It was an adventure, Haldirin thought; a proper, almost grown-up, adventure. He was getting ready to sleep on a flet, at the edge of the drowsing Golden Wood, surrounded by Ada, Uncle Orophin, Lithôniel and Galanthir. Ada had said Haldirin was old enough, at thirty-six, to be part of such a small group; he had told Nana that, should the need arise, Haldirin was a good enough shot with his bow to help the others, and able to defend himself with his sword.
Nana had nodded, and agreed it was so. Of course Ada had also reassured her that there was no reason why any of them should need to use their bows for anything other than the pot… And so Nana had kissed him and told him, at least five times, to be careful; to do what Ada, or any of the others for that matter, told him – then checked he had his comb, enough arrows, and a spare knife in his pack, and waved him off.
She had said she didn’t want to come with – she was going, with some others, straight to Lord Celeborn’s home in East Lorien. She said the only time they had been back to the Golden Woods, when Haldirin was only little, she had said her farewells.
But Uncle Orophin wanted to show Lithôniel more than he had done on that occasion, and Galanthir had come too because, he said, he liked to explore any forest where all the spiders were smaller than his hand.
Haldirin lay back, crossed his hands on his chest, and looked at the patterns of the stars through the leaves until he felt he was walking along a path up, up, to the stars… He would pick a handful of stars and take them home to Nana.
“Do you think the trees will be sleepy all the way through the wood, Ada?” he asked, next morning, as they prepared to ride further.
“I think they might be,” Ada said, “but those that wake seem happy to see us. Do you hear them, little one?”
Haldirin wanted to roll his eyes like Nana did when Ada called her little one – of course he heard them. Before he gave in to the urge Lithôniel spoke.
“It is very beautiful, even now. The song of the trees is very quiet but their harmonies are not the same as the trees I know. I would have liked to have heard them when they sang loudly.”
“Their voices were beautiful, it is true, and yet we were so used to their song, and so intent on what we did or where we went, that it was but a background to life,” Uncle Orophin said.
“Did you not miss their song when you left?” Lithôniel asked.
“Did you miss the song of Eryn Lasgalen?” Uncle Orophin asked in return.
She thought for a minute or two, as the horses moved unhurriedly along the path, and then answered. “It is in my heart…”
Uncle Orophin smiled and said no more.
To Haldirin the forest sounded quieter than home; quieter than when they visited Eryn Lasgalen, too. But at home there was often the distant sound of other elves or, if you were near the edge of the woods, of the mortals who lived, or passed, nearby.
There were the sounds of birds, though, and small animals. It was, he thought, very peaceful.
In mid-afternoon Uncle Orophin said, “We are nearing Caras Galadhon. I do not know how well the talans and great stairs will have fared – whether it will be a good place to spend the night, or not.”
“If it is too sad, or seems unsafe, we could ride on and camp on Cerin Amroth,” Ada said. “On the great flet, if it is still in reasonable condition, or on the hill itself otherwise – it would be a good place to spend a night.”
“I would like to stay for a day or two,” Uncle Orophin declared. “I would like to show Lin Tathren to Lithôniel… or possibly show her Lin Midh…” **
“It should be a clear night,” Ada said.
“We would all enjoy bathing,” Galanthir said, “but we three,” his wave encompassed Ada and Haldirin as well, “would be as happy to bathe in the daylight, if we arrive in the city in time.”
**Haldirin would not necessarily be aware that Lin Tathren (the willow pool) and Lin Midh (the dew pool) were the bathing pools most used by the Galadhrim for Starlight Bathing.
They reached a broad open space where the grass was studded with flowers. The grass was short, almost as neat as Lady Éowyn’s lawns; and Haldirin soon saw the reason, for rabbits looked at the horses and riders curiously.
“Dinner?” asked Galanthir.
Ada nodded and Galanthir drew his bow.
As Galanthir dismounted, to pick up two rabbits, Haldirin looked around. In front of them stood tall trees, even taller than those they had already passed, but a deep ditch and a thick wall of dense bushes stood between them and the great mellyrn.
“We need to ride around further to reach the entrance,” Uncle Orophin said, nudging his horse, which had taken advantage of the pause to sample the lush grass.
“The grass is growing through the path,” Ada commented.
Haldirin realised that they were moving towards an old path, where the grass and other small plants grew thinner, and white stone could be seen between them in a sweep that followed the curve of the ditch and the wall.
They rode for a little and then, in front of them, was a bridge over the deep ditch. Beyond it were two great gates, standing open, with ivy entwined with honeysuckle and jasmine climbing over them.
“Elo!” said Lithôniel. “I am glad the gates are open…”
“They were left open by the last of the Galadhrim as they left,” Ada explained, “only a year or two after we came to Eryn Ithil. His Lordship had the honeysuckle and jasmine planted there in those last days, as well, to help hold the gates open and maintain their beauty. The city is open, now, to any who choose to come.”
They rode over the bridge, which seemed sturdy still, and then paused in the gateway. Galanthir reached over to pluck some of the honeysuckle and then passed it to Lithôniel.
“Put it in your hair and then hope, when you dream tonight, that it is Orophin you meet down the dreampath and not me!” he said to her, with a broad smile.
Haldirin wondered why she laughed.
Galanthir turned to him and explained. “It is said that if you put honeysuckle under your head as you sleep, you will dream of your true love. When you are older you will have to try it.”
Haldirin thought he would have to be a good deal older before he wanted to have any thoughts of a mate… at least ten yéni.
In front of them now rose the tallest trees Haldirin had ever seen. He knew the trees of home had suffered badly at the hands of the enemy, and had not had time to grow really tall, but he had never seen such tall trees as these in East Lorien or Eryn Lasgalen, either – not even as they had ridden through the outer reaches of the Golden Wood.
He had seen Ada’s pictures of the great Elven City of the Trees as it had looked when he lived there. It was both the same, now, and different. The tall trees still had staircases, winding up some of the trunks, but now they were disguised by ivy, and other climbing plants, and some of the steps were missing. The ropes for the great aerial walkways were mainly still in place but, again, entwined with foliage, and, even from below, it could be seen that some of the wooden slats had rotted so the sky, or the upper canopy, showed through.
Even so the place was beautiful; and pretty impressive when compared with Eryn Ithil, or even with East Lorien.
Galanthir and Lithôniel were looking around with interest as well; Uncle Orophin and Ada were keeping a more watchful eye on the surroundings as they all moved further into the city.
“I think the power of Her Ladyship lingers still,” Ada said, after a little time. “I have seen traces of nothing more sinister than foxes and badgers.”
“Me neither,” agreed his brother. “I think we can safely camp and bathe.”
“We are near our talan,” Ada said, a few minutes later. “We will show you.”
Leaving the horses to graze they all began, carefully, to climb. Once up in the canopy Haldirin could see that some of the trees supported two or three telain, or even more, and some of these were in better repair than others.
The talan Ada and Uncle Orophin climbed to was still in quite good condition – it still had a roof, of woven branches, and there were inner walls. It was high up and from the wide open door you could see down to the lower telain and the walkways. When Haldirin mentioned this Ada smiled.
“Well seen, my son, we knew much of what went on in this part of the city,” he said. “Haldir chose this high place particularly.”
“You all three lived here?” Lithôniel asked, adding “It is not very big; there seems to only be three rooms.”
“A living space and two bedrooms,” Uncle Orophin said, waving his hands around.
“Two bedrooms?” Galanthir asked.
“We were not often all here – we spent much time on the fences,” Ada said slowly, looking around as if remembering, “and if we were, all three, here we did not usually all need to sleep at the same time…”
“But,” Uncle Orophin added, “each of the two beds could hold three or more anyway.”
“A shame,” Lithôniel commented, “that there are no beds left now – but we could still spend the night here pleasurably I expect.”
“I have a different plan,” Uncle Orophin answered, and he and Ada exchanged smiles – Haldirin wondered what was the plan; whatever it was Ada and his brother must have discussed it.
He found out as they went back to the horses and moved on into the centre of the abandoned city.
The horses were cropping the grass, the packs were on the ground – they must have reached the place where Ada and Uncle Orophin planned to make camp.
Way above them, high, high up, Haldirin could see a very large talan. Whilst the one Ada had lived in, with his brothers, had been one of three supported by one tree, this was one talan supported by three trees! One grew up through its centre and two others took some of the weight on their boughs.
“Perhaps we could climb up to the great hall later, or tomorrow,” Uncle Orophin said. “It had full walls and a roof of wood and should still remain weatherproof. But, for now…”
He led them down a path, between trees and bushes, so overgrown it could just be made out. Haldirin could hear running water; he thought a drink would be welcome.
They came to a glade. The stream sparkled in the sunlight that filtered through – but it did not sound as if it laughed like the small streams at home. The grass was lush and studded all through with flowers. Taller flowers stood near the edges, yellow flags and purple foxgloves, white sweet peas were spun around the trees, and tall mallows swayed in the tiniest of breezes.
Ada and Uncle Orophin looked around, slowly, and both began to smile.
“Welcome,” Ada said, “to Her Ladyship’s garden…”
They left their packs and went to bathe in a pool where the carved steps down, and the broad seats beneath the water, were still usable. Fish swam about their legs and made Haldirin giggle.
“They were not here when we lived here,” Ada said, with a smile, “but it is good to think they might enjoy looking up from the water and seeing the statues!”
Haldirin tried to see how long he could remain beneath the water and look up like a fish. Soon they were all laughing and playing at being fish. It seemed odd, somehow, to be so carefree because somewhere – not very near, but not very far either – someone was sad.
They made their way back to the garden, after a slight detour to a place where Uncle Orophin knew there would be peas and beans growing, and prepared dinner. Lithôniel gathered wood, Galanthir prepared the rabbits, Uncle Orophin and Haldirin collected water from the serious little stream and popped the peas and beans from the pods – only eating a few as they went… Ada sat and sketched, for that was what he did best.
As they worked they all sang; somewhere at the edge of hearing Haldirin was sure he could hear someone else joining in. It was the sad person – no, it was the sad people, as there was more than one voice drifting in the wind.
No-one mentioned the other singers. Haldirin wondered if it was because they were totally unsurprised, or because they, perhaps, could not hear as well as he did – maybe growing elflings heard better? He would ask Ada later.
They ate. Ada and Uncle Orophin told tales of their life in Caras Galadhon, things they had done with Haldir, celebrations that had been held. Almost the last big party had been Nana’s coming of age; Ada drew some quick pictures to show how the stairs up to that enormous talan had been lit with hundreds of lights; and he smiled as if he was almost on the dream paths when he spoke of giving Nana her first kiss.
‘Ugh!’ thought Haldirin, ‘I wonder if I will have to kiss an elleth when it is my coming of age?’ Although, to be fair, maybe he would enjoy it by then… grown-up ellyn seemed to think it was fun.
It was dark. The stars showed, here and there, but much of the sky was hidden by the great mellyrn. Haldirin thought he might need to rest soon. Uncle Orophin and Lithôniel had drifted away; they had mentioned starlight bathing, but they had bathed with the others such a short time ago that Haldirin thought they were probably just going to enjoy some kissing and… the things that came next.
Galanthir had moved away a little too – he said it seemed irreverent to relieve himself in The Lady’s garden. So there was only Ada right there with Haldirin when he saw… almost elves.
“Ada!” he said very quietly, “Ada – who are they?” He nodded his head towards the shadowy figures just across the stream.
Ada looked straight at them, and then away from them a little and his eyes seemed to be not quite focussed.
“What do you see, little one?” he asked.
“They are… almost elves. They are like the shadows of elves.” Haldirin thought a little, trying to find the right words. “They are elves whose hroars seem to be thick smoke, and water, touched with moonlight,” he decided.
“Are you frightened of them?” Ada asked.
“No. They have their bows on their backs, and their swords sheathed. But they are singing very, very sad songs. I do not think I could sleep with such a sad song in my thoughts or I would walk down unhappy paths, Ada.”
“Then when Galanthir comes back he and I will sing you a happier song, my son,” Ada said.
“I heard them sing before,” Haldirin remembered that he had meant to ask Ada about that. “But I thought you and Uncle Orophin said there were no elves here, now.”
Ada moved a little closer and put an arm around Haldirin as if he was still a small elfling; Haldirin decided not to complain but, instead, leant on Ada’s chest.
“Little one,” Ada said, and Haldirin didn’t mind this time, “I think you are seeing the fëar of elves who did not leave – because they have no hroar, they are… bound to the woods.”
Haldirin thought for a minute or two. “Houseless elves?” he asked. “Like when I sometimes see Prince Faramir’s adar in the citadel? But, if they are some of the houseless, then is it safe for us to walk the dream paths, Ada? I have heard Merilwen’s ada telling stories of houseless elves trying to take the hroar of those who rested.”
Ada did not say anything for a minute or two – he was probably thinking – and then he said “I think you are quite safe, little one. I think we are all safe, for I have never heard tales of houseless Galadhrim doing such a thing. But perhaps we had better not mention them to Galanthir, or Lithôniel, if that is what they have been told…”
“M’kay,” Haldirin said. But he stayed resting on Ada’s chest. Ada would keep him safe.
It had taken little effort for Rumil to get his brother to himself for a spell on watch over night. They sat together talking quietly.
“I could not see them,” he explained to Orophin, “even when I tried to look only at the edge of vision, which is how I first saw the Winter Elfling. But they seem to appear less solidly to Haldirin than Tharhîwon did.”
“So no likelihood of them somehow becoming solid again, then?” Orophin sounded quite relieved.
“I think not. But I have told him not to mention that he sees and hears them because it is possible that Galanthir or Lithôniel may still believe that they are at risk when they sleep. Do you fear the houseless, Orophin? Should we cut short our visit?”
His brother shook his head. “No. We were never told such tales and surely, if it were true, we would know. But I agree it is best not to tell the others – although I fear that Lithôniel will not be happy with me when she finds out – as she doubtless will in time.”
He smiled a little and his eyes turned briefly to the elleth as she lay asleep, some distance across the garden. Then he spoke again.
“Has it occurred to Haldirin that you did not see them? That it is only he who sees and hears the houseless?”
“I know not,” Rumil admitted. “I neither said I did, nor that I did not, see them. But he is aware that others do not see Lord Denethor in Minas Tirith. We have not yet explained what happened with Tharhîwon to him.”
“Do we, any of us, truly know what happened there?” Orophin asked, before going on, probably not expecting an answer. “It is time, though, to tell him more of The Key, if it means that he is going to see and hear the houseless. Will you explain to him, my brother?”
“I do not want to him to worry because, in this, he is not like others,” Rumil admitted slowly.
“It is better that he knows, before he realises it for himself,” Orophin said firmly, and Rumil recognised his brother’s ‘patrol leader’ voice. This was a command rather than a vague suggestion. It was very rare that Orophin acted as the head of their family, but when he did… and, truly, Rumil knew his brother was right. But to try to explain here and now – no, that was not the way to do it, and he said so.
“I promise, Orophin, that Tindómë and I will talk to him when we are together. If you think Lithôniel will be displeased to find there is something you have kept from her, can you imagine how Tindómë would react if I did this alone?”
Orophin’s slight head dip acknowledged that Rumil was right – and that he could well imagine.
“It is only right,” Rumil went on, “that Tindómë should explain the history of The Key to Haldirin, but you are right, he is old enough to know, now.”
And where he stirred, momentarily, from his sleep Haldirin was reassured to hear the gentle murmur of the two well known voices. He returned to the path his dream feet trod thinking that it would be good to see Nana again – even if it sounded as if there seemed to be yet more history he should know… his last thought, before sleep overtook him, was that he hoped it didn’t involve any more lists of kings and genealogy…
Nana is, of course, Tindómë formerly known as Dawn Summers.
Ada is her husband, Rumil.
Orophin is his brother.
Lithôniel is Orophin's beloved, although they've not got around to getting betrothed yet - it's only about 30 years since they met and there is no point in being hasty.
Galanthir is a friend.