1. Beyond the Borders
How different the music of Rivendell’s falls was from that of the Sea! The Sea had already carried his parents beyond reach, and sundered him from his brother Elros, who had chosen life on the Isle of Gift, Numenor, until that other Gift of Men had parted them forever. Elrond’s gaze strayed to the desk drawer where Vilya lay hidden. Keep it safe for a while; do not abandon it quite yet. But loosen your hold on it, so some day soon it will loose you. Gandalf had advised him on the road from Gondor to Rohan, from the marriage of Arwen and Estel to the funeral of Theoden king. So things always were with Men: marriage and burial as one generation replaced the next. And the cycle continued: If the look in his blood-daughter's and foster-son's eyes were any indication he would soon have a grandchild. He had not seen that passion since his own wife sailed West some five hundred years ago.
A knock pulled him out of his thoughts. "Minno," he called. An Elven page opened the door and ushered in one of the Dunedain carrying a thick packet of papers.
"Master Elrond," the page said, "Lord Halbeleg of the Northern Dúnedain with news from Eriador." Elrond dismissed him with a nod, and the elf bowed and backed from the room.
Halbeleg hovered in the doorway, his legs tensed as if he expected to have to run from the room any second. A beam of late afternoon sunlight fell on his breast and drew Elrond’s attention to the insignia on his surcoat: the seven stars that served as Arnor’s emblem glittered on the new garment, which did not seem to sit comfortably on his shoulders as yet. Even more telling was the ring on his right hand -- two eagles in flight, their wings wrapped around his finger -- that marked the northern steward’s line.
When he still showed no signs of entering, Elrond waved him into the study. The young man paused for a second and then hurried across the floor and dropped unceremoniously in the empty chair on the other side of the desk before Elrond could invite him to sit down. Elrond checked what he was about to say. Instead he thought, How intimidating must I look, especially to one so new to his role as ambassador? He could have expected little more than the rough life of a Ranger before the great events away south changed everything for him.
Elrond smiled at the ironic spectacle presented by the young man before him. It had been many lives of men since Gondor had rejected Isildur’s heir. Now their king had returned, Húrin's line ruled over Ithilien alone -- and necessity forced their northern kinsmen to adopt their own steward in Estel's absence.
“Mae govannen, Halbeleg Gilandilion ,” Elrond greeted him. “At last I meet the renowned Halbarad’s grandson. I first met your grandfather many years ago, when he was younger than you are now. You have his eyes.” He sighed quietly, thinking of all the changes the passing years had brought.
Apparently remembering his new role and the responsibilities it entailed, Halbeleg sat up more straightly. “My lord, I bring word from the Angle,” he said stiffly, laying his packet on the desk and pushing it toward Elrond.
Elrond, keeping his pity for the young man’s nervousness hidden, smiled and said, “First some refreshment, I think.” Rising from his seat, he crossed the room to fetch two brandy glasses from a cabinet and fill them from a decanter that stood on a sidetable. Handing one to his guest, he asked, “How go things beyond the Bruinen?” as he sat down again.
Halbeleg accepted the glass and took the small sip courtesy demanded before he continued. “We have heard that the king Elessar is to journey north around Midsummer two years from now, and our roads must offer him safe passage...”
As Halbeleg continued, Elrond glanced at the papers that supported his words. Yrch still plagued the Misty Mountains; while the Redhorn Gate remained safe most travellers still refused less guarded passes, often travelling hundreds of miles out of their way. Dwarves were on the road again, and the Prancing Pony's common room was rarely empty, but it would be some time before it would be as full as it once had been. Several months ago foul winds had blown for a time from the Barrows near the Old Forest, and farmers in those lands had often felt uneasy for no reason they could name. But even that nameless fear was easing; fresh breezes smelling faintly of the sea drove it away, and now men could walk through the ancient graves without being troubled by anything worse than old memory. Annúminas would be rebuilt, as would Amon Sûl, and the East-West road would be improved with way-stations with fresh horses.
Elrond held up his hand, motioning for Halbeleg to pause. "Let me never accuse my brother's kin of indolence!" he exclaimed. Halbeleg took another, larger sip of his brandy and smiled modestly. "After all that has happened down south,” Elrond continued, “you are certainly entitled to a little rest, but I am glad to see so much good work happening." He turned to the next report in the stack and saw that Master Butterbur had contracted with the Dwarves of Lindon; soon they would begin building a new, stronger gate for Bree. It was not the innkeeper’s responsibility, of course, but Barliman knew that he too would flourish if those around him felt secure.
When Halbeleg finished his report, he settled back into his chair to wait for some reaction. Elrond stared glumly into his glass, swirling it absent-mindedly. Finally he said, "My people will leave these shores soon. Many of us already have. And while I do not doubt that we leave Middle-earth in good hands, I would offer what service I can while I still remain." He took another sip of his brandy. "If you are rebuilding the old capital, perhaps you will let us help you? I have artisans who have honed their craft for centuries."
Halbeleg nodded. “We would welcome your assistance.” He added hesitantly, "Father did not think you would tarry long now.” He looked across at Elrond as if searching for some sign the years had left on him, but Elrond knew his face looked as hale as that of the young dúnadan before him. After a moment Halbeleg returned his gaze to where his hands lay in his lap, blushing. “And I do not find it surprising,” he continued; “I would have tired of your struggle long before now, if I may be so bold as to say so."
Elrond was not used to being the subject of such unguarded curiosity, but he found it refreshing. “You may,” he answered with a wave of his hand. "And I did tire of it, at times. But I have also had... support from many sources." He checked his gaze from drifting to where Vilya lay hidden from sight. Changing the subject, he asked, "What of your old tasks? With all of these new projects, are you still able to guard all those things your fathers long kept safe?"
"Aye," Halbeleg said. "Many require less care than before: the trolls seem content to brood in their hills, at least for the moment, and the orcs lack the direction and drive they once had."
Elrond let his eyes scan the last document in the stack once more, a letter from the Thain, Paladin Took, dated several months earlier. Saruman was dead and gone, and the last of his ruffians driven from the Shire.
"I see that those Men who served Saruman have left the Shire," he said, looking up. "What has become of them?"
Halbeleg frowned. "We are not sure. Some were killed in the Battle of Bywater, and the rangers guarding the the Bounds killed several more. Those were hard days, and the Southern men were not the only ones pierced needlessly by arrows. Those who survived were let go. We did not have the men to follow them all, and without food or shelter of their own, I believe a fair number died that winter.”He shrugged. “As for the rest, who can say? Many a Breelander probably feeds one of them in exchange for an extra pair of hands around his farm. And in Rohan, with so many dead from the wars -- even men who had done evil under Saruman might find honest work there, if they could make it so far south."
Elrond read on down. Paladin had seen fit to include other news, more personal in nature, that he thought Elrond might find interesting. Master Whitfoot would take over as mayor in a few months at Mid-summer Fair, and Frodo was, by all accounts, looking forward to his retirement. Sam was expected to marry Rose Cotton of Bywater that same day. Pippin was talking of building a school to match the one Merry was starting across the Baranduin.
"I thought all hobbits could read," Elrond said, a little surprised by this last item. "Bilbo is a fiend for tales. He is even chronicling Frodo's adventure. And the others I have met were so like him, I assumed it was the natural state of hobbits. Is this not so?"
Halbeleg thought for a moment. "I know little about hobbits, my lord. I rarely travel to their borders, and even those of us who guard the Shire do not deal much with the short folk: they keep to themselves. But I have heard that they do not encourage their children to learn even their letters. I suspect many things will be different in the Shire, with the king coming, and it does not surprise me that they desire more schools."
Elrond nodded. "In which case it is a good deed those two do. They will make worthy Master and Thain, when their time comes."
"Aye," Halbeleg agreed. "And with the younger still little more than a youth by their reckoning at that."
Little more than a youth. The words rang in Elrond's ears. Yes, it was true. Pippin would be just thirty next month. How could one so young do so much? Save stewards, slay trolls, drive out ruffians, and now teach young hobbits to read so they would not forget all that had been done on their behalf -- and all accomplished before he was old enough to vote for the next mayor or receive an inheritance! Indeed, Gandalf had spoken truly. All the wise should have a hobbit or two in their care, to teach them what it meant to be young and curious but valuable beyond measure all the same, and to correct them when they became too hidebound to see the world as it truly was.
Neatening the stack of papers on his desk, he said, "I hope you need not leave on the morrow? Would you grace Imladris with your presence for a while?"
Halbeleg nodded. “I cannot stay overlong, but I would be pleased to remain here for three or four days.”
Three days. That would give him enough time. "I hoped you might deliver something to the Shire for me," Elrond replied. "A gift for Master Pippin's birthday next month."
Halbeleg nodded. "I believe I could arrange that."
Elrond stood and led his guest from the room. Halbeleg would wish to bathe before dinner, and now Elrond now had his own task: to find a map for this new schoolhouse of Pippin's. It was time that hobbits began to learn there was more than just white space beyond the borders of the Shire.
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.