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6
The House of the Hundred Chimneys

Disclaimer: see in the Foreword.

Author’s Notes:
Now we get to see the House of the Hundred Chimneys. Christopher Tolkien states that he could find no hints what that place was supposed to look like, so in order to keep true to the overall style of “The Lost Tales,” I took the Cottage of the Lost Play as my model. I also adopted Lindo and Vairë, originally the master and mistress of the Cottage and made them the seneschal and chatelaine of Gilfanon’s house. This Vairë, of course, is not identical with the Vala who later became Mandos’ wife. At this stage of the early mythology Mandos’ wife (rather than his sister) was Nienna, also called Fui (and half a dozen other names).


~~~

6. The House of the Hundred Chimneys

For long moments, Celebrían could only stand as if rooted and listen to the fey, barely audible chatter and laughter of the wind spirits. As a child, she had heard strange tales of the lesser spirits attendant on the Valar, of course, but she thought them just that: bedtime tales for little elflings, naught more. Now it seemed to her as if she had become part of those tales herself… and she was not even in Valinor yet!

Or was Elvenhome more indeed than just an island where some of her people settled? Mayhap the fairy tales of mortal Men had some small seed of truth in them? Could Tol Eressëa truly have something in common with that imaginary realm that Men called Fairie? Was it a place where magic became more than the strange powers of the Istari that were shown rarely enough as they were?

The light touch of a hand upon her arm shook her out of her reverie. Ilverin smiled at her in apology.

“Your pardon, Lady,” he said, “but we must go on. News of your arrival have reached Gilfanon’s house, and we are expected already.” Seeing Celebrían’s saddening face he added with another smile. “I promise you that the Súruli will not leave so soon. Rarely do they attend to our feasts but when they do come, they also stay ‘til the last moment.”

It seemed as if near-soundless laughter answered him from the tree-branches, and Celebrían smiled too and followed him up the lane to a great gate cut into a high hedge of withered grey stone. Before that gate a somewhat sturdy, dark-haired Elf stood, dressed up in white for the upcoming feast already, and with him stood a lovely Elven woman who had long, thick russet hair put into an intricate coronet of braids. Seeing the newcomers, they both bowed deeply, but it was she who spoke the words of welcome, saying in the Ancient Tongue and in a soft, pleasant voice:

Elen síla lúmenn omentielvo, Lady of Imladris! Vairë is my name, and this is Lindo, my husband; we run Gilfanon’s house. Enter and be merry, for the Feast of Double Mirth is only a night away from now – but first we must bring you to Gilfanon and his wife, who have long wanted to meet you.”

This surprised Celebrían a little, for she could not imagine why and how the Master of the House might have heard of her. Even though many Elves had left for the West during the recent years, why would they talk about her to the dwellers of Elvenhome? She was not a terribly important person back in Middle-earth, unlike her own mother. Or her husband. She knew her lore and was a skilled enough healer as well, yet first and foremost she was mother and wife. Unlike Galadriel, she never really wanted to be aught else.

Setting her questions aside for now, she nodded in agreement, and Lindo opened the beautifully-carved gate with a light touch. Behind it, there was a wide mould – large enough, but still too low to be called a hill – and atop that mould stood the most intriguing house she had ever seen.

Vastly different it was from all the graceful Elven dwellings she had known so far, having naught in common with Círdan’s Sea Palace or with Gil-galad’s now ruined castle. Strange as it might be, it reminded her of the Last Homely House as it had been back in the Second Age, while the war between the Elves and Sauron was still going and Imladris was still more of a fortress than a hidden refuge.

Low and huge the house was, spreading over the whole hilltop and built from what was once white stone that had now become grey and weather-worn from its extremely high age, yet still fair and venerable. Seven high gables it had and a high, red-tiled roof, and there were small balconies overall in a pattern that she could not quite figure out; and the trees that grew around it inside the hedge – not elms but beeches and oaks, and even the odd holly tree – were high and strong and incredibly old, too.

Vairë and Lindo led her on the paved way under the trees to the house – Ilverin vanished somehow from her side – and while they walked, Vairë said:

“We shall go straight to the Great Hall, for you arrived just in time for the evening meal that is being set out in this very moment.”

Thus they led her into a wide room with a high ceiling; and in this hall, despite the never-ending summertide of Elvenhome, were three great fires – one at the far end and one on either side of the table, burning upon low hearths made of smoky stone – and save their light, all was in a warm gloom, and she shivered for a moment, for fire in darkness called very unpleasant memories back to her mind.

But at the same time many folk came in bearing candles of all sizes and many shapes in sticks of different pattern: many were of carven wood and others of beaten metal, and there were set at hazard about the centre table and upon those at the sides(1).

Celebrían looked around with great curiosity and saw Gilfanon’s household, all dressed up in white and wearing colourful jewels in their hair or upon their breasts, filling the hall and all its benches and chairs. Meril-i-Turinqi was among them, wearing a thin, elaborately-woven circlet of mithril set with white diamonds upon her long, raven hair that was braided and interwoven with white pearl strings, and in this moment she verily looked like a queen of the Elder Days.

She was seated in a canopied chair at the end of the centre table, with her ladies on both her sides; and on the head of the same table a tall, raven-haired Elf sat with a noble face that showed the slight hardness of very high age just as Círdan’s did. But the dark tresses of this Elf were not touched by snow, and as she looked into his bright eyes, Celebrían knew at once that he was one who had seen the Light of the Two Trees.

On his left (the hearth-side) a venerable lady sat, and all could see that they were husband and wife, for the bond between them had grown so strong during the Ages that it was almost visible. On his right there was an empty chair, and to this chair Vairë escorted Celebrían and bid her to be seated. She did as she was asked and gave her host a polite nod, not knowing the customs of this house and wondering whether she was supposed to greet him or to wait to be greeted.

At the same moment a great gong sounded far off in the house with a sweet noise, and a sound followed as of the laughter of many voices mingled with a great pattering of feet(2). Then the Master of the House turned to Celebrían, and seeing her face filled with wonderment he said:

“This is the Great Gong of the Noldor, wrought by Tulkastor’s hand in the smithies of Aulë himself; its ringing announces the beginning of all our major feasts, and Littleheart is its warden and the only one allowed to strike it. Wherever in Elvenhome a fest is celebrated, the Gong is brought thereto; and so is Littleheart. ‘Tis said that its ringing can be heard over the Shadowy Seas ‘til the Twilit Isles themselves in quiet nights.”

He paused, then with a smile that made his stern face remarkably kind-looking he added: “Welcome, my Lady. May your time in Tavrobel be a happy one. As Littleheart no doubt told you already – for he is known of his nimble tongue – I am called Gilfanon among the Noldor. But since you descended from my dear friend Olwë through his daughter Eärwen, you are as family to me and may call me Ailios if you want.”

He paused again, then he continued, with a respectful nod towards the woman on his left: “And this is Vainóni, the Lady of my heart. Our bond has been forged at the Waters of Awakening, under the light of the stars, when neither Anor nor Ithil sailed upon the sky yet, and it continued through good times and bad times, through joy and sorrow, ‘til this very day.”

Celebrían murmured the customary greetings that decency demanded, but her eyes were on the room itself, rather than on the Mistress of the House, for it strangely reminded her of the Feasting Hall of Elrond’s house in its earlier, rougher form, way before that house became her home. From the very first day on it had been Elrond’s custom to dine with his whole household every evening, and he kept this even after their wedding. She always knew that for Elrond his people were part of his extended family, and now she was wondering about the similarities, for neither her husband nor most of their household had ever been to the West, unless…

A faint smile touched her lips fleetingly. Glorfindel. Who else could have described this ancient house to Elrond, who wanted not a hidden city like Turgon, not a palace like Círdan, not even a castle like Gil-galad, but something he never truly had – a home? Glorfindel, due to his ancient wisdom and his restored innocence knew unerringly what Elrond truly needed.

Certainly, new designs had been added to the Last Homely House during the nearly two Ages of its existence, yet it remained all the same what it had been intended to be: a home, not for their immediate family alone, but for all those who had no home anymore or never had one in the first place. Like Erestor, or Lindir, or other Elves and Men who sought refuge under its roof for a time.

She looked around at the guests and the members of Gilfanon’s household. Most of them were Noldor, of course, but she also saw a few Teleri (or Solosimpi, as they still were called here), and even a Silvan lady on Meril’s side. In one thing, though, they were all alike: that a look of great joy – lit with a merry expectation of further mirth – lay on every face, even on those that still kept the faint memories of hidden pain. The soft light of candles, too, was upon them all. It shone on bright tresses and gleamed about dark hair, or here and there set a pale fire in locks silver like her own.

Even as she gazed, the Lady Vainóni arose and all followed suit, and with one voice they sang the song of the Bringing in of the Meats in the Ancient Tongue, albeit in a much older fashion than she had been taught. Then, under the guidance of Vairë, the food was brought in and set before them, and thereafter the bearers and those that served and those that waited, Master and Mistress of the House and guests alike, all sat down(3).

Yet before they would begin to eat, Ailios blessed both food and company, much in the same manner as Elrond used to do when their household gathered to evening meal. And a great sadness overcame Celebrían’s heart again, for she missed Elrond terribly already, and she missed their children even more and those who were like family to her back at home. And she knew that a long time would go by ‘til they can be seated around the same table again – if ever.

Ailios must have felt the darkening of her mood, for he began to ask her about the Outer Lands and about old friends who might be still alive beyond the Sea. And so as they ate Celebrían fell in speech with him and his wife, telling them a few things about her own life and about her parents whom both seemed to know rather well – which was not truly surprising, as Ailios had lived in Doriath for a while, and Vainóni had met Galadriel (whom she kept calling Nerwen) in Finwë’s court many times.

And thus the evening meal was eaten in pleasant conversation, and when the empty dishes had been taken away and sweet, pale golden wine was brought forth, Ilverin, who had been absent during the whole meal entered through the front door and announced in a clear, ringing voice:

“The stars have come forth!”

“May then Samírien begin,” Ailios answered, and all arose from their seats and strolled towards the door, singing:

Thou art the inmost province of the fading isle
Where linger yet the Lonely Companies.
Still, undespairing, do they sometimes slowly file
Along thy paths with plaintive harmonies:
The holy fairies(4) and immortal Elves
That dance among the trees and sing themselves
A wistful song of things that were, and could be yet(5).


~~~

End notes:

(1) The description of the house is quoted loosely after “The Book of Lost Tales 1”, pp 3-4.

(2) Quoted from “The Book of Lost Tales,“ p. 4. I gave the gong a wholly different function, though.

(3) Quoted loosely after “The Book of Lost Tales,“ p. 4.

(4) For continuity’s sake I assumed that this means the Súruli. (Yes, I know it does not.)

(5) Quoted from the oldest version of Tolkien’s poem “Kortirion under the trees,” The Second Verses – “The Book of Lost Tales,“ p. 27.


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