A Little More Conversation 11

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'A Little More Conversation'

 

Part Eleven


Dear Brennil,

In case you think I am already home -- no, my dear sister, still in Imladris. Of course, we have no idea if the first courier got through, so you may not know we are all effectively imprisoned here. A second messenger is being sent, and this time he will carry not just a report to His Majesty, but also news to family and friends. Lord Elrond said that as I hold a senior staff position in Mithlond (news to me, but not arguing), and as I meant to stay no longer than a month, he felt it only fair that I be allowed to add a personal letter to the package, a privilege extended only to the most senior members of the garrison. 

I have no idea when next I will be able to write, so this could end up being quite long. Everyone else had to content themselves with a few lines in a general communication, which will be shared amongst families and friends once His Majesty has seen the report. I doubt individual messages would be copied out and forwarded, so I suppose people will have to come to the palace to read the few words in a familiar hand saying ‘I am well, do not be concerned’. 

Where to begin? The journey across Eriador was as uneventful as the personalities involved allowed. In other words, there were any number of small dramas, but they were the kinds that happen when families travel together and soon blew over. However, we were attacked by a well-armed orc band when we were less than a day’s ride from the Ford, and it was quite a scramble in the end to get here. We would have struggled to fight them off had not Lord Elrond and some of his men also been on their way to pay a rare visit to Imladris. We took a few injuries but no one was killed on our side – cannot say the same for the orcs. 

We arrived in a confusion of carts, horses, over-excited children and angry cats – did I mention before I left that Fin told me Imladris badly needed cats to keep the rodent population in check? I had told him I was trying to find someone to feed Nutmeg and her (now half grown) kittens, and this seemed the perfect solution all round. And yes, I can hear you saying they could fend for themselves for a month or two, but she got used to me feeding her, the kittens never knew any different, and Fin promised they would be cared for, not just left to live wild.

In any event, Lord Elrond’s warriors had to help us get the carts down the only possible path, which is literally cut into the side of the gorge. The way is incredibly steep and treacherous, with a series of sharp bends overlooked by watch stations so that no enemy could pass down unnoticed. Some places had been prepared for us with the addition of branches and sand over the trail’s loose gravel, but even so, everyone had to walk, the animals had to be led, and in places the carts had to be almost physically carried. One cart lost a wheel, and two of the younger members of our party deserted us when they caught sight of their father at one of the watch stations and climbed up to join him. 

As we moved lower, we caught glimpses through the trees of the river far below. There is one bend that offers a brief, spectacular view through to the valley that opens off the gorge and which is otherwise invisible, and that was where I had my first real sight of Imladris. Broad sweep of forested hills enclosed within the mountain’s rocky embrace, patches of planted fields, the terraces Fin told me about already extending up one slope, sunlight glinting on swift-flowing water.

The trail took us through trees and over a stream on what I found later was a temporary bridge originally put in place for the cattle and left there for us. Further down the stream fell away in a narrow ribbon of silver water to meet the river below, while the trail itself narrowed to little more than a track with rock on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Then we rounded the final bend and came abruptly out onto a stretch of rough grass leading up to a hodge-podge of structures built against the wall of the gorge. Most of the garrison and others who were clearly civilians waited to greet us, including one young man who was unaware his promised had petitioned His Majesty (who would deny it but is a romantic) for permission to join her love and start their life together in the east. The expression on his face when first he saw her is something I will never forget.

And behind them, waiting so that reunions would not be constrained by the necessary formality between himself and Lord Elrond, was Fin. He stood straight and tall, his hair glinting gold in the sunlight, and was dressed all in grey. 

After a moment I remembered my training, found the duty officer, and handed my men over to him. Predictably, he wanted a full report of our encounter with the orcs, with details about strength, weapons, and the like. Some things are best dealt with now rather than later, so I asked for pen and parchment, found a convenient rock to sit on, and got on with it. While I was busy with this, I could see Lord Elrond and Fin talking, then going over to look at the horses that had pulled the carts and would remain in Imladris. 

Everything looked slightly unreal, and I found it hard to concentrate. The air was filled with the sound of the Bruinen leaping down rocks on its way through the gorge, and a myriad rainbows sparkled in the spray above the waterfalls - you can see them from the trail, and Fin told me later the Silvans call this the Valley of Rainbows. People were all over the place, necessities were being unpacked from the carts, and I knew I should be helping. When a voice behind me said ‘Res?’, I’m afraid I jumped. Yes, still good at embarrassing myself. I rose and looked up – quite a way up, I had forgotten how tall he is – and Fin and I just stood there smiling at one another until finally he said, “Welcome to Imladris,” and we both started laughing because it was such an unoriginal greeting.

We talked while I finished the report, then he took me over to greet Sael, who had his son, Lindir, with him. Next I was introduced to a crowd of people who I later recalled as a jumble of faces, skills, names and former homes – most were from Ost-in-Edhil. I did a lot of smiling and nodding and wondered if a month would be enough time for me to memorize everyone’s names. It turns out that, thanks to circumstances beyond my control, I need not have worried. I will be here more than long enough. 

The Enemy’s forces arrived nine days later. Lord Elrond feared he had been followed, I was sure my party had led them here, but Fin and Arasiel, his de facto second in command, both insisted this had been coming for a while, and that the disappearance of the cattle may have been the final clue to Imladris’ existence. An entire army is now camped above the valley: orcs, men (yes, Easterners too), and other creatures that no one can name for certain, although there are riding wargs and I have heard wolves calling after dark. Their outriders came in the quiet time before dawn, but there have been watchers on the high ground since the valley was first settled, so we were warned and the entrance to the gorge was successfully held against them. 

For now, we are at an impasse; they cannot reach us down here, but equally it would be impossible for us to mount any kind of an attack up such a steep incline. Our warriors know every inch of the gorge, and, once the first few attempts to send orcs down the cliff ended in instant death, they stopped trying to breach us. The trees also keep their own vigil, and nothing will escape their notice. They know this valley is a place of refuge and have chosen to accept elves as part of their world. We are cut off from the outside, living out our days in a place that, despite the circumstances, still feels distanced from war and fear. Sometimes when the air is still and the river calm, we can hear them high above us, and at night we see and smell their cooking fires. Otherwise we remain as separate as though we lived in different countries. 

Lord Elrond worries that Eriador is now without defense, but with the majority of Sauron’s soldiers on the high ground above us. I suspect the rest of Eriador is probably a safer place than it has been for some time. I am more concerned that feeding all these extra mouths might prove problematic later, as Imladris is not yet fully self sufficient and had been supplementing the little it produces with what could be found in the surrounding countryside. Fin has already introduced rationing, and food is being preserved and stored for winter. Hopefully the siege will have been lifted before then.

I wanted to take my turn watching, but as I do not know the area, it will be a while before I am more than a liability. Where I have been more useful is as a climber. Fin suggested I try some of the sheerer sections of the gorge to see how far I could get and where additional surveillance is necessary. He even joined me on a few of the simpler climbs, which was not what either of us had in mind when we discussed mountaineering. I get the impression he prefers his feet on the ground though, so perhaps we will stick to fishing when he has time.

Otherwise, life goes on almost normally. Not that anyone here is blind to the horror camped literally above us, or to the cold twist of fear at the thought that soon, very soon, Sauron might turn his attention towards Lindon itself, but there is nothing more we can do except watch, wait and prepare for winter. 

There are more hands available for field work now the garrison no longer patrols beyond Imladris, so farming activity has increased. New fields are being cleared to lie fallow like the terraces until next year, and the garrison’s kitchen garden, a long strip of vegetables and herbs growing in the arable soil above the river, is weeded and checked for parasites daily. Most of the vegetables originated from seed I sent out here, which makes me feel a part of all this, even though I am so newly arrived. There are vegetable patches over the river, too, in the village, barley grows on hill slopes along with flax and oats, while the cows and sheep each have their own pasture. It feels almost like being back home if you ignore the orcs.

I have my own ‘room’, despite the lack of space and my willingness to share one of the communal tents, each of which is home to eight warriors. Now that there are houses across the river, some of the cliffside shelters have fallen vacant. Most were commandeered by the senior ranks, but there were a couple being used for storage, and one of these was transformed into a sleeping space for me. Picture a shallow cave, bare rock walls on two sides with a screen of branches and hide dividing you off from the next occupant. The front is enclosed in similar fashion, a leather door flap opens onto a broad, stone ledge with twelve steps cut ladder-like into the cliff, leading from the ledge down to the ground. Quite a contrast to my room in the palace, I know, but I am very comfortable. 

I have woven hangings to brighten the walls with their blues, reds and greens, and a drawing of the main waterfall, a gift from Fin. There is a reed mat on the floor, and my bed has a collection of covers that range from a thin summer blanket to my good cloak. Fin says if I am still here in winter, I can have his bearskin. In the morning I open the door and lie in bed listening to the river and the birds, the sounds of breakfast cooking for the garrison, and the horses whickering further down river. Háran comes looking for me if I am slow to leave my nest; he sits at the foot of the steps and barks. I think Fin sent him the first few times, but it grew into a habit. Once I go out and say good morning, he is satisfied and leaves.

By the time I went to bed on my first day here, I had already met nearly half the community as many still cross the river for the evening meal in the Hall of Fire (a fancy name for the communal hearth), and then spend an hour or two before going home. We were given a welcoming feast on the third night: roast boar and goose, potatoes, summer squash and a selection of greens, plus a dessert made from a kind of cake topped with berries and served with cream and a drizzle of honey. The fire was built up after we finished eating, the wine was sent round, and we sat talking and occasionally singing till the moon was low in the sky. I heard Lindir sing then for the first time, and Fin was right, he is an exceptional talent. When things are back to normal, perhaps he could spend a few years in Mithlond for training. I can ask His Majesty, if his parents agree.

Fin joined me after dinner, though of course Lord Elrond and Arasiel sat beside him during the meal. Because of the music, we listened more than we talked, and it was so like the evenings he had written me about that we could not help but glance at one another every so often and smile. His eyes sparkle - you can tell he is smiling even if his face is still or half-hidden in shadow. When I met him in Mithlond I thought he seemed grave and serious, which I suppose one expects of a reborn hero, but although he can seem a bit reserved at times, he is as warm and friendly as his letters. From the start I felt as though we had known one another for years.

You might wonder how I cope with having nothing to do after years of always being busy, but in fact there is an unwritten rule here that everyone pitches in and helps wherever they can. My main achievement so far has been to create a corner in the Hall of Fire for the books I managed to beg and borrow before I left Mithlond. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the idea caught on, more books have quietly appeared and been added, and one shelf has already been extended to two. Lord Elrond jokes that we have the beginnings of our library, though if the siege continues for any length of time we may need to write our own books if we wish it to grow.

Fin introduced me to the sheep, all of whom seem to have names (as I suspected), and we rode down the valley to the cow pasture where I got to meet their Silvan herders. They have claimed their own, more traditional, space within Imladris and even sleep on covered platforms in the trees, a thing I have heard of but never seen before. I love the ambience of their corner of the valley, and how at one they are with the natural world. I will never learn to connect with trees and animals as absolutely as they do, but I would love to try. As a first step, I am trying to learn their dialect which pre-dates and is very unlike Sindarin.

I have also spent quite a lot of time with Amalek– you will recall him from home and that I told you about arranging for him to come here and advise on farming methods. Did I mention that his wife, one son, a daughter, their partners and children came through with us to join him? It was all arranged at the last minute, and I was quite surprised His Majesty was so agreeable to it. Mortals cannot be apart as long as we can, their life span does not allow for it, and I suppose he had that in mind when he gave his consent. 

In any event, he (Amalek) seems to feel I might remember something about farming from my youth and has spent days showing me around and explaining what has been done and what he would like to attempt in the future. I get the impression Fin’s quaint idea that warriors should be out hunting orcs rather than working the land puzzles him. I suspect Amalek sees the current surplus of available labour less as a calamity than a gift god-sent (goddess-sent?) and is taking full advantage of the situation. His main project at the moment is a channel to carry water to the cattle as there are only a few places along the bank where the river is shallow enough for them to drink. He and Sael are also discussing a complex-sounding irrigation system. 

I never had a chance to meet Lord Elrond socially in Mithlond, but Imladris is not a place that stands much on formality. I find him extremely interesting and very easy to talk to. He dismisses his reputation as a master of lore as the result of his family being central to so many of the tales of elder years. He says that, having grown up without knowing much about them, he did a lot of reading once he joined His Majesty’s household, that he quite enjoys history, and has a good memory for obscure facts. All in all, he maintains he is probably well-informed by accident rather than design. I have my own opinion on the subject.

You would never think he had spent so little time in Imladris, he fits into the ways of the valley as though he had been here from the beginning. He visits the village across the river several times a week, is getting to know the people, and seems to take an interest in everything. He and Fin have struck up a really good rapport, and where there might have been conflict over authority and responsibilities, they came to a quick and easy accord. Fin continues to oversee the day to day business of garrison and settlement, but he never overlooks nor allows anyone else to overlook the fact that Lord Elrond is master of this valley, that he holds it in the king’s name and that he is Gil-galad’s heir. I doubt though that anyone would dispute who controls the garrison, which has increased dramatically in size with the arrival of him and his men. 

Lord Elrond also has the gift for healing, something given to only a few of us. Healers do not normally go to war, nor do warriors try to heal as the energies are at odds with one another, so he has put aside this skill until after the war. Of course, in the absence of a true healer, he still does what he can to aid the wounded. Only two healers travel with the army, one with the main group who are now here in Imladris, and the other moves from one scouting party to the next as the need arises. Yet another reason why Lord Elrond being trapped here bodes ill for operations against the enemy. I hope the captains of those small groups currently spread out across the province obey their standing orders when they realise what has happened and head back to Lindon.

That puts me in mind of Captain B, about whom I am more worried than I like to admit, even to myself. I really hope that he and Thalahir are getting along. We had a good relationship and I developed a sense for when he was about to do something --- imaginative and potentially dangerous. This is the thing I find most difficult about the current situation - I enjoy my job, I do it to the best of my ability, and I worry about whether the people I looked after are all right, if Thalahir will ever care about them on the same level that I do --- I feel as though I am letting them down by disappearing like this. Stupid I know, there are others far more competent than I on His Majesty’s administrative staff, but I feel as though I have walked away from them. 

Fin understands. In fact, I think we are as alike in that way as we are in others. He makes commitments to people, not causes, and feels his responsibilities deeply and personally. He says it was not always so, but I think maybe it just took that lonely stand on the pass for him to finally see what was truly important. He is as I remembered him in looks, and in person he is exactly the same as in his letters, except in person I can see the way a smile starts first in his eyes, hear his laugh, and have a sense of his strength, both physical and mental. 

He has been the centre of this valley from the beginning, and while Lord Elrond is already well-liked and respected, people are used to coming to Fin with even the smallest problem. He always seems to find time, and if he does not understand something at first, he asks questions until he does. His enthusiasm for Imladris is boundless and at times makes him seem very young, despite his age and having experienced death and rebirth. I had trouble remembering his voice as we had barely spoken before - it is light and clear, but strong too, and he still speaks with the accent I associate with Gondolin. A good voice for reading aloud or reciting ancient poetry. A good voice for late night conversations beside an almost deserted hearth, coals glowing in the gloom, the sounds of wind and river whispering outside.

When I first told you I was attracted to men rather than women, you were so unsurprised and accepting that I think I probably forgot to thank you. You have been the best sister anyone could ever hope for. There are so many others like me who never had that kind of support, never knew what it was like to be able to share dreams, desires and youthful crushes. You told me once that dreams do sometimes come true, though not always as we imagine them, and it seems once more you were right. Sometimes reality can far outstrip imagination - I certainly never imagined anything quite like the turn my life has taken. 

Only time will tell if this is forever for Fin or for me, but right now it is all new and overwhelming and feels very right. We compliment each other very well, in our likes and dislikes, when we talk or when we are silent, when we kiss --- yes, there has been a kiss. Or two. And yes, I am about to confide in you yet again.

The first was as perfect as I suppose only first kisses can be. We had already gone riding down the valley several times, following the little trails that have started to form through the trees and along the river bank, but this time Fin suggested we leave the horses behind and the three of us, him, me and Háran, go for a hike. We started early in the morning, and Fin brought food along for us. The siege was already an established fact, and he had faith enough in Arasiel to leave command of the garrison to her for the day. We crossed the river, went past the houses, then followed a stream that branched off the Bruinen into the forest. Háran went on ahead, barking to let us know when he found something interesting, sometimes falling back to see what was taking us so long. 

We took out time, talking as we went and making regular stops along the way, Fin even tried (unsuccessfully) to make friends with a frog. Birds sang, the sun slanted down through the trees, the air carried the scents of chestnut and honeysuckle, ramsons and the sweet briars that compete with the brambles for space, leaf rot and early summer’s green growth. It would have been idyllic had we not suddenly heard, faint on the air, the sound of rough speech from somewhere far above us. 

Strange how fast you can start taking something for granted, after less than two weeks I sometimes almost forgot they were there. I saw Fin glance up once or twice, determining our position in relation to the high land, and once he was sure the orcs were no closer than they ought to be and that we were well out of sight, he smiled and nodded to me. After that, we ignored them. 

Near midday, we came across a sun-dappled clearing amongst the trees. A small stand of beeches grew near the water, their trunks silver green and silky to touch and eye, while an ancient oak spread his branches low and inviting. Between them lay a patch of soft, flower-studded grass, while close to the stream grew purple irises and a dark green carpet of ramsons. A huddle of cowslips, strayed from the beginnings of a meadow, nodded beneath a beech. 

We had picked some of the tiny, sweet strawberries that grow over tree roots and along the bank, and added these to the meal Fin had packed: fresh bread, a tiny jar of sweet oil, shavings of cheese (which we brought from Mithlond, although we plan to start making cheese here), tomato, fennel, little honeyed oatcakes, gooseberries, a handful of nuts, and a flask of wine, pale gold, tasting of sunshine. Simple fare, but satisfying. 

Háran saw us settled and then went off on one of his eternal quests for slow squirrels, and we joked about what he might do were he to catch one. The cats had been a harsh surprise, a lesson swiftly learned. We shared our feast, talking and laughing between mouthfuls. Fin toasted me with our second cup of wine, saying that I am good for him, that he was too serious before. He touched his cup to mine, looking into my eyes, and the kiss happened without forethought, without the insecurity that comes with anticipation. The world went on unnoticed, his arms were round me, he was warm and strong, his mouth tasted of summer wine and honey. 

We kissed, we stopped to look at one another, we kissed again, my arm about his neck, his hand in my hair. I have no idea where things would have gone from there had Háran not come charging back barking, making us separate, laughing at his timing. We talked after that, leaning together with Fin’s arm around me, sharing wine and small kisses. We agreed in the end on two things, that we would move slowly with this, take time to get to know one another properly, and that some things, like our meeting, are plainly meant to be.

And that is probably far more information than you ever wanted or needed about your brother’s love life. 

I take life one day at a time, as do we all here. The siege will last for as long as it lasts, and after that I will have to see what life brings, whether or not I can persuade His Majesty to let me remain. Meanwhile, the cats are doing well and have made a whole host of friends, and I am settled, well and, despite my concerns for the darkness that surrounds us, happy. I try very hard not to worry too much about you. I tell myself the wandering companies have roamed since the days of Fingolfin’s kingship, that you will all have gone where it is safe, that most probably you have crossed into Lindon and enjoy the High King’s protection. As I have no way of knowing for sure where you are or what you are doing, this is what I choose to believe. Were you truly in danger, I think I would know.

Take care, dearest Brennil. Walk in light and safety, be your sweet, free self, and never let anyone force you to conform to their idea of what makes a lady. 

Love you.
Res.

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Finis

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Beta: Red Lasbelin

AN: my thanks to everyone who has shared Res and Fin's story with me, special thanks to Erfan for always having the answers and to Red for talking, listening, and hand-holding.