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To Dwell Among Strangers
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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[Index]

1
To Dwell Among Strangers

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?
—Pablo Casals
Cellist, composer, conductor


28 October III 3018

The tall figure gaped at the hall, mouth ajar. So many books! The ensconced torches along the wall joined the roaring fire and the innumerable candles in ornate chandeliers far above his head to illuminate the room. Such radiance was appropriate—nay, necessary!—given the purpose of the cavernous space, for one could hardly pass a pleasurable eve with book in hand without proper lighting.

Sufficient lighting, however, was of little use to the guest currently visiting the great library of Elrond Half-Elven, Lord of Imladris, for no intentions of reading had he. This visitor had wandered into the great room only to escape the hubbub of the Hall of Fire, though he could still hear that loud-mouthed Dwarf even here. The gathering had been pleasant enough at first—as long as he and the Dwarf had remained on opposite sides of the room—but had soon grown tedious. The Elf found it quite impossible to engage in relaxation and revelry when such an ominous mission loomed on the horizon, having never been one accustomed to sitting idle in the face of doom. Although he knew full well that this period of preparation was necessary, were this mad quest to have any hope of success, he found himself wishing the journey to begin, nonetheless. Sighing for what must have been the thousandth time since his arrival at this labyrinth of a home, he chided himself for his impatience and hoped that Lord Elrond had not noticed how eager he was to depart.

The lean form strolled to a row of books, one row among hundreds, and tilted his head to the left so that he might peruse the titles. Had anyone been watching, they would have seen the otherwise fair face marred by a nose crinkled with disgust, as if he had come across the rotting corpse of an orc rather then the mustiness of scrolls and volumes of lore. The titles, he noted, were mostly in Quenya, a tongue with which his position required he be familiar. Familiar, yes, but fluent, certainly not. His knowledge was confined mostly to the spoken use of the language for formal occasions, although when he was forced to read Quenya, he was generally able to discern unknown words by context. Such practice was not, however, something he did willingly. He bore no secret wish to increase his fluency with the ancient tongue of the Noldor, for although the use of Quenya was no longer widely spoken even among those of Imladris, to this guest, it remained the tongue of sedition. To employ the language any more than necessary seemed somehow traitorous. Boredom, however, overcame his aversion, and he deciphered several titles that needed little translation: Of Dagor Bragollach; The Nirnaeth Arnoediad Chronicles; The Flight of the Noldor.

How fond the Noldor are of themselves! A treacherous lot
, he concluded.

At least that is what his father had always said, and before his arrival in Imladris, he had had no reason to disagree. One need only look at the facts surrounding the Noldor: their flight and subsequent exile from Aman, their sack of Aqualondë, and their creation of the Rings of Power.

Yet from the moment he had first laid eyes on Elrond’s valley, he had been overwhelmed by her beauty, and the Noldor of Imladris themselves had been most hospitable. The Elf could not deny that he had taken a liking to them immediately, although he was usually one to hold his fondness in reserve around those he knew not well. Of course, not every Elf in Imladris was Noldo; through the veins of Elrond himself coursed blood other than that of the Deep Elves, and Glorfindel supposedly owed his blond tresses to the Vanyar. No, it was not their blood so much as their customs. In that regard, the Imladrim were distinctly Noldor. Even their garish garments spoke of their fondness for attention, and one could hardly call their long robes practical. The Elf smirked. What need had the Imladrim of practical attire when they found themselves in the safe confines of this resplendent vale? His people dressed in a manner better suited to war, and the simple greens and browns of their garments provided them with some measure of camouflage. Yet they had always dressed in such a manner, even before the threat to their realm dictated their choice, not wanting to detract from the beauty of the Wood herself. Yes, these Imladrim were strange Elves! And he was well aware that he must seem no less strange to them.

Moving to a new row of books—surely there had to be something here worth his time!—his eyes narrowed as he scanned titles, searching for something other than the history of the Noldor. A crooked smile adorned his face when he spied a book to his liking: The Chronicles of Greenwood the Great. Finally, the story of his own people (though he was vaguely annoyed that it had been condensed to one volume!). He was on the verge of grasping the book, when its neighbor caught his eye: The Battle of Azanulbizar. He could not imagine who would think to shelve a glorification of Dwarves next to the tales of his realm (and just how many volumes did they have to his realm’s one?).

“Ah, Prince Legolas,” a deep voice interrupted. “You are studying a chronicle of our dwarven friends’ clash with the fell beasts. Yes, wise to brush up on dwarven history; it shall give you and Master Gimli much to discuss on your journey.”

Legolas restrained himself though he was certain he had snarled when the Lord of Imladris had used the phrase “dwarven friends;” the idea that he and that blustering Dwarf would discuss anything was simply preposterous.

“Although,” Elrond continued, brows knitted in consternation, “I cannot imagine what this volume concerning your realm and its people is doing here. Erestor would be most disturbed to see such disorder in our repository.” He removed the book from its nesting place, paced across the library, and swung back one of the panels to reveal several more rows of books.

There are more?! Legolas stood stunned, and in the back of his mind grew the niggling thought that perhaps he appeared to this learned household quite . . . ignorant. Although the idea was distasteful to say the least, the Prince thought his concerns might be justified. Compared to the bulk of his people, he was highly educated, but here? Hardly. His father’s library, if one could call an odd assortment of books that barely required four shelves a library, was confined to the obvious: the settling of his father, grandfather, and their retinue among the Silvan folk; the marriage of his father and mother; the Last Alliance and its aftermath.

Legolas’ heart clenched at the thought of the War of the Last Alliance. Though the Alliance had won the day, Legolas had a sneaking suspicion that his father had blamed the Noldor for Oropher’s demise ever since.

In spite of his dislike of the Noldor in general, however, Thranduil seemed, at the very least, respectful of Elrond in particular. Until Legolas’ arrival at Elrond’s Last Homely House, as the meandering abode was known, he could not fathom why Thranduil seemed to exempt Elrond from his scorn. If Legolas understood correctly, in the matter of the War of the Last Alliance, it was Elrond—serving as High King Gil-galad’s herald—who had played a large part in convincing Oropher that the Wood-elves must join the fray. Strictly speaking, of course, Elrond was no Noldo, so perhaps that exonerated him in Thranduil’s mind; or perhaps it was the fact that Elrond had simply been acting on Gil-galad’s behest; or yet again, maybe it is was simply that Elrond Peredhil was so purportedly wise and had endured so much that Thranduil had no choice but to afford him some measure of respect.

Now that he was in Imladris, however, Legolas suspected that it was something quite unnamable that had allowed Elrond to garner Thranduil’s respect, for at the Council, Legolas had found himself bristling at even the merest hint of impertinence shown the Lord. Of course, Mithrandir held Elrond in high regard, and that carried much weight with the Prince. Nevertheless, there was something inherent in Elrond that commanded respect. As soon as Legolas arrived at Elrond’s palace—although it was not called by that name, a palace it was—and looked into the depths of those grey eyes, he had felt a certain urge to abide by anything the Peredhil had to say, like some young pup acquiescing to its alpha. He greeted Elrond with tail down and wagging, not out of fear but respect. It was a feeling to which the Prince was quite unaccustomed, yet he found no humiliation in the display. On the contrary, he was content to allow the Lord of Imladris make decisions on behalf of the pack.

This pack, however, lacked the harmony of well-established hierarchy, and Legolas feared that without Elrond, they would fall into disarray. Mithrandir would be a part of this Fellowship, true, but Legolas was certain that the wizard would defer to Aragorn, the would-be king. The Prince would give the Dúnadan his unwavering support, having liked and trusted him from the moment he had met him in Mirkwood, the creature Gollum in tow. Then there were the Hobbits. Surely those merry folk would pose no serious problems—outside of the normal, harmless foolishness of their kind—for they seemed quite trustful of Aragorn already. But what of the one named Boromir? He had already been trouble. Not to mention that infuriating Dwarf!

Legolas roused himself from his thoughts, curious to see where Elrond placed the chronicles of Mirkwood.

“Here. This is better.” Elrond turned and cast a half-smile at the Prince, and Legolas detected weariness, both in the Lord’s face and in his voice. “Now this book is at home among its kind.”

Legolas stepped closer and scanned the Sindarin titles of this section and, finding that each book here pertained to his own realm, felt a wave of pride soar through his spirit.

“I simply cannot imagine why this one book left its confines to dwell among strangers. Perhaps it wanted to make new friends among tales of Dwarves.”

“Perhaps,” mumbled the Prince, and the Lord of Imladris had to restrain a smile at Legolas’ annoyance.

“I am certain you are familiar with every bit of history in this section, Legolas. Perhaps you would like to read something new.” Elrond’s words were more statement than question, and Legolas found himself following the Lord back to the collection of dwarven books.

“Now, where are you hiding?” murmured Elrond as he opened one book after another. His efforts were rewarded when he removed a particularly heavy volume and saw the fringes of worn parchment shooting from the top.

“Ah, yes, here it is.” The Lord removed a thin, bound scroll. “I think you shall find these letters interesting.”

“Letters, my Lord?”

“Yes, Legolas. A series—just a few—of short letters. Their recipient kindly agreed to my request to keep them here in my library because they represent something dear to my heart.” Elrond handed the scrolls to Legolas.

“And what is that, my Lord, if I might be so bold?”

“Friendship and cooperation between the different Folk of Middle Earth. In this case, between an Elf and a Dwarf.” Elrond grinned.

“An Elf and a Dwarf?” Legolas choked. “With respect, my Lord, I do not believe tales of Eöl would be to my liking. Or do these letters tell of Celebrimbor and his activities? In either case, my Lord Elrond, I think I should prefer something else.”

The Lord chuckled and shook his head. “No, Legolas. These letters are from Arphenion, the son of one of my advisors. He and his friend journeyed to Lórien on my behest and were making their way home—” Elrond halted. “I need not tell you what transpired when you will read for yourself.”

“Truly, my Lord, I mean no disrespect, but I do not believe such letters would be to my liking.”

“I do,” stated Elrond with such firmness that it was clear that the matter was settled.

Tail down and wagging, the Prince accepted the letters.

0o0o0

Legolas reclined on the bed in the chambers that had been given him, one hand cushioning the back of his head, the other holding the letters on his bent knee. He could have put the scrolls back after Elrond left the library, and the Lord would never have been the wiser. Would he? Legolas had the distinct impression that somehow, Elrond Peredhil was aware of everything that went on in his home.

The Prince sighed, fumbled with the scrolls’ ties, and sighed again before unrolling the parchment. To his relief, he saw that the letters were written in contemporary Sindarin.

Dearest Mother and Father,

I know I promised you that Veryan and I would return from Lórien before the green leaves grew golden, but we have come across a most pitiful band of Dwarves. It seems they are descendants of some of the survivors who fled Khazad-dûm, managing to cling to a meager existence among some of the lesser-known caves northwest of Lórien. They were mistrustful of our desire to help them at first, though they hide their concern behind a mask of gruffness and bravado, but I glimpse some softening of their hearts. We simply must help them. They have dire need of both food and healing herbs, and I believe I have picked up just enough knowledge of the healing arts from being in the presence of Lord Elrond and his sons that I can be of great assistance to them. Moreover, we have food to spare, including lembas, of which we have no true need.

Veryan and I have agreed that he will ride to Imladris with all haste to obtain food and supplies, whilst I remain with our new friends to provide what aid I may. Our hearts cannot bear to leave them comfortless, and I have no doubt that your noble hearts would feel the same were they in my stead. Please forgive the brevity of this letter, but I write in great haste as Veryan prepares to leave forthwith. Until I embrace you both again, know that I love you very much.

Most respectfully yours,

Arphenion


Resting the letters on his knee once more, Legolas marveled at just how odd Arphenion must have felt among Dwarves. Surely he had longed to flee the strangeness of their presence to dwell again among his kin! It was an honorable thing, the Prince concluded, to overcome one’s unease to provide comfort to a stranger. Would he do the same were he to find himself in such a position? True, he held no love for Dwarves but wished them no suffering, nonetheless. He reassured himself with the conclusion that yes, most assuredly, he would have come to the aid of those stiff-necked creatures as well. They could not all be as insufferable as this one named Gimli. His conscious appeased, the Prince read on.

Dearest Mother and Father,

I pray this letter finds you both happy and safe. The Dwarves in my company are grateful, though a bit suspicious, for the generosity of our people in sending most welcome provisions. The supply of healing herbs, food, and cloth tells me that though my kindred remain at home, their hearts are here with us.

The ailments of this remarkable group of Dwarves—certainly their courage and tenacity are something to behold!—are, fortunately, minor and require the application of no more than the minimum knowledge of healing arts. I must say, I had not realized just how much knowledge of the sort I had acquired simply from lurking about the halls of Lord Elrond. Though I could hardly be called a healer, Elrond and his sons have taught me much.

Speaking of the sons of Elrond, please remind dear Elladan that I have not forgotten our agreement and that I will carry out our arrangements upon my return (I beseech you not to ask; I assure you, you do not wish to know). As for when that return will be, as you have no doubt guessed from Veryan’s return without me, I intend to remain in this section for just a bit longer. I wish to see my new friends regain the full measure of their sturdiness before I depart.

My first letter to you was, out of necessity, far too brief. Now that I have a bit more time—for several days yet remain before Veryan’s departure—please allow me to tell you a bit about this company for whom I have come to care. There are five adults, two of them female. One of the females is Grida. She is the daughter of Gudri, who has seen the most summers among this group. The other female is called Freya, and she is the mate of Sigrún, the clan’s leader. There are also Sigrún’s sons Sigurd, a young adult, and Signy, who is yet an infant. It breaks my heart to think of Freya trying to care for Signy when she herself has little strength left in her, and I assure you, from what I have seen, a dwarven mother has every bit of tenderness for her young as an elven mother has for hers. Lady Freya wishes me to extend her personal thanks for the cloth sent with Veryan. As you can well imagine, her young one grows quickly, and she is constantly sewing new garments for him. Before the material arrived, she was on the verge of using her only cloak to make clothing for the babe, though I would have insisted that she use mine instead.

You might think it strange, but Sigurd and I have developed a particularly close friendship, though if you saw us bicker, you might not think it so! He is gruff in the way of Dwarves, but that gruffness conceals a loyal and tender heart, and all our haranguing of one another is meant in jest. Unless I am mistaken, he is in love with Grida. I asked him several days past whether she had captured his heart, and although I cannot be certain, I think I saw him blush beneath that beard. He stammered, “She . . . er . . . I suppose she’s as sturdy a lass as they come!” I imagine such a statement is a compliment among Dwarves, but I shall certainly refrain from using these words to charm any of the ladies at home!

Sigurd might not have a way with words, but you should see him wield an axe! Small, yes, but mighty even in his weakened condition. I suppose I have caused you undue concern now by mentioning the wielding of weapons. Please worry not, Mother, for although we have had some minor skirmishes with orcs, we have faced nothing for which I am not prepared. It is unfortunate, however, that my new friends have known so much trouble from the foul creatures, yet that is the way in these parts, as it is in much of Middle-earth. One need only think of the trials faced by Thranduil and his Mirkwood subjects to know that such hardships plague the innocent without mercy. In fact, I think of our Woodland kin often, wondering whether they know just how much our hearts bleed for their suffering. . . .


Legolas rested the letters on the nightstand, torn between gratitude and irritation. It warmed the Elf’s heart to know that the Imladrim empathized with the plight of the Wood-elves, yet if they sympathized so much with his people, why did they not come to their aid? As soon as the question surfaced in his mind, however, the Prince had no trouble answering: Lord Elrond and his people did not aid those of the Woodland Realm for the simple reason that his father had made it quite clear that they were not welcome. Legolas had never questioned the wisdom of his father’s policy but now wondered whether his sire and king had been mistaken. With such doubt in his mind, he suddenly felt lost; his unwavering loyalty to his father had been what defined him.

The Elf stood and strode to the window, looking at, but not seeing, the moonlit courtyard below. He exhaled deeply, audibly. Thus he stood for how long he knew not, willing his mind (and stomach) to settle. Resolving not to let the letters defeat him, he resumed his vigil on the bed, scrolls in hand. He scanned the remaining contents of the second piece of correspondence and, finding nothing more than Arphenion’s intentions to remain and his regards to his parents, turned to the third.

Dearest Mother and Father,

I am most pleased to say that my dwarven friends, though truly I have come to think of them as family, fare much better. The continued supplies from Imladris have strengthened not only their bodies but their spirits (though it is not easy to dispirit this lively bunch!). Their gratitude is genuine and no longer laced with mistrust. They admit it not, yet I know it comforts them to realize that they are not alone in this battle against evil. Although Imladris is quite a journey from here, the generosity and concern of our people for their plight reaches to their hearts and provides them with greater healing than food or healing herbs ever could (though perhaps we might do well not to tell Lord Elrond that; I should not wish him to think that I disparage the healing arts).

Minor skirmishes with orcs continue—filthy beasts!—though Sigurd assures me that these attacks have been minor compared to those to which they are accustomed. One morning as we prepared to break the fast, I asked him why they did not simply leave and resettle in safer parts as most of his kindred have done. He looked at me as if I were quite mad, and I knew he was thinking,
Blasted Elf! Know you nothing? Many are the times he has spoken these words to me in jest. His silence, however, told me that this time, he was quite serious. He stared long and hard, then looked away.

“Elf, this is our home. It has never failed us although it may look as if it has. This land suffers as much—more!—than we do.” He sighed, though it was more of a grunt, as seems to be the manner of Dwarves. “I cannot hear the trees speak as you Elves claim to do, but I need no such ability to know in my heart that the rocks groan. No, Laddie, we will not forsake these parts now.”

I knew not what to say. I was moved nigh to tears by his words and the pain they conveyed, yet I dared not shed a tear. A Dwarf would dismiss such an act as the foolish sentimentality of Elves, so I remained silent. But I assure you, noble parents, I loved him in that moment as much as I could ever love one of our own, and in my heart, I cursed the Shadow as I have thousands of times before, though never have I meant it as sincerely as I did then.

Veryan returns yet again, and I am hopeful that this will be the last time I shall call upon the aid of my kindred. As I have told you, my friends grow stronger by the moment, and both they and I know that the time draws nigh when I must depart.

Though the trees now lose their first leaves, I beg your understanding for my desire to remain here just a short while longer.

Until I am present to embrace you both once again, I remain your devoted son,

Arphenion


Legolas looked up, startled to find tears in his eyes. They knew! This band of Dwarves understood what he and his people endured day after day, year after year. And they knew what it meant to so love their land that they could not abandon her to darkness, come what may. He paused only briefly before turning to the final letter, eager to know what remained.

Dearest Mother and Father,

This letter I write with the heaviest of hearts. I know not how to tell you what has befallen us, so I shall simply come to the point. Please forgive my ineloquence.

Several days ago, a most vicious orc attack befell us. I shall spare you the details—I know you have neither the heart nor the stomach for such things, Mother—and tell you simply that at one point, I found myself surrounded. My attackers were many, and before I realized what had happened, I saw an orc blade coming straight for my chest. I was pinned, however, and had no way to escape the weapon’s blow. Yet the blow never came, for a noble being, whom I shall ever deem my brother, jumped in and blocked the blade with his own body. The moment of surprise was all we needed to fend off the remaining orcs, but when the battle was over, Sigurd’s bloodied body lay lifeless on the ground. He gave his life for me! Even now, my tears dampen this parchment. Never has there been a truer friend or brother, and if he had had any breath left in his body, I would have carried him to Mithlond to bear him away.

We have commemorated his passing and endeavor to dwell on his bravery, his humor, and his loyal heart; he would rather see us celebrating our victory than mourning his death. I can fairly hear him now: “Come now, Elf! What are you doing weeping? Now see what you have done—your parchment is all wet. How very like an Elf; such high strung creatures!” He would grunt, shake his bearded head, and clap me soundly on the back. I miss him. There is nothing I can say, except I miss him.

These past few dark-filled days, I have dwelled upon a conversation I had with Sigurd only one week past. I spoke of the shame I often feel over the misdeeds of my forebears, and it was Sigurd, oddly enough, who found the words to console me. I should first explain that these Dwarves, being descendants of the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, know more about Celebrimbor and the Elves of Eregion than I do. Although they have not the great library of Lord Elrond, a wealth of lore these Dwarves carry in their hearts and minds.

“To be sure, Elves of any sort are strange,” Sigurd began in his typically undiplomatic way. “But from all we know of those Elves of Eregion, they were true friends to our people. I suppose some may think that they brought their destruction upon themselves, but even though their actions were dictated by the normal arrogance of Elves, there are none who are without error in their fight against Sauron. We have all been deceived at one time or another, and those Elves paid dearly for their mistake. As for these other misdeeds of the Elves of which you speak, I know little of those and care not to. Those mistakes matter little now. Nay, Laddie, what matters now is that we use the lessons of the past and whatever honor remains in our hearts to defeat the evil of Mordor.”

How strange to hear a Dwarf defend Elves! Yet I knew he was right—the mistakes of the past matter little, outside of their usefulness in helping us make wiser choices in the future.

This will be my last letter to you; you have my word. I saw these Dwarves in battle, and a hardier bunch you will not find. I ask only that Veryan be allowed to return once more for provisions for the winter, and once we see our friends well-stocked against the coming snow and cold, Veryan and I will be on our way.

Remember me in your words to the Valar, Parents, for my heart is heavy with grief.

All my love to both of you,

Arphenion

A true friend and brother, indeed,
thought the Prince, and his own heart was heavy, as if he had lost someone dear (though the thought of wishing to whisk a Dwarf away to Valinor was absurd!).

He reclined, letters still in hand, loosing himself in thoughts of orcs, of brothers in arms, of the concern of the Imladrim for his own kindred. Arphenion’s words echoed in his mind: “I think of our Woodland kin often, wondering whether they know just how much our hearts bleed for their suffering.” He had been sorely tempted to dismiss these words as mere rhetoric, but having read of the empathy of the Imladrim for the Dwarves, he now knew deep in his heart that their concern for his kindred was genuine.

And something troubled the Prince, something that had bothered him since he had arrived in Imladris a few short days before: the grievous error of his own people in unwittingly facilitating Gollum’s escape. Had he not defended his people’s intentions? They had been deceived, not unlike the Elves of Eregion. Though it pained the Prince to admit it, he knew that Sigurd’s words were true: they had all made grievous errors. Far be it from him to allow a Dwarf to have more compassion for his own kindred than he had. Among the trees of Eregion, innocent lives were lost, thought the Prince, and in his heart, he vowed that should his journey with the Fellowship take him to where Eregion once stood, he would mourn properly for those who fell at the hands of the Deceiver.

Legolas stretched his long limbs before standing. He crossed his chambers to gaze out the window and was startled to see the dawn’s first light casting her warmth across the courtyard below. How quickly this night had passed!

The Last Homely House was yet silent, though Legolas imagined that brash Dwarf would be up before long to disturb the rare peace of this home. He had better make haste if he wanted to enjoy the silence.

0o0o0

Legolas returned to the library and replaced the letters before strolling to the collection of Wood-elven history. The silence of the morning lent itself to reading, and the Elf had come here intending to pass the time with a volume concerning his own realm. Now that he stood among the rows, however, he considered whether something less familiar might not be a welcome change of pace.

He wandered for a time, taking in the sheer scope of the collection, until a word on a volume caught his eye. It took him little time and effort to decipher the foreign title: On the Destruction of Eregion. Running a reverent hand across the book’s smooth cover, the Elf smiled the saddest of smiles.

Because the manuscript was not in his native tongue, Legolas was on the verge of replacing it. But a single thought then occurred to him, a thought that stayed his hand: this morn was as fine a time as any to learn a bit more Quenya.

[Index]

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