15. The Silver Quill
Winter in Ithilien. A season of rain. Cold nights, frost on the ground. Leafless trees, as this tall willow beside the Great Anduin. Under the tree, someone clad in green sat with a quill and parchment in his hands.
Soundlessly, a falcon landed in the branches. A moment later there sat a maiden, peering down at the man below. With satisfaction she recognised him as the one she sought.
‘Have you turned scribe all of a sudden?’ Niphredil asked, laughing, as she climbed down.
The man stared at her with amazement in his sea-grey eyes.
‘Niphredil! What queer wind brought you here?’
‘The northern wind on falcon wings!’
‘Really? How are things in the Shire?’
‘Well - they are well! You may have heard Sam Gamgee is the Mayor, but did you know he has thirteen children? The eldest is named Elanor. My father named her. Merry and Pippin have families too, and the last party I went to was the wedding of Merry’s daughter. Eowyn. But she was not wed to Pippin’s eldest, although his name is Faramir.’ Niphredil tried to get a look at the parchment Legolas had dropped.
‘What were you writing?’
‘I was drawing. Look, isn’t she a beauty?’ He picked the drawing up and unrolled it with a grandiose gesture.
Niphredil gave it a long, appraising look.
‘Mmm. Lovely. You draw well. What is she called?’
‘What is that to you if she be called Thuringwethil?’ Legolas grinned.
‘You wouldn’t dare! You’d never find the Straight Path in a ship named after a vampire*. But oh, so many sails! She’ll be a grand one indeed.’
‘Yes, and her name will be Ariel.’
‘Ariel! Why, it means the same as ‘Arwen’ and ‘Arien’. Who is she named for?’
‘My mother. Queen Ariel Tar-Laigaladhren**. Her last words to me were that she regretted never having seen the Sea. Since I cannot show Ariel the Sea, I’ll at least let the Sea see Ariel.’
‘Oh. She has been gone many years now, by the calmness of your sorrow.
‘Three centuries, no more.’
‘Oh, my friend. I cannot know, but we had no graves that new at Eresseä until...’
Legolas took her small hand in his and helped her sit down. Then he covered their knees with his cloak, for she was suddenly shivering. Silently they sat hand in hand and stared at the inked draft of a proud ship, with the statue of a fair woman on her prow. Legolas whispered the words of an elven song -
like a star that will not shine
A, my sorrow, ai! My love
Slain and bleeding, ai! My love
at the sacred swan’s-wing cove
A, my sorrow, ai! My love.’
‘A, nîn naergon, nae! Nîn cuil!
Galad alsíla gîl
A, nîn naergon, nae! Nîn mîl!
Dangen agarwaen, nae! Nîn mîl!
Na iaun alphrafn cîl
A, nîn naergon, nae! Nîn mîl!’***
To his surprise Niphredil responded with an ancient Quenyan version:
‘A, nienya, ai! Coinya!
Ve ‘elen úyë cilya
A, nienya, ai! Meldanya!
Talantië sercëa, ai! Meldanya!
Mí aira alquaráma cirya
A, nienya, ai! Meldanya!’****
‘I know the song. It is a lament of Alqualonde. One of many. How has it come to Middle-Earth?’
‘The Vanyar who fought at the downfall of Angband brought songs with them. This they sang, the Sindar thought, for their slain companions. Later we learned from the Noldor it tells of the shameful kinslaying, but it had already become a funeral song among others. Now, forget all graves, young one, and tell me why have you returned to this land?’
‘It is a strange matter. Let Quetondo explain, I don’t understand him one bit.’ Niphredil took out the living stone.
‘Greetings, Prince Legolas! Niphredil, has he seen the letter yet?’
‘Let’s have a look at that first.’
‘All right. But Legolas, this is kind of a personal letter, and I’m not showing it to everyone.’
He read Frodo’s letter.
‘"The man, who is no true man", whom does he mean?’
‘Nár the Dwarf, I guess.’
‘Who knows, then?’
‘I’ve told only Merry Brandybuck.’
‘And he certainly...’
‘...is good at keeping secrets. I know.’
‘So how could Frodo have learned of it?’
‘From the dwarves?’
Legolas pondered this.
‘Not likely. Nár is not of Durin’s people, he is an eastern dwarf, and none of his family would travel through the Shire. If they have business at the Blue Mountains they tend to take a more southern road, and even that seldom.’
‘So how come he is here, at the heart of the west?’
‘Gondor is not the heart of the west. Arnor may have been, once, but the true heart was Beleriand.'
‘So what is Gondor?’
‘A village of stone houses on a bloodstained battlefield. A gathering of youths who have to do the decisions of the elders, for the elders have grown too weak. But all this has little to do with you.’
‘Has it?’ And yet I shall fight for Gondor!’
‘Fight for Gondor? At the eastern wars?’
‘Yes. Quetondo, tell him.’
‘It so happens, prince Legolas, that our Niphredil had a look into the Mirror of Galadriel, and she saw Valacirca - saw it in the mirror, but not above. Much as one sees the stars at Kheled-zaram, I think.’
‘In Mirrormere, perhaps. But Galadriel is gone and her ring is powerless. Nobody sees anything in that basin anymore.’
‘You forget, prince, that there are powers older than the rings of Eregion. Powers that rival Sauron, powers stronger than either the Master Ring or its maker, when they were separate. Such a power is in Arien’s blood. Niphredil. Did she not fly as a silver seagull? You still have that quill, I perceive. And now she has flown again, a falcon this time. But the change of shape is not all she possesses.’
‘Niphredil, is this - why such a scared look?’
‘I have no powers! It is a mistake! Not me, I’m not my mother!’
The girl buried her face in her hands. Huddling there, she looked very small and frightened indeed. Legolas felt an urge to hold her, but he dared not. If her heart still walked the paths of cruel darkness and loveless desire, she would ensnare him. Quetondo went on speaking, a stone-hard voice somewhere in the hobbit’s lap.
‘I have heard you speak the words of command, in the noble tongue. ‘Tule!’ you said, and your belongings came to you from a locked house. And your thoughts, too, have moved things, small but significant things.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, if your power had not interfered, you would be pregnant now.’
‘What? To who?’
Legolas tapped the girl’s shoulder to get her attention.
‘Perhaps you would like to have this discussion alone with Quetondo?’
‘No! Please, be a friend to me, I’m afraid of this magic he speaks of, if you leave me now with him I’ll throw him into the river!’
‘That would not be wise, Ohtarcë.’
‘I know, Quetondo, but I’m too afraid to think. You say I have the power to - make myself barren?’
‘For a moment, yes. When you fervently wish so. As you did a week before Yule.’
‘Oh. You mean, I would be pregnant to him?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘Thank the holy ones! But don’t you think it’s risky to tell me about it? I will have even more temptations now.’
‘And you will refuse them all. That is why I tell you about the power now instead of before. Niphredil, when you used to drink too much, you would have been dangerous, very dangerous, had you know of such a power in you.’
They all were silent and thought about this for a moment.
Then Legolas spoke:
‘Is this true? That you no longer drink, that you refuse temptations?’
‘I have drunk only water since - since a week before Yule.’
‘And as to other temptations? Forgive me, but I have to know.’
‘I only ever did those mistakes when I was drunk. Of course you must know. Legolas, it is I who should beg for forgiveness. I hurt you last spring, I really did. I broke my word to you.’
‘You broke a lot more than that. My heart. But you are forgiven. Don’t cry. Look at me. I must ask you a question. Please look at me.’ Slowly Niphredil lifted her gaze.
‘What is the relationship between you and Frodo Gardner?’
‘We have behaved in a most respectable way.’
‘That was not what I meant. Are you in love?’
‘He is. I’m not sure about myself.’
‘Not sure? How can one not be sure about love?’
‘Easily, if one is mortal.’
‘You are more than mortal, Luthien’s Shadow.’
‘Quetondo! Tell me everything or nothing, stop hinting and wrapping me in names.’
‘Very well. You have ainurin blood, Niphredil Baggins. It gives you magical abilities. When you learn them in their fullness, you are able to take any shape you wish, as long as it is female. Bird or animal, even a tree, man, elf, or hobbit, dwarf, or some other, nameless shape. But you could also become a dragon, a vampire, a wraith, and if you held the shape too long you might forget what you truly are. In a small measure you can manipulate the things around you. If you wished you might manipulate people, too, but that would be wrong. You are the most powerful user of magic in all the western parts of Middle-Earth. If you join the wars you will save many of your companions, and slay more enemies than any knight.’
‘I knew it!’ Legolas exclaimed.
‘You knew? What?’
‘That your archery skills are more than natural.’
‘I am not finished yet,’ Quetondo said, ‘The path of war is not the only one that opens before you. You could study your skills, to use them in full measure.’
‘Who would teach me?’
‘There is one, and one only. Radagast the Brown.’
‘I will consider this.’
‘Very well, I see I am in the company of a wizard. What shall you be called? Niphredil the Green?’
‘Do not mock me, Legolas!’
‘Oo, do you threaten me with your wrath?’
‘Sorry. But we are no closer to the solution of your problem. How did Frodo learn about Nár? I think it might be useful if you told me all you can about what you have done since last we parted.’
‘I went to Rohan, for a brief time. I wandered in East-Emnet, where all I met was grass, endless plains. I loved it. And I met a horseman, Eodhelm by name. He took me as far as the Field of Celebrant, and there I met another lonely traveller. An orc. The child of an orc, who was walking towards Lórien. He called himself Snaga, begged me to let him live, and told he wished to see ‘golden trees’ before he died. He had heard of them and elves with sharp arrows, he was younger than I, not nice, but not evil either. I led him near Lórien and took charge of him, vouched for him in front of the Galadhrim. As far as I know, he still lives in a mud hut within sight of the southernmost mellyrn. In Lórien I poured water into Galadriel’s Mirror, and many saw visions in it, but I saw only Valacirca. Then I walked north, as far as the Upper Pass though the mountains, and the road took me to Rivendell. It is curious, but there for the first time I truly felt I was following the footsteps of Frodo and Bilbo. But Rivendell is no longer as homely a house as it used to be. Neither Elladan nor Elrohir have taken a wife, and the lack of a female presence can be felt like a heaviness in the air. I did not stay there long. I hurried my way towards Bree, where for the first time I met hobbits other than my family. I talked to a youth in trouble, Marron, and helped him out of some of it with the simple gift of a golden coin, for he turned out to be my second cousin. I also took a letter to carry to his sweetheart, Eowyn Brandybuck, and later they were indeed able to marry. The Shire is nowadays defended against intruders, and I spent my first night there in a guardhouse. The second I slept in a room that used to be my father’s, in Brandy Hall, where I met my cousin Merry. But before summer ended I came to Hobbiton and to the Hill. To Bag End, where Sam Gamgee now lives with his Rosie and all the children. Let’s see... Elanor, Frodo and Rose are the eldest, then Merry and Pippin, Goldilocks, Daisy and Hamfast - or was it the other way round, and there is a Bilbo as well, Ruby and Robin, tiny little Tolman, and Primula - no, Primrose she is. I really should remember better, I stayed there for a good while. After Eowyn and Marron were married, I went to Bree with them to help them arrange their new home. And from there I came here.’
‘At which point Frodo left?’
‘Before the wedding, while I was busy elsewhere.’
The sun had almost set while they talked. A young woman came to the river, calling out:
‘Prince Legolas? Are you here? You’ll get a cold if you keep doing this.’
‘Elves don’t catch cold, Firiel.’ He stood up, and Niphredil did the same.
‘Niphredil, this is Firiel daughter of Ondoin. Firiel, this is the maiden I’ve told you about. Niphredil Baggins.’
‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Baggins.’
‘Er... I’m glad to meet you, too.’
‘Firiel is a student of the healers. They have a house not far from here, and I’ve been staying there now and then.’
‘And he is a real bother. We never know whether to expect him or not, and when he does come it is never at a decent hour.’
‘Now, now, ma’am. I never asked for a room, it was you that offered it.’
‘As if I would allow a prince to sleep outdoors in midwinter! And don’t you ‘ma’am’ me!’
‘As if I had not slept outdoors in a proper snowy northern winter any number of times.’
‘Well, Miss Baggins is no elf, and I’m sure she would love a warm bed and a warm supper.’
‘Indeed I would, if such are available. Legolas, you can sleep up in a tree for all I care, but I feel like my bones are frozen. Thanks for lending the cloak, though.’
‘I didn’t say that I wouldn’t come, Firiel. But you are right, I shouldn’t have let my little friend sit so long in this cold place.’
‘If we all are agreed, then let us go. The sun has set.’ And Firiel led them to a winding path.
Linguistical and historical notes:
* There are vampires in the Silmarillion. Thuringwethil is a female messenger of Sauron.
** Ariel, Arwen and Arien all mean ‘Noble Woman’ (Arien can also be taken to mean Sun-Maiden, but I think it is she who has given name to the sun, not the other way round). Tar-Laigaladhren means ‘Queen of Green Trees’.
*** This is as pure Sindarin as I can manage. Literary translation:
‘Oh, my sad lament, alas! My life!
Reflecting an unshining star
Oh, my sad lament, alas! My love!
Slain, bloodstained, alas! My love!
At the holy place, the swan’s-wing passage,
Oh, my sad lament, alas! My love!’
**** And this, my Quenya. Notice how the meanings have changed with time and one word has been misunderstood (probably because of the well-known word Calacirya, Passage of Light).
‘Oh, my sorrow, alas! My life!
Like a star that will not shine
Oh, my sorrow, alas! My beloved!
Fallen, bloody, alas! My beloved!
In the holy swan’s-wing ship,
Oh, my sorrow, alas! My beloved!’
I’m a nitpicker with languages, I know... Who thinks Sindarin is prettier than Quenya? Go read the poem again... I bet you can't even pronounce the Sindarin bit...
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.