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Speak, Friend, and Enter: 2. Epilogue
The scarlet sun hung just above the horizon as Vrain approached Ost-in-Edhil. He had been well-coached by Narvi and managed to hide any expressions of being nonplussed when confronted by the supercilious gaze of the four Elves standing guard outside of the gates. Vrain tore his eyes away from their flickering emerald capes billowing slightly in the breeze and spoke in halting Sindarin while looking at the marble stairs.
"I am Vrain, of the house of Oban, son of Narvi, here to request the presence of the King Silverfist of Eregion."
As he rose to resume a standing position, he saw the guards staring at the silver cuff on his wrist, made by their lord Celebrimbor for Narvi, whose death he had been bade to convey to the Elf-king. The guards did not step forward, but they did move their arms ever so slightly to reveal knives and daggers otherwise hidden. It had been so warm at mid-summer that Vrain had put his hood in his pack for the journey, and merely clutched his left hand around the head of his axe to acknowledge that he, too, was armed.
Dwarf and Elves stared at one another until at last one of the guards walked toward him.
"Please follow me," he said in the Common Speech.
Vrain nodded his head, and followed.
They had gone several paces down the busy causeway when another Elf in similar garb passed them, seemingly to take the place of the guard who was escorting Vrain into the city. Several of the inhabitants let their gaze linger on him in a way that left the Dwarf feeling rather unsettled, despite the fact that he had met several of the immortals as they made their way from west to east or back again through Khazad-dûm. In respect to his mother's wishes, he tried to absorb as much of the architecture of the Elvish city as he could, but much of the subtlety of it was lost to him. Gems were his great love, and his bright chrysoprasic eyes lit on the jewels that he could glimpse on the Elves of Eregion: a necklace dripping with garnets; aquamarine stones set in a gossamer belt of silver; a brazen cape-clasp of onyx, unexpectedly enclosed in sanguine copper.
Before he knew how far they had gone, Vrain was at the entrance to the city center, his mouth gaping. Two more guards appeared, staring pointedly at his axe. Vrain closed his mouth as he took the axe from its usual place hanging at his side.
"May Gormgloine reside faithfully in your care," he recited, giving up the blade rather reluctantly.
A silver-haired Elf approached, and with only a glance, the escort from the front gates left the room.
"I am Hithuldîr, messenger to our Lord. You are?" he looked pointedly at Vrain's wrist.
"I am Vrain, son of Narvi, though I suspect that you have known this since I approached," the Dwarf replied, smiling.
The Elf raised an eyebrow. "Does Celebrimbor expect you?"
"No. I am here to bring tidings of Narvi's death. It was thought that your lord Silver-singer would wish to know."
Hithuldîr's expression, while still impassive, seemed slightly more sombre at the news.
"Please wait here." He gestured to an elaborately carved bench which Vrain walked to and gratefully sat down, content to rest his feet.
Elves walked across the mosaic-tiled floor, and everywhere there was a scent of flowers in bloom. Vrain wrinkled his nose, and after a few moments went by, he found that he was idly making a new plait in his beard as he tried not to stare at the jewellery worn by the Elves who traversed in and out of the room.
Suddenly he noticed a shadow crossing his left boot, and he looked up.
"Vrain Longbeard, son of Narvi the Rockwright, of the House of Oban."
As his mother had said, the co-engineer for the West Doors and Lord of Eregion was an Elf both to fear and to admire. Numinous, she had stated. Otherworldly. Sunset.
"So Narvi has died."
Vrain nodded, his thick fingers grazing the silver cuff on his wrist.
"I had hoped to be asked to attend the ceremony for such a renowned rockwright whose spirit had left to meet Aulë. No," he paused for a moment, "to meet Mahal. But I dared not presume that I would be welcome."
The Elf-lord's lilac-colored eyes conveyed compassion, but demanded a response.
"I have brought a message to you from Narvi, for your eyes alone." The Dwarf extricated a piece of carefully-folded parchment, its wax seal the color of glistening sand. An "N" rune was thrust into the midst of the congealed circle. "I do not know its message."
Celebrimbor reached out an arm and took the paper, then looked Vrain from foot to head. "You resemble him very much, Vrain, son of Narvi. Though your eyes are far brighter. The color of apples."
Vrain looked at him, puzzled, then shook his head. "Son I am, but Narvi was my mother, not my father."
The Elf held the parchment, his long fingers stroking the paper, eyes unfocused.
"You will excuse me?" he murmured, and with a quick nod of his head, an attendant came to Vrain, showing him to a room, and encouraging him to take a bath and a rest, if he so desired it. He would be summoned for the evening meal, and he should expect to spend the night.
"But," Vrain stammered, gentle hands on his elbow.
"Ale will be brought to you momentarily, young Vrain. Relax from your journey and enjoy the hospitality of the Elves. You will be called upon for supper."
The Dwarf found that he could not resist the summons, whether he liked it or not. So he chose to be led. The bath was sumptuous, the ale delicious, the meal courteous, his sleep sound.
In the morning, after dressing and munching on the freshly-baked bread provided with a hot beverage he didn't recognize, Vrain jumped to his feet when he heard a second authoritative knock on the door.
"Enter!" he exclaimed, startled.
Celebrimbor stood in the doorway, his unbound auburn hair flowing over his shoulders, wearing a pendant with a green stone that seemed to give off its own light.
Moments passed. Dwarf gaped at Elf, and the Elven lord waited, a smile blooming across his stern features like a prism illuminated in a diamond facet.
"This is for Narvi's tomb," Celebrimbor said softly, handing a silver birch branch to Vrain. "It should never wither, if I am worth my name."
Vrain looked dubiously at the branch, though he held out his hand to grasp it. "Is it magic?" He sounded skeptical.
"Not in any way to give the Dwarves pause," Celebrimbor answered. "It is the least I can do to keep her memory."
Vrain bowed, his bright eyes growing wide as he turned the branch in his stocky hands. "Such a rich gift!"
Celebrimbor gazed fondly at the young Dwarf. "It is given in gratitude. Put the branch at Narvi's marker. And please," he put a warm hand on Vrain's shoulder, "let not the next time I hear of you or your kin be at your death. The distance from the West Gates to Ost-in-Edhil is not so far nor the path so rocky that it cannot be traversed more than once in a lifetime, Dwarvish stubbornness or no."
Vrain was unsure whether to feel complimented or insulted, but stood to his full height regardless. "It shall not, Lord Celebrimbor."
As Celebrimbor watched Vrain walk across the tiled floor out to the city, he thought of the message which even Narvi's son had not known he had carried: his mother's most secret, Dwarvish name. She had written it in bold Dwarvish runes, and though it had been a translation, he knew it for what it was.
he read, and though not sentimental by nature, he mourned her loss. Though her gender mattered not a whit in regards to her skill, it still goaded him that he had been so blind as not to know, and this gift was an attempt to compensate for that loss. He had been working on the more sophisticated chants and energies that he would soon be channeling into the Rings of Power, and he knew that the branch he gave to Vrain should last, unchanging, for centuries: a silver birch, to honor Narvi's love of the metal, one which he shared, and for which he was named. The leaves, once far underground, would shimmer in multicolored hues in respect for the most intimate thing she could have shared, one so unexpected it had given the Elf-lord great pause.
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