A Little More Conversation 6/10

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'A Little More Conversation'

 

Part Six - Hope


To-do list.

Request details, naval rations – Forlond. Compare Mithlond standard rations.
Discuss nutrition - ? someone. Palace cook? Healer?
Itinerary for Pathenien – inspection, border posts, Harlindon.
Decrypt signal - Captain Balien. Send response.
Put up thank you note re. donations.

Letter - Lord Glorfindel.
Kitchen scraps – kittens.
Look over: Harad, 2nd matriarchy. Language exercises 156 – 172.
Decide essay topic: Harad - myths and customs? The role of women in society?


Dear Glorfindel,

Your written Sindarin is far superior to my Quenya, so I would be the one in need of practice. I had thought to begin this letter with a few paragraphs, but you will be relieved to find I soon abandoned the attempt as it looked embarrassingly stilted and formal.

Firstly, belated Midwinter greetings. I have no idea whether you celebrate the Festival of Hope personally - Brennil tells me some of the older elves in her company still regard it as an eccentricity completely unsuited to good, Aman-born Noldor. Still, I’m sure there was some kind of celebration in Imladris, and hope you enjoyed it, even if the holiday was unfamiliar.

Your description of early morning Imladris was wonderful. Reading it was almost like being there, particularly your mention of things like the smell of wood smoke and the sound of the river. I can see the similarity to my own sense of connection to elves lighting their lanterns here as darkness falls. I imagine you are no longer able to sit outside to write, as the courier tells me the snow now lies thick on the ground, and that it was extremely cold while he was with you. He also spoke of the kitchen/dining area with affection and appears to have spent some time there.

We are in the midst of a three day break from work here, because so many of us have family visiting for the holiday. My sister is staying with me and will remain for another week. So far we have enjoyed one another’s company, although I suspect a week will be quite long enough for us to amicably share a room.

Last night the traditional bonfire to mark the Longest Night was lit in the square down near the public harbour, and there were dancers, musicians, and some novelty performers like jugglers to entertain us. Last Midwinter I had only recently arrived here and knew hardly anyone, so passing the night with the friends I’ve made in the past year – and my sister - made a pleasant contrast. Food and a seemingly endless supply of wine were provided, and dancing followed the more formal activities and went on till late. I discovered that dancing with one’s sister becomes less embarrassing as the night grows older

I gave Brennil some ladylike earrings, (which were a joke between us for the whole evening, though they do suit her), and her gift to me was a beaded wrist guard - a bit unexpected as archery is not a strength of mine, but much appreciated. His majesty surprised me with a book of Haradaic poetry, the cover of which has a very colourful picture of a man/god with about fifty arms wrestling a crocodile. I have not yet had a chance to read the multi-page epic this illustrates.

Brennil will convey your good wishes to Gildor on her return. You were half right, she was persuaded to become one of the wanderers by a close friend, not a potential lover (so far as I know). She and Aravilui grew up together and planned this when they realised our parents had grown serious in their talk of sailing. Like many of us born over here, myself included, they wanted more time to travel and explore before crossing to what is a strange land, known only from our parents or grandparents' tales. Since then, she has seen places I can only imagine and seems content with her choice.

I think 'Imladrian style' has quite a ring to it. Over time it might even become a trend, one which would render the décor in my rooms almost fashionable. I think limestone for the main entrance could be quite interesting, although I have a hard time visualising it combined with logs and dry stonewalling… stone pillars to front the entrance might look rather impressive, of course? I suppose building activities have been curtailed by the weather, and that life is currently rather slow and quiet for everyone save the patrols?

I will wait until after the spring thaw to send the mules. I recall the problem you had getting them down the trail in fine weather and imagine it would be significantly more awkward now. Work horses will have to wait until then, too - young ones, I suppose, although I will need to take advice there. Like you, this is a subject about which I know little. I'm sorry Amalek feels as he does about goats –I have always liked the look of them. Still, there might be some wild ones in the area? In which case, if they were ‘encouraged’ to settle in Imladris, he would just have to put up with them.

The courier has agreed to take three extra horses this time instead of two and will convey a few items it occurs to me could be useful. These include bolts of cloth suitable for clothing, coils of good rope, and a quantity of string – there can never be too much string, my mother used to say. And, finally, full instructions on how to build a loom. I realise your flax crop will take time to establish, but I hope the spring shearing of the sheep will provide you with sufficient wool to weave into blankets or possibly even robes. Pure wool against my skin makes me itch, though I know it does not affect everyone in this manner.

In your letter you mention spending time tightening up security. You will be pleased to know we received a report originating from one of Lord Elrond's patrols, which speaks very highly of the measures you have put in place. Apparently they made several attempts to enter the valley unnoticed, and on all three occasions were spotted and turned back. Lord Elrond is apparently well satisfied, as is His Majesty. I thought I should pass that on.

The border post I commanded was not a major crossing, so most of the time there was very little to do. I had previously served under a commander who left us to our own devices when we were not on watch duty, and, recalling how lax discipline had been, I tried my best to keep everyone busy. It made for an interesting challenge.

Mountains – I like climbing them, I like the sense of achievement that comes from conquering a difficult slope, but being in the middle of nowhere in the Ered Luin was a bit monotonous at times. Rocks, scrubby bushes, and no view to speak of. The experience has proved very helpful though, as I currently have to oversee a couple of similar watch stations. That is in addition to my new assignment, which appears to involve standardising naval rations throughout the Fleet. I was volunteered by Lord P. on the grounds that it will make us both look good when I sort this out to Lord Círdan’s satisfaction. He says it will be interesting, and I will learn all sorts of new things about diet, food preservation and the like. Supposedly, knowledge is never wasted.

I was in two minds about sending you the book. I was worried it would make you feel a little like I do when people who have never encountered a dragon speak dismissively of them. We saw one once, near the end of the war - it flew overhead breathing fire and was the most immense and terrifying sight I have ever seen. There are several accounts of the War that reduce them to nothing more than big lizards, and it always makes me very angry. To be charitable, I suppose Demmion just got carried away and wrote what he thought people would like to read?

Having first heard of your battle with the Balrog from someone who witnessed it at first hand – most of the survivors of Gondolin settled in Sirion, after all - I know there was no long speech exhorting everyone to flee and ‘carry the spirit of Gondolin and her fallen to all the corners of Arda’. I cannot get your almost casual mention of knowing you were about to die out of my mind – I think the truly brave are those who do what they have to even when hope is gone. I would love to ask you about the Balrog, also about some of the other heroes of that last day, but have no wish to pry if you would prefer not to discuss it. At first I assumed they would have taken the memory from you, but I suppose, terrible though it must be to remember, its loss would have made you – less, somehow, than who you are?

I hope you do not find that as forward as I suspect it is.

Due to the holiday, everything is very quiet here, which is why this letter contains so little formal business. Even the war seems to move slowly, thanks to the foul weather which hampers the Enemy's forces as much as our own, possibly more so as many of them are Men from the east and unused to the rigours of a northern winter. I cannot understand why so many Men march under his banner? All those I have known were always honorable and decent, the least likely to ally themselves to the forces of darkness. It seems very strange and more than a little sad.

I’m glad you received the cloak in good order and that it pleases you. I hope all is well, and that everyone has been able to keep warm and dry. How are the sheep dealing with the cold weather? And are the cows thriving. Three bulls, you said? That must be chaotic. Is there much fighting? Does Háran like snow any better than he did the east wind? I still smile at the image of him lying with his tail over his nose, singularly unhappy with his circumstances.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Erestor.

~*~*~*~*~

 

Dear Erestor,

Midwinter greetings to you as well, belated though they are. Your holidays are all so new to me that when someone asked if we should slaughter one of the cows for the community feast, I had no idea what they were talking about. In Gondolin we recognised the shortest and longest nights and the equal days, but used the knowledge mainly as a guide to the seasons. There were no festivals like those with which we marked the beginnings of summer and winter.

I learned the meaning of the Festival of Hope by eavesdropping on Sael’s wife as she reminded the children that we exchange gifts to remind us that all elves are part of one large family, and that the passing of the longest night signals the lifting of darkness and the promise of hope and new beginnings. Emotionally I am still close to the events of Alqualondë and our early years in Middle-earth, so the original intent of the Festival speaks directly to me, while its deeper symbolism is, I think, not lost on anyone here in Imladris… we are again living through a time of great darkness, but after the rigours of winter comes spring.

I think that anyone who looks down on ideas originating on this side of the Sea as being somehow unworthy of the Aman-born should stretch his or her tired old mind back and try to remember how they felt when they witnessed another ‘new innovation’ -- the first moonrise. Setting aside certain times of the year to encourage introspection or gratitude, and using the journey of the Valar’s gifts of Sun and Moon to mark those times can only be a good thing, surely?

I'm glad Brennil was able to spend some time with you. You must be missing her now that she has gone back to her people? I remember my friend Ecthelion saying much the same about dancing with one’s sister - and insisting it bore only a passing connection to how much wine had been consumed. Of course, festivities in Gondolin were fairly staid and formal affairs, and very unlike your description, which I must say appealed to me.

Spring’s approach seems very far away when I look around. I was surprised the courier got through, because we are all but snowed in. She said had she not carried gifts and season's wishes, she would have turned back – we were all deeply grateful for her dedication. Yesterday the whole of Imladris was blanketed in white, the trees bowed down beneath their load and the few small paths invisible, but today we live in a sodden, dangerously slippery mess because it has been raining since last night. Still snow everywhere, but now we are that much wetter and colder.

The usual passage of elves back and forth across the river has slowed in recent weeks. The Bruinen is high and the wind treacherous, making the bridge largely unsafe. Sael wanted to track the water levels after the thaw before beginning work on a stone bridge, very wisely of course, so we are still using a contraption of ropes and planks. Your promise of mules and horses in the spring will hasten our efforts - we will need to get them down to the main valley and, as not even the most optimistic amongst us thinks it likely that anyone could persuade a mule to attempt the present crossing, we will at least need to strengthen and expand what we now have.

Liked your thoughts on Imladris as a stylistic trend setter. Limestone pillars would lend dignity and authority, I agree. And it could serve as flooring for the entrance, too, I thought. Sael just shook his head when I mentioned it and said this will be the funniest looking garrison he's ever seen. Having spent years surrounded by pristine buildings and carefully manicured gardens, I think I might be ready for something less 'planned'.

I thought the winter months might be very quiet and that, like you in the Ered Luin, I would need to search for ways to keep my men occupied when not on patrol, but we seem busier now than previously. Building and activity on the land took up almost everyone’s time before, and now we can finally attend to things like general repairs and other time-consuming tasks that can be pursued indoors, like carpentry - we already have a growing assortment of tables, chairs and the like.

You might be surprised to learn that the winter’s primary leisure occupation is basketry. During autumn we collected and set reeds and grasses to dry, and now everywhere you look you find people attempting to weave baskets and containers of various shapes and sizes – no one is exempt, including the ‘warrior class’, and when I tried my hand at it, I found it unexpectedly relaxing. Háran seemed puzzled at first – I suppose I seldom spend much time in one place, at least not during the day. The children help plait the basic materials into broader strips, and do their part by weaving seats for chairs, a simple task not requiring a complicated frame.

The cloth you sent vanished almost as soon as it was unloaded, and a sewing circle now exists beside the community hearth. Many arrived here with little more than the clothes on their backs, although some managed to salvage a few things before fleeing, all of which have long since been shared out. Winter was already seen as a good time to patch and repair, particularly the children’s garments, and now of course new clothing can be added to the communal wardrobe. As far as I can ascertain, there is a list of those most in need, and they receive priority.

We are all immensely grateful to you for your wonderfully intuitive grasp of our needs here. Your gifts – rope and string – were perfectly timed for the season’s repair work, and the template for the loom was greeted with a great deal of excitement. The first one is already under construction in the tent where I normally debrief my men or inflict motivational speeches on them. I have put a group of convalescent warriors to work as loom builders, and they work with a degree of oversight from a couple of the older ladies who naturally know what they expect of a good loom. More than one

victim
has compared this to being supervised by his mother.

Your mention of wool set me to wondering - I hope someone here actually knows how to shear a sheep.

Before you ask, no, no one wanted to kill one of the cows for the Longest Night gathering – they all have names by now and histories. The sheep would have been even more traumatic as they live right next to our camp, but two of my men impressed us all by not just finding and bringing down a boar, but also managing to wrestle it down into the valley. It spent several days cooking over the firepit, during which time we had to make do as best we could for meals.

We all gathered around the hearth - in this case our cooking fire - and ate a rather unconventional meal of onion soup, roast boar, winter squash, cabbage, fresh baked bread, nuts, berries, apples, and dried apricots. Then, over the wine, we took turns to share our memories – either about family no longer with us, or of Midwinters past. When it was my turn, I told them about my mother. It felt so strange to speak of her in the past, Erestor, but - comforting too, because now all these people know her name, and that she loved her garden, and that she, not my father, taught me to ride.

It was a very special experience, to sit under shelter with the snow falling outside and share precious moments out of our past with one another. I hope we can keep this as a tradition here in future years. It also feels good to tell you about it. Háran was allowed to join us, but had to lie very quiet, which he seemed to understand.

After reading your letter, I rather wish I had thought to mention dragons, too – talking as though they are nothing more than giant lizards takes no account of their immense intelligence and their malice, and makes small the efforts of my friend, who fought their lord to the death. I am starting to realise that the end result of not sharing the things you have lived through is that people make things up because they know no better. That was probably the case with Demmion too. He might well have imagined what he saw at court was the way people such as myself dressed and ate daily in our own homes, and reported it as such.

Gondolin was home to me and to those I loved, of course, our haven in a darkly dangerous world, if you will - but comfortable and opulent, it most assuredly was not. Some things about life there were far from perfect. I would so much rather the truth be known about it than this type of fantasy. It diminishes the difficulties we endured while trying to make ourselves into a force strong enough to confront the Enemy. I never thought properly about that till your comment about dragons.

I rather assumed Lord Námo felt there was a lesson for me either to learn or to pass on to someone else, and that was why I retained full memory of the fight and how it ended. Perhaps though you are right, and it has a part in shaping who I am. I don’t think I was especially brave. I stood between the balrog and everyone Idril had managed to help escape, someone had to try and stop it or at least hold it up, and that someone had to be me. I think it may have been tired – I never for a moment expected to kill it.

What happened in the end – was my own fault. I was too busy marvelling that I was still alive to pay attention to what was happening behind me. Lesson learned.

Anyhow, no, you were not forward, and yes, please feel free to ask anything that comes to mind. I will do my best to answer, though I know less about what happened on that final day than I should.

Thank you for passing on the commendations following the security check. I would have appreciated it had Lord Elrond sent us some kind of official comment, which I could have passed on to my men. They work hard to keep our borders safe and were wondering why that same patrol kept turning up in such unexpected places. I assume it will be in order for me to mention this to them? I'm sure you know the effect this kind of praise has on morale.

Indirectly related, I was approached by a small group of warriors with a question I am unable to answer and therefore pass to you, as has become my habit. As this is now officially a settlement and not just a garrison, they were wondering if their families would be allowed to join them if their posting here is to be long-term. I said I seriously doubted anyone had given this much thought up till now, but that I would get back to them when I hear from you. Curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

I was intrigued to hear about your new career as a rations expert. Do you feel as scathing about the assignment as you sound? There was a distinct edge to your sharing of that piece of information. I suppose volunteering the best and brightest on one’s staff is a universal bad habit of those in authority. What precisely does the job entail? I had no idea the navy and army fell under one authority (other than His Majesty, of course) Do you have experience with organising rations?

You enjoy climbing mountains? That was unexpected. In Gondolin we went up into the mountains on patrol, nothing more, and were not allowed past certain points, and Tirion did not lend itself to mountaineering. I wonder if I would like it?

I find you make me think about things that would not otherwise have occurred to me, like why Men would be so willing to march under the Enemy’s banner. I know very little about Men, but perhaps because they are so short lived by our terms they might be more open to fear and - anger? Envy? Emotions that could be played upon, even encouraged. Having so little time, they might see this as a way to build something for their children to inherit? And of course, to them the Maia must be a glittering, god-like being – giving them yet another reason to follow him perhaps? I don't know - those are the only things that seem to make sense. As you say, puzzling and very sad.

Háran is unimpressed by snow, but truly hates rain. When necessity calls, he stares out of the tent at the water coming down out of the sky for the longest time, then rushes out, does what has to be done, and comes charging back in again. He then shakes himself violently, wetting everything in range if I am not quick enough to grab hold of him and dry him with a cloth. He also smells less than pleasant, but that is hardly his fault and no reason to banish him to sleep with the horses as someone suggested. None of us is any too clean at the moment - we just get along as best we can.

I think I have just painted you a less than charming picture of the other side of life in Imladris - cold, wet and malodourous.

I have seen goats in the area, by the way, in fact I suspect there are a few within the valley itself. Do you suggest I risk Amalek's wrath by encouraging them? What do goats particularly like to eat? The bulls are doing--- as well as can be expected, I think would be the correct term? We only have a pair now, the third was driven off by the other two. They seem to get along and possibly started life in the same herd, but the Silvans tell me - darkly - to
wait until spring
.

The sheep seem permanently miserable – I think they hate winter. And the smell from their pen means we intend moving them further away as soon as the weather improves.

One final question --- Haradaic is the language of the people in the south-east who are currently allied with the enemy, correct? I wondered what made you decide to study their language? Which brings me (smoothly, I hope) to His Majesty’s gift. Have you read the epic poem about the many-armed being and the crocodile yet? I confess to an irresistible curiosity --- who won? And why were they fighting?

I have no doubt this finds you drier, warmer and cleaner than I have been in some time, and I hope the new assignment proved less troublesome than expected.

Take care.

Yours,
Glorfindel.

Enclosed please find one very ineptly woven trinket container, the lid decorated with a sprig of ‘holly’ made from round stones painted red, and wood-carved leaves, rendered (bright) green by Sael’s son Lindir. Happy Midwinter, Erestor.

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Part 7

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Beta: Red Lasbelin