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Unto the ending of the world: 38. Birthday
September 22, 3019
Above anything, Halbarad thought, he wanted these talks over with and the envoys on their way home. They had found agreement on the grain shipments, and had spent the last few days speculating about the Enemy's next moves. Now, though, the Beornings and the Dwarves had both requested a day of rest, as each group wished to talk over some things among themselves. No more than another day or so anyway before we are done. There had been messengers from Caras Dirnen and from the Rangers, so Halbarad knew there were no urgent problems waiting for him at home. He did wish he had slept better. Over the last few days his sleep had been disturbed by dreams he could not remember upon waking, but which he still felt might be important. He had to spend today outside, go riding perhaps. Even if it was raining still, he was too restless to stay indoors.
The talks had been more fraught than Halbarad had expected. It had started with Elrond's anger at him over sending Elrohir to Tharbad – they were now reconciled again, though Halbarad was certain the Master of Rivendell still disagreed with him sending off Elrohir. He was also certain that Glorfindel had had words with Elrond over the matter; Glorfindel's words to him had certainly been plain – Elrond sees with a father's eyes, not a captain's. You must have seen why I will not let Elrohir out on patrol, though his skill with a sword is sorely missed; and in all honesty, I hoped you would set him some simple but long task. He needs time to find who he is – alone – and this may have given him that.
And then Erestor had speculated that the long frost in the Misty Mountains might forewarn of a winter as deadly as the Long Winter or the Fell Winter; and if so, whether it was wise to send so much food south. Perhaps not wise, Halbarad thought, but necessary nonetheless. Gondor had lost enough of its harvest that it needed what the North could spare, or many would go hungry that winter. And the longer Gondor stood in strength... That was not his only concern about the weather, though. It was not something he would speak of with anyone except perhaps Glorfindel or Arwen – for he doubted Elrond would answer what questions he might have –, but he had noticed that Rivendell's usually mild weather had been much the same as outside the valley, and he could only ascribe that to it no longer being shielded by Elrond's Ring. The valley was open to more than just the weather, though, and it was only its strength in arms and its hidden location that would now protect it.
They had been in Imladris for weeks, and Amrothos still caught himself looking around in wonder at the place and its inhabitants. At home, he had of course explored many of the ruins of Elvish buildings along the coast, but those had been abandoned for a thousand years or more. Here there were Elves – and except for the companion of the Northern King who had briefly travelled with them on the flight from Minas Tirith, and the Elves he had seen in Rohan, he had never met any before, or half-Elves for that matter.
It had been unsettling to find himself as much under their scrutiny as they were under his. And what did they see? he wondered. Back home he was often taken to be younger than he was due to his lack of beard, even if it was not uncommon among those of Númenorean blood to have their beard come in late; and he doubted that having the odd foresighted dream would leave a discernible mark, even to the keen eyes of the Elves. Most disturbing had been the long look the messenger from the land of Lothlórien had given him when Master Elrond mentioned his name and lineage during the talks. Later Amrothos had learned that Mithrellas had been a kinswoman of the messenger. There had been no opportunity for them to speak further, though, even if they had had more than a few words of Westron in common.
Imladris itself… The age and history of the place were tangible, and some of the craftwork he saw was so beautiful it almost took his breath away. Yet neither its age nor its beauty were how Imladris spoke to him; he felt at ease here as he did at sea, or at home in Dol Amroth. It was indeed, as he had heard it called, the Last Homely Home.
He had tried to put it into words for the other envoys. Both Erkenbrand and Wídfara had nodded in agreement, but Húrin had given a contemptuous little laugh and told him to keep his mind on the negotiations. Amrothos had shrugged off the admonition. He certainly did not need to spend his every waking hour on the talks, and perhaps Húrin should not either. By now they had finished talking about grain shipments and Dwarvish trade, and gone on to consider future threats and alliances.
Agreement had been reached also on the north taking in refugees from the south once the Enemy started to move deeper into Gondor and Rohan. The Northern Chieftain had said they would help their southern kin and the Rohirrim as much as possible once it came to it, but he could not promise more than that. Amrothos thought that was perfectly reasonable, but Húrin seemed willing to read a slight of Gondor into it. Of course, Húrin could find insult in anything – as he had when they arrived in Imladris, and Master Elrond first welcomed Erkenbrand and Wídfara in Rohirric, before speaking to the others in their party in Elvish. Húrin's expression when he realised that what he had derided as the rustic Elvish accent of the Northern Dúnedain was in fact much closer to true Elvish than Gondorian speech was had been priceless.
Amrothos was relieved to have a day to himself, especially this day, since it would have been Erchirion's birthday. He had been thinking that Erchirion would have liked Imladris a lot, for his brother had always liked the land more than Amrothos did, and he would have loved to go exploring the hidden reaches of the valley, even in today's rain. If it had been dry, Amrothos would have gone out to further explore the many waterfalls he could see further on in the valley. Instead, he had decided on the library, as he was curious what books there were about Gondor and about Dol Amroth in particular. An Elf had pointed him in the right direction when he asked, and he quickly found the shelves he was looking for. He was slightly disappointed, though, for he saw only a few that he recognised, and the ones he did not know were mostly annals or books of maps.
At the end of the bookcase stood a glass display case and he walked over to see what was in it. He expected to find perhaps some things that had been brought here from the south – as he had noticed items from other lands on display elsewhere in the library – but inside were more books, and they clearly were very old. Much of the lettering on the covers was so worn and faded that he could not even guess at the titles, but there were a few he recognised, such as two volumes of Silmarien's Discourses.
Wondering how old the books in this case were, Amrothos turned around to see what else of interest he might find – perhaps something to read, and a quiet corner to sit down in. He should also try to remember as many titles of books as he could; Mother would want to know everything he could tell her about the library.
He started as he realised there was someone watching him. A Halfling. He had heard there was one living here, but he had not yet met him.
"The Númenorean collection is impressive, is it not?" Bilbo said, giving the strange Man a friendly nod in greeting.
"The Númenorean collection? Those are from Númenor?" the Man asked, "I mean, they are not copies?"
"They are really from Númenor," Bilbo replied. He remembered his own first impressions of Master Elrond's library, and added, "The library can be a bit overwhelming at first. Were you looking for anything in particular?"
"Yes, I was, but I found it; I was curious what books there were about my home, and I found them before I looked at these," the other replied, turning his head to look at the books in amazement again.
"Oh, you must be one of the envoys from Gondor then. I had taken you for a Ranger at first. And I apologise for forgetting my manners; I should have introduced myself. I am Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, but currently of Rivendell." He really ought to pay more attention to what was going on in Rivendell, Bilbo thought; although on the rare evenings that he went down to the Hall of Fire – hoping anyone might be in a mood for singing or poetry – the envoys had not been there, so he could be excused for not recognising the young man.
"Pleased to meet you, Master Baggins," the Man now said. "I am Amrothos of Dol Amroth."
"Dol Amroth?" Bilbo asked; Dol Amroth… there is something I should remember about it…
"Yes," Amrothos said. "It is on the southern coast of Gondor."
Of course, Bilbo thought. Uncle Isengar! "I have heard of it. In fact, an uncle of mine went there once."
"Really?" Amrothos looked doubtful.
"Really," said Bilbo. "Oh, it was more than a hundred years ago, but he did go to Gondor and he visited Dol Amroth as well, and he went to sea." Or at least, so he said. Up until his own adventure, Bilbo had always been doubtful about his uncle's tall tales. I would have loved to follow in his footsteps. Alas for these evil days we live in.
When Amrothos did not reply immediately, Bilbo sighed. "I suppose it was a long time ago…"
Amrothos was silent for a bit again before he went on. "That is not it. I just remembered that my father has a letter written by my great-grandfather to his father in which he mentions having met a perian in Minas Tirith. I cannot quite remember his name, but it was something with an 'i'. So he did make it to Dol Amroth as well, after that."
"Yes," Bilbo said, "Or at least so Uncle Isengar told me, and I later looked up Dol Amroth on a map. He did not like to talk a lot about his journeys after he came home again, though; probably because no one would believe him. But I would have liked to see Gondor myself one day."
Amrothos nodded at Bilbo's words, but then he fell silent, with a deeply sad expression on his face.
"What is it?" Bilbo asked.
"Nothing," Amrothos said, then added at the Halfling's look, "Well, nothing I would want to burden you with."
"I am sure it would be no burden, but I do not wish to pry; it is just that you suddenly looked so sad."
Amrothos looked away briefly, then shrugged and plunged on. "Today would have been my brother Erchirion's birthday. He died in the fall of Minas Tirith." He looked down, then continued speaking. "I do not even know how he died. He had been wounded and when the city was abandoned he had to stay behind. We had to leave via a narrow mountain path, and…" He stopped, his expression troubled.
"I am sorry," Bilbo said. "Were you close to each other?"
"Yes," Amrothos said. He managed a smile. "When we were children, he thought I was a pest, and I thought he was stuck up, and envied him that he was allowed to do everything Father said I was too young for. But all brothers have those rivalries, and when those few years between us no longer mattered, we became good friends as well as brothers."
"That is good, that you were good friends. You must miss him terribly."
"Yes, I do," Amrothos said. "But what has happened cannot be undone." He gave Bilbo a rather wan smile. "I should go now; it has been a pleasure to speak with you, Master Baggins, and I hope we shall have opportunity to speak again soon."
"I would love to hear more about your home," Bilbo said. On a less sad day, he would try to find a chance to talk to the young man again; imagine that he had even heard of uncle Isengar! Then he sighed, and shook his head, wondering what he might do for the rest of the afternoon. If it was still raining, the gardens held little appeal. The Hall of Fire, even if there was anyone there, only reminded him of better days and cheerful company. Stay in his room and try to read? No, the company of his own thoughts was even less appealing, especially as he was unable to forget that today was his, and Frodo's, birthday. There was no one who could do anything for Frodo – unless perhaps Gandalf; but what could even Gandalf do? Yet even a foolish hope was better than no hope... Even so, if all he could do for Frodo was sit here and think of him, then that was what he would do.
So far, everybody had forgotten that it was his – their – birthday. It was a lonely feeling, and somehow it made him feel old and weary in a way he had not felt before. Then he shook his head and considered that with luck next year he would overtake the Old Took.
Bilbo shook his head again as he left the library. Perhaps I will take a walk in the gardens after all, if it is not raining too badly. He stopped to check on the weather when he passed a window. To his pleasant surprise, it was not only dry, but there was even some blue sky to be seen. It also appeared that he would not be the only one taking to the gardens; even Master Elrond was outside, along with Arwen. They seemed to be deep in conversation, though, enough so that Bilbo wondered whether they even noticed the weather.
It was close to dusk by the time Halbarad returned from his ride. He was glad he had gone out, as unpleasant as the rain he had started out in had been. He should probably pay Bilbo a visit later in the evening – it was the old hobbit's birthday, and he might appreciate some company.
As Halbarad dismounted, an Elf hurriedly came up to him. "Master Elrond asks that you come to the council room immediately."
Halbarad wondered what ill news Elrond had heard. Was there early snow in the mountains, Orcs on the march, the fall of Lothlórien...?
He was one of the first to arrive; only Glorfindel and the Rohirric envoys were already there. A quick glance at Glorfindel made it clear the Elf did not know either why they had been called together.
The next to enter was a bemused-looking Erestor. The Beornings, the Dwarves and the Gondorians soon came in as well, followed by several Elves of Elrond's household.
Finally, Elrond himself arrived. He walked to the chair at the head of the table and sat down.
"I have received word…" he started, but before he could say more the door opened again, and Arwen, a determined look on her face, entered.
As she crossed the room to sit down next to Glorfindel, a sudden shiver ran along Halbarad's back as, for a moment, he saw a clear light around her, and he knew he saw with the sight of vision. The light disappeared almost immediately, and Halbarad was left wondering what it meant. Perhaps it was no more than the sense of purpose he had already noted in her in these last few weeks.
Halbarad quickly returned his attention to Elrond, as the Master of Rivendell cleared his throat and continued speaking.
"As I started to say, I have received word that the Grey Havens were attacked," Elrond said. "The docks and the ships being prepared to Sail are all lost, as is much of the town."
The Havens? How had the Enemy… it had to have been by ship, and that meant Umbar; no army could have come so far over land unseen. And was it only a raid, or an invasion? But how did Elrond know? There had been no messenger that Halbarad knew of. A sudden, unwelcome thought crossed his mind. Had Elrond used the palantír? But no, Elrond said that he had received word, not that he had seen the attack or its aftermath.
"When? And dead and wounded?" Erestor asked.
"Two days ago. And I do not know yet how many victims there are, nor Círdan's fate," Elrond replied.
Glorfindel was the next to speak. "Who carried out the attack? Do you know how many landed?"
"Corsairs of Umbar," Elrond said.
"Corsairs?" Amrothos spoke up. "If the Corsairs are raiding here in the North…"
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. The door was opened, and a weary-looking Ranger entered. The Ranger nodded briefly at Halbarad, but turned immediately to Elrond.
"I am Thelion of the Tharbad Company. We were warned that a fleet out of Umbar is sailing north. We do not know where they are going, but word has been sent to the Havens and elsewhere."
"Alas," Elrond said, "The warning to the Havens was in vain." At Thelion's stricken look he gestured the Ranger to sit down and quickly repeated his earlier announcement.
"Tharbad received warning?" Halbarad asked the Ranger once he was seated and Elrond had finished speaking.
"Yes, sir," Thelion replied. "A rider from Dol Amroth; a patrol at sea had seen these ships heading north."
"When?" Elrond asked.
"Ten days ago," the Ranger replied. "The captain sent us out the same day; Gilor went to Caras Dirnen, and Hunthor to Bree and Fornost." He turned to Elrond again. "Master Elrond, your son said he would go to the Havens, since he had the fastest horse."
Later, after the meeting had concluded, and they had both sent messages to be wary of sudden attack to the Misty Mountains patrols, Glorfindel and Halbarad joined Elrond in his study. Arwen was already there.
"How did you learn of the raid?" Glorfindel asked Elrond.
Elrond was slow to answer, but suddenly Arwen spoke, "Eärendil told us."
Glorfindel nodded. He had suspected as much.
"Eärendil." Halbarad looked shocked as he turned to Glorfindel. "You knew?"
"No," Glorfindel answered, "Or at least not that he had taken this active a hand in things." He quickly explained to Halbarad all that he knew of Eärendil's help so far.
"I see," Halbarad said when Glorfindel had finished his tale. "How much can or will he do?"
"Not much," Elrond replied, his expression neutral. "He was only allowed to tell us what he saw because of Elrohir's involvement." At Halbarad's questioning look he added, "My son lives and is unhurt."
Before either could say more, Glorfindel shifted the subject to avoid the still sore point of how Elrohir had come to be at Mithlond. "In truth, even were Eärendil allowed to aid us by espying the Enemy's advances from the skies, there would be very little advantage in it. His path is set, and he cannot see all."
From Halbarad's look at Glorfindel it was clear that he had been thinking along such lines.
"Nor should we rely on such aid; already we have been complacent by not expecting this assault. Now, though," Glorfindel continued, ignoring irritated looks from both Elrond and Halbarad, "We should give further thought to the defence of Imladris."
Halbarad nodded in agreement, but Elrond surreptitiously tapped his finger as he looked at Glorfindel.
Halbarad already knows about the Three, Glorfindel replied in mind. Out loud he said, "I expect the Enemy will want to deal with Lothlórien before he crosses the Misty Mountains."
"There are still Orcs and Wargs to trouble us in the mountains," Halbarad said.
"I have been trying to find a way to shield the valley that does not rely on …" Arwen gestured to indicate her father's Ring, "Both from what Elrohir has been able to tell me of Grandmother's new defensive working and from the library."
Looking at Elrond, Glorfindel wondered if this was how Turgon had looked when Idril had told him about the secret escape tunnel from Gondolin she had devised without him even knowing of it until it was done. Itarillë, your great-granddaughter is truly worthy of you.
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