Monday, 2nd of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Last Homely House, Rivendell
|The Valley of Imladris|
As expected, Gaelira was off speaking with Barachen, the Elf who manned the encampment. It was odd to see a couple of Dwarves here as well (I suppose I hadn't noticed them last night on account of being so tired), but they kept to themselves and would only give hints about their business which they seemed to regard as some great secret. Dwarves can be like that, you know: very protective of their knowledge and purposes, but on the whole they are a good people. I let them be, for I felt like keeping to myself today, albe it not for any particular reason. I was not upset or anything like that; in fact I felt almost serene, as if I hadn't a care in the world. I munched my breakfast in silence and solitude as I took in everything going on around me.
Nephyn was busy plotting her maps, trying (so I thought) to figure out just where in the Trollshaws we were. Drodie and Lagodir were off to one side discussing the best way to skin a bear and what kind of weather we could expect to encounter in the Misty Mountains once we had got there. It was no surprise to me that the Dwarf had been into the high places before, but it seemed the Gondorian had some experience with mountainous travel himself, and the two were clearly concerned about how to best prepare ourselves for that portion of our journey. I was vaguely worried about it as well, but just now the whole concept of trudging through ice and snow seemed too far off to bother about it yet. I let out a wide yawn, took a pull from my water-skin, and wondered what the day might bring. Shortly thereafter Gaelira called us all together.
"We are now less than a day's march from Rivendell," she told us, "But the way is still full of potential dangers and we should take nothing for granted. If we depart now, we should reach the way-point of Thorenhad by the noon-hour. That is a camp which is (or was) roughly mid-way between the Last Bridge and the Ford of Bruinen. If there are any residents of Rivendell currently at Thorenhad we should receive welcome there, and even if there are not we should still find rest and supplies. Once we cross the Ford itself we will ascend into the High Moor. That is a rough country where the going becomes more difficult. Also, the path to Imladris itself can be hard to find for most, but I will steer you right. Barring any unforeseen challenges, we should see the lights of the Last Homely House twinkling in the valley below us by dusk."
At those words I saw several reactions among the Company: Lagodir straightened himself up and his eyes sparkled with expectation. Nephyn and I seemed to share a certain wonder at walking wide-eyed into the fabled valley of the Elves, while Drodie muttered something about preferring to single-handedly wrestle an entire colony of wild cave-claws. But Gaelira was hard to read: if I didn't know better I would have thought she was reluctant to go there.
It was not much later when we had gathered our things and bid farewell to Barachen. We returned to the road by the straightest path we could find, then turned our faces eastward and resumed our march. The day was turning out to be a fine one, and we talked openly as the miles rolled beneath our feet.
"What can we expect to see in Rivendell, Gaelira?" I asked excitedly. "Do you think we will actually meet Lord Elrond himself?"
"I should think we will," she answered, though none too enthusiastically, I thought. "But I have spent many winters in the valley of Imladris, and those familiar with a place do well to not blunt the experiences of others with their own musings. Still, I shall tell you this: while I have no doubt we will meet Elrond Halfelven in his fair dwelling, I think there is another meeting which might interest you even more."
"Interest me more than meeting the famous lore-master of Rivendell?" I echoed with a laugh.
"Yes, I think so," came her reply. "Rivendell has, for no less than the last fifteen years, been home to one Bilbo Baggins."
"What?!" I cried. "Old Mad Baggins himself? You mean to say he's been living among the Elves all this time?"
"And quite comfortably, so far as I have ever seen," she said. "Stranger tales have reached my ears since he set out from the Shire in the Year 1401 as your people reckon it, but the truth is he has been living in quiet retirement among us. Some years ago (I believe you might call it long, but in truth the Eldar count them for little), he began an admirable work of translating many Elvish scripts in the great library of Rivendell by Elrond's permission. He was yet some ways from finishing when last I saw him."
"Well, what an adventure this is turning out to be!" I marvelled. "First Elrond the Halfelven and now Mad Baggins! There's a brace of meetings that'll make for some great stories in my journal!"
"No doubt they will," laughed Nephyn from behind me. "Although you should probably avoid calling him by that name!" I heartily agreed.
"Somehow I do not think the old hobbit would mind," mused Gaelira with a sly grin. "In fact, I suspect it would tickle his fancy." I wondered greatly what her remark might mean.
Time passed and the trees passed with it. We found ourselves in the midst of a deep gorge with sheer, rocky walls to either side. After a bit these also gave way to trees once more, but Gaelira began overtly searching the ground for something. Eventually, she found what she sought: a faint dirt track leading away to the north. This we followed up and down the slopes until we reached a low hill which was crowned with some ancient ruin. Gaelira informed us we had reached the way-point of Thorenhad and I quickened my pace, eager for a rest. There, amid the fallen stones and crumbled pillars, we saw a most extraordinary thing.
There were Elves there, and even a few more Dwarves who were travelling through on business of their own. But standing near a cold firepit were two Elves, absolutely identical to look at. They were tall and dark-haired with steel-grey eyes. Young they looked, yet their bodies were strong and hale with a powerful bearing of both sinew and spirit. I felt Nephyn nudge my shoulder.
"Elf-twins? Can it be..."
I did not answer for my mouth was hanging open. There was no doubt in my mind: we had just stumbled into Elladan and Elrohir, the Sons of Elrond!
Thus began a long discussion which, alas, I cannot recount for you in these pages, Dear Reader. Aside from its sheer length, the Sons of Elrond had a most peculiar way of completing each other's sentences that made following the conversation rather bewildering, at least for me. I will do my best to give you an impression of how this sounded in my writing, but I expect it will not do justice to the real experience. Gaelira was the first to approach them, and they eyed her with great interest.
"Hail, Sons of Elrond Halfelven, Master of Imladris!" she said to them with a courtesy. "I return as part of the Company called Elladan's Outriders, and may your lordships pardon our use of the name, though it was meant only in reverence and honour."
"Doubtless it was," said one of the twins (who I later learned was in fact Elladan), "Though one might ask with whose permission you use the name --"
"When we ourselves knew naught of your mission until but a fortnight ago," said Elrohir. There was an awkward silence. I worried we had inadvertently incurred the wrath of the Sons of Elrond. But suddenly they both laughed.
"Nay! You have nothing to fear from us --"
"We are greatly honoured by the name --"
"For much honour have you brought it, if half the tales be true!" I breathed much easier from that point on.
"You speak no falsehood, brother! Was it not this bedraggled band which rescued one of our folk in the Taur Gonwaith --"
"And defeated the horror beneath the Barrow-downs --"
"And bested the shadow-wraith of Fornost --"
"And drove away the drake Bleakwind on the Nan Amlug plains?" We stared at them in surprise.
"Already you seem to know much," said Gaelira, clearly baffled. "But how you do so is a mystery to me. Ever were the Sons of Elrond gifted with the talents of their father, but this would seem to surpass anything of which I have yet heard, for we have sent no word of our exploits."
"Indeed, but where you have not, others have done --"
"You forget Gildor Inglorion and his company in Meluinen --"
"Who is still on business from our father there. He took a great interest in your doings --"
"And his messages travel by swift paths of which others know nothing." (By now you must have completely lost track of which brother was speaking, just as I had done!)
"Then is Lord Elrond also aware of all this?" Gaelira asked them.
"He is, and no doubt he is eager to speak to you himself on the matter --"
"For this endeavor you have taken upon yourselves interests him greatly."
Many more words were said, but they concerned mostly the path to Rivendell or the known movements of the Enemy's servants in that land. After some time, we were reminded that it would be best for us to reach the valley by sundown and so we left the Sons of Elrond and Thorenhad behind. The Sun was well into the third hour from noon when we returned to the road and resumed our trek toward Imladris. We marvelled among ourselves over our meeting with Elladan and Elrohir while we looked eagerly forward to our arrival at their father's house.
It was another two hours or so when we came upon a placid river which was forded by the Road. That river, Gaelira told us, was the Bruinen, and we crossed it without incident. The Road then climbed steeply into the hills on the far side until it vanished altogether. The way became rocky and the path forward wound much, but the she-Elf led us with care. We took a longish rest when we finally reached the top of the High Moor, then continued on our way eastward. Dusk covered the sky as we plodded onward. Finally, just as the Sun slipped below the horizon, we turned a corner and saw it far below us: the Valley of Rivendell.
I had heard many different descriptions of the Hidden Valley of the Elves, but nothing I had heard really prepared me for what I encountered there. I saw nothing I hadn't seen elsewhere -- pathways, trees, bridges, houses, courtyards, waterfalls -- but they were all of such beauty and splendour that my breath was taken away. As we wound our way down the road, Nephyn had to catch me more than once from falling off a precipice because I was so enthralled by the view. Gaelira led us over masterfully built bridges of stone and beneath flowering trees where all sorts of exotic birds sang their lovely songs. Finally, we arrived at the largest structure in that valley: The Last Homely House East of the Sea.
It was the house of Elrond, and that house was like unto its master: ancient, yet strong; full of wisdom and beauty. We were attended by several Elves who seemed to have been expecting us. Our hurts were tended, our bellies were filled, our thirsts were slaked, and our voices were unfurled in merriment. If I had a week to attempt it I could not truly capture the wonders of Rivendell in these pages for you. Elrond himself met with us, at a long table where sat Elves of many kinds with faces fair and bright. He himself was masterful as a great king, wise as a learned lore-master, yet kindly as a summer breeze. Much of our talk with him I cannot rightly remember, for most of what was said went over my head (as the saying goes), or I was simply too entranced by everything that I saw. It was as if I had landed myself inside of a story -- I was walking among characters which had been written onto a page or sung into many songs, yet there I was with them. I do not think I should ever find the right words to describe what I experienced here.
But fear not, Dear Reader! I shall do my best, for important and noteworthy things did indeed occur during our stay at Elrond's house. Over the course of the time we spent there, I was able to meet with my friends and they told me of their own happenstances. And I myself had a singular experience which I shall relate for you now.
The very same night we arrived, following the sumptuous dinner we shared at Elrond's table, we were led into a room off the main courtyard of the house. It was a long hall with long tables in its centre and three enormous fireplaces burning at the far end. There was no other light that I could see, and everywhere about us were Elves singing, Elves reciting poetry, and Elves quietly reading tomes in their own language. Elrond told us we stood in the Hall of Fire, and that place is a place of singing, songwriting, and merrymaking where fires are kept burning all the year round. It sounded like just the sort of place where I would be quite at home, so when Elrond asked a tall Elf minstrel named Lindir to show us around, I was eager to accompany him. But, just as I was about to go with Lindir and my companions, I felt a hand upon my shoulder. It was Elrond, and with a look he commanded me to be silent. I obeyed, wondering very much what was going on. Once Lindir had led the rest of the Company out of sight, we withdrew to a very private corner of the hall where Elrond sat himself down upon a low chair and turned toward me. His eyes shone in the firelight, but his face was grave.
"I will not keep you long from your revelry, Master Hobbit, for you have certainly earned it," he said to me in a soft voice. "Would I be right to guess that the Hall of Fire is a place which suits you?"
"Yes!" I said, a bit too loudly at first. "Yes, that is, I have something of a soft spot for old tales and stories, if you take my meaning. Always was a weakness of mine."
"Hardly a weakness," he said with a slight smile. "For such is the stuff of which wisdom is made, and I deem you possess a good measure more wisdom than for which you might give yourself credit, Padryc. This adventure has tried and tested you beyond what most of your kind has ever endured. You have grown, somewhat, if what I hear is true, and that is not to be wondered at considering what you have seen since you left the quiet fields of your homeland. And yet, I am concerned for you. Why do you continue to follow this Company?"
I thought for a moment. Somehow, it almost felt like a trick question, but I couldn't detect the trick. I fumbled for a moment, but then into my mind rose images, like pictures in a storybook, of all the things I had been through with my friends beside me. Nephyn's kidnapping and rescue in the Chetwood. The vicious Warg which slew Gaelira's bear-friend. The terror of the Barrow-wights. The fear and stuffiness of the Old Forest. Merry old Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. And the Orcs, Dol Dinen, Fornost, Annuminas, Garth Agarwen, the Wovenvales... all of it right down to where I was standing now. I sighed, but I held my head high.
"How could I not?" I said at last. "After all we've been through together it... it wouldn't be right, somehow, to just up and leave them, would it? And I think Nephyn needs me. She's been abandoned one time too many if you know what I mean. And Gaelira; they might have all walked out on her if it hadn't been for me when they learned what she was trying to do. Lagodir is a tough nut, but he's one I plan on cracking eventually. And even Drodie keeps things interesting, in his own way. I guess what I'm saying is: my place is with them. I know it makes no sense and I know I'm not really doing anything but dangling along behind them and eating all their food (well, Drodie does his fair share of that too, actually), but it just feels like this is where I belong. I'm afraid I can't put it any plainer than that."
Elrond looked at me closely and was silent for what seemed like several minutes. In the end, he merely nodded his head.
"You need not try," he said gently. Then he stood and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Come," he said and motioned to another part of the room. "There is someone I would like you to meet."
In a dim and secluded corner there sat a small figure huddled on a stool. He was wrapped in a dingy old cloak that looked rather too big for him, the colour of which was hard to discern in that light -- it might have once been a dark green. There was a loaf of bread and a mug of some liquid nearby, but they appeared almost untouched. I could hear the scratching of a quill pen on parchment and at his feet there was a small pile of books. Then I noticed the feet were unmistakably hobbit-feet. The cloaked figure looked up at me and the light of the fires fell full on his face.
"Mercy me!" I cried, heedless of my own shrill voice in that quiet hall. I was too amazed to realize the harping and singing had stopped around me. "You're Old Mad Baggins, you are!"
There was slight laughter from nearby, most of it coming from my companions. Elrond made a motion to the rest of the room that they should go about their business, then he left the two of us together. For my part, I was so surprised that I didn't even notice his departure at the time. Bilbo chuckled and pulled me close.
"Hush, lad, hush! Where the devil are your manners? Did you grow up on a farm?" he asked sternly, but there was a great amusement playing in his eyes.
"Well, yes -- as a matter of fact I did, sir," I said, making an effort to keep my voice down.
"Oh. Oh! You say you did now?" Bilbo echoed. "Which farm was that, exactly?"
"The Pemberton Farms in Southfarthing," I said excitedly but softly. "My old dad, Padferth Pemberton, he said he knew you once and all."
"Padferth? Why yes, I remember him. Stout fellow -- good bones and quite the green thumb as I recall him. Got well into the ale at my Birthday party too, if I'm not mistaken. How is he keeping himself these days?"
And so began a conversation which lasted well into the night. My friends did not disturb me -- no one did, to be honest -- and I was left alone with the Bilbo Baggins. I can't relate here everything we discussed and most of it would be of absolutely no interest to anyone save hobbits, but we talked of the doings of the Four Farthings in great detail. He was especially interested in anything I could tell him of his adopted nephew, Frodo, but sadly the well of my knowledge ran quite dry on that point. Frodo was always a solitary chap who didn't go in much for parties or gatherings, so there was precious little I could relate to him. It was very late indeed before he finally began to question me concerning Elladan's Outriders, about which he seemed to already know a great deal. I knew of no particular reason I shouldn't be forthcoming with him about our business, including our current destination in the Misty Mountains.
"So you're actually going looking for the goblin-tunnels, are you?" he asked in dismay. "I really shouldn't if I were you, you know. Not a fun place to find yourself. Nasty business." But I couldn't get him to tell me anything else about it. Instead, he turned the conversation toward our reason for going, and I found myself telling him everything about Mallacai and the Seekers of the Seven Stars. He squinted at me and lowered his voice to a whisper.
"It's none of my concern, of course," he said, "But if I were you I wouldn't go getting caught up with that lot. They've sent emissaries to Rivendell more than a few times, you know, and even that Mallacai fellow has been here more recently. Now, I can't claim to know anything definite because the talks are always very quiet-like, but I can tell you for certain that Elrond doesn't like 'em. I don't know why, but every time they leave here he falls quiet and broods for days. Now I've been around a bit, I've heard stories about these Seven Stars and I expect the Seekers are some Noldorin cult or other, set on finding the relics? Just guesses on my part, but if I'm right I can see why Elrond wants nothing to do with them -- the High Elves and their meddlings have caused more than a little grief in this world, and that on both sides of the Sundering Seas, mind you." He sighed.
"But what would I know?" he went on. "For I'm just an old hobbit. An old hobbit who missed his bedtime! My dear boy, would you be so kind as to help me back to my room? I am not usually up this late and my eyes don't work as well as they used to in these dark hours. I may be half-blind at times, but I'm certainly not and never have been 'mad.'" He gave me a wink and a broad smile.
After escorting Mr. Baggins to his room, I finally retired myself, but I found I could not sleep. The words of Bilbo, Elrond, and Mallacai continually played in my head while the Falls of Imladris roared endlessly on outside my window.