, Valmar and Tol Eressëa. There are vast lands to the north and the south on the eastern side of the Pelóri that have been barely touched by any other than the Belain themselves." Gildor stated matter-of-factly as he bent forward and drew the crescent shape of Aman in the sand at his feet with a stick and then pointed. "In keeping with living in the past, few of our people have ventured far from Valimar or Ilmerin or Lórien - or even Bannoth near the western coast. The last time anyone passed anywhere near Araman, they ended up going across the Helcaraxë. Even fewer have tried to penetrate Avathar in the Long-years since Ungoliant left it, even though Arien now lights that land as she does all the others." His bright grey gaze landed on Thranduil. "I am certain there are those among us who know quite well how to handle any of what might remain there of her brood."
Thranduil's smile widened. "Is that a challenge?"
Gildor merely smiled back serenely. "Do you want it to be, Oropherion?"
"I like your thinking," Thranduil answered with a firm nod of his head, his green eyes glittering in the firelight with carefully restrained energy.
"But will the Belain allow us to follow our own wishes in this?" Haldir frowned thoughtfully. "And would we need to ask the blessings and permission of…"
"We are in Elvenhome, where the Belain wanted us," Celeborn stated firmly. "We have complied with their call, and we have healed of any and all wounds left by our time in Middle-earth to the extent possible. If the Belain wish us to make our lives here until the Breaking of the World, then certainly they should not complain at the form those lives take, provided we stay in Aman."
"Is this what we intend, then?" Círdan asked. "To leave the settled lands and carve out new lives for ourselves where few if any Elves have dared tread before us?"
"It is either that or remain as we are, with discontent festering until it becomes a new form of Longing with an equal risk of fading." Elrond replied softly.
Elrohir turned to his father in surprise. "What about Barvedui, Ada? Would you leave it behind?" He knew his father's attachment to the home Celebrían had built for him while she healed and waited for him to finish his tasks in Middle-earth. "What about Nana?"
"Not all of us need leave the settled lands, my son," Elrond replied, "or remain in the new settlements until the end either, for that matter. Aiding with this venture need not be an eternal process for some - not to mention there is such a thing as a 'visit'. I will help your mother to understand, never fear."
"So we are agreed?" Círdan asked again. "This is what we want?"
As Elladan looked around the circle of somber, nodding faces, he felt relief wash through him, followed by a new cold sweat of worry about the logistics involved in organizing such a dramatic venture. So much would have to fall into place, so many would have to agree…
"I suggest that we focus on a single goal at a time. The borders of Avathar are close enough to give us a decent challenge in the near future." Elrohir seemed to shake off his shock at having things go so easily in the direction he and his brother had wished, and he began to air thoughts and ideas the two of them had considered only privately between the two of them. "What is more, success there will demonstrate to those who remain behind that the Eldar need not restrict themselves to just the narrow band of lands already settled or cling so close to the protection of the Belain all the time. It is time to remind some of those who never returned to Ennor that the Eldar are still a capable and enduring people, more than able to manage for ourselves with minimal help from the Powers."
"As future lord of that land, I would not refuse any assistance I might find along the way," Thranduil stated with assurance. Elladan smiled at the thought that the former Elvenking would automatically - and quite perversely - assume lordship over a land possibly filled with the same pestilence of Ungoliant's spawn as he had battled for centuries if it were already agreed upon by all. "But it will take more than just the eleven of us to take and hold a land of that size and danger."
"We are not the only ones who feel this sense of unease," Legolas offered, animation lighting his face for the first time in a very long time. "I think it likely that the only ones content with their lot here are those for whom strife ended two Ages ago, when Fëanor departed these lands. Of those who have struggled against Morgoth, and then later Sauron in Ennor, however, we probably are the only ones brave enough - or rash enough - to consider taking action. If Avathar is to be the first of many new lands, then we need to plan carefully; convince craftsmen as well as warriors to join our venture. After all, we will be extending our civilization into new lands, building new cities and societies; and not just exploring these places and then returning back to our boringly perfect ruts again, will we not?"
Gildor nodded. "My people are in a position to sound out the leanings of those we pass by in the outer settlements on our travels. What we who have come here need to do now is put together a plan of action and the series of steps we need to take. Then we should each go back to our homes and put our affairs in order. One of us will have to speak to the Belain themselves, to give notice of our intent, and others to their respective Kings. Those of you with responsibilities to your previous Lords will have to tell them of your plans as well - and prepare for a struggle for your freedom. And finally, we each will have to speak to our own people - the ones who still look to us for guidance as opposed to our forebears or more ancient Lords - to gauge their willingness to follow."
"Agreed. Our undertaking must not be done rashly, to borrow Legolas' term," Elladan said with a tone of relief and then rose. "But I suggest that we adjourn now, knowing that we have reached agreement not only on a long-term plan but a shorter-term goal. Elrohir and I invite you all to rest from your journeys in our home. Tomorrow we all can spend time with our thoughts listing suggestions and possible ways to accomplish them, and then meet here again at Star-Rise tomorrow and discuss our various points and ideas. From those we can construct our plan of action and the steps needed to accomplish it."
"Did you stock up on good wine, Elladan? You no doubt have several thirsty guests, including my son and myself." Thranduil tossed out as he stood and stretched his long limbs.
Elrohir laughed. "We do indeed have a goodly supply. Of course, had we known that you were coming as well, Sire, Celebriel would have insisted we purchase more."
Amazingly, the former King of Eryn Lasgalen laughed back. "Elrond, your efforts at teaching these two diplomacy seem to have finally born fruit."
"Thank the One," Elrond returned with exaggerated patience.
Elladan sighed and rose as well. Yes, the sprawling manse he shared with his wife and brother would be occupied to almost overflowing. But for the first time in almost five hundred years, he was looking forward to the next morning. The waiting - the mere existing - was over.
Bannoth - Mandos' Halls, where elven faer go upon death of the body
Belain - Valar, the Gods/Powers (sing. Balan)
faer - soul, spirit