Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Hello! Welcome to the story! First off, a housekeeping note. This was originally intended to be one single long story, but for ease of posting, I have split it into two parts.
Tolkien seems to have had relatively little to say about the early years of the Second Age. This is understandable; the world seems to have been relatively stable and at peace, and there are no events as dramatic and interesting as the squabbles over the Silmarils or the War of the Ring. The history of Númenor is left alone until the Númenoreans started going bad. However, this time of relative peace does contain one interesting event -- the final repercussions of a choice made centuries earlier by Elros and Elrond, the children of Eärendil and Elwing.
Tolkien does not say much about this time, but I think it must have been momentous for the people involved, both personally and politically. Whether or not events might have happened this way is open to debate. Personally, I think that Manwë might well have lent some aid -- he will occasionally nudge things along in interesting ways, and he has a record of being kind to this mixed-blood family. The story is set in the summer of the year 442 of the Second Age. Elrond and Elros are five hundred years old here. Enjoy the story, and I will meet you at the end!
1. The Latest Sun
The quay bustled with life. Gulls wheeled and screamed in the bright blue sky, while down below the stevedores sang and cursed as they manhandled ships and cargo, the fishwives cried their wares, and gangs of children ran laughing and screeching through the chaos. Elrond stood on the deck of a tall-masted ship and observed all the comings and goings of the great harbor of Rómenna, waiting patiently as the ship was guided into its berth and secured. With a final grunt, the stevedores heaved the gangplank into place. The ship's captain tested its stability with a foot, then bowed to his passenger.
"Welcome to Númenor, Master Elrond," he said. "Take care when you descend; you have accustomed yourself to the sea, and now the land will feel strange to you."
"Thank you for your warning, Captain," Elrond said courteously. "You have been a fair host throughout this voyage, and I thank you also for the pains you took in bearing me here."
"It is no trouble at all," the captain said. "At any occasion, the crew would have thrilled to have the privilege of your tales and your songs, and certainly no ship's captain would grudge your passage on this occasion. My crew will have shore leave for so long as you must tarry here. When your business is complete, we will be waiting to bear you home, by order of the High King."
Elrond managed a very small smile. He bowed to the captain, grasped the side ropes and stepped gingerly onto the gangplank. He made his way down to the dock without embarrassing himself and stood still for a moment. The dock seemed to sway gently beneath his feet, though when he looked down, he could see that it was a solid extension of the long wharf. The captain was right. Elrond would need to re-acquire his land legs.
He moved slowly away from the ship to give the stevedores room to work and installed himself in a shady nook beneath an overhang on one of the shop buildings that lined the wharf. There, he waited for the ground to stop rocking beneath his feet, and he took his first good look at his brother's realm.
The town hummed with life, and Elrond fancied he could feel the hearts of its people singing with anticipation for the future. It was everything that a seaside town ought to be, so different from the coastal fortress at Sirion where he and Elros had spent the first few years of their tumultuous lives. Elrond, unable to erase his child's memory of blood in the surf and of his mother sailing through a high, open window, had not cared to live on a shoreline for many years, content with Maglor's inland dwelling until he entered the service of the High King Gil-galad in Lindon. Elros, however, seemed to have thought differently. Here in Númenor, he had become lord of a seafaring folk, perhaps in an effort to return to and improve upon his earliest infancy.
If indeed that had been Elros's intent, then he had succeeded, Elrond thought. He hoped Elros was pleased by the result of his efforts, and that trail of thought eventually led him to the reason for his first visit to Númenor. His face darkened as he stepped out of the shelter of his overhang and set off through the streets. One hand patted the pouch that hung at his hip, making sure that his brother's letter was still there. Elros was dying, and he had written that his final wish was to look upon Elrond's face once more before the end. Gil-galad had sent his herald off with many blessings as soon as the letter had arrived. Elrond hoped he had not arrived too late.
As he hurried through the streets of Rómenna, Elrond took out the letter and turned it over. A different hand had written on the back of the sheet, describing the route to take inland through the hills to the halls of the King. Elrond followed the directions and, a few hours later, found himself at the door of an imposing building of white marble. A long rope hung from a hole high up above the door. Elrond pulled at the rope and could hear a bell chime faintly within. Though the day was warm, he shivered and pulled his cloak closer around his body.
He heard a series of thumps, and then the door opened. A tall, dark man peered out at him, and Elrond's breath caught in his throat. Almost it seemed that Elros stood before him and was young again.
"Welcome," the man said pleasantly, and the voice was not the voice of Elros. Now that he had heard the difference, Elrond could see that the face was not quite his brother's face. The resemblance was striking, but in some places there were planes where curves ought to be, and there was something about the bridge of the nose . . . Elrond shook himself. He was staring rudely.
"I . . . forgive me," he said. "I was not expecting your face. I -- I have come to see my brother, Elros. I am . . . "
The man smiled, and the smile was Elros's. "You must be my Uncle Elrond. I am Vardamir; Elros Tar-Minyatur is my father. Come in and be welcome. Father has been expecting you."
Elrond bowed and followed Vardamir through cool marble halls to a large, sunny courtyard. The air was still, perfumed with the scents of strange, exotic flowers. A fountain splashed delicately. Elrond sat on a smooth bench and stared at the flowers. Vardamir waved to a footman standing discreetly in a corner of the garden and gave him instructions in a low voice. The footman bowed and withdrew. Vardamir turned back to Elrond.
"I have summoned refreshment for you," he said. "It is a long journey from the harbor, especially in this heat. I will go and see if Father is able to receive a visitor."
Elrond could feel his hands shaking as he tried to make the adjustment from activity to rest. "I should see him soon," he said. "My brother is dying. I do not want to miss him while I take my leisure here."
Vardamir smiled and gave a snort that was almost a laugh. "Do not fear," he said. "You will not miss seeing Father. He would never forgive me if I let you do that." He regarded Elrond for a moment, and his expression softened. "I think that you have not seen this before," he said slowly. "Father said that you chose long ago to be of Elf-kind. You have not seen this business of surrendering to the passage of time and laying down one's life gently. For you, death comes suddenly and bloodily if it comes at all."
Elrond nodded, unable to speak.
"It is strange that I should know more about something than my Elf uncle," Vardamir said, seating himself on the bench beside Elrond. "But it seems to be the case. I will try to explain it to you. Father's death is a process. He is in his chamber, dying, even as we speak, but his death is not yet imminent. I think that even now he retains some control over his death, and he will not die until he is full ready to do so. I think also that he will give us warning of the event ere it occurs. So you may take your rest. Father will not die before he sees you."
Elrond considered Vardamir's words and willed his hands to stop shaking. There was time, he told himself. Elros still lived, and his house was calm. Even in Númenor, it seemed, there was an order to things. The Men of the West would not hurry death. There was still some time. He smiled at Vardamir. "Thank you."
There was a rustle of silk, and Vardamir and Elrond looked up. A beautiful woman stood in the courtyard with a goblet on a tray in her hand. Elrond's breath caught in his throat as the woman smiled his brother's smile at him. Vardamir stood.
"This is my sister, Tindómiel," he said. "She will wait with you while I check on Father. By your leave." Vardamir bowed politely and withdrew into the house.
"You must be Elrond," Tindómiel said, as she placed the goblet into Elrond's hands. "Even if Vardamir had not told me, I would have known. There is a portrait in one of the galleries of Father in the days of his youth. When I look on you, it is just as if that painting had come to life and my father was young again."
"It is to be expected," Elrond said. "He is my twin. Will you not sit with me a while, Tindómiel?" Tindómiel smiled and settled herself beside him, in the place her brother had vacated. Elrond sipped at the liquid in the goblet. The drink was light and smooth, tasting of sweet wine and spices. "What is this drink?" he asked. "I have never before tasted its like."
"It does not have a name," Tindómiel said. "It is a common refreshment; you would find it in any house in Númenor. It is made by boiling wine and honey into a syrup and flavoring it with spices and fruit juices. The syrup is then diluted with fresh water."
Elrond took another sip and rolled the liquid around in his mouth, savoring the taste. It fit well with his impressions of his brother's country. It was exotic and familiar at once, much like the flowers in the garden and the woman sitting beside him. He turned to study Tindómiel. Her dark hair was coiled atop her head and bound in silver cords, emphasizing her slender white neck. The strong planes of her cheeks and jaw must have come from her mother, but her eyes and her smile were her father's. Tindómiel caught him staring and laughed.
"Do you seek to see my soul?" she asked.
"No," Elrond said. "But you fascinate me. We are related; you are my niece, and I am your uncle, yet until I saw you, I had not known of your existence. We both share the blood of Eärendil and Elwing, yet you are foreign to me. I am realizing now just how much of my brother's life I do not know about. I am pleased to become acquainted with the family of Elros, but I grieve for the occasion on which I do so."
"We are all experiencing new things," Tindómiel said. "Never before has a king died in this land. And never before have we encountered any of his kin . . . of our kin, Uncle." She twisted her long, elegant hands in her lap. "When Father wrote to you, we were sure you would never receive the message. But Vardamir took it to the top of the tower and called on Manwë for aid. A great white sea-bird flew from the sky and bore the letter away. Still, I did not believe you would really come, and yet here you are, walking out of the past. So much about this time is strange. I should grieve for my father's decline, yet I cannot. I feel as if I am suspended in mid-air while all around me the world spins and shudders."
"An apt description. I feel it as well. It is unsettling." Elrond drank deeply and contemplated the soft wings of hair over his niece's ears. After a moment, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and turned around. Vardamir stood behind him.
"Father is awake," he said. "I have told him of your arrival, and he wishes to see you."
A shudder ran down Elrond's spine. "I will come at once," he said. He downed the rest of the drink and set the goblet on the bench. Tindómiel placed it on the tray.
"We will see each other again," she said.
Elrond nodded and followed Vardamir into the house. They walked down cool marble corridors and ascended a flight of stairs. Turning a corner, Vardamir stopped at an elegantly carved door. He tapped on it, then pushed it open. "Father?" he called softly. "Elrond is here to see you." He turned to Elrond. "Go in and see him," he said.
Slowly, his heart in his mouth, Elrond entered the chamber. Two large sets of glass doors opened onto a terrace to let in air and light, but it was the great bed, swathed in white linen and golden silk, which dominated the space. On one side of the bed lay an old man. His body was so thin that it made barely a ripple in the coverlet. His face was lined by the care of many years, and his long hair fell loose about his shoulders, white as snow. But the eyes beneath the white brows were Elros's eyes.
"Elrond," Elros said, his face lighting up with a smile. "Come to me, for I cannot rise to meet you. Come, let me feel the touch of my brother's hand once again." He extended a long, thin arm.
Elrond stood rooted to the ground just inside the doorway, paralyzed with a sudden surge of horror. He did not want to accept that the withered old man in the bed was his twin, yet he could not tear his eyes from the ruined body. He opened his mouth to protest the injustice and found that all the air had left his lungs, and he gasped for breath. As always, Elros seemed to know exactly how to soothe his brother.
"Do not be afraid, Elrond," he said. "I am old and much changed by my years, but I am still your brother. I am still Elros. Do not be afraid to weep, for I know that the sight of my old age grieves you."
Freed from his paralysis by the soft words of his twin, Elrond gave a great cry and hurried to Elros's side. He knelt by the bed, took up his brother's cold hand and wept bitterly. Elros waited patiently until Elrond's tears slowed. "I am sorry," Elrond said at last. "I should have greeted you with joy."
"I am joyful enough for both of us, now that you have come," Elros said. "And in truth, your appearance shocked me as much as mine shocked you. You have changed little since our last parting, Elrond. Your appearance now brings home to me the full length and weight of the life I have built here."
Elrond frowned. "I am sorry. Does that grieve you?"
"No," Elros managed a laugh. "On the contrary. I am well pleased with what I have built on this island. And I am glad to see you unchanged. It encourages me to think that something of what I am will endure after I am gone." Elros paused and reached up to caress Elrond's face, wiping away the fresh tears there. "You are the one constant in my life, Elrond," he said. "In my earliest memories, you are there. After our parents vanished, you remained. Even when I left the shores of Middle Earth, still you were there in my heart. And you will continue long after I am dead. I count myself luckier than most Men, Elrond. My brother was at my side when I was born, and is at my side when I die. The fabric of my world is whole."
"Please," Elrond said. "Please do not speak so lightly about your death. I do not think I can bear it."
"Does it frighten you?" Elros asked.
Elrond swallowed back tears and nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"It does not frighten me," Elros said. Elrond blinked in surprise.
"Then you are much braver than I."
Elros considered the issue. "No," he said at last. "I do not think that I am especially brave. This is the fate that I chose for myself, long ago. I have known for many years that this time would arrive. I used to wonder how I would meet my end; would I be proud and defiant like the sons of Fëanor, or would I cower and wail at the terror of it all? And now that my time has come, I find that I am intrigued and curious. This is a new thing that is happening to me, Elrond, and I do not know what adventures may await me beyond this world."
Elros's eyes lit up for a moment, shining briefly with the prospect of adventure once more. Elrond found himself laughing through his tears. "You have always been an explorer," he said. "And now you will explore the biggest realm yet. Perhaps you will even discover the fate of Beren and Lúthien."
"Perhaps," Elros agreed. "Just think -- to follow the path of our most illustrious great-grandparents. That will be an adventure indeed!" The sons of Eärendil laughed together, and for a moment, all thoughts of impending doom fled from their minds.
Too soon, though, Elros's laughter quieted, and a shadow passed over his face. "I am weary now, Elrond," he said. "I find that, as my time grows short, the need for sleep grows ever greater. I am sorry; you have come a great way, and I wish that I could be better company for you, but I must sleep now." He smiled gently at the look of terror that crept onto Elrond's face. "Do not fear," he said. "I will wake again. There is yet a little time, I promise you. Go and rest, and we will meet again when we are both refreshed."
He stroked his hand once over Elrond's dark hair, and Elrond ran an answering hand over his brother's snow-white head. "Sleep well," he said. Elros smiled and closed his eyes.
Elrond sat by his aged twin's side until Elros's breathing became deep and regular, and it was clear that he was firmly ensconced in the world of dreams. Then he rose and stumbled out into the hall, feeling weary and drained. He looked around in some confusion. More than anything, he wanted to find a place where he could sit alone and sort out the jumble of impressions this day had left in his mind. For a moment, he considered trying to find his way back to the garden, but something within him rebelled at the thought. The garden, with its strange, exotic flowers, was lovely, but it could not bring him the peace he needed. Surely, somewhere in this palace was a chamber where he could find quiet, but he was a stranger here and he did not know the way.
Tentatively, he walked back around the corner to the grand staircase. Vardamir was sitting draped over a bench on the landing, leafing through a book. He looked up as Elrond approached, rose and hurried up the stairs to meet him.
"You have seen Father?"
"Yes." Elrond closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to focus on his nephew. "We talked. I am glad to have seen him and heard his voice after so many years. He is asleep now, but he assured me that he would wake again."
Vardamir nodded. "That is good. I am glad that you were able to speak with him. It is something he has wanted for many years. But come, Uncle! You are weary yourself, in body and in spirit. I have caused a chamber to be prepared for you. Will you take your rest now?"
Elrond gazed dully at Vardamir. "If you would think it proper in a guest, I do find myself in need of solitude."
"It is no trouble at all. We have all of us been taking to our chambers alone at odd hours to refresh our souls. Sometimes I think that death is harder on those left behind than on the dying man himself. And he is your brother, your twin, he told me. I am sure that you are more in need of peace than anyone else in this house. Come with me, and you shall have rest."
Elrond followed Vardamir through the corridors to a small but well-appointed guest chamber. The bed with its cool gauze hangings beckoned invitingly. Vardamir showed him where he could refresh himself and advised him that a bell would ring when the evening meal was about to be served, and then withdrew. Elrond washed the tears from his face and sank down on the bed. Almost immediately, sleep claimed him.
He dreamed strange, vivid dreams, though afterwards he was never able to say quite what he had dreamed. After several hours, a bell chimed, and Elrond woke to feel an overpowering sense of need washing through him. In his muddled state, it took him a few moments to realize that he had heard the bell announcing the evening meal. He sat on the edge of the bed and took a few deep breaths to steady his nerves.
A discreet tap at the door broke his concentration. "Enter," he called.
The door opened, and a footman appeared. "Lord Elrond," he said with a deep bow, "I have come to announce that the evening meal is to be served in the dining hall. Lord Vardamir has instructed me to say that if you do not feel yourself able to attend, a tray will be brought to you here."
Elrond stood and moved to the door. The sleep had done him good, he decided. He felt calmer and more able to accept the jumble of emotions this strange land and terrible occasion were provoking in him. "I will go down to eat," he told the footman. "I am quite able, and I would become better acquainted with my niece and nephew. Will you show me the way?"
The footman bowed. "Follow me, Lord Elrond," he said. Elrond followed him out of the guest chamber and down the hall.
Upon arriving in the dining hall, Elrond discovered that he had two more nephews in addition to Vardamir. The two men rose when he entered the hall, and Vardamir introduced them as Manwendil and Atanalcar. Tindómiel offered Elrond a chair at one end of the table and signaled to the waitstaff.
The meal, when it arrived, consisted of several bowls containing colorful sweet-and-sour salads of grain and vegetables and plates of soft, flat bread. It was food intended to be picked at, which suited the family's mood well. No one seemed to be especially hungry, though they all made an effort to eat. As he twirled a piece of bread in a puddle of tangy dressing, Elrond noticed Manwendil and Atanalcar eyeing him thoughtfully, then looking away with a shudder.
"Does my presence discomfort you?" he asked gently. "I do not wish to add to your difficulties at this time."
Manwendil looked at him again and did not look away this time. "No," he said with a smile. "I am sorry if I am less than fully welcoming; no offense is meant. Our discomfort is not of your making. I am merely thinking back to when we were young and we sat around this table eating with Father and Mother. It is strange now. We are grown, but we sit still in our accustomed places, and you resemble Father in the days of his youth."
"Ah," Elrond said. "I hope that I am not usurping my brother's place at table."
Atanalcar smiled and shook his head. "No. Our sister is much too clever for that."
"I seated you at our mother's place," Tindómiel explained. "I had hoped to do so in a gracious and subtle manner, as befits the hostess of the palace, but my brothers seem to have undermined me yet again."
Atanalcar laughed then. "Dear Tindómiel," he said. "When will you learn? We are your brothers, and as such it is our duty to undermine your efforts at grace and subtlety."
"You must admit," Manwendil added, "you would miss it if we did behave acceptably."
"I would," Tindómiel agreed. "In the turmoil of these days, something is still as it was, even if it is the ill behavior of my brothers."
Everyone laughed at that. Elrond felt that he had been granted a glimpse of the true nature of his brother's family, and he was glad of it. "You all may rest assured," he said. "Despite the resemblance I bear him, I am not your father. I believe that when we were younger, everyone around us was glad of that fact. One Elros provided plenty of excitement for our caretakers; two would have been impossible."
This remark set off another round of laughter, and Elros's children asked Elrond for stories of his and their father's shared childhood. Elrond told them some of his happier memories of growing up under the care of Maglor, and in return, Elros's children each shared a story with him. Elrond drank in these stories of his brother's life appreciatively.
"It is almost like becoming acquainted with him all over again," he said. "He has had a full, rich life here that I am only now coming to know and appreciate."
"It will be hard for this land to lose him," Vardamir said softly.
"Will you take up the crown?" Elrond asked. A sudden silence fell over the table. Vardamir looked intently at a half-eaten round of bread on his plate. "I apologize," Elrond said. "I did not know that the subject was a sore one."
"You could not know," Manwendil said. "Vardamir does not wish to assume the crown. He will pass it on to his son instead. Atanalcar's eyes flashed angrily. He started to speak, and Manwendil glared at him. "It is his choice," he said. "He has his reasons, and we will respect them."
"That is enough," Vardamir said. "We have discussed this. The crown will go to Amandil. You will not change my mind with your bickering." Manwendil and Atanalcar fell silent, and Vardamir turned to Elrond. "I am sorry that you had to hear that, Uncle," he said. "I had thought we had laid this matter to rest before you arrived."
"In any event," Tindómiel put in, "now is not the time to discuss it further. We are all in short temper of late. Night has fallen. Let us now put an end to this day, for it has not been an easy one for any of us."
They rose from the table, and Vardamir gave a half-bow. "Shall I escort you back to your chamber, Uncle?" he asked.
Elrond shook his head. "No," he said. "I believe I remember the way. Do not let me keep you from your rest."
Vardamir turned to leave, then stopped and looked back at Elrond. "Please," he said. "Whatever you think of my decision concerning the kingship, say nothing of it to Father. I do not wish to burden his last days with worry over the succession."
"I will not breathe a word," Elrond assured him.
"Then I bid you good night, Uncle," Vardamir said, and the family dispersed to their bedchambers.