Hurin of Gondor was more than a little relieved to learn the old Queen of Arnor was but a guest at Rivendell and had a holding of her own in the far western reaches of the Lost Realm. To his mind the House of Elrond Half-Elven was a fine place to visit but he didn't fancy living there!

And so they set out on the Great East-West Road, the Lady and her two Women clad in the same worn and rusty green as her Ranger escort. At the Weather Hills they turned northward, stopping at Greymere - house of the Wardens of the Hills - and again at the King's Holding in the dales north of ruined Fornost before reaching the verges of the Evendim Forest on the seventh day of their journey.

Narrow tracks, thick bedded with pine needles and old leaves, wound mazelike between massive trunks of black pine and hemlock and silvery beech. The Rangers tread them confidently, riding single file and without lights, turning and twisting in the green twilight beneath the trees. Every now and again there would be a glimpse of ruddy westerning sun lighting a clearing and a half timbered house gaily painted white and red or green and gold or yellow and blue, each with its kitchen garden watered by a tinkling brook. It was full dusk by the time they reached the edge of the great lake. A finger of rippling silken waters lay before them with dark trees showing on the far shore and nearer a great, foursquare fortress-like mass floating above the grey surface.

The party dismounted and some of the Rangers led the horses away. The rest, including Hurin, stepped into the slender boats, grey as lake water, drawn up on the narrow strand and rowed silently, without ripple or splash, to the great house. As they drew closer Hurin saw it was built of gigantic logs weathered like stone rising high as the Pelannor wall with a row of glazed windows showing beneath the peaked roof and rounded embrasures at each corner. Then they passed under the house, weaving through the great piles that supported it, before emerging into a square of water with filled with boats moored to overhanging porches and overlooked by numerable windows, balconies and galleries all carved and painted with motifs very familiar to Hurin's eye; tree and stars, ships and swans, moons and suns, eagles and gulls. And some that were not; axes and dragons, cornflowers and niphredil, fountains and jewels.

They tied up to a porch tucked into a corner and the Lady Ellemir jumped out, nimble as a youth, followed by the rest. She led the way down a narrow open passage, lit only by the fading dusk and the yellow light streaming through the far end, into a hall at least as

large as that of the Kings back home in Minas Tirith. The floor was strewn with rushes and herbs and a forest of candles blazed in great wheel shaped chandeliers hanging from the high, hammer beamed ceiling. The walls were paneled to the height of a Man but above that they were covered by great, rippling tapestries of unrivaled artistry depicting the Settlement and the Downfall of Numenor in shimmering silks and gold and silver thread, each scene lit by a glittering Star wrought of clustered crystals.

Ellemir saw Hurin staring. "The Departure and Settlement tapestries were made by Silmarien for her chamber in Andunie, or so they say." she remarked. "Elemmire, my ancestress and namesake, wove the Downfall and Return for her hall in Dunhirion."

Hurin couldn't think of an answer to that. The Lady's tone was quite matter of fact. These Northerners spoke so casually of ancient things, as if they were somehow closer to the Elder Days then their Southern kin. Tearing his eyes from the tapestries Hurin looked at the people in the Hall and wondered if perhaps it wasn't so for Elves and Dwarves mixed easily with the Men and Women, talking quietly together in Sindarin just as if they were in some ancient hall in fallen Beleriand. Three great banners hung above the high table on the dais; the new moon of Isildur and the seven and one stars of Elendil flanking a broken sword beneath a single star - the device, Hurin later learned, of the Elemmirioni.

Ellemir's escort of Rangers silently melted away as she walked briskly the length of the hall until only her women and Hurin remained. They went through a door off the into a withdrawing room, or parlor, its paneled walls hung with brilliantly patterned Numenorian carpets, its floor covered with rush matting, lit by candles and a fire burning in a stone hearth at the center of the room.

Hurin looked at this in some awe. He knew what it was; a hon maren 'the heart of the house' 1. Every home in Gondor had one, cold and unlit save during the midwinter festival. The cult of the Flame like many ancient observances had long lapsed in the Southlands, but not here. A carved stone table stood by the hearth laid with an earthenware bowl and a rack of candles, sockets thick with wax drippings. The Lady Ellemir took a pinch of meal from the bowl and sprinkled it on the fire with a low invocation, then lit a candle from the flames and set it in the rack. Only then did she turn to the handful of people waiting quietly for her attention.

Two high backed chairs were set, side by side, near the hearth. One was painted and gilded and had a design of jewel and star emblazoned on a roundel in its back. The other was carved with twining dragons and set with a lozenge bearing a dragon and star.2 Ellemir seated herself in the gilded chair, signing for Hurin to stand beside her, and looked at the tall, silver fair Elf Hurin had been doing his best not to stare at.

"Well, Celebros, dare I hope this is no more than a visit to your favorite cousins?"

Cousins? The Elf smiled ruefully. "Would that it were, Ellemir, but the Forest grows no quieter and my father fears the trees and creatures gather for battle."

Trees? "It has been more than thirty years since the last attack." the tall, grim Ranger standing beside the Elf observed. "Another is due."

"So it is." Ellemir agreed, and turned to Hurin. "I present to you all Hurin son of Beren, a Lord of Gondor who has sworn his sword to the King." he bowed, nervously. The Queen continued: "My nephew and Captain Halbarad son of Barahir." the Ranger nodded polite acknowledgement. "His daughter, Nienor." This was a white and slender lady, sitting silent on a stool, all robed in soft grey her long dark hair falling around her like a cloak. And our good kinsman and ally Celebros of the Lake."

The Elf smiled and explained. "I am son to Elured, brother of Elwing, and so kin to the Elendilioni."

"Elured!" Hurin echoed, caught by surprise. "But - did not he and his brother die at the hands of the Feanori?"

Gull wing brows rose and Celebros answered: "Do they tell the tale so in Gondor? Well perhaps they might - for the true end was not known until after Elendil returned and why should the news spread beyond the North?

No, young Hurin, they did not die - though surely they were meant to. My father and uncle were succored by birds sent by Melian, our foremother, who guided them home to Tol Galen where they dwelt alone until driven forth by the sinking of Beleriand."

My Grandsire, Celeborn of Doriath who was King of the Lake in those days, found them among the refugees and made them kings of Harlindon as they were the rightful heirs of Elu and Dior. But my father wedded Lorellin, Celeborn's elder daughter, and so succeeded to the throne of the Lake when Grandfather surrendered it." 3

Elured son of Dior, grandson of Luthien still alive here in the North? Dazed Hurin barely heard, and certainly did not understand the conversation that followed between the Rangers and their Elven kinsman.

"Father has sent for Amarthon but not yet called upon our allies for aid." Celebros said.

Ellemir nodded. "Better to be sure we need help before we summon it. It may be that your folk and mine can handle this matter ourselves."

"Best to have Amarthon's judgment on that." said Lord Halbarad.

"Of course." said his aunt.

"In the meantime Father has reinforced our wardens on the northern march." said Celebros.

"Very good." Ellemir looked at her nephew. "No doubt you have already strengthened our patrols in the chases."

Halbarad gave a faint, wintery smile. "Of course. So far they have reported nothing unusual."

"Nor for that matter have our wardens." said Celebros. "But the deep wood mutters menaces."

"Doesn't it always?" the Lady asked dryly, then raised a hand as Celebros' eyebrows twitched response. "I know, I know. There are mutterings and mutterings." She looked grim. "Armegil reports increased raids in the North, Trolls and Men both. I trust our enemies and his have not made alliance."

"Only if Angmar or one of his lieutenants has returned." said Halbarad even more grimly.

"I have ever loved my Mortal kin for their bright and sunny apprehension." Celebros observed drolly making all three Rangers smile, and for a moment look not grim at all.

Ellemir laughed. "Point taken, Celebros. Sufficient the evil we know without fearing more. If our fears have substance we will learn of it soon enough."

"To soon." said Halbarad and his Elven cousin grimaced expressively.

The Lady Nienor spoke for the first time. "Now that we have settled to do nothing, should we not see to making the Lord Hurin welcome?"

"Of course." Ellemir smiled ruefully at him, the grim years fell away and he was startled yet again by her beauty. "Forgive us, my new liege, but matters of war needs must come even before the duties of hospitality."

"So we say in Gondor." said Hurin, smiling in return.

"Nienor will show you to a chamber. I will expect you back here within the hour to share our supper."

Hurin bowed to the Queen, to the Dunedain Captain and Elven lord and finally to the Lady Nienor to indicate his readiness to follow her.

She opened a door in the wall near her stool and led him into a high but narrow passage lit by eerie silver-blue lamps suspended from the ceiling. After a jog to the right the corridor widened and Hurin saw many doors in the wainscoted walls. The Dunedain woman glided lightly before him like a slender shadow, the house around them silent save for the water lapping against the piles beneath their feet.

Finally the lady stopped, opened one of the many doors and preceding him inside lit a lamp. The blessedly normal yellow light showed a plain chamber, longer than it was wide, with unadorned grey plaster walls. But the floor was ankle deep in sheepskins; the low wide bed spread with a richly patterned coverlet, a carved chest at its foot. Gold inlays sparkled in a small table by the bed-head. There was a cross legged stool and the branching bronze lamp, wrought in in the form of twisted tree, upholding three lights.

Nienor kindled the other two and turned to him with a smile lighting her sad and gentle face. "Be welcome, kinsman, and regard this house as your home." the traditional formula. "Stay but a moment and I will return with water." and off she went with light step.

She was as quick as she had promised, but then one didn't have to go far to fetch water in this house! Nienor reentered bearing pitcher and basin herself, linen towels draped over her shoulder, followed by a young man in blue and grey livery carrying Hurin's saddle bags. She poured the water and laid the towels ready. The squire placed the bags on the chest at the bed's foot and both withdrew, with smiles but no words, leaving Hurin to contemplate yet another difference between the North and his homeland. In Gondor such menial gestures of welcome had long since been consigned to servants but here in the Lost Realm they kept to the antique custom of the ladies of the house themselves waiting on their guests - even far humbler ones then himself as he was to learn.

Footnotes:

1. The 'cult of the Flame' is my invention, based loosely on Roman practices, but the 'hon maren' is not. Tolkien mentions it in 'The Lost Road'. The hearth in Elrond's 'Hall of Fire' is a 'hon maren'. Though he has chosen to be numbered among the Elder race Elrond still observes the traditions of his Mortal ancestors - at least in my Fanon!

2. These are the personal devices of Ellemir, (whose name means 'Star Jewel') and of her late husband Arador who slew a dragon in the Grey Mountains in his youth.

3. This version of the fate of Elured and Elurin is of course mine but based on possibilities considered by Tolkien, the birds for example were his idea. The connection between Celeborn and Galadriel and Lake Evendim is based on one of Tolkien's several drafts of their history, however their daughter Lorellin is entirely my own, as is her son Celebros.