The house was strangely silent; it said nothing. Even when there was no-one else around their own home – no, their old home – had murmured comfortingly, muttered quietly, made sure they knew it was looking after them. But then it had been built into, and of, the living trees; this one was stone.
‘Perhaps,’ Haldirin thought, ‘these houses speak to Gimli.’ He would ask the dwarf when he next saw him.
The house itself might be silent, but sounds drifted in from outdoors. Snatches of voices, the noisy cackle of a gull, and always the distant sound of the sea stroking the shingle; so like the permanent song of the trees in Eryn Ithil – but yet different.
If he were to get up from his bed where he was stretched full length reading, and go to the window, he would see the sea. Ithilienne and Haldirin had claimed this top floor room as their own as soon as it was decided that their family would live here at present. Naneth and Adar shared a room on the floor below, and Orophin and Lithôniel also had a room on that floor, with a large living room below again on the ground floor.
Three floors high, built of white stone, the ‘transit house’ – as Naneth called it – was very different from the only home Haldirin had previously known. It was interesting to live here, for now, but it would be better to return to living among trees. Adar had said that he expected they would stay here for some few years, until Legolas was ready to move on – probably after Gimli died. For this family were Legolas’ people, he was their Lord as well as Naneth’s gwador, and they would remain near him just as all the others who had sailed with him would.
Of course Haldirin’s grandparents had been somewhat surprised by that decision. Probably even more than they had been to find that they were grandparents; in their own minds they had still thought of Adar and Orophin as elflings, and Galadhrim elflings at that. There was an awful lot of catching up to do.
It was four months since Tindómë had first delivered both Arwen’s last letter to her mother and the hug that the Queen of Gondor had insisted should accompany it; and she was finding it easier to bond with Lady Celebrían than she was with her new mother-in-law, if the truth be told.
Master Elrond’s wife, despite being a descendant of the High King of the Noldor, had not made her home in their main city of Tirion. After her first years, in the care of Estë – the Vala known as the bringer of healing and rest – Celebrían had decided that not only would it be good for her husband to get to know his parents when he joined her, but that she felt more comfortable amongst the Telerin elves who were distant kin to both her parents. She had, therefore, made her home near the sea.
Celebrían understood exactly what it was like to have ‘in-laws’ who had last seen your husband as a small child, and had taken Tindómë under her wing, so to speak, from that first meeting. At the moment, though, the subject of discussion over tea and cake was the mortal members of the Fellowship.
“I hope that Frodo and Sam will find it within themselves to stay within the circles of the world a little longer,” Celebrían said. “Elrond has tended them and, unknown to them, both Lady Estë and Lord Lórien have quietly strengthened their fëar so that they have not passed. But, even here, they begin to weary and must eventually accept their gift.”
A dark shadow passed across her face as she must have thought of her daughter and unseen, unknown, grandchildren. But she continued.
“It would be hard for Gimli if he were to become the only mortal in these lands so soon after his arrival. Despite his famed devotion to my mother, and his deep friendship with Legolas, I think it would be difficult for him. It was for Frodo.”
Gimli was, in fact, currently living with Frodo and Sam in their dwelling in the grounds of Lady Celebrían’s own home. Mainly of stone and wood, but with rounded windows and a rounded doorway, it had been built by the elves for Bilbo and Frodo when they first arrived.
Although the rooms had higher ceilings than Bag End, to enable elves to visit in comfort, the furnishings were all at the right height for hobbits and so were more suited to Gimli than those designed purely for elves. Those high ceilings had also come in useful as Frodo’s adoptive son grew to his adult, elven, height.
“I think Gimli will cope once he works with your smiths to build his own forge. I don’t think he’d want to think of the hobbits becoming so old that they are totally infirm,” Tindómë said, after a little thought. “But,” she added, “I hope they have a few years left to them – I enjoy their company, and Tharhîwon will miss them.”
The conversation turned to the young ellon that Tindómë still thought of as her Winter Elfling and Celebrían expressed, not for the first time, her surprise that Tindómë was already the mother of Haldirin, at little more than a half yén of age, when they had helped Tharhîwon to leave his never ending winter in Ithilien and come West.
“I guess it was because of where I came from, what my life was like before I dropped back into Middle Earth,” Tindómë said.
Celebrían knew already about The Key, and how and when Tindómë had arrived from another world, and so there was no worry about talking about that previous life.
“I mean our Mom was already dead, the man I thought was my father didn’t want me, my sister had been fighting demons, and vampires and things, since she was younger than I was when I closed the Hellmouth… I’d grown up pretty quickly before I landed in Mordor. And I guess I was still trying to live life at a mortal pace…”
The, already familiar, tightening of Celebrían’s jaw muscles at the mention of life at a mortal pace was followed almost instantly by compassion and sympathy, along with gently phrased questions about that earlier life. Tindómë felt that Celebrían really was interested, whereas Rumil’s parents just seemed unsure what to do about the son they thought of as a child being married to someone who was not quite an elf – even if their Lady Galadriel, not to mention at least one of the Maia, seemed happy about it.
Ah well, Tindómë thought, at least they weren’t hostile or disproving – given time things would probably shake down.
They continued to talk companionably. Celebrían reminded Tindómë of Arwen, and it was clear where all three of the children of Elrond got their sense of humour – they were, assuredly, children of Celebrían.
“It’s getting late,” Tindómë said, glancing out of the window and realising it was almost dark.
“The nights are drawing in,” Celebrían commented.
“Does it get very cold in winter?” her guest asked. “Do you get snow?”
“Not often – Elrond tells me it is the proximity of the sea.”
“But,” Tindómë voiced something that she had been wondering about since she had noticed the days shortening, “you do celebrate the winter solstice, don’t you?”
Rumil had hardly known his parents; they were vaguely remembered voices, memories of cuddles and kisses, tall shapes with light glinting through hair of silver white. He was grateful that he had no memories of their deaths – although he remembered fear, the sound of both his own heart and Orophin’s beating loudly in his ears as they hid, and a sense of terrible loss.
He thought their memories of him must be very like those he had of Haldirin at the time that Tindómë had been stolen by Buffy, or the first time they visited Eryn Lasgalen and spent the solstice with Legolas’ family. But he had memories, too, of Haldirin learning to ride, learning to use a bow, a sword. Memories of Haldirin’s coming of age celebrations, the ceremony when he earned his warriors braids; memories of the morning he came in with a hint of smirk, and a slight swagger, after his first night spent in pleasure with an elleth.
Rumil’s parents had not been there when he and Orophin had reached those milestones; Haldir had.
Rumil had vaguely expected to see his parents here in the Undying Lands – but in much the same way as he had vaguely expected they would find somewhere to live – not in the positive way that he had known he would see Her Ladyship, or Mithrandir… or expected to see Haldir.
It had been something of a surprise to both Rumil and Orophin to find parents but no brother awaiting them, and they had wondered when he might be given a new hroar and rejoin his family. Neither their parents, nor others who had arrived here by way of Mandos Halls, could shed any light on the puzzle of just how long anyone might be there – there seemed no obvious pattern.
But Mithrandir spent a lot of time here in the coastal area; he had a suite of rooms in Elrond’s home and seemed to enjoy conversations with his host and with the two elderly hobbits, and now with the newly arrived Legolas and Gimli, reminiscing. However Tindómë had thought of him as a substitute grandfather, in her first few years in Middle Earth, and he seemed happy to renew that relationship and his friendship with Orophin and Rumil. Happy, too, to meet their extending family.
So it was that one evening, in the home Rumil and Tindómë shared with their family, Rumil had asked the Maia why different elves spent longer or shorter periods in Mandos’ Halls. Mithrandir had, in his usual way, answered by asking what Rumil had already learnt and what conclusions he had drawn.
Rumil answered firstly that it seemed to him those Galadhrim who had been in Lord Námo’s care had only recently begun to re-emerge to take up lives in Aman; he thought perhaps it was because Her Ladyship was now here, as were family members who had sailed in the past century.
There seem to be even fewer re-embodied elves from the Great Greenwood, Tindómë had added. Perhaps, she said, it was because a lot of them had refused the call, but perhaps it was also because those who had gone with Lord Námo when he beckoned would have felt out of place amongst the Noldor dominated society. There had been a few of Thranduil’s people who had sailed before the ‘Heart of Eryn Ithil’ did, hoping to meet family long since dead, and one or two had been reunited. Perhaps more might begin to emerge once Legolas was properly settled.
Tindómë wondered if the length of time might also be related to how the elf had lived, or died, rather than when. Legolas’ grandfather had been dead for longer than Rumil and Orophin’s parents, after all, but there was no sign that he was walking around Aman somewhere.
Mithrandir had nodded and looked at Rumil and Tindómë as if they were favourite pupils. Then he had answered at least some of their questions. The Halls of Mandos were certainly not a place of punishment, he had said. However those elves who found themselves there were given time to come to terms with their death – and also with the experiences of their lives. If there was someone you felt you had wronged, or even someone you thought had wronged you, Lord Námo would ensure that if you were both within his care, you met, discussed it, and made your peace if at all possible.
“Restorative justice!” Tindómë said, and Mithrandir had looked even more pleased.
“So,” she had continued, “I’m guessing that Fëanor and his sons will have to attend a lot of sessions before there’s any chance of us bumping into them on the streets of Alqualondë…”
The conversation had moved on. Mithrandir seemed to have said all he would on the subject. But later Rumil and Orophin had concluded that it might be some time before they saw Haldir – for as commanding officer of so many who had lost their lives, either at Helm’s Deep or during the long years before, he would feel responsible and even guilty.
Rumil spoke of this to Tindómë, later, and she understood straight away. Buffy, that sister in the other place, would have felt just the same, she said.
Rumil wondered whether Buffy had died in that other place by now – he knew she had been close to death when Tindómë had last seen her through Radagast’s window. He would only feel totally secure when she did; no-one from that other world would ever try to take Tindómë again once Buffy’s fëa went wherever it would go.
He purposely turned his mind away from those thoughts. Soon it would be their first mid-winter here. He wondered how they would celebrate it.
Ithilienne was discussing clothes with her aunt.
“If you want a new dress purely for mid-winter and not to wear in the summer,” Lithôniel said, “then we will put lacings up the front so that you can take it off easily yourself. But if we are making something light enough to wear for mid-summer too, then I think it should lace up the back. Or have lacing in the front for shape but twenty or thirty small buttons to be undone up the back…”
Ithilienne smiled. “Perhaps one dress that fastens up the back, because one of my friends can always help me, with a heavier under-dress to wear for mid-winter and then something much finer, with extra ribbons and things, to wear underneath by spring?”
“Spring?” Lithôniel questioned, “Do you think you will be ready to go starlight bathing with him by spring?”
“Perhaps…” Ithilienne answered. “And, if not, then by some time after mid-summer. He will ask me at the right time. I will make sure he does!”
“Then we shall go to purchase fabric tomorrow,” Lithôniel said, firmly, “so that we have it ready for mid-winter, with the fastenings at the back to make it necessary for you to need help…”
“Buttons,” Ithilienne decided, “tiny pearls with silk ribbon to make loops. Then he can spend the months from mid-winter until spring imagining undoing them.”
Her aunt grinned. “If Legolas had not already begun to realise that you are no longer an elfling before,” she said, “he most certainly will by the time we ready you for mid-winter.” She paused, looking somewhat pensive, then added “I presume the elves here do celebrate the solstice?”
This story begins about three or four months after the closing scenes of 'Dust' (and/or the closing scene of 'In The Winter Garden'). The immigrants are trying to adjust to life in The Undying Lands - some of them are finding it harder than they expected...
In which families are reshaping...
Chapter end notes:
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