Gritting her teeth, Rowanna forced her aching legs the last few steps along the passageway which ran the length of the Last Homely House. As she sank into the window-alcove she had been aiming for, letting her breath out in a long ragged groan, she fought to keep tears of exhausted frustration from breaking forth. Don't be so feeble-minded! she chastised herself. Last week you were still being carried everywhere, and having always to presume on one of the sons of Elrond or on Béodred to bear you like a babe in arms! At least you are on your feet...
Regaining her strength was proving to be a lengthy business, she acknowledged with a grimace. Although she was walking unaided now, she did so slowly, and with frequent stops to rest her often shaking legs. She wondered miserably how she had ever taken for granted her old boundless energy and tireless limbs.
As they breakfasted that morning, Arwen had suggested another venture into the garden.
"It's going to be warm, so we could sit outside," she had suggested, "or shall we walk down towards the bridge?"
"Thank you, Arwen, but I thought I might try to walk about the house a little. Please don't trouble for me - I know you have much to do, and I would only delay you if you had to keep to my snail's pace!" Rowanna had replied, feeling she could not continually claim the Evenstar's attention now that she realised how much of the running of Elrond's household fell to his daughter. If I ever get my old strength back, I shall be delighted to make myself useful, somehow or other. For now I am nothing but a burden...
Elladan and Elrohir had ridden out of the valley three days earlier, bound north-westwards, intending to join up with a Ranger patrol across Rhudaur - wherever that is, Rowanna had muttered to herself. I am utterly astray with the names and the lie of these northern lands! Watching them mount up before the house, vaulting on to the backs of their restive pair of beautifully matched greys, she had felt an intense stab of jealousy. They were so much at one with their beasts that she could sense just by looking at the twins what those horses felt like under their riders, and she wondered with an ache in her chest how long it might be before she would sit in a saddle again with that ease.
"By the time we return I shall expect to see you galloping up the valley, rohíril!" Elrohir had called, as though he read her thoughts, as he wheeled his mount about. "Farewell!"
Chance would be a fine thing, Rowanna had groused inwardly. She had uncharitably wished the pair would hurry and depart, so that she might not have to stand and pain herself with the sight of them. Now, however, she found she missed Elladan's gentle consideration, and even Elrohir's drawling, ironic teasing.
Taking a deep breath and pushing up with one hand from the elegant marble curve of the window-frame, she stood again, wincing at the protests from her thigh muscles, and continued to walk slowly down the hallway. At least at this pace I have plenty of time to appreciate the architecture! she observed wryly, gazing about her at the exquisite carving of the lintels and window-frames she passed, which wreathed into elaborate, coiling tendrils of foliage, birds and animals often nestling between. She stopped and smiled at a roundel window encircled by twining leaves, with tiny fieldmice peeping from among them. The finest halls of Edoras, even Theoden King's, have nothing to match this! I never saw a house where such enrichment seemed not for show, nor display of wealth, but for the sheer joy of creating beautiful things. I suppose, if you are immortal, there is all the time in the world to learn such skills, and take pleasure in deploying them...
In her mother's tales, the immortality of the Elves had been accepted with little question as a keystone of the legends, the mark of the Firstborn and fairest, setting them apart from Men. Only in Rivendell had it begun to dawn on Rowanna how deeply the absence of aging and death must shape life itself for the Elder Kindred. She had hesitantly asked Elladan one day how old he and his twin were, and his laughing answer had left her reeling. To have seen the passing of two score mortal lifetimes, and more, and yet see the seasons come round again and again unchanging, was beyond imagining. How petty must the doings and dyings of Men seem, to such as you?
Rounding a corner now, she came upon a handful of Elrond's folk, draped elegantly over the ledges and niches of a small balcony which opened out from the passageway, laughing and talking in their lilting, incomprehensible tongue.
"G-good morning," she greeted them hesitantly, unsure as ever how much of the Common Speech they understood. One or two smiled and said something quick and fluid, and one lovely dark-haired Elf-woman who nursed a small harp in her lap raised a languid hand in greeting, and they turned back to their conversation. So it goes always, Rowanna thought with an inward sigh as she turned to limp on her way. You are merry and you laugh, and none of you is ever unkind, and yet...
The previous day she had been struggling with one hand to push a heavy door open to pass through, needing her other hand to steady herself against the wall, when a light, laughing voice had offered assistance, and a deft Elven arm had reached around her to swing the door wide. She had turned to offer thanks, and for an instant had frozen at what she saw; for in the serene depths of the other's grey eyes she thought she read both distaste and pity. Oh yes, you are kind to this woman with the hobbling gait and the gaunt frame, she thought bitterly. I would be as carelessly kind to a trapped and broken butterfly I released through an open window!
If Béodred were here... The treacherous thought slid into her mind unbidden, as she continued to work her way stiffly along the hallway, and she turned on it even as it formed. Oh, a fine one you are! You made him leave against his will because he stifled you and would not let you try your strength, and now you find that strength lacking, you want him back again to lean on! She had stood on the steps, despite his protests that she should not tire herself, as the party bound for Lórien made ready to depart two days after she had confronted the horse-lord. They had even managed a comradely clasp of arms, for Béodred's granite pride would not allow him to flinch in public as she touched him. He pretended you had not stabbed him to the heart - or in the back? - and you feigned not to notice the bleeding wound... Well, you made that bed for yourself, and in it you must lie.
The thought of lying down made her realise how weary she was, and she began to cast around for somewhere to sit again. Few doors seemed to be locked in the Last Homely House, and the Elves appeared to wander in and out of each other's quarters freely and easily, but Rowanna preferred to seek out the more obviously public spaces. Though the first and second doors she passed stood ajar, and she glanced hesitantly through, the chambers beyond looked as though they might be someone's study or sitting-room. Through the third doorway she came to, she glimpsed a long room with tables and deep, cushioned wooden chairs. This seemed more promising, and she took the last few painful steps through the doorway, and sank gratefully onto the nearest seat.
Heaving a sigh of relief, she twisted slowly in the chair as she looked about her. The room she had entered was high-ceilinged, and she thought it must take up two floors of the House. Half-way up the wall, a sinuously curved railing ran around three sides of the room, guarding a walkway, which was reached by a small spiral staircase in one corner. The fourth side of the room was entirely taken up by tall windows, which Rowanna noticed to her surprise had glass in them, the first windows she had seen in Rivendell which were not open to the air. Scattered around the polished floor were richly dyed rugs, and on them stood several writing-desks as well as the tables and armchairs. Giving away the nature of the room, though, were the shelves which lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and the tall wooden cases which jutted out in several places, every one laden with leather-bound volumes.
Rowanna caught her breath. She had never seen so many books and scrolls together in her life. Her mother had been exceptional, in Rohan, for owning a few precious books, brought with her from Gondor, and for teaching her daughter her letters. The Rohirrim were a people of song and story, not of written chronicle, and only the ruling house and their counsellors and scribes were generally literate.
Getting to her feet again, her protesting muscles ignored in her excitement, she moved to the nearest table where several heavy volumes lay, the leather of their bindings darkened with age and their gilded lettering fading. A whole library! I may not be able to walk abroad or ride, but at least I could read! I might learn something of Elrond's people, and Rivendell's history...
Gingerly, she opened the first book before her, careful not to force its boards apart as she felt the resistance of the aging binding. She began gently to turn the stiff, yellow leaves of parchment, leafed further through the text, then stopped in dismay. She turned to the next volume on the table, and the next. Turning to the shelves behind her, she took down first one book, then another, and in the pages of each she made the same discovery. She had been prepared to find some, at least, of the writing in tongues she could not understand; in fact, she could not even tell whether she was looking at the Common Speech or not.
Every volume she opened was penned in a script she had never seen in her life, flowing in long curling strokes across the leaves from richly decorated capitals. Here and there a letter-form seemed half-familiar; but as soon as she thought she grasped it, the recognition would slide away, and all meaning in the elegant lettering eluded her. It was beautiful, alien, and utterly incomprehensible. Overcome with frustrated disappointment Rowanna sank into the nearest chair, shoved the heavy leather tomes angrily away across the tabletop, and laying her head down on her arms burst into tears.
I wasn't sure at first whether Rowanna, having been taught Gondorian letters by her mother, ought to be able to read the tengwar of the Elves; but according to Appendix E of LoTR, the tengwar evolved considerably over the millennia into a variety of scripts. Frodo, for example, despite being literate in the Common Speech and a certain amount of Elvish, both of which used forms of tengwar, couldn't read the lettering on the One Ring, which Gandalf described as "Elvish, of an ancient mode". There seemed therefore to be enough evidence to let me assume, for artistic convenience, that at least some of the script in Elrond's library would be completely indecipherable to a Third Age mortal, even a literate one. (Elrond's library is another assumption; but he is described as a loremaster, and we know he has ancient maps and texts in his house, so a library seems likely...)