Disclaimer: I do not own The Silmarillion.
Originally posted on Fanfiction.net on 29/05/2013.
It is noon. I have stood at the gates of my father's gardens for an hour, and my chest rises and falls erratically. My hands clutch at a slim book that, I had said to Celebrían, I wanted to show to Eärendil, but that I in fact needed to give my fingers something to do. The sun is high in the sky, not terribly hot, but I fan myself with my volume, anyway; sweat gathers at my hairline and slides down to my temples in thin rivulets; I am reminded of the way I used to feel after a long run barefoot in the forest, when I was scarcely two-score years of age.
The guard who sits on a stool by the stone wall inclines his head to one side and says, "Lord, is something the matter?" He looks worried, or perhaps apprehensive; maybe he thinks me a bit strange. He continues, "Lord Eärendil sent for you," as if I don't know that.
I say, far too stubbornly for my age, "I am sorry, but I am waiting for him to call me inside." Actually, I am waiting for him to come outside and greet me, though this seems less and less likely by the moment. I have also been trying to conjure his face in my head, rather unsuccessfully. What is he like, now? Will he look the same as he did when I was a child? I remember yellow hair, I remember blue eyes, I remember my brother saying he had an angular face...
Elros' visage takes the place of my father's vague one in my mind, and it is painfully clear, though it switches between a youthful, insolent Elros with cheeky eyes and an older Elros with grey-streaked hair and with worn, leathery skin. But his smile remains the same, and I feel my own face soften as I recall his appearance, then fall as I remember his death. His hands were papery and green-veined when they clutched mine.
I am pulled out of my reverie by someone who says, "Lord? Lord?" I blink, and see a young attendant before me, dressed in a long tunic cinched at the waist with a leather belt. "My Lord Eärendil is asking for you to come inside."
Fighting the urge to sigh in exasperation, I follow the lad along the paved path, through the fragrant gardens, to the large, white double-doors of the house made of pale marble, and am ushered inside by a servile porter. The attendant stops. He looks at me expectantly with a wide smile, and subtly turns his gaze round the prettily decorated hall we are in. I am a bit amused at this. Does he expect me to be impressed? I vaguely wonder how old he is. He can't be more than five-and-twenty, all curly hair and wide eyes.
"Where is my father, boy?" I ask, trying to sound pleasant. His face falls a bit, and he says, "I'll take you there, Lord."
He leads me northwards through extravagant corridors. The floor is checkered with cool marble, and tapestries depicting the Valar dot the gleaming walls. There is a particularly interesting one with Oromë riding his stallion across a frothing ford with his hounds, but I have no time to admire it, as the attendant is surprisingly swift on his feet and seemingly reluctant to halt. I am slightly annoyed at this, though not at him, as I want to distract myself from the bubble of anxiety in my chest.
I do, however, take a moment to gaze at a painted bust of Elbereth – or Varda, as the plate beneath the sculpture reads – that is made with obviously skilled hands when the boy stops and pants slightly before an intricate, gold-plated door with a lily design that more befits a palace than merely a large house.The boy knocks and steps back. For a few moments there is no answer, and I feel my heart pound against my ribcage as if it is trying to break free of my flesh. As I take deep breaths to calm down, a voice floats out: "Enter."
I could have fainted. That is the voice of my father, whom I have not seen for...for a very long time, even by Elven standards. I want to run away, back to the wide streets of Tirion where I can take my horse and go back home and hide my face in my hands like a little boy; I am scared.
But the attendant opens the door, and leaders of Elves – even former ones – do not run away from what frightens them. So I stride inside, keep my chin stiffly in the air, and straighten my light-blue summer scarf. I hear the door close softly behind me.
Suddenly, it is difficult not to gape at my surroundings. Truly, the wealth of this city never ceases to amaze me; I don't think I will ever grow used to it. The foyer is almost pitifully plain compared to this chamber. Tall, latticed windows, aligned painfully straight and side by side like soldiers, allow sunlight to seep onto the rich, patterned carpets and to shine on the opulent, crystal chandelier that hangs completely still from the domed ceiling, like a sleeping monster. There are no tapestries but painfully realistic, gold-framed paintings of Elvish kings and queens, including one of Finwë, though the most extravagant one is of Ingwë, seated in serene, proud benevolence on his throne, with his sceptre and and his orb in each bejewelled hand.
At length, when I gather my wits enough to realise I am being rude, I force my eyes to the man seated at a broad cherry-wood desk by one of the windows. "Father?" I say hesitantly, after a pause. The word tastes too strange on my tongue; I won't use it again, though I suppose I can think it. Eärendil's fair hair falls about his broad shoulders, and he has donned an embroidered, sky-blue jacket over a cream tunic and breeches, and there are fine, leather boots on his feet. It is far too warm, I think, for such clothes. I am about to enquire about this when he says, "Elrond."
As ridiculous as it seems, I want to laugh. We meet each other after thousands of years, and all we can say is 'father' and 'Elrond'. I fight the urge to giggle inappropriately and smile broadly at him, though I cannot bring myself to go to him. We stay like that for a few moments. I look at him, then lower my eyes, then raise them again. He keeps his gaze on my sandals. What are we supposed to do?
I deem an embrace might be a good start, and muster the courage to advance towards him. My sandals seem loud even against the soft carpets: thup, thup, thup. But when I am within a metre of him I grow awkward and stiffen, protectively clutching my book against my tunic with a sweaty hand. The silver ring on my fourth finger clinks against the stiff cover, and my father jolts at the noise and springs abruptly from his seat, nearly knocking over an inkwell in his haste.
"E-Elrond," he stutters again, pulling me to him with one arm. The skin of his neck, which my nose presses against, is white and warm; he smells faintly of sea-salt and of incense. The combination makes me feel slightly ill, but I do not squirm. Even the fabric of his clothes, though light, is somehow suffocating. I wait to feel some innate bond of kinship. I felt it with my brother. I felt it when I married Celebrían. I felt it when my children were born. I even felt it – Eru forgive me – when I grew close to Maglor.
Nothing of the sort happens now. Eärendil holds me at an arm's length and says, after a few deep breaths that sound like the gasps of a half-drowned man, "How are you?"
That's generic, I think, but can't come up with anything better, and reply, "I am well. I didn't think it could get this warm in Aman, though." To support my statement I rub at my chin, where a sheen of perspiration has gathered. It still feels damp.
Eärendil smiles thinly. "No, no, that is just this room. It is ridiculously hot in here, and these clothes don't help; do you want to sit at a balcony?" He puts a hand on my back and begins to propel me towards the exit, despite my protests. He chatters nervously of small doings and leads me to the first floor to what seems to be a reading room with stacks of books set on both tables and the floor, and pushes open a balcony door. A cool breeze, tinged with the faintest hint of salt, brushes my face, and I am immediately glad of his decision.
I feel far less claustrophobic as he leads me to a round, wrought-iron table, painted white, and makes me sit down on one of the matching chairs. Dark ivy winds 'round the balustrade and claws at the masonry. One can see from a distance the Sea, green-grey and blurred at the horizon. If I were alone, I might have wondered what it would be like to be a fish, swimming through cold, salty water, never ceasing to move my body, with only a primal awareness of myself and my environment...
But Eärendil is here, and I am not calm, and when I am not calm, I cannot think. So I lean back in my seat as Eärendil goes back to the corridor to murmur something to an attendant, and then returns and sits down with a sigh. It's obvious he's trying to fill the silence when he says, "I was just telling him to bring us some tea and cake. You like tea, don't you? Oh, I...I'm afraid I...don't know..." He trails off; his plan has backfired dreadfully, according to him. Had he been a lesser man, or perhaps one with ampler grace, his cheeks would have been tinged a fetching raspberry.
I decide to be charitable. "Yes, I like tea. And I happen to enjoy cake with it, too. Elros liked cake better, though. Especially lemon-cake. He was always shovelling it down his throat, even when – " Even when Maglor sighed and shook his head and Maedhros arched a fine eyebrow in mild chastisement. "Even when...Círdan told him not to," I end lamely.
"I see. You were close to Círdan, I hear. Both of you." There is a strain of well-hidden envy in his voice. I ignore it.
"Yes," I say. "We were good friends. He taught us much about sailing."
At that, Eärendil's eyes light up. With the tilt of his head, the sunlight turns his cyan eyes blue-grey and makes his face look more angular than it already is. His Vanyarin blood shines through, clear and bright and holy. I feel alienated. I have always considered myself to be Noldorin, even though I have the blood of the Fair Ones in my veins. Maybe I don't like knocking things together, but I enjoy reading and learning, and teaching besides. The Valar, though...they have never been a large concern of mine.
"Sailing, yes," he says with a monosyllabic chuckle. "I do not sail on the Sea nowadays, much as I wish to. The sky is my ship's abode."
"You are the Evening Star," I put in unnecessarily, perhaps a little scathingly. While his children were held captive by the enemy – an enemy he could have defeated if he were there – he sailed the skies as a sign of hope. Does he really expect me to treat him not as a war-hero but as my father? But I loved those two, anyway, I...
I clench my hands. Calm down. He's your father, he's your father, he's your father don't be angry fool youarethelordofImladrisandthisisadisgrace...
Eärendil, thankfully, pretends not to notice, and raises his head with a sharp smile as the attendant enters and sets down a platter on the table. There is tea and cream and sugar and a crumbly carrot cake. "Don't you want some?"
I jolt, then stutter, "Uh, no, a little later...I do like it, though..."
His smile softens and he lowers his eyes. He cuts a slice of cake, puts it on a porcelain, willow-pattern plate, and hands it to me. "Eat," he says. "You look pale."
I feel like a child. I take the plate and run my finger along its smooth edge. I try to look at him, but end up looking at his knees.
Eärendil pours himself a cup of tea. It smells strong. He doesn't add much cream, but he adds three lumps of sugar. How odd. For some reason I'd imagined him as the sort who takes his tea black and pure. As he stirs his drink, his expression grows solemn, and a furrow deepens between his brows. "I...worried about you," he mutters gruffly. My fingers twitch. "I know I never spent much time with you, but now I wish I did. I was young and stupid, leaving you alone. You had your mother, but...I left her, too." He swallows, though he has nothing in his mouth. "I...I suppose it's too much to ask you to forgive me."
I avert my eyes. "So it would appear," I reply, making him wince slightly. "But I should say there is nothing to forgive."
Everything seems wrong.
Eärendil purses his lips and slightly lowers his head in a bow. I can't tell if it's out of relief or misery. He says, abruptly, "I kept telling myself that salvaging the Silmaril was for a greater cause. And...I do believe it."
At that, my head snaps up. "A greater cause?" I say, unable to keep the astonishment from my voice.
"Do you mind," I say coldly, slowly, "elaborating on that?"
He stiffens. "Your mother did what she felt to be right."
"And what was that?"
"Those Fëanorians were in the wrong!" he snaps, raising his voice. This is a new experience for me. When I was a child I saw him little, and never heard him shout. To see him like this is...strange. I feel like I am not really before him, but watching him as though I am invisible and he is having a conversation with someone else. He continues, "They started that war! We could not let them have their pride – "
"Because you wanted to save yours?" I interrupt scathingly, making no pretense of civility any more. "What did attaining the Silmaril do for any of us? Nothing. You got renown – I don't know why; it was Mother who saved it, not you – and the rest of us got another star in the sky."
"How dare you," he says in a low voice. He is insulted. I don't care as much as I should. "The approval of the Valar, the triumph of good. Do these things mean nothing to you, Elrond Half-elven?"
"I am not your counsellor; I am your son," I return coolly. I am back to being a scholar, an academic. To being formal. "So do not call me that, I beg you. In answer to your question, the approval of the Valar means nothing to me in the face of peace. The good you speak of is abstract, impalpable and impractical; it yields little. Had Mother given up the Silmaril, we could have prevented a blood-bath and potentially stopped a war. So now I ask you: do you value representational good over actual good?"
"Those Fëanorians," he rasps with a face red with anger. "What did they do to you?"
"They raised me," I reply simply, somewhat vindictively. "And you have not answered my question."
He smiles, cold as frost, and rubs his clean, smooth chin with two crooked fingers. Elros' and Aragorn's chins used to be bristly with stiff dark hairs. I would run my hands across them fondly and laugh.
"Tell me, dear son. Did the Fëanorians deserve to get the Silmaril?"
I say, shocking him, "Yes and no. The Silmarils are rightly theirs by inheritance, though this inheritance is rendered void by their deeds. Having said that, those jewels are no one else's, either. We've no reason to keep them. I think it is hypocritical that we condemn Fëanor and then wear his jewellery on our brows as a sign of hope. Do you not?"
For a moment he gapes at me, eyes pale and wide and staring. Then he stands up, slowly. Despite this, his chair screeches rudely and very loudly across the smooth floor. "I think," he says quietly, "that you should leave now." His lips are pressed tightly together; this conversation is over.
I get up. The air between us is taut as an arched bowstring. From the distance, in the sky, a gull calls. Gulls called in Middle-Earth, as well, unceasingly chattering and singing into the warm wind, seducing Elves into white ships.
Squaring my shoulders, I leave the room, feel the weight of Eärendil's gaze on my back. Now I am back in the opulent corridors, walking downstairs on unsteady legs. I imagine that the Valar in the tapestries watch me with unfriendly eyes. They tell me to go back where I belong.
Where do I belong?
I startle a maidservant by scoffing, and mutter an apology. Now she stares at me, too. I am uncertain whether she knows who I am. I am dressed rather casually, deliberately donning no jewels save my wedding ring, but perhaps word got around that I was here? She probably wonders why I have left so quickly. Soon, gossip of my father and of me will travel quickly among these halls. I care not. I have experienced worse than mere gossip among attendants.
When I step outside a cool breeze caresses my face and plays with the ends of my hair, but it goes quickly. I untether my bay horse from the musky stables behind the house and ride back to my own quarters, down south. The wind rushes past. It sears my cheeks and roars in my sickly-cold ears and whispers hoarsely fool fool fool that's all you'll ever be little Half-elf. It is mid-way through the journey that I realise I have left my book behind. I grit my teeth and ride on. I will send someone to Eärendil's house a few days later; if I send someone tomorrow he will seethe with rage.
I reach home. Not in the mood to talk, I slip through the back entrance, near the kitchens, and rather unfortunately run into Erestor, who is arguing animatedly with the head cook about dinner. Something about capons and partridges and parsley. My advisor wags an index finger and the cook's hair springs up as if from agitation. Actually, it was probably the unbearable, soggy heat from the kitchens that resulted in that.
I can't help it. I burst into laughter and clutch my sides. I laugh and I laugh and I laugh. I don't know why. I just laugh till tears gather at the corners of my eyes and my waist aches as if I have been punched. That's silly, isn't it?
The other two stare at me, agape. Erestor looks concerned. He asks me if I'm all right. I shake my head, still tittering, and push past him without even an 'excuse me'.
When I reach my chamber I fall onto the four-poster bed and drape my arm over my eyes. The laughter has subsided, and I feel like an empty vessel. For a few moments I listen to my own breathing. In, out. In again. A stutter in my breath. I remove my arm, and realise that the room is shrouded in semi-darkness. Someone has half-drawn the silk curtains.
I hear the door open. It is Celebrían. I know her footsteps. I tilt my head to look at her when she stops by the bed. Starlight hair, pellucid eyes. An air of one who has lived among tall trees and clear rivers. She does not ask me how I am. Instead, she brushes a strand of hair off my forehead with brittle fingers and smiles softly. "Do you want chamomile tea? It always calms you down."
Suddenly ashamed of my behaviour, I sit up. I take her hand in mine and stroke it. It is soft and pale and smells faintly of elanor. The same as ever. "Yes," I say at length. "Thank you."
Note: The sequel to this story is 'Strange Encounters'.