4. Four Rings 4
With every passing day, Elrohir forgot. Little by little, so subtly he almost failed to realise it, memories of his old life in Imladris had started to fade. They were being replaced by memories from his new life. The shift in time was correcting itself. It was almost as if the previous history, the entire known history of the Eldar, had never existed. Elrohir had wiped it from recollection.
For many nights he had stayed up in his bedroom well after everyone else had gone to sleep, writing out page after page of everything he could remember from the old reality. He had already forgotten some of the details. There were holes here and there where the path of events eluded him. But as much as he could remember, he wrote, in the Sindarin language that had already become difficult, and the Tengwar that had already started to look strange to his new eyes. He took special care to write perfectly what had happened to Eldon, and what he had done in the past at Cuiviénen to change the present.
After seventeen nights of writing, the manuscript was finished, and Elrohir was ready to return to Fainaur in Goldarost and continue his apprenticeship. He left the papers in his bedroom, carefully hidden beneath layers of blankets and clothing at the bottom of a wooden chest.
Goldarost lay a considerable distance from Elgarth, and was vastly different from the tree-lined avenues and canopy walkways that surrounded Menegroth. Goldarost was a Noldorin city. It had been built around a rocky hill near a stone quarry, and boasted towers and spires that reached halfway to the clouds. The peaks were visible from miles away. In direct opposition to the Telerin fondness for underground dwellings, the Noldor liked to outdo themselves with taller and taller structures. All of it was made of stone.
Fainaur's stone house, with a relatively small tower, was situated toward the centre of the city. Elrohir followed the winding path up the hill, passing courtyards and gardens, markets and fountains. He crossed through the city square. Perfect stone likenesses of the kings of Doreldin, larger than life, stood here in a semicircle around a shallow pool. On the far left, Kûan, the first king, dressed in primitive furs. The plaque at his feet read, "Killed in battle by an arrow to the heart." To his right, his son, Nôwê, "Died of wounds inflicted by the balraug he slew." Nôwê had no children, so the crown had passed to his cousin, Elu, "Captured by enemy fiends and beheaded." On the far right of the semicircle stood Dior, hands lifted in a benign and welcoming pose. He had taken the crown in place of his mother, and his reign had so far lasted longer than the three previous kings combined. Dior was no warrior. He had not yet faced his chance to be killed.
Fainaur's house stood within sight of the square, and Fainaur must have been waiting for him, because the door swung open almost as soon as Elrohir knocked. Fainaur nodded, his standard, perfunctory greeting. "Welcome back." He took Elrohir's cloak and pack.
"Thank you," said Elrohir. As he stepped into the house, he was greeted by the familiar, mingling smells of hot iron, charred wood, and burnt leather, which had grown oddly pleasing to him.
"I suppose your days at home were enjoyable. How is your family?" Fainaur's words came out of expected courtesy only, and they sounded so.
"All well," Elrohir answered. "Though unfortunately, my brother is still out on the Fence. I had no chance to see him."
"Hm," said Fainaur. "When is he due home?"
"In two years."
"You may take another leave when he next returns to Elgarth."
Elrohir nodded gratefully. "Thank you."
With the standard conversation quickly concluded, Fainor sat down at the table at the far end of the room and grabbed a slice of bread from an open basket. He motioned for Elrohir to do the same. "Well," he started, "now that you are back, I can start with a few more projects I have been waiting to do. I could use an extra pair of hands. I was thinking... you have shown yourself too advanced for the simple tasks I've so far given you. We could leave the functional blades for now and move on to finer, more decorative items."
Elrohir had, in his old life, received some training in the forge. The techniques he had learned were with him still. Techniques which, though considered standard and simple in Third Age Imladris, had not yet been discovered in the new history. Fainaur never said anything, but Elrohir could tell that he was impressed by these seemingly natural and intuitive talents. He would also never admit that he learned from Elrohir even as Elrohir learned from him.
The project Fainaur had in mind was to make a new kind of metal, which he referred to in conversation as "istildin", that would brilliantly reflect starlight but remain otherwise unnoticeable. He had been working at it, bit by bit, for the past twenty or more years, and was no closer to creating his desired end than the day he started. He showed Elrohir his progress: a collection of failed samples. None was close to what he desired. Each was dismissed as too dark, too brittle, or too soft, and none had the needed reflective properties.
Elrohir studied the pieces on the table in Fainaur's workshop. He picked one up in his hand, turned it over, and examined the composition. Fainaur watched him with a curiously smug smile, at once certain that he would be unable to offer any advice but still hopeful of any suggestion. "What have you been using as the base for these?" Elrohir asked. "Silver?"
Elrohir turned the piece of metal over again. "Any mithril?"
"It's paler than silver, and has a finer sheen to it... I would guess it would do well for what you're attempting."
Fainaur stepped closer. "Never heard of it."
For a moment, Elrohir was stunned. He looked up at Fainaur in surprise, trying to imagine how the finest of Elven smiths could not know of mithril.
"Where did you learn of such a thing?" Fainaur asked.
"Learn of it?" Elrohir asked. "I don't know, I suppose I just..." He stopped, trying to think of exactly when and where he had first heard of mithril. To his confusion, he could not. Now that he thought on it, he could not recall anyone ever mentioning such a thing, or showing him. "I do not know," he said again, slowly. "It must have been... must have been something Eöl said to me once.."
Fainaur scowled. "Eöl. Of course. He would have a thing like that..."
Eöl, Elrohir suddenly remembered, was Fainaur's constant rival, and the chief factor behind the concept of istildin. It had been the unveiling of Eöl's spectacular black galvorn that had prompted Fainaur to attempt his own signature alloy. Eöl's success had been a thorn in Fainaur's side ever since.
"Sorry," said Elrohir.
"It is hardly important," Fainaur muttered. He gathered the samples from the table and stowed them back in his chest of failed experiments. The chest, Elrohir noticed, was near overflowing.
"So..." Elrohir dared to venture, "what else can we do?"
"The usual," grunted Fainaur. "Stoke the fires. I have blades commissioned."
Elrohir did as he was told, and said nothing further. There was never any use in talking when Fainaur was in a foul mood.
~ ~ ~ ~
In Fainaur's house, hours flew by quickly, but seasons dragged on. Two years took a long time to pass. Day after day, it was only ever the two of them at the table for breakfast, at the forge all day, and at the table for supper. Fainaur's wife had left him long ago to live with her sister. His sons had grown and gone. Maglaur had married a woman in Elgarth, and his visits home were few and far between. Maidros guarded the Fence. He had not been seen in Goldarost in over seventy years. Curfinu, who lived in the city, was the only one who came round frequently enough to be called a regular visitor.
It was through a curious friendship of Curfinu's that Eöl's son, Maiglin, could be found at Fainaur's table on the eve of Elrohir's departure back to Goldarost. Unlike their fathers, Curfinu and Maiglin had recognised that their interests could be served better through collaboration than suspicious secrecy. They worked often together. Fainaur was, therefore, slow to speak of his work to Curfinu, lest Maiglin somehow discover his secrets and report back to Eöl. Sometimes even Elrohir was left uncertain of the true purpose of their projects. Fainaur trusted Elrohir, but only in his guarded, distant way; Elrohir was, after all, Maiglin's great-grandson. He had closer ties to that branch of the family.
Still, Elrohir felt less comfortable with Maiglin than with Fainaur. For deep reasons he could not quite place, he never found Maiglin to be completely trustworthy. He seemed the sort to keep secrets, and not only the trade secrets that went with life as a smith. It was as if he were concealing a darker part of himself, while Fainaur, for all his gruff arrogance, was at least honest. Fainaur was never the kind of man to say one thing and mean another. If Elrohir made a mistake in his work, Fainaur never hesitated to correct him. He seemed to genuinely want Elrohir to achieve the greatest possible result. But the few days he had trained with Curfinu, Maiglin had watched and stayed silent while Elrohir chose the wrong tools, deliberately allowing him to fail in order to arrange an unfair comparison in their finished products. Maiglin was not above cheating to get what he wanted.
So, when he had packed his things for the journey back to Elgarth, Elrohir spent as little time as politely possible saying his farewells. He was more interested in home, and especially in seeing Eldon again, than arguing over alloys with Maiglin and Fainaur. He clasped Fainaur's hand, and nodded to Maiglin and Curfinu.
"I will look forward to your return," said Fainaur, and Elrohir knew he meant it. He knew Fainaur had come to think of him not only as a student but also as a sort of substitute for family. Apart from Curfinu, occasionally, there was no-one else.
Elrohir forced the pang of sadness that always came with these kinds of thoughts to the back of his mind. He had grown to care about Fainaur. But at the moment, he cared about Eldon more. "I will be back soon enough," he said.
"Please give my regards to my father, if you should see him," said Maiglin.
"I will," Elrohir answered. "Though as he never comes to Menegroth any more, it is unlikely our paths will cross." His voice sounded stiffer, and colder, than he would have liked.
Maiglin gave him a usual, guarded half-smile. Before anything further could be said, Elrohir turned, and was out the door. He let his irritation with Maiglin, however unfounded, hasten his steps, until he was almost running by the time he reached the Square of the Kings. Dior's stone face smiled down at him as he hurried past. He broke into a true run.
A single thought occupied his mind as he walked the long road from Goldarost to Elgarth; Eldon would already be home. The last letter Eldon had sent had been written just before his second-last shift at the lookout. When the letter reached Goldarost, Eldon would have been over halfway home. Now he would be home for certain, and would be sitting by the fire with the family telling grand tales of his near-death adventures on the Fence. Elrohir smiled. He would walk without resting if he had to, to quicken his journey.
~ ~ ~ ~
He could tell, somehow, that something was wrong even before he opened the door. The room beyond was too quiet. There was no crackling fire, and no laughter. Only the quiet hum of murmured words filtered through the wood. Elrohir's hand shook as he pushed at the handle. The door swung open.
The first thing he saw was the back of a dark-haired man in a green cape. Eldon, he thought, then, No, not Eldon. The man was too tall. Beleg. To Beleg's left, standing in profile so that Elrohir could see his face, was Haldir. At the creak of the door, both turned to look at him, sombre and unsmiling. No-one spoke.
In the corner, Celbrían wept, or Elrohir guessed she did. Her face was covered by her hands. Elroth stood behind her, with Arwen, and both wore ashen looks of shock. Elrohir needed only look at them to know why Beleg and Haldir were there. A sickness began to churn in his stomach.
"You should sit down, Eldimir," said Haldir
"Why?" whispered Elrohir. "So you can tell me my brother is dead?" He looked from Haldir to Beleg, who exchanged a quick glance. "That is why you have come, is it not?"
"We know nothing for certain-" Beleg started, though a sharp hiss from Haldir cut his words short.
Celbrían let out a long sob. Elroth gripped her shoulders fiercely.
"He was not killed," said Haldir. "Captured."
The word hit Elrohir like a blow to the chest. Captured was worse than killed. Killed, at least, usually meant an immediate death by an arrow to the heart or head. "Did you at least-" he began.
Haldir shook his head. "It is too late, Eldimir. He will be dead by now. There's no hope."
"You do not know that!" Elrohir shouted.
"I know, and you do as well, what they will do to him. What I am sure they have already done."
"Haldir..." said Beleg. He had his hand over his mouth and had looked to Celbrían, who stared back with red, wet eyes.
"What will they do?" she asked quietly.
"My Lady..." Beleg said.
"What will they do to my son?!"
Haldir tensed. He looked at the floor while mumbling his answer. "They want to... they want to learn the secret to Elven immortality. If he is still alive after they drain most of his blood..." He coughed, and took a breath, as if thinking how best to phrase his answer. "We have found bodies of their prisoners. All... hands cut off, or whole limbs missing... skin pulled away... Their mouths and eyes were burned or stitched shut."
Celbrían's wail echoed from the walls. Elroth knelt down beside her, crushing her in a protective and possessive embrace. Beleg, now as pale and sick-looking as Elroth, cupped his head in his hand and leaned against the wall.
Elrohir could hear no more of it. He left his family, slamming the door shut behind him, and ran to his own bedroom. Eldon was dead, or as good as dead. It was Elrohir's fault. That thought caught him off-guard, but he knew somehow that it was true. How is it my fault? he asked himself, but there was no certain answer. It simply was. He was the one responsible for this horrible end.
Without thinking, he grabbed the nearest object, a candlestick, and flung it across the room. The metal bent, but did not break. He grabbed the earthenware wash bowl from his table. It shattered perfectly, sending a rain of shards onto the stone floor. Its matching cup followed. All through the room, Elrohir's rage drove him to take everything he could reach and destroy it in whatever way he could manage. He overturned chairs and tables, smashing their delicate legs. He pulled out old clothes still left in his wardrobe, tearing off sleeves and ripping any seams that would give. He found a bundle of papers folded up at the back. He was about to shred them as well, when a strange thing caught his eye.
The papers were written with words he could not read.
He knew that he had written them, and remembered doing so. It had been two years earlier. But now that he saw his work, he had no recollection of what he had written, or why it was in this foreign alphabet. The letters were a series of long, flowing swoops and curves, accented with dots and curls. It looked, he mused, like something Fainaur had been working on that had made its way into his chest of failed and abandoned projects. Was it something Fainaur had taught him that he had already forgotten? It was possible. His memory had been so patchy at times these past few years that he often wondered if he was entirely sane.
But Fainaur's name in association with these papers seemed right. So did Eldon's. Written on the papers was something about Eldon: something Elrohir needed to know. He could remember that much. It was important. A spark of hope flickered in his mind, along with an unsatisfied itch of a forgotten quest. It was unreasonable hope, but there all the same. He needed to find out what it meant, and find out what he had forgotten.
~ ~ ~ ~
Celbrían made no objection to his early departure back to Fainaur. She could scarcely look at him when he went to say goodbye. He looked too much like Eldon.
Elroth, though, begged him to stay. He could not bear the though of losing one son forever and the other for two more years. Elrohir was all that remained to remind him of Eldon.
Arwen, like her mother, remained silent. She had withdrawn to her bedroom to grieve in privacy, but still, like her father, wished that Elrohir would stay. She would need him when the void left by Eldon's death became too unbearable.
But Elrohir's mind was set. He had the papers safely packed with his things. The sooner he took them to Fainaur, the sooner he would know what he had to do. For Eldon's sake, it could not wait. He left as soon as he said his farewells, and returned to Goldarost as quickly as he could manage. Dior's stone smile seemed forced this time as he passed.
By luck, Fainaur was not working when Elrohir came to the house, but sitting at the table with a book and a bowl of plums. He glanced up with a look of confusion, which quickly turned to a look of worry.
"Eldimir... what is wrong?"
Elrohir already had the manuscript in his hands. He sat down heavily in the chair across from Fainaur, and as he did, he started to shake. "My brother..." he said. "My brother..."
With only those words, Fainaur seemed to understand. He sat back in his chair, watching Elrohir carefully, and waited for him to continue.
"He is dead," said Elrohir. "My father said... Beleg told him... the enemy, a small band of them, attacked and scaled the Fence with ropes. Their aim was to take captives. They took four, and Eldon was one of them... He will be dead by now." A sudden tear fell from his cheek and landed on the paper in his hands.
"I am sorry," Fainaur said quietly.
Elrohir nodded, sniffing and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "This is my fault."
"How could it be your fault?"
"I do not know. It just..." Eldon was dead, when he had the power to prevent it. It was his fault. The guilt and sadness threatened to overwhelm him, with every emotion he had ever refused to feel striking mercilessly at his weakened defence, and the weight was unbearable. Piece by piece, as Fainaur watched, his composure snapped. He leaned over the table, rested his head on his arms, and broke down in sobs.
"You cannot think it is your fault at all..."
Elrohir felt Fainaur's uncertain hand come to rest on his elbow. Wordlessly, he shoved the bundle of papers across the table.
"What is this?" Fainaur asked.
"I am not sure," said Elrohir. He raised his head only enough to look at Fainaur through wet eyelashes. "I found it in my wardrobe. I remember writing it, but... I cannot read it."
Carefully, Fainaur studied the pages. He turned from one to the next, then back, occasionally stopping to run his fingers over the words. "Where did you learn to write like this?" he asked.
"I do not know," Elrohir answered. "I have no memory of ever knowing that script. But I thought... I think I remember seeing something like that here, once."
"I did not think I ever showed it to you," Fainaur murmured. "I recognise many of these letters, but..." His voice trailed off into silence, and he flipped through the pages again.
"Can you read it?"
Fainaur shook his head. "No."
Elrohir's heart sank. If Fainaur could not read it, there was little hope of anyone else ever deciphering the code.
"What I mean is, while I know- I think I know- what most of the letters are, they do not make any words that I can read." He paused to tap the paper for a moment, then stood up. "I will be right back."
He left Elrohir then, and returned a few minutes later with a handful of his own papers, which he spread out across the table between them. These papers were covered with the same kinds of letters used in Elrohir's manuscript. Some of them were crossed out and redrawn, and some were arranged into what must have been words. "Have I shown you this before?" Fainaur asked.
"It looks familiar," Elrohir said, which it did. Only he could not say whether it looked familiar because he had seen these exact pages before or because he had seen the letters in his own writing.
"I have been working on this for so long I am beginning to think it will never be finished. It is a new alphabet, and one that I think will make structurally more sense than what we use now... once I have finished with it. The placement of the strokes and curves follow a specific pattern. And what I have listed on this latest sheet-" he moved one of the papers so it lay directly in front of Elrohir- "matches almost exactly the letters you have used. I must have shown you this before... though I do not remember..."
"You must have," Elrohir agreed. How else could he have learned Fainor's script? "But you still cannot read the words?"
Fainaur looked at Elrohir's pages again, and sighed. "No. Do you mind if I keep this a while? Study it? It could be that the letters are simply arranged in a new way, or they do not exactly match what I have here. This could be T while this is F, you see, where I have them reversed..."
"You may keep it," said Elrohir. "I only want to know what it says." He lay his head down on the table again. Fainor could not read what he had written. Hope was dwindling.
He could hear Fainaur carefully set the papers down onto the table. "I'm sorry," Fainaur said softly. "I forgot... your... I was carried away by this stupid project. You probably have no interest in listening to me ramble about writing reform at a time like this."
"I do not mind," Elrohir sighed.
"No, it was careless of me. You need quiet and time to rest now, not this old obsession."
Numbly, Elrohir stood. Fainaur was right. He felt weak from exhaustion, as if he would never have the strength to pull himself from this grave of sorrow, deep as it was. He had slept only a few broken hours since Beleg and Haldir had brought the news. He doubted he could sleep now, but he could try.
"Let me know if you need anything," Fainaur said. "Food or tea..."
"Thank you," said Elrohir. He picked up his pack, and headed up the stairs to his bedroom.
~ ~ ~ ~
By the time Elrohir came back down, much later, Fainaur still sat at the table with the pages of strange writing. He appeared to have made some progress. The pages Elrohir had brought were covered in little marks, most scratched out, as Fainaur tried and retried his attempts at deciphering.
"Did you sleep at all?" Fainaur asked.
"No," said Elrohir. It had been impossible to sleep while his mind kept drifting to the very places he was trying to escape. "Did you learn anything of the papers?"
Fainaur grinned, though it flickered, as if nagged by the guilt of enjoying himself despite Elrohir's position. "Some," he said, and he beckoned Elrohir to sit. "I was going about it all wrong, thinking of it more in terms of a code to be broken, where this letter matches with that, and so on. When, in fact, what we have..." He paused to reach for a paper that was covered in his notes of translation. "It is an entirely different language," he continued. "Similar to ours, but still far enough removed to give me some trouble. This word, for example, here... Lúmia? I can only guess. It appears to contain the root for 'time', but otherwise... Is it a name?"
"Lúmya," Elrohir whispered. It sounded familiar, like something from a story he had heard long ago. "The Ring of Time..."
"Yes," said Fainaur. "That phrase appears too. Maybe you should read this."
He passed the first few pages to Elrohir, which now had scratches of small but readable runes in lines between each line of foreign letters. Elrohir read the first simple line:
Elladan was killed by orcs as they journeyed to enter the valley of Imladris in late spring of the year 542 in the Third Age.
An old memory began to rise to the surface of his thoughts. It was mid-afternoon. They rode through the trees.
"How much could you translate?" he asked Fainaur.
"Only those three pages so far. But now that I know how to proceed, it should go somewhat more easily."
Elrohir scanned what Fainaur had already done, and glanced to the pile of unfinished papers. So many remained left to do. "Can I help?"
Fainaur looked at him hesitantly. "Are you... are you certain you feel up to the task? It is tiring work, having to guess and fit so many letters into words we can read."
"Yes," said Elrohir. He sat down at the table. "Tell me what to do." This was what he needed: not rest, and not solitude, but something to occupy his mind and keep his thoughts away from Eldon. The translation effort was ideal. Not only would it require his full concentration, but he would also be working toward a goal he needed to reach.
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.