Less than a day later, everything was over. Sauron had been defeated, and the disintegration of his corporeal form swept over the plain of Dagorlad like a hot wind, knocking Elves, Men and horses off their feet (assuming they could still stand) and tearing down the very walls of his own dark fortress. The long war that had begun nearly two thousand years ago and found its terrible climax in that last, devastating battle, was finally over.
But the price was a very high one, thought Hathaldir, staring unblinkingly into the biting smoke of the funeral pyres that burned all around the battle plain. Though Elven bodies decomposed fairly quickly, no-one wanted to leave a fallen comrade to the carrion-eaters, not even for that short time. ‘Twas bad enough to know how many of them lay under the muddy waters of the Dead Marshes. Thus, they followed the custom of Men and gave their dead to the fire.
Yet the bodies of many of those missing could not be found – they had simply vanished without a trace in the chaos of that last attack. Enadar Thranduilion was one of those, and Hathaldir could not help but admire the inner strength of the woodland King. After losing his father, the three sons who had accompanied him to war and two-thirds of his people, Thranduil’s composure was almost frightening. His only concern seemed to be his remaining people, shaken and shattered and in dire need of a strong, guiding hand. And their King gave them exactly what they needed.
The fall of Gil-galad and Elendil was a hard blow for both the Noldor and the mortals. Elrond, despite his own grief, mustered the strength to collect what was left of the army of Lindon and Imladris, and the Noldor prepared to return home. Círdan and his people had left already, and the Elves of the Greenwood were packing, too.
Hathaldir turned away from the pyres with a sigh and approached the heartbreakingly small group of his surviving archers. The unbeatable Danuin, having gone through yet another murderous battle relatively unharmed, left the group to meet him halfway. The older Elf looked grim, but unbroken, as always.
“What are your orders?” he asked, clearly signalling that from now on Hathaldir’s would be the deciding word – ‘til they reached Lórinand again, where the true decisions would be made.
“I wish to leave,” replied Hathaldir. “I wish to leave and bring home those who remain. There is much grieving and healing that needs to be done. There are important decisions to be made. The sooner we begin, the better.”
Danuin nodded in agreement.
“How are you feeling?” he asked softly. The fair face of Hathaldir shifted into a pained grimace.
“Empty. Drained. I have no father anymore. And no King. Once again, our people are orphaned. All alone in the night.”
“True,” admitted Danuin. “But that, too, will pass. Our King does have an heir. And the Lord Galdaran will not withhold his guidance from his young kinsman. After all, Prince Amroth is the only family remaining to him from his brother.”
“If we leave Elrond out of consideration,” replied Hathaldir. “Yet my true concern in this matter is not Galdaran himself. He is one of us, if not by blood, then by his love to the trees.”
“I know,” Danuin nodded. “His wife. She is a power to be reckoned with. But we need that power, Hathaldir. Lórinand cannot stand on its own any longer. You know that.”
“I know,” Hathaldir agreed bitterly. “That is the end of all our struggles: to give up our freedom for mere survival. Prince Amroth will not like it. Neither do I.”
“Nevertheless, you know that it has to be done,” answered Danuin gravely. “At least until Prince Amroth reaches full maturity, we shall need a regent. And Lord Galdaran is his next kin. ‘Tis up to you to see that the young Prince understands what needs to be done.”
“Up to me?” asked Hathaldir in mild shock. Danuin nodded.
“What Malgalad used to be for King Amdír, you will have to be for the Prince: his advisor, his protector, his mentor, his weapons master – his strong right arm and his shield. ‘Tis a heavy burden, but you are strong enough to shoulder it.”
“But my own family will need me,” objected Hathaldir. “I shall have to take over the leading of our clan from Father…”
“Nay, ‘tis not true,” answered Danuin calmly. “That is your mother’s right – and her burden – to lead the clan. You keep forgetting that she is one of the wise women of the Silvan folk. She is born to guide the others and accustomed to doing so.”
“She will have to master her own grief first, ere she can offer comfort to others,” murmured Hathaldir.
“Like everyone else,” nodded Danuin. “Worry not for her. She is strong, stronger than you can imagine. She will shoulder her burden just fine. The question is: are you willing to shoulder yours?”
“Do I have any other choice?” Hathaldir sighed. Then he cast a glance at the older Elf. “Will you remain at my side to help me and guide me?”
“Have I not always?” Danuin gave him one of his rare, wry little smiles. “We may not be related by blood, but all your fathers have considered me family.”
“And so do I,” said Hathaldir softly. Danian nodded again.
“I know. And I shall keep faith with you as I have kept it with your fathers. Go now and say your farewells. I will prepare our people for departure.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hathaldir thanked his old friend and mentor and did as Danuin had advised. He had a short, but heartfelt parting with Thranduil. The King of the Greenwood offered him a place in his court whenever he might need it.
“I shall move our people even farther to the North,” said Thranduil grimly. “The woods are not safe around the Emyn Duir, and they shall remain thus for a long time yet. And as much as I loved my father’s tree city, I cannot live there anymore now that he is gone, and my sons with him. I am only grateful that at least I was able to keep Legolas home. I could not bear to lose my youngest son, too.”
“Is he still under-age?” asked Hathaldir. Thranduil shook his golden head.
“Nay, he had reached maturity shortly before this alliance was formed. But I judged him too young and inexperienced to go to war… and now I am glad beyond measure about it.”
“’Twas a wise decision,” said Hathaldir, “though I doubt that he was happy about it.”
“Oh, he was furious, of course,” replied Thranduil with a mirthless grin; then a new sadness clouded his eyes. “And he will be devastated to learn that we shall move to the North. He was born in Emyn Duir, and I regret making him leave his home – but it has to be done. The safety of our remaining people outweighs any other considerations.”
“How far northward?” asked Hathaldir. Thranduil shrugged.
“I know not. Not yet. We shall send winged messengers to Lórinand, once we have found the right place.”
“See that you do,” said Hathaldir, clasping forearms with the woodland King in warrior fashion, “and if I can, I shall come and visit your new home.”
With that, they parted, and Hathaldir went to look for Elrond, who was considered the Lord of the remaining Noldorin forces. He found the Half-Elf in the abandoned tent of Gil-galad. Fíriel was there, too, tending the wounds of Erestor. The young Noldo had been literally torn open by werewolves, and only Gildor’s bravery had saved him from certain death. Still, they could not be sure that he would pull through. Therefore, Elrond had to wait, even though he had sent forth the majority of his surviving people to Lindon or Imladris.
“What will happen now?” asked Hathaldir. “Who will step into Gil-galad’s place? You or Gildor?” He knew of the rivalry between the two Elf-Lords for the position of the High King’s heir, though it was said to be initiated by Gildor alone.
“No one,” replied Elrond gravely. “The time when the Noldor still performed great deeds in Middle-earth has come to an end, and even Gildor sees it. Most of our people wish to leave for the West, and those who remain are not numerous enough to hold Eriador any longer. We shall keep refuges, of course, Mithlond and Imladris among them, but there will be no Noldorin kingdoms anymore. We have kept evil at bay long enough. ‘Tis up to Men to take over guardianship now, as has long been foreseen.”
Following his gaze Hathaldir cast an uneasy look at Isildur, the new High King of the Men of Westernesse, barely out of earshot, who was also preparing to depart. The bearded face of the Man was as pale and noble as those of the Noldor themselves, his raven hair carefully braided for travelling, his keen, grey eyes full of grief and sorrow. Many stories swirled about his person among both Men and Elves – that he was a great warrior and a scholar, too, the rescuer of the White Tree, an excellent mariner and a strong King. And yet Hathaldir could not chase away the shadow of dark foreboding that seemed to descend upon his heart whenever he looked at Elendil’s proud son.
There was a fine gold chain around the neck of the mortal King. What he wore on this chain was hidden under his mail, but Hathaldir knew what it was. All surviving Elven leaders knew. And this knowledge filed their hearts with dread.
“I shall not be able to rest peacefully, while that thing still exists,” Hathaldir murmured in a voice so soft and low that only Elrond and Fíriel could hear. “It should have been destroyed right after the battle.”
Elrond nodded, his exotic features darkened with anguish. “It should have, indeed. But I could not force him to give it up. Oh, certainly, I could find the means to lay my hands upon it, but we both know that no good has ever come from a wrong deed. I can only hope that the blood of my brother runs deeply enough in him to keep him safe.”
“That,” said Hathaldir, “is a slim hope, my friend.”
“It is,” agreed Elrond sadly, “yet I must hold to it. I have no other choice than to trust fate.”
To that, Hathaldir had no reply. They embraced like the friends they had been for centuries, then Hathaldir left the King’s tent to join his own people again.
It was time to go home.
~ The End ~
For notes, explanations and background trivia go to the Appendix.