Counsels in Rivendell - Part Four - Hope
"My Lord! You startled me!" cried Nîndorien.
"The door was open, my Lady. I am sorry for intruding."
"Nay, it matters not. I just didn't hear you, my Lord." Nîndorien smiled before saying, "Even among Elves, your ability to move soundlessly is uncanny."
Glorfindel laughed softly, before looking out of the window at Arwen, who seemed to be walking in slow, repetitive circles. It was just over two weeks since the Company had departed Rivendell, and rumours of a storm on Caradhras had filtered back. Nîndorien had seen great concern on Elrond's face as he passed through the corridors of Rivendell.
"She is anxious, my Lord. The thoughts that rush through her mind will not give her peace."
"That is to be expected. None of us can rest easy in these times."
"No, but fear weighs more heavily on the Lady Undomiel. She has begun a great work, to keep her mind occupied." Nîndorien glanced at Glorfindel who raised his eyebrows questioningly. Nîndorien hesitated before proceeding. "She wishes it to remain secret, so perhaps I should not mention it." Nîndorien thought of Arwen's great labour of love; undertaken at night and in secret. The daughter of Elrond was making a kingly banner for Aragorn to bear when his time came. She murmured a prayer to the Valar with every stitch, and poured all of her love and hope into its making.
"Very well, I shall not ask you to break confidence."
Nîndorien changed the subject. "I have heard that the Lord Elrond considers sending his sons to fight at Aragorn's side."
"But Elladan and Elrohir are abroad again, are they not?"
"Yes, they left Rivendell days ago and travelled north. I believe that there is some disturbance there, and they have ridden out to fight with the Rangers. I do not know when Lord Elrond expects them to return"
"Their homecoming will be short-lived, if it is as you say, and they are to seek out Aragorn."
"My Lord, no doubt you know more than I, for you are one of Lord Elrond's closest counsellors."
"I'm afraid that I cannot speak of Lord Elrond's plans, my Lady," said Glorfindel gravely, but his eyes were playful.
"Indeed, my Lord? I hope that this is not retribution for my refusal to tell you of Arwen's secret." said Nîndorien archly. "Well, perhaps it is best that neither of us break the confidences of Lord Elrond and his daughter."
"You spend much of your time with her, do you not?"
"Ay, if I am not by her side, I feel I must watch over her."
"With you and her father ever watchful, she is in safe hands until Aragorn claims her as his queen." Glorfindel smiled at Nîndorien, but inside he was concerned. The Lady looked tired and Glorfindel wondered if she was giving too much of her own strength to support Arwen.
"You speak with surety, my Lord."
"Not surety, but hope. We must believe that evil can be overthrown, else there is no reason to continue."
"I wish I had some of your hope, my Lord," murmured Nîndorien as she gazed out of the window. This was the same window from which she had watched for the return of her lord, although, in her heart she had known that she would not look upon him again in Middle Earth. Arwen waited not for Aragorn's return, for he would not come back to Rivendell, but rather for some tidings of how he fared.
"Surely you do not believe this quest to be hopeless?" asked Glorfindel, looking down at her searchingly.
"Nay. I believe that this is our best chance of victory against the Dark Lord, but it stings me when I think that Undomiel will fade and diminish. Lord Elrond speaks not of it, but even in victory, he will have to bear the most sorrowful of partings. How can he still have hope?"
"Yet, he does, my Lady. Since the Second Age, he has set himself against Sauron, and he will not turn from that path now, although his journey's end will see a most painful parting."
"I admire his strength. Should his hope come to fruition, he alone in Middle Earth will greet the tidings of victory with sorrow."
"That has happened before, my Lady, and sorrow was overcome."
Nîndorien tore her gaze away from Arwen, and looked at Glorfindel closely, understanding his meaning. When the tattered remnants of the Last Alliance had returned victorious to Imladris after seven years, she had searched without hope for some sight of Gil-galad's banner. At last, she saw Lord Elrond and when their eyes met, she realised the truth, though she had already known it deep down. All about her, Elves were crying out with joy for the downfall of the dark Lord. Nîndorien had stood still for a moment, amidst all the happiness, before her legs gave way and sorrow overtook her. She did not know how long she had lain senseless, but were it not for the healing skills of Lord Elrond, she would not have lingered long in Middle Earth, risking even the wrath of the Valar to lay down the burden of living. She returned from the very brink and although her recovery took many years, it was aided by the return of Glorfindel, who arrived in Imladris early in the Third Age. She now dwelled in Rivendell peacefully, though sorrow lay like a shadow on her heart.
Glorfindel remained silent, watching Nîndorien slowly and painfully uncovering hidden memories. The look in his eyes was unmistakable, but he had sworn to himself never to speak of that which lay buried deep in his heart. He looked at the window once more, and saw that Arwen stood motionless before she let out a cry and ran lightly over the snow. Her brothers had returned, and with them came a company of Rangers. Nîndorien gave no indication that she had seen the travellers' arrival but she stirred, and looked up at her companion. Shocked realisation crossed her face, for though Glorfindel sought to hide it, stark emotion shone clearly in his eyes, betraying his inner feelings. Nîndorien cast about for the right words, laying her hand upon his, which rested on the windowsill. She did not know what to say, for although Glorfindel was ever in her heart, her love was bestowed unto another.
"Hush, my Lady," whispered Glorfindel, putting his finger to her lips. "Speak no words, for I understand your mind more fully than you know. I swore to myself never to speak of this, and so it shall remain." He smiled, a beautiful and sorrowful smile, and kissed her forehead gently. "Come now. The sons of Elrond have returned and I dare say that they will shortly seek their old friend and confidante."
"And they shall find her in the company of her oldest and truest friend." Nîndorien took Glorfindel's arm, and together they proceeded to the entrance hall, where Elrond fondly greeted his sons, and looked with gladness upon his three children.
The following days passed more quickly than the previous weeks, for Elladan and Elrohir brought light and hope to the people of Rivendell. Once more they had returned from the wilds unscathed, and they walked around Rivendell together, identical images of strength and valour. All hearts rose in their presence, for they were like mighty Elf-lords of old, fair and fearless.
One day, as the sun was nearing its highest point, a small number of Elrond's household sat in the Hall of Fire. Elrond himself was there, with Glorfindel, as ever, on his right, and Erestor on his left. Nîndorien sat with Arwen at her feet, sitting as she had done when she was an Elfling. They were listening to Elladan, who was relating some tale of the wilds. He was the more eloquent of the sons of Elrond, taking after his father, for he was clever in speech and highly learned. Elrohir was quieter and more thoughtful, though no less wise, and in this, he was like gentle Celebrían. He sat beside Nîndorien, his eyes always on his brother. Suddenly, the hall dimmed and it seemed as though some cloud had passed across the sun. Elrond's eyes flew wide open, before he closed them in grief. He murmured, "Ai, Mithrandir , utúlie'n mornië!" He rose and departed from the room. Nîndorien's hands flew to her mouth, as Arwen hid her face in the folds of Nîndorien's gown. Elladan and Elrohir rose and followed their father, all thoughts of storytelling forgotten. Nîndorien watched as Glorfindel and Erestor also left the room. She longed for Glorfindel to look back at her and give her some sort of reassurance but he did not turn his head. Nîndorien was sorry, for although no harsh words had passed between them, she sensed that there was a distance between herself and the yellow-haired Elf-lord, where before there had been none. Absentmindedly, she stroked Arwen's black hair, as the Evenstar sobbed softly. Nîndorien's heart was heavy; it seemed to her that Arwen was becoming more like one of the Edain. Her emotions seemed to flux with every passing day and each minute brought her closer to her doom. Many hours passed in the flickering light of the Hall of Fire, and eventually Arwen's sobbing subsided to silent tears
"Hush now, mellamin. There is yet hope," Nîndorien whispered.
"How can there be? Did you not see the look upon my father's face? Did you not hear his words? Mithrandir has fallen; soon everyone else will follow." Arwen looked up at Nîndorien, tears trickling down her face.
"Arwen, do not cry; enough tears have been shed in Middle Earth to flood all its lands, from deepest valley to highest peak," said Nîndorien. "All is not lost while the Company remains true to their goal. Do not lose hope." She gently placed her hands on Arwen's cheeks, and looked into her tear-filled eyes. "Estel is strong; he can lead them on."
"How do you bear it?" asked Arwen.
"Bear what, my child?" asked Nîndorien puzzled.
"Living through the ages, and witnessing repeated downfall and darkness. How do you still endure, with all those years of sorrow hanging over you?"
"Perhaps that is the price we pay for our immortality. We must live with our memories and sorrows until the end of Arda. If we were to lose hope, our very immortality would lie heavy upon us, until we grew to resent it and resent those who forced it upon us." As Nîndorien spoke, she could almost hear Glorfindel's words echoing in her ears. "You have heard of Míriel Serindë, mother of Fëanor, have you not?" Arwen nodded. "She longed to escape the burden of living, for the bearing of her son had weakened her and deprived her of the joy of life; even Finwë's love for her could not bind her to this life. Her spirit passed from her body, to the Halls of Mandos, and she was the first among Elves who wished to abandon her existence and refuse to be reborn. It is said that this grieved the Valar, for immortality is a precious gift, even if it grows bitter with time."
Arwen sat silently for a time. "Would you then choose the Doom of Men, if it were offered to you?"
Nîndorien paused before answering. "I cannot conceive of the day when I utterly despair of life, but it may be with the passage of the ages that all immortals shall envy Men, for with death comes peace. For myself, and for my love, I would not choose it, for it is not my fate."
"Yet for my love, I gladly take the doom of men upon me," Arwen said.
"Even as Lúthien forswore her immortality for the love of Beren," whispered Nîndorien, "And their days together in Dor Firn-i-Guinar were no less joyous for that sacrifice. So it shall be for you." Nîndorien gently clasped Arwen's hand and some of her strength seemed to pass to the younger Elf, who finally smiled.
"Thank you, Lady Nîndorien. I think I shall remove to my chambers now and return to my needlework." Arwen paused before continuing. "I am glad that I have you by my side as counsellor."
"Nay, thank me not," said Nîndorien as they both rose to their feet. "Thank rather the Lord Glorfindel, for without his teaching, I should not have the wisdom to find my own way in this world, much less guide another." She smiled sadly as they left the room. As Arwen and Nîndorien reached Arwen's chambers, the daughter of Elrond turned to Nîndorien. "You always speak fondly of the Lord Glorfindel, my Lady, and his eyes are ever on you when you are in the same room."
"Indeed, for he is a dear friend." Nîndorien stopped as she understood what Arwen was tactfully trying to say. "But he can never be more to me than that. His return from the Halls of Mandos is the very thing that gave me hope. I believe he knows it well, for whenever I look upon him, I remember his death for the Gondolindrim. And I remember the death of another for the people of Middle Earth. When I see that he lives again, I hope that my own love may live once more.
"Know this, gentle Evenstar: my heart is truly given unto another, and in his keeping shall it remain. Glorfindel is a twice-beloved friend, but where Ereinion dwells, there also dwells my heart. The love of the Eldar does not waver, for not even death can quench the flame of love."
"I believe it is the same with mortal love, " said Arwen, barely aware that she was speaking aloud. "I cannot accept that my love for Estel, nor his for me, will die when we go to our graves."
"Well then, mellamin, cherish that love and take strength from it when hope seems at an end. Now go," Nîndorien planted a soft kiss on Arwen's tearstained cheek, "Return to this labour of love, and picture the hope your banner will bring to others when Estel raises it and Gondor knows that it has a king again."
Later that night, Nîndorien went into the Long Room. She brought with her a small lantern, and searched for the book that Merry and Pippin had been looking at when she had come across them on the morning of the Council. At length she found it, and laid it upon an old oak desk. Turning the pages, she came to the picture she wished to behold: Gil-galad, clad in his silver mail and shining helmet, bearing his bright shield and wielding Aiglos. He stood as he had in life; proud and fearless and ever-young. Nîndorien lightly caressed the image of his face and closed her eyes. A smile passed across her face as she walked in a land of glad memories.
She lay on their bed, looking up at the ceiling, listening to the slow and rhythmic breathing of Ereinion Gil-galad as he slept beside her. This was their first night as a wedded couple, and although she was exhausted, she could not sleep. Joy bubbled up inside her and she had to bite her lip to suppress the urge to laugh out loud. A cool breeze floated in through the open window, carrying with it the sweet smell of Lindon. She turned onto her side and looked lovingly on Ereinion's face, before laying soft kisses on both of his closed eyelids. He breathed out softly, and she noticed a stray strand of black hair lying across his cheek. She held her breath and extended her hand to push it behind his ear. At the very moment that her fingertips grazed the skin of his face, his hand shot out and he gently grasped her wrist. She cried out with surprise, before finally yielding to the laughter that rose up inside, and having put up the pretence of a struggle, she allowed him to kiss her again and again. He pulled her towards him and wrapped his strong arms around her. Later, as she lay nestled against him, she resolved never to believe that he was sleeping even when all appearances seemed to suggest otherwise.
Nîndorien stood motionless in the Long Room of Rivendell, the flame of the lantern casting unsteady light across her features. Although her mind dwelled on happy memories, her face soon became troubled, as a darkness descended on her thoughts
Now she walked barefoot through the corridors of Gil-galad's royal dwelling in Lindon. Although it was the dead of night, she could not sleep and nor, it seemed, could the High King. A light burned in his study, and when Nîndorien came to the open door, she could see him sitting at his oaken desk, his figure silhouetted by a flickering candle. Although her footsteps were so silent that she herself could not hear them, he addressed her without turning around.
"Why do you stray out of bed so late, my beloved?"
"To find you, my king, for I cannot sleep and I sense that you are greatly troubled." She walked across the room and stood behind his chair. She leaned over his shoulder, putting her arms around him, her hair trailing onto his face. Letters lay strewn between burnt-out candle ends on the surface of the desk. She kissed his cheek and asked softly, "What troubles you, my king?"
He did not reply immediately, but gently pulled her around so that she faced him. He looked at her face with tenderness, before drawing her onto his knee and holding her close. He rested his head on her breast and she stroked his head, gently kissing him. Drawing some comfort from her presence, he began to speak.
"I have letters here from Eregion, bearing most contradictory reports. It seems that a person who names himself Annatar has come among them. Celebrimbor seems not to notice anything amiss, and has welcomed Annatar warmly, but I also have a letter from Galadriel. She is not swayed by his promises of riches and glory, and seriously contemplates leaving Eregion. I have written to Celebrimbor to urge caution in his dealings with Annatar, who apparently claims that, under his guidance, Eregion can become a powerful and beautiful land that will vie even with Valinor in splendour."
"Did this Annatar not approach you?"
"I did not receive him, on the advise of Master Elrond, although, in truth, I needed not the counsels of Elrond Peredhel to tell me that something was amiss. I was filled with misgivings, for although all reports state that Annatar appears fair and generous, I sense some evil lurking beneath that fair-seeming surface. He sent messages that praised me above all the kings of the Eldar, and he offered to build Lindon into a kingdom worthy of envy. I believe that he is searching for weakness among the Elves, and he would have us believe that he is the only one who can provide our hearts' truest desires." At this, Gil-galad raised his head, and looked at Nîndorien's face. His smile made her heart soar and he kissed her fingers, before entwining them within his own. "Perhaps it is well that Annatar is not permitted to enter this land, for it would quickly become clear to him exactly where my heart lies." Then he kissed her deeply, with all the hunger and desire of that first kiss on the Isle of Balar over one thousand years before. Finally, he set her to her feet and stood up, still clasping her hand. "Come, my love, let us go to bed, for black night breeds black thoughts. Perhaps the dawning of the sun will shed more light on the matter, but I fear that my fate, with the fate of Middle Earth, lies entangled in the schemes of Annatar."
Nîndorien did not know how much time had passed, but her memories grew darker and more sorrowful, and she could not break the enchantment under which she now found herself.
She stood by a window in Rivendell looking east. Without warning, she cried aloud, startling the others in the room. It felt like a great burning hand was pressed against her chest, its very fire inflicting a pain like she had never known before. Then, as suddenly as it had come upon her, it ceased. As tears ran down her face, she understood what had happened, and from that day forth, although she maintained her vigil, hope had forsaken her.
At last, Nîndorien succeeded in forcing her mind back to the present. She trembled as she laid down the book and, having taken a few deep breaths, she walked slowly out of the room. As she passed along the corridor leading to her chambers, she glanced up at the far wing of the house. Candles still burned in Undomiel's windows; at least hope had not yet deserted the Lady of Rivendell.
In the Long Room, Glorfindel sat in the shadows, silently berating himself for letting his defences slip earlier. He knew that he would have to support Nîndorien still, for Elrond had decided to send his sons to Aragorn's side. Before the fortnight was up, Elladan, Elrohir and the company of stern Rangers would leave Rivendell. Nîndorien would need his presence, for she was giving so much of herself to Undomiel, that he feared her light would fade even as the Evenstar grew brighter. Arwen was drawing strength from one who had little left to give.