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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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26
The Last Homely House

I shall not write in detail here of the Hidden Ways, or where we entered them, only that they were vast tunnels beneath the earth, and we rode armed and ready, lest Orcs or worse things attack us from the dark. From the stonework, I believe that the Dwarves crafted these, and made a mental note to ask Gimli or Prince Dalfinor about them. The tunnels are not at a uniform depth, being constructed to avoid certain natural obstacles, such as crevasses, unstable stone and subterranean rivers, and at times I believe going deeper to avoid possible flooding by rivers overhead, an odd feeling when one is traversing them. They also take advantage, I noted, of natural cave systems. Gandalf and Aragorn had spoken to me of this; the Wizard had given me a parchment with some of the Dwarvish runes marked upon it, with explanations of their system of mapping signs. However, Rec-nuri-Rec and Aonghus showed me another way of tracing and manipulating them as we encountered what Men would call sign-posts at junctions of more than one tunnel, which caused us to increase our progress to a remarkable degree.

Do not think of this lightly! I would not do this except at great need, for the cost of it is great. It was so disorienting for my staff that I had to entrance them much more deeply that I had before, so they had only vague memories of the whole; at intervals, I had to pause to let them partially waken and eat and drink more than normal, for it sapped our energies more than a hard day’s fighting had ever wearied me! This was true to an extent for the horses more removed from the mearas’ bloodlines as well, and for the mules despite their sturdiness. I wrote above that we rode armed and ready, but that was really true only of the Drúadan, the Dunlending shaman, and myself; although the others had their weapons to hand, I was by no means certain whether or not they could rouse in time to adequately defend themselves. For our time underground, I rode first with Rec-nuri-Rec pillion behind me; then the rest of our party, with Swift riding with Aonghus in the chariot in the rear.

The longer we did this, the more exhausted I became, as if my fatigue had physical weight dragging at every iota of my being. I struggled to keep my concentration, to keep my thoughts and emotions calm within me. Perhaps it would not have been so onerous with more experience, or if I had the enhanced vision and hearing of the Elves and Dwarves—but I do not. The darkness, while not so inky-black as one would expect, seemed to press down upon me, and the lanterns we carried were small and at times seemed dimmer than a rush-dip; I fought the worry of what we would do if they went out altogether, especially at a junction, if we were attacked, if somehow I would get separated from the others, wandering forever….

But at last we were ascending a ramp, and Rec-nuri-Rec caused an opening to appear, and we rode out under fading but glorious stars, just before dawn. I gladly brought the others to full waking, and we made a hasty camp in a grove of trees near a river. I ate some bread and drank some overly sweetened tea, then fell headlong into slumber.


My dreams were dark, and I do not remember them, except that I was still in the Ways. But a voice was calling me insistently, and a figure appeared, a tall Elf with long dark hair and a half-familiar face. “Marpol, Marpol, come to me; we must leave this place! Those who love you worry.”

Those who love me? But my mother was long dead, and my father had never cared for me save to use me for his own controlling ends.

“More love you than you know. Shall we not go to those you love, those you need to care for? It is time for you to come to them, for questions to be asked and answered.”

Ah, I wanted to learn! What, I could not recall, but I knew that what he said was true, and necessary.

I opened my eyes. The Elf leaned over me. “Mae tollen! You are welcome in my home, Lord Tintehlë.”

“But your hair is black,” I said sleepily. “The one I saw was blond, with a beard. I never saw an Elf with a beard before.”

“Few of us have them,” he said after a pause. “I am Elrond of Imladris, which is also called Rivendell, and you are welcome here. Drink this, and take your rest. Your dreams will not trouble you.”

He lifted me enough that I could drink a potion less noxious than most, and laid me back; I fell instantly back asleep.


When I woke again, I felt much refreshed, yet was startled by how weak I felt when I tried to move. I lay in a comfortable bed in a handsome chamber, and as I sought to sit up, my head spun and I gasped.

“You’re awake!” Cardin’s face popped up beside me. “How do you feel, my lord? We were so worried! Are you in pain?”

“Just—dizzy. And weak. Alta—the others—“

“We’re all fine,” he assured me. “One of us’s always been with you, all the time. You’ve been ill, my lord, ever since before we got here. My word, what a place this is! You’ll love it! Don’t move! I’ll get help!”

He disappeared before I could tell him I wasn’t going anywhere, but an instant later, Dir was hurrying to my side, reaching for my wrist to check the life-beat, smiling at me. “Thank the Valar, you’re better!” he said heartily.

“Better than what?”

“You looked as if you’d been dragged through a knothole backwards and then sat on by a herd of oliphaunts, as my old nurse used to say. At least you don’t look quite so pale, waxen and corpselike,” said a cheerful voice.

Leaning over the back of the chair my bird-master lounged in nearby, Tambaro swatted Rihan’s head. “Good thing you aren’t a Healer, reminding the patient of mortality when he’s been teetering on the brink of Nandos’ threshold. You had the young ones worried, Marpol; they aren’t as used to your toughness as we are. I told Mistress Alta how stubborn you are, but she was still fretting like a hen with one addled chick.”

“The addled ones were and are you two,” said my housekeeper tartly from the doorway. She deposited a tray on a small table, and busied herself with it for a moment. “Lord Elrond wants all of you out of here to let him eat in peace, so out! Go bother someone else for a while. Shoo!”

They took themselves out, she closed the door, and came towards me. “Honestly, those two!”

“Alta,” I said, trying to sit up.

“Now stay still! Let me tidy you up a bit.” She took a warm damp cloth from a basin to wipe my face, brushing back my hair as I gazed at her. She was wearing a gown new to me, in a deep garnet red, and her glorious long dark hair was flowing loose in the Elvish manner, but I detected something in her expression.

“Alta?”

Her eyes filled with tears; one fell upon my hand. I closed my fingers on it as she dashed the others away. “Don’t you ever do that again!” she said fiercely. “I don’t care what the King wants! I wish he was here; I’d give him a few words to feast upon! How dare he put you through that!”

“He didn’t —“

“Of course he did! You were entirely different when you came down from that talk with him and the others! Do you think we’re all stupid? We knew that he set you some kind of impossible mission! Tam and Rihan had told me that the only good thing about your leaving the army was that you were less apt to be given some insane task that nobody else can accomplish that you’d half-kill yourself trying to do. Ha! So what do you do but mostly kill yourself—” She turned away, dropping the cloth back with a splash. One hand gripped the edge of the table so hard her fingers were whitened. I heard her breath catch.

One dark tress was almost brushing my hand; I managed to catch the end of it and tugged gently.

She looked back and down over her shoulder at me.

“Please don’t be angry,” I said. “I feel quite well, really, just a bit hungry.”

“You look like a famine victim,” she informed me. “Did you know that you lost at least a stone(1) in weight on that little trip?”

I gaped at her.

She nodded at me. “In what we think was three days, you brought us over a hundred leagues; we were about twelve from here when you ate two bites of bread, drank part of a cup of tea, and collapsed. I should think you do feel hungry! Starved, rather! And you are going to have to put up with being stuffed full as a Mettarë goose for the next while, to make up for it.” She moved the basin away, and the table with the tray closer. Wonderful aromas made my mouth water. “Gruel first, I think,” she added.

“You are a vicious woman,” I informed her.

“’Tis what you deserve for scaring us,” she retorted, although her mouth curved. Yet it was the best porridge I have ever had, smooth and nutty yet sweet, followed by some cut-up stewed fruit and a bit of delicately flavored custard. Another draught, and some tea preceded another nap.


By the next morning, feeling somewhat stronger, I was allowed out of bed—if only as far as a sort of couch near the fire, well wrapped up. Lord Elrond came to see me shortly afterward, with the rest of my friends. I noticed that Frejwyn too had freed her hair from its usual plait and wore a blue gown. She looked at me sharply before smiling and nodding a greeting. At Lord Elrond’s direction, Cardin and Corrigar slid aside some lightweight screens that I had assumed were walls, revealing a much larger room than I had thought it to be, with a wide semicircle of chairs for the others.

Seated in a larger chair beside mine, with Dir on my other side, Lord Elrond leaned back, tenting his fingers. “As I understand it from your companions, you all left Taur Drúadain five days ago,” he said. “By any calculations, that is a staggering feat, so it does not surprise me that you have been unwell. All of you experienced some effects, although Lord Marpol apparently bore the brunt of them.”

“He did bear the brunt,” growled Tambaro. “No ‘apparently’ about it!”

“I meant no offense, Captain Malréd,” the Elf said mildly. “Having practiced medicine for over six thousand years, I have never seen precisely those greater results before, so had to treat the symptoms rather than the malaise. What future consequences are, I am uncertain. However, Lord Marpol is both hardy and resilient, like other Dúnedain. I have not taken the opportunity to fittingly welcome you to the Last Homely House before, my lord, and I greet you as family, daer-fion nîn(2).”

The others looked startled. “Family?” echoed Corrigar.

“Indeed. He is related to my foster son Estel, whom you know and acknowledge as Elessar, King of the Reunited Realm of Gondor and Arnor. Surely you noticed the resemblance between them.”

“I think that would be apparent only to you, Lord Elrond,” I said dryly. Calling a being of such age and dignity “great-uncle” seemed both unlikely and impossible!

“On the contrary, other Dúnedain of the North will see it. My sons Elladan and Elrohir did, or they would not have suggested that my hospitality be extended to you.”

“I should like to know how we came to be here,” I said tentatively.

“You collapsed, and your breathing was so faint, I could barely discern it, even using the audiophone(3) in my kit,” Dir said.

“So we carried you in a sling or litter between ‘Gift and Islilta,” Rihan added. “Thanks to Cardin, we didn’t bury, inter or entomb you on the spot as dead.”

I glanced at my aide, who was blushing. “My thanks, Cardin.”

“Well, I knew that if you were –gone, then Swift would be howling, and he wasn’t,” Cardin explained in a reasonable tone.

As if understanding, or mayhap reacting to his name, the big dog nudged his head under my hand, and I petted him as he leaned against the couch before lying down beside it, tail wagging. His manners had greatly improved over the journey, I thought absently.

:With a little help from us.: said a voice in my mind.

:’Gift? Where are you?: I sent.

:Just outside,: said Islilta, and both put their heads over the sill of an open, wide window nearby.

:How did you and the other mounts fare?: I asked anxiously.

:As one would expect; we were relatively unharmed, but the others further removed from our bloodlines were exhausted, and the mules were naturally in between, thanks to their inherent hardiness and obstinacy. Lord Elrond keeps an excellent stable and paddocks, and his grooms are even better than the Rohirrim.: ‘Gift told me.

Isilita added, :Not to mention all the attention from those Elven-mares!:

‘Gift winked at me. :Oh, and the Elvish stallions are indifferent to your charms?:

:If we might return to our discussion?:
Lord Elrond’s mind-voice was courteous but ever-so-slightly impatient, and both bowed their heads to him.

“Thank you,” he said aloud. “Your captains consulted their maps, and within the hour ran into one of our patrols, led by Lord Glorfindel, who brought you all here as soon as he saw the letter my sons had given you. It is fortunate that you were so close; as it was, you almost left us.”

My friends looked grim, particularly Alma.

“My thanks for your expert aid,” I said awkwardly.

“Ably assisted by young Dirúvel and Mistess Alatáriël,” he said, “as well as the rest. I only regret not being able to speak with the Dunlending and the Drúadan.”

“They made themselves scarce as soon as the Elves found us,” Tambaro said.

I was tired; I had not even noticed their absence until that moment!

Lord Elrond’s cool voice interrupted my vexed thoughts. “The Ethraid Thurin have been a legend even among the Elder. I myself have never traveled them, nor do I know anyone who has. None of my folk have done so, to my knowledge. That my son wishes to know more of them is understandable, given his own experiences in the recent past and the exigencies of the possible future, but this melding of lore and craft secrets between peoples, even within a Kindred, is extraordinary and new. I do not believe the Dwarves can travel at such speed on their own underground roads within their kingdoms.”

I said, “Gimli told Gandalf that they are a legend among his folk too, largely forgotten. He believed that that knowledge was mostly among the tribes who were annihilated long ago.”

“Pardon, lords. Annihilated? What’s that?” asked Corrigar.

“Exterpated, extinguished, and exterminated,” said Rihan.

The confusion on the lad’s face deepened.

Taking pity on him, I said, “Wiped out of existence, by dragons and their own wars under the influence of the Rings of Power Sauron gave them. Those who were left were scattered, a remnant of their folk. He thought the Ways might predate the Sundering. I agree, Lord Elrond, that they probably aren’t inherently magical.”

“There are three major questions to be answered,” said the Elven lord. “One, how and what magical constructs were used to speed your journey; two, why would they willingly do so, secretive as the Drúadain so famously are; and three, what are the long-term effects of this instance upon you?”

“Do you have a map? Any map will do,” I asked. “And a piece of string or yarn?”

Tambaro spread out a map of Rhudaur on a light table, and Alta produced a piece of white yarn from her belt-pouch.

I paused to look at the table. Oddly, the top was not centered on its single pedestal, but extended from one end. Lord Elrond swung it over my legs like a large tray that did not rest on my lap. One could not place a great deal of weight upon the end, but it was a very handy device.

“One of my people devised it for the use of bedridden patients,” he said, seeing my interest.

Dir remarked, “If one put small wheels on the base, the patient could move it closer or away if he had use of his arms. – Pardon, my lords,” he trailed off, blushing.

“Nay, that is a good idea! You are thinking as a Healer should!” Lord Elrond said.

Cardin clapped his shoulder, pleased that his friend should win our host’s approval. I reminded myself that I must find the time to tell Dir what Faramir had told me: that Elrond had trained the King, who maintained that his mentor was the best living Healer in Arda.

I put one end of the yarn at a spot on the map. “There is the Gap of Rohan, and here is roughly the place where we entered. We came out…here.” I placed the other end near the Bruinin River. “A map depicts places in relation to each other. One travels the distance separating them by foot, on horseback, or, on a body of water, boat or ship.”

“So why did the journey not take as long, or even longer, underground?” asked Cardin. “I don’t remember much about them, none of us do. Just big dark tunnels with some pools and wider spots where we rested.”

“Did we not go up and down at times?” Corrigar asked. “I don’t remember being hotter or colder anywhere, and the air was—was—not dead, but—”

“But there was no scent to it but stone,” Frejwyn said. “No smell of flowers or grass on the air.”

“We travel in another element besides distance,” I said. They looked blank. I tried again. “See, distance is on one plane, here over the surface.”

Silence, as they looked from me to the map.

Then Alta laughed. “I see!” Picking up the yarn, she held it taut between her hands before bringing the two ends closer together, the intervening length hanging down between. “Somehow you folded time and space as a seamstress makes a pleat in cloth, and took us from one place to another without traversing the intervening space on a plane of length.”

“Interesting,” said Lord Elrond, inclining his head to her slightly. “I recollect a thinker in the Second Age, Tharúdan of Tol Galen, speculating about waves in time. His scroll may be in my library, if you wish to consult it.”

“That is most kind,” I said gratefully.

He waved it away. “I believe that we shall be discussing this question in more depth at length, but without Rec-nuri-Rec or Aonghus, it will be more difficult, even if they were willing to discuss this. Now, point two: what were their reasons for doing so?”

I looked at my hands. “In a conversation with them before we entered the Ways, we spoke of that,” I said.

They waited expectantly, but I stirred uneasily, reluctant to continue.

“The trade goods they wanted to show you,” Tambaro snapped his fingers. “It’s something to do with that, isn’t it?”

“I think he’s growing weary,” Alta came to my rescue. “Should not the rest of us allow him to rest?”

“Or did Aonghus want the same thing the Woses received?” Corrigar asked.

Elrond looked at him as Frejwyn elbowed him. “Be quiet!’

“What did the Drúadain receive, and from whom?” the Elf asked.

“Their own land,” said the Rohir. “Éomer King and the new King of Gondor met with them. No more will we ride out to hunt them, and they will have their own place as Lord Marpol promised them, as if they are real Men.”

“I promised to forward their request, and did so,” I said quietly. “They are ‘real’ Men, as you put it; their race is ancient as any Men’s, and older than some.” He flushed at my rebuke, and I added, “It is one of many changes to which we must become accustomed.”

“So in answer to a message on one of Captain Rihan’s birds, my son and the new King of Rohan rode to Taur Drûadain and made a treaty,” Elrond stated.

“Did we tell you that?” Corrigar asked, round-eyed.

“A fairly simple deduction.” An elegant gesture dismissed the subject. “What did Aonghus ask of you, and for what recompense?”

“He wanted me to look at some of his goods,” I said slowly. “His request was that his people receive a land of their own as well. If they had one, and the means to improve it, they would not continue to raid, and it might alleviate their angry memories of being dispossessed. That is what their name really means, you know, if it could be adequately translated into Westron. Both want more respect paid to their folk by others. A message has been sent to my Royal Cousin—” I looked at Rihan for confirmation, who nodded.

“I see,” said our host. “And I believe that Mistress Alta is correct; my patient should not overdo.”

“Then let the rest of us get some air and exercise,” Tambaro said at once, and they rose to leave.

Lord Elrond beckoned Dir and Alta to remain, and servants quietly closed the screens as the others left.

A quick examination from the Elf, and he sat back, smiling. “You are indeed resilient, my lord. I shall have to release you very soon from my care; I merely wish young Dir here to be aware of what to observe should you tend toward a relapse. You must let him know at once if you feel aught amiss.”

“I shall,” I promised dutifully.

“The third question,” he said, glancing from Dir to Alta impartially, “is moot. We do not know if he will have the same symptoms each time he uses the Ways—you do intend to do so again, do you not?”

“I must,” I said with a sigh.

Alta was scowling, but held her peace.

I put out my hand as Lord Elrond began to rise, and he settled back as I said, “I think that the two of you, as well as my captains and Cardin, need to know something else. Aonghus does indeed want to establish a settled land and more respect for his folk, and so does Rec-nuri-Rec.”

“But the Drûadain have one now,” protested Dir.

“Not all of them wish to live there,” I pointed out. “Some live in parts of Gondor, and in Arnor too, I think.”

“They do,” said the Elf.

“My lords!” Cardin flung open the door excitedly. “My lords, there’s a Great Eagle outside! And an Elf with a beard!”

Elrond closed his eyes for an instant, long enough for Rihan and Tambaro to pull the boy outside and no doubt begin to scold him. “Come in, the three of you!” he commanded.

“My Lord Elrond?”

“All three of you, in!” I said clearly.

They positively slunk in.

A knock, and an elleth (4) put her head inside, speaking in melodious Sindarin too quickly for me to follow. Elrond replied, she left, and an Elf strode in.

“Círion Círdanion, may I present Lord Marpol Thornhen Tintehlë, the Warden of Roads and cousin of my foster son Estel?” our host stated rather than asked.

The Elf had a narrow strip of silver-streaked golden beard rimming his jaw, and regarded me from icy eyes. “So how did you gain control of a palantír, and why did you not reply to me?” he demanded.

“And these are some of his staff, Mistress Alatáriël Nénharma, Lord Cardin Forlong, Healer Dirûvel, Captain Solarion Rihan, and Captain Tambaro Malréd,” continued Elrond stolidly.

He ignored their bows and Alta’s curtsey. “Well? Answer me!”

I leaned back. “Meaning no discourtesy to our host, I see no reason why I should bow and scrape to you, Master Círion!” I said, responding more to his tone than his words. “Our . . . acquaintance was inadvertent on my part, and I did not respond because I did not know how, if I even possess that capability. However, you are clearly weary from your journey here from the West, as I am still not recovered from my most recent adventure. I suggest we begin anew. I am Marpol Thoronhen Tintehlë, at the service of your family and yourself.”

The Elf stared at me for a moment. Stiffly he inclined his head. “Círion Círdanion, of Elostirion Tower in the Emyn Beraid.” He did not add, “At yours,” as courtesy dictated, but I supposed at least he deserved some credit for not being hypocritical.

“Some wine?” asked Alta, conjuring up a tray with an opened flagon and cups, and beginning to pour.

“My thanks,” he said, taking a cup and the chair Elrond indicated. “Have we met before? You look familiar.”

“You may be thinking of his forebears in Arnor.”

“Nay. I have it; you look like that navigator of Elendil the Tall’s, Tintehlë. He was a bit heavier, though.”

I tried not to gape at him. Elendil had led the Faithful from Númenor to Middle-earth in the Second Age!

“And I see you have Nammasoron, although the sheath looks newer. You also resemble several other Men I knew over the last couple of Ages, but I don’t recall their names.”

What must it be like for Elves, so long-lived that our shorter spans must seem as brief as summer moths?

“Why are you here, Círion?” Elrond asked directly. “I am not clear about what you meant when you first spoke to my guest.”

“As you know but these Men and woman may not, I am one of the custodians of Eärenil’s palantír, which has been kept there for centuries, turned towards Aman. I was passing between it and the window looking out to sea a few days ago when I glimpsed Lord Marpol Thoronhen within its depths, and knew that he was looking at me. I asked him in both Sindarin and Quenya where and when he was, but he did not answer me, and the connection was broken quite rudely. I have come here that he may explain. Which palantír is he using, and how did he come by it?”

“Did you see anyone else?” I asked.

“Strangely enough, I thought I beheld both a female Drúadan and a Dunlending with you.”

“Why is it for you to demand this information?” I asked.

“I already told you, I am one of the custodians. It is dangerous for them to be used by the unskilled! You must give it to me!”

I could feel my neck stiffening at his arrogance. “I do not have one of the seven palantíri,” I said truthfully, “although I would point out to you that so far as I know, the other six were the property of Men, not Elves.”

He retorted, “Who lost them, among the great treasures of this world!”

I glanced at Lord Elrond, who was contemplating his cup, looking faintly amused.

:Not all were lost. Denethor had one, and Elessar has it and the one used by Cûrunir. I think you should come outside, all of you, for I cannot fit inside, and I would be part of this conversation.:

The voice boomed in my mind, and from their expressions, in those of my companions as well.

My couch was carried through a hallway to a side door into a courtyard by Rihan, Tambaro, and—imperiously pressed into service by Elrond—Círion, the others bringing Elrond’s chair and stools, cups, etc.

I ignored most of the bustle, my attention being on the view to one side of the deep valley in which Rivendell was situated, the architecture of the graceful white buildings visible from that vantage point, and the Great Eagle who stood to one side.

Everyone knows of them, of course, but I had never been so close to one before. I had read that they have five-foot tall bodies, and wing-spans of thirty feet, but he was easily more than six feet, and I guessed that his wing-span would be correspondingly larger.

:Quite correct. You’ve read Yascairë’s Bestiary.: said the voice in my mind quietly, in an amused tone. :Those numbers were averages, as if any being is average, but he meant well. I am accounted one of the largest of my kind, but I am young and not yet at the end of my physical growth.:

:Greetings to you, Lord Gwaeroval,: I thought in Eryr-aryth(5). :A fair wind brought you.:

His beak gaped in what I thought might be a smile, and mantled his wings slightly. :And to you, Lord Thoronhen Way-giver.:

:I regret that that is the extent of my knowledge of your language,:
I added.

:At this time. And it is a courtesy few bother to extend. My thanks to you.:

“If we could resume this discussion?” Lord Elrond called us to order, and once again made introductions; each of my staff bowed or curtseyed to Gwaeroval, who gravely inclined his head.

Círion exuded impatience. “I demand that you surrender that palantír to me at once!”

Simultaneously, Rihan and Tambaro rose, hands on their sword-hilts—and so did Cardin and Alta, who half-unsheathed her dagger. “I think not, Ser Elf,” said Tambaro in the lower tone that told me he was on the edge of losing his temper.

“Be seated, please,” I said firmly, and they complied, not taking their eyes from the Elf. “Master Círion, you are making two assumptions: one, that I am lying; and two, that you have some Valar-given right to demand it of me. I give you my word that I am not lying, and while I concede that you don’t know whether that word is good or not, still the inference itself is insulting. I swear by Elbereth, Yavanna, and Aulë that I am telling you the truth in this manner. More than that I cannot say—except that I have two witnesses who will attest that I am telling the truth. What is the basis for your second assumption?”

“And why should I accept the testimony of Men?” he demanded.

:Because we are not Men,: said Islilta; the Elf started, and I knew that he had either not noticed their presence, or had dismissed it—and them.

:Why do you assume that Men are untrustworthy? We swear by Nahar that what the Way-giver says is true.: added ‘Gift. :And you still have not answered Lord Tintehlë’s question.:

“It is not worthy of response,” he said haughtily.

Elrond sighed. “Círion, you arrived unheralded and uninvited, and your arrogance grows as tiresome as your discourtesy to my guests. Marpol Thoronhen has asked a reasonable question, for if you don’t know him, neither does he know you. Answer it, and moderate your attitude, or depart. And I shall have a word with your father about your behaviour today.”

The two Elves measured each other with their stares; Círion dropped his eyes first. “I told you, I am one of the custodians of Eärendil’s palantír,” he said sulkily. “I have studied them for more than a yén(5). Of course I am most fitted to be a guardian!”

“I am certain that you are most able in your field of study,” I said evenly. “However, I am bound by oaths and needs of my own and more importantly, those of others. I suggest a compromise. I will not submit to your demands, but I am willing to freely and honestly answer Lord Elrond’s questions. Let us leave the disposition of this matter to his wisdom.”

“You must have one of the seven! How else could you have communicated with me?” Círion gritted.

“I can think of at least three other possible explanations,” Lord Elrond’s cool tones cut through his bombast. “Enough! We are at a stalemate. Círion, I suggest that you go for a stroll down by the pools, and have some refreshment while I discuss this with Lord Tintehlë. Lauriel will show you the path,” and at his beckoning gesture, a slender elleth appeared from within and led him away.

There was a short silence after they had departed, and I said,” Cardin.”

“Yes, my lord?”

“Where is my gear?”

“Your saddle-bags are in the stable, and the clothing you were wearing has been cleaned and put away in a cupboard in your chamber.”

“There was a pouch on my belt, not my usual belt-pouch, but an additional blue one. Please bring it to me. Touch only the belt,” for it occurred to me that the stone might have the means to protect itself from a perceived threat.

“At once, my lord.”

A moment later, he put it into my hands, and I held it in my lap. “I did not lie to him, but I do have a gwahaedir. Aonghus gave it me; both he and Rec-nuri-Rec said that they had seen others. They were very definite that it was not one of the seven palantíri, but something lesser and similar.” I related the rest of our conversation. “So you see, my contact with Lord Círion was both accidental and inadvertent—and I wish I had not had it! The shaman and the Drúadan seemed to think that it might have been a past custodian I saw. I did not know one way or the other, until now. I mean no disrespect, but I am loath to give it to him or have him know of it.”

“I see.” He regarded me thoughtfully. “Will you allow me to examine it?”

“Of course,” I said readily.

He drew his chair closer, and took it from me, turning it in his hands through the silken cloth, which I realized was serving as a sort of insulator. “As you no doubt know, each one has an upper and lower pole, which must be properly aligned for it to work. Seeing Círion was happenstance, unless it wanted to contact that stone for some reason.”

“That sounds as if it’s alive!” blurted Cardin.

“How do you define ‘alive’?” Elrond inquired without looking up. Vorondor would have been delighted; he loves philosophical discussions. The Elf continued, “It may be sentient on a level unfamiliar to us, as some swords and magical artifacts are—and there are few things as magical as this. But it will not work for other than a Man; I suspect it’s now keyed to you or those you designate, Lord Marpol. You do realize the significance of what they told you?”

“I believe so,” I replied. “There are many possible ramifications.”

He nodded. “But that discussion is for another day, when more is known. What do you think they meant by that phrase—what was it?”

“Aonghus said, ‘If you use it with what you do not yet have, you will do more.’”

“What does that signify, indicate, or mean?” Rihan asked.

“Obviously, that he will be given or obtain something else,” said Alta.

I smiled at her, as Lord Elrond said, “Quite. We are not the only ones who have prophecies; no doubt, their seers do as well, and you figure in them. What is the debt for which their help is payment?”

“A home for the Dunlendings and respect, just what the Drúadain wanted,” Tambaro said.

It was my turn to sigh. “As if I had such power!”

:You have more than you suspect you do,: said Gwaethroval. :I think you are a worthy scion of your family, Marpol Thorenhen.:

I doubted it. The others were nodding, however, so I knew I must try. “This does not solve the problem between Círion and me.”

‘Gift stated, :You need the gwahaedir to perform this mission for King Elessar.:

“I concur,” Elrond agreed.

“Yet, as Círion said, I am untrained in its use. Simply reading all I could find about them is not sufficient, and somehow I doubt that he will be willing to teach me!”

“Yet there is a great deal to be said for an innate calling to use it,” Elrond said thoughtfully. “It was said that the Stone-Seers had a vocation, an affinity, rather than a craft. Meanwhile, and as you finish your recovery, nephew, my library is at your disposal. I will see what I have that might be of use to you.”

I thanked him, and ate a light collation with the others after he departed. Sometime later, an Elf brought an armful of volumes and scrolls, indicating a desk equipped with parchment, ink, etc., before quietly departing.

“You should rest,” Alta said.

“Aye, I will.”

She eyed me narrowly, then sighed. “If I knew what you needed, I could help you.”

Housekeeper, warrior, ranger, and scholar? “You can read both Sindarin and Quenya?” I asked.

“I spent some time working at the libraries and Archives, as a copyist,” she said modestly.

If they had employed her at the Archives, she must be good!

“You’ll have to tutor me. Why don’t you scan the Quenya scrolls?”

“I can read Sindarin,” Cardin volunteered.

“And I know some Quenya,” Dir offered.

“Is there anything in runic writing?” Rihan asked, and I passed him two slim volumes, while Tambaro picked up a folio written in Adûnaic. I contented myself with an odd-looking scroll made of some sort of bark, which I soon realized was in Pûkael, written in cirith, and spelled using Sindarin sounds. That took some getting used to!

For a long time, there was only the sound of turning pages, parchment being rolled and unrolled, the clink of scroll-weights being moved, and the occasional scritch of quill on paper.

As the afternoon neared its end, we pooled our notes, all written at my request in Sindarin(7), and Alta shooed the others out, insisting I lie down for a bit. By then I was feeling tired and slightly shaky, so I didn’t protest. She put a cup of water close to my hand before quietly departing.

Lord Elrond had had his librarian include materials on Arnor, the three sub-kingdoms it had been divided into, and some materials on both Dunland and Angmar, including a couple of maps. I glanced at them, until my eyelids grew too heavy.

~~~

1. A stone in the English weights and measures system equals fourteen pounds.
2. daer-fion nîn --Sindarin for "my great-nephew."
3. An audiophone is an early kind of monaural stethoscope; Dir’s was carved of wood. Some were made of other materials, such as rubber. Even a rolled-up piece of paper was sometimes used in a pinch to enable physicians to hear internally.
4. An elleth is a female Elf in Sindarin; a male is an ellon.
5. The language of the Great Eagles.
6. A yén (plural yéni) was one of the “long years” of the Elves, 144 solar years.
7. Sindarin, one of the Elvish tongues, was used in Gondor and Arnor as Latin was used across Europe in royal and legal courts; most educated Men were fluent in it, at least in reading and writing. Some scholars also were fluent in Quenya, which was used by the Sinda and Noldo Elves as a more formal ritualistic tongue. Adûnaic was the language of Númenor, the basis of what became Westron or (S.) Annúnaid, the common tongue throughout most of northwestern Middle-earth.


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