2. Chapter 2: Motives and Ownership
Elrond sat at his broad desk with a quill gripped in his right hand. He yawned widely and rubbed his eyes. Before him were several stacks of very dull reports from the Master of the Gardens, the Chief Butler, the Stable Master, and the Head Librarian. By tradition they each gave him very thorough accountings of their work in the care of the valley and people of Imladris twice a year. The reports always said the same things, but if he failed to place some intelligent comment of approval, in ink, in the margins of each and every document, his staff would pout for weeks.
His eyes fell upon the phrase, "Remaining dried apples, pears, plums and other assorted fruits from last year's stores: 25 pounds." The summer weather had been excellent, and the orchards were laden with ripening fruit. The approaching harvest promised to be a bountiful one. Yet, one never knew. The size of his household varied between a minimum of 43 and could easily swell to over a hundred in the days leading to Yule. Elrond recalled years when the harvests had been unexpectedly meager and the winter particularly long. Larders had been known to be empty before spring in his high mountain valley. It was better to have too much than too little. Besides, 25 pounds had just yesterday shrunk to 15; 10 pounds of assorted dried fruits, among other things, had been handed over to the party of visiting Dwarves.
Elrond Half-Elven, Lord of Imladris, was hardly an ungenerous host. But the thought of replenishing that particular traveling party's food supplies, not to mention the clothing, water skins, leather goods and other sundries he had provided to make up for what they had rather carelessly lost on the road, was making him feel stingy. He found their motivation a bit repugnant: an arrogant, greedy hunt for lost riches, or at best, revenge. Not once had he heard any nobler goals expressed by Thorin and company, nor a word about the thousands of men, women and children who had also been slaughtered and their goods stolen or destroyed by Smaug; nothing about restoration of peace, or the rebuilding of the once fair city of Dale.
He scowled at the page, hardly noticing the rows of numbers so neatly written upon it. What was Mithrandir thinking, accompanying Thorin, even encouraging him? Elrond had cast more than one disapproving look in the wizard's direction, but to no apparent effect. And the worst of it--taking a hobbit along. A hobbit! That was simply madness. The odds of Bilbo Baggins surviving the straits they would undoubtedly see in the next month, much less the trouble that would certainly begin once they reached Erebor, seemed negligible. If any of the Old Took's fiercer blood flowed in the fastidious and foolish Mr. Baggins' veins, Elrond had seen no evidence of it yet.
He had meant to speak to the Grey Wizard at the end of tonight's feast, about several things, one more urgent than the rest. But one distraction had followed upon another. Erestor had chosen tonight to bend his ear for over an hour about his profound disapproval of the Council's upcoming campaign in the south of Mirkwood, and only Glorfindel's arrival and loud expression of the opposite sentiment had interrupted him.
Then, his two chief councilors had nearly come to blows, and he and Elrohir had been forced to physically separate them. Only when the peace was restored and both his councilors calmed with a glass of their favorite beverage did Elrond have a moment to search for Mithrandir. By then he had disappeared. He sighed. He did not particularly enjoy rising before dawn, but it seemed he would have no other choice if he hoped to speak to Mithrandir before the whole dreadfully noisy lot of them departed eastward.
Elrond's head turned toward the opened window. A light breeze filtered in, and the curtain shifted. He sniffed. Was that pipeweed he smelled? Perhaps the wizard was still up...but no, his house was overflowing with pipe-smoking Dwarves and hobbits. It could be anyone.
He sighed and turned back to the paperwork. He probably had another good hour of concentration left in him, and might as well put it to some use. He had just dipped the sharp point of the nib into the pot of deep blue ink when his head jerked up at a loud rap at his door.
Now what? he growled to himself. If Erestor has had one too many glasses of that sweet port he favors, it would be just like him to knock now, after midnight, and carry on from where he was interrupted. Or a semi-tipsy Glorfindel might come stumbling into the room. Midsummer, as Elrond recalled, was the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower's most melancholy time of year, for it was at the Gates of Summer's celebration that Gondolin fell. When feeling mournful, the Balrog-Slayer was known to overindulge himself in Imladris's rather potent honey mead.
"Yes?" he called out, "Who is it?"
A deep voice answered. "Sorry to disturb you, Elrond, but I was wondering..."
"Mithrandir!" Elrond jumped up and strode to the door. "Come in, come in!"
The wizard took a few steps into the study. His eyes went at once to the paper-strewn desk. "It appears that I've interrupted you in the midst of something important..."
"Nonsense," Elrond said as he ushered Mithrandir toward one of a pair of large and comfortable chairs near the unlit hearth. "Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow...or rather, later today...or for that matter, next week will do even better. Household budgets, a review of this spring's plantings, that sort of thing. Your appearance is just the excuse I need to put them aside before I swoon of sheer boredom. Can I get you anything? Wine, mead?"
"Wine, please," the wizard replied. "I've already had some of that mead of yours. The inside of my skull will not thank me at dawn if I have another glass at this hour."
Elrond fetched two goblets and a crystal decanter of deep red wine and plopped them down on a small table that stood between the two chairs. "Go ahead and pour us both a glass, if you please," he said as he returned to his desk to retrieve the lamp. He placed the light upon the mantel and sat. Mithrandir already had his goblet in hand and was holding it up.
"To Midsummer," the wizard said.
"To Midsummer." Elrond took a sip and eyed his visitor. "Odd that you would stop in, for I was just now thinking of you. If I had known you were still up I would have sent a message for you to join me. This saves me the trouble of rising before dawn and catching you before you depart."
The wizard's smile appeared a bit forced. "Ah! Then you wished to speak to me as well. Why don't you start, Elrond?"
It was not like Mithrandir to stall, Elrond thought; when the wizard wanted to say something, he usually made his point directly, if not bluntly. The Elf Lord found himself feeling suspicious. Why was he hesitating? After all, Mithrandir had come knocking on his door, not the other way round.
"You are the guest here. By all means, go ahead..."
"But you are the host, my Lord...please, after you..."
"If you insist." If one of us doesn't get to the point soon, he thought testily, we shall still be here when the sun rises. "There are several things I wished to discuss with you. Three things, in fact." He cleared his throat. Now that he was faced with it, Elrond felt reluctant to begin. "Concerning your journey...or rather, your journeys...er...well..."
"You were wondering, perhaps, whether I had taken leave of my senses," Mithrandir said quietly. "Was that it?"
Elrond stared at him for a moment before he felt heat rise in his face; he looked away. "Well, I don't know as I would put it quite that way..."
"No, of course you wouldn't, for you are far too polite to do so," the wizard chuckled. "I, on the other hand, have not oft been accused of excessive politeness. You wonder, and rightfully so, about my motives for joining the company of thirteen gold-dazzled Dwarves and one hapless hobbit...am I correct?'
The Elf Lord blinked and stared again. "That is almost exactly what I was thinking. And so? Why have you joined them?" He paused. "Or have you?"
Mithrandir sighed and looked down. "Ah, well, there it is. I have, and I haven't."
"You have not told them yet that you will be parting ways from them, and soon?"
The wizard frowned. "I have told them that I plan only to accompany them over the mountains, but I do not think that they quite accept it as fact. Yes, I am certain that the prevailing belief in Thorin's party is that I will be their guide and protector even into Smaug's lair, despite my words to the contrary."
Elrond swirled the contents of his glass, watching the red liquid sparkle in the lamp light. "You have veered from the original question, and so I pose it again. Why? Why this party, why this quest?"
The wizard stroked his beard in silence for a moment. "I have been accused by some...well, mainly by Curunir, to be honest about it...of having the habit of using others as nothing more than materials to manipulate to my own ends, as callously as a carver might shape his block of wood and then sweep away the shavings that fall to the floor of his workshop. And, although I feel that the accusation has heretofore been a false one, I must admit that this time, there may be some truth to it. I am helping Thorin and company to further my own ends. I am surprised that you haven't guessed my reasons."
"I suppose you can only mean the dragon..."
"Precisely!" Mithrandir said. "If we are to give any thought for the safety of the North, we must take Smaug into account. Have you never imagined what might come to pass if, in the coming years, the dragon is left alone to fall under the sway of the Enemy? Have you not given thought to the devastation he might wreak under Sauron's influence?"
"Of course I have," Elrond said with a shudder. "You have just named some of my darkest nightmares. Yet you cannot seriously believe that Thorin Oakenshield and his collection of nephews, cousins and hangers-on—and lest I forget, the courageous Mr. Baggins—will have any chance at all of destroying Smaug!"
"And yet, who else? Who, in all the ages, has successfully destroyed dragons?"
Elrond bristled. "My father, for one..."
"On board Vingilot; yes, I recall, Elrond, and we are all in great debt to his valor at the siege of Thangorodrim. And who else?"
The Elf Lord frowned. What was Mithrandir driving at? "Thorondor, the great Eagle Lord..."
"Do not omit the name of Azaghal, the Dwarf Lord of Belegost..."
"The Dwarf did not slay Glaurung, only wounded him..."
Mithrandir sniffed. "Only an Elf would say such a thing. But you have forgotten another name: he who did slay Glaurung, in the end."
Elrond scowled at his guest again. "Yes, yes...Turin. A mortal man. But a great warrior, of noble blood, for all his faults, and armed with Anglachel, a sword of high repute."
"Turin would have had fewer faults had his fortunes been less bleak. But no other, save Earendil himself, was able to accomplish the deed he did. None would have predicted that a mere mortal could do such a great thing. Perhaps an overlooked precedent has been set. Perhaps others, even more unlikely, might also succeed unexpectedly."
Mithrandir paused. To Elrond, who, over the course of centuries had learned, he believed, as well as anyone to read the Grey Wizard's face, it seemed that Mithrandir was doing his best to convince himself of the wisdom of this line of argument. The wizard grumbled.
"Very well, perhaps I have taken leave of my senses. I know of no hero of the stature of Turin who walks these lands today. I have no delusions that Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili or Kili shall prove to be dragon-slayers. And whatever role Mr. Baggins has to play in this, I do not think it likely to be one that requires striking the killing blow upon any creature more fearsome than a spider. And yet..."
He paused again, and for a moment, before he concealed it, Elrond glimpsed on the wizard's face that he was deeply troubled. Mithrandir went on in muttered tones so low Elrond had to strain to hear his words. Clearly, he was mostly talking to himself.
"And yet, something tells me that the death of Smaug is truly what shall result from this unlikely treasure quest. My heart tells me this, and that Mr. Baggins, of whose presence among these travelers you most strongly disapprove, has some task to do, without which success will be elusive....perhaps not only the success of this particular adventure, but other, deeper, more important things yet to come..." He looked up. "It isn't much to go on, is it? A hunch, a feeling... The only tangible thing is the map and key that Thorin showed you this evening. But that is a rather remarkable coincidence, you must agree, for after all, I was the courier for that map between Thrain and his son...though perhaps the delay of ninety-one years until delivery is nothing to admire!"
"Yes," Elrond mused, "that map and key are very interesting, and the most interesting aspect of them is the way those objects connect you to this whole affair. Does Thorin know how you came to possess them?"
"He does," the wizard said. "He wondered where I had come by them, and I would not lie to him. He knows where his father and I met, and how his father died."
"Presumably the tale of your harrowing journey into the dungeons of the Necromancer did not come up in conversation."
Mithrandir's fierce eyes flashed. "Thorin asked me directly why I was there, and so I could hardly refuse to answer, though I kept my response vague and mysterious, and offered no details at all. The Dwarves were all so distressed by the very mention of the Necromancer that the subject was dropped fairly quickly."
"Yes, I would imagine it would be. Well, you have not convinced me of the wisdom of your involvement in this rather sordid little Dwarvish treasure hunt—at least, not entirely." Elrond raised his wine goblet and smiled. "But I certainly cannot argue that Smaug's departure from Middle Earth would not be cause for celebration, on both sides of the mountains. I offer a toast: to the success of unlikely adventurers."
"To success," replied Mithrandir.
"And to success for another upcoming venture," Elrond said quietly. "You tempt fate, you know, going to that place a third time. No one has taken such a risk but you."
"It cannot be helped. I do hope that this time, with the company of friends and allies, the risk will be considerably less than on my last journey to Dol Guldur." He stared at his glass gloomily. "Or, for that matter, than my first," the wizard muttered. He downed the last of his wine, and it appeared to Elrond that it took some effort for his friend to put aside what were, he presumed, rather distressing memories. No one, as far as Elrond knew, had ever coaxed much of any information about either of Mithrandir's two solitary journeys to Dol Guldur from him. And from the little that Elrond had discovered, he was rather relieved to not be burdened with such somber knowledge.
The wizard spoke again, with the brisk tone of one who wishes to change the subject. "Now, have you covered all the topics you planned to discuss? You mentioned three things..."
"Hmm, yes..." Elrond emptied his own glass and rubbed the tip of his finger along the rim of the crystal. The Dwarvish adventure, he thought; Bilbo Baggins; and...
"Oh yes! And the third...the most important thing of all!"
Elrond sprang from his chair and picked up the lamp from the mantel. He strode quickly to the other side of his large, book-lined study to where a heavy rectangular table sat against one wall. He placed the lamp on the table.
"You are becoming quite forgetful, my old friend. Look what you left behind today!" With a flourish, and a self-satisfied grin on his face, he indicated a narrow object that lay shining in the light of the lamp: a very long sword with a gem-encrusted hilt and a silver scabbard carved with ancient runes and symbols. "I suspect you would have been missing this rather soon, given where you are planning to go before the year's end."
To Elrond's surprise, Mithrandir made no move to join him at the table. The wizard leaned back in his chair, reached for the decanter of wine and poured himself another goblet. After a moment's hesitation, but without uttering a word, he poured a second glass for his host.
Elrond's mouth gaped open. The wizard laughed.
"Come, have a seat again. We are far from finished, for your 'third topic' was exactly what I came here to discuss with you. You see, I did not forget to take that sword with me today. I left it here on purpose."
"I don't understand..."
The Lord of Imladris was not accustomed to being ordered about in his own house. But he crossed the room in silence and sat, as told. He took a sip of the wine and looked up expectantly. "Well?"
Mithrandir took a deep breath. "Elrond, you were able to decipher the runes on Glamdring and Orchrist today; I was not. As soon as I heard of Glamdring's origins... well, I knew that I could not take it with me, at least not without further discussion." His voice dropped to a hush. "This was the King of Gondolin's sword—Turgon, son of Fingolfin. Turgon was your great-grandsire. The sword belongs to you."
It was Elrond's turn to laugh. "To me! And what in Arda would I do with it? I am no warrior. I gave that up long ago. I have not lifted a sword since before the end of the last Age. I am a healer, and a scholar. I have no use for a great sword!"
The wizard's eyes were fierce again. "You may think you have no use for it today, but what about tomorrow, or next year, or next century? The future promises to make warriors of us all. And you have sons, and they are very much warriors..."
"Their weapon is the bow, and there are few better archers in Middle Earth than Elrohir and Elladan. The style of warfare my sons wage against the Enemy and his creatures is defensive, one of stealth. And as you mention, as there are two of them, how might you suggest that one sword be divided between the twain?"
"Surely such a thing might be resolved equitably. But if not, you have a stepson, and he also can claim Turgon as his distant ancestor. I met the boy the day after we arrived, and I have spent some hours with him during my visit. He is remarkable, for one just ten years old."
Elrond's features grew stern. "Estel is many years from manhood."
"Not so many, for a mortal..."
"He is untested. His mettle has yet to show itself. And if...if it comes to pass that the time has come for a great warrior--perhaps even a King--to emerge from the heirs of Valandil,"—he could not bring himself to say Isildur—"another sword awaits him."
Mithrandir leaned forward and turned to fully face his host. His angular features were accentuated by the light cast by the lamp. Elrond thought that he had never looked more intense—or more formidable. Woe to the enemy that faced him with Glamdring in his hand, Elrond thought.
"It isn't that I do not want the sword, Elrond. On the contrary: I have rarely held an object formed by the craft of any child of Arda that had more grace, more balance, more sheer beauty in the wielding of it. I am drawn to Glamdring, I will freely admit it. From the moment I first saw it lying there among bones and dust, I heard it call to me to take it, to bring it into the light and use it. Yet, I too have not carried a sword. My weapon of choice is a staff, and I am uncertain whether it is time to change that habit. To carry a sword at all, not to mention a seven thousand year old Noldorian one inlaid with gold and set with beryls and rubies, seems rather...well, conspicuous."
Elrond snorted. "And a staff, in the hands of a wizard, is not conspicuous?"
"What, pray tell, is so noticeable about a simple wooden prop in the gnarled hand of an aged creature as myself?" the wizard asked, with an innocent look on his face.
"I believe it has something to do with the uses to which one puts the staff," Elrond smirked. "Perhaps those bolts of lightning that emanate from the end of the thing, or the sudden wind that howls when you point it skyward contribute to your staff's prominence. True, if you were to simply lean upon it for support—which, by the way, I have never once seen you do--it might appear innocuous enough."
"Ah, but even a sheathed sword sends a clear message, not necessarily a message I am ready to give at every waking moment..."
"You found Glamdring after it was lost for more than two Ages. By your action it was freed from gathering dust in a troll's hoard."
"I do not think that 'finders keepers' quite applies in these circumstances," the wizard said dryly. "We are speaking about a priceless, legendary object! Perhaps the role I was meant to play in this was, once again, to be the courier, and to bring it to you--for you have the only legitimate claim of ownership."
"And I am trying to make it clear that I relinquish that claim. Remember, Beren was also my great-grandsire, but that does not give me claim upon the Ring of Barahir. But if you insist on assigning ownership of Glamdring to me, I would in turn willingly give it to you."
The wizard turned to gaze toward the table, where the only light in the room now shone glittering upon the sword of Turgon of Gondolin. His eyes narrowed.
"Do not decide this matter too quickly, my friend. Think on this carefully, and if you have the slightest doubt, please, let it be known now, tonight." He rose to his feet and began to walk slowly toward the table. "For there must be no doubt, Elrond, in your mind, or in mine. No hesitation must hinder me. If I take it, it will accompany me into all too many dark and dangerous places."
"What is all this dreary talk of doubt and darkness and danger?" a merry voice called from half-opened door. "It is Midsummer, you two. You are supposed to be celebrating!"