~*~

Neither felt certain who might be intruding upon whom. One had slipped away when attentive eyes looked elsewhere; the other had stood resting since the twilight ere this dawn. Soon silence would become impoliteness, so one turned fully towards the other.

"Good morrow," said the Elf. Turning briefly, the taller one bowed his head in reply. The Elf continued with a smile, "Though perhaps I should, I do not recognize you."

"I arrived but yesterday, having travelled with Dwarf-merchants from the east."

The Elf nodded. He had already assessed the other's garb of foreign and various origins, marked by signs of long use and many travels. No merchant is he, was his thought, and obviously no Dwarf. He said, "What brings an explorer such as yourself to the King's Garden in Forlond?"

The stranger showed a small start, then glanced about. "The King's own garden?"

"Oh, no," the Elf laughed. "The King does not tend it, nor hold it private, nor indeed visit often; it is simply addressed as such."

After quieting again, the other answered, "I am weary -or I had become so- and thought returning here to journey's beginning of long ago that I might find another, and be glad for it."

"Hmm. Myself, I was restless after a day spent indoors. Sometimes birds come hither with news of the lands beyond - and very rarely, Elves." The Elf waited to catch the stranger's gaze, imploring.

He smiled briefly, and his eyes gleamed with that sidelong glance. "No bird am I, nor an Elf, but I could tell you a tale or two if it pleases."

So he spoke of realms afar, with foreign names and strange cultures, their relations twixt one another and their opinions of themselves. Then he spoke of those he met therein by chance or fate, and what purpose they served among their kindred of importance or inconsequence. Some Elves he had met also, amid wooded lands and hidden beaches; yet these did not build, nor treat with Men, being a wandering and wild sort. Though he spoke cursorily, it was long until he ended with his tenure amongst the Dwarves of Moria, and still he had said nothing of those creatures discovered without names, of which there were many.

The Elf was pensive, falling quiet after many requests for greater detail throughout the telling. At length he said, "These tidings are invaluable. Few have gone so far, or learned so much; our knowledge of the far countries is little, and old. Can you write? Can you draw? I would have you commissioned – maps and treatises I desire, among other things. How long will you stay, or how soon can you return?"

This was nothing the stranger had not heard before. Yet several times in the past, his interest in the work had eventually surpassed that of those who thought to want it. He replied as usual, to discourage casual requests, "Are you a Lord of this land and its people, to have use for such materials?"

"Yes indeed," said the Elf. "But I have been remiss of your own needs. Mayhap the duty I would appoint you is not the journey you thought to find. What was the last, which has ended? And what is your name?"

This the stranger had also been asked before, though now he could answer without exclusions, trusting an Elf would understand things such as a mortal would not. "It began in Beleriand, though I knew it not at the time. I was born a child of refugees, then became an orphan of war, spared out of mercy – or so I thought. With that mistake at heart I made a promise, to return after war anew to those whom a life-debt I owed, to say nothing of fealty. But ever my rescuers were bound by an oath of their own, and it neither pity nor love could sway; therefore my presence thanks to theirs brought never remembrance of fortune, but of past weakness and more bound to come.

"So my quest was in vain, to find those already lost, and repay a favor never given. It has been a hard road, and slow-going, to finish back where I started. Yet is that not the very essence of life; that we return after trials and errors whence we came? Ah, I digress. You asked, lord, for my name: I am Elrond Halfelven, son of Earendil and Elwing. Long have I sought the brethren Maedhros and Maglor, yet they have both ended, and much folly along with them." He looked closely upon the Elf now, whose face was filled with amazement, and somehow familiar. "And though perhaps I should, I do not recognize you."

"We met, long ago," the Elf's speech was stilted, "but you were just a babe. I knew your father."

Elrond closed his eyes, and opened them to the past. The half-grown Elf in a portrait that he had gazed up at as a child could not be the Lord who stood shorter than him now. Yet it was. "Gil-galad."

The king smiled. "Your brother is King of Numenor, have you heard?"

Elrond bowed of a sudden, feeling some gesture of respect was belated and deserved. "Only recently, my Lord. The Dwarves share little about themselves, though they were free with news of the western provinces."

Gil-galad's look was discerning, yet his bearing no less informal than before. "Well, kingship is oft glorified; so said my father before me, and so I say now. No less vital is the plougher to the baker or the ruler who keeps peace between them – a song is made of many notes. Though I am pleased for my part, still in ways I envy your type; free of spirit and fleet of foot.

"But of those foreign lords; think you their successors will have change in their thoughts? As I said, our knowledge is poor; it has long been in my mind to remedy that. Yet those dependable and travel-hardy or undaunted by newness are few and... hmm. You would make a fine herald, you know."

And so began a friendship unending, yet of it more is not here recounted.

~*~

Little feet flung sand into the air as the boy ran down the shore. "Father, father!" he called in their crude tongue. "Come look!" His father stood ahead, looking with dismay at the meager catch after a day's work, and turned now with limited patience.

"You know I cannot. While daylight lasts I must fish. Now look at your shoes gotten all wet! Go home and help the women with chores, boy. I have been distracted eyeing you all day." A glance up the beach revealed small prints that stretched even out of sight. The man had wrongly thought his son to be sitting right behind him.

The child continued, "But father, you must see. I have found a dead thing!"

A beached corpse could provide many days worth of food, if the meat was not spoiled. The man brightened at this good fortune. "What is it? How does it smell?"

"Not a man," the child wanted to be sure. "And it does not smell."

The man drove his spear into the ground and bid his son lead the way, who saw fit to talk nonstop. In short time, the creature became gigantic -but small enough to roast- then beautiful -but not like a person- and hard as a rock -but soft on the inside. When the man tired of hearing the story change according to his reaction, he bade his son be quiet.

Soon the boy leapt aside to retrieve a discarded stick. "Here is the weapon I used to slay it!" The man groaned at this new untruth. "Come, father!" The child ran ahead, veering away from the shore towards a thicket of reeds, then dashing into them. The man followed, his calls to wait unheeded. Panting he stopped beside his son, who stood gaping at nothing. "Gone!" he cried, then pointing said, "The creature was right there!"

The man walked forward and crouched. "Were these flowers here also?" His son avowed that they were. Hand to the ground, he frowned at the warmth and curved dent. "A body did lay here." Standing he crept through the coppice.

A new set of footprints now lined the beach, and in that second either a mirage or a glimmer of metal descended out of sight beyond the horizon. Chills went down the man's spine, and his empty hand flinched for the spear he had left behind. "W-we can chase it, fell it," his son said in a scared voice.

The man sighed. "It walks on two legs, and lives. We cannot eat it." He did not confess that he feared to pursue it... whatever it was. He began to walk whence they came; his son followed, babbling in disbelief.

"It was all hunkered like it washed up, and it had black hair spilt out the top of its shell! It did not move when I poked it--" His father spun, his grasp firm on the little shoulder.

"Never wander so far again, boy." That promise was made, and the man carried his son back to camp. The traveling tribe of woodsmen ever after avoided the sea, remembering it as a haunted place. In later years, the creature unencountered would come to feel the same.

~`end`~




Footnotes (or, of obscure facts and attempted creativity):
~Finarfin indeed fought in the War of Wrath: 'But the host of the Valar prepared for battle; and beneath their white banners marched the Vanyar, the people of Ingwe, and those also of the Noldor who never departed from Valinor, whose leader was Finarfin the son of Finwe.' -- The Silmarillion
Finarfin's peculiar armor and its subsequent donation to Elrond is solely an element of this story (there's no telling in canon if they even met).
~Elrond was at least present during the War of Wrath – in his own words: 'It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, not so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever, and it was not so.' -- The Council of Elrond
I'm proposing that he was a successfully active participant in the war, along with Elros, and also got a young start.
~Lake Evendim (Nenuial) as a safe haven during the changing of the landscape following the War of Wrath is solely an element of this story – I'm proposing the Valar (or someone with authority) knew that place would remain undamaged, and led the host there (who found refugees already in occupation).
~The Grey Havens and Lindon were established at the beginning of the Second Age: 'In Lindon north of the Lune dwelt Gil-galad, last heir of the kings of the Noldor in exile. He was acknowledged as High King of the Elves of the West. In Lindon south of the Lune dwelt for a time Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol; his wife was Galadriel, greatest of Elven women.' -- The Tale of Years
It's my adaptation that Celeborn and Galadriel were among those in residence at Nenuial, and relocated to reign in south Lindon by invitation of the High King of that realm.
~The Edain reached Numenor in the 32nd year of the Second Age – where they stayed before then is anyone's guess. For my purposes, I put Elros at the Grey Havens.
~Maglor's line: 'Let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall' is said in canon by Elrond (The Ring Goes South); I thought it clever to imply he had learned it from someone who knew well the peril of oaths made lightly.
~Remembered be waking upon a bed of niphredil as a stranger in a strange land. Niphredil is the flower that bloomed in Doriath when Luthien was born... 'and the white flowers of niphredil came forth to greet her as stars from the earth' (Silmarillion). If readers wish to perceive a resemblance of rebirth or an innocent nod to kinship, they have my permission.
~Elrond's promise and his subsequent search for the Feanorions is entirely the author's imagination hard at work. He was, however, Gil-galad's herald: 'I was the herald of Gil-galad and marched with his host.' (The Council of Elrond)

Last Note:
Elrond's line: 'Time was when a squirrel could go from tree to tree from what is now the Shire to Dunland west of Isengard. In those lands I journeyed once, and many things wild and strange I knew', (The Council of Elrond) was what sparked the inspiration to write this story, and for it among other things I thank Tolkien.