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    A Welcome Pause -- Part 3

    Hevensday, 4th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning

    The Last Homely House, Rivendell


    I have a fascinating tale to give you, Dear Reader, but in doing so I fear I may be breaking trust with one of my friends. I do not know whether I can now allow any of my companions to read this journal in light of what I have discovered, but I feel I simply must write down what I have learned. If I do not record it then the knowledge which was gained may never again be seen by another living soul.

    Here is how it happened. Dark clouds had swept down from the Misty Mountains and were threatening rain, and so I spent most of the day puttering around Elrond's Library. It is just the sort of immense repository of lore you would expect it to be, and there I found no shortage of ancient tomes containing the most incredible stories. I assumed my companions were finding their own ways of entertaining themselves, so I made no effort to find them. That afternoon, however, Gaelira called the Company together to tell us we would be departing from Rivendell on the morrow and we had best equip ourselves to face the ice and snow of the mountains.

    Together we walked the length of the valley and arrived at the Marketplace of Rivendell. We were each able to find and purchase various bits of clothing and gear which would make the going in the high places more bearable. For myself I managed to locate an outfit which must have been intended for an Elf-child, but it fit me well enough and was warm. It included a padded shoulder-wrap with a hood, a fur-lined robe, and some snug boots. Thus laden, we returned to the Last Homely house, but not before Gaelira bade us all to make ourselves present in the Hall of Fire at the evening meal. I dressed myself as well as I could manage and went to the gathering. Elrond was there, as were many of his household, Mr. Baggins, and of course my own companions. I was directed to a seat near the head of the table. Then, Gaelira rose and began to speak.

    "Thank you all for being present," she said. "On behalf of Elladan's Outriders, I wish to take a moment to give thanks to our host and also to say farewell, for now. We depart for the mountain passes on a dangerous but important quest, but the power and well-being this valley offers has bolstered our courage and strengthened our resolve like no other place in Middle-earth could. I have three toasts I wish to give, and so with the permission of Lord Elrond I shall begin." Elrond nodded his assent, and Gaelira took hold of her wine-glass. All the rest of the assembled company did likewise.

    "First, we raise our cups to this valley, the hospitality of Lord Elrond, and the warmth availed our Company by all here present. For me, after leaving Lindon and wandering for a long time, I came to Imladris and found not only welcome, but acceptance. A toast to the Last Homely House and its people!" We cheered and drained our glasses, but many servants immediately recharged them.

    "Next," she went on, "We toast Lord Elrond, his sons, and his daughter for their support of our Company. As we go forth, we carry not only the reputation of this house, but the support of Free Folk wherever we are needed. So we drink, not to merely holding back the Darkness, but to destroying the evil in our world for good." We cheered and drank again. Out of the corner of my eyes, I thought I saw, for the briefest of instants, a look of displeasure on Elrond's face. A second time our glasses were filled to the brim.

    "My final toast," Gaelira continued, "Is to the Shire." I jumped slightly in surprise. "I have learned, thanks to our esteemed friend Padryc, what this War is really about. It has been his inner strength and his belief in each of us that has kept us together. With all the great schemes being hatched on both sides of this conflict, I believe it is the simple life of the Shire that will win out in the end -- may that land remain ever green!" Again we cheered and drank. The assembled company put down their cups and applauded Gaelira's speech. For my part, I was starting to feel light-headed and privately was relieved that she had only the three toasts to give. Then, Lagodir stood.

    "I would like to propose a fourth toast," he said. My face fell as a fresh goblet was placed in front of me.

    "To Gaelira," Lagodir said loudly. "Who, even through defeat drives others to face the evil and protect lands that are good and green!"

    "Hear, hear!" the company cried, and we drained our cups yet again. The room started slowly spinning, but then the food was brought out and the farewell banquet began in earnest. It was another fabulous meal with hours of song and merriment, and by the end of it I was very tired indeed. As the Company disassembled, it became clear that Nephyn had taken more wine than was good for her, and I was obliged to assist her back to her room. Dorwinion wine, I would later learn, was an especially potent vintage and it was preferred by the Elves due to their natural ability to resist the effects of strong spirits. Nephyn was cheerful but very subdued as I helped her lay down. Within moments she was sound asleep and I made ready to retire myself. As I turned to leave, however, I caught sight of a long letter written on parchment which lay open on a small desk with quill and ink nearby. Curious, I crept closer to take a look. It was Nephyn's writing, and I was stunned by what it contained. I record now a copy of it (or as close as my memory permits), realizing the huntress may never have intended for any living person to read what she had written. I hope beyond hope my doing this does not endanger our friendship, but I feel I cannot take the chance that this story should vanish forever.

    Here is what I read while Nephyn slept nearby:

    At last my past has been made clear (or clearer) to me. I never dreamed that coming to Rivendell would have such an impact on my life, but at the same time I guess I should not be surprised that it did. I am not sure why I decided to write down this story. Perhaps I am trying to set it down in some kind of order so I can better make sense of what happened today. Or maybe I feel like putting it on paper makes it real... I am not sure. I am not even sure for whom I am writing this. Maybe it is myself. In any case, this is what happened.

     

    My tale begins the morning of our second day in the valley of Imladris. Ever since we arrived I had found within myself a sense of quiet contemplation, such as I would sometimes feel alone in the woodlands of Bree. Often times in my youth I would slip away into the woods and wander by myself for hours upon hours, simply being without thought or care. Those were the times when I felt most at peace with myself and the world, and I found the same feeling as soon as I entered this valley (though the Hobbit's uncanny ability to find the edge of several cliffs did dampen the effect a bit). It is a wondrous place, full of beauty that I'm sure Padryc will detail in his report with more eloquence that I am prone to use. 

    The evening we spent in the Hall of Fire was wonderful. In fact, I would count it as one of the most enjoyable times of my life so far and it was over sooner than I would have liked, but I and my companions were weary from the journey and we all eventually retired to our provided rooms for the evening. I don't know about the rest of my Company, but I slept deep and well, such as I felt like I had not done in ages. The Sun was only just slipping above the edge of the valley when I stirred from my sleep. I had a hard go of convincing myself to rise when all I wanted to do was remain as I was, possibly forever, but I was glad when I did finally rouse myself. The sky spoke of rain to come, but the cliffs and waterfalls were dyed in a myriad of soft colors from pink to yellow in the light of the morning. I found myself thinking that nothing could please me more than a morning walk about the base of the falls.

    I did not want to disturb anyone, let alone any other guests that might be staying, and the race of Men are not generally known for their softness of feet (I believe only the Dwarves come behind us on that front). So I slung on my pack, slipped over the edge of the balcony when I was sure no one was nearby, and headed down the path to the base of the falls as stealthily as I could manage. I have heard about the sensitive hearing that all elves possess and I made extra-sure to step as quietly as my mentor had taught me until I reached the top of the path directly next to one of the closer falls. There I sat in silence, munching on the bits of tack I had in my bag to keep myself from having to leave for hunger or any other reason. Around noon I felt it was high time I set about seeing to provisions for our upcoming excursion into the snowy mountains. With a sigh, I reluctantly stood up and wandered out into the more populated portion of the valley where I assumed I would find craftsmen and could perhaps trade for what I needed.

    I did not have any worry for my companions, but I did wonder about how their day was faring as I headed to where the locals had told me to look for a tailor. I soon came upon two Elves at work with great piles of fabric around them. They drew out thick clothing that would suit me in size and warmth for the upcoming journey. My stock of coin had been greatly diminished as of late, but I was able to barter with them for some of the skins I had been holding onto for a while, thus procuring my full outfit as well as a dress that caught my eye. I had to trade the pristine lynx hide that I'd been saving for it, but it was worth it for a dress made by elf-hands, and I couldn't wait to try it on as I made my way back to my room with my purchases. 

    Noontide was well past by the time I had changed and brushed out my hair, but I thought to make my way to the Hall of Fire once more to see if perhaps there would be anything left to nibble on. If not, I could probably find either Padryc or Drodie somewhere about and they would most certainly be able to tell me where to find some victuals to tide me till supper. I was just about to enter the room when a voice said my name, and I had to use all of my hunting prowess not to jump in surprise. I turned to see none other than the master of the house approaching me. 

    “Here you are at last," Elrond said to me. "I would speak with you for a while.” I didn't dare refuse, no matter how hungry I was starting to feel, and I followed him outside to the porch where he bade me sit on a bench across from him. He asked me many things about my childhood and what I knew of my background. I told him all that I knew and all that I suspected, but little could I give him in the way of facts when I knew so little myself. He did not say much but I could tell a great many things were going on behind those ancient gray eyes as he listened to my tale. Displeasure shone when I spoke of my life at the Pony but it softened when I brought up Saeradan and learning the ways of hunt from him. After my story was ended he said nothing for a while but looked intently at me, so much so that I was beginning to feel nervous, as if something in my tale had made him think me a possible enemy of the valley, though I could not fathom what part would do such a thing. Finally he spoke.

    “How old are you?” 

    “Twenty-six, come the Autumn,” I replied. 

    “Twenty-six...” His eyes went to his folded hands as he mulled over something again, and I could feel sweat trickling down my brow. With a sudden change in his eyes he stood abruptly. 

    “Come with me.” 

    I followed him to the entrance of the house but he did not go in. Instead he pointed to a tall structure just a ways down the path. 

    “That is the Spire of Meeting," he said to me. "Atop the steps you will find Merilos. Tell her what you have told me. She may have answers to some of your questions.” 

    Answers? I hardly dared to hope as I gave a deep curtsey and took off as quickly as I could for the landmark. An elf-maiden stood atop the stairs; she did not take notice of my approach at first for her nose was buried in a rather thick book. It took a couple gentle coughs to finally wrestle her attention away from her reading. 

    “May I help you?” 

    “Are you Merilos?" I asked her. "Lord Elrond said you might be able to answer some questions I have about my lineage.” Her eyebrows shot upward at that as she lowered her book with a decisive thump. 

    “Really?" she said. "I don't know that I have that much knowledge about mortals and their bloodlines. Particularly...” Her voice trailed off as her face seemed to almost freeze for a few moments, as if something in her brain had clicked. She drew closer to me and studied my face much the same way Lord Elrond had done. I found myself wondering if I shouldn't fetch my mask again when she finally spoke, softly and almost under her breath. 

    “How old are you and where do you come from?” 

    “Twenty-six, and I've lived all my life in the Bree-land.” I answered, cautiously. Merilos nodded slowly then turned back to the book she held in her hand, quickly flipping through the pages. 

    “I keep a record of the happenings of this valley: important dates, distinguished visitors, and the like. Ah, here we are.” She studied a few entries. I tried to take a look at what was written, but it was in Elvish, so I wasn't able to read it anyway. As she scanned the pages her face began to change from the almost indifference I had first seen to… something else. Pity? Sorrow? What was it that she read in the pages that moved her so? Finally she looked up and I almost thought I saw tears sparkling in her dark eyes. 

    “Come, walk with me," she said gently. "This will be a story quite long in the telling.”

    I followed her down the steps as she began to weave a tale that began at the destruction of Dale and Erebor by the dragon Smaug. Some of the survivors of Dale had distant relations that lived in the Eastern part of Rohan, and so they made their way south over many miles, following the river until they reached their destination. They were welcomed and soon had made a quiet little community where they lived for many years in relative peace. Nearly two hundred years later, word reached their descendants that Dale and Erebor had been rebuilt, and a longing grew in their hearts to return to the land of their grandsires. 

    But it was not to be. The eastern land of Rohan had never been truly peaceful and the Dunlendings had grown ever more vicious over the years, trying to take what they claimed was theirs by right. And during one such attack they sacked the community of the Dale-men. But the Dunlendings are a tribal people, and this particular tribe decided against killing the Dale-men and instead enslaved them. And so, for many years they toiled under their cruel masters. But in secret they always sought for a way of escape, for themselves and their children.

    One night, by a united effort, they managed to slip a powerful sleeping draught into every single one of their masters' drinks. When the last of the Dunlendings had fallen into a deep sleep, they piled their meager belongings, stolen rations, and little ones into a boat and sailed down the river Isen to the sea in the dead of night. Their ultimate destination was Dale, but they were closer to the sea than Rohan, and they hoped to throw their pursuers off their track by heading in the opposite direction of where they would be expected to go. They made it to sea and were able to barter passage onto a seaworthy vessel heading north. The Dale-men had intended to be dropped by the mouth of the Greyflood river and make their way northward from there, but a great storm came and blew them many leagues off course, taking them instead to the mouth of the Brandywine river. The Dale descendants were all weak from seasickness, lack of sunlight, and their harsh servitude, but they all walked onto the dry land with heads held high and with renewed purpose: they were finally heading home. As they made their way north they encountered a strange little people they had never heard of save in legends: the Holbytlan. These must have been the Hobbits of Buckland, who welcomed them into their homes once they got over their suspicions. The travellers stayed there many months to recover from their hard journey. It was at this time that one of the young woman among them discovered that she was with child. Despite everything that had happened to them, the child seemed determined to live.

    It was almost six months later that they reached Imladris, as rough and rugged a group of travelers as had ever been seen in that valley. They begged shelter from the Elves, who gladly gave it. Merilos was one of those appointed to tend their wounded. The young woman she was instructed to care for did not have any visible signs of injury, but Merilos could tell just by sight that something terrible had been done to her. During their time in Rivendell Merilos was able to nurse her back to health, but there was always a heavy air of grief about her which none could pierce. Then, the very day before their departure for Dale, the young woman spoke to Merilos and told her a most sorrowful tale. She knew that they would never come this way again, and she wished to tell someone her story in confidence, hoping to relieve some of the pain in her heart.”

    The young woman told about how she had been pregnant throughout their journey, but it was about the time that they were settling down for the night in a place beside the road that she felt what could only be the beginning of her birthing pains. A great fear settled upon her then, for she knew that the father was not of the Rohirrim nor of the Dalemen. None of the others knew, though she feared they suspected it, and she knew not what they would do if they were to discover the parentage. In secret she took a horse and rode off into the night toward the distant lights of Bree. She was only just inside the gate when the pains began in earnest. She rode on until she came to an inn, and somehow managed to get a room. And there, all by herself, her mouth stuffed with a rag to keep from screaming, she gave birth to a little girl. Her mother's heart was turned in an instant from joy to fear at the sound of her child's wails, for the babe was as dark as night. No one would doubt her parentage now: a child of the hated Easterlings. Even in Dale they had been a feared bedtime story -- dark men that came from far Rhun and brought with them war and death. This child would face no welcome in Dale, and neither would she. 

    And so, she made the toughest decision of her life. In the still morning hours, she slipped down to the empty common room and left her sleeping child before the dying embers of the hearth. It would be safe and warm until someone would come to stir the fire in a little while. Kissing her child goodbye, she stole out to the stables and hurried back to her people's camp, despite the incredible pain it caused her to move so quickly after giving birth. Her absence had not been discovered, and her people made their way through Bree quickly, but only she knew that the commotion around the local inn was not normal.

    Days passed but her secret could not be kept, for a woman who is no longer pregnant is hard to miss. She told everyone that she had lost the baby in the Bree-land, but only she knew this was a half-truth. It was not lost, but left, and the devastation it would cause her was not something she had taken into account when she had left her child behind. She spoke to Merilos of her fear and regret, but it was too late for her; she was too young and inexperienced to return for her child. That fact brought her to tears daily, for she grieved for her missing child. Sometime later it was learned that the wanderers had indeed all made it safely to Dale and were beginning their new life there in peace. No word was ever heard from them since.

    Merilos and I stood beside the falls now, and I did not care that tears were streaming down from my eyes as the elf-maiden finished her tale. 

    “You have your mother's face and build, she was a tall woman with perhaps more Rohirric than Dale-blood in her. Your father she never mentioned, and that is a secret only she can tell." Merilos's voice was kindly and gentle, and I heard her clearly despite the constant booming of the falls. "That is all that I know of your story, child. There can be no mistake who you are.” I wiped my eyes with my hands as I tried to catch my breath. 

    “What...what was my mother's name?" I asked her. "Did she ever tell you my name?” Merilos' dark eyes softened as she shook her head. 

    “She did not mention the name of the child and I never heard the family name, but her name was Annahae.”

    Here ends Nephyn's secret narrative of her lineage. This copy I have made from memory I will keep with my journal, but it shall be separately written down on its own paper and tucked carefully within the other pages. I hope I have not done wrong by her for I mean no harm. My only intent is to preserve a remarkable tale which might be lost to all knowledge unless it is set down in some form, for I have no idea whether Nephyn intends for any of this to become known. She is my good friend, no matter what her bloodline may be, and may she see fit to forgive me for this intrusion.

    by Padhric on 2017-08-13 02:47:38

    Comments
    user avatar
    Here, here! Well said in the toasts, and may our company ever continue to grow closer and defeat whatever foes it may face as one! I like how you worked my mini-novel in as a letter, I think that was rather cleverly done! Also, is my tipsiness the revenge for the Forsaken Ale fiasco or should I keep my eyes open still? ;P Thank you for taking the time to write out our individual stories, Pad. Looking forward to see what the dwarf had to say about Rivendell.
     on Aug 13, 2017 4:45 pm
    user avatar
    Each of the personal stories is unique and furthers who we are. Nephyns story is very moving and certainly reinforces the importance of the feelings of the company. What began as an account has turned into a novel. As always - amazing.
     on Aug 13, 2017 7:10 pm
    user avatar
    Neph, the thought and effort you put into that novella was truly inspiring. Thank you for being so dedicated... and fun!
     on Aug 14, 2017 12:33 am
    user avatar
    ^___^
     on Aug 14, 2017 12:51 pm
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