apology (n), from the Greek apologia: an oration or dissertation in defence, justification or explanation of a cause or doctrine
The Apology of Elrond
The hard spring rains were peppering the valley with the fragrance of new growth. Sitting at his table beneath the open window, Elrond Peredhil was drinking in the sweet, cleansing air and taking solace in the gentle sound of the falling water. He was occupied in composing a letter to be taken to Círdan at the Grey Havens, and he was having difficulty expressing himself – a most unusual state of affairs.
Lately it seemed he was distracted. Old memories were haunting him; recollections of days long ago and people lost to the years like great trees felled by a mighty storm. Great heroes, many of them: still songs were sung of their deeds, even among Men, but to Elrond they were the people he had known, the people he had loved, the people he had lost. Celebrían, from whom he was sundered until that unforeseeable day when the Shadow might be overthrown and rest might come at last to those caught inexorably in its web. Gil-galad his liege-lord and dear friend, and with him Elendil the Tall – Elendil the Politic, Elendil the Wry, Elendil who had delighted in Elven song and the laughter of children and a choice riddle by the campfire. Elros his brother, Elwing his mother, and the weary, sorrowful, yet kind face of the one who had sheltered him in his childhood and brought him safely through its many perils.
It was this bittersweet nostalgia that drove him to write to Círdan. Oldest and most wise of the Firstborn yet left in Middle-earth, the Shipwright would understand the fey mood that seized him, and he would offer some token of comfort. For the first time in many years, Elrond wished that his old teacher, his dear comrade-in-arms, his trusted friend was not so far away...
A soft sound from behind alerted him that he was no longer alone in his study. It was generally understood that when he was occupied in this room he was to be left in peace, and it had been a number of years since last the person standing in his doorway now had broken that unspoken rule. Elrond set down his quill and folded his hands before him.
'Good morning, Estel,' he said without turning.
'Good morning,' the boy said softly. 'I hope I did not disturb you.'
'You did not,' Elrond said, still facing forward. He was waiting for the boy to come further into the room now that the invitation was clearly implied, but Estel did not move. 'How can I help you today?'
'Master Elrond...' Estel ventured haltingly, faltering over the unfamiliar honorific.
Now Elrond turned in his chair, one arm slipping up onto its back as he fixed pensive eyes upon the youth. Estel was newly fourteen years of age: tall and fair. He wore his hair long, and today it was smoothed over his head and plaited into a thick tail behind. He was dressed for swordplay in a short blue cote, wine-coloured hose and low, sturdy boots. He had probably awakened this morning and prepared for a lesson that could not be held because of the rain.
His handsome young face was very grave, and there was some powerful emotion behind his keen grey eyes.
'You have never addressed me thus,' Elrond said. 'What is amiss?'
The boy hesitated. 'I was talking to Erestor,' he said carefully. 'I asked him a question that he could not answer.'
'That must have been an extraordinarily difficult question,' remarked Elrond, smiling in the hope that his son might respond favourably. 'I have seldom known Erestor to be at a loss for an answer.'
'He said if I wanted to know such things I should speak to you.'
There was a beat of silence. 'I see,' said the Elf-lord. He rose sedately and moved towards the two armchairs set by the fire in an alcove full of books. 'Perhaps we should sit.'
Finally Estel moved from the door. He edged forward, and when Elrond held out his hand to touch the boy's arm, Estel shrunk away. Puzzled, the master of the house sat and waited while his ward did the same. Estel gripped the seat-cushion next to either thigh, tense and watchful.
'Now, then, what is this complex question that was beyond Erestor's scope to answer?' Elrond asked gently. He felt that he likely knew what the response would be, but it would never do to get ahead of himself. Sometimes working up the courage to ask a question was every bit as important as resolving it.
Estel drew in a deep, steeling breath. 'You are not my father,' he said. There was almost an accusation in his voice, and his eyes were narrowed threateningly.
'That is true,' said Elrond. 'As you have known since you were old enough to comprehend the meaning of the words, I am not your father. I did not lie with your mother, nor was it my seed that gave you life.'
The query came out without any further preamble. 'Who is my father?'
It was inevitable. For years Elrond had been expecting this confrontation, when the question asked occasionally in curiosity would come forth in obdurate anger. Sooner or later, Elrond had known that pleasant domestic arrangement that had developed over the years would no longer satisfy the boy, and he would demand to know the truth. There was just one problem: Estel was not ready to hear that truth. Long ago Elrond had decided that his heritage could not be revealed to him until he reached manhood, and by the reckoning of the Dúnedain he was yet eleven years short of the age of majority. Still, the boy deserved some answer, even if it could not be complete.
'Your father was a strong and valiant man,' Elrond said. 'He was a dear friend to Elladan and Elrohir, and a worthy husband to your mother. He loved you very much.'
'What was his name?' asked Estel. His whole body was fraught with tension, and the rigidity of his brows communicated a brooding anger.
The Elf-lord shook his head. 'That is not important.'
'It is important to me!' The exclamation came out sharply. Catching himself, Estel schooled his features and repeated with more restraint; 'It is important to me.'
Now was the place in the conversation where it was appropriate to tell him that when he was older there would be time enough to give these answers – but something slew the words upon Elrond's tongue. It struck him that this was not the question that was truly preying on the youth's mind. Something else was haunting Estel, something much more troubling than the name of a father he had never known.
'Estel,' he said softly, catching and holding the boy's eyes with his own. 'What did you come here to ask?'
'Who is my father...' Estel faltered.
Elrond said nothing, but maintained his level gaze.
'W-why did you take me into your house?'
This was not the real question, either, but it was nearer the mark. In any case, it was simple to answer. 'I took you into my house because you and your mother needed shelter and protection. Imladris is a refuge for the wayworn and the weary, a place of healing for those the world has wounded. You both had need of this haven.'
Estel opened his mouth to make a hasty reply, but then closed it again. For a moment he was silent, and Elrond waited patiently while he processed what had been said. 'Why did you allow me to call you father?' he asked.
Nearer still, Elrond thought. 'It was not my decision,' he said truthfully. 'You were two years of age when you came to my house. At that time you understood only Westron and a little Sindarin, such as your mother had used in your old home. You were very fond of Elladan and Elrohir—'
'I am still very fond of Elladan and Elrohir,' the boy interrupted. He coloured a little. 'I am sorry...'
'Never be sorry to speak the truth,' Elrond said. 'My sons had made a great impression upon you, and you admired them greatly. When you heard how they addressed me, you did the same, not knowing what the word meant because you had not yet had occasion to learn Quenya.'
'Atarinya...' murmured Estel. 'My father.'
'Indeed,' Elrond affirmed softly. 'As time passed, and you and I learned to love one another, the name seemed ever more suitable and I did not wish you to cease its use. You did not appear to wish it either, until today.'
'I did not...' Estel whispered. His hands were clasped in his lap now, and he stared down at them. 'Master, I do not understand. Why do you love me?'
Ah, thought Elrond. Here it was. This was the question that was plaguing Estel's mind. This was the important question. It was also the hardest to answer.
'Tell me, Estel,' he said thoughtfully. 'Do you love your mother?'
'Yes,' the boy answered.
'Of course you do. Because she nourished you inside of her for nine long months, and she endured the birth-pains so that you might have life, and she has protected and treasured you from the moment you first started to grow within her womb. It is natural and right that you should love your mother. Are we in agreement?'
'Now, tell me why your mother loves you.'
'I... I do not know...' the youth said, sounding surprised.
'Think about it,' Elrond prompted gently, as if he were presenting a particularly complicated question of logic.
Estel pursed his lips. 'I think...' he said; 'I think she loves me because I am a part of her. She loves me because I am something that she created. Something that was created out of...' He seemed at a loss for words, and he looked imploringly at his guardian.
'Out of the love she shared with your father?' the Elf-lord offered. Estel nodded. 'That is a very wise answer,' Elrond told him.
'But that is different,' Estel said. 'I am part of her. I am not a part of you. How can you love me?'
'Do we always love only those who are a part of us?' Elrond inquired. 'What of Elladan and Elrohir. You have said you are fond of them... do you love them?'
'Yes,' said Estel. 'That is... yes. Yes, I love them. They have been very kind to me.'
'I see. And do they love you?'
'I think so...' There was a note of uncertainty in the boy's voice. 'But perhaps they are only kind.'
'I do not believe that,' said Elrond. 'They love you well. But let us think together. Who else do you love?'
'Erestor,' Estel said without hesitation. The answer seemed to surprise him. Elrond smiled.
'Indeed? Did you always love Erestor?'
'I did not always know him,' Estel equivocated. 'When I was young he was very high and remote, and I had no dealings with him.'
'It was only after you started your lessons in language and in lore that you began to associated with him,' agreed Elrond. 'And at first?'
'At first I was afraid of him,' Estel admitted. 'He seemed very stern. But as I grew to know him I grew to love him. He is very wise and his heart is gentle, and he often makes me laugh with his dry words.'
'You learned to love him,' Elrond said; 'because you had close contact with him. Familiarity revealed to you things about him that allowed you to love him.'
'Yes,' Estel breathed, soft wonder in his voice. 'Yes, that is it. I learned to love him.'
'Now tell me, do you think Erestor loves you?'
Estel considered this carefully. 'Yes,' he said at last. 'Yes, I think that he, too, has learned to love me.'
'Now tell me, why do I love you?' Elrond concluded.
'Because you have learned to do so,' Estel said, amalgamating his new understanding into an answer to his own question. 'Close association helped you to discover things about me that made you love me.'
'Precisely,' Elrond said.
'The first thing that I loved about you was the way you twined your arms about my neck when I held you,' Elrond told him. 'You were such a little child, and you were desperate for affection to anchor you safely in your world. You were very fond of my embraces.'
Estel swallowed raggedly and nodded. He looked rather like he would have liked such an embrace right now, but his fourteen-year-old dignity would not allow it. He waited for Elrond to continue.
'Quickly I learned that you were extraordinarily intelligent for one so young,' the Elf-lord said. 'You were better-spoken than any mortal child of your age that I had ever seen. I learned to love your precocious nature. After a time, when you felt safe in your new home you grew fearless. I loved your bold spirit and your boundless courage that did not flag even when harm came to you because of it.'
'I broke my arm climbing the walnut tree,' Estel remembered.
Elrond nodded. 'You were five years old. You walked all the way back to the house, holding your dangling limb. Though you wept you did not cry out when I set the bones.' He stroked his chin thoughtfully. 'Your passion for learning delighted me: that, too, I grew swiftly to love. I love the joy that you take in story and song. I love your skilful tongue that allows you to gather languages to you like flowers in a meadow. I love your logical mind. I love your piercing questions and your well-considered answers. I love your merry laugh and your sombre musings. I love the way you run through the valley with wings upon your feet, and I love the way that you can sit still for hours with a captivating book. I love your compassion and your generosity and your growing wisdom. I love even your fearsome temper – and better than that do I love your careful control over it. I love your eyes and your hands and your dauntless soul. I love you in your parts and in your entirety. I love you always.'
For a long time, Estel sat silent, staring at the Elven lord with wonder and astonishment in his eyes. At last he spoke. 'I understand,' he said softly. He got to his feet and stepped forward. For a moment he paused, then he reached out his arms. Elrond accepted the supplication – or the invitation – and drew him gently into a tight embrace. Estel bent to rest his head on his guardian's shoulder, his arms twining tightly about Elrond's chest. When at last he drew back he did so gently, and his hands slipped into Elrond's. Much of the torment was gone from his face, but a certain uneasiness still lingered.
'What is it, my child?' Elrond asked gently. 'What question still remains to haunt you?'
'I-is it wrong?' the boy asked in a small, fretful voice. 'Is it wrong to love you? I do not even remember my real father... is it disloyal to him to honour you?'
Elrond smiled sadly and shifted in his chair. Carefully, prepared to withdraw at the first sign of resistance, he drew Estel onto his lap as if he were still a little boy. 'Let me tell you a story,' he said.
Estel leaned against his shoulder, waiting anxiously.
'You know the tale of the Third Kinslaying,' Elrond began.
The boy nodded. 'The Sons of Fëanor sacked the Havens at Sirion. It was...' He closed his eyes briefly as he called to mind the precise words. 'It was the last and cruellest slaying of Elf by Elf. The refugees of Doriath and the remnant of Gondolin fought valiantly, but Elwing took the Silmaril and cast herself into the Sea, and you and your brother were carried off by the invaders when they retreated before the coming of Gil-galad from Balar.'
'All that is true,' Elrond agreed; 'and that is the way that it is laid down in the annals of this house. That is not, however, the tale in its entirety. One thing that is not recorded in the account you read was that Elros and I were six years of age when that battle took place. More than three years had passed since last Eärendil our father had tarried at the mouth of Sirion. You lost your father at the age of two: I was but a little older when I lost mine.'
He paused to collect his thoughts. 'We were taken by the servants of the Sons of Fëanor. They had been commanded upon pain of death not to harm us, for Maedhros the eldest son was wracked with remorse over the fate of our mother's brothers in the winter woods of Doriath. Despite this the northward journey was long and bitter, for our captors were hardened by the long years of strife and they had little patience for or understanding of young children. When at last we reached our destination in the forests west of the Ered Luin, my brother and I were wild and frightened creatures, less like children and more like woodland animals, skittish and fearful and slow to trust.'
Estel was listening intently. If he was having any difficulty imagining his puissant guardian as a frightened little child, he gave no sign of it. Elrond continued. 'It was in that place, in an encampment of our enemies, that we came to the attention of Maglor, son of Fëanor. He took pity upon us, and we came into his care. He bathed us and clothed us in fresh garments, and he laid us to sleep in his own narrow bed. When we cried out in the night he comforted us with gentle words and with fair songs. When we were angry and petulant he had patience with us. When we laughed, he rejoiced in our laughter. He was a Kinslayer. He and his folk had murdered our grandfather and our grandmother, and left our uncles in the woods to starve, and razed our home and driven our mother into the Sea with the Silmaril upon her breast. Yet we came to love him with the love we could no longer give to our parents, and he came to love us as sons of his own.
'Then there came a night when a new star was kindled in the heavens: Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope, the Evenstar, the constant light of the Silmaril of Lúthien upon the brow of Eärendil as he sailed Vingilot through the heavens. The Eldar looked upon that star and they were glad, for it was a harbinger of hope in a time of bitter despair. I looked upon it, and I was not glad. Do you know what I felt?'
'Sadness,' Estel said softly. 'Sadness and remorse.'
'Explain,' prompted Elrond. As ever, the youth had insight into the hearts of others beyond the ken of ordinary Men.
'Sadness, for it was a reminder of what you had lost and the parents you would never see again,' Estel ventured; 'and remorse, because you loved another with the love you owed to your father, whose light you saw in the heavens.'
'Yes,' Elrond whispered, holding Estel closer to him. 'The sadness did not pass, but the remorse did. As I pondered the matter I came to realize that I did not give Maglor the love I owed my father, but the love that I owed Maglor. I loved him as the one who had been kind to me in my hour of need. I loved him as the one who sang to me and played upon his harp for me. The one who taught me how to ride a horse and how to shoot a bow. The love I gave him was love that belonged to him, and it did not diminish my love for the father I could scarcely recall, nor did it mean I was not loyal to Eärendil.
'This also I realized: Maglor loved me not out of pity or obligation, but because I fulfilled a need deep within his soul. He needed me as much as I needed him, and I brought peace and happiness into his life that he would not otherwise have had. We were not kin: the barest of blood ties bound us. Yet we were family.'
'And we are a family,' Estel said. There was serenity in his eyes as he leaned back his head to look at Elrond. 'You are not the father who gave life to me, but you are my father.'
'And you are not the son of my body, but you are my son,' Elrond assented.
'Atarinya? I love you dearly,' murmured Estel, wrapping his long arms around the Elf-lord's neck as he had done when he was small.
'And I you, Estel,' said Elrond, and suddenly he had a new understanding of the peace that the Sons of Eärendil had brought to the last son of Fëanor.
They sat thus for a moment, locked in a profound embrace. Then Estel released his hold and got up off of his foster-father's lap. 'I interrupted you,' he said, blithely apologetic. 'You were composing a letter...'
Elrond rose and took the youth by the hand. 'Never mind the letter: it will keep 'til another day,' he said. This encounter had eased his spirit as much as any advice from Círdan, and he no longer felt the urgent need to write. 'The rain is lifting: will you walk in the apple-orchard with me?'
Estel looked ready to agree eagerly, but he caught himself. 'If the rain is lifting, I will be expected for my sparring lesson,' he said regretfully, recalling his duty.
'That, too, can keep 'til another day,' Elrond told him.
So together they passed through the house and out into the sunlight and thence into the long decades of weary labour and strife beyond, and in after years when the Shadow grew and darkness and uncertainty separated them, each would call upon the memory of a wet spring morning long ago, and find in that recollection renewed strength and courage in their long fight.