The Hithaeglir, as the locals call the mountain range, could rival the Pelóri for height and majesty. Cutting across the earth as far as the eye could see, sheer rocky faces rose up before us with their fringes of wayward trees. Hazy blue-grey peaks disappeared into the clouds like towers to the heavens. The view as we approached, breaking out on a trail from the woods, was nothing less than breathtaking. Such glorious, wild lands. Nowhere in Valinor is like that place: wide open hills under an infinite blanket of sky, surrounded for miles on all sides by echoing wilderness.
"Well, that'll be a dog's labour to cross," said Canamírë. He spit on his hands and rubbed them together, trying to wipe away some of the grime, then spit again onto the grass and cleared his throat with an ear-grating hack. He truly was a most uncouth individual. Of course, I should likely have expected nothing less, having found him in a prison.
"And what lies on the other side?" I asked him.
He shrugged, picked his teeth, and made some indefinite mumbles. "Can't right say. Never been this way..." His voice trailed off into a grunt.
"Can't right say," he repeated
As a source of reassurance, Canamírë left much to be desired. He seemed to have a terror of giving anyone false hope, and thus refused to advise on anything he did not know for absolute certain. But as a guide, he had not yet failed. Even having never been here before, he knew as well as I did what waited for us across the peaks of the Hithaeglir. We both knew the story: how Lenwë and his Nandor turned back at the sight of those looming teeth of ice and snow. If the lost Nandor were on the other side of these mountains, then Cuiviénen could not be far.
"We suspect we shall discover soon enough," I said. "Let us carry on."
"Due east," Canamírë told the porters in that other language of theirs. Then he said something about south, and finding a river. I was able to pick out words here and there, and little slivers of phrases. This language, Sindarin as Canamírë called it, was not so different from our speech of the West once one learned to listen past its choppy structure overcrowded with lazily buzzing consonants. It reminded me of bumblebees. Privately, I sometimes thought of the Sindar as Bee-Elves.
The two porters nudged our ponies forward, and Canamírë and I continued on, setting a slow pace with the sinking sun at our backs. Somewhere in the forest he had found himself a walking stick, which he used to beat down the grass ahead of us as we walked, side by side. He said nothing. At first, early in our journey, I had found him to be a talkative sort, but he soon grew silent. Perhaps he had run out of things to say. He had once been a merchant, after all, and was accustomed only to speaking to others for short periods of time. He had used up all of his conversation with me within two weeks.
All I knew about Canamírë were his hard facts. He had been born in Tirion and followed my brother Fëanáro out of Valinor as part of the elite group of Fëanáro's most fervid supporters. Thence he came to Hisilómë: Nolofinwë's domain. When he first told me his story, I had smiled at the synchronicity of fate. He had already served my two brothers, each in turn. Then he became my guide. Canamírë was bound to my family in his own, strange way. He knew my brothers, and also my sons.
He had made a quick fortune trading salt in Hisilómë before turning his eye further afield, bringing exotic spices and rarities from the warm lands of the south and east to the hands of Noldorin kings in the north. That was where he had been when Hisilómë fell to Melkor's demons: safely away in the south. He had returned to find a city in ruins, his home destroyed, his wife gone, and no sign of his son, daughter, grandchildren, or anyone else. All of his life had disappeared. Having heard this story, I found myself unable to fault him for his few eccentricities, his bluntness, or his silence. Here was a man who had lost everything. It was a wonder he was still sane.
Or largely sane. He never would tell me what he had done to land himself in prison. His murky hints on the subject suggested that what he had done was perfectly legal by Noldorin standards, and he had been surprised to find the Nandor objecting so vehemently.
I looked at him as we walked, stealing sideways glances as he stared at the ground. I wondered, as I had wondered many times previously, what he had been like in more peaceful times. Who had Canamírë the merchant been, as opposed to Canamírë the prisoner and Canamírë the outlaw? He would have looked different at home in Hisilómë. Here in the wilderness his hair was dry as straw, bleached brown by the sun, and he let it fall in careless tangles down his back. The skin on his face and lower arms was weathered tough and red-brown, but beneath his shirt he was pale as any courtier. Perhaps once, long ago, he had looked as if he belonged in noble households. No longer. He had become dirty and coarse, spattered with mud, spotted with stains, and smelling of old sweat.
His inelegance never failed to make me question my own appearance. Every time he scratched at the dust on his skin or pushed his soiled hair back out of his eyes, I could not help but adjust my hood to better hide my face, and check my clothing for dirt. If we came to a stream and he splashed a little ineffective water over himself in place of properly bathing, I would take the time to wade in and wash every part of my body. I washed my clothes. He did not. I remained reasonably confident that I did not look as bad as he. But there we were in the middle of the wild lands with no such luxury as a mirror, so who could say?
That night we camped in the foothills of the Hithaeglir, and I tried yet again to strike a conversation. "How many Nandorin kings do you suppose there are, Canamírë?"
He grunted as he stared at the fire.
"One? One high king? Or do they have a number of lesser princes that they follow?"
"Hundreds," said Canamírë.
"Hundreds of... kings?"
"Their system is not like ours," he explained. "We organise our lands into kingdoms covering vast areas, and a Noldorin king might rule over thousands of people he never meets. A Nandorin king is king of his village only. In the next village or tribe, he is no more important than any man. Each kingdom is very small and contained, and each king has limited power."
"Now that is silly. Be it necessary to command the Nandor as a whole, who will rule them if they have no single high king?"
Canamírë looked up from the fire to smile at me as if he were amused by such a practical notion. "And that is exactly why the Nandor have no high king: so no single man has the authority to speak for all of them."
"But why should they want such chaos?" I asked.
"It's in their history," said Canamírë. "They were all called Teleri once, you know. And then they became Nandor when one man, Lenwë, refused to cross these very mountains. After that... Well. You know how one crack in the glass is all it takes for the whole thing to eventually shatter. After Lenwë's refusal, the Teleri shattered. Elwë and Olwë remained kings as we Noldor understand the term, but outside of those two groups, the shards of what had once been the largest of the Eldarin kindreds went scattering across the land. Now they are so divided it would be impossible to put them back together again. The disparate tribes have come to value their freedom too much."
He paused long enough to prod the fire logs with his foot: a practice that always made me nervous. He always came too close to catching fire. The toes of both his boots were already charred from doing this too many times. "Course, a similar thing happened to the Noldor," he continued. "Some followed Fëanáro, some followed Nolofinwë, some followed your sons and nephews... Reckon you had the same divisive problems in Tirion after we left?"
"No," I said sharply. How rude of him to even suggest it. With Ingwë on my side and Fëanáro out of the picture, no-one would dare try such foolishness. "But what you have told us only proves that our mission is valid, Canamírë. These people have been wallowing in error for far too long. One has need of structure in one's life in order to flourish. One has need of proper leadership. One has need to be part of the large group. It is obvious that they all must come to Valinor, where they might live in peace and prosperity under High King Ingwë. We are all of us Eldar. We must therefore all be Eldar together: Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri alike."
"And how many kings have you met so far, and how many have you told of this plan?"
"Three. But that is a decent start. Three and several minor chiefs who might be kings. We will find the rest of them."
"If you say so," was all he said in reply. Then, with a yawn, he lay down beside the fire and pulled his cloak over his body, covering his face. That was the end of that conversation.
The first king I met was the king of the Noldor: Findetáro, son of my nephew Findekáno. He instructed me to call him Ereinion and spoke Quenya very poorly for someone of his high birth. That was during the second year of the war, after Eönwë decided the Eldarin kings were too valuable and expressly forbade Ingwion and me from participating in any sort of battle. So we remained on an island in the south with Findetáro Ereinion and conducted the business of war from there. For a time, at least.
The second king I met was, in fact, no king at all, but rather a Sindarin prince acting as lord of his people. They had come, they told me, from the land of Lestanórë, which had once been ruled by Elwë Singollo but now lay in ruins. Lestanórë had 'shattered'. After Elwë's death, its people ceased to exist as a united whole. Some went south, some went east, and some simply disappeared, never to be seen again. The prince I met had travelled east, in search of a company of rebels who had fled Lestanórë under the leadership of a known outlaw. His goal was to find them and bring them back under the proper rule of a Sindarin king, which is to say, him. However, after nearly three years of painstakingly slow migration, his party had abandoned their journey and decided to settle on the shores of a northerly lake. That was where Canamírë and I found them.
The prince, some nephew or cousin of Elwë, was named Celeborn. And although he did not know it, he was my son by marriage.
The third king was Nandorin. I refer to him as the third because I did not know he was a king until that night in the foothills when Canamírë told me about the Nandorin system, even though I met him before I found Celeborn. I thought him a chieftain at the time. He was head of a large village in the land called Ossiriand, west over the mountains from Celeborn's lake. His village was where I found Canamírë imprisoned.
I could have wept for joy the day we crested the rise of a mountain pass and I saw, for the first time in nineteen days, flat land on the horizon.
"A-ha!" Canamírë shouted, turning to grin at me. "Told you we'd not die in these mountains."
I allowed him a thin smile. No, we did not die in those mountains. We merely froze half to death, scrounged for roots and edible leaves amid the cliffs of inhospitable rock to keep from starving, sustained scrapes and bruises, tore our clothes, and lost one of the ponies thanks to a broken leg. We did not die, but those nineteen days of stumbling blindly through an uncharted mountain range might as well have been a year for the misery they caused. I still marvel that we survived at all.
"One more night up here," Canamírë continued. "Tomorrow we should be down in the lowlands again."
And so we were. By the next afternoon, the hills had flattened out around us and the crumbling rock segued into scrubby forests, which in turn gave way to a meadow of sweet-blooming plants that looked like clover grown waist-high. This meadow's surfeit of vegetation made it almost as slow to cross as the treacherous mountain trails had been. The disarray of stems whipped and tangled our ankles, staining our clothing green in retribution for every broken leaf. The blossoms made a pleasant tea in the evening, though, and our remaining pony ate the plants whole with such enthusiasm that one might have thought she was attempting to double in size.
On our third morning of meandering in a south-easterly direction, we came to a great river flowing down from the north. It was as wide as its brother Sirion I had met in the west of Endor, and just as fierce. Only the crossing of Sirion had been aided by boats, of which now we had none. This river was too deep, too wide, and too fast to safely swim with all of our belongings.
"Cuiviénen lies to the south," said Canamírë. "We will need to cross at some point, but it needs not be now. We can continue south and see if we come to ford."
I nodded in agreement. Canamírë was the guide, and there was nothing else I could do. He stood beside me with his hand at his brow to shield his eyes from the sun, looking slowly from east to south as if the shape of the land might give him a better idea of exactly where we should be headed. To the east, across the river, the horizon was edged with a strip of hazy blue-green that announced the presence of a vast forest. To the south, more trees awaited.
"Shall we try to reach that forest tonight?" I asked, nodding to the south.
"Might as well," Canamírë answered. "Gives us a goal to work toward, if nothing else."
He hitched his pack up higher on his back, a gesture that all of us now repeated countless times every day in the absence of the second pony, and we started off again southward through the clover. By sunset we had reached the forest's edge. The Sindarin porters set up camp, if one can call four thin bedrolls clustered around a fire a 'camp', and Canamírë went about his usual business of preparing our supper. That night, we slept under the rustling leaves instead of the light of the stars. After so long out in the open, it felt almost like being indoors.
The dream that came to me was a pleasant one. I was back in the seaside house at Alqualondë with my wife. But it seemed that hardly anything had happened in this welcome dream before I woke with a start to one of Canamírë's hands clapped over my mouth and the other holding me by the arm, silently urging me not to move.
"Shh!" he whispered as soon as he saw I had woken. He released his grip and gestured with his chin to the far side of the clearing. I lifted my head just enough to find what he wanted me to see, and froze as I did. Three shadowy figures had gathered around our packs and appeared to be rummaging through them.
"Nandor," Canamírë explained.
On a quick glance around, I could see that the two Sindarin porters were also awake, watching, but had not moved. Looking back to the Nandor, I understood why. The three of them were armed with long spears. Any sudden movement from us and resulting overreaction from them could end badly.
After a long and tense while, during which I hardly dared to breathe, one of the Nandor turned to look at us. He seemed unsurprised in the least to find us awake and staring back at him.
"Má," he said.
Canamírë and I did as we were told and sat up to raise our hands above our heads; the Sindarin porters followed our lead and did the same. The Nandorin man frowned, looking confused. Canamírë and I exchanged a glance. Perhaps the word meant something different in the Nandorin language than it did in ours.
Now that we were all awake and sitting upright, all three Nandor granted themselves an invitation to stare at us as if we were some manner of curiosity. I stared back in return. They were odd-looking fellows to be sure. All of them had their hair done up in a number of small plaits, decorated with feathers, shells, stone and wooden beads, and bits of leather. The one who had spoken to us wore a small leather flap over his lower regions, but the other two appeared to have no such modesty. The one to his left wore a skirt of feathers that covered little, while the one to his right wore nothing at all save some decorations on his arms and around his neck. All of them bore abstract marks painted in black, red, and grey on their chests, arms, and legs.
I could not help but stare at the naked man as he and the other two came close to examine us. He stood directly in front of my face and leaned over, touching my unbound hair, my foreign clothing, and my skin. He poked my cheeks and felt the width of my nose, and I could do nothing but shudder with discomfort at the sight of his intimate areas so plainly on display. The one wearing the flap must have noticed my embarrassment. He also must have been their leader, because he smacked the naked one across the chest while barking a handful of words I could not understand. Chastised, the naked one retrieved a small tube of animal fur from the pouch that hung about his neck. He fit this over his penis, tying it in place with a thin leather thong. The clothed one nodded in approval, and both of them returned to their business of prodding the intruders. I did not know what to say. As a result, I said nothing. Fur tubes apparently passed for adequate apparel among these Nandor.
After what felt like half an hour of examination, during which all three Nandor pinched and poked and sniffed and patted the four of us, I finally risked whispering to Canamírë. "Do you suppose they will take us to their King?" If nothing else, after being forced to endure sitting eye to groin with a Nandorin warrior, I believed I had the right to meet their King.
Canamírë replied with an exaggeratedly uncertain face and mouthed the words, Not the best time. The man in the feather skirt appeared to be trying to undress him.
Perhaps it was not, but meeting kings was exactly why I had started on this absurd adventure in the first place. And it was obvious, from my very intimate point of view, that the King of these people needed to be met. They were wild and unclad, running about the woods as animals. What sort of life was that for noble Quendi? These were exactly the folk I had set out to find. Now that I had found them, it was imperative that I persuade them to seek the glory of Valinor. They were wretched savages. They needed to be redeemed.
I was about to speak to Canamírë again when the Nandorin man in leather gestured to his fellows and the three of them removed from our presence to huddle and whisper amongst themselves. I could hear nothing of what they said, but from their posture I could see that the mood had shifted from curiosity to suspicion. They huddled only a moment. When they returned, their faces had taken on far less innocent expressions, and they held their spears at the ready.
"Adreg!" said the leader. He pointed to the forest's edge, stomped his foot, and glared at us as if daring anyone to defy his order.
Even without understanding the language it was clear what his order was. We were being evicted from Nandorin property.
"Do you suppose we ought try reason with them and request an audience with the King?" I asked Canamírë as we hastily rolled up our beds.
"No," answered Canamírë.
"No." He gave a sharp nod toward one of the porters, who had just engaged the feather-skirted warrior in a game of tug-of-war for ownership of the bedroll. The feather-skirted man growled, bared his teeth, and held up his spear. The porter quickly surrendered the match with a respectful bow.
In light of that scene, I had to agree. We fled the forest as quickly as we could, before the Nandor decided to appropriate any more of our belongings.
"Perhaps on the return?" I suggested.
Canamírë grunted. "We'll see."
We did not camp again that night, but, once out of the forest, kept walking due east until we reached a cliff at the edge of the river. This left us with two problems. We could not go east without swimming, and we could not go south without once again trespassing on the land of the angry warriors with a dearth of clothing. All we could do was wait until dawn and hope that a solution revealed itself by light of day. A sandbar in the river, perhaps: a shallow area where we could easily cross without having to swim.
As it happened, something did appear, and it was a thing none of us had expected to see.
"Is that a... a bridge?"
Canamírë squinted down the golden-pink ribbon of the river at the sun's first light, and I immediately stepped up beside him to see what he had noticed. Indeed, a dark line appeared to span from bank to bank some miles downstream. We shared a surprised glance. Even if it was not a bridge, it was something worth investigating.
We set out toward it, with Canamírë in front shouting instructions back to me and the porters in both languages. "Stay to the shore. We cannot risk entering the forest again; the Nandor know we are here and will be watching us. Careful! The rocks are slippery."
Here, the shore was neither grassy nor sandy as it had been before. Along the brushy edge of the forest, the river was bordered with rocks and roots. A spit of gravelled beach appeared at times, allowing us to walk easily, but just as often we would be faced with a cliff of hard dirt or a snarl of roots protruding from the bank. Within an hour we were filthy from climbing over the roots and wet to our thighs from having to wade when we could find no foothold in the dirt cliffs. Our progress was so slow that it was late afternoon before we finally came to the bridge.
It was like no bridge I had ever seen. I was familiar with simple bridges spanning bank to bank in a single arch, but those could only ever be built over narrow creeks. This river was far too wide for such a thing. By Noldorin standards, any bridge here should have had at least five stone supports plunging down into the water. This bridge had none. In fact, it appeared to float on the river's surface. As we came closer to inspect it, it became clear that this was exactly what the bridge did. It floated. Composed of hundreds of logs all tied together and bobbing in the current, the bridge used the very water for support. It appeared to be holding up well enough. From the weathering of the logs, it was not a recent addition to the landscape.
"Suppose nobody travels by boat hereabouts," said Canamírë.
I had not even considered that, but it was true that the bridge acted not only as a bridge but also as a blockade. A boat could not pass without first destroying it. Whether or not this was intentional or merely a side effect of the bridge's simple construction, we had no way to know.
Our remaining pony flatly refused to step onto the swaying, shuddering bridge, so we allowed her to swim while the Sindarin porters carried the baggage. As we crossed, it became evident that the bridge had not been built and then abandoned. It was still in use. Every so often, we would see a new log in among those that had weathered, which meant that the bridge was under frequent repair. No wood was broken or rotted. This raised questions about whose bridge it was: who had built it, and who used it?
Although Canamírë wished to push on south in an effort to reach Cuiviénen as soon as possible, I had it in mind to discover who had made that bridge. It could not have been the Nandor in the forest on the western shore, according to Canamírë. Nandorin tribes tended to be fiercely territorial, and they would not have built a structure to encourage visitors from the east. Nor would they have bothered to build it for their own use, either for hunting or exploration, as they preferred to stay within their own borders. Additionally, said Canamírë, the style of construction echoed very closely some Sindarin examples he had seen in the vicinity of Lestanórë. And the logs had been coated in tar to preserve them from the effects of water. As far as he knew, the Nandor had no such technology.
The story of Celeborn's Lestanórin deserters came to mind. He said they had gone into the east, and here we encountered an eastern bridge built in Sindarin style, obviously still in use. Ahead on the horizon, the edge of a dark forest loomed. It was a logical destination.
"Let us travel east," I said to Canamírë, "to that great forest."
He looked up from adjusting his boots to stare at me. "Cuiviénen lies to the south."
"We know, yes. But we also believe it to be prudent to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. By Prince Celeborn's account we may find lost Sindar in the forest yonder, and they are most certainly in need of guidance."
Canamírë seemed unconvinced.
"They may also be more amenable to intrusion than Nandor the likes of whom we have thus far discovered."
"True," he said. He stood up, stretched, and shook out his arms. "Then again they also might have better weapons." Gesturing to the porters, he gave a little shout. "Oi! We go east!"
East, to my relief, was easier terrain than the tangling meadow on the western shore. Some of the clover-like plants still grew, but seemed confined to scattered clumps surrounded by more passable tall grass. A faint trail, hardly less overgrown than the surrounding countryside but a trail nonetheless, lay in a straight line between the bridge and the distant forest. We were able to walk with greater speed. We rested well off the trail that night, then resumed our journey in time to reach the eaves of the forest by midday.
With our encounter with the Nandor of the western forest still fresh in our minds, we approached loudly and on a strict lookout: we wanted any dwellers of these parts to be well aware that we were coming, and we wanted to see them before they had a chance to catch us unaware. The porters chatted and shouted to one another, while Canamírë sang a Sindarin song that was, to the best of my understanding, about an immodest mermaid. Still, we saw no-one. Apart from the path, which grew steadily more trampled the closer we drew to the forest, there was no indication that anyone lived here.
It was not until we were close enough to see individual leaves on the trees that we spotted one of the elusive Sindar. Unlike the naked Nandorin men, he was fully clothed in garments of brown and green. So well did he blend into the scenery, standing perfectly still against the bole of a great tree, that at first he appeared to be nothing more than a pale, disembodied face. I nearly leapt in surprise to see him there. He stared straight ahead at us as we approached, not speaking, though Canamírë hailed him twice. He did not move, not so much as twitch of the finger.
"Is he... even alive?" I whispered to Canamírë.
To judge by his uneasy expression, Canamírë could not answer. He looked to the Sindarin porters with a questioning glance, but their faces matched his for confusion. So this was not some strange Sindarin death ritual, to stand their fallen warriors against trees as gruesome sentinels.
We continued forward until we were fewer than twelve paces from the motionless Sinda. He still did not move, and seemed not even to breathe, but he blinked. The four of us exhaled in relief.
"Well met, fellow," Canamírë said to him, but, as before, the man did not reply. He was alive, of that much we were certain, but whether or not he had any wits about him was an entirely different question. The four of us came to stand beside him, and still he remained oblivious to our presence. Hesitantly, Canamírë reached out to touch his shoulder.
The touch brought him to life. He turned his head sharply, causing us all to step back in surprise, and grinned at Canamírë. "Well met, fellow," he echoed in his Sindarin bee-voice.
There was a rustle of leaves in the tree's canopy above us, and suddenly we were surrounded by a ring of green- and brown-clad Sindar as they dropped from the branches or appeared from behind nearby trees. Canamírë swore under his breath, and I was inclined to join him. We had been lured in by a decoy like perfect idiots. The encircling Sindar were not brandishing weapons, but they had no need to. There were nearly two dozen of them and four of us.
Canamírë forced a delighted smile, as if he wished for nothing more in the world than to be surrounded by strangers in a remote, eastern forest, and began chattering happily with them. He clapped shoulders here and bobbed his head there, greeting several of our captors like long-lost cousins. To my surprise, they seemed agreeable to his feigned camaraderie, bobbing heads and clapping shoulders in return. The circle became a cluster, with us at its centre. Then, before I even realised what was happening, we found ourselves being herded along deeper into the forest. Sindarin warriors had placed themselves on all sides of me. Canamírë, as best I could see, was somewhere further back in the group and to my right. I had no way to ask him where we were headed, or if the Sindar had told him as much.
We walked for what felt to be several hours, down a path that seemed to open in front of us as we progressed. Up ahead, I could see nothing but a wall of underbrush and low-growing trees, but somehow the path continued to unfold before us. These Sindar either possessed some manner of forest magic or were uncommonly talented at disguising their roads. Whatever the case, we wound back and forth down a meandering route until we reached a large clearing.
It was here that our guides left us. With no more than a gesture and a few words to Canamírë, something that I took to mean, 'Here you are; enjoy the stay,' they deposited the four of us in the clearing and then melted back into the forest. The path they took ended abruptly in a large bramble patch, and I could not see where they had gone, even staring at the exact place whence they had disappeared. We were on our own. I turned to Canamírë, who looked as confused as I felt. "Where in the world are we?"
"Their village?" he answered.
But the clearing was more than a village. It was nearly a city and at least a good-size town. An enormous circle had been carved out of the forest, though many trees still stood in the middle of roadways, alongside gardens, or even growing out of the tops of buildings. As we cautiously explored, we saw a two-storey log house whose front left corner was built around an enormous tree sporting a balcony, cottages with thatched roofs and walls of hide, strange little stone huts that appeared to be half underground, and even a few tents sitting on platforms that had been built up in the treetops, accessible only by rope ladder. It was by far the oddest collection of buildings I had ever seen.
At the centre of the town was a circle of stones encasing a fountain. At the centre of the fountain was a large plinth, upon which stood nothing at all. The fountain looked very new, and the earth surrounding it had been newly turned. Perhaps the townspeople had not yet had time to construct a statue. From the fountain, we chose the widest of several converging roads, in hope that it would lead us to the King's residence. It led to a logging operation at the edge of town.
"Is this not the most frustrating place you have ever been?" I whispered to Canamírë. By this point, we had been wandering around town for a full hour, and not one person had yet either welcomed us or else demanded to know what we were doing there. It was very obvious from our dress that we did not belong; everyone we had seen so far wore either simple garments of green, grey, or brown, as the warriors we met, or Nandorin-type decorations that were hardly better than being naked. We were clearly lost foreigners, but nobody seemed to care.
Canamírë squinted at the loggers. The majority of them were naked, cutting trees, stripping branches, and hauling logs, but a few more important-looking, clothed men stood in the middle of it all, arguing with each other. From what I could gather, they were in charge of deciding which trees should be cut, and they were unable to agree on anything.
"I'll talk to them," Canamírë said. He took off across the log field and I followed, carefully. It was full of stump hazards, discarded branches, and random, inexplicable holes. Canamírë introduced himself to the logging architects, exchanging what sounded like a long stream of flowery, bee-buzzing words. At the end of it, one architect pointed back toward the fountain, and the other three in almost the exact opposite direction, to the far side of the log field. They started arguing again.
"Well," Canamírë told me, stepping back, "popular vote indicates that the King is somewhere over there." He, too, pointed to the far side of the log field.
"Have we any idea what he looks like?" I asked.
Canamírë stole a quick glance back toward the bickering architects, who were, naturally, still bickering in their bee-voices. "Of course not."
Nonetheless, he set off across the log field in the direction that the three had pointed. I followed. We came nearly to the tree-line without encountering a single being, kinglike or otherwise, when Canamírë spied a pair of naked legs sticking out from behind a heap of discarded branches. Attached to the naked legs was a naked rump, and attached to that was a naked torso, which had two naked arms and an incongruously clothed head. The naked man lay prone on the ground between two large branch piles, apparently using a little mole-hill of dirt as a pillow. His face was obscured by the brim of his hat.
"Oh that cannot be the King," I murmured to Canamírë.
Canamírë leaned over far enough to tap the fellow on the shoulder. "Are you the King?" he asked, and I could have hit him for his brashness. One does not simply ask a naked man if he is the King. Nor does one ask that same question of an obvious king. One must discover these things with gentler manners.
Luckily, the naked fellow did not seem to take offence. He lifted his head and half-spoke, half-yawned his answer: "No."
"You're right," Canamírë grumped on our way back across the log field. "This is the most frustrating place I've ever been."
He conducted another conversation with the architects, this one less flowery and somewhat louder than the previous. The outcome was as follows: the three insisted that yes, the naked man in the hat sleeping between two branch-piles at the far end of the log field was indeed the King, while the fourth stood with his arm outstretched, pointing toward the fountain, and glared.
We went back across the log field. "This time we will speak to him," I told Canamírë.
"In Quenya?" he asked.
"Yes, of course. We will speak very slowly. The languages are similar enough that if we use small words and speak slowly, we should be understood."
"That is a terrible idea for reasons too numerous to mention right now."
"We find it less terrible than your rude inquiring as to whether or not he is the King. Truly, Canamírë, have you no sense of monarchical deportment?"
"Sense of what?"
"Precisely," I said. "Now please, stand behind us and try to have good posture.
The naked man was still sleeping where we had left him. I stood near his feet, cleared my throat, and began to speak clearly and slowly, using simple words. "Our most kind sir; we bid you a good afternoon."
Again, he lifted his head, though this time he completed the movement to roll onto his back and stare up at me, hands clasped across his chest.
"We are most glad to meet you. We are Finwion Arafinwë Ingalaurë Noldóran of Tirion, recently come out of the west on a journey of great importance." I paused, smiling, to allow him a chance to speak. When he remained silent, I added, "Do you understand what we have said?"
"Of course I understand," he replied in perfect Quenya. "I'm not an idiot."
Both Canamírë and I were too disconcerted to speak coherently after the naked fellow's demonstration of Quenya knowledge. We followed him back across the log field in the direction of the architects. The whole way, Canamírë's eyes looked as if they were utterly devoid of lids, so round and protuberant they had become.
The King-or-not-King still had not given any hint as to which one he was. However, the bickering architects saw fit to fall silent as we approached, which provided some indication. All four of them abandoned what it was they had been arguing and turned to face us in a neat line.
"So you... err... are the King?" asked Canamírë.
"No," not-King insisted. "Which one of these thick-heads told you I am?"
Canamírë pointed to the leftmost three.
"Foolishness." He turned to frown at me. "Do I look like I'm wearing a Kinging Robe?"
"No," I answered, and truthfully, as he looked to be wearing nothing at all but the hat.
"Then I cannot be the King," he said, with logic so faulty he might as well have been born a son of Fëanáro. "Kings do not sleep naked between things of branches in log fields."
Just then, the fourth architect shouted something belligerent at Canamírë and stabbed his finger in the direction of the fountain.
"Yes, yes," said the not-King. "The King is by the fountain. Why does nobody remember that? Follow me."
And so we left the architects as abruptly as we had arrived, without a word of good-bye. The not-King marched ahead, while I scowled to myself and Canamírë continued to look bewildered and, understandably, apprehensive. It had become quite obvious that we were in the hands of a complete imbecile, and a naked imbecile at that. Worse, I could not even complain about it to Canamírë, as said imbecile would understand every word I spoke.
"Here," the not-King said once we reached the fountain. "Wait here." He then disappeared down one of the narrower roads, leaving Canamírë and me blessedly alone.
We turned to each other and said, at the same time, "He is insane."
"This is ridiculous," said Canamírë.
"Yes, we agree," I replied.
"Let's leave. Now."
"No, we cannot leave until we have completed our mission."
"Your Highness," I corrected. Being in the middle of a naked madman's nonsensical town was no excuse for Canamírë to forget his manners.
He continued without an apology: "-that mission is something you invented because you were bored!"
"That makes it no less important to us. We are the King, Canamírë, and have thus-"
"Oh, for the love of Varda, will you stop referring to yourself as plural!" he shouted.
Shocked by the outburst, I could think of nothing to say in response. Never before had any man, apart from my brother Fëanáro, raised his voice to me thusly. One simply did not behave that way in the presence of kings. It was little wonder Canamírë had landed himself in prison, with such a temper and disregard for protocol.
"You are a single person!" he continued, ranting like a lunatic. "One! Arafinwë! Alone! Just you! Not you and some other mystical entity! Only you! Therefore, you say 'I' and 'me'! Not 'we' and 'us'! How difficult is that?"
"That is quite enough!" I said sharply. "Canamírë, we will not be listening to any more of your nonsense. We have no time for that, and you are very much out of line!"
"You're out of..." he muttered, but I could not hear the rest of his words. They dribbled down his chin like mud as he grumbled to himself. It was just as well. Kings need not tolerate such disrespect. The only reason I had tolerated his rudeness thus far was that I required his services as a guide. In any proper setting, he would have been sent back to prison long ago.
"We are willing to disregard this lapse in mannerliness and forgive you," I told him, "provided we be given assurance that it will not happen again. May we have your word?"
The reply he growled into his collar was too soft to hear.
"What was that?"
"What was what?" asked another voice at my side.
The not-King had returned. Only now, he was no longer naked, but wearing a long, red robe. His hat had disappeared, replaced by some manner of wreath. He sat down on the edge of the fountain, crossed his arms over his chest, and looked up at me. "Welcome to Galadhost the great realm of Eryn Galen," he said, in a voice that had suddenly become melodious and smooth as polished marble. "I am Reeve Oropher. You wish to speak with me?"
His use of the title 'Reeve' disrupted my concentration. Was this his way of admitting that he was not the King? But, did he not just earlier state that the King was by the fountain, and was he not right then sitting on the fountain's edge dressed in as kingly a manner as could be expected from rustic forest folk? "Ah," I said. "Yes. If we may repeat our introduction, we are Finwion Arafinwë Ingalaurë Noldóran of Tirion, on a mission out of the west. It is our honourable duty to speak with the kings of all Eldarin lands, so that they may be invited to journey to the glorious land of Valinor. There we shall all live in harmony under the kind guidance of High King Ingwë, as the Valar intended for us."
"Oh, good," said Oropher. "And?"
"That is all. We journey together to Valinor and then live there in perpetual happiness."
"Who does?" he asked.
"To Valinor," I repeated. "As we said-"
"Well, yes, Valinor, but where? Are there different things in Valinor where we can live not together? With different kings?"
"No, no, the purpose is that we all live as one. That is what the Valar wish. Under one king: Ingwë. Of course, we are the King of the Noldor, and there is a King of the Teleri, as well: Olwë. We expect you will be ruled by both him and Ingwë, to whom Olwë owes allegiance."
"Oh," said Oropher. "Hm. When?"
"As soon as possible. We must first carry our message to all of the kings, and this may take some time. But you and your people are most welcome to begin your migration directly."
"Oh," Oropher said again. "How many others are doing this thing with you?"
"We suspect everyone will."
He nodded slowly. "I'll need to think about that."
"Please do," I said. "It is imperative that all of the Eldar are once again united as we were at Cuiviénen."
"Cuiviénen, right, I agree," Oropher replied with a nod. "Cuiviénen is very important. That's what we're trying to make here." Then, before I even had a chance to respond, he changed the subject entirely. "Say. As we're on the thing of Quenya, that reminds me of a song I knew years ago."
He began humming to himself, so quietly I had trouble hearing. Either he had forgotten most of it or it had no discernable tune; he hummed what sounded like several unrelated fragments of melodies and conflicting rhythms. Gradually, it grew louder and more confident, and the wordless humming turned into lyrics. He bobbed his head in time with the emerging song.
She has freckles on her bum;
She is nice.
"Do you know that one?" he asked me.
"No," I answered. This was the honest truth. I had never before heard such a song in my life, and felt no more fulfilled for having done so.
Oropher sighed. "Too bad. But no worry. I can't remember if it's a real song or one I made up."
"What are the odds of finding a Sindarin Reeve-King this far in the east who speaks fluent Quenya?" I asked Canamírë once we were alone again.
"Impossible," Canamírë snorted. He seemed to have forgotten his earlier unruliness, and had reverted back to his usual sceptical personality.
"No, not impossible. Here we have Reeve Oropher."
"Probability is so small that I'm convinced we died in the mountains. We died, and we are now in Mandos, and this is some Mandos-illusion meant to teach us something. Or teach me something? Maybe only I died. Maybe I died in prison. You could be a Mandos-apparition sent to teach me patience!"
"We are not an apparition, Canamírë," I said. "And, frankly, we are displeased that you would think such a thing."
He muttered something that sounded rather like 'apparition', though his back was turned and I could not hear for certain. He walked ahead of me through the town.
Sometime in the confusion of the last few hours with the log field and Reeve Oropher, we had lost our porters. Canamírë blamed me for their absence, arguing that as expedition leader, it was my responsibility to hold the party together, but I could not bring myself to agree. I paid very little attention to the porters, and so could not be expected to remember exactly when they had gone missing. It took us a good long while of wandering around town before we found the pony tied up outside a stone and log building of the sort that appeared to be sunken into the ground. Inside, we found our missing companions. They appeared to be sunken into their chairs after consuming a shameful amount of Sindarin liquor. They were thus completely useless at porting and had to be left where we found them.
Canamírë and I took the pony and our packs down the road Oropher told us to take, which led, by his directions, to his palace. By 'palace' he naturally meant the unfinished log house built atop the great hill on the eastern side of Galadhost. The second floor had only a third of a roof, he warned, and the dining hall was nothing more than a cleared and flattened rectangle of dirt, but there were bedrooms. And in those bedrooms were real beds.
Never before had a lumpy straw mattress looked so inviting. The last time I had slept in a real bed had been in the home of King Gil-galad on Balar. So wonderful was the prospect that I did not even mind being made to share a room with Canamírë, who sometimes snored. I gladly washed with the basin of cold water provided by Oropher's steward, and even more joyfully unpacked the nightshirt that had remained folded at the bottom of my clothing sack for the entire journey. I had sorely missed the simple civility of not sleeping fully dressed. I climbed into bed, pulling real, if somewhat rough, sheets up to my chin, and arranged the quilted blankets and fur coverlet over my body. It was a glorious sensation.
The one thing marring the experience was that, as soon as I rested my head on the pillow, a song became stuck in my ear. No matter what I tried, nor how much I tried to concentrate on the sound of Canamírë's snoring, I could not rid myself of it. It bounced from ear to ear all night in endless repetition. Reeve Oropher's absurd Quenya song:
She has freckles on her bum;
She is nice.
I awoke to the sound of Canamírë stomping about the bedroom and generally being a loud nuisance. "Merciful stars, Canamírë," I said to him. "Must one clatter and drop things so?"
"Yes, one must," he answered tersely. "I've been trying to wake you for well on an hour."
"Whatever for? We have need of sleep yet."
"It's noon, Your Highness."
"Noon?" Yawning, I rose from the bed and stuck my head out the window, which naturally was devoid of glass. The sun hovered directly overhead. "Good heavens." It was indeed noon.
"While you were sleeping like a drunken bear," said Canamírë, "I had the opportunity to speak with some of King Oropher's counsellors and ask a few questions about this place."
"King Oropher?" I asked. "Not Reeve Oropher?"
"Well, there seemed to be a small disagreement on that point."
"Ridiculous. How can there be a disagreement about whether he is Reeve or King? This is a very straightforward problem. He is either one or the other. Somebody must know for certain."
"Several somebodies knew for certain. And they all certainly knew different things."
"We will have to speak to him about this."
"And that brings us to the first point," Canamírë continued. "Several of the counsellors firmly agree that the speaking of Quenya is unacceptable."
"Even more ridiculous!" I said. "Why is it unacceptable?"
"If you don't already know, then it would take me far too long to explain. Suffice it to say that they prefer Sindarin."
"Several of the counsellors think this? What of the rest?"
Canamírë shifted impatiently from foot to foot. "You expect them to agree? No. An equally numbered several think the exact opposite: that Quenya is perfectly acceptable-"
"Much more reasonable!"
"-because it proves that Noldorin Kings are too stupid to learn Sindarin."
"What?!" The nerve of them!
"Also," he added, "they like being able to discuss you behind your back, knowing that you can't understand."
"Canamírë, this is absolutely outrageous!" I said. "We demand an apology at once!"
"I will convey your royal highness' grievances," he replied, though he did so in a voice that held every indication he was only humouring me. "Now, moving on. The counsellors were able to agree on a two things. First: most important. Do not ask the King about his wife."
"His wife?" I asked. "He is married?" It had been easy to note, due to his absence of clothing, that Oropher wore no wedding ring.
"What part of 'do not ask' do you not understand? Do not ask. That means you say nothing about his wife, children, or marital state in any way. I do not know what the situation is. I, following directions, did not ask. NEXT," he said loudly, speaking up right as I had opened my mouth to protest, "everyone agrees that the King is a little... creative. But they also agree he's a genius. You're instructed to politely pretend nothing is out of the ordinary when he wanders around naked, pretends to be somebody else, sings nonsense songs, talks to ghosts, or does anything else that makes you think he's out of his mind."
I allowed myself a little snort. "'Creative'! That sounds rather like a diplomatic way of saying 'insane'."
"I don't think he's insane," Canamírë replied, shaking his head. "He's not stupid, and he's aware of a lot more than he lets on. I think his fooling is an act he puts on to unnerve his opponents and trick them into underestimating him. Nobody wants to argue with a lunatic."
"Now why would he do such a thing? He will drive away all foreign diplomats!"
"You've just answered your own question, there."
This Eryn Galen place with its Reeve-King was steadily growing more absurd. It was nearly enough to make me sorry I had come. "Oh, never mind," I said to Canamírë. "We still must speak to him, insane or not. Any other necessary protocols with which we must be familiar?"
"No. The counsellors were only able to discuss those few things. After that, the meeting fell apart and everyone started insulting each other and making outlandish threats."
"Very well." I pulled my best, if somewhat wrinkled, pieces of clothing from the travelling pack and dressed myself, then combed and plaited my hair in a style I thought appropriate to speaking with the eccentric King of Eryn Galen. "Now. We are ready. Show us the way to the King, Canamírë."
I had anticipated an opportunity to further speak to Oropher about the importance of relocating to Valinor, but before I even had a chance to explain my position, he announced that our time would be better spent on a tour of the town. I reluctantly agreed, and followed him outside. He chattered non-stop as we walked down the hill from the palace. Eventually, I hoped, he would run out of things to say, and then I would be able to resume our original discussion.
"You see," Oropher was saying, "Galadhost is the best city in the world. Nowhere else is like this. It has some very nice things."
"Yes, it is very nice," I said. "The fountain reminds us of a place in Tirion, which-"
Oropher did not accept the switch of topic. "There's one thing I don't like," he interrupted. "One thing about the city isn't good."
"Its name. Galadhost. How bad is that?"
The name, which even I with my poor understanding of Sindarin knew to mean 'Tree City', seemed hardly offensive or improper in any way. "How is it bad?" I asked. "We would say it is very apt. The city is, after all, full of trees."
"It's too..." Frowning, Oropher wiggled his hands around his ears, as if he might pluck a satisfactory adjective right out of the air. "Too thingy," he decided. "Not very... uh..."
"Original?" I offered.
He stared at me with the blank face of one who had no idea what I just said. This was when it first occurred to me that, despite his fine grasp of Quenya grammar, Oropher's vocabulary may have been lacking.
"I wanted to name it something very good like... Black Dragonclaw Town or Fortress of Fire Eagles. But everyone said that was too hard to remember. So, Tree City. How stupid!"
"You know, in Valinor, you could name your settlement whatever you-"
"And then the forest!" he interrupted again, clearly taking none of my advice. "Greenwood. Oh yes, that will make us sound very... what was that word?"
"Yes, very oring-i-al and dangerous! Ha! Nobody will shake with fear at a name like Greenwood. Boring! I wanted to call it Arrowskill Forest, but! The boring-heads called it Eryn Galen, and that stayed."
I nodded, trying to look sympathetic. "We believe there are still some unnamed forests in Valinor, if you wish to try another-"
"Anyhow," he said loudly, interrupting yet again, "Please tell me about your own city."
"Our..." I was momentarily taken aback by his request, mind falling blank. After all of the interruptions, I had started to think that he was deliberately trying to prevent me from doing exactly this. "You truly want to hear about Tirion?"
"Yes," he said, and sat down on a nearby stump. There was an abundance of stumps in Galadhost; as far as I could tell, they served as a sort of haphazard public seating. "Tell me every single thing about Tirion."
I sat down on another stump, facing him, and began what I hoped would be a long and uninterrupted story. "Well," I said. "In Tirion..."
Amazingly, he remained silent. Whether or not he was paying attention was debatable, since he spent much of the time staring at the ground, but said nothing and did nothing to hinder my speech. I told him of Tirion's majestic beauty in gleaming white stone, of the grand stairways that climbed the hill of Túna, of the star-bright and dizzyingly tall Mindon Eldaliéva, and of the great Pelóri and Taniquetil, mountain home of Manwë Himself. I told him of the silver bells that chimed the hours from the roof of the royal palace, and of the Floating Gardens that, while not truly floating in the most literal sense of the word, at least appeared to float weightless in the air by the illusion of several storeys of vine-covered pillars. I explained that in Tirion, we had sturdy houses built of stone, with glass of all colours for windows. People wore proper clothing, and the only time one was naked was when one was in the bath. And even then some folks wore little bathing costumes for decency, as one might wear at the seaside.
I spoke for nearly two hours, telling him everything I could think of about Tirion, from the opulent temples and palaces to the rat catchers. Who, incidentally, were very thorough and kept the rats from the opulent temples and palaces. I was proud to say that in all my years in Tirion, I had only ever seen one live rat. Then, when I had exhausted everything I could think of to say about Tirion, I spoke of Valmar and Alqualondë and all the lands surrounding, from the Tower of Bronze on the edge of the Western Desert to the Tower of Pearl in the Twilit Isles.
"And you are the King?" he asked, once I had finished describing where each region and city was in relation to the others.
"We are the King of the Noldor," I specified: "the King of Tirion. There are other kings as well. "Olwë rules Alqualondë, his son Olquináro rules Tol Eressëa, and Ingwë rules Valmar. Of course, Ingwë is also the High King of all Valinor, so we must all answer to him."
"But you are the King of the Noldor."
"Yes," I replied, wondering where he was going with this.
He stood up from his stump, crossed his arms over his chest in a thoughtful manner, and then started to sing. This song, like the freckle song, had neither melody nor rhythm.
Arafinwë is the King,
The King is Arafinwë.
He looked at me expectantly.
Grinning, he repeated the song, this time with a little wiggle of a dance.
Arafinwë is the King,
The King is Arafinwë.
"Well, yes," I said, "That is correct, but..." I could not think of an adequate 'but'. Why did he keep singing?
Arafinwë is the King,
The King is Arafinwë.
Comes from far across the sea,
Wearing something red and gold.
Looks like it will rain tonight.
What's for dinner?
Let's go eat some fruit!
Still singing nonsense, he started back up the road to the palace. I followed with a sigh. The Tirion conversation was very clearly over.
Reeve-King Oropher's song turned out to be less nonsensical than I originally thought. We returned to the palace just in time to make ourselves ready for a royal banquet, of which, naturally, nobody had thought to warn me. I had no time to properly bathe or wash my hair, and, since I was already wearing my best outfit, I could not even change my clothing. So it was that I attended my first royal banquet in Eryn Galen with limp, dull hair verging on oily, wearing the same rumpled gown and robe I had donned at noon. I blamed Oropher for the fact that I was seen by his entire court in such a condition. Surely, he would have known that the banquet was planned, and when it started. If Canamírë were right, and Oropher's foolery was a deliberate act put in place to unnerve foreigners, then I could easily believe that he kept me talking about Tirion for so long on purpose. He wanted to leave me no time to prepare. He wanted to rush me to supper, giving me no choice but to make a poor impression of Noldorin kingliness on his council. Canamírë had been right: he was far from stupid, and by no means unobservant. As I took my seat at his table, on a raised dais in full view of the entire assembled court, I mentally scourged myself for being so easily gulled.
The steward placed me at the right-hand side of Oropher's empty throne. I noted, with considerable annoyance, that the baldachin was exactly narrow enough that it stopped at the edge of my chair. The annoyance was compounded further as bits of wood shaving from the half-finished palace roof blew down on a strong gust of wind and hit the top of my head. Not only was I forced to dine in the open air of a banquet hall that did not yet exist except as a roughly marked rectangle on the bare ground, but I was forced to do so in the shadow of a construction zone. The builders did not stop for supper. Nor did they seem to make any effort to keep quiet.
The throne on my left stayed empty as the rest of the table filled with Oropher's counsellors. They were all dressed very finely in some sort of cloth that had a silver sheen to it, no matter its colour. The man on my right was silver-blue with a brilliant orange sash and a considerable amount of mother-of-pearl decorations, and the man next to him wore a silver-red over a silver-yellow tunic, with more of the same mother-of-pearl ornaments. I silently swore at Oropher. This was his doing; I had no doubts that he had purposefully instructed his court to wear their best clothing at my expense.
Oropher, when he arrived, looked like he was attired for a wedding in a pale silver-green outfit reminiscent of some fashions I had seen among Gil-galad's men. He stood in place before the throne at my side, every inch a king, and smiled down at the adoring faces that watched his every movement. When he spoke to them, it was in the sonorous, regal voice he had used briefly at the fountain the previous day. All traces of his lunatic act had vanished. His bee-words were impressive even without understanding what they meant.
It was only a brief speech, possibly a blessing or thanksgiving for the meal. Then he sat, and as soon as his royal bottom touched the throne, a line of servers filed up onto the dais behind us to present plates already filled with food. My stomach knotted even before I received my meal. The smell alone was enough to tell me what we were eating: roast boar, and a large amount of it at that. The plate that was set before me contained a meagre scattering of odd-looking vegetables arranged around a slab of fatty meat the size of my hand with fingers outstretched.
"Oh good!" Oropher said in bee-Sindarin. More words followed, but they buzzed too quickly for me to understand. He grinned at me as he spoke: the stupid, fooling grin.
I ignored him. Now that I knew to be wary at all times, I could guess well enough that he had some unpleasant game in mind, and I would be no part of it. I stared squarely at my plate and resolved to focus on eating. No matter how deeply I hated pigs and everything to do with them.
As a child in Tirion, my mother had made it her business to brand the importance of proper table manners forever into my head. A prince of the royal household is under scrutiny at all times, and at banquets he is on display before the entire court. He cannot eat so much as a parsley leaf without being watched and discussed. Therefore, he must eat with perfect grace. Unfortunately, 'perfect grace' involves finishing everything on one's plate without question, and appearing to enjoy it.
I stole little glances down the table to my left and right to gain an understanding of how people in Eryn Galen ate. The correct protocol appeared to be: cut chunk of meat, stab meat with knife, eat directly from knife-point, follow with swig of wine. This could be done easily enough. In Tirion we ate with knife, spoon, and fork, but in Alqualondë one used knife, spoon, and sticks, and in Valmar one used only a spoon. I was accustomed to varying collections of cutlery, so managing with nothing but a knife would be new, but not difficult. I carefully cut my meat into small pieces, doing my best not to breathe through my nose so as to avoid the vile pork-smell, and lifted each bite to my mouth with the flat side of the knife. If I cut the pieces small enough, I could eat almost without chewing. If I ate without chewing, the probability of gagging at the taste and texture of pig fat between my teeth was greatly reduced.
After three bites, thinking I was performing quite admirably, I took a sip of wine. The first thought I had, as I inhaled its scent a fraction of a second before the liquid hit my lips, was, This is not wine. The second thought, as I tasted it, was, Sweet Eru, what in the world is this?! It filled my mouth with the feeling of cold fire and the taste of fermented evergreens. I could not help but gag as it hit the back of my throat; I had never before in my life consumed anything so vile, and I had lived through numerous Telerin 'delicacies' inflicted by my father-in-law, including sea cucumber gelatine and steamed whale penis. Both of those, however, were thankfully bland and only disturbing in texture and appearance. This liquor, whatever it might have been, was close to accomplishing what no other food or drink had ever done to me before. I wanted to vomit.
I forced myself to swallow and took a deep breath to clear away the lingering taste. That did nothing. As quickly as was polite, I scooped up a mouthful of the mystery vegetables and had a thorough chew. Even that was inadequate to dislodge the taste of the drink. In desperation I ate several more bites of meat, rolling each one on my tongue and swallowing slowly. That only served to make my mouth taste of pork and liquor. The combination was nearly unbearable.
"How do you like it?" Oropher asked slowly, in Sindarin. That seemed to be his game for the night. He would say nothing in Quenya.
"Good," I answered, using one of the few words I knew. "Good good."
He smiled, lifting his cup, and motioned for me to do the same. We both took brotherly sips of the horrible liquor. Or, he took a sip, and I pretended to while keeping my lips tightly closed. Even that was bad enough. The smell alone nearly made me want to vomit all over again.
I pretended to drink throughout the rest of the meal. With any luck, nobody who mattered would check my cup to see how much remained. The greasiness of the meat made me thirsty, but I would not risk so much as a tiny sip of that poison. I ate everything on my plate, all the while longing for a refreshing cup of wine or ale or even river water. Between my thirst and the nauseating taste of the fatty pork, each bite brought me closer to wishing I were dead. I set down my knife at the end of it all with a feeling of great relief.
At my side, Oropher was still eating. As I looked at his plate, I noticed that what had appeared to be a solid piece of meat from the corner of my eye was, in fact, a mushy pile of half-chewed fat. I watched in disgust as he scooped up a piece of meat, chewed it, and spat a slimy fat-gob back out on top of the pile in the middle of his plate. He must have noticed I was watching, because on the next bite he turned to grin stupidly at me, keeping eye contact all the while he chewed and then spat out the fat like some overgrown, spoilt child. I forced myself to look away and keep my face neutral and my eyes on my hands. He was doing this on purpose. He was trying to upset me with his atrocious table manners. I would give him no such satisfaction.
We were served a dessert of dried fruits in uncomplementary mint sauce, followed by very strong and very bitter tea, which I nonetheless drank happily because it was a liquid that was not the repulsive evergreen liquor. As we all left the banquet 'hall', I could not help but think to myself that Oropher looked a little disappointed. I had behaved as a perfect gentleman at supper. If he had been trying to elicit some undignified response over the food or the drink or his manners or the insistence on Sindarin, he had failed.
When I returned to the bedroom, Canamírë was already in bed, groaning and fussing and looking sick to his stomach. I was almost sympathetic until I came close enough to smell him and the overpowering stench of evergreen liquor hit my nose.
"Canamírë! Are you..."
"Not intentionally," he moaned.
"How much did you drink?"
"Three mugs!" I had barely managed one mouthful. "You actually drank three mugs of that vomitous concoction of your own free will?!"
"It's an acquired taste. But I acquired the taste in Ossiriand. Stuff's not so strong there."
Disgusted, I sat down on my bed. Canamírë was clearly far less sane than I thought if he enjoyed drinking dubious Sindarin evergreen liquor. "We want to go home," I muttered to nobody in particular.
"Good," Canamírë answered, belching as he did. "So do I. Let's leave tomorrow."
"It's not as simple as that."
"Why not? We pack our things and we leave. Let's go. You don't want to be here. I don't want to be here. We should go."
"We want to go home," I repeated, "but, we will not abandon the mission so easily. Wanting to go home and deciding to go home are two very different things. And even though we want to go home, we shall not."
He belched again. Somehow, even his belch managed to sound confused. "You... want to stay, then?"
"No, we do not want to stay. We are obliged to stay." I turned to look at him, meeting his bleary, red eyes. "Canamírë, we must do our best to make these savage heathens understand the importance of working toward a united Elvish kindred in Valinor. As soon as their war is done, Eönwë has promised to invite the Exiles back to the Blessed Lands."
"You told me that before," said Canamírë. "I'll believe it when I see it."
I ignored his pessimism. "We know it is the wish of the Valar for all Elves to live in peace in Valinor: Exiles and Moriquendi included. Everyone. It is our purpose to bring this news to the farthest corners of the world and ensure that the will of the Valar is done."
"And the Valar Themselves asked you to be their herald?"
"Well, no, but-"
"Did you not tell me in Ossiriand that Eönwë forbade you to interfere?"
"No," I said. "He forbade us to participate in the war. We are not participating in the war, are we? This mission is entirely unwarlike."
"He forbade you to fight in the war because he didn't want you to be in danger. You have no heir, Arafinwë Your Most Gracious Highness. If you're killed, there could be civil war in Tirion as all the lords fight over your crown. You told me that Eönwë asked you to stay safely on the Isle of Balar. I'm sure he'd be overjoyed to hear you're out far off the edge of the map into the wild lands of the east with no warriors, no bodyguards, and nothing but two porters and a merchant guide between you and Melkor's armies."
"Having no warriors and no bodyguards was your idea!" I protested.
"That was before I knew who you were. If I had known you were the King, I would never have suggested sneaking away from your entourage in the middle of the night. But you told me when we met that you were a Vanyarin lord off on a jolly adventure because you wanted to write a book."
"You were foolish enough to believe it."
"I know. That was a stupid mistake. Everyone knows Vanyar don't write books."
"Anyhow," I added, "we did tell you the truth a few days later."
"Yes, and I would have turned around then and gone back for your warriors and bodyguards and minstrels and flag-bearers and cup boy and whatever other useless courtiers we'd abandoned, if we hadn't already crossed the Rathlóriel and-"
"We promised never to speak of that incident again!" I warned him.
"Right," he sighed. "But my point is, I think we should go back. I will take you back to Balar, where you can pretend you never left, and everything will be fine. You can wait out the rest of the war and then go home."
"And our mission? What of the Nandor and the Avari who missed their first opportunity to come to Valinor? They must be given a second chance."
"Maybe they declined on their first chance for a reason."
He was not listening to a word I said. I lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to banish my annoyance and speak calmly. "We shall discuss this further in the morning. For now, though, there is to be no more talk of going home. We stay."
"As you say," said Canamírë. With a final belch, he rolled over to face away from me and went to sleep.
That day before the banquet marked the last time Oropher spoke exclusively Quenya to me. From the next morning onward, he insisted on Sindarin. He spoke very slowly so that I had a better chance to understand, and employed the occasional Quenya word when our conversations became mired in hopeless confusion, but for the most part Sindarin became the only permissible language. He began to ignore me when I spoke anything else. For conversations requiring any action on my part outside of 'good', 'yes', and 'no', Canamírë was forced to act as interpreter.
Canamírë started giving me Sindarin lessons whenever Oropher was not monopolising our time with his incessant nonsense, which meant that my learning was usually confined to a few hours before we went to bed. It was a slow process. I would not leave Eryn Galen until I had convinced Oropher to relocate to Valinor, he would not listen to my proposal until I could deliver it in Sindarin, and I could not learn Sindarin overnight.
Months passed. We had arrived in the height of summer, and we were still there, practising Sindarin, when the leaves of the trees turned yellow, red, and brown and scattered on cool winds blowing down from the north. By then, the palace roof was finished. The dining hall still had not been started, though, so all meals were moved inside to Oropher's private audience chamber. This new, more intimate setting improved the dining experience, since I was no longer on display before the entire court. But the quality of the food and drink did not change.
By this time in late autumn, Oropher had decided to help Canamírë with my Sindarin lessons. He seemed to take an unnatural delight in teaching me the most useless vocabulary he could find. Under his guidance, I memorised the specific Sindarin words for 'light, pleasant spring rain that does not fall too harshly' and 'the screeching sound made by a frightened rabbit', but not more commonplace words such as those for 'tired' or 'shiny'. I learned how to conjugate the verb 'to stir something using a slow, round motion of the arm', but not 'to try'. My education was far from ideal.
The Sindarin lessons frequently took place while walking, as I found it helpful to learn the words for things as I saw them: 'candle', 'table', 'tapestry', 'gate', 'road', 'fountain', and 'garden'. We explored the mostly-built palace and the surrounding land, the town and the forest, and I memorised Sindarin words. Many of them were close enough to the Quenya that it took little effort. The Sindarin word for 'stone', for example, was very similar, as was 'cloud'. It was almost like cheating. All I needed do was pronounce the Quenya words in a truncated, bee-buzzing voice, and that was Sindarin.
"Root," I said to Canamírë in Sindarin as he and Oropher and I walked the perimeter of the town and worked at nature words. "Tree. Leaf. Branch. Beetle."
"Where is the beetle?" he asked.
"The beetle is on a log beside the tree," I answered carefully. Remembering the proper mutation of all those bee-words was a tricky task.
"Very good! Now, what colour is the bird on the branch above us?"
I looked up. "The bird is brown and has a red breast." This was the easy part. We always began with very simple sentences, reviewing what I had already learned.
"Where is the manticore?" asked Oropher, and Canamírë grunted with disapproval. He, very sensibly, considered Oropher's preference for impractical words to be counterproductive.
"The manticore is not real," I said. "But were it real," I continued, proudly stressing my ability to conjugate in the subjunctive, "it would live in your forest."
"It certainly would!" said Oropher, beaming.
I smiled pleasantly back at him. He did not know how fierce was my wish that a manticore truly did live in his forest. Or several of them.
By this time, we had come around to the invisible pathway by which Canamírë and the porters and I had come to Galadhost. Every time we passed it, Canamírë could not help but look for the hidden way through. He had not yet found it. Nor, I suspected, would he ever. At least not until the Sindar allowed him to. On this day, however, as soon as he poked his head into the little glen that marked the entrance to the hidden path, one of the green-clad Sindarin warriors stepped out. Not even I could see whence he came, staring closely as I was, but he was soon followed by another. Then another followed after the second, and a third after the fourth. An entire parade appeared out of nowhere. Nearly thirty of them came out of the forest, one by one, and it was still impossible to see how they did it. I was so engrossed in the mystery of the disappearing pathway that I did not even notice who the warriors held captive until the shouting started.
"You!" said a familiar voice, addressing Oropher. "I knew it!"
"You knew me?" Oropher replied. He added something else, but it was too quick for me to catch.
"Oh, no," I heard Canamírë mutter.
I forced myself to look away from the mystery path, and when I did, the first thing I noticed was that only two-thirds of those that had appeared were Oropher's warriors. The rest were also warriors, but outfitted very differently in grey and white, and every one of them looked seethingly angry. The man at their fore looked angriest of all. He was also tallest, towering nearly half a head above his fellows, and his brilliant silver hair shone white in the midday sun. The sight of him made my legs weak and my head spin; I suddenly understood Canamírë's oh-no. I thought I had overcome this obstacle back at Lake Nenuial.
Whatever abuse it was that Celeborn was hollering at Oropher, I did not even try to listen. I took two slow steps back until my shoulder bumped Canamírë's. "We believe we must go now," I murmured to him.
"Good idea," he whispered in return. But before we could make our escape, Oropher's meddlesome voice rose above the din to very clearly enunciate the exact words we did not want to hear.
"I did not know you were in the forest. I was just out walking with my good friend King Arfinu of Tirion, and his valet, Conuvir."
"Arfinu of..." Celeborn gasped. His glance wildly scanned the assembled party and landed, inevitably, on my golden hair. "Oh," he said, visibly deflating. "You."
"Yes, my friend Arfinu," Oropher confirmed.
Celeborn shook his head, looking more than a little irritated. "No, Oropher, that is not Arfinu of Tirion. That is some Midhren lord writing a book."
"You're writing a book?" Oropher asked me.
"Erm..." I said.
"And you're not really the King of the Golodhrim?" He suddenly looked very excited.
"Erm..." I said again.
"Wonderful!" he cried. "We can have a big fight about this!"
"No!" shouted Celeborn, interrupting. "There will be no fight! Warden Oropher of Brethil, I am here to arrest you on charges of treason!"
That is what I assumed he said. I did not know if the words he used truly were 'arrest' and 'charges', but they fit with the context of the sentence and with the officious-looking papers he brandished. I did understand 'treason'.
"Treason for what?" asked Oropher.
"For betraying King Dior and causing his death!"
Oddly enough, the verb 'betray' was one Oropher had taught me just the previous day.
The rest of what Celeborn said sounded like a rehearsed speech, full of large words spoken in a condescending manner, and I could only understand a fraction of it. He mentioned something about a royal guard and the sons of my brother Fëanáro. I tried my best to listen, but shortly into the speech a dog appeared, no doubt attracted by all the commotion. Its barking further confused anything Celeborn was trying to say. The only clear sentence he managed to scream, breaking from his prepared speech, was, "Make that dog be quiet!"
Oropher knelt down and draped his arm over the dog's back as if they were casual friends. "What was that?" he asked the dog.
The dog barked, growled, and barked again.
"You have something important to tell me?" asked Oropher.
Again, the dog barked.
"Yes, I can see that you're a dog."
Bark, bark, bark.
"A barking dog! That's very good. And you're right: dogs should bark."
"I know. You already told me you're a dog. What else?"
Celeborn growled something of his own and turned his back to Oropher, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands as he did. He looked nothing short of exasperated. In the background, Oropher continued his conversation with the dog.
"Now let us go," I said to Canamírë.
He needed no more incentive. We backed up slowly, ducked behind the corner of a house, and fled the scene.
The whole story unfolded quickly after that. News of Prince Celeborn's arrival sped through town like the wind, and within minutes it became the only topic of conversation on the streets. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone already knew why Celeborn had come.
Oropher had not been born a prince. Rather, he had been born into a family of farmers in a small village on the river Malduin. At the age of forty-four, he appeared in Brethil and shortly thereafter took up a position as a warden of that forest. But Oropher's bright-burning spirit chafed under the stringent rules Thingol imposed on the wardens. His passion would not allow him to be ruled by force. In secret, and in opposition to the law that required all low-ranking wardens to be unattached men, he married. He had a child: a daughter, named Istilien. She parted from him only recently to remain on the other side of the river with the man she loved.
When Thingol's bureaucrats discovered Oropher's clandestine marriage, he was dragged down to Menegroth to explain himself. Instead of a grovelling apology and swift resignation from the company of Brethil, as expected, Thingol received nothing but contempt. It was unjust, Oropher argued, for wardens to be denied the comfort of marriage. Forcing them to live in loneliness improved neither their loyalty nor their work ethic. Had he not been an exemplary warden, despite being married? His performance in Brethil had not suffered. Rather, he had been commended by his captain on numerous occasions. Was he not living proof that the law held no merit?
Thingol had not accepted the excuse. In Doriath, the law was absolute. For defying his king, Oropher was sent to prison, where he remained for thirty-two years. His release happened only by chance. Thingol was killed. In the chaos that followed, when the Dwarves of Nogrod came to plunder Menegroth, all prison doors were thrown open in the hope that every last man might fight against the invaders. And although the battle was lost, Oropher survived.
He returned to Brethil. His daughter, who had been a child at his arrest, had become a young woman. His wife had grown distant and cool. Thrown into poverty, forced to rely on the charity of others for survival, she resented the stubbornness that led to Oropher's imprisonment. Had he only apologised and resigned, as Thingol wanted, he could have returned to her thirty-two years earlier. They could have left Doriath and sought her kin in Ossiriand, and started a new life. Instead, he languished in prison while she took alms from the other wardens, performing meaningless odd jobs in exchange as a matter of pride.
He returned to Menegroth. Even if the wardens had been able to take him back, it would have made no difference; the government of Doriath lay in ruins, and there was no money in the treasury to pay its soldiers. So he set himself to work doing the only thing he could think of to restore his family's good fortune. He would not flee as a refugee to Ossiriand only to end up relying on the good will of his wife's family. No, the only way to ensure prosperity would be to reassemble Doriath's tattered remains and restore what had been destroyed.
He had one blessing on his side. He had always been charismatic: a natural leader. When he spoke, even as a warden of low rank, others listened. Men naturally fell into line behind him and followed his command. In Menegroth, the royal guard, bereft of leadership, began to join his cause. The wardens, too, saw that his vision held promise. The common people took his side. They believed that Oropher was the one who could rebuild Doriath, not as it had been before under Thingol's decadent autocracy, but as something better. He promised a new society where all were equal.
But there was an obstacle. While he had easily gained support from the soldiers and commoners, both groups that claimed him as one of their own, Oropher found himself constantly fighting against the nobles. The Tyrant of Doriath, they called him: an uppity nobody out to steal power from those who held it. The one who held the most power at that time was Celeborn, which made him Oropher's primary opponent. The political situation became a battle of heredity versus popularity. In the end, heredity won, though not through Celeborn. The nobles of Doriath managed to hold Oropher off long enough for Dior, Thingol's heir, to appear out of the east and claim his throne.
Dior's arrival suppressed Oropher's rebellion, but did not destroy it. For four years, it simmered in the hearts and minds of many of the lowlier citizens of Doriath until, one winter, the conflict came boiling up like a volcano. A riot raged at the gates of Menegroth, and Dior issued a warrant for Oropher's arrest on charges of treason. It was never executed. The very palace guards sent to perform the arrest were sympathetic to the rebel cause. Instead of bringing him in chains before Dior, they divulged all of the King's plans and warned him to flee for his life. And so Oropher fled.
But he did not melt away into the night like a criminal on the run. Instead, he summoned his closest supporters and made a proposition. They would leave Doriath. Under his leadership, they would journey into the east and make a new home far from the reach of Dior and his lords. He expected some dozens to follow him, perhaps a few hundred. Nearly two thousand went. In a matter of days, in the middle of winter, nearly two thousand people packed up their lives and simply walked away into the east, and Dior was powerless to stop them. Of those that went, half were fighting men, Doriath's wardens and soldiers, and those fighting men included over two thirds of the palace guard.
When the army of the sons of Fëanáro came for the Silmaril only five days later, the crippled skeleton of Menegroth's defences could not even hope to stop them.
Someone knocked at my bedroom door. Assuming it to be Canamírë, I shouted for him to enter. The door opened, but instead of Canamírë it was Celeborn who stood there; his face was a hardened mask of barely contained fury.
"Who are you?" he asked me.
I did not reply, but set my comb down on the dressing table and fussed with the buttons on my robe.
"The Tyrant insists that you are Arfinue of Tirion, and gives me compelling evidence. So which is it? Are you Goldórin king or Vaniárin author?"
It took me a moment to realise that he was speaking the language of the Teleri of Alqualondë. He spoke very well. Artanis must have taught him.
"I am Arfinue,"
He nodded to himself, accepting this, though the anger in his eyes did not fade. Then: "Why did you lie?"
"Because I could not face my daughter," I said. The words slipped out before I had time to think of what I was saying.
Celeborn stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. He stood beside Canamírë's bed a moment, staring at me, before he sighed and sat. I was glad that he did. He was a tall man, taller than I, and had an imposing, imperious look about him. He was less intimidating while seated. I remembered thinking, when I first met him, that Artanis' sense of regal entitlement naturally would have led her to choose the largest husband she could find. The same thought came to me as he sat in my bedroom. I wished I could have seen them together, as I could tell they would make a handsome couple. His silver hair would complement her gold; her Noldorin beauty would shine next to the classically Telerin features he shared with Olwë's kin: wide, shallow-set eyes, small nose, and high, sharp cheekbones. They would have lovely children. If Artanis ever deigned to subject her royal self to the indignity of childbirth.
"You could not face your daughter," he said after a long pause. "When we met, you went out of your way to invent a lie about your Vanyarin culture forbidding you from meeting my wife. Your own daughter, and you could not face her. Why is that?"
"Because..." I said. "Because... I knew that if I saw her, I would be unable to leave her."
It was a strange situation I found myself in, and one I did my best to explain to Celeborn, though I fear I did a poor job of it. When I came to Endor with the Host of the Valar to fight this war of theirs, I was expected to remain well away from the war zone and command my troops from afar. Eönwë instructed me to stay on the Isle of Balar with Ingwion and Gil-galad, but I wished to do more. I could not fight, as I had given Eönwë my solemn word that I would not endanger myself in battle, but I could, I reasoned, serve a different purpose. A vision had started to form in my head of a united kingdom, where all Elves might find peace and happiness in the land of Valinor. After seeing what kinds of folks resided on Balar and having to watch them needlessly wallowing in the hardship of life in the east, I knew I had a duty to save them. So, whenever I could, I encouraged the people of Balar to go west after the war. I told them of the glories of Valinor and the joys they might there discover.
But what of those who had not come to Balar? According to Gil-galad, many Nandor still resided in the light forests of Ossiriand, and even more remained farther in the east. It would be cruel not to offer them the same chance at redemption I had given the Balarrim.
I set off into the east with my court. Such a large group made slow progress as we travelled along the southern coast of Beleriand and then north-east up the river Gelion to Ossiriand; it took us two years of camping to come to the village between the rivers Thalos and Rathlóriel where Canamírë was imprisoned. Along the way, I spoke with every Nandorin chieftain I could find. Whether or not they fully understood what I said, I did not know, as none of us spoke Nandorin and I was forced to rely on one minstrel's middling Sindarin skills, but I did my best to convey the message.
I was introduced to Canamírë by the King of the village between the Thalos and the Rathlóriel. The King had an unwanted, Sindarin-speaking Noldorin prisoner on his hands, and there I was with an entire host of Noldor in need of a good Sindarin interpreter. I agreed to relieve the Nandorin King of Canamírë in exchange for his listening to my Valinorian proposal. That night, Canamírë made a proposal of his own: I should abandon my company and continue my mission with a much smaller party. A small group could travel more quickly, and would be harder for the fiends of Melkor to detect. As it stood, my large, slow-moving entourage might as well have been a great bull's-eye target for orcs and the like.
This was when the two of us went off on our own with the porters, leaving everyone else behind. Canamírë, adventuring merchant that he was, was accustomed to this sort of rough travelling. He was also a wellspring of useful information, such as where to find the kings I sought. It was he who knew that Celeborn had started a settlement on the shores of Lake Nenuial, he who led the way there, and he who told me the name and history of Celeborn's wife.
"I thought we would weep with joy to hear word of my daughter," I said to Celeborn. "After learning of the deaths of my sons, I prayed that she was still alive and safe. But when I learned where she was, and that I might see her again, the joy was small next to the sense of apprehension."
"But why?" Celeborn asked. "You had not seen her in four long-years. Would you not wish to be reunited?"
"Yes. More than anything. But you must understand... I had lived those four long-years with the pain of losing her. And I remembered the fire of her conviction when she marched fearlessly onward after I turned away from that folly. She wished to be free in the east. She longed for new lands and experiences and..." I paused, searching for the words to best explain how I felt.
"Hear this," I continued. "Do you believe that, if I asked Artanis to come back to Valinor and take up her former life, she would do such a thing?"
"No," said Celeborn. A little hint of a smile played on his lips; he knew her better than I did, and even I was sure of what the answer would be. "She has no desire to return."
"And would you also believe that, if I were to make my presence known to her, she would accept this brief visit gracefully and thereafter allow me to depart?"
This time, Celeborn took a long breath and held it while he considered his answer. "No," he finally admitted. "No, I think she would try to convince you to stay. That is her only complaint about living in the east: she is separated from her family, and believes she will see neither you nor her mother ever again. If she knew you were here... she would ask you to stay with her."
"And do you think," I murmured, "that I would be able to refuse her request and cause us both the pain of parting all over again?"
He did not answer, but I did not expect him to.
"I am weak. She is my only daughter, my little girl, and do you think I could refuse her? If she asked, I would stay. I could not bear to put her through another farewell. Our last parting was torment enough."
"So stay," said Celeborn. "You return to Nenuial with me, and-"
"And what? Abandon my wife? Abandon my people? My crown? Do you not understand? I cannot stay. No matter how much she might wish it, it is impossible. If she asks, I will stay, but since I cannot stay, I cannot even give her the chance to ask. You see?"
For a long, uncomfortable moment, Celeborn stared at me. Then, with a sigh and a shake of his head, he stood. "You are a damned coward, Arfinue," he said.
"Yes," I replied, "I am. It shames me, but at least I admit it."
"You are so afraid of your own weakness that you won't even give yourself a chance to be strong. And," he added as he opened the door, "you underestimate Galadriel."
The Sindarin name he spoke was unfamiliar, but I knew at once who he meant. "Galadriel..."
"She is not your little girl any more," he said with a thin smile. "She is a great lady of strength and wisdom, and you do her an injustice with your assumptions. She would not stupidly and selfishly demand you abandon your own life to stay with her. Nor would she wilt like a fragile flower when it came time for you to leave. You should come back to Nenuial and announce yourself to her. No more Vaniárin lies. I think you would be pleasantly surprised. And proud."
As soon as the sound of Celeborn's footsteps disappeared down the corridor, I went to find Canamírë. Celeborn had been right; I was a coward. And, cowardly as I was, I could not bear the thought of being alone right then. I needed a distraction. I needed something to take my mind off of what Celeborn had said. If I focused on his words, I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of the mistake I had made refusing to see Artanis - Galadriel - at Nenuial. Memories of mistakes were the last thing I needed. They would be detrimental to the quest.
I took a breath to calm myself and rounded the corner out of the bedroom door, only to almost collide with Canamírë right there. He stood leaning back against the wall as if waiting for something.
"Oh!" he echoed in return. "Araf- Your Highness."
"Canamírë. Good. Just the person we need to see. How long have you been there?"
He did not answer.
"Did you overhear my conversation with Celeborn?"
Again, he did not answer.
"How much of it?"
"Well, what you must understand is that I don't speak Telerin, so even the parts I overheard were fuzzy at best. I had to guess."
"What did you guess?" I asked.
He smiled sloppily at me, which made him look very much like Oropher. "You were using singular pronouns."
That was the most important thing he had overheard? "Well, yes," I said, irritated. "Celeborn is our kinsman and equal. Therefore, we may speak to him intimately."
"I'm not your equal?" he asked, feigning a hurt expression and clasping his hands over his heart.
"No. You, Canamírë, are our guide. And you have some guiding to do. Take us to Oropher. We wish to say farewell. It is time to leave."
"Leave Eryn Galen?"
"You mean it this time?"
"Yes!" I snapped. "We are through with this place. We need no more of Oropher's insanity, and no more of Celeborn's making us to feel guilty, and no more wasting time. Let us move on to Cuiviénen. If we leave now, we should be far into the south before the snows come."
Canamírë protested no further; he had been eager to leave ever since we arrived. We found Oropher in his presence chamber, where we also, unfortunately, found Celeborn. Celeborn must have come to Oropher directly after leaving me. He was seated near the fireplace and holding the arrest warrant he had produced earlier, though looked no closer to arresting the traitor Oropher than he did to growing wings. He had no soldiers in the room to assert his claim. Oropher had four. It might as well have been Celeborn under arrest, and, judging by the uncertain look on his face, he knew this.
"Ah, Arafinwë Noldóran!" Oropher greeted me. He gave no explanation as to why Quenya was suddenly the language of choice once again, but I was glad for the switch. An excess of Sindarin made my head ache.
I bowed to him. I would do whatever necessary to put myself in his good graces before I left. "Your Highness King Oropher."
"Reeve Oropher," he corrected.
"Of course: our error. Reeve Oropher." He had never corrected me before. Some scheme was in the works.
"You've met my good friend, Prince Celeborn?"
"We have," I said. "We had a lovely conversation with him not an hour ago."
Celeborn's eyes flicked up at the mention of his name, but otherwise he appeared not to have any interest in what we were saying. With his knowledge of Telerin, he would certainly be able to understand some of the speech, but I could not help but suspect that Oropher's choice to use Quenya was meant to exclude him.
"Celeborn thinks he should be the King of Eryn Galen."
"Mm," Oropher confirmed with a nod. "Thinks people need a real blood prince to rule them."
I refrained from stating that I agreed with Celeborn, and smiled politely at Oropher. 'Creative' as he was, Oropher had neither the hereditary background nor the political experience to be an effective leader. It was amazing that he had lasted this long already.
"Problem is," he continued, "Eryn Galen isn't a kingdom. It's a... uh... thing where there is no king but a reeve that the people choose."
"Sure," said Oropher.
I also refrained from stating that republics were a ridiculous notion that would never work.
"Anyhow, he's also here to arrest me."
"We are sorry to hear that."
"I know. So am I. He's doing such a bad job of it, too. It's kind of... hmm... what's that word when you feel bad for somebody who's being really stupid?"
"You find it embarrassing for him?"
Oropher clapped his hands together. "Right! That's it. It's embarrassing."
"How terrible. However, we are confident that Prince Celeborn will eventually discover a method of arresting you that is to your satisfaction."
"I hope so," said Oropher.
"In the meantime," I told him, "it is with great sadness that we must announce our intention to leave you now. We fear we have overstayed our welcome, and it is time to continue our journey to Cuiviénen."
For the first time since our meeting, Oropher looked genuinely dismayed. I think he had grown accustomed to having me around as a constant audience for his foolery. "But..." he stammered, "but... but... this is Cuiviénen! We are building a new Cuiviénen here!"
"We know, Oropher, and we understand how important your New Cuiviénen project is to you. However, it is imperative that we visit the original Cuiviénen, the one by the great lake where the Elves first awoke, and speak to its inhabitants."
Dejected, he sat down hard in his chair opposite Celeborn and stared at the floor. "Cuiviénen is dying," he finally said after a long and awkward pause.
"We beg your pardon?" I asked.
"It's dying." His voice sounded different when he spoke these words. It was not his elegant king-voice that he used to speak at banquets, and nor was it the jester-voice that sang nonsense songs and held conversations with dogs. This voice had the unmistakable tone of simple truth to it. For the first time, it sounded as if he had dropped his act and was speaking seriously. The change sent a chill down my back.
"We do not understand. What do you mean by this?"
He shifted into Sindarin, allowing him to speak more freely. Canamírë translated line by line.
"Something is wrong. For years, since the start of that war in the west, there have been signs of a coming disaster. Dark clouds hang in the north. The earth shakes, more and more violently each time it happens. In some areas, animals are disappearing. I've had people from the south and west arriving in Galadhost. The first came three years ago, but now more are starting to follow. They bring disturbing news with them.
"The Glindrim are leaving their lands, and some of them end up here. What they tell me is that, beginning a few years ago, the animals started to disappear. Game is becoming scarce. Fish are dying off without spawning, leaving the rivers full of weeds and little else. Even the insects are becoming a rare sight. They see it as an omen. Something terrible is about to happen. If the animals and insects know to leave, then they should leave, too."
"I can confirm that," said Celeborn. He spoke softly, hesitantly, trying not to intrude. "Folk of Ossiriand have recently begun to join the settlement at Nenuial. They bring me the same news."
"But we were in Ossiriand," I said. "We saw nothing of this, and we were there only two years ago."
"And much can change in two years," Celeborn replied. "You will remember that while you were with me at Nenuial, there was an earthquake that caused two half-built homes to collapse. You left that next spring. Had you stayed a short while longer, you would have still been there when a party of several hundred arrived. They risked crossing the Ered Luin in the middle of winter to reach what they believed to be the safety of Eriador, and they told me more would be on the way once summer made the mountains more passable. I have no doubt I will return home to find new tents full of new refugees on the lakeshore."
"That's why we're building in Galadhost," said Oropher, nodding. "For when the great migration comes up from Cuiviénen. Those folks will need homes."
"For refugees from Cuiviénen?" I asked. "Oropher, are you telling us..." I let my voice trail off as he nodded. That was exactly what he was telling me.
"Three years ago, a small scouting party came up from the south, looking for new, safe lands. I did not know who they were, and their language was strange even to the natives of this forest; it took a long time for us to communicate anything in a way that we all understood. But they eventually told us their story. It was terrible to hear. They came from Cuiviénen, and were descendants of those who had originally refused the journey into the west. They did not want to leave, but felt they had no choice; they thought the land had been cursed. Fish were gone from the water. Animals had moved up into the mountains or died off. Each year was worse than the last, and the people were finding it harder and harder to feed themselves. The leaders sent five scouting parties out to search for new lands, and one of those parties came to me."
"And so..." I began, but did not finish the thought. No-one spoke.
And so Cuiviénen was doomed. It was possible that, even as we held this conversation, the last of the Elves of the Waters of Awakening were on their way to Eryn Galen and wherever else they might have decided to go. They were leaving their ancient home. It was exactly what I had thought I wanted, as I travelled on this mission across Endor, but now that I heard it to be true, the news gave me no joy.
Canamírë and I did not leave that day. Oropher, demonstrating an uncharacteristic bout of common sense, wisely counselled that we overwinter in Galadhost and then set out again in the spring. Upon consideration, I deemed his suggestion to be valid. I had no desire to cross the Hithaeglir when snow could strike at any time. I also had no desire to spend the winter in a draughty log house, in bedroom that had no glass in the window, but this was the lesser of two evils. I ordered new, warm clothing made of leather and the local silver-sheen fabric, which, Celeborn informed me, was a specialty of Sindarin craftsmanship originating in Doriath. Thus, properly attired, I settled in for a long winter of freckle songs, fatty pork, and having to constantly think in three different languages.
Some folk did arrive from Cuiviénen not long after the first snows. There were few of them, proud, dark-haired and dark-eyed people clad in furs, who spoke little, even to each other. They kept mainly to themselves, though did agree to some conversations with Oropher, full of gestures and meticulously enunciated words. So he learned from them that many had come up from the south, but few wished to live among strangers, beholden to a foreign lord. Those that valued their autonomy above all else had continued around to the north-eastern parts of the forest to make their own settlements.
I tried my best to speak to them on several occasions throughout the winter. They did not particularly appreciate my stories of Valinor, nor seem to have any interest at all in listening to me try to speak to them in words they did not understand, but a few did enjoy the pictures I drew of grand stone cities, swan ships on the open sea, and the clothing people wore in the west. They adored the small collection of Noldorin jewellery I had brought with me on my quest, to the point that a few disagreements arose over the meaning of the verb 'to borrow'. I bit my tongue and told myself I could always have new jewellery made once I returned to Valinor.
Finally, in late spring, Oropher announced that the weather had grown warm enough to cross the mountains. Canamírë and I would be leaving with Celeborn's party, Celeborn having long since discovered that his valiant plan of arresting Oropher and bringing Eryn Galen under proper Sindarin rule had several monstrous flaws. Not the least of which was that Oropher had an army, and Celeborn did not.
"I honestly did not think they would be this well organised," he admitted to me as we inspected the horses before our departure. He had lent me one of his fine grey mares to ride, and I had handed over my remaining pony to his soldier-porters. Where my own porters had gone off to remains a mystery to this day.
"You thought they would be huddled in the woods, struggling to make a fire by rubbing sticks together? Waiting like lumps for the benefit of your great wisdom?" I asked.
"Well... yes, actually."
I nodded in agreement. "So did I."
Most of the town had gathered to see us off, standing in a tight circle around the pack horses and generally being in the way of all the last-minute back-and-forth running for supplies and forgotten items. Forty-one of us were leaving, and everyone else wanted to see the spectacle. Friends and family embraced, bidding farewell to those they knew they might never see again. The group of forty-one included not only me and Canamírë with Celeborn and his soldiers, but also twenty-two Nandor of Eryn Galen and seven of the quiet Avari from Cuiviénen. They would continue on to Valinor with me after the war. This was less than I had hoped for, but twenty-nine was better than none. I could always try to collect more from any settlements we found along the way.
Oropher appeared just as we were ready to leave. He was wearing the red Kinging Robe he had worn that first day at the fountain. He pushed his way through the crowd until he came to where Celeborn and I stood, and insisted on embracing us both several times. "Sorry to see you go," he told me. "This was fun. Don't suppose you'll be coming back?"
He turned to Celeborn. "And I'm sorry you weren't able to arrest me as planned."
Unsure of whether to grin or scowl, Celeborn made an awkward face halfway between the two.
"Anyhow. Have a good journey. Hope you make it home safely. Mountains should be fine this time of year, but if there's trouble, you can always come back."
"Thank you, Oropher," I said. "We will always remember your hospitality." Among other things.
"Thanks. But if you're not quite ready to go..."
"We are ready. And we should go now, to cover as much distance as we can before the sun sets. We do thank you, again, for everything you have done for us." I placed both of my hands on his shoulders in a traditional Noldorin blessing. "May your prayers always fly swiftly to the ears of Elbereth,"
"Thanks," he replied. He then paused, as if searching his thoughts for an appropriate blessing of his own. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
For the next several minutes, I tried to think of anything I could not imagine Oropher doing. The list was very short, and still most of those I could not rule out for certain.
We rode out to the unmistakable sound of Oropher singing. Exactly what he sang does not warrant mentioning.
"So does this mean you will return to Nenuial with me?" Celeborn asked. We had crossed the bridge earlier that day, and were riding perilously close to the eaves of the Nandorin forest. We were forced to stick to higher ground, as the horses could not manage the rocky beach terrain below.
"Perhaps, I answered. I still had not decided one way or another, though my thoughts leaned increasingly toward seeing Artanis again.
"We have a ways to go yet. You have the entire journey through the mountains and across Eriador to decide. But you know what my thoughts on the matter are."
Yes, I did. He had made himself abundantly clear.
Ahead in the underbrush, we caught a quick glimpse of two painted Nandorin men before they disappeared back into the forest. I knew they were watching us, and I knew they wanted us to know they were watching us. They would never have allowed themselves to be seen otherwise. There were likely a dozen of them hiding in the trees, peering silently down. Oropher had assured me they would pose no threat to a group as large as ours. I hoped he was right.
"Did you speak to any of those fellows on your mission?" asked Celeborn.
I shook my head. "No. They were... ah... aggressively disinterested in any sort of foreign presence in their land." I related to him the tale of the fur tube.
"Now if any folk are in need of enlightened western leadership," he said, laughing, "it would be folk such as those."
"I agree. Oropher told me that a friend of his, Amdír, is attempting to do just that in the southern part of the forest, but his influence over the tribes is limited."
"Amdír," Celeborn muttered. "Another treason warrant I should have written..."
"He, like Oropher, tries to rule them as a friend."
"Friendship will never work with these people. They need strong leadership. They must be told what to do, or else they will accomplish nothing. Such a waste. Think of how much greater they would be if only they had a true lord to give them guidance!"
I looked back along the riverbank behind us at the line of the forest receding toward the horizon. Lindórinand, Oropher had called it: Vale of the Land of the Singers. Those singers had yet to learn of the glory of the West. "Yes," I said. "They would be great indeed."
"Ah, well," said Celeborn. "That is a worry for another day. Are you hungry? I could do with some dinner. As soon as we're out of the shadow of this forest."
"That sounds like a delightful idea."
I looked behind me again. Some of the Nandor of our group were staring intently at the trees, no doubt searching for their hidden kin. But we did not stop. On and on we went, moving step by slow step on the long journey into the west.
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.