Rúmil stood by his horse, looking towards Minas Tirith which gleamed in the sunlight. He grimaced slightly, for his arm had been injured in the attack on Lorien and it was still hurting. Two days previously, he had finally consented to having it bound by his brother. Morcotulce was tending to Náriel’s injuries while Orophin held their horses. Rúmil gasped with surprise, for many miles ahead he could see two small figures sleeping beside a small campfire. It struck him as odd that two young boys should be allowed to travel so far from the city unaccompanied, but the deeds of mortals had always confused him so he thought no more of it.
“Merry! Look! There it is!” Pippin stood up in the saddle and pointed, shielding his eyes from the sun. In the distance lay the city of Minas Tirith, its domes and turrets barely visible.
“Well, let’s get a move on! We may make it before nightfall,” replied his companion, spurring his pony on.
“Hopefully in time for a good meal!” added Pippin. “I should like to eat something that hasn’t been cooked on a camp fire!” The two riders had the appearance of mere boys, yet they had played a part in the great events that had shaped the kingdoms of Middle Earth a few years previously. They were in fact hobbits whose names were known throughout Middle Earth; Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took
They rode at a leisurely pace, laughing and singing songs of the Shire. Shortly after midday, they stopped for lunch and, as is a favoured pastime of hobbits, found time to indulge in a smoke after their meal, despite their desire to reach Minas Tirith that day. The early afternoon sun shone warmly upon them and they saw no harm in taking a short nap while their ponies grazed nearby. When they awoke two hours later, they hurriedly remounted and guiltily continued on their way, somewhat more urgently than before. Night was closing in when they at last approached the eastern gates of the city.
“Welcome to Minas Tirith, honoured Perrianath!” called out a familiar voice from the shadows ahead of them.
“Beregond! How wonderful!” cried Pippin. ” I did not expect to see you here! I thought you were in Ithilien with Faramir.”
“Indeed,” smiled Beregond. “The Prince Faramir is in the city for he, like you, was summoned by King Elessar.”
“Do you know why we have been called here?” asked Merry curiously.
“I do not,” replied Beregond gravely. “All I know is that I was sent to bring you before the king, for a great feast is being held tonight.”
At that good news, Pippin nudged Merry in the ribs. A servant came forward to take their ponies and Beregond led the hobbits up through the seven levels of the city until they came to the Court of the Fountain. Light streamed out into the square from the great hall and the sound of conversation and laughter could be heard within.
“Here I will leave you,” said Beregond, having brought them to the doors.
The hobbits passed through the doors and along a paved passage way until they came to another door. Their arrival was announced by a fanfare of trumpets and somewhat abashed, they passed through the hall towards the dais, where the King and Queen of Gondor sat at the high table. Pippin was afraid to lift his eyes for there seemed to be a great many people in the hall and he felt small and insignificant. He did not realise that he was one of the most honoured and respected beings in all of Gondor. As they drew near to where King Elessar sat, he dared to raise his eyes and look at all the familiar faces sitting at the high table. There sat Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, with his wife Eowyn of Rohan. The hobbits marvelled to see a number of the last High Elves in Middle Earth, most notably, Celeborn of Lorien. Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond were also present. A noble Elf, unknown to Merry and Pippin, sat next to Celeborn. He looked both young and old, as is the way with Elves. His face was unlined and his hair untouched by silver, yet his eyes were deep pools of wisdom and experience. He wore green and brown, the garb of the Woodland Elves. There were two empty seats on his right hand side but the hobbits were led to places at the other end of the table. Their chairs were piled with cushions and they sat down gratefully but had to scramble quickly to their feet again as the entire assembly rose at the request of the King, and faced west for a moment’s silence.
“My dear friends, royal subjects and honoured guests of Gondor, I bid you welcome. Now our number is complete, let the feast begin,” said King Elessar.
The hobbits began to eat eagerly before a voice on Pippin’s left spoke. “Well met, my hobbit friends.”
“Gimli!” Pippin spluttered through a mouthful. “I did not see you there!”
“Evidently,” growled the dwarf, although there was a twinkle in his eye. “I see you have not grown any taller since we last met. Ent draughts must be in short supply in the Shire.”
“Indeed!” laughed Merry. “But we do have a plentiful supply of the finest ale!”
“Excellent. I must visit the Shire soon in that case!” said the Dwarf. “I see that Sam has not accompanied you. Is he well?”
“Oh, Sam is in the best of health and Rose was expecting their second child when we left,” replied Merry, before continuing rather sadly. “I think old Sam has had enough of adventures. He is quite content to stay at home; we could not persuade him to come.”
“It’s a pity, really, because otherwise all of the remaining members of the fellowship would be here,” said Pippin before exclaiming suddenly. “But where’s Legolas? I didn’t see him when we came in.”
“He’s here, Pip,” said Merry, indicating with his fork. “See? At the far end of the table. Next to that strange Elf. He must have slipped in after the feast started.”
Gimli laughed. “That’s no strange Elf. At least no stranger than the rest of his breed. That is the King Thranduil, Legolas’ father.” Pippin leaned forward in his seat and looked along the table. He blinked, convinced he was seeing double. He sat shaking his head for a while, before hissing to Merry. “There are two Legolases down there!” Merry looked and gasped. “Gimli! Who is that next to Legolas? I did not notice him before!”
“That, Master Meriadoc, is Legolas’ brother, Vanyo Cristhalion,” chuckled the Dwarf. “There is a full thousand years separating the two, yet one has to have Elvish eyes to tell them apart. I must admit to being shocked when I first met him. I’m afraid that the only way I can distinguish between them is the fact that Legolas carries a bow while Vanyo prefers the sword.”
“I never knew Legolas had a brother,” said Pippin rather loudly, before blushing. Evidently his words had carried to Vanyo’s keen Elvish ears and he looked along the table directly at the embarrassed hobbit. Vanyo nudged his brother and said something into his ear. Legolas looked up and saw Merry and Pippin. He smiled at them, his fair face lighting up at the sight of the hobbits. He murmured something in reply to his brother. Vanyo’s eyes opened wide, and he looked curiously at the hobbits. He soon fell into conversation with his brother and the hobbits turned their attention back to the plates in front of them, gratified to discover that they had been generously piled high with more food. Laughter and snatches of conversation danced across the air and everyone seemed relaxed and cheerful until the doors at the back of the hall flew open without warning. The heralds looked as surprised as all the guests as four cloaked Elves stood in the doorway. A murmur of alarm rose from gathered assembly and the King rose to his feet, along with Celeborn and Thranduil. Consternation crossed Celeborn’s face, as all four Elves lowered their hoods to reveal their faces. A tall she-elf stepped forward. The people of Gondor marvelled to see her, for her beauty was beyond compare and she held herself with grace. Her hair fell in black cascades down her back and at her throat was a deep red stone, gleaming in the candlelight. A fading bruise was visible on her right cheek . One of her companions was also injured; his arm was bound tight to his breast and his face was pale and worn. Merry gasped, for he recognised the injured Elf as Rumil of Lothlorien. Standing beside him was his brother Orophin. Merry wondered what had drawn them so far from the shades of Lorien.
“King Elessar, I beg forgiveness for intruding on you and your noble guests,” said the she-elf. Her voice was resonant and clear. “However, I must speak with my Lord on a most urgent matter that cannot be delayed.”
Celeborn glanced at Aragorn who immediately indicated his assent. The Elven Lord swept down the hall, passing between the long trestle-tables. All eyes were on the Elves, and no one spoke a word as Celeborn left the hall, closely followed by the mysterious messengers. After a few moments, the gentle hub of conversation rose again, all speculating on what had just passed. Dessert were placed in front of the guests but tension and doubt hung over the high table and even the hobbits only picked at their dessert. Once again, they wondered why they had been summoned to Minas Tirith and the court of King Elessar.
“Gimli,” said Pippin. “Have you any idea what this is all about? Why has Strider called us all here?”
The Dwarf’s face darkened. “I do not think this is the time to speak of such matters, Master Took.” He saw Pippin’s face fall so he continued, sighing. “I would tell you all, my friends, but it is not my place. No doubt the King Elessar will explain everything at the Council tomorrow. Suffice to say, that many strange things have been happening across Middle Earth and he has decided to act.”
Merry frowned. “Well, that hasn’t really answered any of our questions! It has just made us even more curious. There have been no strange occurrences in the Shire, have there Pip?”
“No, life has continued as it always does in the Shire,” said Pippin. “Nothing untoward has happened since Sharkey’s death.”
“Then you lead blessed lives, my hobbit friends. Come, Aragorn is summoning us to remove to the Hall of Fire. They say it greatly resembles Rivendell.” Gimli stood up and the hobbits followed as the great company passed through the doors and back along the stone passageway. Turning down another long corridor, they entered a huge hall. A great fire burned in the hearth, and indeed it bore a great resemblance to the hall in the House of Elrond.
“Greetings my Halfling friends,” said a familiar voice behind them. The hobbits spun round.
“Legolas!” cried Pippin, delightedly. “How wonderful to see you again!”
“And the same to you, young Pippin. Now, I should like to introduce you to my father, King Thranduil of Mirkwood, and my brother, Vanyo, called Cristhalion for his mighty deeds with a sword.” The King of Mirkwood smiled down at them, his brown eyes benevolent and wise. Merry looked at Vanyo, struck by the similarity between the brothers. He did not believe them to be as indistinguishable as Gimli maintained. Legolas was calm and motionless and although he seemed to be alert to all that was going on in the hall, he did not have the youthful energy that emanated from Vanyo. The younger Elf, although almost two thousand years old, looked around him curiously, his eyes dancing. He seemed to always be on the verge of laughter. This was the first time he had strayed beyond the boundaries of Mirkwood and every new thing he saw filled him with delight.
“Mae govannen, Elf-friends,” said King Thranduil. It is many years since one of your kindred wandered in our woods, and even then he passed through in secret.” He glanced towards the doors and saw that Celeborn had returned. He excused himself from the hobbits’ company for he saw that Celeborn looked drawn and shaken. “Forgive me, honoured Perrianath, I must speak with the Lord Celeborn.” The hobbits bowed low as the Elven King departed. As he straightened up, Merry looked to the top of the room. There sat King Elessar, in deep conversation with Prince Faramir. Arwen and Eowyn stood slightly apart, and with them was the female Elf who had interrupted the feast. She and Arwen stood close, hands clasped together. Now Merry had a clear view of her as she stood tall and proud; her beauty easily rivalling that of Arwen. She wore a long deep blue robe, and there was a silver circlet on her head. She looked around the room and caught Merry’s eye. He blushed and dropped his eyes instantly.
“Who is that Elf, Legolas?” asked Pippin. “She made quite a stir when she came in.”
“She is the Lady Náriel, known as Lalaith,” replied Legolas, his eyes never leaving the Lady. “She is one of the last of the Noldor in Middle Earth, having dwelled long in Lothlorien. It is many years since I last beheld her, ay, even before the birth of my brother.” His face looked troubled however. “I sense that she is in great pain.”
“Really?” asked Merry. “She appears composed, although she is rather clinging to the Evenstar’s hand.”
“She draws strength from the Queen’s presence,” said Legolas softly. “Her spirit is ever crying out. I know not how she bears such pain.”
“I sense it too, brother,” said Vanyo. “It is as if her soul is being torn in two. Ah, the hurt she feels almost overwhelms her.”
The two Elven brothers stood in silence for a while, their sympathy flowing towards the Lady Náriel. A messenger approached the hobbits and cleared his throat gently in order to gain their attention.
“The King Elessar wishes to speak with Masters Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took,” he announced. The hobbits willingly followed him to Aragorn’s throne, eager to speak with their friend again. They did not notice Náriel silently departing from the room. Arwen moved back to where her husband sat and took his hand. She smiled at the hobbits.
“Welcome once more to Minas Tirith, dear friends,” she said, smiling upon them. They bowed low before the King and Queen.
“It is good to see you, my travelling companions of old,” said the King. “We were waiting on you for much of the evening.” He smiled, and a hint of old Strider was visible in his face. “I doubt my guests would have been so tolerant of the delay had they known that it was caused by a hobbit’s tendency to indulge in an afternoon nap!”
The hobbits coloured and mumbled apologies but Aragorn just laughed. “Fear not, my friends! All of Gondor wished to see the mighty Halfling heroes of the War of the Ring. It mattered not when you arrived as long as you answered our summons.”
Merry spoke seriously. “We know that there is something grave happening in Middle Earth but we do not know what. We do not know why we have been summoned here. King Éomer commanded that I travel to Minas Tirith yet I see that he is not here.”
“A king has much to see to before he may leave his people, Merry. He will be here late tonight or early tomorrow. There is indeed much to discuss but you will receive all your answers at the council tomorrow,” said King Elessar sternly. His face softened, “Come now, enjoy the festivities this evening and put all else out of your mind. Tomorrow is soon enough to deal with what lies ahead.”
At that moment, a Gondorian minstrel stood up and began to sing the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom. The hobbits were in little doubt that this was chiefly in their honour. “Sam would have loved to be here for this,” Pippin whispered to Merry, as they sat near the King and listened to the song. Legolas and Vanyo stood nearby with their father. Although he tried to focus on the music, Legolas could not remain still. His thoughts were suddenly filled with the sound of the gull’s cry and he knew that he would never be free of the sea-longing that had come over him in Pelargir. He excused himself from his father’s company and left the hall soundlessly. Following many dark pathways, he passed through stone cloisters until he reached a concealed balcony that overlooked the City. Although it was dark outside he could dimly see distant lights from isolated homesteads. He sighed as he leaned against the stone wall of the balcony.
“Mae Govannen, Son of Thranduil. What ails thee?” A soft voice spoke suddenly at his ear and he started. Standing beside him was the Lady Náriel. Evidently she too had been seeking solitude.
“Nought, my lady, save that it hurts me to see you in such pain,” he replied, studying her face in the starlight.
“It is many years since we last met in the shadows of Mirkwood, that was once Greenwood the Great,” she said in her melodious tones. She looked out to the east and sighed. Legolas felt a constriction in his very soul; she was indeed in pain.
“Indeed, my lady. I was but a mere Elfling of two hundred years,” he continued. “It was in the early days of the Third Age when I first heard your laughter among the trees of Mirkwood; you were the Lady Lalaith. Yet I perceive that the sound of your laughter has not been heard in Middle Earth in recent days.”
“Ay, you are perceptive, Son of Thranduil,” Lalaith turned to face him, her eyes probing as they swept over his face. “I see you wear the cloak of Lothlorien, though you are a Prince of Mirkwood.”
“The Lady Galadriel gave each of the fellowship such a cloak when we departed Lothlorien during the War of the Ring,” Legolas explained.
“I know, for I wrought the brooch that is clasped at your throat,” she said and turning towards him, she touched the brooch with her fingertip. “It served thee well, I see.”
Legolas put his hand to the brooch. “Yes, my lady. It is indeed a treasured keepsake.”
The two Elves fell silent and Náriel looked ever east. Earendil shone brightly overhead and she softly sang a tune. She put her hand to her own throat to touch the red stone that lay there.
“Forgive me, son of Thranduil. I must retreat to my chamber. The journey from Lorien has left me weak and I bear a great sorrow.”
“Is there nought I can say or do to help you with this burden?” asked Legolas.
“Alas, no,” she replied. “All shall be revealed tomorrow at the Council of Elessar and then you shall learn why this burden cannot be shared. Good night, Legolas Greenleaf.” With those words she departed, and moved silently back to the castle. Legolas watched her melt into the shadows and quietly murmured: “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.”