1. Ancient History
The early evening sunshine streamed golden through the tall windows of the great library of Imladris. It bathed the ancient texts in soft yellow light, brightening the autumnal hues of the time-faded book-bindings.
Celeborn sighed deeply and shifted position so that the light did not fall so brightly on the pages of his book. At the far end of the long gallery behind him he could hear the occasional creak and swish of pages being turned and the rapid scratching of a pen, the noise vaguely irritating to his sharp hearing. The very air in the room was heavy with ancient knowledge, but today the past offered no refuge, no relief for the ache of loneliness that filled his heart.
The book that lay open on his knee could not hold his interest or distract him from his melancholy mood. He knew the story too well. He knew all the stories too well - and each brought memories too painful to bear. The fall of Doriath, the land of Eregion laid to ruin years ago. Now Lothlorien was almost abandoned, and soon a time would come when its trees would stand bare and cold beneath the stars.
The entire library spoke to him of countless betrayals and endless loss, of the slow but relentless decline of the world he had known. He wondered: Had his beloved Celebrian sat in this room seeking the strength to remain, throughout that long year in which she was bowed by sorrow, fear and pain? She had lost that struggle and had gone in search of peace.
‘Fighting the long defeat’ Galadriel had once called it. And though it had ended with a victory, it had now ended. For the story and songs to which he belonged had passed, and Celeborn felt as though he was trapped in some kind of epilogue.
Celeborn’s silver eyebrows shot up in surprise at the un-elflike exclamation that shattered the peace of the library. Rising from his high-backed chair, he turned to see the hobbit Meriadoc struggling to support a book almost as big as he was. He was standing bare-footed on the top of a small stepladder and appeared to have realised somewhat too late that trying to take down the massive tome would throw him off balance.
“Master Meriadoc, might I be of some assistance?”
“Lord Celeborn.” The hobbit actually managed a respectful little bow, even as he continued holding the book above his head, just one corner of it still supported by the shelves. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t noticed you there. I did not mean to disturb you or the peace of the library. If you could rescue me from being crushed by this book I’d be grateful. Oh and please, call me Merry.”
By the time Merry had finished speaking, Celeborn had crossed the space between them. He lifted the massive book from small, gladly yielding hands and opened it to read the yellowing title page. “The Narn I Hin Hurin?” This is no light reading little one.”
Merry frowned and a look of intense irritation flickered over his face. Celeborn thought he noticed the hobbit’s jaw tighten as he politely asked for the book to be laid down on the corner of a large table covered in notes.
Merry scrambled onto the chair, which was supplied with four cushions, apparently so that he could reach the table. He pushed several stacks of paper out of the way to create a space to open the book.
There were notes in neatly scribed elvish and barely readable scribbles in Westron. Lying amidst the chaos of writings were sketches of plants and a number of highly accomplished drawings of leaf details.
“May I?” asked Celeborn, indicating one of the neater piles of notes. The hobbit made a gesture of acquiescence and the elf-lord pulled a chair over to the desk.
As he leafed through the pages he was astonished at the work in front of him. The hobbit appeared to be cross-referencing every book in the library. Elrond would have been amused at the inconsistencies his library appeared to have thrown up. Amid great lists of names and dates, items were circled with notes reading ‘contradicts accounts of Earendil’ or ‘clue to whereabouts of blue istari?’
“My apologies Master Meriadoc. This is scholarly work. I hope I did not offend you by suggesting that you were in search of light reading.”
Merry blushed a deep red. “N-no offence taken,” he stammered.
The elf-lord shook his head. “Nay. It was a mistake both my fellows and I have often made in dealing with you and your kind. You must understand, you are both small and – to an elf as old as I am - very young, but that is no reason to treat you as children. We do not treat King Elessar as a child after all - well, not often anyway. I am truly sorry.”
Merry shook his head and chuckled. “Apology accepted then. Although as a thoroughly middle-aged Hobbit, with a great many responsibilities, it’s rather pleasant to know someone can still mistake me for a child. The cooks here still seem to think I’m a growing Hobbit-lad too, and I’ve no complaints about that.”
Celeborn looked closely at Merry and for the first time observed the changes in him from the determined youngster he had seen alongside the ringbearer more than 20 years ago. They seemed to age even faster than men, these little mortals, though the odd line around the hobbit’s eyes spoke mainly of laughter. How strange to live such a little while. How urgent everything must seem.
“I’m not too certain about ‘scholarly’ either,” Merry went on, cheerfully ignoring the age-old tradition of whispering in the library, since there was no-one else present. “I just can’t seem to work out the order of events in the rebellion of the Noldor and there are uses recorded for plants I’ve never heard of, let alone seen.”
“Are you working on history or herblore?” Celeborn asked, wondering at the sudden leap from one subject to the other.
“Oh, both. I mean, I’m trying to compile a detailed study of the plants of The Shire, but that’s mainly what I work on back in Buckland – only there are so many books on healing here it’s rather easy to get distracted. What I meant to visit the library for was to put together a simple history of, well, of everything. The sort of thing Hobbits would understand,” said Merry.
“We know a lot of the stories you know – a lot more than I realised in fact – hidden in old hobbit-songs and so on. But no-one there really knows the order of things, you see. Like who exactly fought alongside Gil-Galad or when Gandalf and Saruman turned up. A complete list of the Kings of Numenor would be very useful, with dates.” Merry stopped to draw breath and Celeborn couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm and ambition.
“You read Elvish well enough for all this study?”
Merry wrinkled his nose and sighed with mock exhaustion. “Just about. Since I’m mainly looking for names I can recognise, it helps. On my next visit I intend to bring young Faramir Took. He may be only 12 years old, but he’s a marvel. He’s already learned all the Elvish his Uncle Merry can teach him, and Pip and Diamond had to practically tie him down to stop him coming with me this time. It’s a shame old Bilbo and Frodo aren’t around to teach him.”
The pair fell silent for a few moments watching golden dust motes cascade through the air.
“You watched the ringbearers’ ship depart?” asked Celeborn. He had not been there, but in a thousand dreams he had witnessed the moment when the white ship faded beyond even Elven sight, carrying so much beauty and power away forever and tearing his heart in two. The hobbit nodded.
“Do you miss her a great deal?” asked Merry, his voice gentle with sadness and sympathy. It was a question no elf had ever asked him – perhaps fearing to offend him or thinking the answer simply too obvious.
“She had longed for the West for a long time, and I am happy that her exile is over. But yes, Merry, I miss her.” He paused, then went on slowly and thoughtfully. “I miss her with every fibre of my being and in every moment, waking or sleeping, of my existence. I miss her beauty and her majesty and her strength, I miss her passion and enthusiasm and her anger and her sadness. I miss the small wry smiles she used to exchange with me when no-one else was looking and I miss her laughter, though that was a rare thing this last Age.” He stopped. He had surprised himself with the rush of unconsidered yet heartfelt words.
“But you will go West too. And you will be together again.” Merry’s words were a statement, not a question, and Celeborn wished that he shared the hobbit’s certainty.
“I hope so,” he sighed and he turned his gaze downwards. As he did so his eye was caught by a small note in Elvish lying on the edge of the table. “Completion of Barad-dur, Second Age 1200?”
He snatched up the piece of parchment, frowning. “No, that’s not right. Where did you get that?”
Merry peered over the table at the note Celeborn was brandishing. “Er, that was in the Proceedings of the White Council. The details of every meeting are there. Fascinating, but some of the writing is barely legible.”
“Perhaps that would explain the error. Barad-dur was completed some time around 1600. I remember the day the tidings reached us.”
Merry grabbed a quill and parchment. “Tell me more,” he said.
The golden sunlight faded. The pair barely noticed when Elrohir came in carrying lamps and a tray of supper, which he laid on the table. Merry ate distractedly, holding a cake or a cup of tea in one hand, but never letting his pen out of the other. Ancient tale followed ancient tale as Celeborn brought legendary heroes to life for his small scribe. Memory after memory was committed to scruffy hobbit notes - and in the flickering lamp light two faces shone with enthusiasm for their task.
Fresh pale dawn light was creeping through the windows at the far end of the library as Celeborn finished telling the tragic story of the elven smith Celebrimbor - friend to the dwarves, then tricked and tortured by Sauron into betraying the keepers of the Dwarven rings. His body – filled with orc arrows - finally carried into battle as an horrific banner.
There were wet tears on Celeborn’s cheeks as he ended the story but his heart was higher than it had been for many long years. Merry laid down his quill and looked up. His eyes were red from lack of sleep and bright with tears for the elf whose friendship with the dwarf Narvi had so reminded him of Legolas and Gimli.
“There are few now left who remember it, and soon we will all be gone,” said Celeborn at last.
Merry looked at the pile of notes by his right hand. His voice was reduced by tiredness to a harsh whisper. “Memory becomes history. But it will not be forgotten,” he said.
An hour later the Sons of Elrond crept into the library seeking their guests. They found them at a long untidy table – lofty elven lord and stout hobbit - both fast asleep, faces resting on piles on notes. Both were faintly snoring.
The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue (A Note on Shire Records): “It is probable that Meriadoc obtained assistance and information from Rivendell, which he visited more than once…… It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel.”