A Little More Conversation 7

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'A Little More Conversation'

 

Part Seven - Sing

To-do list.

1. His Majesty – pre-breakfast hunt. Find excuse!!!!!
2. Report for P. Enclose family letter.
3. Compare tenders, dried fruit supplier - Fleet. Revise budget.
4. Meet with working group, re: supply list
5. Report from lord Elrond – edit undiplomatic comments re. military council.
6. Military council meeting: take notes for P. Present report – Lord Elrond.
7. Letter to Glorfindel – also mention:
     Families
     New job
     Harad
     Loom
     Sheep, goats, BULLS
8. 2 kittens to new homes: after work. b/w and grey striped.
9. For essay - read: Haradaic Rites for the Dead, by Irig Khenjet Mak.

Dear Glorfindel,

It was good to hear from you, out there in the cold, wet, malodourous east. I fully agree with your remark about the dedication of the members of the courier service to their work - they manage to keep our communications lines open even under the most trying of circumstances. I know Aereth quite well, her husband is serving in Eregion with Lord Elrond’s forces, so she has a most personal understanding of how much regular letters mean to the warriors and their families.

On that point, I spoke with Lord Pathenien before he left on a tour of inspection across Harlindon, and he was doubtful about the likelihood of families being permitted to join warriors deployed to Imladris. However, as I am acting in his stead while he is away, I took it upon myself to place the request before His Majesty. He thought it an excellent idea that would give the settlement stability as well as strengthening both the resolve of the garrison and the attractiveness of the posting. The formal notification is included in this package, complete with a copy of the request for volunteers signed by His Majesty.

Those personnel who wish to take advantage of the opportunity must undertake to remain attached to the Imladris garrison for ten years, but His Majesty feels this will be less of a hardship for career soldiers than it might first appear.

I had no expectation of finding a Midwinter gift included with your letter, so the trinket box was a wonderful surprise. It is the perfect size and shape for hair ties and the like, and the holly sprig on the lid is a lovely seasonal touch. Please convey my thanks to Sael’s son for his help. How old is he, did you mention? It was also really interesting to see an example of the basket work you mentioned in your letter. You seem rather more expert at it than you imply, and I liked the pattern effects the different colour reeds create. How does one make a chair seat? Is it a square fitted into the open frame of the bottom of the chair? I would really love to see some of the things you describe. Perhaps when you are a larger community, Imladrian basket work will be exported across the kingdom, rather like lace work from South Haven?

I remember how simply we were forced to live during the winter months when I was growing up. I suspect here in the city we risk losing touch with the cycle of life. Hothouses provide us with food that would otherwise be unseasonable, and there are craftsmen whose sole employment is to manufacture their wares in answer to our needs. Were it not for the snow on the ground, I would hardly know it was winter, although I was intensely aware of it this morning. An invitation to one of His Majesty’s early morning hunts in the woods above the city is regarded as a social coup, but personally I am less than convinced of the joys of galloping through the snow at sunrise, as I was called upon to do in Lord Pathenien’s absence. I know that for His Majesty these excursions are mainly about fresh air and exercise, but I have uncertainties about hunting for any reason other than seeking food for survival. Was this why you stopped eating meat, I wonder?

Thank you for your interest in my additional duties. Briefly - well, I’ll try to be brief - there has been an ongoing dispute within the Fleet regarding significant differences in the rations received by sailors in the three main ports. Someone mistakenly believed this fell within my area of responsibility, which it most definitely did not. However, in my eagerness to make this clear, I made the mistake of raising it with Lord Pathenien, who as I told you thought it was a very good idea. So, despite my best efforts, I have been forced to catalogue the differences, eat sample meals, discuss nutritional needs with a healer and am now trying to draw up a uniform menu. I also have to find suppliers in the various ports who have the capacity to fill high volume orders while meeting a specific standard.

A Fleet problem, a monumental waste of my time, but I suppose someone has to do it, and they seem singularly unable to come to any kind of agreement amongst themselves.

Thank you for sharing your Midwinter gathering with me. It sounds like a wonderful evening, and far closer in spirit to the original intent than most of us experience. I love the idea of sharing memories of other people and places and truly hope it grows into a tradition there. I think telling them about your mother was quite the perfect choice - Men say that no one is lost whose name is still remembered, and I think that should count for us as much as for them. I noted your comment about perfectly manicured gardens. I suppose there is a vast difference between public gardens with not a single blade of grass out of place, and a loved and cared for private garden such as I am sure your mother had. Will Imladris have gardens one day, do you think? On your side of the river, I mean.

Your reference to Gondolin as somewhere you could build up the strength necessary to confront the Enemy was something that had never occurred to me before. It has always been this wonderful city, hidden away from the world, but whose purpose I had difficulty understanding. You had all gone through so much horror to reach this shore, it seemed strange that you would then go and hide yourselves away. However, your explanation is something I can understand. It was a very big city, I imagine? Stupid question – it must have been, to be able to raise an army of ten thousand to fight in the battle of Unnumbered Tears.

I heard you were on some kind of a ledge or pinnacle of rock, and lost your balance when the balrog caught your hair – you can surely not believe it was your own fault that you failed to see it or react in time? I remember when I was a child, everyone who came to Sirion from Gondolin said had you not held off the Enemy’s servants, there would have been wholesale slaughter on the pass. As it was, your actions gave people time to move further along, and for the Lord of Eagles to arrive and bring his kindred. I always hoped you had time to be aware of that.

You said I could ask questions – did you often see the giant eagles while you lived in Gondolin? That must have been amazing! And… something that is a complete liberty, but I have always wondered – how was it, when the Moon first rose? I always thought I would have been afraid, not awe-filled, as we are told was the case.

I read your thoughts on why so many Men may have joined the Enemy’s ranks with a great deal of interest. I had not considered they might want to build something for their children, or that the Giver of Gifts would seem almost god-like to them. If I am honest, I suppose in their place I might be tempted by such things, but so far as I know they, like us, believe it is never right to take what is not yours, or to kill unless it is in defense of your own.

I am studying Haradaic customs at the moment, and their gods require a great deal of propriety from them in their dealings with 'outsiders', as they term everyone who does not live under their rule. There are strict religious laws governing things such as declaring war – both the actions that justify such a course, and how warfare should be conducted. Very little of this bears any resemblance to what has been happening in Eregion, which has led me to wonder if they take their gods less seriously than their writings would seem to imply. Does that seem likely to you?

Originally I thought that learning Haradaic would be useful if we managed to intercept their communications lines, and that if I learned a little about their customs, I could contribute something to strategy discussions, but I admit I find what I am discovering about their culture fascinating in its own right. They have a very rich history (bloodthirsty, too) and a satisfyingly extensive body of literature.

I have not yet finished the saga of the Hero and the crocodile. It deserves a book in its own right (and possibly has one) as it covers a number of adventures including a quest for the pomegranate that will bring eternal life, and there are at least two love triangles. I would be happy to write an outline for your amusement later, should you still be interested.

I am told goats will eat almost anything, including vegetables, young grain, and – whatever their teeth can manage. Of course, there is a breed of long-haired goat, the coat of which makes a wonderfully soft yarn – I think I might have mentioned this before? They could be very useful, and if they were persuaded to live in the lower part of the valley, there would surely be less disruption. As for those goats that might currently be in the area, I think so long as they are not actively dissuaded they would almost certainly seek to make a sheltered, food-rich place like Imladris their home.

As for the bulls, I agree with the Silvans. Spring should be interesting. Bulls that get along amicably during winter see one another as bitter rivals when the season changes. I think you will have to keep them apart later. because otherwise each will think all the cows are his, and feel obliged to prove it.

Sheep always look miserable to me, even when they are content. I suspect an undiscriminating dislike for all two-footed creatures.

Poor Háran, he is not having a good time at all. Rain, wind, snow --- it is difficult being a dog, I think. My personal dislike right now is for snow, but that would be due to this morning’s hunt. Normally I think It looks quite beautiful. I liked what you said about him being confused at your sitting still for any length of time. It adds to my picture of how your life is normally lived. Do you go out regularly on patrol with your men? I have never thought to ask, but suddenly it seems very likely.

Finally – as you will have discovered, I have sent a design for a second style of loom, this time a flat one, not an upright. Something to keep your convalescent warriors busy and properly supervised. And I will try to send more cloth when the terrain is less treacherous – currently the courier felt the less he had to carry, the better for the horses’ safety.

I hope everything is going well for you all, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Take care.
Erestor.

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Dear Erestor,

Before anything, I need to thank you for your help in getting permission for family members to join the warriors stationed here. You give no details of your conversation with His Majesty, but you must have been very convincing to get this passed so quickly. On behalf of the men (and women) involved, I thank you for your good offices. Ten year contracts seem a minor detail to most of those intending to take advantage of the opportunity; they all feel it is a small price to pay to have their loved ones close by.

When the weather lifts, we will start building family accommodation on this side of the river, loosely attached to the garrison. We did something similar at Vinyamar, and it was very successful. Of course back then the idea of people dedicating themselves to fighting was very new, so there was far more pressure not to separate families, which might be why it has always felt right to me.

I am delighted you enjoyed your gift. I wracked my brains for something to send you, but in the end all I could offer was my best effort at something a little more intricate than the usual product of my leisure activity. I wanted to put a dried flower on the lid if I could find such a thing, something that would represent Imladris, but there was nothing suitable, and young Lindir said it would fall apart eventually anyway. I have, of course, passed on your thanks to him for his aid.

I wonder if you would be interested in hearing how we spend our evenings. We still rise with the sun, of course, (even if we can't see it), but as night falls so early we need to find ways to fill the dark hours between late afternoon and bedtime. Most of us eventually find our way to the community hearth and either seek out a quiet corner to read or write letters, or else look for some other means of entertainment. The sewing circle I mentioned previously is still very much in evidence and has not yet run out of cloth (although they will be thrilled to hear they can expect more later in the year). Several are currently sewing rabbit skins together to make bed covers, and I believe deerskin will soon be available for coats and pants. They all leave before dinner to see to children and other domestic concerns, but they come back to occupy their place for at least a part of the evening.

Most people like to spend their leisure time talking in small groups, or playing games like Red Stone or Balefire. For those who prefer a quieter, more considered alternative, we now have two chess sets carved by Celaran, who has just finished inlaying and staining boards for them. There are also some who pursue more solitary interests while enjoying both the company and the warmth of the fire, in fact I am writing this from the spot not far from the hearth which has informally become ‘my’ corner. And then of course there is always a bunch of off-duty warriors near the back, sitting along the wall drinking and swapping (unlikely) stories. Those on duty are to be found either deployed above the valley, on watch in the cave where we cure skins, or guarding the few remaining access points.

Why was I telling you all this? Oh yes, I wanted to explain about Lindir, who is around thirty-five years old (I must remember to ask his exact age) and already shows a great deal of promise as a singer and musician. About an hour after dinner, when everything has been cleared away, the music starts. Nothing formal, of course. We have no trained musicians in our midst, which is a pity but is as it is. Perhaps later. Instead we take turns to share a song or a poem as the spirit moves us, or a tale of times past with some kind of (occasionally appropriate) background music. We have two lap harps, a couple of flutes, some interesting looking pipes, one large and one very small drum, and a contraption of metal strips of varying size on a wooden frame, which are struck with two sticks. The sound is unexpectedly melodious. And something they tell me is called a tambourine.

Of the regular singers, Lindir is the most noteworthy, and often brings conversation to a temporary halt. He has one of those pure, immensely clear voices that carry well, and he has an exceptional range for one so young. He is also quite good with the flute, can beat quite an intricate rhythm on the drums and is trying to teach himself the harp. He needs proper training to hone his skill, of course, and were it not that time has wrought such dramatic changes to music, I would offer to do so myself. I hope someone with the necessary expertise eventually finds his or her way to Imladris, because Sael seems intent on settling here for at least as long as the army will allow.

Your question about the chair seat amused me for some reason, therefore I include one for you to examine, assess, and even possibly use as you think best. Yes, I made this myself. There are three standard sizes, of which this one is medium, and they are tied securely to the chair frame, forming quite q comfortable seat. I have doubts about how long the reeds will last, but a sealant has been created, (I have no idea from what), which is painted on as a preserver, after which they have to be rubbed with lavender oil to disguise the smell. It all seems like rather a lot of extra work, so I hope it adds substantially to the chair’s lifespan.

How many long-haired goats do you think we would need before they would produce enough fur to make it worth our while? Do you shear them like sheep? I am familiar with neither the animal nor the yarn. Amalek says he will teach a few of the more sensible civilians to shear sheep, which is a relief. He currently has Lachol producing the correct implements for the task. You are quite right about the sheep, of course. They do always look miserable. Perhaps they will seem happier without their thick coats.

Another voice telling me the bulls are going to fight. Someone thought it would be an excellent idea to bring one of them plus half the cows down here. If anyone can find a way to do so without endangering either their own life or that of the cattle, I am more than happy to give my permission. So far, no one has come forward. I suppose we will just have to wait and see, and hope for the best.

I do that rather a lot, you might have noticed. Hope for the best. So far it seems to pay off more often than not.

We should hunt to eat, yes. I was taken on one such social jaunt before I left Mithlond, although I have never been at ease with the idea of hunting for pleasure either. The need to get out in the fresh air and take some exercise is something I recall from Gondolin, where fortunately someone in my position seldom lacked the opportunity to do so. Currently we hunt mainly deer and rabbit. I have no part in this personally, but I know the traditions are adhered to: the spirit of the animal they seek is greeted in brotherhood, the hunting party explains that we need meat to help us stay strong in the cold months, and older animals are always the preferred target. After the kill, thanks is given, both to the animal's clan and to Lord Oromë and Lady Vána for their bounty. That should be sufficient, shouldn’t it?

Since my rebirth I find I am loathe to take life without good reason, which is why I now avoid meat although I still eat fish. In fact, I quite enjoy fishing. It is a very restful way to pass the time, and they somehow seem less 'sentient' than four-legged beasts. Some might find that a little hypocritical, I suppose. I have no problem with anyone else eating meat, by the way, but just feel it is no longer for me.

Yes, I go out on patrol with my men. I used to do that in Gondolin too, even when not strictly necessary. They need to see I do not think myself too good for the work I set them, and that all duties are shared fairly. This way they know there is nothing I am not prepared to do myself, and have in fact done at least once. As our primary duty is to keep the valley secure and protected, we do not stray far from Imladris. Decent skirmishes with orcs are few and far between, although I have been involved in two. On both occasions, we saw tracks and I insisted we chase them down. That is slightly at odds with my standing orders, of course, but no one seemed to mind.

Gondolin was a large city, but seemed less so when you were approaching from the mountains. I think the fact that it was built up on the rock made it seem smaller, but of course the buildings spread down almost to the plain. City might be too strong a word, but it was a fair sized town, in fact it was larger than really necessary because a lot of the buildings and open spaces were modelled on those we had left behind. It made some people happy, made them feel more secure. And of course it was very beautiful, very like Tirion at a glance. White marble and such. Very tidy.

We used to see the eagles when we were on guard in the foothills, keeping watch in case something somehow managed to slide in through the gates. You could scarcely miss the creatures, they were immense. Occasionally one of them would bring messages. I was present when the Wind Lord brought the High King's body to his son for burial. It made some of us realise how very far we had cut ourselves off from what was happening beyond the mountains.

The Moon was a gift from the Valar, a promise we had not been utterly deserted. Or so we chose to believe. It seemed very bright after so much darkness.

I had little time to assess how successful my fight with the balrog had been, but I was conscious of having done my duty, of course, which is all any of us can reasonably expect to do. This is something I tell my warriors regularly. No one should expect the impossible, just that everyone will do his best.

Learning about the Haradrim must be, as you say, fascinating. I would also like to read something about their country and way of life someday. I think when people write about their gods and the duty owed to them, they probably reflect an idealised situation; there are often vast differences between how we know we should behave and what happens in practice. Premarital chastity springs to mind. And of course, rules can change with time. It might depend too on how their religious laws are interpreted to them by those whose place it is to do so. Perhaps their actions under the Dark Lord's flag seem justifiable to them, though how that can be I am not sure as Eregion is a far way from Harad.

And yes, I would love to read a summary of the Epic once you finally have time to finish it. After your brief description, I find myself even more curious. Everything including love triangles? Excellent.

Thank you very much for the second loom template. I am informed this one is good for rug making, which might have to take its place behind other more pressing needs, but some faces still lit up at the thought. Apparently it will be better for wool too. When we have wool. At any rate, the loom builders seem quite pleased with the design, as they say it will be far simpler to put together and less demanding with regard to the type of wood used. I do not pretend to understand one word in five on the subject, so I just nod my head and try to look intelligent.

I know you are completely inconvenienced and put out by your new duties, Erestor, but I think you have been paid a large and almost certainly well-deserved compliment by being asked to see to this. It sounds quite complicated, requiring research into several normally unrelated topics plus the ability to find and motivate the right people, something I tend to regard as a gift. Sadly, I have no self control. I have to ask how the sample meals taste? No need to spoil the Fleet after all, now is there?

I hope the weather is improving for you. Háran is sitting here with me (and pretending not to be inside where people can point at him and say 'out'). I am sure if I were to ask he would want me to send greetings to you. After all, you are always careful to ask after him. He is, by the way, very well, just sleeps rather a lot because there is little for a dog to amuse himself with at this time of year. I suspect you were right, as usual, and that he would love a few canine friends.

Yours,
Glorfindel

PS. Later. Just finished a second letter, imaginatively labeled Part Two. Thoughts, memories, random self-pity. Please feel under no obligation to read past the first paragraph.

G.

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Part 8

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Beta: Red Lasbelin