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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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27
The Chamber of Fire, & What Came After

I was wakened some time later by a low growl from Swift, whose hackles were raised as he glared at the door. I reached for my dagger as the handle began to turn, and he leaped into a run, erupting through the door, barking.

To my disgust, my legs got entangled in the light blanket Alta had tucked around me, and by the time I extricated myself, Swift had come back, a piece of silvery cloth dangling from his mouth. It was slightly stained with blood at one corner, so I knew that he had at least grazed its owner with a tooth.

“Bring it here! Good dog!” I said.

To my relief, he was unharmed except for a bump on his head, and very proud of himself.

The cloth was plain—and plainly Elvish. Not much of a clue, really, because so many of the Elves prefer silver and pale colors, although I’d noticed that Lord Elrond’s family seemed to prefer jewel-colors, perhaps because they were so dark-haired, whereas many of the others were blond. I tucked it away in my pouch thoughtfully. Was it Círion, or had I some other, unknown, enemy here?

An Elf tapped and opened the door. “Lord Marpol? Is aught amiss?”

“Swift is yet young,” I said, still stroking his head. “May I have a small bit of meat for him? I think he’s hungry.”

The Elf smiled. “Of course! A fine hound, to remind you before I could that the evening meal is almost ready. If you wish, you may join the rest of us, unless you would prefer to dine alone here?”

“I would be happy to join the rest,” I said. “Need I change my tunic?”

“It is not so formal, tonight, not being a feast-day,” he assured me.

“May Swift accompany me? I would not trespass the rules of Lord Elrond’s domain.”

His eyes danced. “It is not so long ago since Estel smuggled a white kitten into the dining-chamber! Nay, Elrond will not mind the dog, as well-behaved as he is.”

Clearly, the Elves did not keep dogs, or he might have realized the difference in sound between ordinary barking and that thunderous warning! I thanked him, smoothed my hair, put on my boots, and followed him, Swift heeling me.

The meal was one of the finest I have ever enjoyed, and so was the entertainment in the Chamber of Fire(1) afterward. Various Elves sang and played musical instruments—his harper was particularly adept, of course—and we enjoyed the recitation of poetry and some tale-telling also.

“Would any of your party wish to contribute?” inquired Lord Elrond.

Corrigar obliged, singing a Rohirric lay in a clear tenor, accompanied by Frejwyn on a borrowed flute.

Tambaro rose to his feet, beckoning me to join him to sing a duet. He prefaced it with, “Captains Meriadoc and Peregrin sang this in Minas Tirith, where we learned it from them. I hope that you will not think us presumptuous to sing a song of your people, Master Bilbo?”

A small figure seated beside the fire raised a head thatched with wispy white hair that matched that on his feet, smiling. “I may join in, if I know it,” he said courteously, “and I thank you for the news of them and my nephew that you brought me!”

It was a humourous song, and Master Baggins chimed in on the last stanza as we finished:

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!


Still, I was glad to resume my seat as several Elves began playing a quieter tune. So far as I could tell, no one had a torn tunic or robe (although anyone with more intelligence than an orc would have changed, or might not even be present; Círion wasn’t). I chided myself for thinking like the reader of some foolish romance, and tried to be attentive to the very fine performances.

Yet my attention wandered. Alta was wearing a lovely new gown in a deep shade of smoky orange slashed with yellow. She had changed her coiffure to a thin coronet of braids framing her face with the majority of her tresses flowing free down her back, a nice blending of Elvish and Mannish women’s styles. She was listening to Master Baggins, Lord Iorhael’s kinsman, bending her head attentively as he spoke.

They looked up as I rose to my feet. I smiled, gesturing them to remain where they were, but Master Baggins asked into a lull so that all heard, “Will the two of you not sing for us? I understand that you play well, Lord Marpol. Linnea, will you lend him your harp?”

“I would be pleased to do so,” replied the elleth with a smile, holding out a small harp ornamented with a flowing design. “Please accept this, my lord.”

Civility forced me to take it with thanks, although I did not relish having to play anything in front of beings who far outstripped what little expertise I possessed.

“How about the Lay of Beren and Luthien?” Tambaro called out. I could see the mischief sparkling in his eyes.

“Not unrehearsed, something that long,” I objected as I tried the strings—all perfectly in tune, of course. “I was thinking of an old spring song, after war. Do you know ‘April Evening,’ Mistress?”

“I do,” she said.

I sang:

When the grass was new jade velvet,
just-gilded trees gently tossed
the moon from branch to branch
leaved with minted copper pieces.
The air was fragrant;
proud mountains against a luminous sky,
and you were with me.


She sang:

It is spring again, and night.
I see green velvet, as
trees play their moon-toss game
from the tips of coppered fingers.
The air’s the same,
the sky, the mountains
my heart’s the same.


Both our voices sang together:

but you are gone.

“That was beautiful!” Master Baggins’ bright eyes were slightly dimmed; he wiped them. “I wish I had that gift.”

“Surely others would be willing to teach you to play,” I said.

“Oh, my hands are too old for it,” he replied. “No, I meant the gift to be able to write something like that. I can do a comic song—“ and I suddenly realized that he might be referring to the moon-man one, for both Frodo and Sam had told me that he wrote songs and poetry, “—but nothing like that. Very kind and courteous a choice, Lord Marpol, Mistress Alta. Would you be willing to sing one more?”

“The lady’s choice,” I said.

“How about the Seeking Song?” she suggested. “Alternate lines?”

There are paths to walk
and journeys to go
by forest and cliff and by guide
--past the veil of night and stars’ clear shine,
past sun and sea and Time.

There are those who find the way
through lives long-lived and space,
and in dreams, half recalled
travel briefly there;
we briefly find our Home.

Whether cave or hut,
cottage or keep,
we struggle and seek the way,
impelled by need, and heart’s desire,
guided by love’s warm hope.

There are paths to walk
and journeys to go
by forest and cliff and guide,
past the veil, and time, by hope’s clear light—
oh, may you find your Home!



We had both risen, facing each other. Why had I not known that a man could lose himself in those soft eyes?

Shaken, I bowed to her and the others, thanked Linnea again for the loan of the harp, and with Swift at my heels, departed to my chambers.

Swift began growling as we approached the entrance. I opened the door—apparently the Elves never lock them—and found the outer chamber dark although I’d been told that a small light was always left lit and well-shaded near the hearth. Quickly I detached one of the lights from the corridor wall, and cautiously entered, berating myself for being so careless as to leave my sword behind.

Alas, I was not cautious enough, for someone struck me hard from behind, dazing me enough that I could not grapple with my assailant. I may have lost consciousness for a moment or two; certainly, I felt hands fumbling at my pouch, and succeeded in drawing my belt-knife, slashing as he hit me again. That blow did knock me out, and then I felt more than heard retreating footsteps as I sprawled on the floor.

As for poor Swift, I had heard him yelp in pain, and he was whining, licking at my hand.

More footsteps; I groped for my knife as a hand touched my shoulder.

“My lord? My lord Marpol!” It was Cardin, who bellowed with surprising loudness, “Fire! Help!”

More footsteps, and lights that made me squint and blink. Out of a babble of voices, Dir’s cut incisively. “Don’t move, Lord Marpol; you’re bleeding. Could someone fetch my satchel?”

There were hands on my head, others restraining me from getting up; I heard swearing as my staff and some of Lord Elrond’s checked the rooms.

“’M all righ’,” I said, cleared my throat, and said more strongly, “I’m all right, just a bump on my noggin. More harm was done to my dignity than aught else. The blood is someone else’s. How is Swift?”

Cardin answered, “A shallow slash to his shoulder, my lord, and a gash on his head, but no great harm.”

“I’ll check him as soon as we get my lord settled,” said Dirúvel, with more authority than I’d previously heard from him. “We’re going to move you to your bed, my lord, but don’t help us. Just go limp; we’ll do the work. I’ll hold his neck and head still. Ready? One, two, lift!”

I opened my eyes, but felt dizzy and closed them as they lifted and bore me smoothly into the next chamber, setting me carefully on the bed. Someone removed my boots, and Dir began unfastening my belt. “Hullo, your belt-pouch is nearly severed, and the flap is loose.”

“Foiled by my cutpurse-proof design,” I said.

Someone leaned over me, and a sweet, familiar voice said, “My lord, please stop talking until Dir finishes his examination.”

“Alta? Are you there?” I put out one hand, and felt it enclosed in slim cold fingers.

“She’s right here; we all are,” said Tambaro grimly, from a short distance—the windows? – “Now shut up or someone will have to bash you in the head harder to quiet you.”

“I vow, promise and swear,” Rihan said from a few feet farther away—the doorway?—“these Elves have some kind of glamour beguiling us into a a sense of false security. We’ve all been very stupid, dimwitted and addled!”

“Will all of you kindly shut your mouths and not excite my patient?” snarled Dir. “You’ll need a stitch or two on that hand, my lord; some of the blood was yours, but I suspect not all of it. Mistress Alta, could you please hold it still for me?”

“’Tis very close to the wrist-vein,” she said with a tremor in her voice.

I opened my eyes. She was very pale, but smiled at me.

Other voices—Elves—spoke with Tambaro, and Lord Glorfindel called out, “Lord Tintehlë, Elrond is coming. May we enter?”

“No,” said Rihan and Tambaro in chorus.

“Of course,” I called. “Look here, you lot, we’re guests! Mind your manners!” I twitched my uninjured hand, but Alta held it more tightly.

Lord Elrond and his armsmaster approached my bed as I sat up. Both were as grim-faced as my staff, and I saw that Frejwyn and Corrigar both stood at the other two windows, holding their drawn swords. Glorfindel was armed as well. He drew his sword and laid it across my knees.

“My lord Tintehlë, I have been remiss in my duty to protect you and your folk under my lord’s roof,” he said formally. “I ask that you accept my apologies, and that you answer my questions so that we can find the misbegotten orc-bait who attacked you.”

“In all the centuries that we have lived here,” my host said, “the Last Homely House has never had such a desecration of guest-right and hospitality as has been visited upon you this night! I too owe you my deepest apologies!”

Under their almost expressionless facades, they were both coldly furious. I frankly doubted that there had never been such a fracas within those walls, but chose not to express my skepticism. “I apologize for this interruption and disturbance of your home,” I said. “You will regret extending your hospitality to us, at this rate.”

Glorfindel was looking keenly around. “It appears that someone ambushed you.”

“The outer room was dark,” I said, “and Swift warned me that someone was within. I fetched a light, but whoever it was still managed to get in a blow.”

“Did you see who it was?”

“No,” I said regretfully. I had a strong suspicion, but did not voice it.

“Did you shutter your windows before you went to dinner?” Glorfindel asked.

“Not on such a warm night, no. Should I have?”

“They were shuttered. Did you open them?” he asked.

Tambaro, Frejwyn, and Corrigar all nodded. “We wanted to see if anyone was lurking,” Frejwyn said. “How did you know we did?”

“They are open, but not secured as they normally are in this season,” he answered absently. “Whoever it was closed them and ransacked your chambers while waiting for you to return. They did not find what they sought.”

“How you know that?” Corrigar asked.

“If not, why wait, and why try to sever and take my belt-pouch?” I replied.

“Where is that bloody magic Stone of yours, Marpol?” demanded Tambaro. “That’s what they were after, I’ll lay odds!”

“Not taken; it’s obvious.” Rihan was frowning.

I leaned back against a pillow that Alta had pushed behind me. “Safe,” I said shortly, and added irritably as they all opened their mouths, “Stop fussing! My lord, would you be so kind as to look at and treat my injuries, small as they are?”

Dir moved aside to allow Elrond access, and he examined my head and hand as the young Healer told him in a low voice what he had done.

“Precisely the treatment I would have prescribed,” the Elf said, “although I wonder if you will allow me to use the Elvish healing techniques on them?”

“Of course, Elder Kinsman,” I said daringly.

That won me a faint smile. “You and yours shall be safe while you are here, henceforth,” he said in a steely tone. Then his face grew remote, and a warm green glow flowed from his hand into mine, and I felt warmth on my head, where he rested the other. The pain subsided, and when he stopped, I could see that the flesh of my hand had knit together into a thin scar, already fading from red to white.

Dir was saucer-eyed, his face filled with yearning. “My lord, is that a practice only Elves can do?” he asked in a choked voice.

Elrond smiled at him. “If you have the time, young Dirúvel, come to my study tomorrow, or mayhap I should say more accurately, this morn, and we shall see what a few lessons and exercises will show us. Lady Cormallen, my daughter Arwen, my sons Elladan and Elrohir, all mastered them as children. I believe many Elves have learned at least the theory.”

“But they are all Elven or Peredhel,” he said glumly, “and I am but a Man.”

“Ah, but Estel, my foster son, is a Man, and he learned swiftly and surely. We shall see. I suspect it is an innate ability that may be enhanced by training and experience. I’m not familiar with current Gondorian medical practice, but I did train several of the Healers from Minas Ithil, Osgilliath, and Minas Anor when those cities were first founded, as well as some of the Healers in Annúminas, so I would have thought that they would have survived.”

“No, they haven’t!” Dir’s face contorted with emotion. “All the training I received emphasized knives and medicines. I asked my father once if the body could not repair itself in some ways, because I had seen a small lizard regrowing its tail, and someone showed me a five-limbed sea-creature from Dol Amroth that was doing the same with a lost limb.”

“And?”

“I was ridiculed and punished for my ‘laziness,’ as he put it. He said such stupid notions were embarrassing to his position and mine as his son. The body is a mechanism, he said, and we know how to repair it within certain limits, and that was that. Not one text I had to study was newer than the Second Age. Why can’t we study more now? There are so many wonders in the world, and legends walk in the streets of the White City—why can’t more be learned? How much have we Men lost by refusing to even consider the wisdom of other Kindreds?”

“Men have and will achieve much of their own,” Elrond said.

“Aye, but why fumble until we do? Or simply say we can’t, without even trying? What if we could help a craftsman regrow the tip of—of a finger, so he may resume his trade and support himself and his family? Could that be done?”

“Oh, yes,” said our host, “if it is treated soon enough, and the end of the digit not covered with a flap of skin to prevent it. Toes, too. What we do, really, is to listen to the patient’s body, so to speak, and help it use its own strength, and sometimes ours, to repair itself and eradicate disease organisms. But we will speak more of this later. Now, if you will excuse me, I shall leave you. There will be a guard outside each room.”

After an exchange of bows, he departed.

Lord Glorfindel, who’d been speaking to someone in the other room, came to the doorway and said, “I shall personally guard your outside entrance, my lord. Fair rest to you for the remainder of the night.” With a bow, he too withdrew.

Alta, Rihan, and Tambaro stood close to my bed, but I beckoned to Dir. “Healer Dirúvel, I meant no offense by asking Lord Elrond to examine me,” I said formally. “I want you to know that I trust your skill.”

He nodded. “But you wished to conciliate him after what had happened. I understand, my lord. Besides, I don’t know anywhere near what he does!”

Well! Apparently he was maturing more quickly than I had dared to hope!

“You might want to send a letter to Lord Húrin one day,” was all I said, but he nodded before bowing and going over to the table where his satchel lay. Already he was drawing out his tablets to scribe some notes.

“Cardin!” I called, and he came forward eagerly.

“My lord?”

“You must tell your father how highly I praise his training of the dog he gave me, and I shall tell him so myself. Swift saved my life tonight.”

He beamed. “My lord father is widely known for his dogs.”

“I shall also tell him how pleased I am with his son.”

“Why were you yelling, shouting and clamoring about fire?” Rihan asked. “I saw no combustion, conflagration, nor burning!”

Cardin grinned. “Oh, that. My lady mother tells her women to yell that whenever they are unable to get rid of an overly-familiar beau. People will always run to help put out a blaze, whereas if you scream ‘help, murder,’ they may run away, out of fear.”

“Quite true,” said Alta. “Don’t laugh at him, Solarion! It worked, didn’t it?”

“What I want to know is the whereabouts of that bloody Stone,” Tambaro repeated. “And don’t simply say, ‘safe,’ and leave it at that, Marpol! What if you needed it, and needed one of us to get it for you? And how did you conceal it here so that the intruder couldn’t find it? You haven’t been in shape to concoct a cache, the Elves would know of any already here, and by the look of things, the fellow had ample time to inspect every finger-length.”

“He couldn’t find it because it isn’t here,” I said.

“Then where? You haven’t gone outside, or anywhere by yourself, except when you came back here alone, like a fool! Void take it, why are you being so mule-headed?”

“He didn’t need to go outside,” Alta said.

I smiled at her, and she beamed. “Ah, I know where it is!”

“Then enlighten us, if you would.” Rihan was fast losing his temper, and I realized with a shock that both my captains were genuinely upset.

“He’s already shown that he doesn’t need to speak aloud to the mearas, or to Lord Gwaeroval, to communicate with them. No one would think anything of it if a mearh strolled up to the window. They can be very unobtrusive if they want to be; we all know that,” she said.

I smiled. “Well, that sofa was close to the window; it was no great effort to hand the pouch with the Stone in it to Islilta, and she took it to the Eagle. No one would dare attack a messenger of the Valar.”

“Other than the Nazgûl, orcs, wargs, trolls, and giants, no,” he said sarcastically.

I grinned at him and thought at the stables, :Are you all right?:

:Better than you are!:
Islilta replied with a sniff. I sensed amusement tempered with uneasiness from ‘Gift.

:As you say, Thoronhen, we are well, and so is what was loaned to me. I shall return it when necessary, and only to you and to your folk. But I like this not. He is not only clumsy, but desperate, dangerously so.:

I relayed the conversation to my staff. “He’s right, this was clumsy and desperate. How strange that one could become so fixated upon an item one’s never seen!”

Cardin paled. “My lord, it isn’t like the Ring was, is it?”

“No,” I answered with certainty. “The Ring was made by the Elves of Eregion, but the gwahaedíri were created in Aman, and Sauron never touched this one, so it has no trace of evil, to corrupt as It did poor Gollum, or Sméagol, as Lord Frodo calls him, or the Eagle would have told me so—and possibly Rec-nuri-Rec and Aonghus as well. But I will ask all of you to be courteous to the Elves here—all the Elves. Let Lord Elrond order his own household. We have enough to do with our own affairs.”

“This means another delay, impediment and obstruction,” Rihan commented.

Alta’s eyes flashed. “Oh, thanks for reminding him to fret about that, as if he needs to!”

“We are all weary, from our interrupted slumber,” I said with a yawn. “Obstacles can be better overcome when we are more alert.”

“You should rest,” Dir said instantly, and Alta nodded.

I stifled a grin at how easily they had accepted their cues, then felt ashamed of my manipulation. I yawned again, genuinely this time, and slid down. “I shall sleep a while, friends. Remember, no discourtesy, verbal or otherwise, with any of the Elves! We shall talk more later. I do thank you all for your care and concern.”


I slept for a few hours, waking to my chagrin in mid-morning. It was also annoying to discover Cardin seated near the outer door, reading. His head came up alertly when I sat up, and he jumped up with a smile. “How do you, my lord?”

“Better than I expected,” I said truthfully, swinging my legs out of bed and padding over to the necessary. “Where is everyone?”

“In the outer room, continuing researches,” he replied. “That is, except for Dir, who’s been with Lord Elrond since dawn, along with Swift. And Corrigar is in the stables with the horses. Can I help you, my lord?”

“I am perfectly capable of relieving myself, by myself,” I retorted, slamming the door. Emerging a few minutes later, I said, “My apologies! I should not take my ill-temper out on you or anyone else, lad.”

“Oh, that’s all right, my lord. The Captains warned me that you’d be getting tetchy by now.”

“That was Tambaro’s word,” I commented, looking for a clean set of smallclothes.

“Aye. Captain Rihan said you’d be choleric, cantankerous and captious.”

“Inevitably. The Man’s a walking thesaurus,” I sighed. “Where the Void are my trews?”

“Mistress Alta said that you aren’t to dress in clothes today.”

“What does she expect me to dress in, if not clothes?” I demanded irritably.

“Here’s a nice robe,” he said hopefully, holding it up.

“I don’t want a robe, I want proper clothes!”

“What is this hubbub?” she asked, coming in.

“Where are my clothes?”

“Why, right there, my lord.”

“I don’t mean robes, I mean a pair of pants!” I stood there in my smalls, an embarrassment in front of a woman—why wasn’t she averting her gaze, and why was it amused?—but I was not backing down. “I am not going to loll around in bed today; I have too much to do!”

“Of course you do,” she agreed.

“Do not manage me, woman!”

Yes, her eyes were twinkling, although her face was demure. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” she assured me.

“An outright lie, if ever I heard one!”

In the end, we compromised: I wore a pair of trews, a shirt, and an overrobe considerably simpler in design than most of those I’d seen the Elves wear, and soft indoor shoes instead of boots. Cardin brought in a large tray of food so I could break my fast, and the others trooped in (except for Dir, Corrigar and Frejwyn, who sat honing her sword in the anteroom) for a council of war. I had barely eaten a dish of stewed fruit and was spreading honey on a slice of nut-bread when Dirúvel and Swift joined us. My eyes widened as I saw the young Healer almost staggering under the hound’s weight. He wiggled free and ran to me with a happy bark, butting his head against my chest and sniffing my face.

I smiled, my grumpy mood dissolving as I assured him that I was well. Glancing up at Dirúvel, I said, “I detect no injuries.”

His face was filled with wondering joy. “Lord Elrond allowed me to practice on Swift, and it went well, with his help. He’s also loaning me some notes of his own.”

“So your session was profitable?”

“Oh, most, my lord! The hardest part was disappearing when Lord Elrond had a conversation with Lord Círion.”

“You eavesdropped?” Tambaro asked.

“Lord Elrond pointed to an alcove for me to occupy when he was announced; it contained an angled mirror, so I could see him at his desk and the guest chair opposite it, but they could not see me, nor Swift. The dog growled, my lord, until I held his jaw shut and whispered to him to be quiet. I had to keep my hand on his collar. He does not like him one bit!”

“Sensible, sagacious, perspicacious beast,” Rihan said in approval.

I gave the dog a piece of bacon, which he took delicately from my fingers. “And what was the gist of their conversation?”

“It was in Sindarin, my lord.”

“Oh,” said Cardin, disappointed.

“No, Car, my grandfather and mother insisted that we speak it as fluently as Common at home, so I had no trouble understanding. Lord Círion demanded that Lord Elrond force you, my lord, to give him the Stone as his by right of his wardenship in Elostirion. Lord Elrond sat back, steepling his fingers, and listened until he ran out of breath before he spoke. Then he replied—I wrote it down as he spoke, my lord—“ Dir drew out his tablets and read from them, “’It is interesting that you make this petition at this time, Círion. Last night Lord Tintehlë was attacked twice. The first time, his dog tore off a piece of cloth and at least grazed his assailant, but he got away unrecognized. The second time, as he made his way to his own rooms, which had been ransacked, Lord Marpol and his dog were attacked again, and he was severely injured. The dog was less so than the master, but will doubtless reciprocate as soon as he sees his owner’s enemy. I’m told that Swift was bred by Lord Forlong, the most famous breeder and trainer of dogs in Middle-earth, as intelligent as most beings. More to the point is the fact that the hospitality of my House was breached.’

“Lord Círion: ‘Tintehlë is merely a Man; it’s not as if he was one of Us.’

“Lord Elrond: ‘But he is. He is a kinsman of my foster son, descended from my brother, and important to Estel and therefore to me. Did you not hear me? He is injured, and I do not need ill will in Gondor and Arnor! Any guest must be safe under my roof, and he has not been! You cannot prevent the Age of Men, Círion, anymore than anyone could prevent any other great change in Arda over the yení. I am less disposed to aid you, given the arrogance of your behaviour. In fact, Círion son of Círdain, you are no longer welcome here. I suggest you return to your duties at home.’

“Círion almost sputtered, he was so dumbfounded. “You aren’t sending me away and allowing him to stay!’ he cried.

“Elrond replied, ‘What choice have I? He is now a patient, and I only pray he does not die here! His recuperation will take time and effort on my part.’ There was more, but that is the gist. Lord Elrond did relent enough to permit Círion to remain, in the interests of a reconciliation between the two of you.”

“Ha!” snorted Rihan.

“Unlikely,” remarked Tambaro.

“We shall see,” was my comment.

“So, thanks to Lord Elrond, we shall have to stay here for a long time?” Alta’s dismay mirrored my initial reaction.

Or appear to do so.:

From Alta’s expression and the way her head snapped around towards the courtyard, she too had “heard” Gwaeroval.

“What do you mean, Lord Gwaeroval?” I asked aloud.

:I brought Círion Círdainion here, so I feel an obligation. Besides, you are related to the House of the Eagle, so there is a duty there as well. I think--:

For the first time, I “heard” Alta’s voice in my mind as she thought, :Pardon, Lord Gwaeroval, but why do you include me in this conversation?:

:Because I must.:


Wonderful, I thought privately, another enignamtic entity in my head….but thought at him, :What is the House of the Eagle, and how am I related? I never heard of them before!:

:The relationship is distant, but was once close. You may have met the only member of that House from Gondor, a soldier from Anórien who fought as a Ranger with Prince Faramir, his young aide Blackbow.:

I began to shake my head in negation, then recalled the quiet young woman with the startlingly short white hair, industriously shuffling papers in Faramir’s office, or speaking with Lord Húrin in the street. :Hethlin Blackbow?:

:The same. Her grandfather is visiting the city, and will tell her of her heritage. However, that is for them. You must complete your journey in the time limits imposed upon you.:

:Stuck here recuperating? I don’t feel ill, or even very sore!:

“Oh, as if you’d admit it if you did,” scoffed Alta aloud. “I think you read too many books or saw too many plays about Morce Wainne(3) and his exploits of derring-do, like so many Men! And how many people would think it a hardship to be ‘stuck’ indefinitely at Rivendell?”

Tambaro snickered, and both of us glared at him. As one, the rest of my staff rose and departed to the ante-room, Rihan closing the door behind them.

I flushed. “I didn’t mean—“

:If I may interrupt your conversation with a suggestion,: Gwaeroval rescued me from my floundering, :The only one who says that you are badly injured is Lord Elrond. With his aid, and that of your staff, you may still prevail in your task.:

:Within the time limit?:

:Surely.:

:How?:

:Let Círion believe that you are still here, and go. If he sees that most of your staff remains, and your mounts, he will believe that you are here.:

:Without my staff and steeds, how would I go? And their absence would greatly slow any progress.:

:I said ‘most,’ not ‘all’ of your staff. One may go with you. As for conveyance, you may both ride on me, with one pack each. Well, two each. You will need your implements, and Lady Alta will need her belongings.:

:WHAT!?!:
we mentally shouted in unison.

:No! Positively not!: I continued.

She turned her head. “What do you mean, and why not?” she demanded, and it did not take a Wizard to see the angry hurt in her eyes. Hands on hips, she stated, “Someone has to go with you! Why not me?”

“Because—because it might not be safe!” I sputtered.

“Oh, and last night proved how very safe it is here, didn’t it?” she retorted caustically.

That was unfortunately true.

I turned –metaphorically—to the one who’d precipitated this mess. :Why Alta? Why not one of my captains, or Cardin, my aide, or Dirúvel, or even one of the two Rohirrim?:

:The more of your staff here, the better to deceive. How could the young Healer not remain, and why deprive him of the opportunity to study with the greatest living Healer of any Kindred now in Arda? Elrond will be leaving in a few years for the West. Would any truly believe your captains would leave with you unwell, and they can assist in ‘guarding’ your rooms as well as continuing your researches. The Rohirrim will have their own tasks to do, and are eager to study other lore. Cardin can learn much here too.:

:That doesn’t fully answer my question: why Alta?:
I persisted.

:I am going to give you the broader picture, so to speak. I can go even farther and faster than the
mearhas, and I have skills of my own to mesh with yours. My studies of the Houses of the Eagle and the Eagle’s Flight, which is your House, tell me where the item you most need may be found, and I will take you there. But Mistress Alatáriël must be with us as well. Please, trust me on this. I know that I am right. Also, her presence will be interpreted differently than it was in Rohan.:

:I don’t understand,:
I thought.

Silence.

Alta was turning scarlet. “I do,” she said. “Didn’t we tell you Frejwyn’s first reaction to me, in the village market?”

“She refused to sell you bread? But what significance has that now? She apologized; you told me that it had to do with her grief over her losses in the War.”

“Well, yes, but—but she also felt no decent woman would be traveling with a group of Men so far from home, Men unrelated to her, I mean. Having decided to befriend me, that was one of her reasons for coming with us, to remove that wrong impression others might get, besides hoping to keep Corrigar out of trouble, and other reasons.”

It was my turn to flush. “You mean that traveling with us has damaged your reputation?”

“My reputation is damaged only if I say it is damaged!” she flashed. “I care not a hang for what some mean-minded villagers think! I will not have my actions ruled by petty attitudes, nor let them affect my duty!”

“But I cannot allow you to be risk being injured—“

Alta drew herself up, hands on hips. “You cannot allow? I am a free woman of Gondor, my lord, grown and capable of making my own decisions! I choose to assist you! I swore I’d see you back safe and sound, and I shall keep my word!”

She was magnificent, I thought.

:A good match for you, and you for her. How else can she judge your aerie, if she does not see it? Why waste time on shyness? You will hatch a fine brood, once you finish your mating-flight. Besides, the folk there will applaud your choice, and the implication of the seriousness with which you regard life with them these next years.:

: Gwaeroval
,: I thought at him so vigiourously that her eyes widened, :get out of our heads for a few minutes! I must think what to say.:

:You could say yes,:
her mind-voice almost whispered.

:Can you ‘hear’ me?: I breathed mentally. :Can you hear my heart, Alta?: I reached out and took first one, then both hands, holding them to my chest.

She looked up at me, and I kissed her….

We kissed.

To Mistress Altra Nénharma, from her daughter Altáriël Nénharma, greetings!

Dearest Naneth, I am so happy! Lord Marpol and I are now betrothed! He assures
me that before we left the city, you all but told him to wed me, so I hope that this
meets with your approval.

I shall tell you all the details when I next see you—Lord Elrond has advised us to have
a formal handfasting ceremony tonight, for the two of us leave on a special journey
before dawn. Oh, how I wish that you were here with me! But because you cannot be,
we shall wait to officially wed after we return home.

I am so happy, I’m in a daze! I need to pack, and I must find something to wear
tonight! I need not tell you how wonderful, kind, and gentle Marpol is. I didn’t want to
love him, not after what occurred so long ago, but beneath that military manner is a
Man I can truly honour, love and serve. He is so unassuming, he believes that I am
conferring a great favour upon him, instead of the other way around! I must teach him
differently. What a fine time we shall have, learning from and sharing with each other!

Oh, Naneth, I miss you so! How I wish you were here with me!

Lovingly,

Alta


~~~

1) The Chamber of Fire -- a large gathering-chamber, dominated by a fire, and decorated in fire colours, on an upper floor of Rivendell.See ICE module, Rivendell: The House of Elrond (Tolkien Enterprises: 1987).
2) 2Yéni, sing. yén (Q. “Long years, great years”) -- a unit of time used by the Elves of Middle-earth before the first ring of the Sun. 1 yén = 144 solar years = 52,596 days.
3) Morce Wainne – okay, not canon. My father loved John Wayne movies, so I saw most of them growing up. Why did I choose this name? His birth name was Marion Mitchell Morison. Mother often felt exasperated by Dad’s refusal to “coddle” himself, and blamed that in part on The Duke. I’ve noticed that tendency in more than one man I know….and suspect that there have been similar complaints from women whose men love such heroes.


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