The Last Elflings in Ennor
Still hiccupping, Erestor lifted a trembling hand to the cold compress on his forehead and winced.
“I promise you I did not put them up to this, Erestor,” said Glorfindel, as the light of his healing song faded. “I am so very sorry for their behaviour.” He gently tucked a blanket around the ailing elflord. “Punish them in any way you see fit.”
“Just—hic!—keep them—hic!—away from me,” moaned poor Erestor weakly in between hiccups, now at least able to talk a little, though it hurt. His diaphragm and abdominal muscles ached abominably. Then, covering his mouth, he made a frantic gesture. Glorfindel quickly held up the bedpan and Erestor rolled to his side and retched miserably into it, still hiccupping.
Softly singing, Glorfindel laid a hand on poor Erestor’s back and sent a surge of healing warmth through him.
Once the retching fit subsided, Erestor rolled onto his back again and stared bleakly at the ceiling of the healing hall. The millennia-old carving of Estë gazing down appeared to be smirking rather than solicitous. Damn Thavron the artisan.
Glorfindel replaced the compress on Erestor’s aching brow, then held a straw and a cup to his mouth. “Take just a small sip to rinse out the mouth… We shall administer another dose of the antidote once you can keep it down.”
Erestor managed the small sip. Then, looking pale and delicate, he sank back into the pillows, closed his eyes and groaned softly. Glorfindel patted him on the shoulder sympathetically, then rose and left, passing the bedpan to Thalanes the healer as he exited the treatment room, looking like a lion on the prowl.
The onset of the hiccups had been sudden, and so violent and unrelenting that Erestor had been unable to even utter a word in between. Twenty minutes into breakfast, the twin Lords of Imladris, looking decidedly guilty, had needed to carry their advisor to the hall of healing, where he had lain miserably in bed, hiccupping with such force that he soon developed severe abdominal, chest and head pains. Since he was unable to swallow either the antidote or the sedative that Thalanes had prepared, she could only diffuse athelas for him to inhale and sing healing until Glorfindel arrived home from his patrol of the valley and took over. Erestor had never been gladder to see the balrog slayer and be a recipient of his healing power. He was seething, all the same.
That it was all the father’s fault, there could be no doubt. As the advisor hiccupped wretchedly, he was recalling every prank the balrog-slaying hero had ever played on him, from their days at Gil-galad’s court in Lindon to the closing years of the Third Age…
The tall hero of Gondolin closed the door of the healing hall quietly behind him. His bright golden hair, cascading down his back in heavy waves, glowed in the hallway with the radiance of a sunrise. His beautiful face, normally so joyous and laughing, was stern enough to put terror in the heart of even Gothmog, and his azure blue eyes smouldered with anger. He strode down the hallway unerringly, sensing where his prey lay.
“Yonyat!!” bellowed the Commander of Imladris, his mighty shout reverberating through the empty corridors of the great house.
Outside the Hall of Fire, two little pairs of knees quaked as their owners contemplated running away to the Harad as mercenaries or joining pirates off the Umbar coast. As the last echoes of their father’s voice died away, they came forward, their deep-gold and silver-gold heads hung in guilt.
The golden warrior glared down sternly at the two little heads bowed before him, their bright hair tumbling past their shoulders to their waists. The twins stared penitently at their small, booted feet on the marble-tiled floor.
“Have you no sense?” demanded the father in a biting voice. “I am ashamed of the pair of you.”
“But… but Atto…” “You did it to Salgant—”
“Lord Salgant to you.” The father’s voice was cutting.
“Lord Salgant… sorry, Atto,” they mumbled.
“I had the brains to do my research first and give a pinch of powder, yonyat. Just enough for Lord Salgant to hiccup two hours through the feast and recover in time for his performance.” By the time the effects had worn off, the Lord of the Harp had been ravenous both for the delicious dinner he had missed and for Glorfindel’s blood. But the stocky elflord had still been well enough to make a lengthy appeal to Princess Idril and the King for the most severe of punishments for their young ward… and he was certainly well enough to warble and pluck his way through three songs before the night was over.
“But—but Elrohir said—” “He and Elladan gave you two drams of powder—”
“I could take it, yonyat,” sighed the mightiest warrior in Middle Earth. “And even then, I was hiccupping the whole day in the halls after Lord Elrond treated me. You may be sure that Lords Elladan and Elrohir received a severe punishment from their Atar after that. Oh, they omitted that significant little detail, did they? Well, even so you should have used a little intelligence and considered that Lord Erestor is not me. You have inflicted tremendous distress and suffering on the poor man. Eru alone knows how long he will take to recover fully. It was badly done, boys. Badly done.”
Aryo was pale. Arman’s chin was wobbling and his blue eyes were swimming with contrite tears. Just as Glorfindel’s had done as he had stood penitently before Turgon in the king’s study at Nevrast... that had been after painting Salgant’s face blue with a dye that proved harder to wash off than he had realized.
“Did you know,” said the father grimly, “that there have been documented fatalities from overdoses of this herb? Especially among the mortal populations.”
A tear ran down Arman’s little cheek.
“Will he be all right?” Aryo asked anxiously in a small voice, nervously twisting the ends of his golden locks with his fingers.
Erestor was indeed all right, after two days in the healing hall. He remained delicate for another week, and kept to his own bed for much of that time. Once he felt less frail, he set a series of fiendishly difficult mathematics problems for the elflings to solve, and gave them each five essays on First Age history to be submitted before Tarnin Austa. He ordered that these be submitted to him through their parents and that the twins keep a radius of two rangar away from him at all times. And Elladan and Elrohir had solemnly sworn not to put any more ideas into the elflings’ heads.
For good measure, the twins’ parents assigned them extra household duties. The elflings’ cheeks were flushed rosy as they used shovels taller than themselves to turn the row of compost heaps at the bottom of the kitchen garden, where almost all the refuse of the household went.
“That should do it,” grunted Aryo, with a last heave of the shovel.
“Do you think Atto might change his mind about letting us go to Bree?” asked Arman wistfully, as they sprinkled handfuls of brown twigs, leaves and fragments of tree bark on top of the compost piles.
“I wouldn’t push my luck. We got away easy this time.”
They proceeded forlornly to the woodshed to chop firewood for the kitchen.
The twins were fifteen this year, and looked like six-year-old mortals. They had been trained in these tasks since they were tiny, for almost all in the household took turns in doing these duties now that only twenty-three of them were left in Elrond’s great house. As their punishment, the elflings were to take over the compost heap and firewood duties of the household for two whole months. Nor were they to descend to the valley village to play with their friends. And they would miss going to Bree for the summer fair. Bree was now a booming centre of trade on the route between Arnor and Gondor. To the twins, it meant the excitement and gaiety of large, festive crowds, and candies and games at the fair, and being made much of by friendly mortals since they were the last two elflings in Ennor.
The little fellows staggered into the kitchen under huge armloads of firewood. Glorfindel grinned at the sight of them as he stirred a pot of stew. “Boys, just leave it in the shed. I will carry it in.”
“No sweat, Atto!” “We’re strong!” “Like you!”
“Buttering up Atar, are we?” Glorfindel smiled as he tasted the stew and added a sprinkle of salt. “No, you are not going to Bree.”
They sighed, crestfallen.
“It has been a month.” “We have been so good, Atto.”
“Really. Have you finished all the tasks Erestor set you?”
“Just one essay left.” “The causes of the fall of Nargothrond.” “And three more math problems.” “Wickedly tricky math problems.” This last from Arman with another deep sigh, math not being his forte.
“Hmm… I tell you what. Finish off the essay and the math—no careless mistakes or sloppiness, mind you—and you may go to the village to play. Just for today.” As they joyously made a dash for the kitchen door, he called after them, “And no copying each other’s work. Your Amil and I will be able to tell.”
Four hours later, the two boys were racing each other along the banks of the Bruinen towards the village, and Glorfindel and Maeglin were sitting on the bench outside the smithy reading their offspring’s assignments.
“Arman has your handwriting.” Maeglin shook her head, looking at the flowing but loosely-scrawled Tengwar.
“Aryo has your brain,” said Glorfindel, showing her a brilliantly executed mathematics equation in Aryo’s paper. Heads together, golden and black, they admired the economy and elegance with which their firstborn had managed to solve, in three steps, an equation that usually took eight.
“How is Arman’s Nargothrond essay?” she asked.
“Uhh… I would give him credit for creativity,” the father said, diplomatically.
“In other words, Erestor would hate it.”
“He would love Aryo’s. Cogent, coherent, strong grasp of cause and effect. Let’s face it. Aryo is a typical Noldo, Arman is a Sinda.”
“Oh? Since when do you stereotype your sons?”
“Don’t you think our boys fit the types? Aryo is gifted in craft and scholarship, Arman in woodlore and music and singing—”
“I inherited my craft from my father, not my mother. And Arman has a gift for crafting jewels almost as fine as Enerdhil’s. I can see it. ”
“Aryo has that fire of Finwë’s line in him. Arman is gentle and playful.”
“None of this has anything to do with being Noldorin or Sindarin. Surely you can see that Aryo takes after me, and Arman after you.”
The great warrior gave her a wounded look. “Are you saying I lack our great-grandfather’s fire?”
“Probably only as much as your father and grandfather. Too much Telerin and Vanyarin blood, love.”
“And are you calling me a poor scholar?” he demanded indignantly.
“Well… Quendingoldo did tell me you could never keep still during lessons.” She smirked. The loremaster was two years older than the warrior and had been his classmate at Nevrast.
“Because they were boring. And a little restlessness has no bearing on the quality of my scholarship. Quendingoldo may have bested me in the histories and in philosophy and classical lore, but I’ll have you know I beat him in singing. And math. Hah! He never told you that, did he?” He folded his arms and looked down his slim, shapely nose at her.
She smirked fondly at him. “Don’t pout, love.”
“Am not pouting.”
With a sly smile she elbowed him.
With a sidelong glance and a wry little smile, he elbowed her just enough to knock her off the bench.
In the next instant, they were wrestling and tickling each other and laughing on the ground, and as their sons’ papers went dancing away on the summer breeze, they hurriedly got to their feet and chased after them.
Half an hour later, Erestor was eyeing the slightly crumpled, grass-stained papers left on his study desk with distaste. “Hmph! Elflings.”
A regular flow of traffic between Arnor and Gondor passed through Imladris valley in those days: King’s troops, officials, traders, and common folk seeking new lands in this time of peace.
Following the exodus of the Imladrim to the west, many dwellings in the valley had lain abandoned. Those that remained were Sindar and Nandor and Avari still reluctant to undertake the great journey. The fields further from the great house lay untended.
Seeing the valley of Rivendell so fair, with fertile fields lying untilled and fallow, and meadows with sweet grass for grazing, and fair cottages sitting empty and deserted, the first mortals had begun to stay. It had only been a matter of time. A small settlement of edain grew in the south of the valley along the banks of the Bruinen, growing in number with each year. They accepted the Lordship of Elladan and Elrohir over the valley. At times, they sought smithing and healing services up at the Great House, or brought animal hides for tanning since no one produced leather as soft and fine as the elves. They paid with their crops and animals. At other times, the household went to them to buy such produce as they did not grow or rear themselves, such as the grain crops.
And the edain had children. As the twins reached their fifteenth birthday, there were already a dozen little mortal lads and lasses of different ages and sizes. Whenever they had time between lessons and training and chores and hunting trips, Aryo and Arman would run down to the village to play.
On this summer day, finally free, the twins’ eyes sparkled bright when they found their friends filling pig’s bladders and lengths of cow gut with water at the duck pond. As the war of water missiles broke out with much laughter and shouting, Aryo spotted an unfamiliar girl reading by the pond under the shade of a tree.
The twins had learned early that mortals were no match for the speed, strength and skill of elflings. To keep play going, they held back and slowed down—without making it look apparent—for their desire here was friendship. If it was challenge they sought, they played with their father and with each other. Thus Aryo had leisure, even as he stayed in the game, to examine the newcomer who sat with feet dangling in the cool water: a girl with brown curls, her head bent over a yellowed book with a brown cover. He could only see the long brown lashes of her lowered eyes, the curve of her rosy cheek. He was drawn by how intently she looked at her book. He wanted to see her face.
So when a pig’s bladder came to his hand, he hurled it at her, and it burst upon her dress.
Glowering ferociously, the girl stood up in the shallows of the pond with her book sodden in her hand, and her dress half-soaked.
Aryo grinned at her, gazing entranced at angry eyes of brown honey, at a sweet mouth twisted into a scowl in a heart-shaped face, at a charming upturned nose. Moving away from the others, he walked up to her as she climbed onto the bank. Barefoot, she was taller than him by a head. “What is your name? Mine’s Aryo—”
Honey-brown eyes flashed as she gave him a shove in the chest.
And Aryo found himself lying on his back in the knee-high shallows of the duck pond, sputtering and coughing, gazing at the blue sky and white clouds swirling above, and quite in love.
The following day, Aryo returned to seek his brown-haired girl out. He had dragged Arman with him to follow her to her home the day before and seen which cottage she had returned to. Today, fortune smiled upon the older twin. As her father repaired the roof of the cottage they had newly occupied, the girl was seated on a bench under a tree stitching a shirt.
She raised her head, saw the shining golden elfling and resumed her sewing.
“May your morn be good,” he said in his best Westron. “I am truly sorry I ruined your book yesterday. I brought you two others.” On the twins’ bookshelves were some Westron books that had belonged to Estel or Bilbo. Aryo had brought her a collection of folk tales of Númenor, and a fair translation of the Quenta Silmarillion.
She set down her sewing as he held them out to her. She took them reverently. Began to flip through one, and frowned at the words. He gazed at the light freckles sprinkling her upturned nose, and thought them wondrously charming.
“Who taught you to read?”
“My grandda before he died,” she said. “I know but a little.”
“I can teach you.”
She looked down at the golden-haired child with amused condescension.
“I am fifteen this year. I read very well,” he said haughtily.
She laughed. “Fifteen? And you no bigger than my baby brother that’s just turned six!”
“Elves grow different than mortals,” he said, drawing himself as tall as he could. He was already tall for his age. Many of his household said so. He might be as tall as his father one day. He sat next to her on the bench and looked up into her soft brown eyes. “How old are you?” he asked.
“I am ten next week.”
“Please accept this gift as for your birthday, then. So… am I forgiven?”
She smiled and showed a dimple. “If you can teach me to read, elfling.”
Five coranári later, Glorfindel walked out of the main doors of the house and gave the long, low fluting whistle that was his call to his sons. Arman came jumping lightly down from a tree and raced to Glorfindel with a wide grin.
“A fine day, today. Want to go for a ride?”
“Oh yes, Atto!”
“Where is your brother?”
“Oh, he’s in the atani village visiting his melissë.”
Glorfindel stared at his secondborn. “His what??” the father sputtered.
“Good day, Mistress Hawthorn. Is Faelinn at home?”
The farmer’s wife smiled as the elfchild appeared at the gate of the vegetable patch, his grey eyes glittering and his golden hair gleaming bright even on this overcast day. Over the past five years Faelinn’s little friend had become a familiar sight on their farm and in their cottage.
“You just missed her, young master. She has gone to fetch water.”
With a radiant smile of thanks, the elfling raced lightly down the path towards the Bruinen, golden tresses flying.
His face darkened when he saw who was with Faelinn on the riverbank, trying to carry her pail of water for her. Birn Rowan was sixteen that year, tall and burly with light-brown curls. He and the twins had been playmates when younger, but Aryo’s cordial feelings toward him had quite faded earlier this year when he noted Birn’s new interest in Faelinn. For Birn had not failed to notice Faelinn’s blossoming bosom and how pretty her figure was beneath the stiff, plain dresses she always wore. Besides, now Aryo barely reached up to his ribs, Birn literally spoke down at him, and annoyed the elfling by mussing his beautiful golden hair with a large, careless hand.
Aryo watched in disbelief as Birn now laughingly put his arm around Faelinn’s waist and pulled her to him clumsily while she protested with half a laugh and pulled away.
The next thing Birn knew, he was lying on his back on the riverbank, staring into blazing grey eyes, and an enraged elfling was sitting on him.
“Hands to yourself, you lumpish boar-faced lout!” snarled the elfchild.
“And who are you to say so, you meddlesome elf-pup?” growled the strapping lad, seizing hold of the child.
The two rolled in the dust trading blows and insults while Faelinn shouted above the commotion.
“Stop it, Birn! Stop! He’s just a little boy! You’ll kill him!” Then she fell silent with her mouth open as a tall beautiful elf with flowing golden hair swiftly separated the two combatants, pulled them to their feet, and held them apart.
“Aryo! Ásë nuhta!!” said the tall, shining elf sharply. Aryo, who had still been trying to lunge at his adversary, obeyed and stood still, but there was fire in his eyes and his nostrils flared.
A moment later, Arman ran up and threw his arms around his still angry twin.
Glorfindel checked the swollen cheek and bloody nose of the young adan. “I apologise for my son’s behaviour,” he said in Westron. “If you will allow me. . .”
Overawed by the shining elflord whose blue eyes fixed on him so calmly and so penetratingly, and who towered over him by more than a head, the young mortal stood still while Glorfindel placed a hand lightly on his face. The lad felt a coolness and a tingling sensation, and a cessation of pain.
“How do you feel?” asked Glorfindel.
“Fine, Lord Glorfindel. Thank you,” Birn mumbled, feeling abashed.
“Aryo,” said Glorfindel quietly in Quenya. “Apologize to Birn.”
“But he—” Fire blazed still in the child’s eyes.
“No ‘buts’! Apologize!”
“Arinnáro Finyon Laurefindelion! Say you are sorry!”
“I’m sorry, Birn,” said Aryo in a stifled voice, still trembling with anger.
Birn nodded his head in acknowledgement, but did not meet the eyes of the elfchild half his size.
“Tell your father we at the House thank him for the oats and barley he sent this morning,” said Glorfindel to Birn, dusting off his shirt for him.
“Yes, milord.” With an awkward bow, Birn walked away with as much pride as he could muster.
Glorfindel turned back to his lovelorn son, who had his twin standing on one side of him and the adaneth bending over him on the other. Aryo had a blackened eye and a split lip which Faelinn was dabbing with a corner of her apron. The boy’s eyes were still glinting with sparks of anger and injustice.
“How could you just let him go, Atar?” he demanded of his father. “He behaved abominably! He insulted and took advantage of Faelinn!”
“I saw you attack him, Aryo!”
“I was protecting Faelinn!” cried out Aryo. “Would you not protect Ammë if anyone sought to insult her?”
“Your Ammë is more than capable of protecting herself against anyone who attempts to insult her.” Maeglin would likely castrate them, thought Glorfindel. “But I would give my life to protect her from any harm.”
The father reached down to touch his son’s face with a healing hand. As he did so, he said gently, “But the young man and young woman did not look as though they were in conflict with each other, Aryo. It looked quite amicable to me.”
Glorfindel turned to the maiden who was listening with fascination to the exchange in Quenya and trying not to gawk at the elflord like a fool. Like all in the valley, she knew Glorfindel, but was quite dazzled by the beauty of the tall, glowing elflord at such close quarters. In Westron, the elflord said, “Young maid, was any insult or injury done to you by young Birn?”
“Oh no. Birn was only playing the fool, sir,” Faelinn managed to say, feeling a little weak at the knees. “It was harmless. We’ve known each other since young. It was nothing.” She looked at Aryo with a smile. “But I think my little friend very gallant for defending my honour.”
Aryo flushed. Glorfindel picked up the bucket of water, and as they walked back up the path, he spoke to the lass about her parents, their farm, her brothers and sisters, and where they were from before they came to the valley. Faelinn was holding Aryo’s hand as she might a small brother, and Arman was making faces and rolling his eyes as he skipped along behind them.
Back at the great house, Glorfindel told Maeglin about their son’s romance. “And I thought we would not have to worry about this for another thirty years at least,” he said, smiling wryly and shaking his head. “A passing infatuation, I should think.”
Maeglin sighed. “I hope so. But that child feels things too intensely.”
“Just like one of his parents,” he said, pulling her onto his lap.
“I swear I know not what you mean.”
“I did not say I meant you.”
They kissed, eyes closed, then playfully nipped each other’s lips.
“The life expectancy of the average adaneth is sixty-five,” she murmured against his lips. “He would watch her grow old and die soon after he comes of age.”
They pulled away from their kisses and sat in silence just thinking of it.
“Let us go visit Legolas in Ithilien,” Glorfindel said. “We can ride with Elladan and Elrohir.” Arwen was expecting another daughter—her fifth—and her brothers were leaving for Gondor the following week.
“I shall send Legolas a message right away,” Maeglin said, getting off Glorfindel’s lap.
The white sun blazed hot and dry upon the City of Kings. Three boys, ranging in age from nine to twelve, lounged on some barrels in the shade of the Othram, the black outer City Wall. They were handsome lads, attired in midnight blue and silver livery, and pages to one of the King’s chief advisers. In the shadow of ancient buildings lining cobbled streets were makeshift stalls and vendors offering all manner of wares from roast meats on skewers to cooking pots to fortune telling. One boy elbowed another in the ribs.
“Eh, get an eyeload of those two pretties.”
A golden glow in the shadows drew the eye to two small, slender creatures making their way through the bustling crowd of the bazaar in the First Circle of the city, fair hair cascading brighter than any gold or silver down their backs. As the two unearthly little beings stopped to watch a puppet show, the Gondorian boys caught a glimpse of delicate, perfectly-proportioned features and bright, glittering eyes in translucently glowing skin. One lad gave a long, low whistle. “Upon my soul! Those are beauties to rival the Queen!”
“They are elves all right! Little dainty elves!” The boys’ eyes gleamed with excitement as they espied the pointed tips on the small shell-pink ears. They abandoned their spot along the wall and began to follow.
“I didn’t know they had little ’uns,” said the carrot-topped youngest, earning himself a clout on the head.
“Of course they must have, idiot! Where else do you think they come from?”
The elf twins had stopped to watch a muscular, dark-skinned Southron juggling knives.
Arman was unimpressed. “He’s not that good. Atto can do better.”
“A hundred times better,” Aryo replied with scorn. “Oh look! Candied fruit.”
They stared wistfully at the colourful piles of candy, regretting they had not asked their parents for some of the small silver coins called Tharni that they saw exchanging hands.
They smelt the man before they heard him—and that was quite something, as there were myriad pungent bodily odours assailing them on all sides from the market crowd. It was the scent of a perfume heavy with musk.
“Candies for you, little beauties?” said a voice in strangely-accented Westron.
Startled, they recoiled slightly from a hand which appeared before their faces, pink squares of a confection dusted with white sugar on its palm. They looked up at the brown-robed figure with a crimson sash around its waist. The lean, weather-beaten face and grizzled beard were not unhandsome, for a mortal, and he had all his teeth, but there was a wily foxiness about his pale-blue eyes and smile that made Aryo’s hackles rise.
“Well—” said Arman uncertainly. At least the hand and its fingernails looked clean, unlike those of many other mortals they saw around them.
“No, thank you, sir,” Aryo said firmly in Westron, taking Arman by the elbow and pulling him away.
“Aryo, did not those candies look good?”
“I mistrust him.”
They wove through the crowd to another part of the market, pausing to watch a parrot doing card tricks. If they heard stray comments about their beauty or speculations about their gender, they ignored them, for they were used to such, if not within Imladris, then whenever they had gone to Bree.
“Nay!” scoffed a young voice close behind them, in Westron. “Boys those cannot be!”
“They dress like lads,” said another, reasonably.
“Who knows how elves dress? We don’t know what they have in them breeches.”
“Hey, elflings! Be you lads or lasses?”
Not an uncommon question, but the tone offended their Finwean pride. The elflings chose to ignore them, and walked on.
“Hey! Be you deaf?” “Oh, they can hear well enough.” “Ooo, such dainty, pretty little things!” “Think you we can pet them?” A snigger. “They would make fair pets!” “Yea! Wonder if they be hard to feed?” More sniggers. “I’ll have me the sweet one on the left.”
Aryo’s hands clenched into fists.
“Just ignore them, Aryo. They’re only children. Come, let’s hurry on.”
“Come now, pretty girls! ...or pretty boys! Why so proud?” “Too high and mighty for mortals, are ye?” “We won’t besmirch your honour, sweet maids!” “Though tempting it is, to see what’s in those fine breeches of yours!” They guffawed.
“Aryo, ignore them. Let’s go back to Ammë at the Great Gate.” Arman pulled on his twin’s arm, seeing a look in Aryo’s eyes that spelled trouble.
At that moment, the youngest mortal boy reached out a hand and grabbed a handful of pale silvery-gold elven hair. The younger twin cried out in shock more than pain.
The mortals were not prepared for the small fury that flew at them with fell-fire in his grey eyes and golden hair flying, for the astonishing strength and speed of those small fists and knees and feet. Before they knew what hit them, one was on his knees, bent double and retching from hard punches to the stomach, another was rolling on the ground grabbing his crotch, and another was being choked by the elfling hanging onto his back, arms tightening around his neck like a vice.
“Aryo, let him go! Stop it, Aryo! You’re hurting him!” cried Arman in Quenya as he tried to pull his brother off the boy’s back.
“That’s enough!” said a young, stern voice that had just broken. A tall boy tried to separate Aryo from his victim. “Valar! You’re strong! Come on, mellon—daro! Do you want to kill the scamp?”
He was speaking in Sindarin. That seemed to snap Aryo out of his trance.
“Louse!” Aryo snarled in Westron, and abruptly released his victim, who stood a head taller than himself. The twelve-year-old gasped and wheezed and clutched at his throat.
The tall boy who spoke Sindarin looked in wonder at Aryo, at flaming grey eyes and battle fury in the face of a child so small. He kept a hand on the elfling’s shoulder lest he fly at his victim again, and felt the blond still trembling with rage. “Easy now! By Elbereth, you’re quite a fighter!”
Aryo blinked as he looked up into grey eyes and a young, noble face, still smooth and beardless, framed with flaxen hair rare among the men of Gondor. He wore the black and silver livery of the Citadel, emblazoned with the White Tree on the front of his surcoat.
“Are you one of the guests of the King?” the tall boy of Númenorean stock asked the elfling, this time in Westron. “I heard some elven guests arrived yesterday from Rivendell.”
Aryo nodded, shame and regret flooding him in the wake of his wrath. His taunters had only been children, far younger, though larger, than he. They had not deserved this. He had completely lost control, in a way that frightened himself.
The three young mockers had heard the tall boy, and they were by now back on their feet, looking highly alarmed. “We meant no harm, Elboron,” pleaded one, still clutching at his midriff in some pain. “Just larking around—”
“—Wanted to be friends,” wheezed another, a hand still on his throat. “We’d not seen elflings afore.”
“You fools!” said Elboron severely. “You might have guessed him to be a guest of the King and Queen, here for the princess’ naming.”
“Please, Elboron—do not tell our fathers. Or your father, or the King.”
The one who had been kicked in the nuts, a little green and unsteady on his legs, tried to look brave and nonchalant and said nothing.
Aryo was feeling truly sick by now with guilt and remorse, realizing how his wrath had been wholly out of measure to the insult received. His lip quivered at the thought of how horrified his father would be. “I am sorry. Truly sorry,” he said in Westron to the three boys. “The blame is mine, and I shall tell the King so, if need be. I am sorry for your hurt. And if anyone is to be punished, it is I.”
“Our words were foolish, and caused offence,” said the boy who had been punched in the midriff. “For that we humbly seek your forgiveness.”
“And I yours. Let bygones be bygones.” And Aryo and the boys bowed to each other.
As the boys turned to leave, the youngest paused and asked Aryo hesitantly, looking abashed, “So… begging your pardon, but… be you lad… or lass?”
Aryo smiled wryly at his curiosity. “I am a lad as yourself.”
That assuaged their hurt pride a little. The boys returned half-smiles, and disappeared into the crowd.
The tall, flaxen-haired young Númenorean smiled at Aryo. “I am Elboron, son of Faramir, and squire-in-training to King Elessar, at your service. By your hair, I would wager you are the son of the great Glorfindel!”
The elfling looked up at Elboron. He might be about thirteen or fourteen years old, thought Aryo. The twenty-year-old elfling barely reached the boy’s chest. “Yes, I am Arinnáro son of Glorfindel… Ornor in Sindarin, but all call me Aryo. And my brother here is Arman, or Orlin.”
“Aryo and Arman sound good to me,” grinned Elboron. “But where is your brother?”
“Why, right here—” Aryo looked about.
Arman was nowhere in sight.
The older brother’s first reaction was a flash of annoyance. “Arman?” He called out with his mind.
And called again.
There was nothing but silence.
“…ohgodshavemercygodshavemercy…” gibbered the mortal in a voice an octave higher than usual, his heart pounding madly from his wild sprint through the First Circle. His pale-blue eyes were riveted on the violet ones looking down at him, as white fire flickering eerily in their depths.
“Stop that babbling and answer my question, adan.” A voice like musical thunder broke the mortal’s trance of terror. The strong, shapely hand at his throat tightened almost imperceptibly. A crackling energy sharply prickled the mortal’s skin, as power emanated from the golden god.
The mortal licked dry lips. “Elfling? Oh great one! I know naught of any elfling,” he managed to wheeze. His pale-blue orbs nervously flicked over the unearthly beauty of that luminous face, the translucent flawlessness of skin that seemed lit from within, the chiselled harmony of fine features now set in the sternest of frowns. They were almost mesmerized by the golden glory of the hair that lit up the dark alleyway as it flowed over his captor’s shoulders.
“Wrong answer.” The tall elf loomed over the brown-robed mortal. “If you think you can lie to me, slaver, you are mistaken.”
Pale-blue eyes bulged slightly as the fingers tightened around his throat. The weight of the bag of gold Castar he had so recently been gloating over was of scant comfort now as it pressed against his thigh through his brown robe. “Slaver?” The mortal managed to look terrified and indignant at the same time. “You—you mistake me for another, O great lord!”
“Does he now, Goblo?” said a deep voice to his left. “You have some nerve, coming back to the city. It’s the dungeons for you again.”
A tall mortal lord and a beautiful elf lady, both raven-haired, had arrived belatedly. They were breathless from running and looked grim.
“I am a reformed man, Prince Faramir! Search my house, search my shop. You will find nothing!”
“I have no doubt of it, you sly fox. But you were seen with the boy, so where is he now?” Faramir remembered the man only too well from his last stint as Regent, for he oversaw the Kingdom each time King Elessar rode to war.
“We are wasting time,” snarled the dark elflady to the fair elflord. “Faugh! He stinks like a cheap Breelander whore! Take it from his head, or I am going to started slicing off fingers. Where is my son?”
Faramir Prince of Ithilien stared at the elleth in some shock. He was in the city for the naming ceremony of the newborn princess, and he had been walking through the First Circle when he had come across his son with a distraught elfling missing his twin. Faramir had lost no time in sending word to Glorfindel, and accompanied the parents on their search. His first impressions of Glorfindel’s wife—quiet, elegant, a little aloof—did nothing to prepare him for her language, or for the ferocity and ruthlessness now displayed. And ferocity and ruthlessness were not qualities he had ever associated with elves, let alone a female one.
Glorfindel looked at his love in dismay. Never had he ever forced himself into another’s mind, and even in this moment of dire need he hesitated. It violated everything he stood for.
“I am a respectable tradesman!” protested Goblo, sensing hesitation and growing bolder. “This is an outrage!”
Obsidian eyes narrowed. “Do you think to hide the guilt that shows in your eyes, vermin? So be it. The little finger first.” Goblo heard the snick of a blade being drawn, and involuntarily whimpered.
“No! Wait!” Glorfindel caught Maeglin’s wrist, his other hand still in possession of Goblo’s neck. His eyes gazed penetratingly into the mortal’s pale-blue ones. “I advise you not to resist, adan,” he said grimly. “The more you fight it, the more this is going to hurt.”
He began to probe, and felt his gorge rise at the filth he encountered.
As the first of his mind barriers was breached, Goblo screamed in terror at this accursed wizardry. “Aieearrhh!!! No more! I’ll talk, I’ll talk! But promise you will protect me!”
Glorfindel pulled back, exhaled in relief, and thanked Eru. A shudder of disgust passed through him, the taint lingering like a dunk into a cesspool.
Arman woke to the world lurching beneath him, the loud, rhythmic creaking of a wooden wagon, and the clop-clop of heavy hooves on hard-packed earth. His head was groggy. And it hurt. A vile bitterness lingered in his mouth. The filthy rag gagging him made him want to retch. In the sweltering heat, his hair clung damp to his neck, and his clothes to his body. He struggled to remember what had happened. Aryo. A fight. The heavy scent of a musky perfume. A hand over his mouth, an arm clamped around his waist, a foul liquid forced between his lips.
He lay on his side. His hands were tied behind his back with rope. Through the narrow cracks between the wooden planks of the crate he was in, he could see sunlight. He gazed at thin slivers of white sky. Then he rolled onto his knees—the crate was just large enough for him to do so with ease—and peered out of a wider gap between the planks, breathing in fresh air through the opening as he did. He was startled to see golden eyes turn to look down at him indifferently. A black cat sat close by on another crate, its paws tucked under its body. “Where are we?” he thought-asked the cat.
It was not in the cat’s nature to betray astonishment. Its ears pricked forward slightly, then it looked away. “On the road, flea-brain.”
“But where are we going?”
The cat ignored him. Just as Arman was beginning to despair, it said, “The river.”
“The Anduin? Why? Why am I here?” Through the gap in the wooden slats, he saw the high walls of the Rammas Echor, and a great gate, open in this time of peace to traffic all day long. Going by the sun, he quickly realized where they were. “The South Gate?” Aryo and he could see that and the Anduin from their bedchamber window in the Citadel… and beyond, the still-forbidding range of the Ephel Duath towering. “Is that the South Gate? Where am I being taken?”
The cat looked annoyed. “Full of questions, aren’t you?” It rose to its four white-socked feet and sprang lightly onto another crate, then disappeared from view. All Arman saw through the gap was white sky and crates as the wagon jolted along. His heart sank.
“Please… please come back!” Arman begged. His stomach knotted as the wagon trundled through the gates and he watched the high walls recede and realized they were leaving the Pelennor Fields and all those he loved behind.
From elsewhere on the wagon, the cat’s thoughts came. “How far must I go before it will silence you? Pest.”
“Don’t go,” Arman pleaded. “Please… you’re my only friend here.” He had never been separated like this from Aryo, from his parents before, never been out of reach of the thoughts of at least one of them. He felt such a desolation and emptiness in his young fëa as he sank back onto the crate-floor that he began to cry, sobs wracking his little body. And you the son of a warrior and a hero, chided a voice within. Your Atto would never cry like a baby.
Arman fought down his tears.
He heard the sound of paws landing soft and sure on the next crate. “That’s better. No more mewling like a motherless kitten,” said the cat, sounding annoyed. “And let us be clear, Shiny: I am no one’s friend but my own.”
With his hands tied behind his back, Arman could only draw up his knees, and wipe his eyes and nose on his dusty breeches. “All right,” he said to the cat, grateful it was back.
“Why are you here, you ask. Master must be anxious to keep you undamaged. The ones he puts alone in a crate to themselves are special goods. They fetch goodly prices on the block.” A golden eye looked through the gap in the crate and scrutinized the elfling. “Don’t know what he sees in you. Must be the shininess. Or the freak ears.”
“My ears are not freakish! Yours are pointed too.”
“Mine are fine ears for a cat, human freak. Master likes rare things. He was muttering that the Bharûg-kân would like you. Greedy bastard.”
“Who is or who are the Bharûg-kân?”
“You don’t know much, do you, Shiny? A lover of pleasure toys and pain. That is all you need to know.”
Arman did not understand that, but it did not sound good.
“Please—help me get free.”
“That’s hysterical. How could I? And even if I could… why should I?”
Looking bored, the black cat leaped away.
And Arman was truly left alone.
As the road descended down to what he guessed was Harlond, the elfling was thrown against one wall of the crate. All his speed and skill as a fighter, trained in him since he was five, were of no use, and the confinement and helplessness were unbearable to him. He lay on the floor of the crate and kicked at the roof. It didn’t budge. He worried the ropes on his wrists, rubbed them against the wooden frame. But all he had achieved was raw, painful wrists by the time the wagon lurched to a halt and he heard the noise of the wharves and shouts in many tongues, as cargo was loaded and unloaded on the ships that must be there. His Atto had told them just that morning how they would come here to cross the river to Ithilien, after the naming ceremony of the new princess.
His Atto. He was certain his father would find him…
The crates were beginning to be unloaded.
“Gently, fool! Don’t damage the goods.” A harsh voice in a strange accent.
Some grumbling ensued for a few moments.
“What cargo?” An officious voice.
“Fruits for the Harad,” the first voice grunted in reply to an official of the quays. As a crate of fruit was opened for inspection, Arman’s own crate was lifted from the wagon and he lay on the base to avoid being flung about. A sharp word was flung his way at the man carrying him, “Careful, you brôkhaz! The fruits bruise easily.”
Then Arman heard a familiar voice, faint in the distance.
And it was singing, a fair and melodious sound amid the noises of the busy port.
…Trevedithon nín laind ereb ciriel
Aind i thuiad bo Falas Vedui…
Arman’s heart gave a great leap. Even before he heard the soft, light, swift hooves of an elf horse ride past not too far away, he called out desperately, in thought: “Legolas! Legolas! Edraith enni! Save me!”
The elf horse had gone. Arman despairingly felt the rocking motion of an anchored ship as his crate was carried over a gangplank.
In a moment, Arman heard the light hooves return.
“Arman? Arman, is that you, pen dithen?” called the well-known Sindarin voice, ringing clear above the noise of the port. “Mas ci? Where are you?”
“I’m in a wooden box going onto a ship! Save me, Legolas!”
“You there! Put that box down. Now!”
“What the kâguk-sar—?” “Who the phûzaksh–?” “It is the elfling’s father!” “Lord Legolas? What are you doing—?” “Stop him! Careful with that crate!”
Arman was jolted hard as his crate was thrown and landed violently on the deck of the ship. Dazed with pain, he heard steel slide out from scabbards, then an adan’s scream and a loud splash. “Call the guards!” the panicked official was shouting. “Call the guards!”
The landing had bruised Arman but it had also broken his crate. As pandemonium broke out on the wharf, the elfling kicked open the damaged side and slid out. He had just scrambled to his feet when a burly Southron, grizzle-bearded and swarthy, leaped onto the ship and shoved away the gangplank. The slaver shouted at a Haradrin seaman what was presumably a command to hoist anchor and set sail. Arman ran for the railing, but it was too high, and his hands were still tied behind him. The ship began to pull away from the quay.
“Arman! Yonya!” Arman heard in his head
“Atto!” Arman darted about the deck with lightning swiftness as the Southron lunged after him, harshly hurling what must be curses and profanities in the unknown tongue. There were two seamen—one steered them away from the quay, the other joined in the chase. As the ship rolled sharply, the elfling, not having use of his arms to balance himself, fell hard upon the deck and the slaver was upon him. A black furball suddenly hurled itself upon the slaver, spitting and scratching, and as the slaver raised his hands to defend his face, Arman rolled and got back upon his feet, and darted away.
The elfling had just ducked behind a pile of crates when the tall, golden elflord, shining white with power, landed with a flying leap almost soundlessly on the deck of the ship.
The black cat vanished up a mast. Master slaver and seamen froze, blood draining from their faces as they quailed in terror. Eyes blazing with white fire, Glorfindel towered over the Haradrim by two heads.
“Raz ûl-nurâg ish-khandû,” growled Glorfindel commandingly, managing to make the harsh syllables musical. “Back to the wharf right now.”
As the white-faced seamen frantically acted to steer them back to the quay, Arman ran to his father and Glorfindel swiftly removed his gag and the ropes that bound him, then lifted him and hugged him tightly.
“Zîrkan! Zîrkan!” And gibbering a litany of prayers, the Southron slaver prostrated himself abjectly at the elflord’s feet.
The Lord of the Elves of Ithilien could not stop grinning. “I think it so funny the scum thought you were their sun-god.” He had just crossed the Anduin on a ferry from Ithilien when Arman heard his song, for he was also headed to Minas Tirith for the naming ceremony.
“It was a good thing. Had they tried to fight, I might have been tempted to hurt them badly.” Glorfindel applied salve to Arman’s raw wrists as Maeglin cradled him against her body. Aryo sat with his face snuggled against his mother’s side, an arm hugging his twin’s waist.
The Gondorian guard had six slavers in chains—the Master and his five men—and the two seamen. Two were soaking wet, having been tossed by Legolas into the river, and three were slowly recovering from having been clouted unconscious by Glorfindel. Four of the men were Gondorians, the rest were Haradrim. They would all soon be joining Goblo in the dungeons of Minas Tirith.
“Filth,” muttered Maeglin in Quenya. “The depravity of the Afterborn… it is beyond comprehension.”
Legolas understood some Quenya by now, though he could not speak it. “It can be,” he said in Sindarin. “But I know many goodly and noble men, and it is by them I will choose to judge the race of men, not these scum. Like Faramir over there. And, of course, Aragorn.”
Faramir came towards the elves, his son at his side. “I am sorry for Arman’s ordeal, but it is well the villains were caught and the children rescued. The King will be glad to hear of it.” The contents of the three wagonloads sat huddled on the wharf—children from poorer sectors of the Lower City, and some from the townlands that lay within the Rhammas Echor. Packed three or four to a crate, they had been destined for the slave markets of Balarghat and Khartâri, two great cities of the Harad. Some would not have been missed. Others had families that would have sought them long but never known their fates. The master slaver glared sourly at the elf-family, and cursed himself for the moment he had succumbed to greed and paid Goblo the princely sum of twenty Castar for the pretty elf-pet for the Bharûg-kân. Red scratches streaked his cheeks and hands.
As they began to head back to the city, Arman saw a sleek black shape slink behind some barrels on the quay.
“The cat!” Arman cried out, and ran after it, his whole family and Legolas following.
Golden eyes gazed up coldly and indifferently at the gathering of elves.
“Thank you for helping me,” said Arman.
“The bastard hit me once, when drunk. I got my own back.”
“If you return to the palace with us, the princesses would take good care of you,” said Aryo.
“Nay. I can make my way. There’s rats aplenty on this wharf.” It moved away, tail high.
“You could stay with me and my brother, and be our friend,” said Arman.
“I am no one’s friend. I know no loyalty. I shall have no Master, henceforth.” It leaped onto a wall. Its black, glossy fur shone in the afternoon sun and its golden eyes glowed. “Watch yourself, Shiny. Farewell.” And it vanished.
“That cat reminds me strangely of someone I once knew,” said Glorfindel to Maeglin, as they proceeded on the wide, paved road back to the South Gate, and was sharply elbowed in the ribs by his lady.
Legolas was dreaming of a white ship sailing through a starry sky when he felt something tickle.
As his azure-blue eyes wakened to consciousness, he saw a dark-brown, hairy, eight-legged creature sitting on his bare chest. It was about the size of his palm.
“Oh, please,” he said, sleepily. “You call that a spider? Really?”
He allowed the arachnid to walk onto his hand, then deftly tossed it under his bed.
As two fair-haired elflings burst out from under the bed, startled and squealing, the Lord of the Ithilien Elves laughed merrily.
“Is that the best you can do?” He shook his head in disappointment as he pulled on a tunic. “Come, my young apprentices. Let me tell you what your father and I got up to when I was an elfling...”
Two little pairs of eyes sparkled bright over radiant grins.
Yonyat [Q] – dual vocative noun form for “sons”
Yonya [Q] – son
Melissë [Q] – female lover
Ásë nuhta [Q] – stop that
Finyon [Q] – “clever one”
Ornor & Orlin [S] - the twins' names in Sindarin
Trevedithon nín laind ereb ciriel / Aind i thuiad bo Falas Vedui dannol [S] = I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing. / Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling [from Legolas’ song in LOTR. Sindarin translation by Taramiluiel ]