A Little More Conversation 9

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'A Little More Conversation'

 

Part Nine - Peace

 

Dear Fin,

The courier had to take shelter along the road and spent several days waiting out the bad weather, but the mail arrived none the worse for that. Thank you for your letters, both of which I will treasure for what they tell me of your life in Imladris and your memories of the past.

We only met once, briefly, shortly before you left. You had been to see the scale model of Eregion and Eriador that His Majesty is so pleased with, and later he stopped to introduce you to Thalahir, who they originally planned to have deal with matters relating to Imladris. I was called over briefly and introduced as Lord Pathenien’s assistant, but only had time to say ‘Welcome to Mithlond’ or something equally clichéd before you were whisked off to meet someone else. In case that isn’t enough of a reminder, I was the short elf with the straight black hair and brown eyes who couldn’t stop staring at you.

The only other time I saw you and know for certain that you saw me was at the event to mark Lord Elrond’s begetting day.  You were with a crowd of admirers, and I was looking around for a familiar face, not certain why I had received an invitation. Our eyes met and you smiled at me. I recall thinking you looked as lonely as I felt, and I wondered how that could be when you were the centre of everyone’s attention. After, I realised that had been unthinking of me – how else should you feel, surrounded by strangers who were more interested in what you had done than in who you are? I am sorry now that I lacked the courage to go over and greet you, but you were in such exalted company it hardly occurred to me.

It’s early morning here. I am sitting on the public terrace overlooking the gardens and the sea, shivering a little from the chill air. This is my quiet time, the only part of the day that is truly my own before nightfall. When I finish writing to you, I will change into work clothes, have breakfast in the main hall, and then go to my work area and diarize my day. With luck I will manage to avoid His Majesty while I am doing all this, as he seems to have decided I am good company on the hunt. Somehow, after your letters I have little taste for chasing down poor, defenseless animals for sport.

Sometimes your letters remind me so much of home that, if I close my eyes, I can almost smell the forest greenness behind me. I loved how the air felt back then, especially in summer, the sounds of the insects, and the smell of growing things. We lived on the edge of farmland, and I liked going to look at the animals and crops, and seeing all the new innovation Men were forever experimenting with. At sunset, when the day’s work was over, we would sometimes hear them singing on their way home and maybe give them a song back in response. We seldom mingled, but we got along well enough. Like us, they had lost everything during the War and had to start over again and being so short lived meant hard work over many generations.

Miss it sometimes so badly, but it does not do to say so here, as country life tends to be disdained by those more at home with stone walls around them. I have been asked more than once if I am Sindarin.

I love the woven seat you gifted me with. Thank you. I like the way the colours fade in and out, naturally blending and contrasting. I like more that you made it, because it’s almost as though our hands touch across the distance. After some thought, I threaded a leather thong through it and hung it on my wall, in the open space near the window that was begging for – something – to fill it. Looks nice.  I think that if you made one a little bigger and attached it to a wooden frame, you would have a very attractive indoor screen. Have you experimented with dying the fibres yet? That would work well for a screen or wall hanging --- or even a mat for the floor. I assume you are making those already?

You would like the goats I told you about in my previous letter, the ones with the long hair. They look really shaggy before they’re sheared and they really have quite good natures. Also, goats have interesting personalities and are far more intelligent than sheep. I suppose it would take a fair number to be useful, I can find out if you wish? They farm with them to the north of here, up near Lake Evendim. Lady Galadriel is very partial to shawls made of the yarn spun from their hair and sends yearly with her order. Apparently this is a tradition that began when she lived there before they moved to Eregion.

I don’t know that I was exceptionally persuasive with His Majesty, I just explained why I thought it was a good idea to let the warriors have their families there and smiled a lot. He was quite interested and asked a lot of questions, and it’s my experience when someone does that they eventually end up feeling the idea is at least part theirs. If that person is the King, it means whatever was being discussed will almost certainly get done. Not that he has a name for acting without regard to the wishes of his Council, of course, but he has a great deal of charm and a reputation for being able to talk anyone into almost anything.

Something you mentioned almost in passing roused my curiosity. You said you would have helped Lindir learn the harp had music not changed so much over the centuries. Does this mean you were a proficient harper yourself? I know they speak of Lord Ecthelion as a musician, and I have also heard that a well-bred elf back in the first age was taught a love of music and poetry along with sword skills. How dramatically has music changed? Traditionally elves are said to be slow to embrace new ideas, something I previously doubted, but not since trying to explain why more vegetables and less lembas would provide a better diet for the navy.

It must have been so strange to be exposed to all that light after years of darkness. Moonlight on snow can be harsh and almost sinister at times, and I imagine it must have been eerie and not at all comforting that first night. I always wondered how the plants grew, and how the animals survived and stayed healthy without sunlight, but I suppose that would be one of my more pedantic questions. I asked our tutor once, and was sharply reprimanded. He said that the ways of creation were as they were, and all things are possible by the power and will of the Valar. Which raises more questions than it answers, but I had enough sense to keep them to myself.

The way you involve yourself with everything that affects Imladris and her people, even something you have no part in like hunting, is very true to who you are, I think.  What you told me about the way permission is asked for and thanks given before and after the hunt sounds exactly right. It shows respect for the animals, the land, and the Shining Ones themselves, and I am quite sure nothing else would be necessary. Of course the Silvan elves would be the best people to ask about this. They know far more about such matters than we Noldor who came late to Endor, more even than the Sindar who were less inclined to roam the land as they did.

I never thought of Gondolin as a trap, but reading your letter makes the lesson clear: always make sure you can get out, no matter where you are or what you are doing. I recall there was once a suggestion that all but one exit from Imladris be blocked off, and how strongly you spoke out against this – that was in correspondence between yourself, Lord Elrond and Lord Pathenien, of course, but the letters somehow ended up in my Imladris file. At the time I wondered, but now I understand why you were so tenacious on the subject. We hear the things people tell us, listen to the songs, and often overlook the obvious.

I was in two minds about asking the following question, but as you opened the subject I have to assume you will not be averse to discussing it, at least superficially. Therefore – I keep wondering why you were so eager to avoid marriage when you were in Gondolin. Did you perhaps leave someone special behind in Aman, as they say King Finrod did? Or am I right in thinking it was rather a more personal preference?

Perhaps we could combine fishing and mountaineering when the war is over? I could introduce you to rock climbing, then we could find a stream to camp beside and you could teach me how to catch our dinner. There were no edible fish in the local river where I grew up, so I never learned this skill. We could count the stars, listen to the trees, and talk about important things like finding Háran a friend and the merits of goats versus sheep. And of course dragons. That conversation is already long overdue.

You did far more than your duty, you faced death to protect those you love, and that goes well beyond any requirement to king or city. Thinking of you alone on that pass, preparing to face death, makes me long to have been there to tell you so before you fell. Trying to picture you now, sitting in your tent with the rain falling outside, writing by lamplight, sharing your thoughts. Want to be there, hear the words, ask the questions.

I am very proud to know you, Fin. Your friendship honours me.

My love to Háran.

Erestor.

PS. I have a book you might like - something you could read beside the fire while everyone else is talking and playing games.  It’s called Gods and Goddesses of Harad and is by Athradon, a merchant who trades with the mortal cities to the south. He has made several trips into the east to purchase silks and spices from the Haradrim. This book was the one that first sparked my interest in their culture and beliefs. The illustrations are a little exaggerated, I suppose, but the artwork is very well done. The artist has accompanied him on several of his ventures and has a wonderful eye for detail. Just thought you might like to read it.

My mother used to call me Res.

To Do list

     1. Avoid pre-breakfast hunt.
     2. Confirm travel arrangements to Forlond naval base
     3. Present request for budget increase re naval rations to his Majesty. Triple check motivation!
     4. Encrypt request for confirmation of whereabouts: Balien, Celeborn, Elrond.
     5. Include enquiry Balien re request for engineer. What happened this time?
     6. Short note to Gildor, request information re orc movements. Enclose letter for Brennil
     7. Final edits, essay, 'Haradaic Customs with Reference to the Role of Women in Society'.
     8. Make peace with housekeeper re kitchen scraps for cats.
 

ooOoo

 

Dear Res.

Not very tall. Eyes the colour of mountain water flowing over stones. Shining black hair. Yes, I remember you.  I understand now why His Majesty was so easily persuaded to make his ruling about families moving to Imladris; you mentioned that you smiled a lot while explaining it to him, and you have an irresistible smile. We were introduced and then I was dragged off elsewhere before I had a chance to ask you to repeat your name. All this time I have been getting to know you without even realizing it. How very strange.

Strange in a good kind of way, of course.

There are few gifts more meaningful than a book that has been loved and well read, so thank you very much for sharing this with me. I like that I can guess at a few of your favourite parts, or possibly your favourite illustrations because the book falls comfortably open to those pages. I look forward to reading it over the next few evenings, but intend to ration myself carefully to make it last. There are very few books in Imladris, and I am already receiving hopeful glances from several directions. I enjoyed the introduction; they sound like a very interesting couple. I think I would like to travel some day.

Music, in answer to your question, was part of our education. We learned to read and write, we were taught the history of our people, we were exposed to art and music and trained to appreciate both and practice whichever came easiest. We were also free to pursue mathematics or the smith’s craft, and to study plants and trees. Alongside that, we had physical training, things like running, wrestling, archery, and swimming. Not sword work. Not when I grew up. We bore no weapons in Aman, not until shortly before the King was killed. Once we crossed the sea though, that became a major part of life. Once we settled in Vinyamar, everyone learned a defensive skill, and those of us with any aptitude trained intensively.  We moved from paradise to war in a matter of years, from possessing eternity to knowing that life could be snuffed out at any time.  Some adapted faster than others, some never adapted at all.

Poor Res. You asked about music and received a lecture on education in Aman. Yes, I play the harp, not brilliantly but with competence. However, our taste was more formal back then, nothing like the intricate, emotive tunes I have returned to. I suppose I could give Lindir the basics, but he will manage that well enough without me. I confess I prefer the current style to the extent that I would rather not risk imposing the structures of a bygone age on a boy who looks up to me and might be inclined to assume something is right simply because I say so.

Could you find out more about the goats for me? Despite Amalek’s growling on the subject, I feel that if they would do well here we should consider it, especially if the yarn is as popular as you imply, We need to be thinking beyond simple survival to having goods to offer for trade with Lindon and possibly other places in a few years from now. I asked Sael’s wife about it, and she says she has never owned anything made from goat’s hair (she used another name, which I now forget), but that it is wondrously soft and warm and takes dye well.  

Talking about crops and livestock makes you a little homesick, doesn’t it? I noticed it in your letters occasionally and wondered if it was the place you missed, or being with your family? The way you describe it sounds rather as I hope Imladris will seem in a few summers from now.  People can be unthinking sometimes, hence the less than sympathetic comments which you need to put down to ignorance and misplaced humour. I really like Mithlond and suspect I am a city person by nature, but Imladris has very quickly become my home. I miss Gondolin and Tirion purely for the people I loved and lost.  Actually Tirion feels such a long time ago, it is almost like looking back on a beautiful but unlikely dream. 

It might also be sailing a little close to the wind to make jokes about Sindar versus Noldor considering His Majesty’s family history. I find I am learning a very different way of looking at life and the world from my Sindarin companions, one which makes me a little less assertively Noldor these days, a lesson those who tease you would do well to learn.

Gondolin’s marriage trap went against my personal inclinations and nature, which is why I avoided it as best I could. I enjoy female company very much, but not in the way that would eventually lead to an eternal bond. I find attitudes have changed quite dramatically in the last thousand and a half years; at the time this type of honesty would have been ill-advised.

I can only hope the above in no way embarrassed you or left you feeling uncomfortable. Your own feelings on the subject are naturally unknown to me, but I have shared so much else about myself with you that I suppose it is only right that you have the full picture.

How did things grow in the dark before sun and moon? This question made me smile. My dear Res, I have no idea. Like you, I have to assume all things are possible through the power of the Mighty. Or something along those lines. All I can tell you is that we arrived in a land with plants and animals and a thriving elven population, many living within Melian’s girdle in Doriath, and at the time it never occurred to me to ask how this was possible. I do know that the Sindar told us the plants changed with the coming of the sun, and many things that had previously slept or not been visible, particularly insects, appeared shortly after.

There was a theory that the world had been bathed in light before, and that when it was withdrawn for whatever reason the flora and fauna that had depended upon it did not die but simply became dormant until the sun roused it again. Would that make any sense, do you think?  It was fashionable in Gondolin and even before to mock at such concepts as Sindarin superstition, but perhaps they half-understood things we knew nothing about.

I went out with one of the patrols earlier in the week, crossing the Ford and riding almost as far as the nearest abandoned mortal settlement. We kept an eye for signs of Orc or other outriders of the Enemy and found nothing to cause concern save for a few wolf tracks that our Silvan tracker was quite convinced were unexceptional. We always include at least one Silvan elf with a patrol because their eye and sense for anything out of the ordinary in nature is far more accurate than our own. They have a connection to the land and all things in it that is almost uncanny. On the way back we stopped off at the winter pasture we have found for the cows, which offers a deep cave to give them shelter at night. They are all doing fairly well though they are a little thin due to the lack of grazing. The dry fodder that was stored up during autumn has all but run out, although their guardians did the best they could, and spring cannot come fast enough for them.

I came back to a scene of near disaster. The snow is melting, and the Bruinen has been flowing exceptionally fast for days, making enough noise to keep the lighter sleepers amongst us awake at night. While I was away the bridge, the only connection between the two sides of our settlement, was completely flooded. I barely had time to see to my horse before I was taken down to the crossing point, where the water had risen so high that it reached almost up to the first houses. We need to rethink how close we have built to the bank, perhaps use those houses for some other purpose and build further back and a good deal higher than the river.

You mentioned you were writing your letter on the terrace, and I quite enjoyed being able to picture you there. I am currently sitting on a fallen branch overlooking the water and watching Háran bark at a group of off duty warriors who are trying (with limited success) to anchor a simple rope bridge across the river. This will serve as a temporary measure until the waters subside, after which we can use the normal bridge again while Sael gets on with building a more permanent stone structure. I made some pretence at overseeing things for a while, but it was obvious that what I know about this work is probably dangerous so I retired gracefully, probably much to everyone’s relief.

I was thinking about your idea of combining fishing with me learning something about mountain climbing. I suppose anything too adventurous is out of the question while the war continues, but fishing on its own and a little exploration are easily arranged. Despite the terrible events unfolding about us, Imladris is still a haven of peace and safety. I look around and cannot believe we are in territory largely overrun by the Enemy. The snow still lies thick in the more sheltered corners of the valley, but otherwise it is beginning to melt. The mess is unsightly and will no doubt get worse as the mud spreads, but the sounds of voices calling one to the other and of children laughing underlines the all-pervasive sense of peace, confidence, and optimism for the future. Our warriors watch for us from the heights, all is well here in our hidden corner of Eriador.

What I am nervously building up to is a tentative invitation to you. If you are able to take time off from your work, would you consider coming out here for a visit? I can wax on about the wonders of Imladris for another two pages in an effort to persuade you, but there will be little you have not heard before and it can all be summed up in two words: please come. Partly because no one has a greater right than you to see what we have wrought here, so much of it having grown out of your interest and advice, and partly because Háran and I would so enjoy the chance to spend some time showing you all the things I have been writing about, and getting to know you better in person. Think on it, let me know. Please.

Finally, your closing words. Thank you, I will hold them in my heart. As I find I do you.

Fin.

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Part 10

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Beta: Red Lasbelin