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The Last Whose Realm Was Fair And Free
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Last Whose Realm Was Fair and Free

Gil-galad was an elven king
Of him the harpers sadly sing
The last whose realm was fair and free
Between the mountains and the sea…


I

The sea laps the long shores of Lindon, home to little villages huddled in coves, to towns nestled at the feet of the mountains, in secretive vales, and to forests watchful with old eyes.

Lindon does not sing like the realms of old: the airs of its people – Grey, Green, and weary with knowledge – float like a memory or a whisper above forest and field, save in the great Havens. Song rings the Lhûn, and the hammer’s beat is its drum, the scythe its whistle, as years become yéni and yéni drift past. An age of apprentices build the towers, build the walls and the long walls, the walks and weapons and all the byways that stretch into the mountains – long, slow labor of all too few as Lindon marches slowly east.

For, in the east lie lands more fertile to feed the bricklayers, the wall-builders, the stonewrights, and the swordsmen who watch over all. For, in the east sing other songs – earthy Dwarvish songs, scattered Mannish songs, a distant echo of Sylvan voices, and, at length, another, distant one that slips in like a shadow filled with many strange voices – a cacophony, yet like a cloud, it has its shape and it looms.

Thus they must build doubly, and Gil-galad must marshal guild and farmer, twin strengths, twin trials against outsiders and the despair of memory. Yet ‘tis the sea that sings loudest in Lindon-land, and the ships that sail west answer with voices lost to the waves and the sunset.

But one day, out of the west, comes an answer – a new voice, a renewed voice, like a trumpet, sounds upon the shore. A new force is rising across the seas… and in Middle-earth.


II

In the long memories of Elves, Men move like hares – swift and fleeting. Sometimes they stay and gain faces; most often, they do not.

Gil-galad remembers the Edain who went west, remembers them better than he knows the Atani of whom he hears rumor from those sent east to woo the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm. Of that woodland people, he knows only that they lack farmcraft, for, seizing upon chance, Celebrimbor had sent for those of Lindon who would come to work the land and give the Dwarves reason to stand with Lindon.

A sound demand, and though Lindon’s towns would suffer for a time from thinner harvests, and the forest-folk from heavier tax-in-kind, Gil-galad had uprooted many, sent them and their seeds and ploughs marching east to Celebrimbor – indeed, he had sent forth his lieutenants, Galadriel and Celeborn, to settle Eregion and thus in one stroke keep better hold on Noldorin guilders and soothe the upset of Sindarin farmers. He needs reliable eyes in new lands: Celebrimbor is craftwise, and so can serve as herald to the Dwarves, but he does not yet know rule. He does not know the gentler arts of war – the fist in the glove that are law, trade, and treaty.

The Edain who have come to shore… do. Like speaks to like, for Ereinion is his name and knows well the craft of kingship.

And so he welcomes the man, Vëantur, whom Tar-Elendil – ah, the name brings laughter as much as hope! – holds so dear, and since he has need of good farmers, hears Vëantur’s talk of steel ploughs and fallowing, and of the mining of birdshit to make the fields bloom, and he takes note. He pays heed: the secondborn children have grown up on their Isle, he sees, and are no more members of the Houses of the Eldar – though they may, with careful handling, become allies. And so he sends Vëantur and his mariners to Círdan, who knows ships as does no other. And he tells the Men of the lands southeast of the mountains, and sends them home with gifts of gold and silver drawn from Lindon’s mines.

Men are so swift! Elves move like silt in the rivers: smooth and slow over time. Celeborn’s farmers have learned the land and begun to put down roots to bind them to it and make it bloom. Among Dwarves the smiths of Celebrimbor gain in honor, and through them Galadriel begins to wean the Dwarves from their friends, the woodland hunters of the south, to the elven farmers tilling on their doorstep. In that time – hardly any! – Vëantur has grown old even among his people, and ceased to sail, but he has brought Gil-galad his apprentice: the son of the king’s heir, Meneldur.

Anardil is young and eager – and he has his eye upon the southlands. This one takes the craft gifts of the Elves, and in an eyeblink, turns them into ships that will sail longer, into harbors that will better house them – and not only in Númenor.

Upon a day, a bare score of years later, even as Galadriel lays the cornerstone of Ost-in-Edhil, a messenger comes with a message for Gil-galad, inviting him to come to Vinyalondë, where “Anardil Aldarion” would greet him…


III

Men are strange creatures. Elves cultivate insight that is bound to the world, and produce craftmasters to work with that world and bring it to completion. Men cultivate another sort of insight, one that cuts its ties with this world to produce machines that master time and space. The guilds of Lindon make fair wonders over long years and coax bounty from field and forest; the guilds of Númenor make machineworks, that take in trees and spit out cut logs, that take in yarn and spit out cloth by the yard-square. Men cannot hear the world as Elves do; they work it as Elves will not, and the work of their hands overflows…

And in the cleared forests, Vinyalondë’s fields spread out, dotted here and there with vegetable patches, and new, young trees. Anardil – “Aldarion,” indeed! – speaks of ports and timber, and more voyages south to seek more land, more trees – and allies in their harvesting. But the people of this place do not take well to farming, and they fear the mills. He needs Men to work the fields and to keep Vinyalondë against the raids upon the timber yards.

Vinyalondë’s planking is still raw in places, but Gil-galad needs no foresight to prophesy the course of things: Númenor will be twice the power Eregion shall be, in half the time.

And how shall that power look upon Elves in Lindon and Eregion – particularly Eregion, where the hold is yet young and frail? If the Dwarves will accept the fruits of elven labor, then will they not accept the bounty that Men’s labor can offer?

What of those apprentices among Elves, who might be moved to bitterness by the scarcity of places in a guild?

What if Númenor should unite with that elusive shadow in the east?

So he agrees to send advisers who can help Aldarion order matters for wintering over, and stay to help protect the storehouses. And Gil-galad warns him to be wary in farther journeys, asks him to send word – nay, to come himself to Forlond – when he returns from journeys south with news of the powers he might find there.

And he gives Aldarion a new gift: a pound of true silver from Hadhodrond.

Aldarion agrees. Lindon has new eyes upon the world…


IV

The south’s oversight seen to, Círdan and Gil-galad turn toward Mithlond, not yet what it should be, and they open more harborage, build more towers, more walls to line the town and the roads. Spring follows winter, follows fall and summer – again and again. When next Aldarion comes, he comes with new vessels, and stronger allies: the Guild of Venturers has grown powerful, and will upbuild the new harbor, sail ever farther south. They shall also see to its maintenance and bring farmers from Númenor to settle upon the land.

Galadriel does not care for this alliance with Aldarion. Celeborn, too, is displeased. They send word to Forlond of harried, hungry men who come out of the forests: refugees of Vinyalondë, they want weapons against the Men of the West, who have stolen their trees and all of their livelihood. Their groves and sacred places are gone.

Their chiefs say the Elves must repay, for having taken the Dwarves’ allegiance, whence they might have gone for steel, for their metalcraft is as poor as their farmcraft. Celebrimbor, who rails against the Númenorean mills, warns Galadriel, is ready to give them what they desire.

The Men of the West are your allies, his lieutenants write; What are we to do with these exiles, fruit of their works? The Enedrim do not want new land, though that would be wisest, or at least, prudent. But they will not hear such counsel. They want the forests back. What are we to do?

Feed them, Gil-galad orders. Clothe them, show them kindness, show them new forests – but do not arm them.

(V

And quietly, he sends soldiers of his own southeast to watch the borders – Noldor, mostly, and some Sindar, whose loyalty he trusts, to turn those eastern woods and hills hostile to Men, that such refugees shall not meet with the Laiquendi of old Ossiriand. That might make trouble, for all kingdoms rest on their divisions, and he cannot afford to have his haunt him. Kin-slayings are grievous – let Númenor be grieved, Ereinion cannot afford it. Charity is cheap by contrast, and so he will pay it – Lindon and Eregion will pay with pity’s fruits and buy themselves peace with Elves, Dwarves, and Men…)


VI

From time to time, in what to Elves are brief years, he hears from Aldarion – of his struggles with his father over the Venturers, of the farms in Vinyalondë and bloody strife with the Enedrim, of his ascendance to King’s Heir, and of the new harbor in Pelargir, on the borders of a strange and mountainous land that lies under a smoky gloom. The Prince sends word of voyages that can now stretch farther south, and Aldarion writes of kingdoms built upon the backs of slaves, who labor to make the roads and till the earth for men of means. And they worship strange gods, too, though they take his gifts, the kings and princes of these peoples, and thank him in the name of the Emissary of the Sacred Fire.

Then Gil-galad feels his fear stir, for that touches memories of Morgoth, who ruled long in the far lands south. He confers with his lieutenants and with Círdan, and they make plans: Eregion established, for a time, Celebrimbor can hold it. Galadriel and Celeborn, and picked Elves of their house make the journey east to spy out the Anduin vales with the help of the Nandor, whom the Dwarves recommend, for they benefit from the trade in furs and nuts that the Nandor bring in exchange for steel, and the Nandor have been long in the east, whence the shadow rises.

But Gil-galad places Lindon in Círdan’s hands, and with Elrond in train, takes ship to trace Aldarion’s course. From Vinyalondë to Pelargir, and down the long coasts of the Southlands they sail, ‘til they come to a new cove, where Aldarion again is building. Gifts they give him – medicines against the heat, and fine parchments and paper for drafting and map-making.

And Gil-galad offers another aid: Lindon’s agents, led by Elrond, who learned to scout and spy in the long wars against Morgoth. They shall disperse across the land to discover what they may of the great “emissary” in the east and report it back to all, if Aldarion will give them shelter and safe passage on return.

Aldarion takes his hand in princely friendship, then, and his grip is hard. Gil-galad looks upon him, looks beyond him to the harborworks, to the yet unwitting Southrons come seeking what gifts Númenor may give, and, scion of kings, he can see: the rabbit-races shall inherit the earth. The long slow labor of Elves beneath the stranglehold of guild and farmer, Men cut in half as they cut across the face of Middle-earth.

So what if, now, Númenor clings to the shores – may yet lose them – and totters from harbor to harbor? Time is with them, for all their short lives.

Well, then, that Númenor remember Lindon with friendship and, above all, reverence for the Eldar race. Memory of a certain sort may save Lindon in the end, and Eregion, too, and twice over: for if this emissary is one of Morgoth’s, then they shall need the strength and numbers of Númenor against the slave-empires their enemy shall throw at them; and if he is not, still, they shall need Númenor to remember them with such awe as shall give Elves time to build their walls against the power in the West.

And so Gil-galad gives his last gift, work commissioned of a grudging and unhappy Celebrimbor himself: a ring, imbued with good memory of its makers, which may open the hand and heart of him who wears it to Elvish friendship. It looks well upon Aldarion, who receives it gladly, and Gil-galad shall go forth more easy in mind.

For, the course he’s charted is thin as threaded mithril, but Ereinion can see no other. Even Galadriel, with her long sight, can find no other way. And so Gil-galad will court the king’s son; Celeborn shall give such gifts as ease the dispossessed Enedrim and blunt their memories, and Galadriel shall memorialize: in the books of life and death, she gives dying voices their place upon a page… and closes the book.

VII

Who would rule in Middle-earth must build, and master his divisions to withstand other blows. Thus Gil-galad balances Sindar and Noldor, the farmhold and the crafthall, against each other and against the Green-elves, who distrust most others, but keep the forests. And ever he seeks to grow allies: in Eregion, in Lórinand, near that fatal Gap. In letter after letter, he takes counsel with Aldarion, gives gifts to gain friends in the line of Elros, and in the high houses of Númenor. When, eventually, his spies return on Aldarion’s flagship to tell the name and nature of the emissary in the south, and of all the vast slave-empires that feed his armies, Ereinion will back Aldarion even to the king of Númenor.

But far-sighted kings fail closer to home, and later, when the one who had seemed an emissary of Sauron gains entry into Eregion, Gil-galad curses his blindness, for he should have learned: never overlook the guildmasters! He had not thought that Celebrimbor would remember all the wreck of the Enedwaith so well, or hate Númenor’s mills so greatly, that he would seek to rule, and alone. The crafthall Celebrimbor knows, but not rule, or he would weigh his allies better.

But Celebrimbor will not hear him: You speak of good rule: what is a king who does not honor the land, who does not honor the ancient rights and dignity of the crafthall? What allies can Men be, who destroy the bases of a king’s power? And so what can you teach me of allies, unless that it is well if they are wicked?

I did not choose their wickedness, but I use it, for I have no choice. I look to the first duty of kingship: to keep the land and the people by the sword, and in this matter, swords are needed – more than we who honor the crafthall shall make ourselves, he answers.

Then you do not know the crafthall, though you say you honor it, writes Celebrimbor, and will say no more of what he means. And perhaps he has learned something of the law of division, for he holds farm and crafthall against Gil-galad’s folk: he has told the tale well, to turn them against the high-king and his agents.

Only later does Gil-galad understand, when in fact it is already too late.

These I send to you, Celebrimbor’s letter, scrawled in haste, reads. These and the others I have made would have given us rule in Eriador. Gil-galad considers the rings that the harried messenger surrenders, and Galadriel’s note:

Like unto Aldarion’s in some ways, but made to ease the rule of others, and give them power over their own kind in turn.

Then Gil-galad laughs, and bitterly: against the machinists, another machine, though one to fit the older ways: the honor of hall and field and elvish will. A ring of minds against a ring of slaves or a ring of dead mills bound to living flesh.

He has then underestimated the crafthall, but even so, not fatally. Long ago, he knew: Eregion would be half the ally that Númenor would be. It is a bloody proving, but the day he sees that bounty of ships in his harbor, when Ost-in-Edhil lies already in ruin, he knows he bet aright. ‘Tis with Númenor the future lies, bloody though it be, and by the time they stand before Orodruin, he knows the full truth: there is no ‘afterward’ for Lindon. Eregion shall not rise again. Lóthlorien and Imladris may persist, but they shall dwindle and grow furtive. Power is passing.

The Sea has always sung loudest in Lindon; Gil-galad can hear it ringing in his ears when Sauron at last comes forth, and his resolve comes from the sea and its despairs: if Lindon must wane, so be it! Lindon has been losing ground a long while already.

The Enemy is approaching; an ashy wind sweeps across the plain, and Gil-galad, with the sea in his eyes, lifts Aiglos high. Lindon is dying – very well. Only let Sauron fall with them in war’s wreckage, and Númenor may claim whatever is left!

~~~

Notes:

This piece draws heavily on “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” and “The Mariner’s Wife” in UT. “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” gives the background for what happened at Vinyalondë that destroyed the native peoples of the Enedwaith, and part V above attempts to explain the origin of such a document. Galadriel and Celeborn are here leagued with Gil-galad as his front-line agents, which makes sense to me (in a long-term, geographically diverse fight, you want a coordinated effort, not a bunch of people running around and doing stuff independently and getting in each other’s way) and doesn’t conflict with anything in UT or the Silmarillion. Celebrimbor’s role, as accidental traitor, becomes that of motivated rebel with a cause – it’s just that he doesn’t realize he’s fighting for something that is going to die eventually in the face of war and the introduction of new technologies, which will corrode the grip of the guilds on elvish society.

The Dwarves’ reliance on foreigners over whom they have no claim of sovereignty for their food is given out in Peoples of Middle-earth, which is an extremely rare and chancy arrangement for a feudal society.

Aldarion’s ring is an interpolation of the idea of the “lesser rings,” establishing a background for the idea of the Rings of Power that Celebrimbor and the Mírdain would begin forging under Annatar’s guidance in S.A. 1200.


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