Prologue: Abridged meeting of the wise
Early in the year 2957 of the Third Age...
It was a quiet tugging in the back of his mind. A suggestion, really. A shadow of a thought that pricked at him in quiet moments when there was naught else to think of.
Come, Elrond. Come to Lothlórien.
The lord of Imladris felt an undefined urgency about the summons; however, he definitely did not feel as though the matter were life and death. No, it was a matter of a different kind of urgency, one upon which the fate of Middle-earth would eventually reside. Although, one can never tell what an elf means when they say 'eventually.'
No, this was a matter of the utmost import and countless lives would eventually hang in the balance. Yet right now there was a brief luxury of time, or as much of a luxury one could have with the ever-growing, ever-threatening shadow of Mordor looming off in yet another eventuality.
Right now, there was an urgent matter to attend to, but only in its due time.
And as for now, Lord Elrond Peredhil was luxuriously afforded an expanse of several weeks to quietly and unobtrusively get his affairs in order, so as to make arrangements for a stay of unknown duration in the Golden Wood. He was assured that his twins would be still a while in Mirkwood on some caper or other with Prince Legolas, and he was confident enough in their collective abilities to not worry overmuch should they return to find him away from Imladris. His youngest son, now but only briefly a man, was in the middle of his current tour of duty with the Dúnedain who were his kin, and though Elrond was still adjusting to the reality that Estel was to be counted an adult by the standards of his race he knew that Bowen, the acting Dúnedain chieftain since Arathorn's passing, was keeping the boy on a relatively short leash until he proved himself worthy of his inheritance. His daughter Arwen was still residing in Lothlórien with her mother's kin, and though Elrond was certain that Arwen wasn't the outright cause of his subtle summons to the Golden Wood, nonetheless he knew that she would have some part to play upon his arrival.
Whatever his own considerable foresight had missed, he was certain that Galadriel's had not. That was the reason for the summons, the reason that their mental link, so rarely used in these days of increasing shadow, returned to prick at the rear-guard of his mind. As disconcerting as it was to have one's own mother-in-law rooting around inside one's head, the Lady of Light was ever so much more than that, was and ever had been kin to him all through the years of his life, and so it had never occurred to him that he might deny her this privilege, futile though the gesture might have been.
And so Lord Elrond Peredhil left the running of Imladris in the hands of Erestor, his seneschal and chief advisor, and set off for Lothlórien in the company only of a small contingent of guards, captained of course by the strategus of Imladris, one Lord Glorfindel, formerly of the House of the Golden Flower, Elrond's close personal friend, counselor, and self-appointed protector.
"Tell me again why we are journeying to Lothlórien in the dead of winter?" the Vanya asked, incredulousness wrapped snugly up inside a blanket of good humor.
Elrond shrugged beside him as they picked their way though the increasing snow drifts. "I am not sure," he confessed, even as his horse seemed to stumble on weaker ground. "Remind me to ask Galadriel when we arrive."
Glorfindel snickered beside him, his own mount finding no trouble in the snow, but said nothing further.
The Golden Wood was reached in due time. Progress was a bit slower than the elves would have liked, for even though they faced no real hazard traveling over the snows in their path, their horses were another matter. Finally they reached Lothlórien, where winter never seemed to linger inside the outer borders, and were met by a contingent of the Lord Celeborn's soldiers.
"Suilad, Galadhrim!" Elrond called as the archers seemed to materialize soundlessly about them. The Galadhrim had their bows notched but the arrows pointed towards the ground in their long-standing tradition of guarded welcoming.
"Suilad, hir-Elrond," greeted the march-warden. "Mae govannen!"
Elrond slid from his horse with consummate grace and caught the march-warden's forearm in a warrior's handshake as the rest of his contingent dismounted behind him. With wordless proficiency, the rest of the guards disappeared even as groomsmen came forth to tend to the visitors' horses.
"I am saddened, Rúmil," said Glorfindel as he came to stand beside Elrond. "You have much propriety when it comes to greeting lords, but can spare no words of welcome for an old friend?"
The march-warden laughed outright. "My apologies, Lord Glorfindel," he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Please allow me to welcome you once again to the Golden Wood."
Glorfindel laughed merrily as he and Rúmil locked arms in kind.
"Apology accepted," he said as they dropped hands once again. "Now where is that infernal brother of yours? I have a mind to not spend this sojourn idly."
This time it was Rúmil who laughed, though Elrond readily joined him, having already guessed the Vanya's mind.
"If you are referring to Orophin, he is using the splint on his arm as a way of endearing himself to an elleth – the same elleth, mind, for which he first injured himself in some fool bid seeking her attention."
More Elven laughter was heard, though the healer in Elrond was mentally making note to check on the youngest of the brothers personally as soon as time allowed.
"However," Rúmil continued with an overstated sense of chagrin, "I suppose I must assume you meant our own captain-general. He may yet still be in Caras Galadhon, having returned early from his post upon receiving word that our brother was injured."
"And I'll bet he was less than pleased to learn that Orophin's injury was caused not in the course of duty but in trying to impress some fair maid?" Elrond asked, amused.
"Indeed you would be correct, my lord," Rúmil answered readily. "However, you probably already know that Orophin would count impressing maidens as being but part of the course of duty – but come! The Lord and Lady are waiting."
Rúmil lead their party through the paths beneath the trees and eventually into the heart of Caras Galadhon, where they were met by the captain-general himself, obviously still within the Elven city.
"Mae Govannen, Haldir!" Rúmil called out to his brother, who stood impassive. However, the sight of friends of old was enough to break the air of cold indifference about him, and he broke into a rare, genuine smile.
"Mae Govannen!" Haldir called back, raising an arm in greeting. Rúmil clasped that arm first, for they were brothers, followed by Glorfindel, for they were good friends and contemporaries of position, and then lastly Haldir bowed before Lord Elrond, who acknowledged the gesture with a simple, regal nod.
And none batted an eyelash at this reversal of propriety.
"It is good to see you all again," Haldir continued, the smile now more subdued though it lingered still. "However, I'm afraid that continued pleasantries must wait. The Lord and Lady are waiting, as is Mithrandir, who arrived not long ahead of you."
Rúmil's serene expression blossomed into a wide grin, for he was unaware that the wizard was to be arriving as well. Beside him though it seemed that the Lords Elrond and Glorfindel were conducting some private conversation using little more than pointed stares, a slight twitch of the lips, and at last the subtle quirking of one eyebrow.
"Business always before pleasure," Glorfindel groaned, though his eyes were sparkling. Then he turned to address his contemporary. "Haldir, I wonder if, after my part in this impromptu council meeting is over, you may find something more viscerally engaging to occupy my time whilst the Wise continue their discussions?"
Haldir found a sincere smile for the thought of Glorfindel joining him on patrol, but then the smile fell as his face darkened. "As much as it would please me to accommodate you, I am afraid that the Lord and Lady have other plans for your time."
"I see," said Glorfindel, masking his surprise with an ease of effort afforded by countless years of practice. "Well, I suppose we best not keep them waiting."
Once again it seemed that the lords appeared to hold some sort of secret discourse, though this one abruptly ended when Elrond nodded towards Haldir.
"Quite right," Elrond acknowledged, and that was Haldir's cue. He led their way through the under-city until they came to the base of the appropriate mallorn tree. There Elrond gestured for Glorfindel to precede him just as Haldir caught their attention again.
"My Lord Elrond," Haldir called out, having just remembered his other important message. Elrond turned around, and Glorfindel halted his ascent. "The fair Undómiel instructed me to offer you her fondest greetings. She is presently sequestered with some childhood friends, preferring their distracting company to the prospect of waiting for an unspecified time for the Wise to conclude the more pressing business at hand. However, she will greet her father properly after the meeting has adjourned."
Elrond smiled his warmest smile at this latest news, for the prospect of seeing his daughter – whose presence he had sorely missed these past years – was enough to make even an unscheduled convening of the Council of the Wise seem not so bad a prospect. "Thank you, Haldir. If you may, please pass my fondest greetings along to my daughter also, and tell her that I will most assuredly find the time to meet with her once this business has concluded."
Haldir nearly laughed aloud at the formality with which the Lord of Imladris addressed the matter, for all knew how eagerly Elrond was awaiting the chance to see his daughter again. The captain-general stayed to watch as Elrond and Glorfindel climbed to the requisite level and thence disappeared from sight.
Presently Rúmil came to stand beside his brother, and they passed a few moments in contemplative silence.
"Oh, to be an insect on a leaf at this meeting!" Rúmil offered finally.
"That is said every time the Wise convene," Haldir retorted.
"The Wise, yes, but this is more than just the wise, oh brother mine."
Haldir chuckled. "Indeed. Saruman is not present at this meeting."
Both Elven faces contorted into slight visages of disgust at the mentioning of the White Wizard's name.
"And I for one am glad," said Rúmil unashamedly. "None of the guard will sleep the night that nim orch sets foot in these woods again."
"Mind your tongue," Haldir scolded without emotion, for he was of similar feelings even though his discretion was better than that of his brother.
"I will apologize for the statement," said Rúmil, matching his brother's tone. "But not the thought."
Haldir nodded slightly and silence returned for a time.
"How fares the Evenstar?" Rúmil asked eventually.
Haldir sighed. "I fear that our brother is having little success in keeping her thoughts occupied."
"I cannot say that I blame her," Rúmil mused. "Her future is currently being decided by an abridged version of the council of the Wise, and none have bothered to ask her for her own opinions."
"You forget that the Lady, extrasensory gifts not withstanding, is also the Evenstar's grandmother. I do believe that Arwen will be justly represented at this meeting."
"I do not forget," Rúmil stated, chiding slightly at the suggestion. "However, I believe that you forget that I have been in Imladris when the well-being of Lord Elrond's children has been called into question. I am wondering if even the Lady Galadriel will be able to influence him as far as his only daughter is concerned."
Haldir spared a moment to wince at the memory Rúmil was referring to. "Nor do I forget," he reassured, but then he sighed. "I do not know what true opinions reside in the hearts of the Lord and Lady, but I do know that Lord Elrond will not suffer to be eternally parted from his daughter, surely as Anor rises."
"But doubtless Elrond knows better than anyone, the implications of a love between a mortal man and an elleth. Doubtless he must know that denying their love would be to deny his own heritage."
"Mind your tongue!" Haldir scolded, this time with force, and Rúmil was thoroughly rebuked.
Both were silent for a time, lost in their own thoughts. They both well remembered the dreary-dark times after Lady Celebrían sailed into the west. Arwen had been able to find healing here in Lothlórien, and a measure of calmness and tranquility for her battered spirit that had suffered so at the fate of her mother. In that time she grew in grace, beauty, and wisdom under the enchantment of the Golden Wood, and while she indeed seemed to be at peace, her laughter no longer tinkled like silver bells and her azure eyes never again quite lit up with her beautiful smiles. While she wasn't fading, neither then was she thriving; just merely surviving, finding and acceptance with life and harmony within Arda's song, of which they were all a part.
Then, nearly six years ago, a miraculous change occurred. Suddenly it was as though the ever-present veil of shadow had been lifted from her complacent spirit. There was an almost childlike spring to her step, and her laughter echoed musically and often throughout the Golden Wood. Many marveled at this seemingly sudden change, for it appeared to them that the Evenstar had regained her happiness at last.
At the time, none suspected that this miracle had come in the form of Estel of Imladris (or Aragorn Isildur's heir, as was known to very few). When the three brothers –who had ever been her friends in childhood – learned of the truth, they rejoiced that love had rekindled the flame of the Evenstar's fëa. Only later did they learn the identity (partial identity) and so mortality of her love, and when this truth was revealed, they discovered that they could not begrudge Arwen her happiness. Love bowed before no master, and this love had verily saved the Evenstar's spirit, even though its price was to be counted beyond all cost. For Arwen to be happy, if even for a very brief time that would ultimately end in tragedy, that fate was deemed better than the ghost of an existence she had been leading. As elves of the Sindar, Haldir, Rúmil, and Orophin believed that this new hope brought the chance at a happy, if finite, life in Arda, and that was worth more than the eternity of a salvaged existence in the Blessed Realm.
Finally Rúmil spoke again. "Do you remember father's stories, about how Lord Celeborn sat on King Thingol's council in Doriath?"
When Haldir nodded Rúmil continued: "he witnessed firsthand a love between the first- and second-born. He must know of both its wonders and of its sorrows. And so too must Lord Glorfindel, for do not forget, he stood witness to the love between Tuor and Idril. I am certain they will speak their peace concerning history, and I can assure you that their testimony will be important."
"Indeed," Haldir agreed. "But remember, Tuor was beloved also of the mighty Ulmo, so much so that he was welcomed to sail into the west at the end of his days. And do not forget that Thingol's bride-price for Lúthien was perhaps a touch too high."
"Now you must be the one to hold your tongue, brother mine," Rúmil teased. "But we are all aware of how Beren completed his assigned task and was granted the King's leave to wed his only daughter."
Haldir sighed, a brief chuff of laughter sneaking out alongside it. "This proves naught but that we both paid attention to our history lessons," he said with as much an air of dejection as his naturally stoic persona could muster. "Arwen's love is not beloved of the Valar, and that leaves only one option."
Rúmil nodded thoughtfully. "A quest," he said at length. "A quest to prove that his hand is worthy of the Evenstar."
Haldir nodded. "I fear it so," he answered. "And I pity the youngest son of Elrond if that is to be the final ruling of the Wise."
"Why do you fear?" Rúmil asked, confused. "What quest could possibly compare to the trials or Beren and Lúthien?"
Haldir smiled sadly, a rare show of emotion. "Think, brother. What are the consequences if an appropriate quest can be found?"
Rúmil cast his gaze slowly eastward as realization dawned. Even though he was unaware of Aragorn's true heritage, the only things possible for comparison resided within the land of Shadow. Indeed, if history were to repeat itself – for such methods were tried and true – then the only challenge worthy to test the mettle of the mortal suitor of Arwen Undómiel would have something to do with Mordor.
"You are right," Rúmil agreed. "I do pity him."
Arda: the world
Vanya: Singular form of Vanyar.
Elleth/Ellyth: elf maiden/pleural
Hir: lord… therefore: hir-nin: my lord, hir-[name]: Lord [name]
Mae govannen: well met
Nim orch: white orc
- On the Dúnedain chieftain: Arathorn was chieftain when he died, but Aragorn his heir was only two at the time. Therefore an interim chieftain had to be selected, and I have taken liberties to name him here.
- On Glorfindel: In this story, Glorfindel of Imladris is the reincarnation of Glorfindel of Gondolin, a Vanya Elf in the service of the Noldor King Turgon, who died protecting Gondolin's refugees in the infamous fight with one of Morgoth's balrogs. It should be noted that his reincarnation is not definitive canon.
- On march-wardens, etc: A march-warden is the leader of a "march," or rather, the captain of a patrol. There are many patrols, and the leader of each holds the title of march-warden. I have granted Rúmil that position here. "Captain-general" would be more akin to the strategus rank I have given Glorfindel, but it does not imply a sense of rank or status outside military circles. Haldir, as captain-general, is in charge of all Lothlórien's soldiers, but he does not make the decisions concerning military strategy, as Glorfindel would for Imladris.
- On the White Council (of the Wise): I have found no references as to who exactly belonged on this council, save for Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel. For the sake of argument, I am including Celeborn among the council (though history often overshadows him in the presence of his wife) as well as Círdan, who holds an honorary position since he by rights should be included but doesn't often leave the Havens.
- On the mental link between Elrond and Galadriel: Galadriel has been gifted with both foresight and the ability to project her thoughts to others in a kind of telepathy. I believe that these qualities were enhanced by her ring (Nenya). Elrond's own gifts of perception are therefore also enhanced by Vilya, as would be Gandalf's by Narya. Thus I am conceding that Galadriel is able to somewhat communicate to both Elrond and Gandalf over great distances with the aid of her ring, yet such use is much discontinued in this time of the growing threat of Sauron.