Disclaimer: I am not J.R.R. Tolkien and I do not own Middle-earth.

Then befell the first sundering of the Elves. For the kindred of Ingwë, and the most part of the kindreds of Finwë and Elwë, were swayed by the words of their lords, and were willing to depart and follow Oromë; and these were known ever after as the Eldar, by the name that Oromë gave to the Elves in the beginning, in their own tongue. But many refused the summons, preferring the starlight and the wide spaces of Middle-earth to the rumour of the Trees; and these are the Avari, the Unwilling, and they were sundered in that time from the Eldar, and met never again until many ages were past.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion. 'Quenta Silmarillion'. 1977: 52.

It is said that many who are now forgotten lived in Arda after the first sundering of the Elves, long before the death of the Trees or the raising of Isil and Anar, when only Doriath of all the great kingdoms of Elves and Men did not lie far in the undreamt future and even the might of Doriath was barely begun. In the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin beyond the River Gelion, hunters wandered the crags and valleys in those long-gone days of night and starlight. They travelled in groups, partly because of the natural gregariousness of Elves but largely because many of Melkor's surviving servants, still lurking in the dark places of the world, had made nests in the caverns beneath the mountains. The nearness of danger discouraged individual idiosyncrasies; divisions could only endanger the common good and those few who tired of conformity and struck out on their own were rarely seen again. Young ones were kept close for longer than was the custom in less dangerous parts of the world and with good reason, although the elflings themselves naturally did not always appreciate this.

A meadow near the base of Mount Dolmed served as the favourite camping ground of one such tribe, no more than eight Valian years after the awakening of Elwë Singollo as Elu Thingol in Nan Elmoth. At that time, prey was plentiful. Those not assigned to guard the camp took their rest by the fires and joined the singing or dancing as the mood took them. A few had gone to their tents and only one solitary shadow drifted out a little way to count the stars. Valacirca swung bright overhead, sickle-edged, a northern warning of doom. The hunters of the Blue Mountains cared nothing for that doom, being Avari Moriquendi, the Unwilling Elves of Darkness, nor did they give the Sickle of the Valar its correct name until Melian's teaching had filtered into the furthest parts of Eriador after the flowering of Thingol's reign. They did not need the Maia Queen to tell them that the seven stars of Valacirca were a fixed point in the north by which a traveller might navigate, given the need.

The need or the whim. A shadow alone under the stars attempted to contemplate the difference. No doubt his parents would have given him a clear answer; nonetheless, it did not seem immediately obvious. There were the guiding stars, swinging in the north, and there was the great wide world beyond the mountains. Was it need or a whim that pointed the way?

"I missed your voice," said someone quietly. "Won't you sing soon?"

No. Not now.

Anyone else and he would have smiled and turned back to the camp. Anyone else and he would have concealed the need or the whim or, either way, the restlessness that drove him to space and silence when everyone else was content by firelight. Here, though, was a perfect understanding that made the question redundant: she knew quite well that he had not the slightest wish to sit and sing by the fire when the whole starlit world was spread out at their feet.

"Those traders we met earlier talked about Maiar," he said without turning. "A great lord and lady said to be living in a forest far west of the River Gelion. It seemed to me –" and now he almost hesitated "– it seemed one might reach the Gelion at least without much difficulty, following the Ascar."

"And after that – west?"

"So I thought."

She said nothing for a moment. A breeze twisted between them; he did not look to see her face.

At last she spoke again.

"It would be most indecorous for you to go alone."

He blinked. "Indecorous?"

"Indecorous," she repeated firmly. "My mother would say so, and so would yours. I couldn't possibly allow it."

So there it was: that perfect understanding, proven. He smiled wonderingly into the starry night. "Your mother would say it was thoroughly indecorous to travel with a male unrelated to you."

"So she would."

"We might – perhaps – consider ourselves betrothed?"

"What a good idea." Her tone was approving. "We can get married when we get back."

Left unsaid: how long it would be before their return. Also the many arguments that their assorted relatives would throw up against both a betrothal and an expedition, beginning with their youth. She was only a hundred and Erestor had not quite reached his eightieth year. Marriage, perhaps; secession, certainly not! If their plans were shared with their parents, this (call it what it was!) escape into the world would dwindle into a mere dream.

"I'll tell my sister to tell them after we've gone," added Melinna, having followed his thoughts perfectly. The sister in question was a bouncy elfling who deeply admired her elder sibling and could be counted on not to betray them too soon. "It would be unkind not to."

Which was true.

In the years before Arien was called upon to pilot the Sun through the heavens, or Tilion the Moon, time passed almost unmeasured; they caught up with the traders beside the starlit Ascar after a period that would in later ages be counted as two days. It had not been hard to slip away from the hunters' camp on Mount Dolmed and nor had doing so cost them more than a slight conscience-twitch, since they had dreamed about escaping into the world for decades. To fly at last was far too exhilarating for either of them to be terribly distracted by leaving their families behind. They travelled with the traders as far as the Gelion, at which point the traders (muttering something about 'young fools') turned north while Erestor and Melinna crossed at Sarn Athrad, the Ford of Stones, and continued west into the grasslands of East Beleriand.

Having lived all their lives in the mountains, the vast openness of the grasslands came as a shock and a delight. The plains were rich in wildlife too; they found herds of wild deer, streams in which swam silver fish, easily snared rabbits and fat game-birds against which Melinna could test her skill with Erestor's bow. It was not the custom among the hunters of Ered Luin for the women to hunt, since hunting was dangerous and women were rare, and they had therefore been obliged to acquire knives and spare arrows for Melinna from the traders, offering in exchange some rather fine skins saved by Erestor from previous hunts. There were plenty of opportunities for Erestor to show Melinna how to do more than gut rabbits as they drifted through a twilit ocean of grass. Despite the guiding light of the seven stars in the north, it took them a whole happy year to reach the River Aros.

"That looks interesting," said Melinna, playing with a knife as she contemplated the dense woods beyond the river's northern bank. "Do you think it's the forest we came looking for?"

"I'd almost forgotten we were looking for anything," Erestor replied truthfully. "Can you see a ford?"

It was perhaps the luck of the young and ignorant that had seen them safely across the plains of East Beleriand and that luck clung to them like a mantle as they wandered beneath the great oaks of Region. Elu Thingol's lordship had spread through the forests of Eglador by the power of Melian and no evil creatures of the type that made the Blue Mountains perilous remained there, but wild beasts still had their dens in the deep forest and presented a danger of an entirely amoral kind for the heedless traveller. The pair were less heedless then than they had been a year earlier, but they were new to the woods and the easy grasslands had spoiled their instincts, finely honed in Ered Luin. Fortunately, however, a young lord of Thingol's sylvan court encountered them before they could get into any real trouble. They were rather surprised to find out that the gossip of the traders was true: there really was a great lord and his greater lady living in the Forest of Region.

King Greymantle had dwelt with his Queen among the trees for nine years then. Erestor and Melinna, having set out in the vague expectation of perhaps a decade's wandering in the twilight world, lingered instead for a decade short of a century in nightingale-haunted Eglador where Melian, who had already taught the birds to sing, was then engaged in the rather more difficult task of civilising her husband's court. Those Teleri who had remained in Arda to seek Elwë Singollo had all the stubbornness, not to say arrogance, of a people that could ignore a Vala's attempts to lead the way to Aman, and not all of them were particularly receptive to gentle hints about the virtues of increasing their knowledge about Life, the Universe and Everything as opposed to, say, going hunting or singing yet another panegyric to Varda Elbereth. The young visitors from the Blue Mountains, on the other hand, had been mere children at the time of the first sundering, would certainly have followed Ulmo into the west had they been adults then and were far too interested in everything in Eä not to join Thingol's younger and humbler courtiers in hanging on Queen Melian's every word. The Maia seemed to find it rather a relief to have such a willing audience.

Eglador in those twilight years was young and glorious. 'Though Middle-earth lay for the most part in the Sleep of Yavanna, in Beleriand under the power of Melian there was life and joy, and the bright stars shone as silver fires; and there in the forest of Neldoreth Lúthien was born, and the white flowers of niphredil came forth to greet her as stars from the earth' – so says the Quenta Silmarillion. Melian's wisdom and the child Lúthien's smile kept them at Thingol's court while the fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar grew up, but the restlessness that had chased them down from the Blue Mountains eventually lured them away from Eglador in turn. Besides, there was the small matter of their marriage. As Melinna pointed out, their drawn-out betrothal was becoming increasingly indecorous and Erestor (who would have preferred to go further west to investigate the harbours of Círdan the Shipwright) was obliged to agree that it was time to revisit their families. Once their marital status was finally sorted out, they could return to Eglador – or visit the Falas Elves beside the sea – or travel north towards the Valacirca – or search out a rumour called Iarwain Ben-adar, oldest and fatherless – or go anywhere...

For the time being, they returned to Ered Luin with Melian's blessing and an armful of gifts, promising to spread word of the new kingdom that was budding in Eglador. This they did whenever they encountered other Elves, which occurred more often than on their first journey. It seemed that the empty spaces of Beleriand were beginning to be populated. They reached the mountains without undue difficulty and settled in the meadow on Mount Dolmed, as it seemed easier to wait there than to tramp the mountains in search of their tribe. Presently, as expected, they were joined there by their surprised relatives.

The scenes that followed were exquisitely tedious. So said Erestor later, at any rate, and Melinna never bothered to disagree. Such delight as was initially displayed on the return of the reprobates disappeared almost at once in a storm of recriminations. Their parents had been terribly worried, how could they? what had they been thinking? where had they been? what was this nonsense about kings and Maiar? and marriage at their age! and the danger of running off like that! and Erestor's mother had quarrelled with Melinna's mother about that hussy he was certainly not going to marry, and Melinna's father had quarrelled with Erestor's father about that depraved beast of a boy enticing his precious daughter into disgrace –

"I'm bored," announced Erestor after a week or so of this, when it seemed clear that neither side was going to relent any time soon. He spoke flatly and his dark eyes were full of irritation. "How would you like to have a look at the other side of the mountains?"

"East?" said Melinna, who had been about to suggest it herself. "An excellent idea!"

So they slipped away once again and went east through the mountains, heading nowhere in particular, and were pleasantly surprised to come across a number of very strange little people who were certainly not Elves and who spoke an odd language that neither of them could understand. As a result, Erestor rather unkindly christened their new friends 'Naugrim', the Stunted Ones, and had to be forcibly restrained by Melinna from attempting to braid ribbons into the vast bushes of hair sprouting out of those grumpy little faces. Melinna was obliged to say some very severe things about this sort of behaviour and applied herself to reaching an understanding of the unpronounceable jumble of harsh consonants that served the Naugrim for a language, largely because she wished to prove that although the strangers were as short and unintelligible as children, they were neither children nor childlike, and therefore should not be treated as lightly as Erestor was inclined to do.

During the course of this investigation, which took several years, they became as thoroughly acquainted with the dwarf-built halls of Nogrod and Belegost as their hosts would permit. The Khazâd, as they named themselves and as Melinna at least was always meticulous about calling them, tended to be secretive and their visitors were politely refused access to many of the workshops and deeper parts of their cities. This prohibition was gracefully accepted; there was no point in antagonising their hosts, after all, especially when there was so much of interest in the public areas. The Khazâd seemed keen to learn Sindarin and the Elves were happy to oblige, since even Melinna was unwilling to spend too long twisting her tongue speaking dwarvish. They shared what they knew of Elvish history, recommended a visit to Thingol and Melian's court in Eglador, provided useful tips for trading with their Elvish kin and marvelled over dwarven workmanship until even Erestor had to admit that such skill with metal and stone was far beyond anything he had seen wrought by Elvish hands.

Being prudent, he added at once that they were still far from being experienced travellers and might well see greater works if (as he hoped) they continued to travel Arda. This made the Naugrim laugh in their grim way and mutter through their beards about a very great work that they might just see if they continued eastwards. Apparently the eldest of the Seven Fathers had founded a hall so great that it made Nogrod and Belegost seem like mere scratchings in the earth, and it was called Khazad-dûm. The name sparked a light in Erestor's dark eyes and he turned hopefully to Melinna, who shook her head.

"We still aren't married," she pointed out. "Certainly, then."

And so in time they departed the dwarven halls to return to their tribe, hoping that their parents had by now calmed down enough to come to terms with their various unfilial choices. They went laden with more gifts of an exquisitely practical nature: shining long knives and a long sword for each of them, and coats of finely-linked steel rings that should protect their tender Elvish skin (said the Naugrim, chuckling) from thorns or from blades. With them went a number of Naugrim with metalwork to trade and the intention, ultimately, of making the long journey to Eglador. Melinna and Erestor had promised to guide their small friends there without delay, if their parents proved to be still against their marriage, or with some delay, if their parents had given in and were amenable to the match. The Naugrim, who seemed to find Elvish customs intriguing, were quite content with either option.

They encountered their tribe en route to the Mount Dolmed meadow. Melinna's father still glowered and Erestor's mother still hissed, but the rest of their relatives had by now surrendered to the inevitable, perhaps because they had noticed that the errant couple tended to return from their travels bearing armfuls of gifts. The Naugrim were treated as curiosities at first and then made welcome for the sake of those fine, sharp blades. The hunters of Ered Luin were very well placed to appreciate good weapons.

Under the stars of Varda Elbereth in twilit Arda, Erestor and Melinna were married at last. The ceremony itself was something of an anticlimax, since they had been betrothed for over a hundred years and had little need of a formal marriage other than to satisfy the proprieties, but it seemed to offer some consolation to their parents. The celebrations went on for a week, after which the newly-weds and the Naugrim departed west into Beleriand, travelling down the Ascar once again to cross the Gelion at Sarn Athrad. During this journey, which brought back happy memories for the two Elves, the Naugrim muttered among themselves about the inconvenience of riverside trails and how much improved the trip would be if someone had only had the foresight to build a road beside the river (as the Maker Mahal had clearly intended them to do), and they chipped pieces from the cliffs and studied silt from the riverbank until both Erestor and Melinna were thoroughly bored by the whole discussion. Nothing more memorable than an echo of Oromë's Valaróma and white Nahar's golden hooves occurred as they passed through the grasslands and they returned to the Forest of Region without delay.

There they were welcomed warmly by Melian and Thingol, who made their small companions welcome as well. Eglador was much as they had left it, although already Thingol's sylvan court was busier and new faces were appearing there by the day. The power of Melian and the lordship of Elu Thingol were becoming increasingly acknowledged throughout Beleriand. Having done their duty by the Naugrim, Erestor and Melinna lingered there for only a year or so before once again setting out into the twilit world.

"You will return, my children," said the Maia Queen among the nightingales, speaking in the voice that had once entranced Elwë and smiling with the light of Aman in her face. She was the mother of the fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar and her own beauty, like her wisdom, was utterly beyond words. No one could set eyes upon Melian the Maia and not be impelled to fall down and adore her. "Take my blessing to Círdan and tell him to seek in the shallow waters around the Isle of Balar. We may all be grateful for the sea's gifts in good time."

Around Balar, fair pearls were found in great numbers. Melinna and Erestor, who had been welcomed as Melian's messengers, went diving with Círdan's mariners and collected their own treasure-chest of gems, which they later took to the Naugrim to be set in precious metal as jewellery for Melinna and gifts to be given away on their travels. It was not until many years later that they returned to the Blue Mountains, though. Meanwhile they made friends among the Falathrim and wandered up and down the coast until the endless waves were as familiar to them as the heights of Mount Dolmed or the great oaks of Region.

"The Queen never speaks without reason," said Círdan rather gloomily as they prepared to return to Eglador, recalling the message they had originally brought him from Melian. He brought out a finely carved casket of pearwood and sighed as he gave it to them. "Take this to the Lady Melian, to mark my gratitude for her advice. No doubt she'll use the sea's gifts wisely – in good time."

The pearwood casket, as they learned in Eglador, contained many fine pearls and among them one very remarkable jewel the size of a dove's egg that shone like starlight on the foam of the sea* (said the minstrel Daeron, who had never actually left the forest). It and the other pearls eventually became part of the payment to the Naugrim of Belegost for their aid in building the Thousand Caves of Menegroth, and the then chieftain of the Dwarves called it by the Elvish name of Nimphelos. That was then yet to come, however. Having delivered Círdan's gift to the Queen, Melinna and Erestor flitted away to the north, claiming whimsically to be chasing the swing of the Sickle of the Valar, and did not return to Thingol's court until well into the third age of Melkor's captivity, when the hands of Dwarves and Elves together were building Menegroth in the image of faraway Valinor on the banks of the Esgalduin.

Down through the long ages of peace and war that followed, Erestor and Melinna wandered through the wilds and civilised places of Arda. When the hordes of Melkor, now called only Morgoth, came ravening down from rearmed Angband after the death of the Trees and the southwards flight of Ungoliant, they were fortunate to survive the battles that followed and found themselves trapped within the safety of Melian's Girdle as the Maia Queen fortified Eglador, now called Doriath, within an unseen wall of shadow and bewilderment.* It was perhaps even more fortunate for both of them that before their restlessness could chase them away from that safe haven into the dangerous beyond, the Valar raised up the Moon and the Sun, and Fingolfin's march and the stolen white ships of the Teleri returned the Noldor to Middle-earth.

Then passed the ages of the stars.

Erestor afterwards claimed to have preferred the time of peace and starlight before the return of Morgoth. He loved the cool twilight, he said, and the scent of the white night-flowers that had once bloomed in nightingale-haunted Eglador. Melinna, whose heart had lifted as the Sun rose flaming in the West,* always laughed at this. Twilight there was still and the stars yet shone as bright as ever when wayward Tilion wandered beneath the world, and meanwhile Beleriand had emerged from the Sleep of Yavanna into the Second Spring of Arda. Now time as it passed could be counted; now there were seasons, wheeling in an ever-changing, everlasting cycle through the passing years; and now they might walk through woods or fields or mountains beneath the glorious Sun. Now, too, they might leave the safety of Melian's Girdle and once again travel the changing world – still dangerous, but no longer fatally so, as long as they were careful. Now there were new people, Noldor Elves and the Younger Children of Ilúvatar, these strange Men who had woken at the rising of Arien's flaming vessel, to meet as they roamed the world. All in all, said Melinna, and as nice as the ages of the stars had been, she was rather inclined to prefer the Years of the Sun.

For many long years they walked the world, returning from time to time to the court of Thingol and Melian in safe-girdled Doriath. If they had any home, it lay there among the Thousand Caves of Menegroth. Those were troubled times and occasionally they took some part in the dangers of the ages, since their knowledge of the world and its perils was very great and they were usually among the first to hear of any significant events. Usually, though, their footsteps as they wandered down the years were light enough to leave no mark in history. Neither Melinna nor Erestor would have claimed or wished to be significant in the deeds of those times, which were often terrible indeed. They wept when Lúthien forsook the Blessed Realm to wed Beren son of Barahir, although Erestor wept more, and when Maedhros son of Fëanor summoned an alliance against Morgoth, they observed the anger of Elu Thingol and offered the sons of Fëanor no more than their service as scouts. As a result, they survived the treachery of Men and Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The world was too dangerous even for them after that battle and they returned to Menegroth, where Túrin the son of Húrin, who was to marry his own sister, lead most of his friends to tragic deaths and slay Glaurung the Father of Dragons, was then being fostered by the King.

Erestor and Melinna had no part in the story of Túrin, whom they considered to be a quick-tempered fool with little gratitude and remarkably poor judgement. Elu Thingol's fondness for the Man was quite beyond their understanding, as was the confidence later placed in Túrin by the Elves of Nargothrond. His end (and that of Nargothrond) did not surprise them in the slightest. They were there when his father Húrin cast at King Thingol's feet the Nauglamír, the Necklace of the Dwarves, which Thingol required the dwarven craftsmen of Nogrod to remake and set with Lúthien's Silmaril, and they were there also when Thingol was slain for the Silmaril by the greed-bitten Naugrim and Melian the Maia, having withdrawn her girdle from Neldoreth and Region, vanished out of Middle-earth. It was their good fortune, although Melinna wept with rage when she learned it, to have gone with these wretched tidings to Beren and Lúthien at Tol Galen when the Dwarves of Nogrod fell on undefended Doriath.

That was the first sack of Doriath. In the bitter aftermath, they trapped the Naugrim of Nogrod at Sarn Athrad, the Ford of Stones, and slew them on the lower slopes of Mount Dolmed where once their families had been hunters. Most of their relatives who had hunted there had been lost in the long ages since the return of Morgoth to Middle-earth. After the battle, as the Quenta Silmarillion tells, 'the treasure of Doriath was drowned in the River Ascar, and from that time the river was named anew, Rathlóriel, the Goldenbed; but Beren took the Nauglamír and returned to Tol Galen', where it was worn by his wife, the fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar, until her death. Erestor and Melinna meanwhile went with Dior, Thingol's heir, to plundered Menegroth, which blossomed for a time again amid the woods of Doriath.

They knew, when Dior took up the Nauglamír and the sons of Fëanor sent arrogant messengers to claim the Silmaril as their own, that the second sack of Doriath was approaching. By then they had both come to the bitter decision that they shared a doom with the Sindar of Menegroth. For all the long years down which they had wandered without home or hearth, or the need for one, there had always been a place for them in Neldoreth and Region. Now the Naugrim, whose many-times-great grandfathers they had once led to Eglador, had turned on them; now the Noldor, at whose hands so many enemies had died, were about to do the same. Now Elu Thingol was dead and Melian his Maia Queen had vanished from Middle-earth, and the nightingales no longer sang in ungirdled Menegroth. Their city fashioned in the likeness of unseen Valinor would fall forever and Doriath, that glorious kingdom, would be destroyed and never rise again. What thing of beauty could survive in Beleriand once Doriath was gone? Now was the time for them to die.

Dior, Thingol's heir, died that midwinter and so did three of the sons of Fëanor, Celegorm by Dior's hand. Dior's wife was slain and his two young sons were cast into the forest to starve, despite the repentance of Maedhros, but Erestor had a cooler head than his wife and swept Melinna, who would rather have fought on and died in the Thousand Caves, away with Dior's daughter Elwing and those who fled to the mouths of the River Sirion by the sea. For a time they lingered there, lost in grief. Melinna in particular took the destruction of Doriath very hard and was not consoled by the knowledge that the surviving sons of Fëanor had not found what they sought, since Elwing the White still bore the Silmaril.

The wounds left by Menegroth's fall were still bleeding when Idril Celebrindal and Tuor son of Huor led the survivors of Gondolin down from the willows of Nan-tathren to join the lady Elwing's camp at the mouths of the Sirion. Amid the confusion of meeting and explanations and working out who from the shattered hierarchy took precedence in the camp, Erestor longed for the healing midnight silence of the stars in vain. It distressed him too that Melinna, still adrift in rage and mourning, had not left their tent since their arrival. He drifted through the chaos of the camp while refugees from Gondolin sang songs for those who had died there, for the maidens and the wives, for Ecthelion of the Fountain who had slain Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs, and for Glorfindel the beloved.

It was said that Glorfindel, the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, had been buried under a mound of stone beside the pass of Cirith Thoronath, the Eagles' Cleft. The stories and those evocative names, half-heard in a moral maze of loss and pain, stirred an old restlessness in Erestor's heart. He had no real attachment to the settlement at the mouths of the Sirion; his loyalty to Thingol's great-granddaughter Elwing was slight; and the squabbles and confusion attendant on a life scraped from the ashes of the past in a crowded camp of refugees repelled him. His allegiance, insomuch as he was loyal to anyone other than Melinna, rested with the lost world of Melian and Thingol in Doriath. These petty seeds of a settlement had no real hold on him. He returned to the tent and his unresponsive mate, still shrouded in blankets so that only her glossy dark hair spilled out, and talked to the top of her head about a search for the ruins of Gondolin until that same wanderlust stirred Melinna from her grief.

That journey north was more dangerous than any they had ever before undertaken, in part because both of them were still hurting from the death of all that was beautiful in Doriath. It seemed at that time as though neither of them would really have cared had they fallen to an Orc or some other wicked, vicious creature and on several occasions it was only their good fortune, enduring down through all the long ages, that preserved them. They abandoned the Sirion where it was joined by the River Narog, since neither of them wished to pass through the still smoking ruins in Region and Neldoreth, and when they finally reached the river's source at Lake Ivrin in the mountains of Ered Wethrin, they went northeast towards the island on which Finrod Felagund, Finarfin's son, had built the tower of Minas Tirith. There on the island that had once been Tol Sirion the ruins still lay, marking the place where Lúthien's declaration of power had thrown down the gates and opened the walls and laid bare the pits of Tol-in-Gaurhoth,* the citadel of Sauron, Lord of Werewolves. Finrod Felagund's grave stood green, still inviolate, on the hilltop where Lúthien and Beren had buried the fairest of all the princes of the Elves.

They went from there to a certain place in the Mountains of Shadow where they had long suspected Turgon's city to lie hidden. "It really is a pity," said Melinna as they came to the secret door and found it broken open and long abandoned. She was almost herself again by then, having rediscovered her spirits along with her wanderlust, although she was still unable to speak of the Nogrod Naugrim or the sons of Fëanor without cursing. "Did they honestly think they could hide an entire city? I'm surprised it lasted so long."

Erestor shrugged and peered up into the ravine that the refugees at Sirion had called Orfalch Echor. The gates had been shattered, all seven of them, and the watchtowers lay charred in ruins. "One wonders what good it did," he observed. "As long as they were hidden, they couldn't even offer a sanctuary to Morgoth's enemies. It strikes me as a waste of everyone's time and effort."

"They did come out to play at Nirnaeth Arnoediad."

"Indeed, and for what? Maedhros lost that war. Once it was over, everyone knew there was an army tucked away in the mountains. Everyone, not just those of us who wondered where Turgon's people might have gone. After that, Gondolin was lost. Why didn't they listen to Tuor?"

Melinna turned over a piece of rubble with her foot. "Why didn't we leave Menegroth when Dior took up that cursed jewel?"

He had no answers for that, remembering his own despair. He said instead, "Gondolin was built and loved and lost, and no one went there or left except the Gondolindrim. No one. Even the Naugrim traffic over the mountains. Even in the dark days, Menegroth was open to anyone as long as Thingol and Melian trusted them. Now Gondolin's fallen without really harming or helping anyone and only a few refugees at Sirion know what the city was like before it fell. So what was the point of that?"

"Ulmo said so," said Melinna mockingly, since Turgon of Gondolin had not listened to Tuor, the messenger sent by Ulmo to warn against Gondolin's doom. "Come on. Let's go up to the city."

What remained of Gondolin was still haunted by foul and irksome creatures, although the captains of Angband and their armies were long gone. Melinna and Erestor were obliged to tread warily among the broken fountains and ashy stairways that littered the hill of Amon Gwareth. They recognised some shattered palaces from the descriptions given by the survivors at Sirion; others still had plaques announcing their owners, or tell-tale relics of those who had once lived there. Everywhere, they walked among bones. It would have been impossible to lay to rest the remains of all who had died there and they did not try. They had too many griefs of their own to weep now over those whom they had never met alive.

Some small things only they took from the ruins of Gondolin, since the city had been thoroughly plundered in its devastation by the forces of Morgoth. They departed by way of the secret passage prepared by Idril Celebrindal, Turgon's far-seeing daughter, and traced the terrible escape through the mountains that had brought the survivors of Gondolin's fall to the Vale of Sirion. Along the way, they found golden-haired Glorfindel's tomb, roofed over with green turf on which yellow flowers were beginning to bloom amid the barrenness of stone.*

"Do you think the Balrog's corpse is still burning down there?" asked Erestor, peering into the abyss. "We might go and look..."

"We might meet some Orcs on the way," said Melinna dryly. "I think not."

He sighed. "As always, my love, you're quite right."

Down into the Vale of Sirion they came, still following that terrible escape, and skirted round the forests of ruined Doriath on their return to the camp at the mouths of the Sirion. There they found that a flourishing little settlement had sprung up, aided by Círdan's mariners from the Isle of Balar. It occurred to them then to revisit the Falathrim and find out which of their friends and acquaintances had survived the long years, so they took sail to Balar and made polite obeisance to Círdan the Shipwright and Ereinion Gil-Galad, who had been named High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth after the sack of Gondolin and Turgon's demise.

In Balar, Melinna and Erestor idled away some decades in reasonable contentment until the Elves of Sirion perished in the third Kinslaying, Maedhros and his brothers having learned that Dior's daughter Elwing, now married to the son of Idril and Tuor, still possessed the Silmaril. For Dior's sake, they sailed with Círdan and Gil-Galad to the aid of the Elves of Sirion, but the ships arrived late and Elwing and her sons were gone. Only when the new light Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope, arose in the heavens and was seen to have the shine of a Silmaril, could anyone guess at the fate of Elwing and her husband Eärendil. Meanwhile her sons were in the keeping of Maglor, the minstrel son of Fëanor, and remained there until he met his doom.

Then the hosts of the Valar came out of the West and broke Morgoth's power utterly. Of this Erestor and Melinna knew little until the Herald of Manwë summoned the Elves of Beleriand to depart from Middle-earth. This summons brought their doom to Maedhros and Maglor, whose oaths would not permit them to abandon the two remaining Silmarils seized from Morgoth, and it brought some distress to Melinna and Erestor, who found themselves torn between sailing to fabled Aman or remaining in Middle-earth where anything seemed possible in the wake of Morgoth's fall. Eventually, learning the names of those who were to remain behind and having been assured, too, that the way across the sea would remain clear of the shadow-mazes formerly set there by the Valar, they chose to linger in this remade land. It would still be possible, one day, to make that final journey into the West; but no one had ever returned from the West who had once sailed that way.

In the years that followed, Erestor and Melinna returned to their old wandering ways, lacking only and longing for lost Doriath. They spent a time in the new land raised up from the sea for Men: Andor, the Land of the Gift, where Elros the son of Eärendil ruled the Edain for four hundred years and ten. Presently they returned to desolate Beleriand, which had been very greatly changed in the Great Battle when Morgoth's fortifications had fallen, and found that the north had been lost to the sea and Sirion was no more. At the same time, the mountains of their birth had been broken and a new country arisen in Ossiriand in the east, called Lindon. Here ruled Gil-galad and here with him was the brother of Elros, Master Elrond Half-elven, who had chosen an immortal over a mortal life. They did not linger long in Lindon, but passed over Ered Luin to investigate the new cities then arising in the inner lands. Ost-in-Edhil was beginning to flower in Eregion, the Land of the Holly, and the Noldor of that city were trafficking with the Naugrim of Khazad-dûm, known to the Elves as Hadhodrond.

They remained in Eriador until Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, became powerful there; at which point, learning of the mistrust of Gil-Galad the High King and Elrond Half-elven for that gentleman, it seemed prudent to remove themselves from the region. Both Melinna and Erestor had lived long enough to mistrust sweet words and sweeter faces, and they were wise enough to recognise the wisdom of Gil-Galad. In due course, war followed, from which they absented themselves. Having lived through the long years of Morgoth's domination, they felt, perhaps wrongly, that Annatar-Sauron's petty evils were no business of theirs. Eregion was devastated and Ost-in-Edhil was sacked and the Naugrim of Hadhodrond had closed their doors and all of this was very sad, but in terms of loss no tragedy could ever compare with the fall of Doriath. They wandered in Lindon until it came to their ears that a stronghold was being prepared by Elrond Half-elven, somewhere in the Misty Mountains. This sounded interesting enough to merit a visit, so off they went.

Imladris, which Men were to call Rivendell, was then no more than half-built. There were patrols; they eluded these without trouble, largely from habit, and drifted curiously into the valley through which the Bruinen flowed. There were the beginnings of walls and of terraces for gardens, and all through the valley was a confusion of workers and tents and refugees, apparently, from devastated Eregion. It all seemed thoroughly chaotic. They settled in the shadows of a vast old oak and watched with interest as the walls of what appeared intended to become a rather grand hall arose from the ground before their eyes.

"They're not very organised," remarked Melinna as they observed the future inhabitants of Imladris at work. "Why don't they move all the tents somewhere out of the way?"

"Maybe it's easier not to," Erestor suggested, taking note of one dark-haired Elf who appeared to be supervising the building of the new hall. Judging from the way that other Elves were constantly approaching him with apparently urgent messages or inquiries, this Elf must be an important person. He seemed very young to be in charge of the building of Imladris; but then, almost everybody seemed young to Erestor these days, now that so many Elves had sailed into the West. "Or safer."

Melinna disregarded this. "That child should not be playing down there," she observed with a disapproving tsk. "She'll only fall in."

"Do you think?"

"Certainly," said Melinna, rather coldly. "Do you know what the trouble is?"

"I can guess what you're going to say it is," said Erestor, yawning as he lounged back against the oak's broad trunk. He thought the Elf in charge of the work must have overheard their conversation, since a swift, annoyed glance had come their way, and this amused him. "Look over there. Does he remind you of Elros?"

She ignored this as well. "Too many men. If there were more women here, they'd be much more organised."

This claim was not new. Over the course of the centuries, Melinna had developed a Theory to the effect that the Noldor population of Arda was shockingly unbalanced, with perhaps twice as many male Noldor as there were women. Such an imbalance naturally caused excessive belligerence among the frustrated male population, resulting in anything from mere quarrels to outright wars and Kinslayings. Melinna liked to illustrate this imbalance by listing the descendants of Finwë, who had produced three sons and no daughters, thirteen grandsons and two granddaughters, three great-grandsons and three great-granddaughters, three great-great-grandsons and one great-great-granddaughter, and two great-great-great-grandsons and no great-great-great-granddaughters. Generally Melinna stopped with the Half-elven twins, since a list of Elros's descendants would have gone on for far longer than her point required. At any rate, the house of Finwë therefore included twenty-three males and six females, discounting marital relationships, which Melinna thought made her point nicely. It was purely anecdotal evidence; she was obliged to admit this every time Erestor pointed it out; but the numbers were on her side. So was the fact that no matter how many males died in the most catastrophic of wars, there never seemed to be any shortage of men in comparison to the numbers of women requiring husbands. One day (she said) she was going to sit down with as complete a history of Arda as she could find and produce some tables that would prove her Theory beyond any argument. She also had what she called a Theory as to why Idril Celebrindal, the sole child of King Turgon in a city awash with eligible bachelors, had remained unmarried until the arrival in Gondolin of a Man of all people, but Erestor preferred to consider this one sheer (and possibly slanderous) speculation. Some of the frescoes in the ruins of private houses in Gondolin had been rather interesting, to say the least.

He caught another irritated look coming their way from the Elf who looked very much like Elros Half-elven. No doubt the gentleman was wondering why they were not at work.

"I thought you'd say that," he remarked to Melinna, and was amused again to see the dark-haired supervisor twitch. "Dangerous times, you know. Maybe more women will come here once the place has been built."

"Maybe the place would be built faster if there were more women," retorted his wife with a flick of her glossy hair. "Really! did you see that boy? He just relieved himself into the river!"

That proved too much for the Elf in charge. Even as Melinna was still speaking, he abandoned the building work and turned sharply towards them, cutting directly across to where they lounged under the spreading oak. His face, which would one day be ageless, seemed still young to them and he looked distinctly displeased. The resemblance to Elros Half-elven was more obvious that ever.

"Excuse me," he said sharply, staring down at them with the starlit evening eyes of his mother's grandmother Lúthien. "Don't you have work to do?"

"No," said Melinna, looking critically up at him. "We only just arrived."

"Would you like some?"

"Not really. You're right, Erestor. He does look like King Elros. Didn't we meet him once in Lindon?"

"Probably. I can't remember everyone we meet."

"Well, I know you don't!"

"Excuse me!" said Elrond Half-elven with even more sharpness. "Who are you?"

"Visitors," said Erestor and almost got up to be polite. It seemed too much effort. He twitched a foot thoughtfully and added, "No one in particular. We heard you were building a stronghold, Master Elrond, and thought we might drop by just to see what was happening. It looks very promising."

"If disorganised," added Melinna, not quite under her breath.

"Oh really," said Master Elrond, pouncing on that remark at once in clear displeasure. "And who are you, lady, to criticise my organisation?"

"No one in particular, Master Elrond," said Erestor again, before Melinna could say anything even more provocative. "Please forgive our impertinence. I'm Erestor and my wife's name is Melinna."

"And you feel you could organise Imladris better than me, Lady Melinna?"

Melinna's reply came flatly, too fast for Erestor to stop her. "Yes. I do."

"Really!" snapped Master Elrond, obviously irked. "Then you may try! Do come and tell me what you'd do differently!"

"Certainly," said Melinna and rose at once, which seemed to disconcert the son of Elwing and Eärendil. She wore male clothing, as she usually did when they were travelling, and in addition to a bow and a quiver of arrows on her back, she carried her dwarf-made sword and two long knives visible at her side. Erestor, watching resignedly, happened to know that his mate carried three more knives that were not visible, also of dwarven make. In short, she looked very much unlike any Elf-maid or lady with whom Master Elrond might previously have been acquainted. It was usually the case that Men or Dwarves assumed she was male, which could be convenient, and it was not uncommon for Elves to assume the same thing until she opened her mouth.

So indecorous. So their mothers would have said, all those long ages ago.

He could see Master Elrond reassessing her there and then. Elrond's tone was markedly more cautious already. "Did you say I'd met you before in Lindon? I think I'd remember you."

"Only once or twice, I think. Very briefly." She gave him another critical look. "We knew your brother better. That was in Andor – we stayed awhile some years back. You both look very much like your grandfather Dior."

"You knew my grandfather?"

"We saw him die."

She said it bluntly, almost without bitterness. Erestor sighed.

"Melinna, my love," he said gently, rearranging his long legs in the grass, "if you stop to list every member of Master Elrond's family we've ever met, we'll be here a while! Weren't you going to prove to us that women are better at organisation than men?"

"Surely," said Melinna at once and gave Master Elrond a challenging look. "If the invitation holds."

Master Elrond blinked those clear grey eyes that made Erestor think of nightingales. "Of course. I could hardly withdraw it now."

They walked away, Melinna already describing the way she would have settled all the tents in one place and safely away from the building site, just as the lord Celeborn and his lady Galadriel had done when the refugees from Menegroth had camped among the mouths of the Sirion. Erestor shook his head and settled back into the green shadows under the oak's broad branches. Someone was humming the Lay of Leithian somewhere close by, which made him smile. He closed his eyes and let the sounds of work and the river wash past him, losing himself in dreamy reverie. Here was a project for Melinna, clearly: the organisation of Elrond Half-elven's leafy halls in unbuilt Imladris. Perhaps they would remain in the Misty Mountains for a little longer than they had expected.

"Wake up," said his wife's voice above him. "I've got a job for you."

He yawned. "What?"

"Someone needs to show Master Elrond's men how to keep watch properly. I'm busy here, so it'll have to be you."

"Melinna," he said mildly. "I didn't claim to be a better organiser than Master Elrond. Why do I have to –"

"Master Elrond is quite upset that no one noticed our arrival. He'd take it as a kindness if you'd oblige."

Erestor heard the firmness of her voice and sighed again.

"Oh very well," he said, resigned, and opened his eyes. Melinna stood there smiling at him, twisting her fingers through her glossy dark hair, obviously enjoying herself immensely. He noticed that people were taking down their tents all around the valley and that young Master Elrond stood a little way off beside the abandoned walls of his half-built hall, looking vaguely bemused. "I suppose I'm to talk to some unhappy captain about this?"

"Several. They'll be here any minute."

"Well, if I must. I suppose we might as well have a proper look round the Misty Mountains while we're here."

"I thought it might keep you occupied," said Melinna briskly. "Up you get!"

The captains of Master Elrond's guard were not happy at all to have some stranger first slip through their patrols and then lecture them on how to keep a proper watch in their mountains. Erestor spoke as gently to them as he could, although their youth and inexperience seemed painfully obvious. It was difficult, too, to express in words the instinctive understanding of how to walk unseen that he and Melinna had gleaned from thousands of years of travelling through dangerous lands. The captains were sceptical and resentful and in some cases frankly hostile to what he had to say. In the end, he was obliged to issue a challenge: they could order their patrols as they wished for a week and he would spend that time exploring the Misty Mountains nearby. If they could tell him where he had been when he returned, he would concede that his unseen arrival in the valley with Melinna had been a mere fluke of good luck and that they had no need of his instructions.

"Do take care," said Melinna a little absently, informed of this. "You know you always get into trouble when I'm not there to keep an eye on you."

Erestor grinned. "As far as I know, there's nothing unusually dangerous round here," he pointed out. "I'll leave any interesting caves or villages until you can join me, will that suit you?"

"Oh, surely!" laughed his wife. "I'll see you in a week."

A week later, Erestor drifted back into Imladris to find the reins of authority settled rather firmly in his wife's control. Master Elrond seemed content to get on with the building work and leave the daily running of the camp to Melinna, who seemed equally content in what was for her an unusually domestic role. The captains of Elrond's guard had received precisely two firm sightings and one possible sighting of Erestor during the course of the week and were rather chastened, not least because young Master Elrond had delivered some sharp rebukes during Erestor's absence. Erestor was startled to find himself vested with ultimate authority for the safety of Imladris, very much against his own protests.

"It's not forever," said Melinna, when he complained to her. "By the time all the building's done, they'll probably be able to manage without you."

"Good!" said Erestor. "I hope it's done soon!"

The halls of Imladris were declared complete on a breezy day in the early autumn. Master Elrond took possession of his new stronghold with his customary composure and not a little glee, and at once began to allot rooms to his followers with Melinna's able assistance. Erestor discovered that they had been installed in one of the largest and airiest suites, not far off from Master Elrond's own apartment, and went rather crossly to advise the Lord of Imladris that they had no intention of remaining in Imladris forever.

"Of course not," said Master Elrond, smiling with Lúthien Tinúviel's silver-grey eyes. He had inherited much of Dior's beauty, this last immortal grandchild of Thingol and Melian, and some of the light of his father Eärendil as well. "Melinna told me so herself. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have suitable rooms to return to while you're here. I hope you'll always feel at home in Imladris."

Just as you did in Menegroth. The words were implied, not spoken; Elrond Half-elven was far too wise for that. Erestor frowned and went away, remembering the court of Melian and Elu Thingol.

Imladris was not Menegroth and never could be. Still, in this new small world with its new small evils, Elrond's halls in the Misty Mountains might well prove to be a suitable refuge in times of trouble. Very well: he would not argue against their accommodation there. Perhaps they would come to be grateful of a welcome in Imladris.

"Besides," said Melinna sweetly, "we weren't about to leave already, were we? We've only been here a couple of years! We stayed longer with Elros in Andor."

"So we did."

"Don't sound so grim. Listen. Do you remember Queen Melian's ladies wanted to teach me to spin?"

"I remember," Erestor said dryly. "They didn't have much success."

"No. Well. Do you remember the tapestries they wove in Menegroth in the days before – well, before?"

"I remember," he said again. "What of them?"

"I thought –" she said and frowned a little. "The walls are bare, Erestor. These halls are so raw and new. They need tapestries for colour and to keep out the cold when winter comes. I asked Master Elrond to send to Lindon for dyed fleeces. The women are going to spin the wool and weave tapestries with it to cover the walls. I thought I might try to learn to weave."

Erestor stared at her in complete surprise.

"This is most unlike you," he observed at last. "Will it take long?"

"I don't know," said Melinna with characteristic candour. "I doubt I'll be very good at it. Still, I'd like to try. There was one hanging – I remember – with nightingales and the gardens of Lórien..."

An image sprang up at once in Erestor's mind, his memory spiced and sharpened by loss. It had been small, as the tapestries of Melian and her ladies went, and it had not been the most elaborate or the most colourful or the most remarkable or the tapestry that ordinary guests would have remembered, but it had been very beautiful nonetheless. Melian the Maia had woven it with her own white hands and hung it in the room where they had stayed during their visits to the Thousand Caves of Menegroth. No doubt it had perished in the second sack of Doriath.

"It'll take you a hundred years and more to weave well enough to recreate that," he prophesied. "If anyone even could."

She smiled at him. "I think we can spare a hundred years or so to try."

* Marks a phrase taken directly from the Silmarillion and otherwise without citation. I don't include standard character epithets taken from Tolkien such as (for example) 'Melian the Maia' or 'the fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar', firstly because these should be fairly obvious and secondly because it would take rather a lot of asterisks to mark every single one each time it was used.