Elros woke to find himself in a strange tent. "Gil-Galad's quarters." He absently remembered, although his pounding headache obscured some of the detail. Cirulian and Glorfindel had strong-armed them into these quarters upon their return.
"I can detect nothing different about them. No matter what the Maia declared." Elros recognized Noenri's voice. "Although both have lingering pain and headaches."
"I assume the Valar knew what they were doing and any ill effects will pass shortly." A different kingly voice said. Elros thought it was Finarfin.
"I worry that being singled out so makes them visible targets. They, like you, will require guards. Dishonesty, theft, and murder have woefully been a part of elven life in these lands." Celeborn intoned softly.
"Such lawlessness and injustice has been equally part of life among dwarves, men and elves." Glorfindel agreed. His heart still ached for the beloved fallen kingdom of Gondolin, which fell open to attack due to the betrayal of a fellow elf.
"We will work to change that. We will ingrain values and bring justice to these lands." Gil-Galad said. "It will take time but our people deserve to live safe and secure."
"Surely all the elves will follow your commands." Finarfin said authoritatively.
"Does Aran Finarfin really believe the elves of Middle Earth all fall under my rule?" Gil-Galad thought. He held back a smile as Celeborn flinched slightly.
"This is Middle Earth. Without Morgoth's influence many new lands are open to us. Elves will undoubtedly break up into separate realms. Likely, some will chose to live under Lord Celeborn's and your daughter's guidance. Other will prefer to return to the woods. Perhaps Oropher and his sons will be chosen as their leaders. Still others of the Avari will disappear and cut off contact with all outsiders. Are not elves in the West similarly divided?" Gil-Galad said calmly. He noticed Celeborn's eyes glinting in approval.
"You have much work ahead." Aran Finarfin returned simply. "And there is no predicting how many elves will settle here. I am sure many grow tired of the dangers and will chose to sail west. Others have endured injuries that can only be healed in the west. It is in their best interests to sail." Noenri and the young King both stiffened at that last remark. Indiriel's state of health was not widely known.
"We will guard and protect those of our people who chose to remain." Celeborn wisely guided the conversation to less dangerous waters. Glorfindel astutely picked up on this thread.
"I will help guard Elrond." Glorfindel promised. "For he will truly be one apart and alone when Elros sails."
"Unique but not alone, for many here love him." Gil-Galad added. "Many hearts will also break when his brother sails from us. We will have a few years to come to terms with these decisions. Fortunately, the brothers will have that time and together with Elbereth's blessing they can begin to accept the consequences of their parting.
"It will take years and much cooperation between the free peoples of Middle Earth to not only rebuild your cities but to construct ships to bring men to their new home." Finarfin said.
"Elros has many loyal followers. Mikeal and Beleford will take special pride in keeping their King to be secure." Glorfindel noted.
"In fact Mikeal and Beleford may be old by the time they are ready to sail." Gil-Galad said, remembering how much Belegarous had aged in but twenty years. Their conversation halted immediately when they noticed the silver eyes observing them. Noenri was the first to approach Elros.
"Slowly young one." Noenri chided, helping Elros to sit up and handing him a healing draught. "Willow bark tea, it will help your head." Elros nodded slightly and sipped at the tea. As his vision cleared, he recognized Gil-Galad, Glorfindel, Celeborn and Finarfin watching over him.
"Elrond?" Elros' voice was soft but concerned.
"He sleeps still." The healer soothed, looking over to the far corner where Elrond lay in healing sleep.
"I am proud that one of our line will establish a kingdom of men. Surely, it will draw our peoples together." The eldest King smiled. "Elros, what drew you to this choice? Was it duty or your heart?"
"It is not often that both lead one to the same choice. Although it pains me that Elrond could not choose likewise. I would live out our lives together." Elros answered honestly. "How could any not answer Aran Finarfin with honesty?" He thought, suddenly filled with the desire to learn all he could from this ancient being. Most in the room grieved oppositely, wishing that Elros had chosen like his brother, though Gil-Galad knew that Elros had always felt more akin to men.
"Eonwë has assured us that our ships can sail between Tol Eressëa and Númenor. You will not be without aid. I look forward to much interaction between our lands." Finarfin reassured the peredhel. The Noldo King had newly heard many of the stories of this land. He thought on the tales of the friendship of Finrod and Barahir, of Beleg and Túrin, of Tuor, who bore Ulmo's message to Turgon in Gondolin and later married Turgon's daughter. He thought of the love of Beren and Luthien, and later Tuor and Idril who had been his welcomed guests at Tol Eressëa. The Edain, the second born of Ilúvatar, were indeed intriguing.
"Eonwë" Elros mumbled, remembering Glorfindel's words that the Maia wished to apologize. "Does he remain here?"
"Nay, he departed this morning with a large force. They seek to destroy all remnants of Morgoth's forces." Finarfin said seriously. "We will return towards the Havens soon to assess what lands remain and how many of our ships are still afloat."
The journey to the sea proceeded much faster than expected because the coastline had been so dramatically transformed. In places one could see the erosion occurring in real time. Earth visible one day was swallowed up by the sea the next day. By all accounts they were heading towards where Mithlond had stood, but few landmarks remained along the roads.
Elrond rode between Gil-Galad and Elros. The three bantered, happily exchanging comments and jokes. The glinting silver eyes of Elros and the laughter of Gil-Galad struck a chord deep inside Elrond. He knew at that moment, that his time with both was not infinite. Perhaps it was his mortal heritage that gave him this insight, but somehow knew that he needed to cherish the time he was blessed with their company.
"We may need Erestor to map this new coastline." Gil-Galad said, suddenly serious again. "This war has transformed the world. I fear there will not be much that remains of Mithlond." In fact much of the Sirion River was destroyed and none of the lands the Elwing and Earendil had settled remained. Sirion also known as Arvernien at the mouth of the great river, remained was no more. Perhaps it was fitting that these lands now lay under the sea and only memories could torment those that had the fortitude to survive such tremulous days.
Elrond shivered slightly in the warm sun. Visions of kingdoms shimmered in front of his eyes. He saw white towers and elves living as one with nature in majestic trees with silver trunks. There was a vision of Elros, hair streaked slightly with gray happily toasting the Yule festival, contentment clear in his visage. There were visions of a white shining haven, grand stone palaces, and even an elven throne room within a cavern.
"Elrond?" Gil-Galad had halted their steeds and had gently steadied his distant cousin. Another arm, surely Elros's, held his other shoulder. Elrond turned to Gil-Galad's voice, his gray eyes clearing to shining silver.
"There will yet be wondrous things, realms both on this soil and on the isle of Númenor. We will be part of their growth." The enthusiasm bubbled through his voice and he smiled brilliantly. It was a smile that warmed Ereinion's heart, for it appeared far to infrequently.
"Yes, we will be part of building that future." Gil-Galad agreed.
It had taken nearly three months, but as winter was setting in, Cirdan, Gil-Galad and Gildor had agreed on a site that would eventually become the new Havens. It was nearly a league from where the ruins of the old palace jutted out on a cliff that now had a spectacular if somewhat heart-stopping ocean view. The training fields, woods and old Havens were gone, swept away by the sea and the great upheaval. The stable ground by the sea was where they now set up camps. It was less than a days ride from the nearest settlement. Luckily, the settlements reaped a bountiful harvest. There was food enough to sustain the remainder of the allied forces as well as the refugees was steadily transported to the camps. Many wives and children traveled to the camps to be reunited with their warrior husbands, fathers, and brothers. On this night of the Yule festival, bonfires and celebrations were already beginning. Rations of grains and vegetables for simple stews, while relatively meager by normal standards seemed extravagant to those used to war rations. All were caught up in the celebration of the long hoped for and finally realized victory.
"I told you on Balar that you were an elf!" Calimdriel teased hugging Elrond fondly. "But that is awful that your brother will not live out an immortal life. You will be separated by death at some point." Elrond drew a deep breath. How he wished people would stop pointing this obvious fact out.
"Denial was much easier or ignorance." He thought darkly. "Perhaps ignorance is bliss."
"Even elves may not live forever. You see how Oroduin, Thranduil and Andapher suffer from Rúmdir's tragic death." Elrond said softly, distressed at having this conversation yet again. He took a deep sip of wine. "Who knows at this point? Perhaps Elros will live longer that I will. Or perhaps I will not survive his death."
"You of all elves will endure. One could not makeup a more interesting story than what you and your brother have already lived through. You have somehow endured while severely injured in an orc infested forest, survived earthquakes and ambushes, not to mention holding your own against some of the most fearsome warriors of this age." Erestor observed.
"There was that time you fell out of a tree." Calimdriel giggled and sipped at her mulled wine.
"You fell out of a tree?" Lady Niphredriel exclaimed. She had been speaking with Cirulian and only half heard their conversation. Cirulian had just departed. Elrond mumbled something in embarrassment.
"In any case," Elrond chose to ignore the comments, "we are only fifty-five now. Five hundred years seems unfathomable."
"Five hundred years can pass quickly or agonizingly slowly depending on who you spend your time with. I never thought that I would survive to this one's majority." Niphredriel gave her daughter a dark look.
"Oh, Naneth!" Calimdriel feigned hurt and threw up her hands. "If only you had let me have a few more adventures instead of insisting that I stay home where nothing ever happens."
"You had far too many adventures on what was supposed to be a safe haven. Any more and I might have been the first elf in history to succumb to a heart attack."
"Where did you learn of that ailment?" Elrond asked curiously, ignoring the glare Calimdriel gave him, which clearly warned against encouraging her Mother.
"We traveled often between villages coordinating food shipments for the war effort. I aided the healers a number of times as there was a dire shortage of men or elves with any training in the healing arts or midwifery. By the way Eärendilion, I was surprised to see your two books for the Edain healers. They are well written and beautifully illustrated. Your parents would be very proud of your accomplishment." Elrond blushed at the compliment.
"Books?" Erestor and Calimdriel both exclaimed.
"I heard that these are not the only books that you have authored." Niphredriel smiled knowingly. Elrond's face betrayed neither admission nor denial of her statement.
"When did you have time to write books?" Erestor gasped in admiration.
"You have produced amazingly accurate maps and made great contribution towards the founding of many settlements." Elrond praised, trying to steer the conversation to other things. Writing was one of the things that kept him grounded. Often he wrote late into the night in an effort to keep ill dreams away. During the war he had penned drafts of two new books. One focused on surgical procedures and was also written for the edain healers.
"No changing the topic, elfling!" Calimdriel caught him. "When do we get to see your books? Even if they are about edain medicine, you should make a copy for our libraries."
"Yes! That's a wonderful idea." Niphredriel said encouragingly. "There will be many elven healers who will be interested in your ideas of contagions and the spread of illnesses among men. I found it fascinating."
Xxxxxxxxx In the camps of men.
"You must be Elros." For a moment, Elros thought he was hallucinating then he gazed downward.
"You're a dwarf." Elros said in surprise. He had seen a few before but had never truly spoken to one."
"You are not the sharper of Eärendil's sons, are you?" Thainren continued. Elros just stood silent with his mouth open. Had a dwarf insulted him?
"How is your brother? Is he here?" Thainren asked. "Those bloody elves refused to let me into their camp."
"Thainren? Of Belegost?" Elros suddenly remembered Elrond's account of his visit there. Gratitude filled him as he recalled how the dwarves had cared for his brother and showed him their hospitality.
"Yes, I am Thainren. Sadly, there is not much remaining of Belegost. Most of the great fortress was destroyed by Morgoth or by the tremulous shaking of the earth. I do not know if we will rebuild there." The dwarf sighed. "But what of your brother? I heard that he lives and that wretched son of Fëanor is no more. Had I come upon Maedhros, I would have slay him for the harm he did to your brother."
Elros watched the dwarf shake with anger and did not doubt the truth of his words. He fought to keep a serious mien. He doubted that the ax-wielding dwarf was any match for Maedhros.
"You have my deepest gratitude for your friendship and care for my brother. Elrond is well. He will be happy to see you. Come I will escort you to him." Elros said. Mikeal and his family joined them. His two sons were nearly equal in height to the dwarf and stared curiously at the bearded little man. Together the unusual group crossed into the elven camps. Elros nearly laughed as he noticed the horrified looks from Oropher and his sons as they passed. Elrond was standing around a bonfire with Erestor and his family. Calimdriel's eyes widened as she saw them approach.
"Elrond! Little one, you look like an elven Lord, finally!" Thainren teased and the two embraced.
"Thainren! It is good to see you! How do your family and your sister fare?" Elrond asked, marveling how the dwarf looked exactly the same as he remembered. "Why did men age so quickly in comparison?" He wondered.
"They are well considering all the destruction. We lost many in the battle and in the subsequent upheaval. Not much remains of our city."
"It remains in your heart. I have faith that the capable dwarven crafters will rebuild the stunning halls." Elrond said. Then he turned to his companions. "Allow me to introduce Thainren of Belegost. This is the Lady Niphredriel, and her son Erestor and her daughter, Calimdriel."
"It is a pleasure to meet you fair folk." Thainren bowed graciously.
"Elrond has told us much about you and the beautiful city of Belegost. We are sorry for your loss." Calimdriel said. She had always wanted to meet a dwarf much to her Mother's and her fiancé's chagrin. Soon they were having a lively conversation, which was intermittently interrupted by Mikeal's sons asking Thainren the most unusual questions. The eight and ten year olds were especially curious about Thainren's beard and the size of his feet. Alster, the younger one, could not get over the fact that he was as tall as the dwarf. It was Orodiun's approach that finally brought the jovial teasing to a halt.
"Pardon, beloved." Orodiun interrupted politely, successfully masking his dislike for dwarves. "My Adar requests our presence."
"Please excuse us, dear Master Thainren. It was a pleasure to meet you." Calimdriel smiled and the dwarf wished her farewell. She and Orodiun locked arms and strolled away, blissfully happy to be together once again. Lady Niphendriel and Erestor took their leave as well but not before exchanging wishes for a 'Happy Yule.' Soon a new contingent of people approached. It was Beleford, his wife Selina and his brother Riand. Beleford carried a bottle and some small glasses.
"Elros, Yule would not be complete without our traditional toast." Beleford handed out glasses to Mikeal, Thainren, and Elrond. "So elfling, do you dare taste our fire spirits this year? You have long avoided it."
"Happy Yule to you too." Elrond smiled. "What is in your fire spirits, if I may ask?"
"It is simply fermented grain mash, triply distilled and aged in oak casks. Surely you can handle it." He smiled deviously. Elros and Mikeal laughed. "Such tiny cups, I am sure you can drink a sip or two."
"Triply distilled?" Asked Elrond in confusion.
"Aye, elfling, this is not a drink to be missed." Thainren smiled, anticipating the taste of whiskey.
"Such a waste all those years of study of the healing arts. Never did you bother to study the more important art of brewing!" Riand teased.
"Did you hear that Analise and Halverad are expecting their first child in a month's time? Bergil is spending Yule with them in the settlement as it is too difficult for her to travel now." Selina reported while Beleford poured the traditional drink.
"To Belegarous and Ríanna. May they be celebrating Yule in peace and harmony with Eru." Selina toasted. The elderly pair had passed away two years ago.
"May we follow their examples in life and enjoy every celebration." Elros raised his cup. Selina, Riand, Mikeal, Thainren and Beleford followed suit. Elrond had little choice but to raise his as well.
"Happy Yule! May this year bring peace and happiness!" Mikeal prayed.
"Hear! Hear!" They clinked their glasses together and drained their cups. Elrond swallowed a sip. The liquid burned as it slid down his esophagus. He could not hold back a choked gasp. Warmth quickly spread through him as the liquid hit his empty stomach.
"There, there elfling." Thainren teased. "It is not polite to leave any in your glass. Drink up so that the favors of a good Yule and a good year will come to pass!" They all watched in amusement as Elrond drained his glass. It was nearly an hour later when the Thainren and the others departed back to their camps.
"Come brother, it is nearly time to join Ereinion and Indiriel for dinner." Elros teased. Elrond was feeling quite numb and giddy, having sipped at least a second glass of whiskey. He could not quite recall if it was a second or a third.
"That sound like a good idea." Elrond agreed. "Perhaps that fire water will not induce a headache in the morning unlike your ale." Elros only laughed and pulled his brother unsteadily along. He knew Elrond was going to seriously regret ever tasting that fire spirit.
"Eärendilion! What have you two been drinking?" A familiar voice chided. Glorfindel had watched the pair amble in a swerving path towards him.
"Some traditional brew. Elros called it fire water." Elrond slurred, smiling too brightly at the blurred golden figure. "Gloringel."
"For shame, Elros." Glorfindel laughed, ruining his serious expression.
"It is Yule, for Eru's sake, Glorfindel." Elros said, trying to keep his tone steady in imitation of a sober man.
"Happy Yule!" Elrond smiled again.
"Yes, Happy Yule!" Glorfindel laughed. "Come, let's get some food for you both." He led the brothers to the gathering and seated them near Erestor and his family.
"Some wine too." Elros requested.
"I think not." Glorfindel returned.
"Vanya, who are you to deny these princes wine?" Thranduil intervened passing two cups over. Glorfindel glared.
"Well, then I put you in charge of returning them safely to their tents. They have just been toasting the Yule with Edain whiskey."
"Whiskey!" Oropher overheard. "Did you bring any back?"
"Shhh!" Elros said, much too loudly. "There is not too much left, but I gift it to you, noble Oropher." He pulled the bottle from his pocket.
"Do not share with Glofingel. He does not approve." Elrond divulged, his words slightly slurred. Oropher laughed and cheerfully accepted the bottle.
"Adar, surely you will share." Thranduil requested.
"With you, my firstborn, of course. But there is not enough for your brothers. Quick before your Naneth returns." Oropher added. There was enough for two glasses and Oropher and Thranduil toasted the Yule together. Oropher savored his, while Thranduil had a similar reaction to Elrond. He gasped and choked after his first sip.
"Is this poison?" Thranduil coughed.
"Who knows?" Elrond slurred. "My brother kept pouring it for me." Thranduil nearly spit his out at that remark.
"An excellent brew, very smooth with overtones of oak." Oropher added approvingly. Glorfindel reappeared with plates of stew. The rest of Oropher's family soon followed. It was not long before Aran Finarfin and Lady Galadriel began the ceremonies, chanting the ancient versus in praise of light and life. Lord Celeborn carried the torch to light the huge bonfire. Then all those gathered joined in to sing of the sacred fire. The ritual songs evolved into dances celebrating the promise and hope of the future. A future promising life in peace in a world now cleansed of Morgoth and his minions, a glowing future that beckoned with boundless dreams and limitless possibilities for elves, men and dwarves. It was a future that they would forge together.