They were in Master Elrond's garden near where Haleth had first met the hobbits. The long evening of Valinor was drawing to its close and the shadows stretched upon grass and flower.
'No, it is not the end,' said Frodo. 'News of the dragon's death spread through Wilderland. Many who heard of it came to the Lonely Mountain hoping to gain a part of the horde for themselves.'
'Thorin knew they would,' said Bilbo. 'He and the others built a wall at the gates of Erebor while messengers were sent to Nain in the Iron Hills'
'Which of the dwarves was sent?' asked Haleth. She was sitting on the ground looking up at the hobbits who were seated on a bench.
'Dwarves? Who said anything about dwarves? Thorin sent birds who could speak the Common Tongue,' answered Bilbo.
'Talking birds?' asked Haleth incredulously. She suspected Bilbo's age was affecting his wit.
'Some birds can speak,' offered Inglor who was also seated upon the ground. 'They are very discerning in their conversation partners,' he added to her skeptical expression.
Haleth rolled her eyes. Inglor had been more annoying than usual since the strange encounter in the boat. The episode had left Haleth feeling soiled, although she could not say why. Inglor had never offered and explanation for his odd behavior. Haleth knew there was no point in questioning him; she would not understand his vague half explanations.
'Please continue,' she said to Frodo.
'Perhaps Bilbo could,' said Frodo. 'It is his story, after all.'
'I am too old to tell it right,' Bilbo protested.
'But not too old to remember it properly,' said Frodo.
'I remember it all as though it was yesterday,' said Bilbo wistfully. 'Yet I cannot recall what I had for breakfast this morning.'
This gave Haleth an idea. She had spent some time in Master Elrond's library and had been surprised as how empty it was compared to what she remembered - or thought she could remember - of the library at Rivendell.
'I wish someone had written down your tales,' she said.
'Oh, but we did. Both of us,' said Frodo.
'Splendid! Where is the book?'
'I left it with Sam in the Shire,' replied Frodo.
'What have we here?' Elrond and Celebrían came into view, walking arm in arm.
Inglor flowed to his feet, bowed and welcomed their hosts with flawless grace. Haleth and the Ringbearers hurriedly clambered to their feet and followed his example.
'Mr. Baggins was just telling us of how Smaug was defeated,' said Haleth.
'Which one?' he asked.
'Frodo,' said Bilbo at the same instant that Frodo said 'Bilbo.' While Inglor said 'I believe there was only one
'They were just at the point where the dragon had been killed and Thorin Oakenshield had sent messengers to his kinsman in the Iron Hills,' said Haleth.
'And that is as far as the story shall go for me today,' said Bilbo. 'I'm afraid I'm rather sleepy. Frodo can finish the tale.' His head nodded until his chin rested on the rich fabric of his jacket.
'Come, Bilbo, it is time for you to find your bed,' said Celebrían. Guiding Bilbo gently by the shoulder, she led the elderly hobbit out of the garden.
'I almost forgot. I have something for you, Mr. Baggins,' said Inglor. He dug into his belt and pulled out a small, battered pouch.
Frodo's eyes widened when his saw it. 'Could that be what I think it is?' he said.
'I cannot say,' said Inglor, handing the pouch to the hobbit.
Frodo untied the stays. 'Pipeweed!' he exclaimed, taking a deep sniff of the aromatic leaves. 'Oh, most wondrous
Elf, where did you get this?'
'I traded a Dwarf for it,' Inglor said, laughing.
'Where is my pipe?' asked Frodo, slapping at the pockets of his shirt. 'It must be in my room. What am I saying?
I can't burn this. There may be seeds! Perhaps I could grow them and have a permanent supply?' He looked from Inglor to Elrond. 'If Master Elrond would allow me some space in his garden, to be sure,' he added.
'I would not deny you, Mr. Baggins,' said Elrond.
'Well, I shouldn't get ahead of myself,' said Frodo as he reluctantly tied the laces of the pouch. 'There may be no seeds. I should check first.'
'I shall help you to search,' Inglor offered. He followed a hopeful Frodo indoors.
Haleth stretched, made her excuses and wandered to her room. The night, as so many of the others, was filled with broken dreams and fragmented images so that she awakened without feeling rested at all.
She stumbled into the hall where breakfast foods were laid out. Except for the evening meal, Elrond's folk seldom ate together. Haleth stared at the plates of fresh buns and slices of fresh fruits. Nothing was appealing.
A child entered the room. Haleth shook her head. It was Frodo. There were no children in Master Elrond's new home.
She had not seen a single child since she had come to Aman.
Under Haleth's wondering gaze, he piled a plate high with food.
'We Hobbits are known for our healthy appetites,' he said when he noticed her stare.
'Oh?' she asked. 'I'm sorry,' she continued, realizing she was being rude. 'I never spent any time with your people. What are they like?'
'Like ordinary people,' he said.
Haleth wondered what it would be like to be ordinary.
'Did you find any seeds?' she asked to change the subject.
'Yes! A few. Inglor and I shall plant them today.' He continued speaking but Haleth stopped listening at the mention of Inglor's name, too busy with her own bitter thoughts to listen.
'…seem to have lost a button.'
'What?' asked Haleth sharply.
Frodo looked taken aback by the strength of her reaction.
'I'm sorry, did you say you had lost something?' she asked, struggling to keep her tone even.
'Yes. I am missing a button. It's nothing. I suppose I could easily find a replacement or the Elves could fashion a new one.'
A thrill ran down Haleth's spine. Something was lost! That meant there was something to find!
'What exactly did this button look like?' she asked.
'It was about as large as my thumb-nail and it was made of brass.'
'Good! Very good. When did you see it last?'
'Yesterday morning. Bilbo and I broke our fast in the garden.'
'When did you notice it was missing?' she continued.
'Only this morning,' he began.
'And were there any other places you visited yesterday besides the garden?'
'There was the library, the dining area and the kitchen,' he said. 'But I believe…'
'Splendid! Wonderful!' she said. As she marched towards the door it occurred to her that she might have been somewhat abrupt. 'Oh. Please enjoy your breakfast!' she said.
She was down the hall as quick as a hound on the scent.
Teithor patrolled the library. This room's equivalent in Rivendell had claimed most of his time. There had always been someone in need of his counsel or help. Yet, since he had come to Tol Eressëa, he had spent less and less time
among the scrolls and tomes and more time out of doors, busying himself in the fields. He had always done his part during the autumn harvest, but he had always considered it a chore rather than a joy.
It was a sad fact that on Tol Eressëa there was far less demand for the resources in the library. Everyone in the household knew all of the stories by heart and could sing them at the Tale Fire.
In fact, if it were not for the mortals who were currently part of the household, there would have had even less use for the library and for Teithor's skills, for he had been transcribing the adventures of the Ringbearers.
He was surprised to discover that someone had left a book open on the reading table. He was even more surprised
when he realized the book dealt with the Elder Days. The pages had been left open at the story of Caranthir and the massacre of the people of Haleth. An artist's depiction of the two protagonists graced the open page.
Haleth. That was the name of Master Elrond's unusual guest. She had occasionally turned up in Rivendell, often wounded and always disrespectable. She must have been the one who had left the book out.
He closed the book, intending to put it back in its appointed place…and almost stepped on someone.
She was lying on her side facing the bookshelves. Dressed in a distinctive baggy shirt and trousers, he would have recognized her anywhere, even at the odd angle.
His first thought was that she was asleep, but as he watched she tapped her fingers against her lips in the manner of the awake.
He cleared his throat.
She rolled onto her stomach. The motion brought her directly against the hem of his robe, which she stared at with the most amazing of expressions. It reminded him of small child who had been caught in the act of being naughty.
'Good morning,' she said as she sprang to her feet.
'Good morning,' he replied.
'I was just looking for…um…' she gestured vaguely at the bookshelf.
'Were you looking for this, perhaps?' he asked, offering her the book.
'No,' she said, barely glancing at the cover.
'For what were you searching? I can help you to locate it.'
Her expression darkened, then she smiled and shook her head. 'No, thank-you. Looking is half the fun, isn't it? Or most of the fun, really. In any case I am not…I mean no longer in the mood to read. I shall not disturb you any further. Good day.' This was delivered in a rush of Westron. Teithor watched her rapidly retreating back and wondered what she was about.
Then he shrugged and placed the book into its delegated spot.
Elhedril swept up the rushes from the dining hall floor. Everyone took their turn at the necessary household tasks,
but sweeping was far from Elhedril's favourite activity.
'I can do that.'
Elhedril looked up in surprise. Before her stood the mortal woman who had come to visit Master Elrond. She was dressed as the mortal men had been, in a shirt and trousers instead of a more sensible gown or robes. Elhedril had been familiar with many of the female descendants of Elros and none of them had dressed in this fashion. Still, the woman's eyes shone with a purpose as she held out her hand for the broom.
Perhaps sweeping was something that excited the Secondborn?
Before Elhedril could answer the woman took the broom from her hands and began to sweep the dining room floor in broad, sloppy strokes. What she lacked in efficiency she made up for in enthusiasm.
'I don't suppose you've found anything interesting?' she asked Elhedril conversationally.
'Interesting?' echoed Elhedril, at a loss for what might be interesting about rushes and crumbs.
'Interesting. Out of place. Something you weren't expecting to find like, perhaps, a small brass button.'
'No,' said Elhedril slowly. 'When did you lose this button?'
'It isn't my button. I'm just looking for it.' The Aftercomer sounded insulted. Elhedril had no idea how her question might have given offense.
'I haven't found a button, but that wouldn't be surprising if you lost it last night. The floor is swept three times a day, after each meal.'
The mortal woman stopped sweeping in mid-stroke, the broom poised in the air. 'Can you tell me where the dust from the previous night's sweeping would be?'
'In the kitchen midden, of course.'
The mortal woman shoved the broom back into Elhedril's hands. 'Excuse me, I really must be going,' she said grimly.
Elhedril continued with her unwanted task. Mortals certainly did strange things.
It was after the supper hour. Bilbo and Frodo were on the bench in Elrond's garden, as was their usual wont.
'Where do you suppose the strange lady in man's clothing is?' wondered Bilbo.
'Haleth? I am certain she is about, ' said Frodo.
'I'm surprised she isn't here. I thought she wanted to hear the rest of my story.'
'Perhaps she went hunting?' Frodo suggested.
'That is hardly a lady-like activity,' snorted Bilbo. 'Then again, she isn't the most lady-like lady, is she?'
'Good evening Mr. Baggins. And to you as well, Mr. Baggins,' Haleth greeted them. Frodo was certain she had
overheard Bilbo's remark. Judging by the way she frowned, the elderly hobbit had offended her. He echoed her greeting faintly. Her clothing, he noted, had acquired a few new stains. He wondered if she had helped to muck out the stables.
She threw herself onto the ground and intensely studied the earth beneath the bench.
'Did you find it?' she asked abruptly.
'Did I find what?' asked Frodo in confusion.
'Your button. Did you find it?'
'Oh! No. Not yet,' said Frodo who had not thought of it at all since the morning conversation.
The news seemed to cheer her considerably. She sat back and grinned. 'That's…well, I'm certain it will turn up.'
'Could I trouble you to please continue with your story? You had just reached the point where the Dwarves had sent the talking birds with messages.'
'Perhaps we should wait for Inglor?' Frodo suggested.
'Oh. Him. He comes and goes as he pleases,' she sniffed. 'He may be leagues away.'
'Good evening.' Inglor strode into the clearing and sat gracefully on the grass. 'I trust your day passed well?'
'Oh, yes,' said Haleth with an unpleasant smile.
Frodo muttered something noncommittal. The interaction between these two had never been comfortable. This evening seemed worse than usual.
'Mr. Baggins was about to continue the tale of the Dwarves at the Lonely Mountain after the death of Smaug,' she said.
'Yes. Of course. But first, Mr. Baggins, I have something that I believe belongs to you.' Inglor produced a small circle and gave it to Frodo. The brass glinted in the long rays of the evening sun.
'Thank-you, Lord Inglor, where did you find it?' asked a delighted Frodo.
'In the hallway just outside your room,' came the reply. 'Perhaps it rolled under the door without your noticing.'
'How delightful.' Haleth's face was a cold mask of rage.
Yes, well…' stammered Frodo.
'Haleth, are you well?' asked Inglor, concern evident in his voice.
'How could I not be well? I have been accepted into the Blessed Realm and Mr. Baggins has his button. Everything is as it should be.' It was amazing how she could speak while barely moving her lips.
'You do not look well. You are quite pale.'
'Really? Am I? How strange. Especially after I spent most of the afternoon out of doors searching…' She reined herself in. 'I'm fine.'
'Haleth, if you are not well you should tell Master Elrond.'
'I said I'm fine. I can't help it if you think I'm lying,' she growled.
'Haleth! I never said...' Inglor began.
'Yes you did. Just now. Please don't tell me you didn't say what Mr. Baggins and I just heard you say. Isn't that correct Mr. Baggins?'
'I…er…' stuttered Frodo. If female company was like this, he was quite content to be a bachelor.
'See? My Baggins agrees with me,' she said triumphantly. 'And I'm happy you have your button again, Mr. Baggins.
Truly I am. Good for you for finding it, Inglor. When exactly did you find it?'
'Last night,' Inglor said innocently.
Haleth leapt to her feet. It seemed to Frodo that she was fighting the urge to use physical violence.
'I was wrong. I am feeling somewhat under the weather. I shall bid you all a good evening.'
To Frodo's relief, she marched away.
Inglor ran after her.
Frodo shook his head, unable to decide if Inglor was overly brave or severely lacking in intelligence.
'Haleth? Haleth!' Inglor called.
'Go away, Inglor, I am indisposed.'
'But your room is the other way.'
She turned on her heel. 'I know where my room is,' she hissed. 'I don't need you to find it for me.'
'Then why are you…'
'What do you CARE?' she exploded. 'What do you care where my room is or the state of my health, or anything else about me?'
He seemed to shrink. 'Haleth, I must know…'
'Know what?' she stormed when he hesitated. 'Know what I've been doing? I've been searching fruitlessly for something you found with no effort at all!'
'What do you mean?' he asked, genuinely puzzled.
'I mean I want to be alone,' she snapped. 'Go away, Inglor.'