4. Chapter Four
Pengolod brought news, telling him that the council of regents set up to govern in the High King’s absence would continue to do so, maintaining the royal infrastructure until a new High King could be chosen. “He had no son, but Lord Elrond is his cousin and of the line of Fingolfin. By rights the kingship descends to him.”
Lindir was not interested in such news. He kept his place by the window, watching the city go through its cycles of mourning and recovery. Soldiers were returning from the south, weary bands wearing the High King’s blue, carrying banners that drooped in the icy air. People stopped to watch them pass but did not cheer, for though they had won a great victory, their return seemed more a funeral procession than a parade.
“Eat something, pen-neth.” Pengolod indicated the bowl of soup and bread sitting untouched on the fireside table. “You must regain your strength.”
“I am not hungry.”
“Nonsense,” sniffed the lore master. “You are too thin and tiny as it is.”
Lindir did not bother to point out that he had always been small and slight, giving the impression he was not vigorous. The argument would have fallen on unheeding ears, as Pengolod seemed determined to coddle him.
He did not touch his music or ask after his scores, even when Pengolod presented him with the folio containing Nolofinwë ar Moringotto and informed him in a soft voice that his client had decided his services were no longer required. He stared numbly at the symphony, wondering why he did not feel relief at being released from his contract.
Pengolod noticed his reaction. “Pay no heed to that old windbag of a mortal,” he said. “Most Engwar have no taste in music, I have found.”
“And is my work so tasteless, then, that only one of the Edain--?”
“Not tasteless, child,” Pengolod assured him, “but these commissions are not what you ought to be doing. This funereal piece, I am not surprised you are made so gloomy by it. Why do you not turn your hand to more cheerful work?”
Unable to muster enthusiasm even for the meal Pengolod’s servants brought in, Lindir shrugged and mumbled that he would think about it; music held no interest for him at that moment, whether it was grim or fair. The lore master left him then, in his chair by the fire with a thick blanket across his knees and a book within reach if he desired to read.
Fourteen weeks he had been in Pengolod’s house. Túrelio had visited him, and Narnion and a few others, all asking when he would return to the Otornassë Nyelloréva. He had little to say to them, even when Túrelio closed the door and asked him plainly about his vision. By now, the true tale of how the High King led a last charge against the Dark Lord and met his end in Sauron’s fiery grasp was all over the city. What Lindir had seen in the flames was not something he wished to revisit or share with others.
It was little comfort to him that his foster father was alive and even now on his way back to Imladris; the knowledge could not erase what he had seen or felt. So few times I took that flute out and held it, so few times and yet this one time among those precious few…. He wondered at the purpose and mercy of the Valar in permitting him that vision, a glimpse into the High King’s last moments that he should never have witnessed.
Nolofinwë ar Moringotto lay on the side table where Pengolod had left it. Of all the commissions he could have taken, what had possessed him to accept something so grim, so contrary to his own nature? In its last stages, he had dreaded opening it, setting himself to the task, but he never hated it. It was not in him to hate a piece of music; hate was too powerful an emotion, particularly for something he loved in all its forms. But now, as he looked on the score on the table, he felt loathing overcome him. The force of it made him tremble where he sat. His fingers twitched on the arm rests, curling around the carved wood in their hunger to rend something.
Flinging the blanket off his lap, he burst from the chair, seized the score and thrust it into the grate. He found himself on his knees on the hard tiles, his hands close enough to the flames to sting as he frantically wadded one sheet after another and shoved each under the burning logs. Smoke billowed out toward him, for too much fuel with only a small outlet left no place else for it burn except into his face.
When hands seized him from behind and pulled him away, he did not feel them, did not struggle. In a heartbeat he was lying on his back and someone was stepping over him to smother the fire. He heard the sound of crisped papers being pulled from the grate, then a face was in his and hands were pulling him upright by the shoulder.
“What are you doing?” demanded Pengolod. In one fist was a sheaf of half-charred parchment. “Have you gone mad? Why are you burning this?”
Lindir’s eyes stung and his throat burned. He coughed as he came back to himself and remembered the loathing he felt for the score. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “I-I don’t want to see it again.”
Pengolod released him long enough to gather what remained of the symphony into a messy heap on the tiles. “Listen to me now, child. You may not care for this work now, but a day will come when you will regret destroying it. I will put it away for you and you may reclaim it when you are of a mind to look reasonably upon it.”
The lore master helped him sit up and brought him water to ease his cough, as well as a damp cloth with which to wipe his eyes. Lindir cleaned his face, pressing the cloth to his eyes until the sting subsided. He did not watch Pengolod take the remnants of his work and lock it away again, but heard a cabinet door opening and closing, and a key turning in a lock. “The flute,” he said, gasping. His throat burned around the words.
“What did you say?”
“Take the flute as well.” He did not need to explain which flute he meant, for between them only one instrument existed. Rarely had he looked upon it in the seventeen hundred years since Gil-galad gave it to him, keeping it locked away as the treasure it was, yet now it was a jewel whose light had dimmed. The soul had left the wood; there was nothing left for him to treasure.
* * *
“A letter has come for you, pen-neth.” Pengolod laid the packet on the table beside Lindir, while busying himself with his own correspondence. It had become something of a ritual for the lore master to read letters aloud to the younger Elf, sharing news of the city and beyond. Such things did not truly interest Lindir, for whom the world was now bounded by the confines of Pengolod’s house, but the custom gave some semblance of routine to days that otherwise had none.
The wax seal was blue, embossed with the Star of Eärendil that stamped all messages coming out of Imladris. Lindir stared at the letter with his hands folded in his lap, making no move to break the seal until Pengolod threatened to open it himself.
Within the thick packet was a single slip of paper. Lindir slowly unfolded it as Pengolod explained that when the council of regents sent word to Elrond, the lore master had also slipped in a personal message for Erestor to give to Glorfindel. As always, Glorfindel did not belabor his words. His reply was terse, no more than two sentences. “Word comes to me of your unhappy state. Come home, yondo.”
Elrond also sent word to Lindon, informing the council of regents that he had no intention of becoming the next High King. “He has gone so far as to drop the title of lord,” said Pengolod. “When you see him again, you will simply address him as Master Elrond.”
But Lindir did not know yet if he would return to Imladris. Círdan had returned from Dagorlad some weeks prior, and the business of Mithlond resumed with a greater fervor than before; there were not enough ships to bear away those who wished to depart, and some were made to wait while the Teleri labored day and night in the dry docks.
Slowly, Lindon was beginning to empty. In the corridors outside his chamber, Lindir heard the servants whispering among themselves that an Age had passed, that the summer of their existence had turned overnight to autumn. At the dark of winter, before Elrond ever made his answer, some of Lindir’s colleagues had come to the house to see him. They told him they cared not who the next High King was, or if one was chosen at all; once spring came, they meant to seek the Havens, for they were weary of the strife and sorrow that was ever the lot of those dwelling in Middle-earth.
They had come to ask if he wished to join them. Of course, they did not say this outright, for the leave-taking to Aman had always carried with it a certain somber air, not unlike that one felt at a mortal funeral, but Lindir knew their purpose in their eyes. He read it in their low voices and in the way Narnion took his hand, chafing it slightly as if to rub warmth into it. “There is only shadow here,” said his friend, “and regret. Perhaps I felt it before, giving it no heed, but now it haunts me and gives me no respite.”
Lindir had no answer to give them, yet was left with a wondering heart. He could not see himself returning to the Otornassë Nyelloréva to take up his work as he had done before; that life felt so distant now it might as well have belonged to another. Music was dead for him now; he felt no desire to create, and to the burgeoning spring that had come to Lindon his senses were numb.
And yet, he could not stay indefinitely in Pengolod’s house. His host did not broach the subject, nor did he give any hint that he was impatient for Lindir to leave, but the question lingered nonetheless. At some point he must go, find his own lodgings and fend for himself, if not because Pengolod compelled him to leave than because he knew it to be necessary. He simply knew not where he would go or what he would do, only that he did not think he could take on anymore students or commissions.
“This is not the first time such a heaviness of soul has come to us,” Pengolod was saying. “I remember the dark days of another Age, when one safe haven after another was taken from us and there was no reprieve from the West.”
“They are saying it is the passing of an Age.”
Pengolod nodded. “That may well be. It is not the first time a High King has fallen, but Gil-galad ruled for over three millennia. Among those who remain in Middle-earth, there are few who remember any other High King. For all others life has been unchanging and calm. Now they suddenly find themselves uprooted, reminded that chaos can still touch them. Mortals are better suited to bear such upheaval. Much grief and hopelessness I have seen among them, as you have, yet I have observed that it is ever their way to rebuild and strengthen themselves anew.”
Lindir knew that difference, had known it from childhood. Among other survivors of Ost-in-Edhil he had built a new life at Imladris. He had not dwelt much on the hardship and grief of his refugee state, for even as he lost his parents to yrch arrows he had found himself almost at once in the sheltering arms of the one who would become his foster father, and his youth afforded him a certain resilience that permitted such far-off, unhappy things to fade into the fog of memory.
It was simple enough for a child to bury his face in the embrace of a caring adult and let another soothe away the pains and savage sorrows of the world, yet something else to be an adult and face an unthinkable blow and an uncertain future. And yet, he understood Pengolod’s observation as well as any Elf might, having seen in his own students, even in the very young, that forward gaze that was the trademark of mortal beings.
“But it is ever in their nature to plan for the future, to look ahead of themselves at all possibilities, even to dream,” he murmured. He did not add that Elves did not do such things, nor repeat what others were saying, that there was such uncertainty now because the High King apparently had never thought to wed or produce an heir.
There was little Pengolod could say to this, and so he made no answer. “Many are already leaving Lindon, but not all are going to Aman,” he commented. “Some go east to Imladris, others to Greenwood or Lórinand. The Edain have established a strong presence in the region, so they will stay, I think.” He paused a moment to sip his wine. “But you, I know the question has weighed heavily on your mind. What will you do?”
Lindir folded his hands in his lap and stared at the interlocked fingers. “I know not what I will do. Others are going to the Havens, and I wonder if I should not depart with them.”
“Your father desires you to return home. Still, you are long past the age when you must abide by his wishes, and if it is not your desire to return to Imladris then you cannot be made to go perforce,” answered Pengolod. “But what does your heart tell you, pen-neth?”
“I know not what my heart desires. There is only numbness where feeling should be.”
Pengolod offered him another glass of wine, mulled with spices over the fire to give warmth, for even in the spring the nights were chill. “The numbness will pass,” he said, “and there is time yet to decide.”
* * *
On a warm, clear day at the beginning of summer, Lindir rode out with Narnion and the other Elves who were going to Mithlond. Only a short distance separated Lindon from the Havens, and the journey should have taken but a few hours, but those who were departing set a leisurely pace, savoring the landscape through which they were passing for the final time.
Not wanting to disrupt the meditative silence of his companions, Lindir said nothing on the journey. In the last few days, Narnion and the others had become increasingly distant, answering his brief questions with few words, until finally he gave up speaking to them altogether. Pengolod told him that this behavior was commonplace among those seeking the West, withdrawing from the world even as they prepared to leave it.
“You have never seen anyone depart, have you?” asked the lore master.
Lindir evaded the question, for in truth he had not. “I had thought it to be a time of celebration. There are songs sung about the promise of the West and they are full of joy. I do not understand this sudden turn, this sorrow.”
Pengolod gave him a long, steady look. “Have you ever known parting to be joyful? Perhaps on the other side, on the shores of Aman, there is happiness, but I have never known it here.”
If Lindir had cherished any promise of joy in the departure of his companions, the edifice rising to greet him quenched it. The gates of the Havens were twin arches of pearl-gray stone, their Telerin motifs mottled by the leavings of gulls and the lashing of wind and water. They were not imposing, yet framed the entrance to Mithlond in such a way that those passing through them felt constrained to lower their voices and listen for the call of the gulls beyond.
Lindir had often heard that no one went to the Havens who did not have business there, and that those whose loved ones left for the West said their farewells before the journey to Mithlond began, for they knew how much sorrow was inscribed among those gray stones.
Telerin grooms met them in the courtyard just beyond the gates, and a pair of ushers waited at the head of the path beyond to escort them to the ship. They bowed deeply, and in the smoothness of their movements and words Lindir sensed the long practice of ritual.
The Teleri ushered them through a pair of narrow courtyards and down a gently sloping stone ramp that led to the docks. The smell of the sea was very strong here, redolent with salt and sand. Though he had been to the water’s edge many times before, Lindir now felt the sea actively pulling at him, stirring his blood with the memory of places he had never seen. His companions felt it also; he saw them clasp hands in their mingled excitement and apprehension.
Around a corner, the walls of the Havens fell away toward the green-gray sea. A breeze stirred the waters of the Gulf of Lhûn, and the waves lapped gently at the wooden piers where the Teleri had paused in their daily tasks to watch the procession slowly move toward the edge of the water and the white ship that waited at anchor.
A silver-haired Elf, set slightly apart from the Telerin dockhands, stood nearest the gangplank. The robes he wore were of dark, rough homespun and his hands were weathered by centuries of toiling in wind and wave; he wore no jewels, but Lindir did not have to be told that this was Círdan the Shipwright. He had a calm, quiet air about him that drew the Elves to him as they approached the white ship, and to each passenger he gave a few words and a kiss of parting upon the cheek. Lindir did not hear what he said, nor did he think such words were meant for those who were staying behind.
He saw Narnion bow his head to Círdan and board the ship. Narnion did not look back, yet a few others did, with their gazes urging Lindir to join them. His heart leapt toward them, torn between his desire for release and the uncertainty of staying behind. Tears began in his eyes and he shivered slightly in the sea breeze, knowing why so many did not choose to say their farewells at the Havens.
At last, the Shipwright turned his head and looked directly at the one Elf who had not boarded, who hung back at the lip of the path. He lifted his hand and gestured for Lindir to approach.
“Why do you come here and brave such sorrow when others stay away, nello?” he asked. “You are not one for the ships, not this day.”
Not this day. For a moment, frozen under Círdan’s appraising eyes, Lindir could not frame a proper reply. Círdan’s foresight was renowned, and though the words were gently spoken, the thought of it was intimidating. “I came to see my friends safely into the West…and I-I wanted to see the ship for myself. I wanted to know.”
Círdan returned his words with a gentle smile. “And it will be here still, when you are ready to return.”
* * *
Engwar: (Quenya) the Sickly Ones. Pengolod intends it as an insult.
yondo: (Quenya) son
nello: (Telerin): singer
There is nothing in Tolkien to indicate any sort of formal ritual took place with the departure of Elves from the Grey Havens, but it seems quite natural and in keeping with Círdan’s character to have addressed a few words of reassurance or farewell to those who were going to Aman.
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