|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
Taryatur looked at his blade ruefully. The notches would take some time to polish out properly – but this was a perilous realm still, even though Morgoth had been led forth in chains. It would not do to go unarmed. And there were more dangers here, he frowned as he heard the distant babble of elven voices speaking their own primitive language, than the remnants of Angband’s forces.
‘How long do you think we will be forced to remain here?’ Roccondil asked at his shoulder. ‘It is one thing responding to the Valar’s command to come and rid Endórë of Morgoth’s venom – but quite another to be lingering here in the presence of these ungrateful dark elves.’
‘We cannot return soon enough for me.’ Taryatur removed his whetstone from his belt pouch. ‘I would not want Linevendë to forget me while I am gone – and start encouraging the attentions of any of those Teleri stay-at-homes!’
‘She would not,’ his friend assured him. He paused and considered the elleth. ‘Not that any Teleri is likely to want to court her – not with her bonds of kinship. Are you sure you want her enough to overlook her connections, Taryatur? It is not a relationship that is likely to be much of a recommendation to anyone!’
‘You cannot blame her for sharing descent from Mahtan with Fëanor’s sons,’ Taryatur pointed out. ‘Nobody holds his grandsons against him.’
‘I do not believe Lord Aulë would permit it.’ Roccondil shrugged. ‘It is your decision, my friend. All that concerns me is when the High King will send us back to the ships so that we can brush the dust of these lands from our feet.’
‘I doubt he will do anything of the sort while he has any hope of persuading Lady Artanis to sue for forgiveness.’ Taryatur began to rub the stone along the edge of his blade. ‘And she is as obdurate as granite – and determined to cling on to that Sinda she calls her husband.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘I would have thought she would relish the chance of getting away from here, even if it did mean being confined to Tol Eressëa until the Valar are prepared to relent. Most of the Noldor Exiles are only too ready to come back with their tails between their legs like whipped puppies – and the Moriquendi will flock behind them like the fleas on a dog.’
Roccondil’s stillness alerted him to a presence behind him and his busy fingers slowed.
‘Not all the elves of Endórë are desperate to sail to Aman,’ a cold voice said, enunciating each Quenya word clearly. ‘And you would be foolish to assume that, just because we obey Elu’s command not to speak the language of the Exiles, we do not understand it. But then,’ the pale-haired elf in grey looked Taryatur over insultingly, ‘most of you appear to be too … limited to understand anything other than your own prattle.’
Taryatur flushed and his fingers tightened on the hilt of his sword so that the blade caught the light to flash in challenge.
‘I see,’ the unknown elf added provocatively, ‘that you Noldor seem to have little difficulty in raising steel against you own kind – but that is hardly surprising, considering your race’s past actions!’
Roccondil grabbed his friend’s arm. ‘Stop,’ he commanded. ‘Allowing this one to anger you is just what he wants! Ignore him – he is clearly not worth it!’
‘Yes,’ the fair-haired elf echoed in mocking tones. ‘Do you not remember that your king has forbidden you to fight with your allies? You would not want me to report you for disobedience now would you?’ His eyes met Taryatur’s for a brief moment before he turned and swaggered away.
‘That one is looking for a fight,’ Roccondil murmured. ‘I have seen him before – he will not be satisfied until someone is driven to break his nose. And then he will take that as proof that the Noldor are all that he has ever condemned.’
‘I would not satisfy myself with just his nose,’ Taryatur said tightly. ‘A couple of limbs might be enough to relieve my feelings. Arrogant piece of dirt. I will be keeping my eyes open for him.’
‘Fine – as long as it is just your eyes.’ Roccondil shook his head. ‘Avoid him, my friend. He is trouble walking.’
‘Loathsome serpents,’ Oropher hissed as he walked away. ‘Arrogant, conceited, self-opinionated, self-satisfied, smug … there is nothing to be said in their favour, Eriol. Nothing!’ He shot a fierce glance at his companion. ‘The sooner they leave, the better pleased I shall be. And, if only he would take every last one of his kin with him, I might even bring myself to thank Finarfin.’
Eriol grinned. ‘I doubt he will persuade his daughter onto those boats,’ he said candidly. ‘And, anyway, if he did, then your cousin would probably go with her.’
‘Noldor lapdog!’ Oropher snapped.
‘And Ereinion has already said that he will not go – and those whose loyalty is to him will remain by his side.’
‘Which includes the Peredhel – even if his brother has chosen to take the Valar’s bounty and go off to become a king of men.’
‘Enough!’ his friend commanded. Oropher stopped and drew a deep breath of the rain-damp air. ‘We need to get away from here – there are too many people. Too many voices, too many fires, too many axes, too many despoiling the forest and giving nothing back.’ He sighed. ‘I need to get away – before I do something I regret.’
‘Can you not simply gather those who would go with you and leave?’
‘And who will remain to see that the Noldor do not take over the rule of Arda in our absence?’ Oropher shrugged moodily. ‘I am not bowing to a Noldor High King – as far as I am concerned only Elu Thingol was king here – and I refuse to count a mongrel princeling raised by the Fëanorionnath as his heir.’
Eriol opened his mouth, but Oropher raised an imperious hand. ‘And do not remind me that Celeborn was Prince of Doriath. He abandoned his people when he chose to marry that woman.’
‘You cannot treat them all as your enemies, my friend,’ Eriol said mildly. ‘If you wish to guide those who would look to you for leadership, you need to discover the skills of diplomacy.’ He grinned at the look of disgust on his friend’s face. ‘Or, if you cannot bring yourself to negotiate, you need to send those who will.’
Oropher’s jaw tightened. ‘You sound like my wife,’ he snapped.
‘It is a shame she cannot be at your side all the time, my lord,’ Eriol said straight-faced. ‘She is the only one who seems to have any talent for making you behave yourself. You could sit there looking authoritative and mouth the words she dictated.’
‘Do not put that idea in her head!’
Eriol shrugged. ‘The only way your remaining here will be of any help to our people is if you can control your desire to pound every Noldor you see into the mud.’
A reluctant grin twitched the corners of Oropher’s mouth. ‘I did not do it!’ he said.
‘But you have left behind you another enemy.’ Eriol shook his head. ‘You acquire them like other people pick up burrs. Even the Sundering Seas will not be wide enough to keep you safe if you go on like this.’
‘I will make the effort,’ Oropher promised. ‘When it counts, I will make the effort.’
‘But who is to know what counts?’ Eriol looked thoughtful. ‘It often turns out to be the last thing you expect.’
‘Look at him!’ Taryatur muttered.
Roccondil looked instead at his friend. Over the past weeks, Taryatur’s dislike of the proud Sinda who seemed to see himself as the champion of the green elves had built itself up to loathing. You could, he thought, almost describe it as an obsession. Not that the fair-haired elf was doing anything to help himself. He seemed determinedly disdainful of those who had abandoned their normal lives to cross the sea and come to the aid of their Moriquendi kin. In fact, Roccondil was more than half amazed that the high lords tolerated him so patiently – it seemed that, perhaps, there was a side to this … aggravation … that was not apparent to those who served here.
‘Putting himself forward as if he was the equal of our lords – like a rooster pretending to be an eagle! Strutting like the arrogant fool he is.’
‘If they accept his presence among their counsels, he must be worthy of being there,’ Roccondil said fairly. ‘I doubt we see his best side.’ It was unfortunate that – what was his name? – Oropher had happened on Taryatur when he was feeling particularly resentful of this tedious lingering east of the sea and desperately anxious to be on his way home to his chosen bride. Although, in truth, Taryatur was not the most open-minded of elves when it came to approaching new experiences – and this venture among the Hosts of the West had proved disconcerting. He had almost, for a brief while, brought himself to acknowledge the courage of those elves who had resisted Morgoth’s tyranny for so long – but then, unfortunately, the elves of Aman and those of Endórë had started speaking to each other and their similarities had become buried under a suffocating heap of differences, the chief of which was their complete refusal to communicate in the language of the Blessed Realm.
‘I cannot endure watching this.’ Taryatur clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Come! Let us go and find some way to work off some of our irritation.’
‘How?’ Roccondil raised an ironic eyebrow. ‘I thought you had decided to abandon the sword, so you will not wish to train. The trees are filled with green elves, the waters bordered by the Falathrim, the open glades by the Sindar – where shall we go?’
‘Anywhere they are not,’ Taryatur declared. ‘The forges? There must be some here – working in metal at least. I have no love of the Exiles, but they are better than the alternatives.’
‘Are they?’ Roccondil looked meditatively round him. ‘I am not so sure. Those to whom this is home belong here – but those who followed Fëanor chose to rebel against the Valar.’
Taryatur shrugged petulantly.
‘Although,’ his friend went on, watching him from the corner of his eye, ‘I believe Celebrimbor may be found among them. He might be interested to meet one who wishes to wed his second cousin.’
‘Do you think I am so shallow as to seek Linevendë for her dubious connection to Lord Finwë’s family?’ Taryatur flared, his cheeks flushing with patches of angry colour. ‘Celebrimbor’s ancestry does not compensate for his rebellion, oath or no oath. I am no boot-licker – and if you think otherwise, then you can…’ He stopped speaking abruptly, extending his strides to increase the distance between them, weaving to avoid the groups of increasingly irritable elves compelled to wait here in this overcrowded region good for nothing other than being above sea level while their lords decided on their next move.
Roccondil cast up his eyes. He liked Taryatur, really he did, but the elf was his own worst enemy. He strolled in the wake left by the indignant Noldo. He would give him a few minutes to calm down before he rejoined him – and, if he chose to storm off out of reach, then he would seek more amiable company for a while. He shook his ebony braids back and smiled at a slight elleth with hair of softest honey. There were, after all, some compensations for hanging on here among the greatest collection of elves since the Great Journey.
‘Ignore him,’ the young elf recommended.
Maltheniel giggled. ‘It is fun,’ she protested. ‘They do not even realise they are doing it.’ Her eyes followed the Noldo briefly. ‘I think a lot of them really want to go home – they look so sad when they try to tell me about their daughters and their wives. But the ones like him are funny – they seem to think I am speechless with admiration for their general wonderfulness.’
‘You do not want him taking you seriously – he might seek out your adar and ask permission to court you. Just imagine that!’ Thranduil grinned.
‘Yuck!’ Maltheniel pulled a face. ‘I cannot think of anything worse! At least I know that Adar would send him away with a flea in his ear!’
‘And a boot to his behind,’ her friend added with satisfaction.
‘Has your adar said how much longer we will be hanging around here?’ The elleth looked around disapprovingly. ‘It was exciting to start with – but I am getting very tired of living in the middle of such a crowd. Naneth will hardly let me out of her sight – even though I am long past my majority and completely reliable and trustworthy. She seems to think that I am in more danger here than I was before the battles!’
‘That is naneths for you.’ Thranduil shrugged. ‘Mine wants to keep me on a leash, too – and I am older than you. She said she had not yet given up on me. I am unsure quite what she meant – but Adar seemed to take her words personally.’ He squinted at the position of the sun. ‘We had best get back,’ he said with resignation. ‘We have completed our errand – and Naneth will be expecting us. I have no wish to spend another day as her personal servant.’
Maltheniel frowned at the rather gangly ellon. ‘Do you know,’ she said, as they wove their way towards the more distant groves where their families were camped, ‘I sometimes think that the elves of the host are not as bad as all that – they sound a bit funny, it is true, but they are just like us under their odd clothes. And they cannot help being of Aman, any more than we can help belonging here. If everyone would only make an effort, I am sure they could get along with each other.’
‘They probably could,’ Thranduil conceded, ‘but they do not want to – why should they? I am sick of being patronised by the visitors. They should have better manners! This is our home – why should they be allowed to wander round sneering at us? And they clearly think that we are scarcely out of the dark and have no idea how civilised people should behave!’
‘You are an idiot,’ Maltheniel said dispassionately. ‘Every time you play a trick on them, you only go to prove them right! I am not surprised your naneth was annoyed. If you do not watch out, she will give you a keeper to dog your steps. That would limit your fun!’
‘No more tricks,’ he assured her. ‘Naneth has managed to extract a fairly comprehensive promise from me – and, however juvenile I might be, I do not break my word.’
‘And we will not be here much longer,’ Maltheniel said optimistically, ‘before we head off to that vast green forest your adar describes. I cannot wait!’
Not, Taryatur thought, gazing around with a jaded eye, that it was much better among the forges of those who were – predominantly, at any rate – Noldor. There was still an improvised look – and the feel of a village smithy, rather than the gracious stone workshops of home. But at least the Sindar turned up their provincial noses at these havens of fire and ringing metal and kept their distance – until they wanted the blades and arrowheads, of course. Then they would turn up and sue for the Noldor’s bounty to aid them in their need for efficient tools. But it was a shame to see the artists of Tirion prostituting their skills to turn out swords and ploughshares, when they should be creating objects of beauty and elegance. It was enough to make him pity what the Exiles had become. Almost.
He had, on the whole, tended to avoid them. If he were honest with himself – and he tried to be – he had been afraid to encounter those who had been his friends before they had been swayed by Fëanor’s heady rhetoric and followed him into disgrace, and rather more afraid to discover who was no longer here for him to meet. Once he had learned that his brother had met his end and passed into the Doomsman’s care long enough ago that Anor’s daily journey had still been a marvel, he had not wanted to know what had become of the rest of them – or to consider that, without his parents’ relentless grasp on his younger self, he, too, might well have been among them.
A tall Noldo, his black hair braided back from his flushed face, ducked to emerge from one of the enclosed workshops. He wore an apron of burn-scarred leather over rough clothing that had seen better days, but there was no mistaking Fëanor’s hawk nose and fierce dark eyes in his grandson.
Taryatur halted and drew back. Here was one he had no desire whatsoever to encounter.
Unfortunately, his movement caught the attention of this hunter in guise of an artisan.
‘Kin from the west.’ Celebrimbor’s smile did not reach further than his lips. ‘We do not see many of you here. You prefer to avoid those you see as … unclean.’
Taryatur bowed. This was, after all, Lord Finwë’s great-grandson and great-nephew – half-blooded! – to the High King – and you did not have to like someone to show them the respect due to their family.
The smile on Celebrimbor’s lips twisted bitterly. ‘What brings you here?’ he asked. ‘Have you nothing better to do with your time east of the sea?’
‘I am seeking the familiarity of home, my lord.’ Taryatur kept his voice deliberately non-committal.
‘You will not find that here.’ Celebrimbor’s swift comprehensive glance around him roused a sudden unexpected sympathy in his fellow Noldo. What choice had the elf had, after all, than to follow his grandfather into exile and despair? There were those who felt that Curufin’s son had disgraced himself by detaching himself from the kinslayers to follow his own path – despite the unforgivable nature of their actions.
‘You are right, my lord.’
‘But you will go home.’ Celebrimbor spoke almost as if he was reassuring himself that others had happier fates than his own. ‘You will go home to your wife and dwell at peace in the Blessed Realm.’
‘I am not yet married, my lord.’
‘No?’ Celebrimbor’s eyes were uncomfortably sharp. ‘But you are acceptable to her family, are you not? And the formalities will follow on your return.’
He could feel his face colouring. ‘She assured me that she would wait my return with anticipation,’ he said, somewhat stiffly.
‘I know you, I think.’
‘I am flattered that you recall me.’
Celebrimbor’s smile widened briefly at the contradiction between Taryatur’s words and tone. ‘You lived near my grandmother’s family.’ The exile’s face froze into expressionlessness. ‘How is she? And my mother?’
Wishing his impulse had taken him anywhere else, Taryatur drew a breath. ‘They are … enduring, my lord.’
‘Tell them … tell them I do the same.’ He turned away, as if ashamed of the revealing bleakness of his words, but hesitated and fixed his eyes on the uncomfortable elf. ‘I may seek you out,’ he said. ‘There are … some things I would like to send to them without the commotion that attends tasks given into the hands of kings.’
‘Lord Celebrimbor.’ Taryatur bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Fëanor’s grandson looked back as he returned to his workshop. ‘I do remember you,’ he said. ‘You had a fondness for my cousin. It would be ironic if it was my duty to speak to you – as her closest kin in these lands.’
He could feel himself flushing again – he would clearly have been far wiser to keep his distance! ‘It is unnecessary,’ he said.
‘Good.’ Celebrimbor stared at him briefly. ‘I will find you before you depart.’
Taryatur waited until he had withdrawn far enough to be out of sight before risking a reply. ‘Not if I see you coming, my lord,’ he muttered.
The elf had become a symbol of all he most disliked here. Taryatur knew that, but he could not help totting up all his most objectionable traits and keeping score of them. Lady Artanis’s husband showed at least some tact in his dealings with his father-in-law, the High King, although the tightness in his face suggested that he was exerting considerable self-restraint. Fingolfin’s heir could hardly be blamed for decisions taken before he was even born, even if he was left to deal with their consequences. Celebrimbor – he even found himself trying not to feel sorry for Curufin’s son. But Oropher … Every time Taryatur determined to ignore him and keep his distance, it was as if the Sinda-with-green-elf-delusions imposed his abrasive presence on those around him and rubbed everyone else’s sensitivities raw. If only he would gather his hordes and take them off on their exodus to the perfect obscurity of the eastern forests! Taryatur, at least, would be delighted to see him go. But no – that was too much to ask. Instead he attended every meeting, tearing apart tentative agreements and careful rapprochements and demanding that his voice be heard and that those people he claimed as his own be given unconditional recognition as the true guardians of these lands.
And, as if that were not enough – he seemed to be everywhere that Taryatur wished to go. No sooner had he settled somewhere, than Oropher seemed to arrive, goading him to fury with his mere presence. It was as if he was doing it on purpose. He looked up. They were sitting there now, perched in the tree like a couple of pale-haired owls, watching impassively as the warriors beneath them checked over the few possessions that still survived their extended time in this benighted province.
‘He will explode.’ Eriol looked at Taryatur critically. ‘I still do not see what has made you pick on this particular Noldo to relieve your frustrations. He is – well, relatively insignificant among Finarfin’s warriors. And he has done nothing more than many of the others.’
Oropher shrugged. ‘He just irritates me. And he is insignificant enough for a little teasing not to matter. Even I can see that it would be unwise to provoke Finarfin.’
‘If it were Thranduil doing this, you would give him a flea in his ear – and your lady would see that he was not allowed out on his own for the foreseeable future.’ Eriol shook his head. ‘You create half your own problems, Oropher.’
‘That has been said before.’
‘And will be again, I have no doubt.’
Beneath them Roccondil stretched, assessing the direction of the crisp breeze. ‘We could smoke them out,’ he suggested. ‘A little damp wood on a camp fire – I cannot see them remaining long once their eyes began to sting.’
The corners of Taryatur’s lips twitched. ‘We could cook ourselves some of those little fish the boats have brought in,’ he added. ‘I would enjoy sending them home smelling of smoke and fish.’
‘With wild garlic,’ his friend meditated. ‘And flatbread.’
‘That I know not if we could manage.’ Taryatur felt one of his moments of sympathy for those who called this home. ‘There is next to no flour left, I believe, and little prospect of a harvest in the summer to come.’
‘Light the fire.’ Roccondil shrugged of the problem. ‘I will go and barter for some fish. Let us see how long they remain to irritate us.’
Taryatur grinned. ‘Sometime petty revenge is very satisfying,’ he observed.
‘Although it can exact petty revenge in return.’
His friend shrugged. ‘We will be going home soon. And, with luck, I will never have anything to do with this exasperating elf or any of his kin again.’
Eriol sat on the fallen branch, his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers twiddling a twig between them. He watched his friend. Deceptively relaxed, Oropher rested on his elbows, head back and eyes closed, apparently absorbed in the peace of this secluded glade a couple of leagues beyond the edges of the camp. Although, Eriol noted, even here the hum of conversation and the buzz of activity accompanying the large numbers of busy elves disturbed the air. Not that the trees seemed to care. He, too, closed his eyes and drew a deep breath scented with last season’s fallen leaves – and found that it brought with it the exciting fragrance of fresh growth pushing eagerly through the decay.
This was life here east of the sea, he thought. Not static perfection, but change. Endings and beginnings. A striving, both in the land itself and in those who dwelt here. He could not understand why any would choose to pack themselves on those contorted constructions made of dead trees and trust themselves to a tempestuous ocean in the hope of attaining something that was so much less than this.
‘Someone is coming.’ Oropher lifted his head and looked through the trees.
Experience made Eriol wary enough to slide out of sight, blending with the trees, even as he assured himself that his knives were ready for use.
The tall elf had his gleaming black hair bound back from his face and his grey tunic did nothing to disguise his Noldor features. Celebrimbor looked around impatiently, clearly expecting to see someone who was not there.
Oropher’s angry hiss went unheard in the noisier arrival of someone who clearly saw woods as places to walk rather than the hunting grounds of orcs.
‘There you are!’ Celebrimbor spoke abruptly. ‘I cannot imagine why you wanted to meet me here rather than come to my workshop.’
‘If you want to send messages by hands other than my king’s,’ Taryatur said coolly, ‘it would seem to me that you do not wish what you say to be generally known.’
‘If you think that leading me away from public meeting places will ensure that eyes are no longer watching my every move, you are incredibly naïve,’ Celebrimbor retaliated. He gazed at the other elf until Taryatur shifted uncomfortably. ‘All I am hoping is that you will be able to visit my mother and grandmother without attracting the speculation of half Aman. They do not deserve that.’
‘No, they do not.’ Taryatur’s words carried an edge that made Curufin’s son bow his head as if to shield himself from a cold wind.
‘I have brought letters and small gifts that I would send with you – simple remembrances of a son and grandson,’ he said finally. ‘One who will not be able to return home – not before the world is remade.’ There was a hollowness to his tone that made Oropher’s eyes narrow. ‘And who would be remembered with love rather than bitterness – at least by someone.’
In the silence that followed, even the rustle of the leaves sounded painfully loud.
‘I will take what you wish to send, my lord.’ Taryatur kept his voice carefully steady.
‘I will send along a wedding gift for my cousin,’ Celebrimbor promised. ‘I am not the artist that my grandfather was, but I will not leave your union unacknowledged.’
A hot blush coloured Taryatur’s cheeks. ‘There is no need.’
‘No need, perhaps,’ Celebrimbor smiled wryly. ‘But I recall little Linevendë with some fondness – and you would not deny me the chance to offer her something by which to remember those kinsmen she will not meet again.’
Taryatur clenched his teeth. He would, he thought, given the choice, but he would not say so – not now, at least. ‘I thank you, my lord,’ he forced out.
‘Promise me that you will do this one thing for me.’ Fëanor’s grandson’s words sounded commanding, but his tone did not. He held the younger elf’s eyes until Taryatur broke contact by bowing his head in acknowledgement. Celebrimbor turned and picked up a small leather pack, running his hand over the smooth flap lingeringly before extending it towards the other. ‘Take it. And tell them that I am well – and busy. That I stand with Ereinion and will serve him faithfully.’ His voice dropped. ‘And that I am sorry.’
He did not pause for any response, but was gone so swiftly that he seemed to draw the breeze with him. Taryatur turned, not bothering to conceal his expression behind the mask he generally wore. The bag was small but heavy in his hand, clearly packed carefully with treasures the Exile wished to entrust into the hands of his remaining family in the west. He lowered his chin, shifting his gaze from the space that Celebrimbor had occupied to stare at the innocuous-seeming pack.
‘So proud.’ The voice was coldly mocking. ‘And yet a beast of burden for a Kinslayer.’ Oropher emerged from the leaves, tense as a drawn bow. ‘You will obey his command, Noldo? Take you know not what across the sea to be kept for an elf who would slaughter his own kind?’ His lip curled. ‘I knew you for a traitor at first sight – and your king would doubtless now be of the same mind.’
Eriol grabbed his friend’s shoulder. ‘Enough, Oropher!’ he insisted. ‘There is no dishonour in taking word to an elf’s family!’
‘Family!’ Oropher’s hard grey eyes looked like stone as he judged and condemned the elf in front of him. ‘Kin to the kinslayers. Kin to the Fëanorionnath! Your presence fouls the earth on which you walk! The sooner the Noldor return to their Valar-supervised prison, the better!’
Taryatur’s temper surged to an icy fury. ‘Better than a place-seeking nonentity pretending to be what he is not,’ he retaliated. ‘One merely tolerated by those in power who simply want to be rid of the irritation.’ His lip curled contemptuously. ‘And imposing himself on another people in the arrogant belief that they will be better off obeying him than managing their own lives. What difference is there between you and the Exiles?’ He flicked a glance at Eriol. ‘Keep your charge under control,’ he commanded. ‘I have no wish to see him caged – he can have the rope to hang himself!’
The grip on Oropher tightened. ‘Let him go,’ Eriol murmured. ‘He is not worth your anger. Let him go.’
Taryatur waited a moment, then slung the bag over his shoulder. ‘May this be the last time I ever see you and yours,’ he said and stalked away.
‘I cannot stand him,’ Oropher spat out.
‘I think the feeling is mutual.’ Eriol shook his head with wry amusement. ‘I should be glad that we are unlikely to have to work together, now or at any foreseeable time – I cannot imagine any attempt at co-operation would go well!’
‘I feel much more kindly disposed towards them now they are going.’ Thranduil stretched his long legs out in front of him on the rabbit-nibbled cliff-top turf.
Maltheniel giggled. ‘That is almost exactly what my adar said.’ She stared at the white swan ships as they cut across the hyacinth sea, leaving a white wake behind them. ‘Except he added that he found he could now be grateful to them for coming.’
Her companion snorted. ‘I will bet my adar had something to say about that!’
The blue of the water brightened the elleth’s eyes. ‘I expect so,’ she shrugged. ‘There is something about the sea that is rather attractive.’ She stared at the sun-silvered satin below them. ‘I think it is as well we are not staying here much longer – it might be hard to leave.’
Thranduil rolled to support himself on one elbow and looked at her in alarm. ‘It cannot compare to the forest,’ he said firmly. ‘Think of it as a hunter – relentlessly swallowing it prey. It stole our home, ’Theniel. Do not let it take you, too.’
‘It is easy to see that when the storm winds blow.’ She continued to watch the rocking water. ‘But not when it is like this.’
‘It is a deceiver! Not to be trusted for a moment. Its sole desire is to tear us from our homes and imprison us in the west.’
Maltheniel grinned. ‘I do not think the sea is attempting to do anything,’ she said. ‘It just is. It is what we make of it – and I will not let it tempt me away from the journey we will all make.’
‘You did not go and become attached to one of those … visitors, did you?’
‘As if anyone gave me a chance to get to know any!’ Maltheniel complained, still indignant over the careful chaperonage that had kept all the ellyth away from the Host. ‘I am sure that some of them were quite nice, too.’ Her eyes looked dreamy. ‘Especially some of the Teleri – their hair was very pretty.’
‘Hair is not everything,’ Thranduil said firmly. ‘It is what is underneath it.’
‘Their faces were pretty, too,’ the elleth said, deliberately misunderstanding. She sighed. ‘But they have gone – and now we can get on with our lives. I wonder if they will remember us.’
‘I expect so,’ Oropher’s son said dryly. ‘According to Naneth, some of us, at least, have ensured that our memory will remain green for a long time. And she was not talking about me.’
‘Oh well.’ Maltheniel shrugged. ‘It does not matter any more. It is not as if we were likely to meet any of them again.’
Taryatur watched the cliffs dwindle to a narrow line and disappear altogether. He could not pretend to be sorry. Heeding the Valar’s call had clearly been the right thing to do – but they had been forced to linger too long in the lands that his great-grandparents had chosen to leave, and the oppressiveness of the atmosphere had been almost too much for him. He could understand why those to whom it was home wished to remain, but, in truth, they did not know what they were missing. He turned his back on the now-invisible lands behind him and looked determinedly forward.
His life could start again. He would deliver the messages as he had promised and then put the experience of the last years behind him.
He looked down at his hands.
But he was not the same elf.
He had borne arms. He had caused the death of other creatures. Evil creatures, true, but sentient nonetheless. How could he return to those whose innocence was intact? How could he offer himself – share his fëa – with one who had no knowledge of such foulness?
Yet – how could he not? Celebrimbor had been right to recognise that, in the frenzy of departure, he and Linevendë, like so many others, had committed themselves a little more deeply than was altogether proper. Not to complete their bond would be … dishonourable … painful … impossible. He could not do that to either of them.
He closed his eyes. Was this why he had been so angry over the past years – an anger that only now did he have to confront? A supercilious face crowned with pale golden hair swam across his vision. No. It was more than war-weariness. More than being forced into a mould that suited him not. He had not used anger to hide his own uncertainties. Well … not entirely.
Taryatur pushed the image away resolutely. That was, at least, a problem that would not confront him once he was home. And Linevendë would understand – she would give him time to recover, time to remember the elf he had been. And, if the memories lingered, as he expected they would, he would not inflict them on her.
‘A matter of weeks.’ Roccondil settled beside him on the overcrowded deck. ‘Weeks and we will be home. And nothing will induce me to leave it again.’
‘Not even the exhortations of the Valar?’ Taryatur enquired.
‘Not even that!’ Roccondil raised an eyebrow. ‘You?’
‘It would take more than rousing words to induce me to venture over these waters again. We are not wanted – despite the blood our people spilled on the battlefields before Angband. I find I am glad to place the Sundering Seas between us and the Moriquendi of Endórë.’
‘Long may they keep our peoples apart.’
Taryatur ventured a quick look back along the path burned by the setting sun. ‘It will take us a long time to forget what we have seen, my friend,’ he said soberly. ‘I am not sure that I ever will.’
Roccondil grasped his friend’s shoulder. ‘Nor should we, my friend. But neither should we share it with those who were not there – there are some memories that are best kept hidden. I would not wish to shadow those who were not there with the knowledge of what we have seen.’
‘Or,’ Taryatur added wryly, ‘with those we have known.’
‘Definitely not,’ Roccondil grinned and shook his head. ‘The time has come to put it all behind us and build ourselves a new life – in a safe land intended for elves, where our children can grow in ignorance of the evil that infects Endórë.’
A sudden wave of optimism improved Taryatur’s mood. ‘I shall look forward to it,’ he said.
‘Go and draw her away!’ Taryatur did not bother to phrase his command subtly.
‘Why?’ Linevendë cast her eyes up impatiently. ‘He seems a perfectly pleasant ellon – and it is only a dance!’
‘I do not want my daughter taking an interest in a Wood Elf! Are there not enough ellyn of our own race with whom she can dance?’
‘You risk the danger of doubling her interest in him.’ Taryatur’s wife sighed. ‘The lure of the undesirable is so much more … tantalising. It would be much wiser to let her be.’
‘They are a pernicious breed.’ The Noldo scowled. ‘Always weaselling themselves in where they are not wanted – he even has Lady Artanis eating out of his hand. I am surprised the High King is prepared to tolerate such a shameful display – especially considering what they say about the … you know … dwarf.’
‘What do they say?’ Linevendë managed to make it sound like a totally innocent enquiry. She could not, somehow, imagine Taryatur bringing himself to repeat to her the plethora of rumours that had surrounded the dwarf and Lady Artanis or the dwarf and the Woodland Prince – or, come to that, the dwarf and Olórin. It sometimes seemed as if there were elves in the Blessed Realm who had nothing better to do than talk.
Her husband blushed – suggesting to her that some of the rumours had not yet reached her ears. She would clearly have to put herself in a position to listen to the worst of the scandalmongers if she wanted to hear the most salacious rumours. Although, perhaps, she would rather not.
This was the first time she had seen this elf. She gazed at him critically as he and Elerrina came together and separated in the pattern of the dance. He had arrived perhaps a century before, but had remained on Tol Eressëa until his elderly companion had passed beyond the circles of the world – and, reputedly, his grief then had been so all-consuming that it had been feared that he would fade. But, between them, Elrond, Galadriel and Olórin had been determined to draw him back – and their determination had succeeded. He was slight, true, and pale – no more so than many of his race – and his hair was wheaten-fair. He was not what she would consider particularly appealing – but her daughter clearly thought otherwise – and Linevendë was only too happy to have Elerrina find someone to whom her fëa called.
And he was undoubtedly perfectly acceptable. A king’s son and a leader to his people – praised for his courage in that matter of the Ring – a friend to the great, received by the High King. What was it about him that drove Taryatur to an infuriated defensiveness? It was beyond comprehension!
‘What is the matter with him?’ she asked with an attempt at patience. ‘It is not like you to be prejudiced against someone of whom you know nothing!’
His hands were not altogether steady, Taryatur noted, and the wine shivered in his glass like the sea blown by a strong wind. And it was not as if he had an answer. How could he tell his wife of over two ages that the sight of the ellon brought back the stench of burning carcasses and the screams of Morgoth’s abominations in the sky? How could he tell her of the terror of the wild sea and the drowning land? The endless days camped out in spirit-sapping mud with far too many bewildered refugees. Experiences that could never be shared with any who had not been there – and that remained unspoken among fellow veterans. Resentments and petty irritations that had ended up focused in a dislike of a single elf, an elf with the same gleaming hair as this ellon.
‘I do not need to know anything about him,’ he said gruffly. ‘Wood Elves are not like us – they are flighty and dangerous. Inconstant. Selfish. Headstrong. Not what I want in anyone showing interest in my daughter.’
Linevendë sighed. ‘Generalisations.’ She glanced at him sharply. ‘And I am not prepared to make an exhibition of myself. You will have to speak to Elerrina later – if you feel you have anything worthwhile to say – you are not to interfere here with everyone’s eyes on you.’
Her husband took a gulp of the wine before he could spill it. Was this to be the latest Valar-inflicted irony in his long life? One that only foresight could have predicted there on the eastern edge of the wide sea at the beginning of the Second Age? He hoped not. Whatever Linevendë thought, however much his daughter coaxed, regardless of the opinion of the multitudes, he really was not ready to consider the idea of welcoming the grandson of that infuriating elf into his family.
He would fight it, he determined. He would fight it as long as he could in the hope that this twist of fate could be averted. Yet, as he watched the brightness of his daughter’s face, he felt a web of spider silk tightening round his resisting form and a sinking feeling of helplessness come over him. Events over which he had no control might be conspiring to settle an enmity millennia old by binding together his house with that of the Greenwood’s long-departed King. Whether he liked it or not.
|Home Search Chapter List