Elros sat enthroned on the dais--the throne was a folding chair lent him by Cirdan and the dais was a hastily constructed podium made up of raw planks, but these details didn't matter, could not be allowed to matter--and accepted the fealty sworn to him by his new subjects.
His head was reeling. Things had been moving far too quickly, as if everyone had been waiting, ready to seize upon his choice as soon as it was made. They had pounced immediately when the news got out--no, he corrected himself, not all of them. But the assumptions some, and especially Eonwe, were willing to make were rather overwhelming--and even more so the hopes his decision had apparently raised in the hearts of others.
Most of the people here were descendants of the house of Hador, that was evident from the number of golden-haired people crowding the room. A great number of very tall golden-haired people--it was almost a little oppressive, all that tallness and golden hair, and Elros found his gaze seeking out the slighter, darker people among them that were presumably descendants of the house of Beor--mostly by intermarriage with the Hadorians, since so few pure-blooded descendants of that house had survived the wars and upheavals.
They might look as if they presented a united front, Elros thought--there was the physical resemblance among them, especially in the eyes of somebody like Elros, who still carried with him the memory of a smaller group consisting for the most part of Noldor, and there was also the great surge of affirmation and support. But he was already beginning to work out that they were deeply divided in some ways.
On the one hand, there were those who had been thralls in Dor-lomin and had not been freed until the great uprising against Easterling occupation, when the combined host of the Vanyar and Noldor entered Hithlum. On the other hand, there were the survivors of the Havens, who had escaped much earlier, some of whom had never been enslaved. And there were also splinter groups who had been wandering the wilds of Beleriand in the time before its drowning--refugees, hunters, pedlars, outlaws.
He could perceive the faultlines running between them and the differences in attitude that had grown up with their different experiences in the past couple of generations. He thought that was one of the reasons why they were so eager to welcome him as king, despite the fact that he was a comparative outsider, thrust on them, to some extent, by Eonwe, who for his own reasons clearly wanted a representative for all the Edain and a spokesperson to deal with.
It was not just that Elros's ancestry, descending both from Beren and from Tuor, invoked the memories of happier times for the Edain of today, tales of the time when both Dor-lomin and Dorthonion still flourished, they also seemed to see it as linking him to all of them, although he did not himself belong to any group yet, not even to the party from the Havens, because of his upbringing among the Feanorians. And most of them set great store by the alliance with the elves, which he also represented to them in some fashion, although their own experience of elves might, again, be quite different, from one to another, and from his.
Despite his best intentions, his attention had been drifting towards the end of the ceremony. It had been long and the last couple of speeches had covered much the same points as the earlier ones--but, of course, they had to be made, for everyone's voice needed to be heard. He was sure there were many more speeches to come, before eventually everyone had gained confidence they had access and could gain the new king's ear for their concerns, which for now were still being presented to him as through a veil of fine rhetoric.
Finally, it was over and he was able to rise. He was almost deafened by the sound of their acclamation, in this confined space, as he passed among them, smiling and nodding right and left, from the dais toward the door.
It was near the door that he first spotted them. They hovered beside it, as if they were uneasy at the notion of advancing further into the room, perhaps even to be inside at all. They were three, shorter and stockier and darker than any others in the room, although the old man's hair was snowy white. The woman's hair, on the other hand, was a deep black. She wore a breastplate of boiled leather and and a dagger in her belt and earrings not of gold or silver, but of brass. And between those two, even shorter and darker, with distinctive features--that, thought Elros, was surely one of the Druedain!
They had been watching him closely, as he approached, but so profound seemed their uneasy hesitation that Elros thought they might have let him pass without addressing him, if he had walked on by. But he had made his own decision already and stopped in front of them.
'I do not think we have met before, have we?' he asked.
The old man shook his head.
The Drug looked at him searchingly, almost as if to say: 'You know we have not, why do you ask?'
It was the woman who answered the implied question and said: 'We are the Haladin. We are,' she added, as if she were aiming for more precision or correcting herself, 'the leaders of the remnant of the house of Haleth.'
'Ah,' exclaimed Elros, 'are you a descendant of Haleth, then?'
For he had learnt of the valour of Haleth and that she had borne arms even as a woman, although all the later leaders of the Haladin whose names he had been taught were men.
'Nay,' said the woman, shaking her head. 'When the curse on the House of Hurin had run its course, there were no descendants of the line of Haldad left among us--and since then we have ruled ourselves as we did in the time before Haldad and Haleth arose among us to lead us.
I am not blood-kin to the Lady Haleth--and yet I am, like her, before she became the Lady and renowned--the First Spear among the women, one of the Guardians. We had become few and secret, but when too many of the men had fallen fighting the host of the Dark Foe, we took up our spears again in the defence of those of us who were left. And later when Eonwe sent out his call, we followed and we did our part to avenge them on the great plain before the gates of Thangorodrim: Haldir, Handir and the rest.'
Elros listened with increasing amazement. It was not the first time he had met a female leader among the Edain. One of the leaders of the uprising in Dor-lomin was a woman of strong will, Glorwendil, who had introduced herself to him as a distant cousin to Aerin, Indor's daughter, when he first met her. He had thereupon greeted her as kinswoman, whereupon she informed him she was related to Aerin on the mother's side, not the paternal side. They had ended up treating each other as kin, anyway, and she was by way of becoming a staunch ally of his. But Glorwendil, even though her gaze could make the stoutest of Easterlings quail, had never claimed to be a warrior.
Almost Elros was tempted to smile, at the thought of this small troop of women, last fighting force of a dwindled people, beside the shining warriors of the Valinorean host, fighting against such as the Dark Vala. But it was only the impulse of a moment--and suddenly it seemed no smiling matter at all to him, but one that deserved gratitude and admiration. He inclined his head, as the woman paused.
'Ebor, ' she continued, nodding towards the white-haired man, ' is the head of the council of our Elders and Aghan is the leader of the Druedain among us.'
'I am honoured to meet you,' said Elros, formally. 'Lady...'
'Hiriel', said the woman. 'But I am no lady, my lord!
We are here because we also have come to swear fealty to you--for you are a descendant of Haldad as much as of Beor and Hador--through the Lady Hareth, mother of Huor, mother of Tuor. And we have decided that we, too, will take part in the voyage further west, continuing the journey westward of our ancestors, and that we will, once more, follow the heir of Haleth.'
'And gladly will I accept your fealty and your company, Hiriel,' said Elros.
As he spoke, he remembered an afternoon in Ossiriand when, in a rebellious moment, he had asked Maglor: 'Why do I have to learn all that about the House of Haleth? So she was brave and your brother was impressed when he met her. But she is dead and the history of her house in Beleriand was brief and grievous--they are forgotten. How could they ever become of importance to me?'
Maglor's lips had thinned in disapproval, more severe than Elros had expected.
'Is this all,' he had asked, 'that you think my lore is worth? It will not help you catch a fish or shoot a deer, no. But will you narrow your mind so far? If indeed they are forgotten, the more reason for you to remember them...'
That day Elros had questioned the significance of the Haladin. Now, as he stood before the survivors of the House of Haleth, with only the memory of Maglor's words to advise him, it seemed to Elros quite the contrary: that it was a great responsibility to accept their fealty--for already he had an inkling of the limits of his royal power, amid the pressures of opinion and circumstance. He hoped he could help to preserve the Haladin, not only their lives, but their traditions, those things that made them distinct from others--that although they would leave drowned Beleriand far behind, he and his heirs would still prove worthy of their trust.