Counsels in Rivendell - Part One: Love
Author's Note: I am subscribing to the notion that Glorfindel of Rivendell is the re-embodiment of Glorfindel of Gondolin.
"What manner of creature are they, my Lady? Dwarves?"
"Nay, my friend, They are Halflings, or Hobbits, if one were to use their own tongue."
"Hobbits?" A silvery peal of Elvish laughter ensued. "I suppose it suits them well enough. They are rather bedraggled, are they not?"
"As even you would be, had you travelled their path, Luinil," Nîndorien watched through the ornate railings of the balcony, as three small figures were welcomed by handmaidens of the Lady of Rivendell and led to their chambers. "I have heard that there is a fourth, lying gravely injured upstairs, and indeed there is a fifth who dwells here. He is a great friend of the Lord Elrond."
"Why have they come here?" Luinil asked curiously.
"I do not know, my friend, nor would I wish to be privy to such information. Sorrow seems to lie heavy on those who share this secret and dark shadows pursue them. But come now! It is not seemly for us to skulk in corners, gossiping like handmaidens."
"I must hasten to Lady Undomiel and deliver such messages as I have from the Lady of Lothlorien," Luinil said. "I have delayed too long!"
"As you wish, Luinil, I shall join you presently. Please inform Arwen of the travellers' arrival." Nîndorien stood up straight, smoothing her dress with her hands, and descended the sweeping stairs to the entrance hall. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, a tall fair-haired Elf entered through the main doors, accompanied by a travel worn Mortal.
"My Lady Nîndorien, it is a pleasure to behold you again after such long and strenuous wanderings," he cried, as he stepped forward to kiss her hand.
"My Lord Glorfindel, it embarrasses me that you, of all Elves, should address me so formally," Nîndorien bowed her head politely, acknowledging his greeting. "You are one of the mightiest Elf lords to have walked Middle Earth. Even now, songs of your deeds are sung across the land. I recall when I was an infant in my mothers arms, she would sing songs of Glorfindel the Beloved and the Fall of Gondolin."
"Hardly a soothing lullaby I should think!" smiled the Elf Lord. "But how else should I address the lady of a most beloved king, and the kin of the Lord Ecthelion?" he asked more seriously, with barely concealed sorrow in his eyes. "My Lady," he persisted with his formal manner, "I believe you are acquainted with Aragorn, son of Arathorn?"
Nîndorien's hands flew to her mouth in surprise. "I did not recognise you, Dunadán! But you are weary, I see. I fear you carry a heavy burden of toil and sorrow. Come, I will show you to your lodgings and then perhaps we may find the Lady Undomiel who has been impatiently awaiting your return!"
Aragorn smiled. "I can hardly imagine Arwen displaying impatience, Lady Nîndorien"
"Indeed!" laughed Nîndorien. "Impatience is an unbecoming trait in an Elf of almost three thousand years but I distinctly saw her gazing out of the window on more than one occasion! I believe she may even have sighed as she did so."
Despite Aragorn's tiredness, he smiled and his face lit up. "You are kind to say such things although I doubt that Arwen would thank you for making such observations. I shall go now to my chambers, and then shall I seek my beloved. Nay, there is no need to accompany me; I know the way well!" He departed, leaving the two Elves in the silent entrance hall.
"Surely you too seek refreshment, my Lord?" Nîndorien queried. "I believe that there is food prepared in the smaller reception chamber."
"My thanks, Lady Nîndorien, but I have been charged to report at once to Lord Elrond. Know you where he is?" asked Glorfindel.
"I believe he is in his chambers, with Mithrandir, tending to the fallen halfling," said Nîndorien. "I saw them carry the wounded hobbit thither after the rising of the waters of Bruinen. Lord Glorfindel, "she hesitated. "I do not wish to pry but I sense that he brings great danger. Is it -?"
"Ay, it is what Lord Elrond feared."
Nîndorien covered her face. "Ai, would that the accursed object has been destroyed years ago! Then the sacrifices of our people would not have been in vain."
Glorfindel placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke gently. "There is yet hope, Nîndorien. I know of whom you think, and I urge you never to believe that his sacrifice was in vain. If not for him, the land would already be covered in darkness."
"Perhaps it is so, " whispered the Lady. Glorfindel gently took her hands from her face and clasped them within his own.
"It is most assuredly true. I wish I could stay with you but I have business to attend to with Lord Elrond. Go to the Lady Undomiel, I entreat you. You should not remain alone. Later, you and I shall talk at greater length, I promise." Glorfindel bowed and departed.
Nîndorien stood motionless in the hall for a few moments, looking for all the world like a carven image of some ancient noble Elf. She came to and shook herself slightly, before she sought out Arwen and Luinil. They were in Arwen's quarters, in the company of many of Undomiel's handmaidens, who laughed and sang in carefree manner. She sat among the Elven maidens, allowing their laughter to sweep over her as she picked up some needlework. Sorrowful thoughts lay heavy on her mind, but she smiled slightly and nodded her head when Arwen looked at her questioningly. The Lady of Rivendell visibly brightened and looked ever towards the door, waiting for the sound of the footsteps of a messenger who would inform her that her lord had returned and wished to see her.
* * *
When all the maidens had departed for their evening meal, Nîndorien walked through the passageways of Rivendell, seeking Glorfindel. As she moved silently across a deserted hall, she caught a glimpse of some movement in a dark corner. She stooped down and peered into the shadows, her Elven ears detecting the sound of breathing.
"Hello?" she asked uncertainly. "Who goes there?"
A short figure stepped forward out of the darkness and spoke in trembling tones. "Beggin' your pardon, Ma'am. I was looking for my master's room and I got lost."
Nîndorien smiled. "Fear not, it is easily done here in Rivendell. Even I, who have dwelt here for much of the Third Age, do not know all its secrets. My name is Nîndorien and I would venture that you are one of the four brave hobbits who arrived in our midst today."
Even in the half-light, Nîndorien could see that a blush was creeping across the halfling's cheeks. Somewhat clumsily, he bowed low. "My name is Samwise Gamgee, although people usually just call me Sam."
"Welcome to the House of Elrond, Samwise Gamgee. May you find some peace here."
"Thank you, Ma'am. I hope you won't think I'm bein' rude, but I shall not rest easy, even here, until I hear some news of my master."
"Ah, the injured Halfling? I shall take you to his chambers and speak with Lord Elrond. I am sure he would not object to you being at your master's side, certainly not when you have travelled so far with him."
Nîndorien straightened up and held out her hand. The hobbit rose from his cowering position and walked at her side. Soon he was chattering away unreservedly. "I always told Mr Frodo, and Mr Bilbo before him, that I wanted to see the Elves. I never thought that I'd ever be here of all places." He chuckled to himself. "I wonder what old Sandyman would say if he saw me now. There'd be less of his lip, that's for sure."
"And now that you have seen us, what do you make of the Elves, Samwise?" asked Nîndorien gently. "Are we as you expected?"
Sam scratched his head thoughtfully. "Yes and no, I suppose."
Nîndorien laughed. "A truly Elvish response, Master Gamgee."
"I'll try to explain but I don't have much of a way with words. You need Mr. Frodo for that." Sam paused, thinking deeply. "I always took Elves to be free of cares, laughing and singing all the day long."
"There are many such Elves here," said Nîndorien softly, thinking of the light-hearted maidens who served Undomiel, filling the room with prattling nonsense and harmless chatter.
"Yes, Ma'am," agreed Sam, " They're not all like that though. There are some who seem awfully sad and though they look young, their eyes are old. I suppose that a few thousand years will do that to someone." Nîndorien agreed in her mind, surprised at the young hobbit's power of perception. He went on. "Then, there are others, like the Lord Glorfindel. He seemed to be full of power, like there was some magic about him. He wasn't afraid of them Ringwraiths, you know."
"Indeed?" Nîndorien asked. "I believe he came across them before, many years ago. He put their leader to flight then, so perhaps it is not surprising that they do not strike fear into his heart."
Sam walked in silence for a while, mulling over her words, all the while taking in his surroundings. At last they came to the door of Elrond's chambers. Nîndorien knocked gently and Mithrandir opened the door, concern evident on his face.
"Ga-Gandalf!" cried Sam, utterly astonished to see the wizard standing before him.
"Master Gamgee, my dear hobbit," Gandalf leant down and embraced Sam. "You have done well, better than even I could have hoped. As always, my Lady Nîndorien," he said turning towards the Elf, "these hobbits have managed to surprise even Gandalf the Grey, who thinks himself well-versed in Hobbit lore."
"How fares the other?" asked Nîndorien.
"It is too early to say, I fear," sighed the Istar. "Lord Elrond is prepared to work through the night, however, and while he still has hope so do we all."
"Whatever befell him?"
"He was stabbed in the shoulder by the blade of a Nazgúl. Lord Elrond believes that a piece of the blade is still within his body, working its way ever inwards."
"Can I see him?" burst out Sam, unable to remain silent, tears starting to form in his eyes.
"Yes, Mithrandir, can Samwise remain with him? I do not know if it will speed the other's recovery but it will certainly set Sam's mind at piece."
"Very well," said Gandalf. "I should have known that Sam would not rest without seeing his master. Come Samwise, let us enter."
"Excuse me, Mithrandir," said Nîndorien suddenly, remembering the original purpose for her wanderings. "Is Glorfindel within?"
"No, my Lady. I think he has removed to the Hall of Fire. The sons of Elrond have lately arrived in Rivendell so no doubt there will be much celebration among their father's people."
* * *
Nîndorien hurried off, leaving Sam in Mithrandir's company. Despite her haste, her footfalls were complete silent and she passed through the passageways of Rivendell like a soundless grey shadow. When she came to the Hall of Fire, she entered discreetly and immediately picked out Glorfindel among all the Elves who congregated there. He sat in a small alcove, removed from the merrymaking and seemingly content to observe the proceedings in solitude. As if aware of her eyes on him, he turned his head and smiled at her. When she approached, he stood up and kissed her hand gently before offering her the seat beside his. They sat in silence for a while, two grave and noble Elves listening to the dancing notes of a hymn to Elbereth. The sound of crackling flames could be heard under the gentle hub of conversation and the sweet notes of many harps, playing harmoniously together. Nîndorien looked around the Hall and saw the sons of Elrond speaking with their sister and Aragorn. Arwen sat as if on a throne, robed in green with a simple silver mesh cap on her head. She smiled up at Aragorn, who was now clad in Elven mail, with a fine cloak of Elvish make cast over his shoulders. He looked very much like a king of Men, attending his queen; far removed from the weary Ranger who had arrived in Rivendell a few hours previously. Glorfindel followed the line of Nîndorien's gaze and spoke softly.
"There is a great love between Estel and Undomiel."
"Indeed. I perceive that their love is strong," replied Nîndorien, turning to face the Elf-lord. She was surprised at the directness of his statement; usually Glorfindel was far more subtle in speech. "Theirs is the sort of love that would last even unto the world's end, were it not for the fate of Men. My heart is greatly saddened that their love will last only for the duration of one short Mortal life, when-"
"When it has the strength to outlast even the memories of the Eldar," finished Glorfindel, putting her very thoughts into words
"That is twice you have surprised me in one short conversation, my Lord," said Nîndorien gravely, although her eyes sparkled as she placed her hand in Glorfindel's. "Although I suppose I should not be greatly astonished, for of all the House of Elrond I believe you know me best."
The Elf-lord smiled. "Perhaps it is just the perception that two lifetimes brings to one, my Lady, for I knew you in both."
"I was but a babe in arms in that other lifetime, my Lord, yet your coming in the Third Age did stir some memory within me and lit a spark of hope in my heart. It grieves me that you did not know the glorious and sorrowful days in Lindon."
"But I dwelled in Gondolin of old; there is no place in Middle Earth that can compare to the Hidden Rock."
"Ay, I believe it was so, though I remember not the court of Turgon." Once more Nîndorien looked towards the children of Elrond and the hope of Westernesse. Arwen was laughing; a musical sound that filled the hearts of those around her with delight.
"I know not how she laughs, when surely she knows that sorrows lie ahead of her. I admire her; that she has the courage to love one of the Edain, knowing that he must die while she lives out the Ages in grief, or else she shall choose to follow the path of Luthien, and be sundered from the Eldar forever. How can he know what her love will cost? He cannot understand a truly eternal love."
"Do not think, my Lady, that the love of the Edain is any less strong than the love between the Eldar. It is like a powerful spark, short-lived yet blinding to all who look upon it. The love that grows between the Eldar is enduring; even the passage of the Ages cannot shake it."
"But it is no less passionate than the love of the Edain."
"I did not say that it was any the less passionate, my Lady, but love cannot burn with the same strength for an eternity. When initial passions wane, a steadfast love endures like a slow-burning flame. Yet, you surprise me, my Lady, when you speak of Arwen's courage."
"How so, my Lord?" asked Nîndorien, raising her eyebrows with curiosity.
"You know what it is like to lose a loved one through death but you have prevailed over grief."
"My lord, I am surprised that you, of all the Eldar, should compare my situation with hers. The death of one of the Firstborn does not compare to the passing of the Atani. It is not a permanent state as well you know. I still have the hope that I may behold my beloved again." Nîndorien's voice became dreamlike. "I often imagine that my love waits for me on the shores of Valinor and although I know it is not my time to depart these shores, I can take comfort in that. What comfort will Arwen have when the time comes for her to part from her lord?"
"I understand what you say but even the wisest among the Children of Iluvatar cannot say what becomes of the spirits of Men when they die. It may be that they can leave their pain behind when they pass into the grave, but that their love endures beyond the circles of the world. When the spirit of an Elf passes to the Halls of Mandos, it brings with it a lifetime's worth of love and pain. There, it can spend an eternity with such memories. Many years of Arda may pass, spent in contemplation and mourning, before the spirit of an Elf is permitted to leave the care of Mandos, if indeed it is allowed to leave at all." Glorfindel sat for a few moment in quiet thought.
"I apologise, my Lord, " Nîndorien bowed her head humbly. "I did not intent to stir such memories."
"Nay, it matters not, my dear," Glorfindel smiled upon her. "I merely wish to impress upon you the power of the many kinds of love that exist. Even the love the gallant sons of Elrond hold for you is pure and lasting."
"Indeed, my lord," Nîndorien's face brightened as she looked fondly on the two identical Elves. She had dwelt in Rivendell since before the time of their birth, and when they were mischievous Elflings, a single soft word from her served to calm their rambunctious behaviour, where a dozen strong words from their father had no such effect.
"They look upon you with much love and respect, almost as though you were a parent to them.
"You are most flattering, my Lord but all three of the children of Elrond knew two of the most loving parents I have ever seen. My presence in their lives cannot compare to that. But I admit that I do look upon them as I might have looked upon my own children."
"You never bore a child of your own?"
"No," she sighed. "For much of the Second Age, my beloved and I were content in each other's love, and we needed no other. The realms of Elves being what they are, there was no demand for an heir to the kingdom. With the passage of time, my heart yearned for a child of my own, but my lord had been granted some measure of foresight and he bade me wait. He feared that any child of ours would grow up without a father, and neither of us could risk that. Woe that he was proven right."
"Now it is I who must apologise to you for provoking such melancholic memories," said Glorfindel.
"Indeed you must not, my lord!" cried Nîndorien. "I do not regret any of the choices I or my beloved made, save one. "A shadow crossed her face. "But now is not the time to speak of such things. I thank you though, my lord, for speaking with me. I cannot fully comprehend the love between Undomiel and Estel."
"None of us can," interjected Glorfindel softly. "The heart of the Eldar cannot properly perceive the fleeting nature of the Edain, for our hearts, once given, are bestowed irrevocably and unreservedly, for good or ill, until the end of Arda."
"But I begin to see that its transience does not make mortal love is any the less worthy. And it is not confined to the world of Men. Do you know, Glorfindel, that I met one of the Halflings? He would not rest until he had found his master. Truly they must have great hearts, despite their short stature. His love for his master was touching and caused me to think anew about mortal affection."
"Indeed, they are creatures of stout heart, "agreed Glorfindel, "and while their type abides in Middle Earth, and while love lasts among the Edain, I do not think that any sacrifice of the Eldar was made in vain. Their lives may run a limited course but their love does not."
Feeling much more at rest, Nîndorien smiled. Once more, she sat back, her hand still in Glorfindel's and allowed the crackling of the flames to fill her mind again. She closed her eyes, only to be rudely disturbed.
"Well, brother, if it isn't a tragedy to see the Lady Nîndorien and the Lord Glorfindel sitting thus silently in our father's hall!"
"I agree, brother! It is inconceivable that neither bears a harp, nor brightens up the night with their song. Oiorille, why do you not sing?"
"Elladan and Elrohir! How wonderful to see you again," cried Nîndorien. She stood up and embraced them, and laughed joyously when in turn ,they lifted her clear off the ground and swung her in the air. "I was in deep council with the Lord Glorfindel, but now I long to hear your tales."
The twin sons of Elrond sat at her feet and regaled her with stories of the wilds and they begged her to tell them of all that had passed in Rivendell since their departure. Glorfindel sat and watched for a while, before silently retreating from the room, leaving the happy party to laugh among themselves. As he stepped out of the hall, he could hear the familiar sound of Nîndorien singing a song of an ancient love. He glanced back, and she caught his eye. The gratitude in her eyes was evident and he smiled, glad to have soothed her mind with his words. As he melted into the inky black shadows he sighed, for there was still one secret buried deep in his heart that he would never impart.