Ereinion opened the door to his study and allowed Ilmarë to walk in before him. On the opposite side of the room a fire flickered to life in the fireplace. Elrond knelt before it, prodding at the logs with a poker to stoke the flames. Upon hearing the door open, he stood and set the poker aside, brushing the dust from his hands as Ereinion and Ilmarë walked toward him.
“Well, Elrond, it certainly did not take you much time to change your clothing. And you were kind enough to start a fire. Have you been waiting long?” Ereinion asked as he seated Ilmarë on the small couch facing the fireplace.
“No, not long,” Elrond said, shaking his head. “I was still chilled from the rain and I thought the fire would do Lady Ilmarë some good as well.”
“I have no doubt it will, and perhaps a glass of wine would do both of you good.” Ereinion gave Ilmarë a wink and said, “It will warm your blood from the inside while the fire works to warm your skin. Elrond, will you help me, please?”
They went to a large cabinet filled with glasses, and various decanters of wine and liquor. Ereinion handed Elrond two glasses and filled them with a dark red wine. While Ereinion set about taking out another glass Elrond returned to where Ilmarë sat.
She looked up at him as he walked beside her and admired how his grey shirt and trousers complemented the color of his eyes. Elrond had chosen not to wear a robe and Ilmarë now had a better view of his body without the folds of fabric covering it - he was not of a slender build like Ereinion, as had been her first impression. The fabric of the shirt fit snugly across the solid frame of his shoulders and chest, and his height accentuated the well-built appearance. Now with his hair left loose to dry, it freely spilled over his shoulder in a dark curtain as he leaned down to offer Ilmarë a glass of wine.
“Here you are, Lady Ilmarë.”
Their fingers brushed as she took the glass from his hand and her traitorous body reacted to his touch once more. It then committed full mutiny and blurted out a question, even though she feared Elrond would deny it.
“Would you care to sit next to me…Elrond?”
He looked at her carefully before giving her the barest smile, pleased that she had used his name again. “I would like that…Ilmarë. Thank you.”
Ereinion returned as Elrond sat down, and Ereinion moved a large leather chair next to where Ilmarë sat. After settling in and having a sip of wine, Ereinion began the conversation he had impatiently waited several weeks to have.
“Forgive me for dispensing with the formality of polite small talk, but I have waited for some time to speak with you. I would prefer to discuss this directly and to the point. It is obvious that my first question should be why have you come here and why in such a secretive manner?” Ereinion said, watching Ilmarë set her glass on the table.
“There is no need to ask forgiveness, Lord Ereinion. I understand.” Ilmarë regarded him for a moment, unsure where to begin. “I am here on behalf of the Valar, as their emissary, and therein lies the reason for my secrecy. I was sent to Círdan for he has been placed in that role himself before, as you both know. But his were different circumstances and he felt my task would be better served here in Mithlond.”
Elrond said nothing for this turn of events had been completely unforeseen. He had expected to be told that she came bearing a message from the royals of Númenor or perhaps from among the nobles of the Edain, but the Valar…? Apparently Ereinion was caught off guard also, for he looked to be at a loss.
“You come on behalf of the Valar…” he repeated. When she nodded, he asked, “And for what purpose would the Valar send a Mortal woman to Middle-earth?”
“To gather information for them unobtrusively.” Ilmarë smiled at their disbelief. “What is it you find so difficult to believe? That the Valar would send a Mortal or that they would send a woman?”
“Both, actually,” Ereinion answered with honesty. “What information is it they wish to gain?”
Ilmarë glanced at Elrond and then back to Ereinion. She would tell them all that she could without revealing her true nature; now that she had met them she truly did believe they could help her.
“The Shadow of Morgoth rises once again in Middle-earth. It wakens after lying dormant for many years. The Valar wish to have knowledge of what servants the Shadow has left in these lands who would rise with it. They also wish to know if there are still those left in Middle-earth who would rise against it.”
“And they sent you alone to strange lands to gather such dire information?” Elrond asked, trying not to let his doubt show. Ilmarë turned to him with a patient smile.
“Your skepticism does not offend me, Elrond. I felt it myself when I was first told of my part in all this. The Valar do not wish to interfere directly with the doings of Middle-earth, only to assess the situation here in hopes that they may offer subtle help. But why send a Mortal, you ask… A Mortal may pass unnoticed among the people here and thus prevent others from knowing the Valar’s involvement in this. In particular those servants of evil who still remain.”
Ilmarë turned to Ereinion and said, “And why a woman, you wish to know? I believe my being man or woman had little to do with it. They felt me capable of fulfilling this task for them and I agreed to do so.”
“Did they have a reason for choosing you in particular?” Elrond asked, wanting to find out something more specific about her.
When Ilmarë looked at him he saw the worry creep into her eyes just before she dropped her gaze and stared her hands, clasped in her lap.
“I do not know the answer to that, Elrond,” Ilmarë replied softly, still staring at her hands. “Many of my memories were taken to prevent my being influenced by them, perhaps leading me to interfere or share forbidden knowledge. But I fear the Valar unknowingly took too much from me.”
She paused and neither Elrond nor Ereinion spoke, waiting instead for her to continue.
“I was brought here by Linquendil of Eressëa, son of King Olwë of the Teleri. Linquendil has long been my friend and was trusted to deliver me to Círdan. I awoke on his ship the first night of our journey and I remembered nothing, not even who or where I was. Some of my memories have returned and more continue to return, but many things I have been forced to learn anew as though I were a helpless child. Neither Linquendil nor I believe the Valar intended for this to happen…I do not hold them in blame. They know very little of Mortals and even less of how their bodies work. They left few memories of my life before waking on the ship, and what I do know I am not allowed to share with any other than Círdan for the time being.”
Ilmarë let out a heavy sigh and closed her eyes. “There are still many things I must learn. This body and the workings of it are more familiar to me now, but there is so much about it that I struggle with from day to day. I remember very few personal details other than my name and my task. I remember Númenor and its people very clearly…at least those whom I had no direct personal involvement with. I have relied heavily on Linquendil and Círdan to help me learn about Middle-earth and its people and how I should interact with them. Yet still I have little idea how to go about this task. I am unsure even of where to begin.” She spread her hands out before her and then clasped them tightly together in her lap again. “I am here to ask for your help. Círdan felt you could aid me in this. But I can reveal nothing about myself other than my name and that I come from the West, and I can offer no proof of what I say other than mine and Círdan’s word. I will think no less of either of you should you choose not to help me.”
Ilmarë’s eyes opened suddenly when she felt a hand laid across hers. She raised her head to find Ereinion leaning forward in his chair. He now watched her with a kind smile.
“I am inclined to believe you, and even if I were not, Círdan’s word would suffice.” After a pause, he said, “When I was younger, barely more than a child really, I was left alone to face a difficult task…or rather, it seemed as though I were alone. But it was soon apparent that I was not. I had friends who stood by me and made my task easier. I will do that for you, Ilmarë. You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish and I will help you in any way I can.”
“As will I,” Elrond said and when she looked up at him now he did not see worry in her eyes, but rather gratitude. “Then you will be able to tell us nothing about yourself?” He felt compelled to ask although he already knew the answer. That he would know nothing of her past was disheartening.
“For the moment, no, although I am allowed to share the knowledge should the circumstances arise. But I must ask that you say nothing of what I have told you. I doubt there will be many whom I trust with even this limited knowledge.” Ilmarë released a long breath that seemed to take all the tension in her body with it. Although she felt at ease with Elrond as well as Ereinion, she had been very nervous about asking for their help. “Thank you. You cannot imagine the relief this brings me. I am forever indebted to you both.”
“Well, forever can be a very long time…let us see of what use we are before you decide your level of indebtedness,” Ereinion said and laughed. He gave her hand a final squeeze and sat back in his chair again. “You say you have no idea where to begin, although as I see it, you have already begun. You have set about learning the necessary skills and have enlisted the aid of people who are in a position to aid you. Now it is a matter of deciding where to go from here.”
Ilmarë allowed her body to relax against the back of the couch. “Recently I have been considering something Círdan told me. He said that you had also sensed the return of the Shadow, Lord Ereinion, but you believed it to be a servant of Morgoth and not the Shadow of Morgoth itself. Have you been given proof of the presence of a dark servant?”
Ereinion frowned and studied the fire. “I have long felt unrest in Middle-earth. I first sensed the stirrings eight hundred years after the fall of Morgoth. Not long after that, at Elrond’s counsel, I began proposals of an alliance with Númenor to ensure that we would not be caught unawares should we have dire need. However, the only real focus of my unease came more than three hundred years ago with the arrival of Annatar to Lindon and his offers of help.”
“Annatar? I do not remember that name being mentioned in the histories that were taught to me,” Ilmarë said with curiosity.
“Nor did anyone else, it seems,” Elrond said setting his glass on the table next to hers. “He claimed to be a Maia of Aulë sent to aid the Elves in repairing the damage done by Morgoth’s evils.”
Elrond had looked away to set his glass down and he did not see the look of shock that crossed Ilmarë’s face. Ereinion did, although he said nothing. Something flared in Ilmarë’s mind; not a warning…more akin to a maddeningly elusive memory that remains just beyond the mind’s grasp.
“Then you did not accept his offer?” Ilmarë asked, staring absently at the floor as she continued to search her thoughts.
Ereinion watched her closely as he replied. “No, I did not even allow him to cross the borders of Lindon. I did not sense him as being evil, but a cloud of evil surrounded him. Whether this was a foreboding or a warning of something he sought to hide, I decided it was best not to allow him entry. After he was turned away he traveled southeast to Eregion and those in the city of Ost-In-Edhil welcomed him.”
“He is there still?” Ilmarë asked.
“Yes, he resides with the Gwaith-I-Mirdain - the fellowship of smiths who dwell in the city.” Ereinion said and watched Ilmarë as she pondered this information.
Ilmarë sat up straight and with a determined nod of her head, she announced, “Then that is where I go from here.”
Elrond and Ereinion sat up straight, their bodies tense and their faces dark as they both voiced their disagreement.
“That would not be wise, Ilmarë,” Ereinion warned.
Elrond’s admonition was equally grave. “It would be best if you reconsidered that decision, Ilmarë.”
She fixed her gaze on Elrond and asked, “Did Annatar’s arrival give you the same sense of alarm as it did Ereinion?”
Elrond glanced uncomfortably at Ereinion and then frowned at Ilmarë. “I have always sensed the same unease in Middle-earth as Ereinion has…but, no…my unease was not increased by Annatar’s presence. Ilmarë…you must listen to us. It is only because we are concerned for your safety. I was with Ereinion when Annatar arrived and this forewarning came upon him – I believe the evil he sensed was real.”
“Elrond, I have no doubt it was real. That is why I must go…it is why I was sent.” Ilmarë’s tone was patient, but firm.
“You will not go, I will not allow it,” Ereinion said, waving his hand. He had not meant it to sound so curt, but he was growing upset that she would not listen.
“And what has led you to believe I will obey you?” Ilmarë asked and tried to hide her smile at his blustering.
“Because I am King and I command it.”
“I am your guest, not your subject, my lord. My king is in the West and I bow only to his commands.”
“But you are in my country,” Ereinion leaned forward and glowered at her. “While you are in my country you are subject to my rule. It would be treason to disobey my commands.”
“Then it would be best if I left your country and traveled to a different country. Perhaps Eregion?” Ilmarë said, raising an eyebrow as she did.
Ereinion sat back and sighed as he massaged his forehead with one hand. “Ilmarë, I am torn between being either irritated or amused at your obstinacy…but at the moment irritation has the upper hand.” He leaned forward in his chair again and rested his elbows on his knees as he peered at her and said, “There is more to worry about in Ost-In-Edhil than just Annatar. There are political situations there which you would be better off to avoid.”
“Then perhaps I could help,” Ilmarë said, now frowning. “I was sent to give counsel as well, if I could.”
Ereinion waved a dismissive hand at her. “There are none there who would listen to you…they will not even listen to me.” The exasperation in his voice was clear. “Ilmarë, please…you have just told us of the Valar taking more of your memory and knowledge than they intended, to the point of leaving you helpless and forced to relearn even the simplest aspects of life. And now you wish to travel alone to a city under an unstable rule in order to meet a person who is followed by a cloud of evil. Is it so difficult to understand why I am disturbed by this plan of action?”
“No, it is not, Lord Ereinion, and I am grateful for your concern,” Ilmarë said, holding out her hands as she tried to reason with him. “I have no choice but to go….I came here to fulfill a responsibility. I now have obstacles to overcome but that does not change what I must do. Surely a king can understand being bound to honor a responsibility.”
“Yes I can, Ilmarë,” Ereinion agreed, and decided to try a different tactic. “If you will not be dissuaded from going then will you at least take a companion with you? There is much information I would like to have concerning Ost-In-Edhil. Many of the Elves there are Noldor and all the Noldor are under my rule, even those outside the boundaries of Lindon. To send someone of my choice with you would benefit me as well. Would you agree to that?”
“Yes, I would. In fact, I would be grateful for a traveling companion. I said I had no choice but to go…I did not say I was looking forward to it,” Ilmarë said and gave Ereinion a smile that seemed to give his amusement enough strength to gain control over his irritation. “Did you have someone in mind?”
“I would prefer to go myself, but my responsibilities here would not allow it. Círdan could possibly be persuaded to go, although more than likely he would not be able to be gone long from his duties at the Havens…..hmmm…” Ereinion leaned back into the chair again and took another drink of his wine while he tried to think of another who was trustworthy enough for this job. Elrond had remained silent during the conversation but now he spoke, startling Ereinion.
“I will go to Eregion with Ilmarë…,” Elrond and nodded at Ereinion, “that is, if you have no objections.”
The offer visibly shocked Ereinion and the disbelief showed in his voice as he said, “No, Elrond, I have no objections to it…you are one of the few whom I would trust with this responsibility. But to be honest, I did not think you would wish to go. You do not like to travel…you have never gone beyond the borders of Lindon.”
“Then it is well past time that I did,” Elrond said. Seeing Ilmarë staring at him, he added, “Will that be acceptable for you, Ilmarë?”
“Yes, I would be very pleased to have you travel with me,” Ilmarë said, hoping it was not obvious just how pleasing the idea was to her.
“Then it is settled,” Ereinion said, much relieved. “I do have one more request of you, Ilmarë - that you wait until spring to take this trip. Do not let today’s warmth mislead you. Within a few weeks winter will begin in earnest and the cold weather will make for an unpleasant trip. It would be wise to wait until the warm weather has returned.”
“As you have been so considerate to me, I will honor your request, Lord Ereinion,” Ilmarë said with a polite nod to Ereinion.
“Good…” Ereinion sat back again, clearly satisfied with the resolution. “I will send a message to Celeborn and inform him that you and Elrond will be arriving in early Spring.”
“Celeborn?” Ilmarë asked.
“He rules Ost-In-Edhil,” Elrond explained, “or at least he did until shortly after Annatar arrived. There was an uprising and Celebrimbor, the leader of the Gwaith-I-Mirdain and also grandson of Fëanor, took up rule of the city. However, I believe Celeborn only conceded to Celebrimbor in order to keep peace in the city. He is a wise ruler and would not spill needless blood. I have no doubt that Celebrimbor’s rule is in name only, and that the people would still defer to Celeborn’s rule.”
“I know who Fëanor was, but I know nothing of Celebrimbor. Although the name of Celeborn seems familiar to me,” Ilmarë said, trying to recall who Celeborn was.
“I have many books of lore and history in my library, Ilmarë, and you are welcome to peruse them whenever you wish.” A thought occurred to Elrond and he said, “That is, if you are able to read….what I mean is, if it was not lost with the knowledge taken from you…”
“I can read, Elrond,” Ilmarë said with a smile meant to reassure Elrond that he had not offended her. “Linquendil had some books on the ship and I read them on the journey here. In fact, one of the stories I read was of your father. How proud you must be that Eärendil the Mariner is your father and the first king of Númenor was your brother. What was Elros like before he became king? Was he much like you?”
The ease Elrond felt with Ilmarë disappeared at the thought of discussing his family, a topic he felt uncomfortable discussing with anyone. Stalling for time to think of a way out of the situation, he picked up his glass from the table and saw Ilmarë’s untouched glass of wine.
“Do you not like the wine, Ilmarë?” he asked pointing toward the glass.
Ilmarë had forgotten her glass and now she shook her head and said, “I do enjoy wine, it is just that I have not eaten since this morning and I fear to drink it on an empty stomach. I made that mistake once and do not wish to repeat it.”
Elrond stood, thankful for the excuse to leave. “Then I will go downstairs and ask Haleth to bring a tray upstairs for you. It is well past dinner time anyway.”
Ilmarë looked at Ereinion, who did not seem surprised in the least at Elrond’s sudden change in mood. By the time she looked back to Elrond he was opening the door of the study.
“Goodnight Ereinion ….Ilmarë,” he said and nodded to each of them before closing the door behind him.
“Goodnight Elrond,” Ilmarë called after him and turned back to Ereinion with a frown. “Did I say something wrong, Lord Ereinion?”
“You need not call me lord, Ilmarë…Ereinion will do. And no, you did not, at least not intentionally.” He stood up from the chair and came to sit on the couch next to her. “Elrond does not like to discuss his father or his brother…or his mother either, for that matter.” Ereinion sighed and reached for the decanter to pour himself more wine. “You must understand… he and his brother were still very small when Eärendil left. It was not long after that their mother, Elwing, threw herself in the sea with the Silmaril to escape the kinslaying at Sirion. The boys were left behind to be captured by the sons of Fëanor.”
As he spoke a dark rage filled him, radiating from him in waves and filling the air around them. “Cirdan and I reached Sirion too late to save the children or Elwing. The sons of Feänor had led the kinslaying yet again. The sight of the bloody ground littered with slaughtered Elves is a sight I will never forget.” Ereinion sighed and some of the anger left him. “I am thankful Maglor had the goodness of heart to rescue Elrond and Elros and keep them safe.”
Ereinion shook his head to throw off the old memories. He lifted Ilmarë’s hands from her lap and held them.
“Elrond and Elros did not have the presence of their mother and father as children. Maglor was kind to them and loved them as his own; still, it was not the same. After the attack on Sirion, Maglor and his brother Maedhros were the last surviving sons of Fëanor, and they were hunted by many people who wished to see them dead as well. They did not stay long in any one place. Elrond and Elros traveled with them for many years until Maglor finally conceded to my requests that they be sent to live with me. I believe he wished for the twins to have a good life - one which he could not give to them. It was a wise decision on his part. Elrond and Elros were allowed a peaceful existence for the first time in their lives.”
Ereinion stopped for a moment and tried to find the best way to word his next explanation without infringing too much on Elrond’s private nature. He wanted Ilmarë to understand his friend, yet did not wish to reveal things Elrond would not be comfortable with. That would include almost every detail of his life,
Ereinion thought wryly.
Ereinion spoke slowly, searching for the words as he went along. “People seem to think it was Elrond who was the caretaker of the two…that he looked after Elros. I am of the opinion it was quite the reverse. Elros seemed to know his own mind and was accepting of what had befallen him and his brother. He always tried to help Elrond keep a brighter outlook and not dwell too heavily on the past. Elrond was never the same after his brother left for Númenor.”
“They were allowed to choose among which race they would be counted. Elrond chose first and took the life of the Eldar. When Elros chose to be Mortal, Elrond was devastated. He felt alone and nothing anyone did could change that. I believe the loss of his brother and the feeling of abandonment by his mother and father has never left him. He does not speak of it, but I would be a poor friend indeed if I did not see it. Do not judge him too harshly, Ilmarë.”
She swallowed the thick lump that had risen in her throat as she listened to Ereinion speak. “I do not judge him at all. I feel very ashamed for my lack of insight; it should not have taken much wisdom to realize how the losses Elrond suffered would affect him. It was very insensitive of me,” Ilmarë said, reaching for her glass of wine and taking a drink, not caring how it would affect her. My wisdom and my perception are very lacking. I cannot even read the obvious in a person I have spoken to for the last several hours. It is lunacy to imagine that I can offer counsel or aid to anyone.
“It is not your fault, Ilmarë,” Ereinion reassured her, “do not judge yourself too harshly either. It would be my guess that this body imposes limits that must be very difficult for one of your kind to become accustomed to.”
Ilmarë was thankful she had just swallowed her drink, else she would have choked. She did not trust herself to look at Ereinion as she asked, “One of my kind?”
“I know what you are. I suspected it when I first saw you, but I was not certain until you spoke of the difficulties you had - speaking of your body as though it were something completely foreign to you, referring to your homeland only as ‘the West’ and not Númenor… The look of shock on your face when Elrond spoke of Annatar’s claim of being Maiar removed all doubt from my mind.”
Ilmarë dropped her head to her chest and felt her throat tighten as tears filled her eyes. “Then my failure is complete. I have no hope of accomplishing this task if my disguise can be seen through so easily. The Valar never should have trusted me with this responsibility. I should have paid heed to Linquendil and returned to Valinor with him.”
A pressure built in her chest and she felt a spasm similar to the ones that accompanied the seasickness she felt on the ship, but these spasms seemed to come from her chest instead of her stomach. As the clutching in her chest increased so did her tears and she was helpless to stop it. She tried to catch her breath but only a small, hitching moan came out, a sound she found quite pathetic and this only made the tears come harder. She had cried before and believed the action to merely consist of wet tears streaming from her eyes, but this sense of despair and misery seized her and wrung the tears from her body, leaving her drained.
Ereinion took her glass and set it aside, then gathered Ilmarë into his arms. She gladly accepted the warm comfort of his embrace and rested her head against his shoulder. The spasms in her chest and the hitching sounds worsened but began to ease when Ereinion tightened his arms around her and began to move her slowly from side to side. After several minutes the clutching in her chest diminished and she could breathe normally again – through her mouth at least - she found she could draw no air through her nose. Ilmarë felt Ereinion run his hand along her hair.
“Not all tears are bad, Ilmarë,” he said softly and rested his cheek against her hair. “There are times when a good cry releases things that upset us, usually things we have been keeping to ourselves. Do you feel any better?”
She nodded her head against his shoulder. “Yes, I do. Thank you, Ereinion,” she said, but her voice sounded strange and thick. “Barring the fact that I am suddenly unable to breathe through my nose.”
Ereinion laughed as he gently pushed her back to sit up. His arm remained around her shoulders and he kept her close to his side. “I believe I can help you with that,” he said and reached into his pocket and pulled out a square piece of fabric, which he handed to Ilmarë. “Here, blow…” Ilmarë looked blankly at the fabric in her hands and then up to Ereinion. He pointed toward her face and elaborated. “Hold the handkerchief up against your nose and try to blow air out of your nose.”
Ilmarë was doubtful but did as he said. She blew with a half-hearted effort that garnered no results.
“Blow harder,” Ereinion encouraged her.
She tried again, taking a deep breath and forcing air through her nose. Something thick and wet came out, accompanied by a sound she found utterly revolting. She used the fabric to dry the end of her nose and then looked down into what Ereinion had called the handkerchief.
“Ohhh…” she exclaimed in disgust and looked up at Ereinion in disbelief.
He laughed heartily and Ilmarë thought him daft that he could find the situation so amusing.
“Every time I believe that I have at last found some level of familiarity with this Mortal body it reveals yet another unfortunate weakness that disgusts me to no end,” Ilmarë said, folding up the fabric so she would not be forced to look at the foul substance any longer.
Ereinion continued to laugh as he took the handkerchief from her and carefully slipped it back into his pocket.
“Allow me to dispose of that for you, Ilmarë. It’s quite normal, I assure you. Now do you feel better?” She nodded and he smiled and said, “Well then, I can tell you that you have not failed. I have no doubt Círdan recognized what you were because he had seen a Maia before - I recognized you for the same reason. I spoke to your brother when he came to offer Elrond and Elros their choice. With Eönwë it was not only his appearance that made an impression upon me, but his presence as well. For those who experience it, meeting a Maia is not something they soon forget, if they forget at all. I also felt it the one time I stood before Melian although I did not know what it was at the time. The presence was very diminished in her, as it is in you. There are few left in Middle-earth who would recognize that presence – Celeborn and his wife, Galadriel, are the only ones who come to mind. You should consider telling them the truth. I believe they will know it regardless.”
“Then Elrond…?” Ilmarë asked, frowning with worry.
Ereinion shook his head. “No, Elrond did not speak to Eönwë although I would not be surprised if he discovered your true nature in other ways. He is very wise.”
“I cannot tell him for it would mean breaking my promise, but I will not be disappointed should he guess the truth for himself. I am not disappointed that you know either, Ereinion.”
Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by the loud knock echoing throughout the room. He looked down at Ilmarë with a bright smile.
“That must be Haleth with the food. If she catches us like this I will get a tongue lashing and I have no doubt our wedding would be planned before the week is out,” he said and slid far enough down the couch to leave a respectable distance between himself and Ilmarë before he called toward the door. “You may come in, Haleth.”
The door opened and a slightly overweight woman bustled into the room carrying a large tray. To Ilmarë’s great surprise, the woman was Mortal – Ilmarë had thought Elves to be the only inhabitants of Mithlond and Harlond. Haleth walked past the back of the couch and saw the wine decanter and glasses on the table. She clucked her tongue as she looked at Ereinion and shook her head.
“Get yourself up and move those things out of the way,” she barked and Ilmarë was further shocked to see Ereinion obey the command without question. Haleth continued her lecture as she watched him pick up the glasses and wine bottle. “You’ve had nothing to eat all day, and then you spend your evening in the study drinking wine. I’ve been waiting for you or Master Elrond to come downstairs and let me know when you were ready for dinner. He finally came to the kitchen and I made him sit down and eat before I would let him leave.”
Haleth took the platter to a table against the wall and Ereinion took the bottle and glasses back to the cabinet. He passed Ilmarë and grinned, quickly slipping her a mischievous wink. His cheerful acceptance made her realize he was used to this treatment, and actually appeared to enjoy it. She watched Haleth bring two plates of food and set them on the low table in front of the couch. When she stood up, Haleth pointed to the table where she had left the platter.
“Be a dear and bring that teapot and cups with you,” she told Ereinion and wiped her hands on her apron as she came around the table.
Ilmarë examined Haleth as she drew closer. Her brown hair was pulled into a fat braid that hung down her back and swayed as she walked. Wisps of hair had come loose and curled around the round, jovial face that belied her commanding tone of voice.
Haleth stopped in front of the couch and used her hand to tilt Ilmarë’s chin up. Ilmarë jerked reflexively at the sudden contact, but Haleth’s motherly smile set her at ease and Haleth’s rapid stream of questions held her attention.
“Well then, let’s have a look at you, shall we?” Haleth’s smile grew broad and toothy as she examined Ilmarë’s face. “Ohhh… you’re a pretty one, aren’t you? Master Elrond said they call you Ilmarë, is that right? Do they now? That’s a lovely name, to be sure. It’s nice to make up a lady’s room for a change. I unpacked your things and put them away for you. Was it all to your liking? Very nice dresses, if I may say so. Beautiful materials and plainly made; I like that. Women these days think they need spangles and sparkles, and a dress cut so low I’m sure they’ll catch a chill; don’t you think? Did you like the flowers in your room, dear? I picked them myself.” Haleth said, lowering Ilmarë’s chin and giving her cheek a quick pat.
Ilmarë was speechless… literally. She’d not been given a chance to do anything more than nod or shake her head during the interrogation. Ereinion sat down next to her again and handed her a cup of hot tea.
Haleth scurried back and forth across the room, bringing napkins and silverware for them. She patted Ereinion’s shoulder as she walked past him on her way to pick up the tray.
Upon reaching the door, Haleth opened it and said, “You let me know if you need anything else. I’ll be going to bed soon, but wake me if you need me.” She paused and gave Ilmarë a strange look. “Beggin’ your pardon, Miss Ilmarë… I unpacked all your things like I told you, but now… there were some things in the bottom of one trunk I thought best left where they were. I put the trunk at the foot of your bed.”
Haleth shook her finger in Ereinion’s direction and said, “Now, don’t keep Miss Ilmarë up too late, or yourself either, for that matter. You’ve got an early day tomorrow. Good night, Master Ereinion, Miss Ilmarë.”
The click of the door as it latched brought Ilmarë out of her stunned stare. She threw her head back and laughed at the fact that neither she nor Ereinion had been given the opportunity to speak the entire time.
Ereinion took a drink from his cup and sat it on the table. “That was Haleth,” he said with a nod.
“I had no idea anyone other than Elves lived here. She was absolutely charming. Are there other Mortals in your household?”
“Yes, Haleth’s husband, Brandol, takes care of the grounds and the buildings, and their children live nearby and work here as well.” Ereinion said, handing Ilmarë her plate.
“Many years ago a group of the Edain came from Eregion to Mithlond for a meeting with Vëantur, who was the king of Numenor at the time. Some of the Edain chose to stay in and around Mithlond, and Haleth’s forefathers were among them. Their family has been in my service ever since. I would be lost without them. In fact, I believe Haleth is already grooming her youngest daughter to take her place when the time comes.”
“Have they all been like Haleth?” Ilmarë asked curiously. “I cannot remember ever meeting anyone as colorful as she appears to be.”
“Some were like her and others were not,” Ereinion said as he sat back with his own plate. “Take Haleth’s grandmother for instance….she was a rather large woman with an intense dislike of animals. I will never forget the day she came to my study in a rage, covered in mud from head to toe and screaming at me about her fruit trees…”
The remainder of the evening passed swiftly as Ereinion told tales of Haleth and her family. For a time Ilmarë forgot her troubles…though Elrond’s absence was never far from her thoughts.
***Edain in Mithlond: The people of Numenor were tribes of Edain, or the men who befriended the Elves, but not all of them left. Some of the Edain stayed in Middle-earth. Sometime in the Second Age, twelve Men of the Edainic tribes remaining in Middle Earth did come to a meeting place in Lindon, the Tower Hills, I think, and, at their request, Ereinion held a meeting between them and the King of Númenor at the time, Vëantur. Whether any of the Edain remained in Lindon or not is supposition on my part.
***Elrond and Elros’s Choice: They were given a choice after the War of Wrath and we all know the outcome of it; however, it doesn’t say who made their choice first or why exactly either of them chose the way they did.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.