Counsels in Rivendell - Part Three - Sacrifice
Days passed, blending into weeks, and the scouts had not yet returned. Life in Rivendell continued much as normal, but there was an undeniable air of tension in its quiet passageways. Nîndorien frequented the Long Room, studying ancient manuscripts describing great deeds of old. More often than not, she was joined by Meriadoc, who delighted in looking at maps of Middle Earth. Everyday, he was further impressed by the sheer scale of the land. From what Nîndorien could gather, he had not ventured far beyond the boundaries of the Shire before making the great journey to Rivendell. She showed him old maps, depicting Beleriand of old, before the changing of the land, and more recent plans which traced the course of the Anduin and outlined the borders of the kingdoms of Men. He was eager to learn of such things, and had a quick mind. The other halflings showed less interest in such matters. Frodo, Bilbo and Sam could generally be found in Bilbo's room while Pippin often sat with some of the younger Elves and listened with joy to their songs. The Elves, too, were delighted to have such an enthusiastic listener, and laughed when he sang songs of the Shire. He even gave a wholehearted rendition of the Bath Song, which received a warm reception from the light-hearted Elves.
One day she was sitting alone in the Long Room, with a book open in front of her. Scouts were at last beginning to return from their travels but there was no sign of Glorfindel or the sons of Elrond as yet. Merry had long since joined the other hobbits and the day's light was fading. Nîndorien looked out of the window and silently watched as, one by one, the stars began to shine. Her tear-filled eyes reflected the skies like a prism, multiplying and magnifying the pinpricks of light that were appearing in the sky. She did not mourn the passing of the day, for like all Elves she delighted in starlight. Rather, she wept for the heroic deeds of old. The passage that lay open in front of her related the deeds of Glorfindel and Ecthelion, her mother's brother. As darkness fell, she could no longer read the words on the page, but still she sat there, unaware of anything around her until she was startled by a soft voice behind her.
"Why do you weep so, Muinalot?"
She gasped and turned around. "I have not been called by that name since I was an infant, Lord Glorfindel." The Elf-lord stood at the door, still clad in his cloak. She stood up and embraced him warmly. He then held her at arm's length, and looked at her tearstained face.
"But I first knew you as the Hidden Flower of Gondolin, my Lady," he murmured. "Before you ever dwelled in the wet lands, in the havens of Sirion. Now, I ask again: why do you weep? You are no tear-maiden, no níniel, who mourns all things that must pass."
"These past weeks, I have been reading a great deal of the history of our people and Middle Earth. Although there have been great and glorious periods, there has been so much shedding of blood and tears. I have lived through the fall of Gondolin and the grievous assault on Sirion. I heard rumours of the War of Wrath, and I lost the light of my life in the Last Alliance. Only now, as I read of all these deeds and sacrifices, do I realise what our people, and the Edain, and even the Naugrim, have passed through that we may yet live in Middle Earth.
"And still there are those who will sacrifice all," said Glorfindel. "Perhaps not for the Eldar, for our time is passing, but for all free people, from the Edain to those silly yet blessed perrianath." He picked up the book she had been reading, and held it up so he might read it by the light of the stars. He smiled sadly when he saw what was written there. "You speak of sacrifices, but I say to you, that my death was not the sacrifice." Nîndorien looked at him with confusion before he continued. "Nay, the true sacrifice was the effort to live on through the burning pain and overwhelming weariness, and thus ensure the survival of at least some part of our people. It would have been easy to fall, to yield to the suffering and speed to the Halls of Mandos and await what judgement might befall when the burden of living had passed from me."
"Does it not disturb you, lord, to talk of your own passing?"
"Not as much as one might think. One's own death is hardly a pleasant topic of conversation but it was that so-called death in Gondolin that truly impressed upon me that our bodies are but temporary vessels for the fire that burns within. I do not deny that it is our physical shape that allows us to partake in the joys of touch, or smell, or sound, yet it is not our bodies that bind us to the world. The physical form is quite separate to the essence inside each one of us."
Nîndorien remained silent, taking in the Elf-lord's words with a new-found sense of awe and respect. She soon returned to reality, when she looked upon his travel-stained cloak. "I suppose that you must speak with Lord Elrond, for I see that you are but lately returned from your errantry."
"Indeed, my Lady. As you say, I must seek out the Lord Elrond."
"I believe him to be in council with Mithrandir. I daresay that they have much to discuss for many scouts have returned these last two days; only Elladan and Elrohir have yet to return."
The two Elves then left the Long Room, and took their leave of one another. Nîndorien returned to her chambers while Glorfindel went to find Elrond, to impart what knowledge he had gleaned from his travels. He frowned slightly, however, for his errand had not been entirely successful; he and Lindir had travelled to Rhosgobel to seek Radagast the Brown, but there had been no sign of the Istar. He sighed, having watched Nîndorien disappear around a corner, and then began to climb the steps to Elrond's study.
At last the sons of Elrond returned, and spoke in secret with their father. They did not speak of their journey to anyone, even Nîndorien, and she did not press them for information. It came to pass that Elrond spoke with the hobbits, and much to the surprise of his household, the Company that was to travel with the Ringbearer was named. None of the Elves of Rivendell were named among their number; rather all four halflings were to pass into the wilds of Middle Earth. Seven days after the naming of the Company, Nîndorien stood with Arwen and many other maidens of the house, as the travellers prepared to depart. She sensed the anxiety of Lady Undomiel and stood close by in silent support. The sun was beginning to set, for Elrond had deemed it wise that the travellers only move under cover of night. From the porch on which they stood, Nîndorien could see Sam talking gently to his pony. The other hobbits looked nervous and wide-eyed, though in their wildest imaginings, they could not know what lay ahead. Bilbo stood nearby, shivering with the cold, but he would not move inside until Frodo had vanished from view.
An Elf of the Mirkwood Realm was to travel with the Company, as representative of the Eldar. To Nîndorien's eyes, he seemed young and he was strangely clad, after the manner of the Silvan folk, but she trusted to Elrond's wisdom in choosing the Sindarin prince over a member of his own household.
A Dwarf also stood with the Company; he was stout and hardy but it seemed that he was not enamoured of Elves, for he looked at the Elf-prince rather suspiciously. Like the other Dwarves who had come to Rivendell, however, he had never treated Lord Elrond with anything but respect.
Mithrandir was the leader of the company, and the Elven sword Glamdring was girt at his side. He appeared as an old man leaning heavily on his staff, but a hidden power emanated from him that lay not in weapons of battle.
Arwen's eyes were ever on Aragorn, who was to accompany them. Now was the time of his testing, and although he wore the dull clothes of a Ranger, he carried himself as a king, and the sword reforged hung at his side. The last of the Company was a man of Gondor. Nîndorien did not know much about him, for he had travelled with other scouts in the past two months and had spent little time in Rivendell since the Council. She sensed that he was strong and valiant, as such things were accounted by men, and it seemed to her that, though proud, he would find the path of wisdom ere the end of the quest. She watched as he raised his horn and winded it. The sound echoed in the cloven vale of Rivendell, putting birds to flight. He stood proudly and heeded not the rebuke of Elrond. The Elves of the household stood, still as statues, until not even their keen eyes could see the departing travellers. An uneasy dusk fell over the refuge of Rivendell as the Elves began to go back inside.
Later that night, beneath the black skies, Nîndorien walked with Arwen on a huge balcony which overlooked the Bruinen. The stars were hidden from view by a veil of clouds and although the sound of voices rising in song could be heard from the house, the two Elven ladies walked in silence. At last, Nîndorien placed her hand gently on Arwen's shoulder.
"How do you bear this parting?" she asked softly.
"I do not know," replied Arwen in a whisper, "save that the strength to withstand this separation stems from necessity. If I were to yield to the pain in my heart, I would not last the night. It is folly to tell myself that this is no different to all the times he has been abroad in the land in the past, for I know that now he walks the path that will bring us to our doom. On this quest hang all our hopes and fears. If it fails, all the world shall know darkness but if he succeeds, I know that I must face the doom I have wrought for myself. I would have it no other way; for I love him truly and would share everything with him. Even mortality, if that be my fate."
Nîndorien marvelled at the sacrifice that the fair daughter of Elrond was prepared to make. Arwen moved to the wall of the balcony and spoke once more. "Last night, Estel and I stood here from the setting of the sun until its rising. We watched the stars as they wheeled in their course across the sky, and drew strength from the appearance
of Eärendil in the West."
They stood at the edge of the balcony, looking down at the glistening waters of the Bruinen and, from a window far above, Elrond and Glorfindel could see them; two black-haired Ladies, heads close together in counsel; one, the Evenstar of her people and the other, the fair lady of the last High King.
"It is well for the Lady Undomiel that Nîndorien is present to give her counsel and support," commented Glorfindel as he moved away from the window.
"Indeed, my friend," replied Elrond, still looking at the scene that lay below. "I doubt, however, that Lady Nîndorien would be such a skilled counsellor were it not for your influence."
"It was as though we were once again in Lothlórien on the night we swore ourselves to one another," continued Arwen, unaware of the eyes that ever looked over her with love and sorrow. "I could almost feel the undying grass of Cerin Amroth beneath my feet."
Still, Nîndorien remained silent as she recalled the last night she had spent with her beloved before he had marched to his fate. She could not compare that final night of untold passions between two who had been joined, body and soul, for the duration of an Age of Middle Earth, with the last night spent between Aragorn and Arwen, filled with words of hope and despair and unsworn promises. Arwen sighed heavily. "Look down at those woods, my Lady." she indicated the dark forests of Rivendell with a graceful sweep of her hand. "There did I first behold Estel. He was but a child in my eyes, and little did I realise what power he would hold over my heart. He named me Tinúviel, for he thought that I had come to him as a legend out of the mists of time. Yet, even then as I looked upon him, I wondered if my fate would be like the fate of Lúthien."
Once more, she sighed and Nîndorien felt that her heart would break.
"Would it aid you if I spoke of my first meeting with my beloved?" she asked and Arwen looked at her with wonder, for Nîndorien rarely spoke of her love, save to Elrond and Glorfindel, and to Celebrían, before she passed to the Undying Lands.
"If it does not cause thee pain, my Lady," she said. The two fair Elves moved to a stone seat by the wall, and with the sound of the Bruinen echoing far below, Nîndorien began to speak, seeking to lift Arwen's heart with a tale of love in dark times.
"My first meeting with my love was under far less peaceful circumstances than your first sight of Estel. Long ago, in the end of the First Age, I dwelt in the haven of Sirion. This was after the fall of Gondolin, when the exiled Gondolindrim and the remnant of Doriath lived together under the rule of Eärendil. It came to pass, when Eärendil was at sea, that a rumour reached the sons of Fëanor that a Silmaril was kept in Sirion, in the possession of Elwing, Dior's daughter. Without warning, they descended on our homes; Maedhros, Maglor, Amrod and Amras, for they were all that remained of Fëanor's seven sons. They brought death upon our people. My mother, who had survived the fall of Gondolin, was counted among the slain. Elwing cast herself into the sea, and your father and his brother were seized. A great many of our people perished in that third and most grievous slaying of Elf by Elf. Amrod and Amras fell also, at the hands of their own servants who perceived the evil of their ways. I was seized by a servant of Maglor, and I was greatly afraid, for his intent was evil. Even as I struggled against my cruel captor, and against unconsciousness, the sounds of joyful cries reached my ears. The ships of Círdan were speeding across the water to offer aid, though alas! they were too late to prevent many of the evils of that day. Before I passed out, I could glimpse a bright shining light on the prow of the foremost ship. Ereinion Gil-galad it was, wearing a bright shining helm and silver mail, and bearing a shield overlaid with silver, which shone like a star of radiance even in the bright sunlight. Revealed thus in his wrath, and wielding his mighty spear Aiglos, it was little wonder that the last two sons of Fëanor and their followers fled before him.
"I knew nothing of what passed afterwards, save what my handmaidens told me. It seemed that Gil-galad himself had thrown aside my captor but he would not permit the slaying of any Elf in retribution for what had passed. I was borne to a ship and what few remained of the people of Sirion boarded ship also, and removed to Balar. There we joined the people of Gil-galad and Círdan.
"I lay unconscious for many days, and when I came to, I knew not where I was, save that I lay on a soft bed, in a fair pavilion. I rose, and dressed, and summoned my handmaidens. They told me that I had been brought to the Isle of Balar, and the High King himself had laboured long in my healing. They would have had me remain in bed, but I refused and demanded to be brought before the King, to express my gratitude. They told me that he often walked along the cliffs, looking to the east and at fair Beleriand, for he loved Middle Earth and was much grieved at the darkness that now hung over it.
"I left the pavilion, and stepped out into the windy evening. My hair was unbound, and was blown all about me, but I laughed aloud for such was my joy at being alive. I followed a narrow, lightly trodden path which led through a thicket of young trees.
"Soon, I came out onto a trail that snaked along the cliff tops. The sea was crashing on the rocks below and the wind ever roared around. I walked alone for a while until, ahead of me, at the easternmost point of the island, I saw a tall Elf-lord. He was standing looking eastward, at the haven of Sirion from which broken black tendrils of smoke still arose.
"And so I beheld Ereinion Gil-galad clearly for the first time. He no longer wore his bright helm, and his raven black hair whipped about in the wind. I glimpsed his silver mail beneath his blue cloak, which he held tight around his body. He stood still as a statue, and in that moment my heart was turned to him, for he held himself as a king among the Eldalië, mighty, proud and fairer than any Elf-lord I had seen before.
"Despite the crashing of the waves and the bellowing of the wind, he heard my light step and turned. When his eyes lighted upon me, I trembled but I thought that I could see gladness in their depths, and my heart leaped up within me. Controlling the tremor that had somehow crept into my voice, and threatened to betray my emotions, I spoke to him.
" 'Greetings, Ereinion Gil-galad. It seems that I, Nîndorien of Gondolin and Sirion, owe you a debt twice over.'
" 'How so, my Lady?' he asked, and I was entranced by his voice, which was at once both soft and commanding.
" 'Twice you have saved my life, my king, ' I continued. "Once from the hands of the cruel servant of Maglor and then by healing me in both body and soul.'
"He laughed and waved aside any debt, before gently chiding me for rising so soon after my ordeal and for venturing out of doors without a cloak. Before I could protest, he cast his own cloak about me, enveloping us both against the wind. It was then that I saw his arm was bound.
" 'My king!' I cried. 'You have suffered some hurt!'
" 'A mere scratch, ' he said gallantly, but when I sought to examine it, he winced. I entreated him to let me tend to it, for a measure of guilt lay upon me.
" 'Was it not on my account that you received this "scratch", my king?' I asked and he could not deny it. At length I managed to persuade him to return to the pavilion where I might look at the wound, for I was somewhat skilled in the craft of healing. I argued that, even as he had healed me, so might I be allowed to tend to him.
"In the pavilion, I bade him remove his mail shirt and I unbound the wound. He had suffered none to touch it until now, and as he lay on the bed, I gently searched the wound with my fingers. It was a deep gash that ran across his shoulder and upper arm. It would have laid down any mortal man, and even for one with Elven powers of recovery, I deemed it serious. I began to pack the wound with certain herbs which I knew to have some healing virtues. Even though his face was turned from me, I knew that he was grimacing with pain, although my touch was light.
" 'It is oft said, my king, that healers make unwilling patients, ' I said lightly.
" 'Ay, my Lady,' he replied through clenched teeth, 'but do not suppose that my unwillingness reflects on your healing skills, for never have I known a healer with so gentle a touch.'
"His words brought a smile to my face, and I continued with my task, binding up his wound. When I had finished, he sat up on the bed and looked upon me. Such was the strength of his gaze that I shook and a colour rose to my face. He correctly perceived the cause of my agitation, and took my hands in his to stop their trembling.
" 'What troubles you, my Lady?' he asked in his soft tones. 'I hope that you are not still afflicted by what befell you in Sirion?'
" 'Nay, my king,' I replied. 'For although that memory is evil, I believe that now I may have found my heart's peace.'
"He laughed softly, and said, 'I cannot promise you and your people peace, my Lady, but I do swear that you, Nîndorien of Sirion, shall always have my protection, if you so wish for it.' Then, he held me close and kissed me, and spoke such oaths of love that, from that moment on, my heart was ever in his keeping. We were not wed for many years, until after the War of Wrath, but even as you and Estel watched the stars appear over Rivendell last night, so we spent many nights, gazing into the skies and thus we saw the fist appearance of Eärendil in the West."
So Nîndorien came to the end of her tale, and Arwen had sat enthralled throughout. "So you see, my dearest Undomiel, love can take root even in the darkest of times, and it can survive all evils." She sat silently for a moment, her mind lingering over joyful memories. She did not tell Arwen of the hunger and desire of that first kiss, nor of how they had moved apart guiltily when Círdan arrived at the pavilion to enquire about her recovery. There was laughter in her eyes, however, as she silently recalled how neither had realised that they were still holding hands until Círdan had raised his eyebrows questioningly, before smiling at them good-naturedly and apologising for his intrusion.
Arwen turned to face her and asked, "How did you bear parting from him, my Lady, for I gather from the teachings of my father, that King Gil-galad was often away in battle?"
Nîndorien smiled inwardly, for she felt that Arwen sought to learn from her own past. "I do not presume that when my lord departed for battle, it compared with what you feel now. It seems to me that your anxiety is far greater than any I experienced, and with just cause. I always spent such times in studying manuscripts, or, when my mind wandered, by busying myself with needlework or improving my knowledge of healing herbs. It was never easy to part from him, despite the immortality of the Eldar, and I always feared that I might never look upon him again in Middle Earth. And so it came to pass, but not until we had spent many years together, longer even the your lifetime, fair Undomiel."
Arwen sat silently while Nîndorien continued. "Do not believe that time spent in each other's company has any bearing on the pain one feels at the last parting. Millennia spent together does not lessen the grief. Such was our love, and I deem, such is the love between you and Estel, that all the Ages of Arda would not serve to dampen its flame. You have taken a great burden upon yourself for this love; do not undermine it by worrying on dark things that might not even come to pass. The love you feel is worthy of the great sacrifice you will make, and should Estel be crowned, you will take great joy from the years you will spend with him, no matter what their number. Even when I swore myself to my lord, we feared that the days of the Eldar in Middle Earth were numbered, for few yet stood to oppose the might of Morgoth. Yet, with that first rising of Gil-Estel, we knew that there was still hope. So it is for you, Arwen, for the darkness has not prevailed yet, and I believe that your Estel will not be easily overthrown."
Arwen smiled, and her face was truly radiant. "My thanks to you, Lady Nîndorien. If I cannot raise myself to hope, than how can I be worthy of such a love? I shall do as you say. Perhaps to busy myself with needlework will provide some release from the doubts that gnaw inside me. Come now, let us return indoors, for the night is passing swiftly."
She took Nîndorien's arm, and the two ladies proceeded inside. As they mounted the steps, Nîndorien glanced up and could have sworn that she saw a dark-haired Elf standing at a window, looking down on them. She sighed when she realised that the window corresponded with Elrond's chambers, for she knew that he too would have to make a sacrifice that would last beyond all ages of the world. Arwen also looked up but did not see her father. Instead she gasped with delight, for the clouds had shifted slightly and a bright light shone down.
"Look, Nîndorien! It is Gil-Estel! Eärendil still shines down on us."
Nîndorien looked up and smiled, before ushering Arwen indoors. As she left Arwen at the doors of her chambers, the younger Elf turned to her and Nîndorien could see a light-hearted sparkle in Arwen's eyes, which had been sadly absent of late.
"Having listened to your tale, my Lady, a question occurred to me." Arwen smiled before proceeding when Nîndorien looked at her curiously. "Did you always address Gil-galad, as 'my king'?"
Nîndorien laughed. "Indeed I did, Undomiel. The day after we were wed, he commented that I had no need to address him so formally, for I knew him better than any other." At this Arwen thought that a slight blush crossed Nîndorien's face but then decided she was mistaken, for Nîndorien looked as calm as ever, guarding her emotions carefully. "We were walking along a stony beach in Lindon and I turned to him and asked if he would prefer I called him 'Scion of Kings' or 'Star of Radiance'? Both names seemed far more formal to me. He laughed and decided that I might address him however I chose, even though he admitted that he liked the sound of his names on my lips. Do not worry, Arwen, for I doubt that Aragorn will insist that you address him in the same manner as I chose to address my love." She laughed once more, and Arwen joined in with delight. Their harmonious laughter was an uplifting sound that carried through the corridors, driving dark thoughts away. When Arwen had recovered her poise, she smiled.
"Never fear, Lady Nîndorien, for Aragorn will always be my Estel."