Bliss in Valinor - Chapter 1 - Reunions
'I don't think we're in Middle Earth anymore, Frodo'
'We're not. It's Valinor... and it's still all JRRT's!'
"Is the sun brighter here, or do my eyes deceive me?" Nîndorien asked drowsily, half-squinting in the morning light, which infiltrated the room through a gap in the curtains.
"Everything is brighter here, my love," replied Gil-galad as he stretched lazily on the bed beside her. He ran his hand through her hair, twirling the ends between his fingers. "The sun, the stars, the sea. Even you have grown brighter in the few hours since your arrival. That is the power of the light of Valinor; it is reflected in everything it touches."
She smiled and touched his face. "So I see. Here, you need no shining armour to earn the name Gil-galad."
He laughed, and her heart lifted to hear the sound of laughter untouched by sorrow or care. The dark hours of the previous night seemed distant; almost inconsequential, for now she knew she was not alone, nor had he ever truly left her. He had held her close as she eventually fell asleep. Her last recollections, before surrendering to her weariness, had been his words in her ear, "What greater bliss is there than this; to hold you in my arms as you fall asleep, knowing that you unconditionally surrender your dreams to my keeping?" She had woken with a start once in the night and he soothed her, whispering again and again, "You are safe, loth-nín, you are safe."
"Only those who knew me in Middle Earth still address me by that name," he said. "Here, I am known mainly as Ereinion for that is how my father introduced me. I dare say that many of the Elves of Valinor imagine me to be the most frightful upstart! Now tell me, my love, have I changed much?"
She studied him thoughtfully, pushing his hair back from his brow. "You look much the same, but you seem less troubled by the cares of the world."
"Perhaps it is because I have no kingdom here," he mused. "No responsibilities." Gil-galad looked perfectly content at the notion of being a High King without a realm. "I have heard that they call me the boy king!" He chuckled at the thought before turning back to his wife. "Why do you look at me in such an appraising manner, my lady?"
Nîndorien pursed her lips and said teasingly. "There is another change, aran nin." Her hands ran lightly down his back. "You no longer have the scar you received on my behalf." He twisted his head to peer at his shoulder and saw only smooth unblemished skin where, for most of his life, a long scar had been plainly visible, the remnant of a wound received in the sack of Sirion.
"You appear to be right, my lady," he said lightly before becoming serious. "But surely I need no visible scars to convince you of the depth of my love."
She answered by kissing him deeply before she whispered. "Indeed not." She placed her hand over his heart. "I have never questioned your love. How can I, when it is written so clearly on your face?"
He smiled at her and clasped her hand in his. "We should rise," he said, regretfully "or else the whole day shall be lost."
"We have innumerable days left, aran nin. Must we hurry on this day?"
He laughed again. "I'm afraid so, my love. I took you away from the crowds rather hurriedly yesterday but there are many people here who wish to meet you and they will not appreciate my selfishness of keeping you to myself all this time."
"Indeed? Who wishes to meet me?" she asked curiously. He would say no more, his eyes dancing with some secret knowledge. Nîndorien sighed with exasperation. "I see by that mischievous glint in your eyes that you will not enlighten me. Very well, boy king, let us arise!" She sat at the edge of the bed and stretched while he gave a howl of mock-indignation. Laughing merrily, she danced just out of his reach and began the process of washing and dressing for the day ahead.
They stepped out into a small secluded courtyard. This was part of Gil-galad's private quarters in his father's house. In the centre of the courtyard was a stone fountain, and tall young trees provided shade from the sun.
"Where are you taking me, aran nín?" asked Nîndorien curiously as they passed through a gateway onto a small side street. She was not surprised when he didn't answer her as he had been very evasive in both words and unspoken thoughts when she had attempted to question him over breakfast. Nevertheless, she took his arm and they walked though the streets of Tirion together. Nîndorien felt sure that everyone must be watching them because even in the blissful atmosphere in Aman it seemed that her joy must be evident to all. It surged through her veins and threatened to conquer her senses. She spent more time looking at her husband's face as if to convince herself that he was real than at the sights he was pointing out. He looked down at her occasionally, and smiled and kissed her forehead. [I am real, loth nín; do not worry.]
"That is the House of Finarfin, the King of the Noldor in Valinor. He is to hold a great feast, in honour of the Ringbearers' arrival," Gil-galad said, indicating an enormous stone palace, set high up on the slopes of Tirion. They walked along in contented silence for a while before Gil-galad finally came to a stop. "And here is our destination this morning."
They stood in front of a pair of immense wooden gates, set in a high wall, near the outskirts of the city. Nîndorien looked at them with interest. There were two great trees wrought in iron upon the front of the gates. Their branches were woven together, binding the gates shut. Although the symbol of two trees was common in the city, there was something strangely familiar about this particular device. It was not of Aman, but seemed more representative of Middle Earth; of Gondolin, to be precise.
"Belthil and Glingal," she breathed as she ran her hand over one of the exquisitely fashioned leaves. These were images of the two trees of Gondolin; themselves representations of Telperion and Laurelin. To her surprise, the interwoven branches began to move and pull back from each other and the gates slowly started to open inwards.
"You appear to have unlocked the gate of the House of Turgon, my Lady," said Gil-galad with a smile on his face. "I must leave you here."
"You are leaving, my king? Why?" she asked with surprise. He ran his finger down her cheek and in keeping with his current habit he blatantly ignored the question and smiled [It is a surprise], kissing her on the cheek before whispering, "Farewell, loth nín!" into her ear.
With that, he left his wife standing at the gates. Nîndorien felt slightly nervous, though she did not know why. She watched Gil-galad as he strode unconcernedly down the street. She inhaled deeply, before walking in through the gateway. Tall trees lined both side of the path, their uppermost branches intermingling to form a green roof overhead, rather like the motif on the gates. She suddenly became aware of soft footsteps coming towards her so she stopped and waited.
A tall and noble Elven-lord walked towards her. As he drew closer, she marked his fair clothing and upright bearing. His face was solemn and grave, but a smile spread across his face when he saw her.
"Welcome to the House of Turgon, Lady Muinalot, daughter of Elemmakil." His voice was deep and musical and that tone stirred some memory within Nîndorien. She looked at him more closely as he drew near, and she could not help crying aloud with gladness. His eyes were so familiar; they were like her mother's eyes; they were like her eyes. The Elf-lord now stood mere inches in front of her.
"Welcome home, dear niece." Ecthelion, Lord of the Fountain, embraced his sister's daughter and led her towards Turgon's palace. It was a large building, set in a shallow valley and surrounded by trees. They climbed the front steps and two guards threw open the double doors. Nîndorien could not help but notice the curious looks she was receiving. However, she soon found herself distracted by the scene that lay in front of her. The entrance hall of Turgon's palace was vast, with rows of pillars lining the walls. In between each pair of pillars was an alcove and each of these alcoves contained paintings or statues dedicated to the memory of Gondolin. As she passed an enormous sculpture of the kingdom itself, Nîndorien was surprised at the depth of memory and emotion it stirred. Her hand trailed over the shape of the mountains that encircled Tumladen and she peered closely at the buildings, as though expecting to see tiny figures emerging from their doorways. Further along, she saw a painting and she stopped dead in front of it. It was a portrait of a valiant golden-haired Elven warrior, clad in golden armour, standing proudly on a mountain peak. His hair was blown back from his face by a mountain breeze and he held his sword aloft, its blade gleaming in the sunlight. On the breastplate of his armour was etched a flower and the shield he carried also bore the same emblem. He looked noble and fearless, and his eyes, painted though they were, glowed with life and vigour.
"Glorfindel," she whispered, her eyes sweeping over the painting, absorbing every brush stroke. Lord Ecthelion stood behind her, so she could not see the sorrowful love in his eyes. He placed his hand on her shoulder and felt her start slightly beneath his touch.
"He was a dear friend," he whispered.
Nîndorien turned around slowly, and although she was smiling, he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. "I know," she replied. "He is great and wise, and it still grieves me that he did not accompany us from Middle Earth." As she looked at her uncle, she saw that, directly opposite the portrait of the Beloved, there was a portrait of Ecthelion himself, clad in silver armour, in a similar stance atop a great tower at night. On his breastplate was engraved an image of a fountain, each drop of water glinting in the moonlight. Great nobility and pride was apparent in the picture; a faithful representation of the valiant Lord of the Fountains.
"He will come back, I am certain," said Ecthelion, still looking at the painting of Glorfindel. "He returned to Middle Earth out of love for the land; he will leave before its fading. But now, come. Your parents much desire to see you again."
Nîndorien's heart leaped within her. Now she understood Gil-galad's words when he had mentioned that others wished to see her. She had yearned for her beloved so much that it had barely crossed her mind that others she had loved might have returned from Mandos. Her step was lighter and a smile played on her lips. Ecthelion could not help grinning when he saw her evident enthusiasm to be among her kin again. He led her along a wide twisting passageway and passed countless numbers of doors before stepping out onto a balcony which overlooked the tree-filled valley. From this vantage point, very little of Tirion could be seen; it was as though they were in the depths of a remote forest. The top of Mindon Eldaliéva was visible in the distance, gleaming like a daytime star and the atmosphere was calm and peaceful. As Nîndorien followed her uncle onto the balcony, she heard a familiar and long-missed voice crying out with gladness. She immediately found herself wrapped up in the embrace of her mother. Tears of joy streamed down the faces of both Elven ladies. Nîndorien looked at her mother's face with disbelief and her eyes were met with an identical pair, brimming with love and tears.
"Oh, my daughter, my dearest, you are come at last!" she kept saying. Leading Nîndorien to a wooden seat at the edge of the balcony, she called in through a window.
"Beloved, our daughter has returned!" she cried. Nîndorien spun around as a tall dark-haired Elf-lord strode out on to the balcony. His fair face was wreathed with smiles and he enveloped her in a strong-armed hug before stepping back and studying her closely. His gaze ever passed between mother and daughter, the joy in his face contagious. Nîndorien smiled back at her father, who announced that she was every bit as beautiful as her mother. He pulled her towards him again and extended a hand to his wife, drawing her into the embrace. The Lord Ecthelion looked at the scene with joy before removing to a seat in the corner of the balcony and busying himself with the selection of a piece of fruit. Soon, the Lord Elemmakil, his wife, the Lady Olorwen and their daughter sat together on a long bench opposite Ecthelion and he surveyed them with delighted interest, weighing an apple in his hand.
"Lord Elemmakil, I can scarcely believe that this beautiful maiden is our hidden flower of Gondolin. She has truly blossomed." He grinned suddenly. "But then, she is blessed with her mother's looks."
"And by implication, is she also blessed with yours?" asked Elemmakil with a raised eyebrow. He snorted with amusement, while holding his daughter's hand. "Our dearest Muinalot, your irreverent uncle is quite right; you have grown into a truly beautiful woman."
Nîndorien blushed slightly as she looked fondly at her father's face. Her memories of him were vague and distant, as were all her memories before the tragic fall of the city of her birth, but it seemed that she knew his features and the soft tone of his voice as well as her own. Her mother, sitting on the other side, reached out to brush her hair back behind her ear.
"Ai, my darling child, I fear that your beauty has come at the price of great sorrow. Woe for Gondolin and Sirion. I feared so much for you; for we left you alone when you were still so young."
"Not alone," put in Ecthelion amiably as he began to cut his apple into thin slices. "It seems that she fell into the arms of the High King, and he has not let her go since."
"Ah, yes, Ereinion," said Elemmakil. "A most noble Elf. He has called on us frequently this last century or so. He is most fortunate to have captured your heart, daughter, but I would not have refused my daughter's hand to one so valiant."
Nîndorien could not conceal her smile. "Indeed, father, I think of myself as the fortunate one. I have been truly blessed to have found him." She looked at her parents and said quietly. "I believe our love to be as rich and complete as that between you."
She silently recalled what Glorfindel had said to her in Rivendell, early in the First Age, when Celebrían's betrothal to Elrond was announced.
Let us wish that Elrond and Celebrían know love such as that shared between your parents. Their love was great and enduring and it saddens me to think that you cannot remember it. One could see it in the light that shone in Olorwen's eyes when she looked upon Elemmakil or in the way he spoke of her, every word rich with love. Yet perhaps you know more of their love than those who merely witnessed it, for you were born of that love. You, my dear Lady, carry their love within you so that Middle Earth may still know it.
Nîndorien felt a pang thinking of her dearest friend; he had been the link between her life in Gondolin which she could barely remember and her life in Rivendell after Gil-galad had passed away. She supposed that she had fulfilled a similar role for Glorfindel for she was the only survivor of Gondolin who dwelled in Rivendell. He had told her so often that she looked like her mother and her uncle and she frequently wondered whether her resemblance to Olorwen and Ecthelion was a source of comfort or pain to him. While she was lost in thought, her parents glanced at one another and smiled with pleasure, the light of love in their eyes exactly as Glorfindel had described.
"Then you are blessed, Muinalot," said her mother. "Ereinion has shown his love for you with every word he speaks. I think he missed you greatly although he was so charming and jovial during his visits here that one was in danger of overlooking his melancholy. Particularly when he was engaged in a game of strategy or some other diversion."
"Indeed! He struck me as rather competitive," mused Ecthelion. "He beat your father, you know. On a number of occasions."
Elemmakil and his daughter both laughed and she spoke ruefully, "He was thought to be most argumentative in the council room of Lindon. He never liked being at a disadvantage in matters of war or sport."
"He is also a most accomplished chess player," chuckled Elemmakil before adding thoughtfully. "I should like to see a match between him and the Son of the Edain."
"The Son of the Edain?" asked Nîndorien with curiosity.
"Tuor. Another who has been known to play a ruthless game of chess," put in Ecthelion helpfully. "I think he is currently engaged in fierce contest with Voronwë, if the noise from the library is anything to go by."
There was absolutely no noise to be heard and Nîndorien looked at her uncle with confusion. "Forgive me, but I do not understand; I cannot hear a sound."
"Pre-cisely," stated Ecthelion with a broad smile. "I can guarantee that Tuor is sitting there in smug silence, with his hands behind his head. Voronwë, on the other hand, probably has his head in his hands, if not on the chessboard. I believe Voronwë has not won against Tuor for fifty odd years. Possibly longer; I dimly recall a rather contentious stalemate which would have led to the termination of their friendship, were it not for the timely intervention of the fair Lady Idril."
"So the tales are true," marvelled Nîndorien aloud, her eyes shining with delight. "It had been said that Tuor passed to the Blessed Realm, but it seemed most strange that the Valar should grant such grace to a mortal. How wonderful! He was much loved among the Lothlim." A note of sorrow crept into her voice as she recalled the few who had survived Gondolin's fall.
"The tales are assuredly true," said Elemmakil. "He lives in great honour in this house of the Lord Turgon."
"Lord Turgon? But I thought he was a king." Nîndorien was puzzled. "Surely a king cannot be uncrowned."
Ecthelion leaned forward, relishing the opportunity to enlighten his niece. "Indeed not, dear Muinalot. He is still the King of the Gondolindrim; we are still his loyal subjects. In the wider society of Tirion, however, he is accounted as a Lord of Elves. He has no kingdom here but he is still greatly honoured.
"In Middle earth, Turgon was High King yet, here in Valinor, Finarfin has ruled over the Noldor since the First Age. If one were to follow the line of succession, Finarfin is now rightfully High King, for all those who came before him in the line to the throne have died. All except Fëanor and Finwë have now returned, but Finarfin has inherited the crown lawfully. It cannot be taken from him. I believe that only one other can now lay claim to the throne, but by all accounts, he will not declare his right.
"Now, although it was not the King's obligation, he has granted households and lordships within Valinor to his brother Fingolfin and his nephews Fingon and Turgon. He is a truly gracious king, for his brother is held as coeval in all but title. Finarfin is determined that the former high kings of Middle earth be honoured. High King Ingwë allows the conferring of such honours, for it does not affect his position in Taniquetil. If anyone were to suffer from the establishment of factions among the Noldor, it would be Finarfin himself.
"It is said, dear niece, that Ereinion will be granted his own household soon. There are a great many Elves who lived during his reign and would gladly join his household if it were established."
"Although such a move would not be greeted with pleasure among all the Elves of Tirion," said Elemmakil. "For only one hundred years have passed since his release from Mandos. Some view it as an injudiciously hasty move."
"The move is not a certainty, for Ereinion has made no claim," commented Ecthelion. Both Elf-lords were becoming so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice Olorwen's long-suffering expression or Nîndorien's look of amused curiosity. Olorwen calmly picked up some embroidery, but looked up from time to time to smile at her daughter, and to cast affectionate glances towards her husband and her brother. Ecthelion continued enthusiastically.
"Ah, brother, I think that it is bound to happen for he is the only high king not to be honoured thus. He is certainly worthy of it and sooner rather than later, for a large number of the more recent arrivals from Middle earth consider him their king. Many Elves from Valinor do not comprehend that he has commanded armies since the end of the First Age. His reign was the longest in Middle Earth; it is rather unfortunate that he has only been in Valinor for one hundred years."
"Long enough for him to put a few backs up," remarked Elemmakil with a chuckle.
At this Nîndorien became even more intrigued and Ecthelion noticed her interest and addressed her. "You mentioned earlier that Ereinion was known to be combative in council sessions in Lindon?" She nodded and then her father continued.
"It seems that he has not lost that particular trait, my daughter." He struggled to keep a straight face. "He can become quite frustrated at those in Finarfin's court who would disregard his opinions because of his apparent youth and inexperience. However, he has proved a fierce adversary in matters of debate. He speaks so eloquently and cleverly that he gains a great deal of support. It is the mark of a king that he is used to speaking his mind, and, by the Valar, if he has something to say, he will make it known. He has not lost an argument yet."
"I assume that he is so charming that his obstinacy goes relatively unnoticed," Nîndorien stated with amusement
"Exactly," said Ecthelion. "Except among those who view him as an upstart. I don't think they quite grasp that he was born in the First Age; they treat him as though he is the youngest Elf ever to step foot into a council room. Unfortunately, they find themselves rapidly revising this opinion for he does speak with wisdom that belies his apparent youth, and the other High Kings pay heed to his words. If he is granted his own household, he will be permitted to speak in the court of Ingwë. That alone is a great honour."
"Even on the day he speaks before all the Elves of Valinor in the Halls of Ingwë, I daresay that he will still be known by the epithet of `boy king'!" put in Elemmakil.
Nîndorien laughed aloud at this. "I think that my husband finds it amusing rather than irritating."
"That will disappoint Lord Calimehtar," sighed Ecthelion, "for I do believe that he is the one responsible for coining that particular name. He is another, dear niece," he whispered in confiding tones to Nîndorien, "who does not look kindly upon your husband. More than likely this is because, whether intentionally or not, Ereinion always seems to side against him and always seems to outclass him in their invariably entertaining arguments!"
"Come, my dears, why don't you continue this discussion over lunch?" Olorwen said gently. "And then we must prepare for tonight's feast." Seeing Nîndorien's questioning look, she explained. "Tonight, King Finarfin holds a feast to welcome the newest arrivals from Middle Earth. After lunch, the seamstresses of the house will make a gown for you, my daughter, and you shall be the fairest Elf in Tirion."
Protesting at such lavish praise, Nîndorien took her mother's arm and they proceeded to the feast hall in Turgon's house for the noontime meal. Her thoughts turned towards the coming evening's festivities. Nîndorien could not quite believe her mother's praise of her beauty, certainly not when the Lady Galadriel and her daughter were to attend the feast, but she was secure in the knowledge that there was one Elf-lord in Valinor who truly viewed her as the fairest of Elves. She sighed with contentment.
Her beloved lived.
She was reunited with her kin.
This was a truly blessed realm.