Four Rings for the Elven Kings 4
With every passing day, Elrohir was beginning to forget. Little
by little, so subtly he almost failed to realise it, memories of his old
life in Imladris were fading. They were being replaced by memories
from his new life. The shift in time was correcting itself. It
was almost as if the previous history, the entire known history of the Eldar,
had never existed. Elrohir had erased it.
For many nights he had stayed up in his bedroom well after everyone else
had gone to sleep, writing out page after page of everything he could remember
from the old reality. He had already forgotten some of the details.
There were holes here and there where the path of events eluded him.
But as much as he could remember, he wrote, in the Sindarin language that
was already becoming difficult, and the Tengwar that had already started
to look strange to his new eyes. He took special care to write perfectly
what had happened to Elladan, and what he had done in the past at Cuiviénen
to change the present.
After seventeen nights of writing, the manuscript was finished, and Elrohir
was ready to return to Fainor in Goldarost and continue his apprenticeship.
He left the papers in his bedroom, carefully hidden beneath layers of blankets
and clothing at the bottom of a wooden chest.
Goldarost was a considerable walk from Elgarth, and vastly different from
the tree-lined avenues and canopy walkways that surrounded Menegroth.
Goldarost was a Noldorin city. It had been built around a rocky hill
near a stone quarry, and boasted towers and spires that reached halfway to
the clouds. The peaks were visible from miles away. In direct
opposition to the Telerin fondness for underground dwellings, the Noldor
liked to outdo themselves with taller and taller structures. All of
it was made of stone.
Fainor's stone house, with a relatively small tower, was situated toward
the centre of the city. Elrohir followed the winding path up the hill,
passing courtyards and gardens, markets and fountains. He crossed through
the city square. Perfect stone likenesses of the kings of Doreldin,
larger than life, stood here in a semicircle around a shallow pool.
On the far left, Kûan, the first king, dressed in primitive furs.
The plaque at his feet read, "Killed in battle by an arrow to the heart."
To his right, his son, Nôwê, "Died of wounds inflicted by the
balraug he slew." Nôwê had no children, so the crown had
passed to his cousin, Elu, "Captured by enemy fiends and beheaded."
On the far right of the semicircle stood Dior, hands lifted in a benign and
welcoming pose. He had taken the crown in place of his mother, and
his reign had so far lasted longer than the three previous kings combined.
Dior was no warrior. He had not yet faced his chance to be killed.
Fainor's house was within sight of the square, and Fainor must have been
waiting for him, because the door swung open almost as soon as Elrohir knocked.
Fainor nodded, his standard, perfunctory greeting. "Welcome back."
He took Elrohir's cloak and pack.
"Thank you," said Elrohir. As he stepped into the house, he was greeted
by the familiar, mingling smells of hot iron, charred wood, and burnt leather,
which had grown oddly pleasing to him.
"I suppose your days at home were enjoyable. How is your family?"
Fainor's words came out of expected courtesy only, and they sounded so.
"All well," Elrohir answered. "Though unfortunately, my brother is
still out on the Fence. I had no chance to see him."
"Hm," said Fainor. "When is he due home?"
"In two years."
"You may take another leave when he next returns to Elgarth."
Elrohir nodded gratefully. "Thank you."
With the standard conversation quickly concluded, Fainor sat down at the
table at the far end of the room and grabbed a slice of bread from an open
basket. He motioned for Elrohir to do the same. "Well," he started,
"now that you're back, I can get on with a few more projects I've been waiting
to do. I could use an extra pair of hands. I was thinking...
you've shown yourself too advanced for the simple tasks I've so far given
you. We could leave the functional blades for now and move on to finer,
more decorative items."
Elrohir had, in his old life, received some training in the forge.
The techniques he had learned were with him still. Techniques which,
though considered standard and simple in Third Age Imladris, had not yet
been discovered in the new history. Fainor never said anything, but
Elrohir could tell that he was impressed by these seemingly natural and intuitive
talents. He would also never admit that he was learning from Elrohir
even as Elrohir was learning from him.
The project Fainor had in mind was to make a new kind of metal, which he
referred to in conversation as "istildin", that would brilliantly reflect
starlight but remain otherwise unnoticeable. He had been working at
it, bit by bit, for the past twenty or more years, and was no closer to creating
his desired end than the day he started. He showed Elrohir his progress:
a collection of failed samples. None was close to what he desired.
Each was dismissed as too dark, too brittle, or too soft, and none had the
needed reflective properties.
Elrohir studied the pieces on the table in Fainor's workshop. He picked
one up in his hand, turned it over, and examined the composition. Fainor
watched him with a curiously smug smile, at once certain that he would be
unable to offer any advice but still hopeful of any suggestion. "What
have you been using as the base for these?" Elrohir asked. "Silver?"
Elrohir turned the piece of metal over again. "Any mithril?"
"It's paler than silver, and has a finer sheen to it... I would guess it
would do well for what you're attempting."
Fainor stepped closer. "Never heard of it."
For a moment, Elrohir was stunned. He looked up at Fainor in surprise,
trying to imagine how the finest of Elven smiths could not know what mithril
"Where did you learn of such a thing?" Fainor asked.
"Learn of it?" Elrohir asked. "I don't know, I suppose I just..." He stopped,
trying to think of exactly when and where he had first heard of mithril.
To his confusion, he could not. Now that he thought of it, he could
not recall anyone ever mentioning such a thing, or showing him. "I
don't know," he said again, slowly. "It must have been... must have
been something Eöl said to me once.."
Fainor scowled. "Eöl. Of course. He would have a thing
Eöl, Elrohir suddenly remembered, was Fainor's constant rival, and the
chief factor behind the concept of istildin. It had been the unveiling
of Eöl's spectacular black galvorn that had prompted Fainor to attempt
his own signature alloy. Eöl's success had been a thorn in Fainor's
side ever since.
"Sorry," said Elrohir.
"It is hardly important," Fainor muttered. He gathered the samples
from the table and stowed them back in his chest of failed experiments.
The chest, Elrohir noticed, was near overflowing.
"So..." Elrohir dared to venture, "...what else can we do?"
"The usual," grunted Fainor. "Stoke the fires. I have blades
Elrohir did as he was told, and said nothing further. There was never
any use in talking when Fainor was in a foul mood.
~ ~ ~ ~
In Fainor's house, hours flew by quickly, but seasons dragged on. Two
years took a long time to pass. Day after day, it was only ever the
two of them at the table for breakfast, at the forge all day, and at the
table for supper. Fainor's wife had left him long ago to live with
her sister. His sons were grown and gone. Maglaur had married
a woman in Elgarth, and his visits home were few and far between. Maidros
guarded the Fence. He had not been seen in Goldarost in over seventy
years. Curfinu, who lived in the city, was the only one who came round
frequently enough to be called a regular visitor.
It was through a curious friendship of Curfinu's that Eöl's son, Maiglin,
could be found at Fainor's table on the eve of Elrohir's departure back to
Goldarost. Unlike their fathers, Curfinu and Maiglin had recognised
that their interests could be served better through collaboration than suspicious
secrecy. They worked often together. Fainor was, therefore, slow
to speak of his work to Curfinu, lest Maiglin somehow discover his secrets
and report back to Eöl. Sometimes even Elrohir was left uncertain
of the true purpose of their projects. Fainor trusted Elrohir, but
only in his guarded, distant way; Elrohir was, after all, Maiglin's great-grandson.
He had closer ties to that branch of the family.
Still, Elrohir felt less comfortable with Maiglin than with Fainor.
For deep reasons he could not quite place, he never found Maiglin to be completely
trustworthy. He seemed the sort to keep secrets, and not only
the trade secrets that went with life as a smith. It was as if he were
concealing a darker part of himself, while Fainor, for all his gruff arrogance,
was at least honest. Fainor was never the kind of man to say one thing
and mean another. If Elrohir made a mistake in his work, Fainor never
hesitated to correct him. He seemed to genuinely want Elrohir to achieve
the greatest possible result. But the few days he had trained with
Curfinu, Maiglin had watched and stayed silent while Elrohir chose the wrong
tools, deliberately allowing him to fail in order to arrange an unfair comparison
in their finished products. Maiglin was not above cheating to get what
So, when he had packed his things for the journey back to Elgarth, Elrohir
spent as little time as politely possible saying his farewells. He
was more interested in getting home, and especially in seeing Elladan again,
than arguing over alloys with Maiglin and Fainor. He clasped Fainor's
hand, and nodded to Maiglin and Curfinu.
"I will look forward to your return," said Fainor, and Elrohir knew he meant
it. He knew Fainor had come to think of him not only as a student but
also as a sort of substitute for family. Apart from Curfinu, occasionally,
there was no-one else.
Elrohir forced the pang of sadness that always came with these kinds of thoughts
to the back of his mind. He had grown to care about Fainor. But
at the moment, he cared about Elladan more. "I will be back soon enough,"
"Please give my regards to my father, if you should see him," said Maiglin.
"I will," Elrohir answered. "Though as he never comes to Menegroth
any more, it is unlikely our paths will cross." His voice sounded stiffer,
and colder, than he would have liked.
Maiglin gave him a usual, guarded half-smile. Before anything further
could be said, Elrohir turned, and was out the door. He let his irritation
with Maiglin, however unfounded, hasten his steps, until he was almost running
by the time he reached the Square of the Kings. Dior's stone face smiled
down at him as he hurried past. He broke into a true run.
A single thought occupied his mind as he walked the long road from Goldarost
to Elgarth; Elladan would already be home. The last letter Elladan
had sent had been written just before his second-last shift at the lookout.
When the letter reached Goldarost, Elladan would have been over halfway home.
Now he would be home for certain, and would be sitting by the fire with the
family telling grand tales of his near-death adventures on the Fence.
Elrohir smiled. He would walk without resting if he had to, to quicken
~ ~ ~ ~
He could tell, somehow, that something was wrong even before he opened the
door. The room beyond was too quiet. There was no crackling fire,
and no laughter. Only the quiet hum of murmured words filtered through
the wood. Elrohir's hand shook as he pushed at the handle. The
door swung open.
The first thing he saw was the back of a dark-haired man in a green cape.
Elladan, he thought, then, No, not Elladan. The man was
too tall. Beleg. To Beleg's left, standing in profile
so that Elrohir could see his face, was Haldir. At the creak of the
door, both turned to look at him, sombre and unsmiling. No-one spoke.
In the corner, Celbrían was crying, or Elrohir guessed she was.
Her face was covered by her hands. Elroth stood behind her, with Arwen,
and both wore an ashen look of shock. Elrohir needed only look at them
to know why Haldir and the others were there. A sickness began to churn
in his stomach.
"You should sit down, Eldimir," said Haldir
"Why?" whispered Elrohir. "So you can tell me my brother is dead?"
He looked from Haldir to Beleg, who exchanged a quick glance. "That's
why you're here, isn't it..."
"We don't know for certain-" Beleg started, though a sharp hiss from Haldir
cut his words short."
Celbrían let out a long sob. Elroth gripped her shoulders fiercely.
"He was not killed," said Haldir. "Captured."
The word hit Elrohir like a blow to the chest. Captured was worse than
killed. Killed, at least, usually meant an immediate death by an arrow
to the heart or head. "Did you at least-" he began.
Haldir shook his head. "It is too late, Eldimir. He'll be dead
by now. There's no hope."
"You do not know that!" Elrohir shouted.
"I know, and you do as well, what they will do to him. What I am sure
they have already done."
"Haldir..." said Beleg. He had his hand over his mouth and was looking
at Celbrían, who stared back with red, wet eyes.
"What will they do?" she asked quietly.
"My Lady..." Beleg said.
"What will they do to my son?!"
Haldir tensed. He looked at the floor while mumbling his answer.
"They want to... they want to learn the secret to Elven immortality.
If he is still alive after they drain most of his blood..." He coughed,
and took a breath, as if thinking how best to phrase his answer. "We
have found bodies of their prisoners. All... hands cut off, or whole
limbs missing... skin pulled away... Their mouths and eyes were burned
or stitched shut."
Celbrían's wail echoed from the walls. Elroth knelt down beside
her, crushing her in a protective and possessive embrace. Beleg, now
as pale and sick-looking as Elroth, cupped his head in his hand and leaned
against the wall.
Elrohir could hear no more of it. He left his family, slamming the
door shut behind him, and ran to his own bedroom. Elladan was dead,
or as good as dead. It was Elrohir's fault. That thought caught
him off-guard, but he knew somehow that it was true. How is it my
fault? he asked himself, but there was no certain answer. It simply
was. He was the one responsible for this horrible end.
Without thinking, he grabbed the nearest object, a candlestick, and flung
it across the room. The metal bent, but did not break. He grabbed
the earthenware wash bowl from his table. It shattered perfectly, sending
a rain of shards onto the stone floor. Its matching cup followed.
All through the room, Elrohir's rage drove him to take everything he could
reach and destroy it in whatever way he could manage. He overturned
chairs and tables, smashing their delicate legs. He pulled out old
clothes still left in his wardrobe, tearing off sleeves and ripping any seams
that would give. He found a bundle of papers folded up at the back.
He was about to shred them as well, when a strange thing caught his eye.
The papers were written with words he could not read.
He knew that he had written them, and remembered doing so. It had been
two years earlier. But now that he saw his work, he had no recollection
of what he had written, or why it was in this foreign alphabet. The
letters were a series of long, flowing swoops and curves, accented with dots
and curls. It looked, he mused, like something Fainor had been working
on that had made its way into his chest of failed and abandoned projects.
Was it something Fainor had taught him that he had already forgotten?
It was possible. His memory had been so patchy at times these past
few years that he often wondered if he was entirely sane.
But Fainor's name in association with these papers seemed right. So
did Elladan's. Written on the papers was something about Elladan: something
Elrohir needed to know. He could remember that much. It was important.
A spark of hope flickered in his mind, along with an unsatisfied itch of
a forgotten quest. It was unreasonable hope, but there all the same.
He needed to find out what it meant, and find out what he had forgotten.
~ ~ ~ ~
Celbrían made no objection to his early departure back to Fainor.
She could scarcely look at him when he went to say goodbye. He looked
too much like Elladan.
Elroth, though, begged him to stay. He could not bear the though of
losing one son forever and the other for two more years. Elrohir was
all that remained to remind him of Elladan.
Arwen, like her mother, was silent. She had withdrawn to her bedroom
to grieve in privacy, but still, like her father, wished that Elrohir would
stay. She would need him when the void left by Elladan's death became
But Elrohir's mind was set. He had the papers safely packed with his
things. The sooner he took them to Fainor, the sooner he would know
what he had to do. For Elladan's sake, it could not wait. He
left as soon as he said his farewells, and returned to Goldarost as quickly
as he could manage. Dior's stone smile seemed forced this time as he
By luck, Fainor was not working when Elrohir came to the house, but sitting
at the table with a book and a bowl of plums. He glanced up with a
look of confusion, which quickly turned to a look of worry.
"Eldimir... what is wrong?"
Elrohir already had the manuscript in his hands. He sat down heavily
in the chair across from Fainor, and as he did, he started to shake.
"My brother..." he said. "My brother..."
With only those words, Fainor seemed to understand. He sat back in
his chair, watching Elrohir carefully, and waited for him to continue.
"He is dead," said Elrohir. "My father said... Beleg told him... the
enemy, a small band of them, attacked and scaled the Fence with ropes.
Their aim was to take captives. They took four, and Eldon was one of
them... He will be dead by now." A sudden tear fell from his
cheek and landed on the paper in his hands.
"I am sorry," Fainor said quietly.
Elrohir nodded, sniffing and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "This
is my fault."
"How could it be your fault?"
"I do not know. It just..." Elladan was dead, when he had the
power to prevent it. It was his fault. The guilt and sadness
threatened to overwhelm him, with every emotion he had ever refused to feel
striking mercilessly at his weakened defence, and the weight was unbearable.
Piece by piece, as Fainor watched, his composure snapped. He leaned
over the table, rested his head on his arms, and broke down in sobs.
"You cannot think it is your fault at all..."
Elrohir felt Fainor's uncertain hand come to rest on his elbow. Wordlessly,
he shoved the bundle of papers across the table.
"What is this?" Fainor asked.
"I am not sure," said Elrohir. He raised his head only enough to look
at Fainor through wet eyelashes. "I found it in my wardrobe.
I remember writing it, but... I cannot read it."
Carefully, Fainor studied the pages. He turned from one to the next,
then back, occasionally stopping to run his fingers over the words.
"Where did you learn to write like this?" he asked.
"I do not know," Elrohir answered. "I have no memory of ever knowing
that script. But I thought... I think I remember seeing something like
that here, once."
"I did not think I ever showed it to you," Fainor murmured. "I recognise
many of these letters, but..." His voice trailed off into silence,
and he flipped through the pages again.
"Can you read it?"
Fainor shook his head. "No."
Elrohir's heart sank. If Fainor could not read it, there was little
hope of anyone else ever deciphering it.
"What I mean is, while I know- I think I know- what most of the letters are,
they do not make any words that I can read." He paused to tap the paper
for a moment, then stood up. "I will be right back."
He left Elrohir then, and returned a few minutes later with a handful of
his own papers, which he spread out across the table between them.
These papers were covered with the same kinds of letters used in Elrohir's
manuscript. Some of them were crossed out and redrawn, and some were
arranged into what must have been words. "Have I shown you this before?"
"It looks familiar," Elrohir said, which it did. Only he could not
say whether it looked familiar because he had seen these exact pages before
or because he had seen the letters in his own writing.
"I have been working on this for so long I am beginning to think it will
never be finished. It is a new alphabet, and one that I think will
make structurally more sense than what we use now... once I have finished
with it. The placement of the strokes and curves follow a specific
pattern. And what I have listed on this latest sheet-" he moved one
of the papers so it lay directly in front of Elrohir- "matches almost exactly
the letters you have used. I must have shown you this before... though
I do not remember..."
"You must have," Elrohir agreed. How else could he have learned Fainor's
script? "But you still cannot read the words?"
Fainor looked at Elrohir's pages again, and sighed. "No. Do you
mind if I keep this a while? Study it? It could be that the letters
are simply arranged in a new way, or they do not exactly match what I have
here. This could be T while this is F, you see, where I have them reversed..."
"You may keep it," said Elrohir. "I only want to know what it says."
He lay his head down on the table again. Fainor could not read what
he had written. Hope was dwindling.
He could hear Fainor carefully set the papers down onto the table.
"I'm sorry," Fainor said softly. "I forgot... your... I was carried
away by this stupid project. You probably have no interest in listening
to me ramble about writing reform at a time like this."
"I do not mind," Elrohir sighed.
"No, it was careless of me. You need quiet and time to rest now, not
this old obsession."
Numbly, Elrohir stood. Fainor was right. He felt weak from exhaustion,
as if he would never have the strength to pull himself from this grave of
sorrow, deep as it was. He had slept only a few broken hours since
Beleg and Haldir had brought the news. He doubted he could sleep now,
but he could try.
"Let me know if you need anything," Fainor said. "Food or tea..."
"Thank you," said Elrohir. He picked up his pack, and headed up the
stairs to his bedroom.
~ ~ ~ ~
By the time Elrohir came back down, much later, Fainor was still at the table
with the pages of strange writing. He appeared to have made some progress.
The pages Elrohir had brought were covered in little marks, most scratched
out, as Fainor tried and retried his attempts at deciphering.
"Did you sleep at all?" Fainor asked.
"No," said Elrohir. It had been impossible to sleep while his mind
kept drifting to the very places he was trying to escape. "Did you
learn anything of the papers?"
Fainor grinned, though it flickered, as if nagged by the guilt of enjoying
himself despite Elrohir's position. "Some," he said, and he beckoned
Elrohir to sit. "I was going about it all wrong, thinking of it more
in terms of a code to be broken, where this letter matches with that, and
so on. When, in fact, what we have..." He paused to reach for
a paper that was covered in his notes of translation. "It is an entirely
different language," he continued. "Similar to ours, but still far
enough removed to give me some trouble. This word, for example, here...
Lúmia? I can only guess. It appears to contain the root
for 'time', but otherwise... Is it a name?"
"Lúmya," Elrohir whispered. It sounded familiar, like something
from a story he had heard long ago. "The Ring of Time..."
"Yes," said Fainor. "That phrase appears too. Maybe you should
He passed the first few pages to Elrohir, which now had scratches of small
but readable runes in lines between each line of foreign letters. Elrohir
read the first simple line:
Elladan was killed by orcs as they journeyed to enter the valley of Imladris
in late spring of the year 2684 in the Third Age.
An old memory began to rise to the surface of his thoughts. It was
mid-afternoon. They were riding through the trees.
"How much could you translate?" he asked Fainor.
"Only those three pages so far. But now that I know how to proceed,
it should go somewhat more easily."
Elrohir scanned what Fainor had already done, and glanced to the pile of
unfinished papers. So many remained left to do. "Can I help?"
Fainor looked at him hesitantly. "Are you... are you certain you feel
up to the task? It is tiring work, having to guess and fit so many
letters into words we can read."
"Yes," said Elrohir. He sat down at the table. "Tell me what
to do." This was what he needed: not rest, and not solitude, but something
to occupy his mind and keep his thoughts away from Elladan. The translation
effort was ideal. Not only would it require his full concentration,
but he would also be working toward a goal he needed to reach.
To be continued in Part 5
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