2. Chapter Two
Valandil wondered as he often did why the Noldorin smiths of Imladris had not reforged the blade for him, why the shards had not been given to him when, at twenty-one, he left Elrond’s household for Annúminas. Instead, Elrond had summoned him to the Hall of Fire, made him kneel and placed on his brow a silver fillet set with a white gem like a star. This, said the Elf-lord, was given to him in remembrance of the Elendilmir that had been lost with Isildur.
Many other rich gifts were given to Valandil to take with him to his new home, but the shards of Narsil had not been among them. He burned with the need to ask why, yet had learned to hold his tongue before Elrond. If the Elf-lord had not seen fit to tell him, then it was not deemed proper to ask.
Now, more than a hundred years later, the question flared and burned anew in him. The shards glinted at him from the dark blue velvet, reflecting the stars that glittered through the window of the twilit shrine in which they had been placed. His fingers twitched with the need to gather up the shards and bear them away, for by right they belonged to him and Elrond could not have gainsaid him, and yet he could not seem to move.
“Often you pondered those shards in your youth,” said a voice behind him. “Your fascination with them has not changed, I see.”
Trembling slightly, he turned and faced his host. A sudden torrential downpour in the High Pass had forced his party to seek the shelter of Imladris, for although there were caves aplenty in the high reaches of the Hithaeglir, these were known to be infested with Orcs and other foul creatures. The rain ceased by nightfall, yet Valandil lingered, revisiting the corners of his childhood.
“It is a reminder of what I have lost,” Valandil answered calmly. “I cannot help but revisit it.”
The furrow between Elrond’s brows deepened slightly. “That is not all you have revisited,” he said. “I am told you have journeyed to the Gladden Fields, and that each year you do this.”
Valandil knew that word of his activities had long ago come to Imladris, and that Elrond did not approve, but never had he felt the need to justify his actions with an explanation. I am the king of Arnor, he thought. I will do thus, if it is my will, and neither Man nor Elf may hinder me in the errand.
A barely perceptible shift in Elrond’s gaze warned Valandil that perhaps the Elf-lord was reading his thoughts. He knew some Elves were capable of this, though he had never been able to confirm or deny that Elrond had such ability. “My father’s death and lack of a proper burial weighs heavily upon me,” he answered, choosing his words carefully. “It has ever been thus, as you well know.”
These words he had uttered once before, in the correspondence he maintained with the Lord of Imladris. Some years earlier, Elrond had inquired why he felt the need to build so ostentatious a memorial to his dead mother. It seems to me that you are compelled to do for one, Elrond had written, what you cannot do for both.
Valandil’s answer had been polite yet curt, stating that when they were found, Isildur’s bones would rest in that mausoleum beside his queen, and that his son had taken all care to ensure the proper respect would be shown. Had it been politic, he would have emphasized the when of his statement, rather than the if. Isildur would be found. His son would see to that.
Still holding his eyes, Elrond nodded. “Of course,” he said. “But come, you have had a long journey and my servants tell me that you have not yet taken any repast.”
Water dripped from the rain gutters of the arched colonnade; but for the sound of the house shedding the last vestiges of the downpour, the night air was still and cold. Valandil saw his breath turn to vapor before his face and welcomed the warm glow of the Hall of Fire beyond.
All was as he remembered it, and this disconcerted him. Even as he had grown into the fullness of his manhood and begun to feel the decades weigh upon him, those who had tutored him through his childhood remained unchanged. Time in Imladris seemed not to move, save in the two young children who thrust themselves forward into Elrond’s embrace to demand his attention.
An elf-woman with silver hair immediately came to reclaim the boys, but Elrond merely laughed and instructed her to let them be. Turning to Valandil, the Elf-lord introduced the trio as his wife Celebrían and his twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir. Valandil put on his most charming face and greeted the three. He had sent gifts to Imladris for Elrond’s wedding half a century ago, and then again, ten years ago when the twins were born, but this was his first meeting with any of Elrond’s family.
A servant came to collect the twins and take them away for a private meal in the nursery while the adults went into the communal dining hall that adjoined the Hall of Fire. The evening meal was served, plain fare in small quantities such the Elves were accustomed to eat. Valandil caught the gaze of his captains, those of his men who could be seated in the hall, and silenced their burgeoning complaint with a glare. Estelmo, of course, was too tactful to grouse or take a larger portion than was seemly, but the others would no doubt require his instruction.
After the meal, Elrond escorted Valandil to a quiet corner of the Hall of Fire. No special entertainment was planned, for Valandil and his company had arrived too late in the day for such arrangements. But Valandil did not require such trappings on this visit. He was weary, he said, and would retire as soon as it was polite for him to withdraw. As for his own men, Estelmo had them in his keeping and would see to it that all would comport themselves with all due courtesy. From what Valandil had seen, however, most were far too awestricken by their surroundings and the evanescent air of their hosts to do more than gawk.
“How does your lady and your son?” asked Elrond. “I did not inquire before, as was proper.”
“I left them well enough in Annúminas,” answered Valandil.
Elrond paused to accept the glass of smoky amber liquid proffered by a passing servant; another glass was handed to Valandil, who downed it in small sips. This particular liqueur was subtly flavored with hints of honey, wildflowers and the aged oak of the barrel in which it was fermented; the Elves considered it a mild beverage to be enjoyed in the evenings, but to the senses of one unaccustomed to such a cordial it burned the nostrils and slid down the throat in a trail of fire.
“And does it sit well with them, that you absent yourself so frequently?”
Valandil had not expected such a question, for none among his own people would have dared ask it. “They have naught to say about it.”
When Elrond lifted a querying eyebrow, Valandil felt his spine stiffen against the velvet cushions of his chair. Though more than a century had passed, he remembered that gesture. The Elf-lord meant to question him, to take him to task, without seeming to do so. “You do not think that your frequent absences trouble them, that they are not noted?” he asked softly.
“Eldacar is a man grown,” Valandil replied. “He knows why this is done. And as for my wife, she has never spoken ill of it.”
“But you are their king and they have naught to say about it, is this not so?”
Valandil frowned. The liquor pooled hot in his belly and made his head ache. “I like not your tone, Master Elrond, though you be my host. They know why this is done, and there is no ill in the deed.”
“Is there not?” asked Elrond. “How many decades have you spent in search of Isildur’s remains?”
“Does it matter how many?” Valandil retorted. “He is not yet found and I cannot rest until he is.”
Elrond touched his fingers to his lips in contemplation, and sat thus in silence for several moments. “What of the living, Valandil?” he finally asked, his voice measured and soft. “When you were young, you often complained to your tutors that you never saw your father or brothers, that they were too frequently away. And now, like Isildur, you absent yourself from your household, leaving your son as you were left.”
“Eldacar is grown,” said Valandil. “I would have him accompany me, yet he is my only son and the dangers of the journey are such that I cannot risk the future of the kingship should we be set upon. I have not forgotten that my brothers fell with my father. Eldacar has been told these things. He is in agreement.”
“Or he obeys you and does not reveal to you his heart,” said Elrond.
“He has never given me cause to believe he is not in full agreement that his grandsire’s remains should be returned to Annúminas for interment,” hissed Valandil. “Why do you speak so to me of things that do not concern you?”
Another servant came with a decanter to refill their glasses, but while Elrond accepted more of the amber liquid, he instructed the servant to bring something milder for his guest. “You have not drunk glînaur in many decades. Your head will swim with it if you imbibe more.” He waited until the servant returned with a glass of light, crisp wine and withdrew before speaking again. “I will ask the question again, Valandil. Think you not that you do not now do the same to your own son?”
Some small movement in a corner caught Elrond’s eye and he gestured. All at once, his sons ran up to him and burrowed into his arms, filling his lap. They wanted him to sing or read them a story. Gently he hushed them, saying it was not polite to interrupt their father when he was with a guest.
Chastised, the twins grew solemn and looked apologetically at Valandil.
Over their heads, Elrond addressed him again. “When my brother and I were young, our own sire was often away, driven by some compulsion to seek distant shores. We saw him perhaps once or twice in our infancy, then, when we were grown, we met him once more in the ashes of the War of Wrath. I understand now what he did and why, and do not question it, but my youth was a very different matter. Many nights Elros and I wept in our mother’s arms and wondered if somehow our father did not love us.”
Valandil resisted the urge to fidget or look away, for some barb in Elrond’s words pierced him to the core. He did not wish to contemplate that Eldacar might secretly harbor such contempt for him--nay, I will not think more on this--and he shoved it from his mind.
“I have given Eldacar all the love and care I might possibly give a son. I was not away during the tender years of his youth and see not why you question me. He is a man grown, and ripe for kingship should I fall by some mischance. He has no cause for complaint in the treatment he has received from his father.”
“Save that your gaze is now turned away from him toward shadows you cannot reclaim,” said Elrond.
Valandil chewed his lip, then abruptly stopped when he realized he had not fidgeted so since he had been a child. “It seems odd to me,” he answered, “that you would disapprove. For the Elves do naught but look backward, pining for the glory they have lost, and yet now one of them would instruct me not to do so.”
By now, he reflected, a mortal Man would have thrust his children away from him and risen at the insult, claiming it one too many. In some quarters, Valandil had seen men fall to fisticuffs over far less words. Of course, none would ever have behaved so before him. He was above such open reproach, though he always noted the curse that sometimes lingered in the eyes of those who were displeased with his judgments.
Elrond did none of this, he noted. The Elf-lord’s posture was relaxed, his hand smoothing and caressing the dark head of one twin while he murmured to the other. His smile did not waver, even when he returned Valandil’s gaze. “All you have said is true,” he answered, “save that there is within me that which is not wholly of Elf-kind and can counsel you thus. No Elf are you, and it is not in the nature of mortal Men to spend their days fruitlessly looking backward when they have not the leisure of an endless future.”
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glînaur: (Sindarin) “fire-honey,” an invented name for brandy or something very much like it.
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