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3
Wisdom of the Heart

Disclaimer and rating: as in the Prelude

Author’s notes:
There are several original characters in this chapter. Halbarad’s wife and their whole family are purely my creation. So is their background. The names were borrowed from Tolkien’s writings about First Age Edain.


~~~

CHAPTER 2: WISDOM OF THE HEART

The Angle. A broad, triangular piece of land, separated from the Trollshaws by the old East Road alone and flanked by the rivers Mitheithel and Bruinen, all the way to its southern point where they unite and become the River Gwathló.

This is the last refuge of the Dúnedain of the North – their dwelling place and hidden fortress where the last remnants of Westernesse still can be found. This is the place where we have returned to find hunting companions ever since Mother’s sufferings in the Orc-dens.

At least this was why Elrohir always returned here.

For me, it was a little different.

I have always felt strong kinship with my uncle’s descendants. I helped to raise many of them, taught them to wield their weapons, hunted with them, fought alongside them – and buried them when they fell in one of the never-ending skirmishes with the servants of the Darkness. Most recently the father and grandfather of Estel. And every time one of them died, part of me died with them. Even if I was not, strictly considered, one of their people.

All will be different now. For I have made my Final Choice, and though my life might still be much longer than theirs, and thus I shall most likely outlive the current generation (or even the next one), in the end, I shall go beyond the Rim and may meet them again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We left Imladris early in the morning and were now swiftly approaching Bar Haleth(1), the main settlement of the Angle and seat of the Chieftains where now, in Estel’s absence, Halbarad was in charge. We had to ride fast and hard, for the fortress itself stood in the northwestern corner of the Angle, right across the Ford of Bruinen. It had been raised there for the very purpose of watching both the Trollshaws and the Last Bridge, way back during the time of Arassuil(2) and his war against the Orcs of the Hithaeglir. This was the only way to exercise at least some control over the East Road. It also protected the homesteads and the fields that stretched southward from the Road.

For the same reason, it has always been a dangerous place to dwell in. Which is why it mostly served as a garrison, inhabited by Rangers and a handful of healers. Families were usually not allowed to live here.

Of course there was no old custom that could have kept Saelind the Wise-hearted from following her husband where ever he went. But then again, Saelind was not a woman anyone could order to stay at home. Even as the women of the Dúnedain go, she was an exceptionally strong one.

I can still remember how upset the noble families of the Dúnedain were when Halbarad announced his wish to wed her. After all, Halbarad was Estel’s kinsman, while Saelind was not even pure-blooded Dúnadan. Her grandmother came from Bree and was related to the Butterbur family, or so they said. Which had been another scandalous event at its own time, of course, but at least the Lady Adanel had been a stunning beauty, so people tended to be more… understanding.

Saelind, on the other hand, was anything but beautiful. She took after the short, plump, russet-haired Bree-folk in everything but her noble features, and in her youth she was mostly shunned.

Sometimes I almost believe that I was the only one who ever understood why Halbarad fell in love with her instead of her much prettier younger sister, Beldis. As a young girl she was moody and withdrawn and easily hurt – learning her true nature was a long process. And Men, particularly Rangers, rarely have the time for such things. They lived in constant peril, so they had to live fast.

Still, Halbarad proved to be a Man with true insight and an open heart – and he had the patience to win her trust. And so they married, despite the misgivings of the Lord Halavor, Halbarad’s father, and as far as anyone could see, they had been very happy together.

Therefore I had no doubt that I would find my good friend Saelind in the fortress with her husband and was delighted to see her rush towards us across the courtyard. Short and plump she might be, yet she was surprisingly light on her feet and as quick as lightning. Barely had I got down from Nimfaun’s(3) back when I found myself holding an armful of warmth and strength, wrapped in a shadowy grey gown.

She gave each of us a firm hug, ignoring Elrohir’s good-natured complaints about his ribs. Then she turned back to me, took my face in her strong, warm hands, and those gold-flecked, greyish-blue eyes seemed to pierce my very soul.

“You have changed,” she stated calmly. I had known I would never fool her for a moment. She might not be pure-blooded Dúnadan, but she was more foresighted than any one of her generation. She could read Men’s hearts like an open book.

“I have made my Choice,” I replied simply, and her eyes widened in sudden understanding, for we had spoken of this many times in the recent years, whenever we had the chance to do so. I always found her a soothing presence.

“I see,” she said after some thought. “I ask you not to speak of it to Beldis, though. ‘Twould be unwise to awaken false hopes in her.”

“I thought she would have grown out of her infatuation,” I answered in surprise. Her sister used to have… feelings for me. Feelings that I could not return. “Has she not married recently?”

"Recently, indeed! That was eleven years ago!" Saelind gave a derisive snort. "Elves!" she added in a less than approving manner, exasperated at our inability to count time as Men do - as I shall have to learn to do, eventually. Then she saddened all of a sudden and continued. "Aye, she did marry... but her husband was slain at Sarn Ford when the Nazgûl crossed the river.”

“That is unfortunate,” I said, saddened as well, for I had known Torbarth – he had been a good and decent Man.”

Saelind made a wry face. “Aye, it is. So be gentle with her, will you?” She turned to Elrohir. “Now, come on in, the two of you. As usual, you managed to arrive right at supper time.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They were shepherded into the dining hall of the fortress – a place where they had been many times during the last three hundred years – and were greeted by Halbarad and his lieutenants, Borthard and Manthor, both rather young in Dúnadan terms. Yet they had to fill in for older, more experienced Rangers recently slain, the late husband of Beldis among them.

There were also Halbarad’s grown sons, though barely come of age, Belmir and Hathaldir, the latter named after Haldir of Lórien, with whom Halbarad had become friends during the Elf’s visits in Imladris.

There was Beldis, of course, a small, blue-eyed, pleasantly rounded woman, still as pretty as Saelind was not, but with white threads in her long, russet hair already. With her were nine-year old, wide-eyed and very curious daughter, and the Lady Gildis, Saelind and Halbarad’s eldest, tall and dark-haired as her father but quick-witted and headstrong as her mother. Several other Rangers whom Elladan knew by sight but to whom he had never spoken sat around the long table with the family.

When the guests finally entered, they all stood and turned to the West for a moment, as was their wont, looking towards Númenor that had been, and beyond to Elvenhome that was, and to that which was beyond Elvenhome and would ever be. Often had the sons of Elrond witnessed – and shared – this particular custom, yet never before had it hit them so hard.

For one day, in the not-so-far future, at least as Elves count time, Elrohir would set sail for the far West toward which they were now looking, yet Elladan would no longer have a place there. After three thousand years of exceptional closeness the twins would have to part ‘til the end of Arda – mayhap even beyond it.

The thought filled their hearts with sorrow. Elladan was beginning to feel how the true ramifications of his Choice burdened them both, and they ate quietly while the members of Halbarad’s family and the Rangers present talked in low voices about day-to-day business around them.

Finally, the meal was over. The table guests rose and left, save Borthand and Manthor, for every time the young lords of Imladris visited the Angle, it meant some Orc-hunting, scouting or other business like that, and the lieutenants needed to be present while their Captain made his plans.

“How are things faring in Imladris?” Halbarad finally asked. “I hope the Valley will recover after the siege.”(4)

“There is much damage,” Elrohir answered sadly, “and some of the old trees will never recover. But Aiwendil was able to save the Great Oak on the Place of Festivals, and this gives us all some hope.”

“I knew not that Radagast the Brown was on this side of the Mountains again,” Halbarad said in surprise. “He usually keeps company with the Woodland Folk.”

“He came to take his leave from Lindir,” Elrohir said. “I assume you know that Erestor and Lindir have left for the Havens?” Halbarad nodded.

“They passed through with Gildor’s Company. The young one seemed in a sorry shape.” His concern was genuine, despite the ironic fact that Lindir was nearly three thousand years old. Yet Halbarad had lived through more hardships than most young Elves ever would in their long lives.

“Lindir was not born and raised to take a life,” Elrohir shrugged, “not even that of an Orc. I hope the closeness of the Sea will heal his heart. Yet those of us who have been brought up to wield weapons have to prepare for war again. A message has been sent to my father. Saruman has betrayed us and Rohan is on the verge of falling. Aragorn needs us there – all whom you can gather and send out on such short notice.”

The fact that Elrohir called him Aragorn, the name by which the Dúnedain knew their Chieftain, rather than Estel, the name given to him by the Elves, showed how important the message was. Halbarad nodded again.

“Then I shall take everyone this fortress can offer and ride with you at great speed,” he answered. “T'will not be many, for our forces here are scattered since we lost the troops who guarded Sarn Ford and some of those who tried to break the siege of Imladris. Some need to remain here and protect our people. But I will take as many as I can.”

“All of us must move together now,” Elrohir agreed, “even though ‘tis not in our hand to win the war by sheer force – we have not that kind of strength. And yet it seems that there is hope still, for Gandalf, who was thought dead, has returned, and mayhap his return is the sign we all have been looking for.”

“That,” commented Halbarad thoughtfully, “is a tale I would love to hear.”

“We know no more than the mere fact,” explained Elrohir with a shrug. “Messages from Lothlórien are usually short – the Lady likes not to reveal more than she must. All we have been told is that Aragorn has need of your – of our – help, and that we can find him in Rohan.”

“That is a big country to find a single Man in,” Borthard said, “even if he is the Chieftain. Where are we supposed to find him?”

“Edoras would be a good place to start looking,” Saelind murmured, seemingly to herself, yet still loud enough for everyone to hear. Beldis gave her a disapproving glance – she was afraid of insulting the men in charge – but Saelind paid her no attention. As the wife of Halbarad and a respected healer in her own right, she was used to speaking her mind, regardless of whether the other Rangers liked it or not.

“That would be the obvious thing to do,” Halbarad nodded in agreement. “And since I have to take the most experienced Rangers with me, I intend to leave you, my Lady, in charge of Bar Haleth. ‘Tis a heavy burden in these times, yet I am certain that you can shoulder it.”

“That and more,” Saelind replied indignantly. Halbarad gave her one of his rare smiles.

“I know. And it comforts my heart that our people shall be in good hands.”

“But Captain,” young Manthor protested, “would it not be better to leave a Ranger in charge? Our homes could be attacked by the enemy, and the Lady Saelind does not wield any weapons. How is she supposed to defend the Angle?”

“To defend our homes, one needs more than just knowing how to kill, Manthor,” Halbarad replied slowly. “The Lady Saelind was following me to battle and tending our wounded before you were even born. Be assured that she knows what she has to do, should the need arise.”

“The Lady Saelind,” she said, her gold-freckled eyes flaring, “would appreciate it greatly if the two of you would cease speaking of her as if she were not present. When will youthful brats like you, Manthor, finally learn that survival means a lot more than sharp swords and strong bows?”

“They are young,” Elladan intervened quietly. “They will learn. They have to, if they wish to survive.”

Saelind’s eyes became softer looking at him. “Just as you have to,” she answered gently.

Elladan nodded. “Aye, just as I have to.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
From that point on, the discussion turned to strategic topics again, and I found that I could not focus on it. Usually both Elrohir and I took great delight in discussing plots and plans and strategies, mapping out our moves carefully, but on this evening, my mind was elsewhere.

Rohan. We were going to Rohan, the land of the horse-lords – mayhap I even was to meet the Lady Éowyn. Should I speak to her, talk with her about the Man who was, to a certain extent, bound to both of us? Or should I keep hidden from her that I was grieving for Boromir more than she ever would?

They did not know each other well – Boromir told me that much – and yet they found out quickly that they were, indeed, very much alike. Duty and honour came above all else for them both. Had Boromir survived, they could have become a well-matched and content couple – if not for me.

Was it selfish of me to take Boromir to my bed, just because I fell for him almost at first sight? To bind myself to him with a bond that will last ‘til the end of Arda and even beyond? True, his heart had already been taken, but might he have grown to love the Lady Éowyn, given enough time? Father says that Men’s hearts can change easily. And she at least could have given him what I never could: a consort that his own people would accept and respect, and the heirs his family needed.

In a way, I would only have been a burden for him, had he not fallen. And yet, I cannot regret what I have done. Even though the rest of my life will be lonely and barren, and my flesh will yearn for his touch and never be fulfilled, I would do it again and again, in a thousand other lifetimes. Our time together might have been short, yet it meant more for me than the nearly three thousand years I had lived before.

Before I met him, I had little understanding for people who, driven by their passions, gave up everything – I thought it to be a mortal thing, born of the lack of wisdom. How little had I known about the wisdom of the heart back then. For I have done the same thing – not only have I become mortal, but I also gave up everything and gained naught in exchange – or so I would have thought ere I met Boromir.

Now I know that I have gained the greatest gift a person – Elf or Man – could receive: a love that remains beyond Death, beyond the boundaries of Arda itself. My hröa will fall to the Earth and perish, yet my fëa shall be set free to leave this world and be reunited with the other soul to which it is bound for eternity.

Who could say that I am not fortunate?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Finally, all the plans were made, and Halbarad sent his lieutenants away to call the chosen Rangers and make the other preparations needed. His younger son, Hathaldir, was among those chosen. Belmir had been ordered to remain in Bar Haleth as the leader of the armed troops, while his mother looked to the other matters of defence. The young man was dismayed, of course – he wished to ride to battle with his father something he had had very little chance to do before. But Halbarad would hear none of it.

“I need you here,” he said, “for you are my heir, and though Gildis and your mother need little protection, as they know very well how to defend themselves, there are others who have to be protected. Whom should I entrust with this task if not my eldest son?”

Belmir accepted his father’s decision with obvious displeasure, yet he had no choice in this matter and he knew it. Soon, the family retreated to make their own preparations, and Elrohir, too, retreated to the guest chambers he and his brother were always given when visiting the Angle, for they were about to make a long, hard ride, and he wanted to rest.

Elladan, however, felt not like retiring just yet, so he walked out to the breastwork of the small fortress and looked eastward, to the Road, contemplating the paths before them in the darkness.

He had not been there long yet when he heard the soft footfall of a woman approaching, and turning, he saw Beldis descending the narrow catwalk that led to one of the watchtowers, having brought food to the night watch.

“You should rest, my Lord,” she said quietly. “A long and tiring way is before you – ‘twill do you no good to begin it wearily.”

“I shall do so, soon,” Elladan replied in surprise. This was the first time ever that she dared to speak to him directly and in private. Unlike her sister, she was a rather shy person. “But my mind is not at ease, and I cannot sleep at the moment.”

“Are you… frightened?” she asked hesitatingly. “Do Elves fear Death as well?”

“For Elves, death is different,” Elladan answered, not mentioning the fact that he had already chosen the path of Men. “When they are killed, they can be reborn if they wish to, after having spent a certain amount of time in the Halls of Mandos. In one form or another, they last as long as Arda lasts.”

“And what happens afterwards?” she asked. Elladan shrugged.

“That is a question no-one has been able to answer yet.”

“Still, it means that you can live ‘til the end of the world,” Beldis said in an almost accusing tone. “Why is then Death called the Gift of Men?”

“For they are not bound to the circles of this world,” Elladan replied. “I know not where the spirits of Men go after they die, yet ‘tis said among our lore-masters that Men shall last beyond this world – where and how, I cannot tell.”

“’Tis little comfort,” Beldis said bitterly. “I would rather we had longer lives in this world – and safe ones, at that. I care not what comes afterwards.”

“Yet you should,” said Elladan, “for little comfort it might be, ‘tis the only one we have. Yea,” he added softly, “I understand your sorrow and your loss. For I, too, have lost someone to the Enemy recently. Someone who was dear to my heart. Someone who shall not be reborn.”

Even in the darkness, he could see the eyes of Beldis widening in comprehension.

“You loved a mortal… and she died?” she whispered. Elladan shook his head.

“Nay, Lady. He might have died, true, yet I still love him – and shall do so as long as I live.”

Beldis’ face took on that strange, hurt expression the women of the Dúnedain sometimes wore when men who shared their bed with other men were mentioned. While many Rangers had an understanding – not to mention appreciation – for this Elven custom, particularly in wartime, their women mostly reacted the same way Beldis did.

“Most of us feel cheated,” Saelind had explained to him once when he asked her for the reason. “There are not so many who could marry a young maiden, giving her a home and a family, for our men often fall young in battle. And even those who do not are rarely at home. The women have to keep the house running and tend the fields, bring up the children – alone, with little or no help from their husbands. Small wonder it makes them bitter, knowing that the men take comfort with each other while they are waiting alone in their cold and empty beds. We are no Elves – we have no centuries to live. Only what is here and now can we call our own. And sometimes that is not much.”

“Is that the reason why you follow Halbarad everywhere?” Elladan had asked back then. Saelind shrugged.

“That is part of it is. After all, I am not a pure-blooded Dúnadan – I have even shorter a time than most. But I am needed, too… being a healer gives a woman more freedom. All in all, I am fortunate, I think.”

I wonder if she still considers herself fortunate, Elladan thought absently. After all, she cannot come with us this time – and there is a strong chance that we shall not return from this battle.

With a sudden jerk he realized that Beldis was speaking to him still.

“Forgive me, my Lady,” he said. “Can you repeat your last words? My mind was elsewhere.”

“Oh, ‘twas not important,” Beldis avoided his gaze. “I was just wondering who he might be… the one who was able to capture your heart. I never saw you being close to any of our people.”

“He was not from here,” Elladan sighed, “and you did not know him – though your sister did. She healed him from his injury in Tharbad.”

“The Heir of Gondor?” Beldis’ eyes widened again – like everyone else in Bar Haleth, she knew well who the mysterious wounded Southerner, healed and cared for by her sister, turned out to be at he end. “Has he not left in the company of our Lord?”

Elladan nodded, a dull ache in his chest. “He has.”

“But… but if you know that he is dead… what about the Lord Aragorn?” she asked. “What other tidings have come?”

“None,” answered Elladan with a sigh, “none at all, beyond the sad truth that Boromir of Gondor has fallen.” He revealed not to her that even this he only knew because of their bond.

“Thus you are widowed, too… in a sense,” Beldis murmured. “What will you do now that you have been left behind, alone?”

“Take over his place at Aragorn’s side,” Elladan said simply. “Even if the war should have a good end, I will be needed there.”

“You are needed here, my Lord!” she replied promptly, mayhap even a little hotly. “What shall become of us when all who are left will go south?”

“Here I cannot be of any help,” said Elladan quietly. Bringing up the usual argument that he did not belong to the Dúnedain would have been something of a lie now, if not in its entirety. “But going south, I can bring with me to Gondor the memories of Boromir and thus bring the folk of the south hope.”

“Are we to be left behind without any hope then?” Beldis asked bitterly. “Are we that much less important than our southern kindred, just because our realm has been shattered?”

“I cannot give you hope, Lady Beldis,” Elladan replied slowly, “and I cannot answer your questions, even though I very much doubt that Aragorn would forget the lands of his forefathers. And I cannot give you true comfort, either. All I still have to give is a memory – if you accept such small gift from me.”

She looked up into his face questioningly, then gave a small nod. Elladan leant forward and touched her lips with his gently – ‘twas more the infusing of his breath than a kiss, truly.

For a moment she stood petrified, caught between fear and disbelief. Then she seemed to understand the meaning of his gift, for she bowed her head in great dignity and retreated without a further word, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

TBC – eventually


~~~

End notes:
(1) Earlier name for Ephel Brandir. The Dúnadan fortress in the Angle is a hypothetical settling, borrowed from Michael Martinez’ article: “Ranger for hire – have horse, will travel”.

(2) Which lasted from 2719-84, Third Age.

(3) White Cloud (Sindarin) – Elladan’s horse was christened thus by Isabeau of Greenlea.

(4) I postulated in my other tales that Imladris had been attacked by Saruman’s forces, shortly after the Fellowship left.


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