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a New Moon
Translator's Introduction to Book 2
As I made my ponderous way through the piles of tattered manuscripts that make up this extended tale of the Fourth Age, I soon discovered a few things. One was that hobbits take great care with their penmanship, but little care with their spelling and grammar. This is really neither here nor there, and is to be expected, I suppose, from a rustic folk, of whom few were lettered at all. Of more interest to a reader, perhaps, is my finding that hobbits do not often tell long tales. Bilbo and Frodo were odd in this respect, as they were in many others. It was much more common, then as I suppose it is now (in that secret place where hobbits still scratch with their pens), to tell short linear tales—ones with only a few characters, and these characters moving always forward in time and space. Although 'There and Back Again' is quite linear, and fairly straightforward, it turns out that it is extremely lengthy for a tale from the Shire. And Frodo's Tale in The Red Book, although again nearly linear (but for the division of action after book 2—between the ringbearers and the rest of the fellowship), is of astonishing length. It is an epic from a people who had never before transcended the pastoral.
I had not realized the full import of this fact until I began working up the present material, where the 'epic tale' is nowhere present—only being suggested by the summation of many smaller adventures. It leads me to believe that The Red Book, in its present form, was most likely a compilation and reworking—over many centuries—of previous material by a number of unknown hands and minds. It is already recognized that the four-volume set (housed at Westmarch) contained writing by Bilbo and Frodo as well as additions by many other hands. But I mean more than that. Frodo's tale itself, beginning with the birthday parties and ending with the sailing of the ships, itself bears the marks of summation and editation. It is highly unlikely that Frodo had the inclination or energy to bring the epic to such fully-formed fruition himself, since, as we know, he was in poor health, and distracted by otherworldly cares. Of course, it may be that Professor Tolkien is the hand and mind that is wholly responsible for the form of The Red Book, and not only for its translation. This would be the natural supposition, but for the fact that he refutes it himself. He presents The Red Book as a pre-existing artifact: a tale, that is, and not just the material for a tale.
However that may be, it is certainly the case that the story of Tomilo never benefitted from a linear retelling by a later hand, neither of hobbit nor of man. It may be that it resisted this beneficence, since it is not a story that yields a linear storyline. Its various characters are often widely separated geographically, and many strands of narrative must be pulled together to reach a fully understood conclusion. An editor who at first thinks it possible to omit certain 'marginal' passages and characters soon finds that later actions cannot be suitably explained to the reader without them. After much tinkering with the idea of compression, the editor is finally forced to admit that the hobbits wrote down precisely what needed to be written down, no more and no less. If they failed to join all the shorter tales into a single epic, it was not because they could not understand that an epic was implied by the material, but because they preferred to see each adventure stand on its own, under its own cover, as it were. I also suspect that the citizens of the Shire may have been predisposed to small books—the duodecimo, you know. But that may be my own prejudice—a judgment based on the size of the people more than on strong evidence.
This has all just been a rather wordy way of admitting to you that Book 1 was much easier to translate and compile than Book 2. The former, with only slight emendation, fit itself rather snugly into the mould of the 'traveller's tale.' We followed Tomilo to Rhosgobel and back again. I drew from only a small number of sources (Tomilo, Bogubud, Rivendell and Moria) which allowed for the semblance of continuity. Book 2 allows for no such semblance, I am sorry to report. We learn a lot of terribly interesting things, but we have to travel far and wide to learn them. I fear that much of Book 2 reads like an interlude—a setting of the stage for greater action in subsequent books. Still, there is an inordinate amount of 'finding things' here, which is of some consolation. The scholars (as opposed to the warriors) among my readers may find this book the most appealing of all.
The written sources for Book Two are many. They include manuscripts collected at Farbanks from Lothlorien, Ozk-mun, Orthanc, Edoras, Minas Mallor and Fornost Erain, among many others. Some of the short tales collected here are 'The Lay of Primrose', 'The Cat of the Greenwood', 'The Wrinkled Elf', and 'Phloriel's Song'. The first is written in Westron; the other three were translated from the Sindarin by Nerien.
The Stones of Gondor
Gervain stopped to listen: far off in the woods drums were rolling. He and Ivulaine had been riding without pause since noon. They had breakfasted at Nardol, upon the crown of the hill, but now they were near to halfway down the Stonewain Valley, proceeding leisurely on fine tall horses borrowed from the stables of Radagast. The watchtower of Eilenach, now draped in low-lying cloud, rose to their left, doubly screened from view by the giant smooth-boled beech trees that grew along the path, green and copper like a line of ancient soldiers. Peering with a squint into the distance, Gervaine signalled to Ivulaine, and she stopped also.
'It is the Pukel-men, that the Rohirrim call Woses,' he said. 'But to my ears, the drums do not tell of war. They sound glad, if that were possible.'
'Yes,' answered Ivulaine, 'they have recognized us, I think, though they can have no idea who we are. No doubt they have memories passed down through the ages, memories of Radagast and especially Gandalf. They are celebrating the return of the wizards. I wonder if we will meet these wuduwasa, these "Woses." I am quite curious to know them. Of all the peoples of Middle Earth, the Druedain are among the very few unmet by me—and you also, I believe? Or do the Druedain yet live in the woods of the East, Gervain?'
'Sadly, no. In the regions I have wandered for the last age, the old forests have all been sent to the fires, to feed the hunger for war. Only new forests remain, of young trees. The ancient denizens of the wood, the ents and Pukel-men, have fled or been lost forever. It is said that some may still live on in the north, in the vast piney woods beyond the Inland Sea of Helcar. But where they may be, I know not.'
The two rode on as the drums continued to roll. Answering drums broke out to their right also, in the trees above them on the mountainsides. But they saw no sign of the Druedain.
Several months had passed since the council at Rhosgobel. Winter had come and gone, and the green things of the earth were now waking from their slumbers. For the wizards, who when alone or with others of their kind spoke and thought in Quenya, it was near the end of coire. The early signs of spring were all about them. Although snow still persisted in the mountains far above, nearer at hand green shoots dotted the edge of the path, and little nodding wildflowers were already calling to the bees to awaken. The naked branches of the latest-blooming trees were nubbed with a thousand buds, seemingly ready to burst into leaf within the week. And the birds were returning from their winter homes in the far south, to feast on the newly awakening life in the fens of the Nindalf. Huge white birds, with wingspans of eight or ten feet, were even then cresting over the peak of Mindolluin, ready to descend into the rich lowlands of the Wetwang and the equally abundant marshes among the mouths of the Entwash. There they would wade and fish for a few weeks before continuing on to their nesting areas farther north, about the river Gladden.
Gervain and Ivulaine had been riding for about three weeks. Passing first through Lorien, they had spoken briefly with Meonas about the desertion of Moria and the awakening of the balrogs. But there was little news, and less to be told. A period of waiting had set in.
Since the sudden attack upon Erebor by the dragons and the passing of Glorfindel in the winter, nothing more that could be attributed to Morgoth had befallen. But there was a great movement among all the peoples of the west. The dwarves had been affected the most. Moria and Erebor had been emptied, and the Iron Hills and the Glittering Caves had swollen with their run-off. Krath-zabar was also overflowing with refugees from the north and west.
The men of Dale had likewise fled south. Some few remained to swell Laketown; but most continued on past the River Running, to the newer settlements east of the Greenwood. Some came as far south as the northern marches of the Emyn Muil—a territory no longer claimed by Gondor, and open to any who would settle there.
The Brown Lands had suffered much in the wars against Sauron, and were considered a rough living; but the dangers of Dol Guldur to the north and the Dead Marshes to the south no longer pertained, and many brave souls had made their homes there. The first three centuries of the Fourth Age had been bounteous, even in Wilderland, and fortuitous rains and long sunshine had allowed the reclaiming of many acres of cropland from the desert. Also, the King in Gondor had approved of these settlements, seeing them as a buffer from attack from the north. The gap between the Morannon of Udun and the southern end of the Greenwood had always been Gondor's weakness, even moreso than the passages from Harad—which were protected by the Ephel Galen and the Emyn Arnen and the width of Anduin. The King welcomed a newly populous Wilderland, especially when it was reclaimed by the valorous men of the north. He hoped, finally, that this region might eventually become another Rohan, manned faithfully by sworn allies of Gondor.
But at the time of this tale, the Brown Lands were yet mostly brown. The fleeing men of Dale added somewhat to their strength, but their strength remained small.
As for the elves, many had passed across the sea in the weeks after Glorfindel's death. The hardest hit by this emigration were the woodelves of the Greenwood. Thranduil's people were much diminished by the threat from the north. It was believed that the danger arose from the Withered Heath, an abode of dragons and other evil since the beginning of time. Therefore, the northern parts of the wood were thought to be in especial danger, owing to their proximity to Erebor, and to the Ered Mithrin.
Imladris was hit less hard by the exodus of elves. What that valley lost after the death of its Lord, it gained from Thranduil's realm. The woodelves who wished to remain in Middle Earth fled about equally to Lorien and Imladris. It was thought that the mountains were a great protection from the direction of the Withered Heath, despite the fact that Imladris was located so far north. Many elves preferred the fir trees of the north, even to the beautiful mallorns of Lorien. And for these, Imladris was the nearest haven. Others from the Greenwood fled to the true Havens of the west and south, but sailed not. It was felt that these were the safest refuges for those who would not yet forsake Middle Earth. Others—the more courageous, or the more nostalgic—removed only to the southern parts of the Greenwood. And still others—the most stubbornly rooted—remained in the caves. Thranduil and his sons and daughters were among them.* They argued that the caves were impregnable, whether to dragons or to balrogs, and they would not be chased from their chosen home—not even by the arrival of Morgoth himself.
*Legolas was not among them. He had sailed with Gimli in the second century of the Fourth Age (208 FA). As has been told, he had long had a strong calling for the sea. And Gimli, being mortal, could no longer wait. They wished to sail together; and so, in the last days of Gimli's life they sailed in a grey ship down the Anduin and out into the Bay of Belfalas. Some days later, they arrived in Mithlond, receiving Cirdan's blessing as the last of the fellowship before continuing on to Elvenhome.
This was the state of Middle Earth in the spring of that most tumultuous year, as Gervain and Ivulaine rode to their meeting with King Elemmir. They had not stopped in Edoras, although they wished to speak also with King Feognost. They deemed it inappropriate to delay their meeting with Gondor for the sake of Rohan. Elemmir might take such a meeting as a lack of protocol.
Gervain, and even more Ivulaine, were masters of policy, unlike Radagast. More even than Gandalf were these two wizards aware of all possible consequences of personal interaction. In part, that is why they had been chosen to proceed to the east and south. Most of their work in those regions had been of subtle political machination: they had not battled Black Riders or balrogs; but they had been involved in the affairs of King and Council much more intimately than Gandalf ever was in the west. The Wizards of Blue and Green had an ability to sway the minds of those around them that surpassed even Saruman. For while Saruman's power in this arena was great, it was not always hidden. Saruman broke an adversary with his cunning and intelligence. Gervain and Ivulaine convinced but never pressed. It always seemed to those they advised that the idea came from within, the universal and impersonal voice of reason, rather than the intended wishes of the advisor.
So the two wizards, in travelling south from Lorien, had crossed the Limlight close to the eaves of Fangorn Forest. But they had remained on the east side of the Entwash, not crossing it until just above its mouths. Then they had forded the Mering Stream and made their way to the Great West Road, skirting the Firien Wood to the north. In this way they had successfully avoided meeting any riders of the Rohirrim, who might inform their King of the wizards passing. The East Emnet had a large population of horses, but few guards. And the wizards had been in the Eastfold for only a matter of hours, as they hurried across the narrow neck of land between the Entwash and the Mering.
They had, however, met with guards of Gondor the day before, as they passed the hills of Minrimmon and Erelas, while they had still been upon the Great West Road. Since the return of the Steward Ecthelion from the council at Rhosgobel, the guard of Anorien had been doubled, and all the watchtowers remanned. In the same way, the borders of North Ithilien had also been strengthened, and the Island of Cair Andros. Here a great fortress had been built, and many men permanently garrisoned. The teeth of Cirith Gorgor, Narchost and Carchost, had also been re-garrisoned and strengthened over the winter. Gondor had reclaimed Mordor, of course, since the fall of Sauron, including Udun and the Plateau of Gorgoroth. But it remained all but deserted, save the military outposts of the teeth, and of Durthang and Cirith Ungol. These had all been renamed. The teeth had been re-christened Numenos and Romenos. Durthang was now Ciryanos. Udun was Peloraxe—the 'encircling jaws'. Cirith Ungol had changed to Ramba-din, the 'silent wall'.
Thus was the guard upon Gondor now strong to the north, and Gervain and Ivulaine did not escape questioning on the road to Minas Mallor. They would not arrive wholly unexpected.
Within the seventh circle of that Citadel of stone, far beneath the flying white banners on the ramparts, behind the lofty doors of oak, and down the long stone corridor lined with black marble pillars and graven images, sat the King and Steward. They had been informed of the approach of the wizards, and they now spoke alone in the empty hall. Both sat on the steps of the dias, beneath the throne and Steward's chair. Behind them the image of the tree glittered on the wall, its gems lit by a raking beam of sunlight falling through the northern windows.
'You have some knowledge of these wizards from the council, Steward,' said Telemorn. 'Why do they come here?'
'The messages from Rhosgobel said they come only to meet the King of Gondor and Arnor—the Reunited Kingdom—nothing more. But I would guess that they have some strategy to discuss. Wizards do not talk to no purpose, it is said.'
'That is true. Perhaps they may have some wise counsel to impart. Much has passed since you returned from Rhosgobel. It may be that more is known concerning Morgoth or his tools. Remember, Ecthelion, these wizards are Maiar. Let us hope they have some insight into the meaning of recent events. It was written by the loremasters of the north that the balrog of the Bridge of Khazad-dum and Gandalf were equals—equal in power and equal in the beginning in the mind of Eru. The wizards and the Valaraukar were once of the same kind. If they cannot tell us what we may expect, I do not think anyone can.'
There were several moments of silence. Then the Steward asked, 'What news from Fornost Erain, Lord? I saw the sails beyond the Rammas this morning. Have you a grandchild yet?'
'No, Ecthelion. Though all the news is good. My son Rosogod, bless him, has written that Culurien has taken to bed with her nurses. Though she asks that she be allowed to name the child if it be a maiden. She does not like the name Ivrin. Rosogod asks my advice. I am happy that these are still the only matters to argue between a father and son. It may be that this time next year all such affairs will seem of little consequence. Even now, much of his letter was given over to a list of re-fortification. Weathertop and the Weather Hills have been strengthened, as have the North Downs. But Rosogod has positioned his greatest forces in the outliers of the Ettenmoors, along our borders—in the east of what was once Rhudaur. There has been activity reported at Gundaband, and it is feared that attack may come from that direction first.'
'Did the Prince Kalamir1 say aught of the palantir, Lord?'
'Aye. He has begged again to be allowed to make use of it. And I am torn. We will have great need of such easy communication, but I am not yet convinced of Rosogod's power to wield it. I am not even convinced of my own power to face the palantir2. My reign has been in a time of unparalleled peace, as you know. We have been untested. The iron of Numenor within me has not been tempered by the fire. I fear my life of ease has not prepared me for the battle. And I know that Rosogod is in the same state as I. He is not only untempered, he is very very young.'
'He is a spirited young man, Lord. The blood runs true in him. But that does not make what you say false.'
'No, Ecthelion, it assuredly does not. He is young. And not only that: he is wayward. Undisciplined. And his uncle is no better. A good deal worse, if what I hear from Halfdan is true. I think the court of Arnor would be rudderless if not for him. I am certainly not prepared to see Rosogod take up the palantir as yet. Let him reach full manhood and we shall see. I am thinking it was foolish to even allow him to take a wife, being so young. I thought she would settle him. But it has proved otherwise. Culurien is as fickle and absurd as my son, if not moreso. To tell you the truth, I have considered bringing the babe here to Minas Mallor, if it be a man child, to be brought up by Golyi. I would do so without further thought if it were not for Gordebor. He knows that his older brother will return here eventually. But another heir to the throne beneath his nose would make him even more intractable, if that were possible.'
1Rosogod ('Sea-foam rider') is Telemorn's eldest son. Gordebor ('Full hand')is the second son. But these names are their birth names, and therefore would only be used by members of the family. All other speakers would refer to them by their sceptered names: Prince Kalamir and Prince Vilyamir. Gordebor was not at this time sceptered. But when Rosogod should follow his father to the throne of the Reunited Kingdom, Gordebor would ascend to the throne of Arnor. As a second son, Gordebor would not be in line for the throne of the Reunited Kingdom—unless Rosogod should die without issue.
2Telemorn does not admit to Ecthelion that in truth he has never penetrated past the image of the fiery withering hands of Denethor in the Anor stone. The Orthanc stone was sent to Fornost by Eldarion in FA158.
'Golyi would be a proper nurse for the child, Lord. But even she cannot discipline an entire city. And I fear that Prince Vilyamir has grown beyond her control. He is admittedly beyond mine. I beg you to talk to the Prince again soon, whether your new grandchild comes to Minas Mallor or not. His insubordination is being talked about down to the first level.'
'I do not know what to do with him, Ecthelion. There is only so much time a young man can spend in confinement.'
'If you will allow me, Lord, I recommend you send him to Minas Annithil or to Ramba-din. Make him Captain of the Outer Wall and have him stare at Mordor for a few years. That should teach him discipline.'
'I think that would make him even more resentful, Steward. He needs somewhat to do. I think it would be better to send him to Amon Lhaw, where he can live on the frontier, among the soldiers of Gondor. I need a good captain on the Emyn Muil, to lead the new regiments there. Gordebor may be wilful, but none would deny that he is trusty.'
'None would, Lord. But is he of age for such leadership?' answered Ecthelion.
Just then the doorwarden announced the arrival of Gervain and Ivulaine. Telemorn replaced on his head the high white helm and returned to his throne to meet the guests; and Ecthelion took his place in the Steward's chair, clutching his white rod. Moments later the two wizards strode up the corridor, all in blue and green. Each carried a staff, Gervain in his left hand, Ivulaine in her right. Their hoods were thrown back, and their white hair gleamed in the still-bright light of late afternoon.
'Welcome to Minas Mallor, friends,' said Telemorn, to forestall any obeisances. 'You know Ecthelion, the Steward. I hope your journey was not too taxing.'
'Not at all, Lord Elemmir,'* answered Ivulaine. 'We enjoyed the signs of spring in Anorien and in the pastures of Rohan. I am Ivulaine the Blue, as you have no doubt been apprised already, or guessed from my attire. This is Gervain the Green.'
'Yes. It is most pleasant to have all the Five now accounted for. We had often argued as to your colours and your destinations, had we not, Ecthelion? It was long one of the little mysteries of the west. Certainly you do not disappoint in person. Tell me, now that you are returned to us, where will you reside? Will you return to Radagast in Rhosgobel?'
'That is one of the matters we wish to discuss with you, Lord,' answered Gervain. 'Although not the most pressing. First we would like permission to study the records of the Third Age here. We have read that Gandalf found much information in your libraries. Since he is no longer here, we must rediscover these things for ourselves. Radagast has told us what he can, but there is much esoteric lore, especially concerning Sauron, Saruman, and the balrogs, that is now remembered by no one. Even Meonas could not enlighten us on several questions we had.'
'If it is beyond the memory of an elf, then it is no doubt beyond mine as well; so I will not bother to ask what knowledge you seek. I have spent little time studying the manuscripts in our libraries and vaults, though I am not proud to admit it. But I open my doors to you: search where you will and may you find what you seek. And if you need an assistant—a copyist or a page—I will be glad to provide that also. But for now, tell me more of the north. Is there any news from Erebor or the woodelves?'
*Remember that Telemorn's sceptered name is King Elemmir. Just as Aragorn was King Elessar.
'There is one piece of news that is unlikely to have made it to your ears yet, Lord Elemmir,' said Ivulaine. 'We met a company of dwarves also marching south as we rode from Lorien to Fangorn. They were scouts from Moria that had been sent north after the emptying of the caves. They were now returning to join their people at Krath-zabar. But they had for months been following the trail of the balrogs. Near the source of the Anduin, they had rendezvoused with a company from the Iron Hills, who were in search of the dragons' lair. They told us that neither company found what it sought. But it did discover something of great interest. Mount Gundaband has been re-occupied by a great force of orcs. And the orcs are led by a wraith. One of the orcs was captured, and before he was put to death, he divulged that the wraith was called by the orcs, 'Sharku'. That is, 'Old Man'.
'I thought all the Ringwraiths were destroyed with the Ring,' interrupted Ecthelion.
'They were. This wraith the orc spoke of was not the wraith of a man. Nor was it the wraith of an elf, for elves do not have wraiths. Their wraiths go perforce to Mandos, and may not linger for any reason in Middle Earth.'
'Who then is this new captain of the orcs?' asked Telemorn impatiently.
'You may remember reading, from the time of King Elessar, that the Shire was called "Sharkey's End." Sharkey was Sharku. And Sharku was Saruman.'
'That is not possible! Saruman was killed by Wormtongue, or so we are taught,' cried the King.
'So he was,' answered Ivulaine. 'But the Maiar persist. Sauron returned from the destruction of Numenor and from his defeat at the hands of Elendil and Gil-galad and Isildur and Anarion. And Gandalf returned from his fight with the balrog—although it is unclear to us whether Gandalf the White was a wraith or not. He was visible, and returned undiminished—nay augmented. But that is another discussion. We know, however, that Saruman was vastly diminished, as Ecthelion has heard already in the council. He was diminished by the form of his death, as well as by his dismissal from the White Council and the breaking of his staff by Gandalf. Maiar who are given over to evil are not allowed to return to Valinor; but they persist nonetheless. Saruman may now be ranked with the Valaraukar—the balrogs. Except that he has not even their power. He is no longer visible, and may not so easily effect the visible world. But his power of fear—that all the wraiths have—remains. He would be a likely lieutenant for Morgoth, and that is what we fear he has become.'
'I thought the worst of the news had come at the council,' said Ecthelion. 'But each passing day brings blacker tidings.'
'If Morgoth has indeed returned,' added Telemorn, 'I do not see how we have the strength to resist him, with or without this alliance with Saruman. The elves are sailing; Glorfindel is lost already. The dwarves have lost two of their strongholds. Gondor and Arnor are well-populated, but we have grown soft. Our armies have not faced battle for generations. But even were we as strong as Numenor under Ar-Pharazon, it would avail us not. Morgoth defeated the Great Alliance in the First Age. Unless the Valar come again to our aid, I do not see that any counsel will suffice. Do what we may, we are at the mercy of the Valar.'
'That may be so, Lord Elemmir,' answered Ivulaine. 'And yet the Valar work not only upon us, but through us. Their methods for resisting the seeds of Morgoth, and now perhaps Morgoth himself, cannot always be guessed. We, the Istari, were sent as part of this resistance, as is now generally known. Others may be sent, or heroes chosen from among you, or chance event imbued with prophecy and power. And above all this, is the will and plan of Eru Iluvatar, who allows nothing to be that is unnecessary. But his mind and future can neither be predicted nor fathomed. We must act in our own spheres, and resist to our own ability. Such action is the unfolding of hope in time.'
'I am not sure I understand you, Ivulaine,' said Telemorn. 'If Iluvatar controls all, it seems of no matter what we do, for good or ill. I often think the best course is to do nothing. Then the Valar will arrive the sooner.'
'Some would answer that to fail to resist evil is to abet evil,' said Gervain, stepping forward sternly. 'But that is not my answer. My answer is that inaction is an even greater affront to the Creator than evil itself. Creation is action. Life is living. In the Ainulindale, each of the Ainur were given a song to sing. But all creatures are singers. They are given a song to sing, each according to his voice. To corrupt this song is an error. It is evil. But to refuse to sing is worse still. It is not a mis-application of the gift: it is renunciation of the gift. Eru may turn the corrupt to his purposes—in this way they are his children still. But those who do not sing damn themselves to the void, not eventually but immediately. For the void is inaction. The void is not singing.'
'It was said in the old books that wizards are subtle and quick to anger, and I see that is still true,' answered Telemorn. 'I meant no offense, Gervain. I fear I spoke without thought, saying the first thing that came to mind. A King is given that privilege, although I suspect it does him no good. Your words are high-sounding, Gervain the Green, but difficult for me to unravel. I will play them over in my mind between now and the next time we meet, and attempt to benefit myself of their full value.'
'I do not chastise, Lord; I only instruct,' said Gervain more calmly. 'You must understand that this particular subject is one close to my heart. It arose many times during my stay in the East. The people of the Woedhun are high-hearted and pure; but they are so peaceful that any counsel of action is near impossible to advance. Even a forceful defense offends their natural scruple. But from what I had heard of the west, I had not expected a similar argument from the King of Gondor.'
'Somewhat less than an argument, Gervain,' said Telemorn. 'Let us call it an errant word, and leave it at that. Gondor will do its part. There is valour yet in our blood, and heroes among us. But you must admit that the news has been overwhelming so far. If I speak from confusion, you must allow that the times are confusing.'
'Yes,' interrupted Ivulaine, seemingly to prevent Gervain from continuing. 'We do allow it. We too have enjoyed three centuries of freedom from care, and have been startled from our contentment by recent events. The thought of a new war so soon is most distressing. But we are here to give aid and counsel as we may. Have hope, Lord! The ancient alliance of free peoples endures, though its form is everchanging. And think too on this: the enemy is ever-changing also. The Morgoth that has most likely returned from the Outer Darkness is not the Melkor Gervain and I once sang beside, nor even the Morgoth who held partial dominion for a while in the First Age. And Sauron and Saruman are likewise altered. Evil in the Fourth Age will take different forms. As the more ancient forms diminish, fresh forms will arise; and we must be vigilant on all fronts. In the same way, new forces of good will arise, as if from nowhere, to confront them. Leaders will annoint themselves, and history will be written, as by an invisible hand. Do not dispair, therefore, that you do not foresee victory, or that the ends seem obscure to you. If all ends were clear, your choices would have no meaning.'
'You impart a brighter optimism, I think, Ivulaine the Blue,' said Telemorn, smiling. 'But you words are no less obscure. I fear I am a pupil of little penetration. We will speak more of these esoteric matters later. For now, I beg you to refresh yourselves with the Steward and me and our captains. It is the dinner hour, and my stomach overwhelms my brain, though you no doubt find that a small feat. One of my guards will show you to your rooms. When you are ready, return to the dining hall, where we will chat of less weighty matters. And after that, you may begin your inquiries in the library, if you are not too weary from your day of riding.'
The King called his attendants and they led the two wizards from the hall. Once outside the doors, one of the attendants continued to lead them to their chambers. He was a tall guard in black livery, with a sword at his side, and a black horn also.
Attached to the Citadel, on the north side beneath the buttresses, were chambers for visiting dignitaries. The first of these was given to the wizards. Inside they found a sort of parlour or sitting room, with two adjacent rooms, one on each side. The ceilings were low, but the apartments were well-appointed, with a fireplace, cooking utensils, and the like. The guard left them, and the two wizards took turns over a basin of cold clear water, washing their faces and hands. As Ivulaine dried herself, she began discussing their meeting with Gervain.
'Your patience has grown shorter rather than longer during the peace, I fear. One would have expected just the opposite,' she said.
'I only made an observation. An observation I stand by, and always will stand by.'
'That is not the question, surely. Telemorn is but a child, even by the reckoning of his own kind. The Numenorians may still live to 300 years or more, and this King is but three score and ten. He can hardly be expected to understand the subtleties of the Ainulindale or the ultimate nature of good and evil.'
'Perhaps. But he is cleverer than he lets on. Mark that! For all his apparent humility and informality, I detect something far deeper.'
'He has a sense of humour, if that is what you mean. I liked that about his stomach and his brain. Can you imagine a king of Rhun or Harad saying such a thing? But I do not think he was hiding anything. Even did he fancy himself the wisest of the wise, I cannot see him purposely matching wits with a pair of wizards, unknown ones at that. Humour is one thing. Folly is another.'
'He was testing us, Ivulaine. And I failed to hide that I took it ill—I grant you that. I was taken unawares. His game is more complex than you comprehend, Ivulaine. I beg you not to think of him as a child, or he will have you crawling about on the floor with him at dinner.'
'Gervain, my dear man. I think you are tired from your ride: you should consider going to bed early tonight. You are imagining things. And even if you weren't, I assure you my eyes have not grown cloudy over the years. I do not need another to see for me, no matter how penetrating he is.'
'All right, let us not fight. I have lost a bit of discretion, and I will look to it. But my eyes are also clear, Ivulaine. Never doubt that.'
'We will see. Yes, we will use all our four eyes, and we will see.'
At table, the King kept the conversation on lighter subjects. He told a story he had heard from the court of the north, concerning a dignitary of the Periannath—'of the halflings, you know,' he said—who had come to Fornost to offer an alliance with the Shire. This halfling had offered the services of a hundred archers, ready at need. One wit was rumoured to have asked, from just out of earshot, who was to provide the one hundred stepladders—Arnor or the Shire? At this the table roared.
'Of course,' the King continued, looking to Ivulaine, 'we did accept the archers. The perian is a small but doughty creature, and Gondor is not so mighty that it can refuse the help of any. The halflings proved invaluable in the war against Sauron, and it may be that they have a part to play against Morgoth. Although I do doubt that be in hand to hand combat,' he finished, with a smile.
The captains at the table clanked their tankards on the table and cheered. One called out, 'Here's to the halflings! Long live the Periannath!' Another cried, 'To Frodo Ninefingers! Queller of Mount Doom!'
The wizards looked on this outburst somewhat more leniently, though they were both unsure what to make of it. Ivulaine began to think that Gervain had not been imaging things. This was either very deep or incredibly irreverant. As for Gervain, he looked to his mug once more, to be sure that the butlers were not serving punch in place of water.
After several days among the manuscripts and other treasures of Gondor, the wizards returned to the King with some information. It did not concern what they had been seeking, but it was of greatest import nonetheless.
'Lord Elemmir, we have accidently stumbled upon some ancient papers concerning the palantiri,' began Ivulaine, 'and, although they did not at first seem to pertain to our searches, we became interested. I hope we have not overstepped any boundaries?'
'No, no. I gave you full permission to read what you would. We have no secrets here: not, anyway, from the White Council.'
'We have read that the stone of Osgiliath was lost in the waters of the Anduin in 1437, during the War of the Kin-strife. Do you remember the story, Lord?'
'Yes. Something of it. We are taught that it was searched for for years, since it was supposed that the stone was indestructible by fire or pressure. It should have shone in the waters, as well—or so it was imagined, I think. But it was never found. It is either buried deep in the muds of the great river or it has rolled down the Anduin into the depths of the sea.'
'Interesting. The same thing was said of the One Ring, Lord. And yet it was eventually found. No, I do not think the stone of Osgiliath is on the bottom of the sea. We believe it is under the ruins of old Osgiliath still, unless it was found by the servants of the enemy. But if it had been found, we would know of it—as we knew of Sauron's finding of the Ithil stone.'
'I do not see how this is worthy of note. So it is in the mud, as I said. What of that?'
Gervain spoke up. 'This particular stone was one of two surveying stones. They were larger and more powerful than the others and could oversee these smaller stones at one time. The other large stone was at Amon Sul. It was lost in the shipwreck of King Arvedui.
'Now, it is difficult to explain,' the wizard continued, 'but this stone of Osgiliath is over-seeing the other stones even now. It is shrouded—by the mud, we think. And it is not capable of being consulted, you will add. But it may be discovered despite all this. You still have the Anor stone in Minas Mallor, do you not, Lord?'
'Yes. It is in my keeping,' answered Telemorn.
'If you will allow us to take this stone in hand, Lord, we believe we can return to you the Osgiliath stone.'
'I do not understand. Do these stones contain some sort of beacon that was unknown to the wise until now? Or, if wizards have some power to locate lost stones, why did Gandalf not search out the Osgiliath stone long ago?'
'Gandalf had many cares. There were some things he left undone, even at the end. The stones were not a concern of his, until the last days of the Third Age. Only upon the discovery of the Orthanc stone did Gandalf begin to question the location and use of the other stones. By then battle had begun in the Pelennor Fields, and there was no opportunity for search. Besides, the method we plan to use requires two wizards and a palantir. Radagast might have been sent for, in the event. But he was not. The discovery of the Osgiliath stone was never a priority until now. Even now it is not perhaps of utmost importance. But we find ourselves in Minas Mallor with the ability to retrieve the stone—so why should we not? And it is much better that we find it now, than that it should fall into the hands of the enemy in a later age.'
'I suppose if you think there is some chance of finding it, I cannot deny you the opportunity. But you understand that the Anor stone is difficult to use?'
'We have read of the untimely death of Denethor. We do not look forward to seeing the image, but we should be able to suppress it, and achieve our goal.'
'Let us proceed down to the quays, then. Will you have need of anything else beyond the stone?'
'Several strong men with shovels, Lord, and a sturdy cart. The Osgiliath stone is very heavy, it is written.'
Some hours later, the wizards had been led down to the rebuilt city of Osgiliath. Telemorn had come also, curious to see their method, and also to keep an eye on his stone. Osgiliath, like Minas Mallor itself, had been rebuilt after the War of the Ring. Many dwarves had come, as Gimli had said they should, to oversee the stonework. It is these dwarves that had remained in the south after the construction, founding the new colonies at Krath-zabar. So the city that the wizards now looked upon was both fair and finely wrought. All the important building were of stone, although there were many many others that had been thrown up since of wood and more perishable materials.
Osgiliath was a town of trade. Many ships and boats there were, lining the harbour, laden and unladen. Merchant ships and galleons of war. Barges of all sizes, dotting the waters like ducks in a pond. And rafts, filling the tiny spaces along the docks between the greater rigs.
Within the town itself there was a constant bustle: a hue by the dockmen, hauling cargo from a hull with a great wench, and calling to 'look out below!' Horses clopping noisily down the stone street, shod in iron. Vendors presenting their wares with a smile and a pull on the sleeve and a loud voice—to be heard over their neighbours. Children rushing down the lane, crying out their high-pitched directions, and squabbling in their ways.
Finally the King and the wizards and their attendants came to a quieter area near the north end of the city, perhaps a hundred yards from the western shore and half a league above the new bridge. Most of the buildings here were stone, tall and majestic. This was the administrative district of Osgiliath. It had been built upon the ruins of the Citadel-of-the-Stars, the first seat of the Numenorean Kings in Gondor. Some broken stones still marked the site of the tower; and a beautiful tree grew in an open space among the circle of crumbling walls, as a memorial. A tile in the shape of a star had been set in the earth at its foot, and this tile was tended and kept free of grass and impediment.
'This is where the Citadel-of-the-Stars—the Osgiliath, one might say—once stood,' announced Telemorn, once they had arrived. 'At the top of this tower, in the Dome of Stars, the palantir was kept. When the tower fell, it fell toward the river. The Citadel was some 50 fathoms high, it is written. We are some 100 yards from the river. That would put the Dome of Stars in the water, if only just. And the bank of the Anduin may have changed somewhat since the Third Age.'
'Yes, Lord, that is just what we read. You memory is keen. Let us walk down to the river's edge.'
A few wooden buildings, sheds and the like, were scattered along the bank. A single small dock cut into the shoreline, but it was unoccupied. It appeared to be little used. Most of the landings were now south of the New Bridge. Only boats with administrative business came this far north.
Ivulaine requested the Anor stone from the King, and he placed it in her hands. She sat upon a low stone wall that surrounded the dock and put the palantir upon her knees. She peered intently into the black orb for a few moments. Suddenly she gasped, but immediately became quiet again. After a few more moments, Gervain began walking along the edge of the retaining wall. He would stop every few steps and then turn this way and that, seemingly without aim or purpose. He did not look at Ivulaine, or ask any direction from her. After a short time, he quit this meandering and walked straight away north, toward the far end of the dock. All at once, he climbed over the little wall and began wading out into the river. He seemed to the onlookers to be in some sort of a trance, but before the King could signal his guards to run to the wizard's aid, Gervain turned to the company and called out, 'It is here!'
He waded back to shore and climbed back over the wall. Ivulaine had also stood, and was replacing the Anor stone in the King's cloth.
Gervain said, 'Have your men begin digging where I was standing when I cried out. It is only a short way into the water, but it will be difficult to excavate, I know. Does the Anduin recede in the late summer?'
'A bit,' answered the King. 'Of course it varies from year to year, depending on the snowfalls in the north. I can't say if the place you were standing would ever be completely dry, though.'
'Well, I cannot tell how deep the palantir is buried. It may be that we can reach it now, with some effort. Or we may have to wait until the Anduin has receded. I do not know.'
'We have devices that should enable us to dig even below the water line without difficulty, I believe,' answered the King. 'Our bridge builders use these devices when planting the supports for the bridge in the river bed. I do not know how it is done, precisely, but I know that it is done. I will have the proper men look to it.'
'Very good, Lord. Then we may return to Minas Mallor. There is nothing more to be done here.'
Telemorn ordered two of the guards who were with them, and had watched the proceedings, to mark the spot with a flag; and also to write upon a piece of paper the measurements from the shore and the distance down the retaining wall, in case the flag should be uprooted by the current. The rest of the company began the journey back across the Pelennor Fields.
Once they were back in the Great Hall, Telemorn asked them about their method.
'It seemed rather simple and quick,' he observed to them. 'I had expected a great show. Fireworks and whatnot, you know. It was all over in a blinking. Can you tell me how it was done?'
'Well, Lord, it is already known that the palantiri are connected by a sort of sight,' began Ivulaine, 'although this connection is quite abstruse and would be difficult to explain to you. But that is not your question anyway. The wise are also connected by a sort of "sight," though this sight is not one of visible light. That is how we converse with one another at times without speaking. Our connection is not precisely the connection of the palantiri: we cannot converse over great distances, for instance, except in direst need and with great difficulty. And then only in single thoughts, as it were. Thoughts such as "help!" for instance. But in this locating of the palantir, all that was necessary was to align the two connections. I made the connection through the Anor stone to the Osgiliath stone. Gervain then walked his connection to me about until it overlapped the stones' connection. He and I were always very near, so it was a thing that required little concentration—that is, after I overcame the terrible image of Denethor.'
'And how did you do that?' asked the King, without thinking. Gervain looked up at this point, and then looked to Ivulaine.
'I simply refused to see it, Lord,' she answered. 'I shifted the stone to my will, like one reins a horse to the right to ride round a fallen tree or a stone in the road.'
Into Ivulaine's thoughts came the sentence (from Gervain): 'He has not used it.'
There were several moments of silence. Then the King said, 'Interesting. . . reins, is it?' in some confusion, while looking into his lap. Finally he looked up again. 'So, how long do you plan to stay? Have you found aught in answer to your questions, in the ancient manuscripts?'
'No Lord,' answered Gervain. 'We have learned much, but have not found what we seek. We will remain several more days, if that is acceptable to you. We are also now curious to know if the stone will be found immediately.'
'Yes, yes. Do take your time. There is absolutely no hurry. You might want to ride down to Ithilien as well. Perhaps the elves there may know something of your problem?'
'I think not, Lord. The elves of Ithilien are young, by the reckoning of their kind. But we may pass through there nonetheless. We had desired to see the new dwarf settlement at Krath-zabar.'
'Very impressive it is, too. And well-filled, at the moment, by all accounts. Thousands and thousands of dwarves have crossed the bridge or passed by the crossroads in the last months, it is reported. The north is emptied, but the south reinforced. We here in Gondor may look to the north with little fear for our backs, at any rate.'
'Yes, Lord, that is some consolation.'
As the two wizards left the Hall, Gervain spoke to Ivulaine. 'The King betrayed his mind to us. He has not used the stone of Anor. He has not gotten past the image of Denethor, or he would not have asked how to get around it. He would have known how.'
'I agree. Though I do not see how it matters.'
'It matters because if the Osgiliath stone is found, he will not need the Anor stone—which he cannot use anyway. The Osgiliath stone will have no impediments to its use, and it will have a greater power to survey. The Anor stone may then leave Minas Mallor. It will be needed elsewhere.'
'Ah, I see your mind, Gervain. You are keen. Let us hope the stone is found before we must leave—and before we talk to the King of our other plans.'
Treskin & Isambard
It was less than four months since his return to Farbanks, but Tomilo was already preparing for another journey. He had put his garden in order, most of his woodpile had been burned already; and, besides, these things were not so interesting anymore. He could not get the entwives out of his mind.
Ever since his meeting with Oakvain the Old, and his discovery of the passage in the manuscript in Great Smials, the hobbit had been certain that the entwives were waiting to be discovered in the Northfarthing. He had taken Prim into his confidence, and she had agreed. She was even more excited, perhaps, than Tomilo. In fact, she had news to pass on to him. Prim had met Radagast in his travels several times as she walked about the countryside. She had the feeling, she told Tomilo, that he was looking for something. The wizard would not open his mind to her, but he had asked her some very strange questions. Questions about what trees commonly lived in these parts, for instance. If there were any 'strange' trees that she had seen. If there were orchards about. Especially orchards that seemed to be tended—but not by hobbits. Prim had found this last question especially odd. How could orchards, out in the middle of the wilds, be tended? And who would tend them? Prim had assumed that perhaps elves came into these parts to gather apples or pears, and that Radagast was looking for them. Then she had simply put it out of mind.
But now that Tomilo had begun speaking of entwives, she remembered the questions, and thought there might be some connection. Also, Tomilo remembered that Radagast had spoken, by accident, of the mysterious dweller of the Old Forest. This dweller Tomilo now took to be Oakvain. No doubt Radagast had learned of the entwives from Oakvain, and had been searching for them in the western parts of Eriador.
Tomilo also told Prim of his conversation with the children at Great Smials—children who seemed to know of the entwives. Who even claimed to have seen them. And he showed her his map, the one copied from Isambard. Tomilo and Prim decided to go back to Tuckborough as soon as the weather permitted, and enlist the help of these children in scouring the woody areas of the Northfarthing. And in particular the lands about the Bindbole Wood.
In pursuance of this plan, Tomilo sent a letter to the Thain, asking for another appointment. He pretended to have business concerning the patrol of the Shire, as a captain of the shirriffs. But really he wanted another audience with the child Isambard. This was the only way he could think to do it. One could hardly write a letter directly to a child, asking for a private meeting to talk about ents.
This is one reason Tomilo had decided to make Prim his co-conspirator: she was very good with children. She was famous in Farbanks for her little 'expeditions'—jaunts through the woods with a rag-tag team of 'lookers' and 'finders.' What her group looked for, and found, depended on the season. Sometimes it was flowers. Other times, butterflies or dewberries. Her most dependable lookers were hobbit maids in age from 6 to 14. Their attendance could be relied upon no matter the weather or the theme. But hobbit lads would also appear on days when the prey was birds' nests or skipping-rocks or edible roots or fishing-crawlies.
Tomilo and Prim had met many times and had devised a very complex, very secret plan; they almost felt guilty, it was so exceptionally sly and clever. This was the plan, as it stood then: Once they got to Tuckborough, Tomilo would discuss some subject with the Thain—Sarn Ford, perhaps, or the manning of the Farbanks Acres. There were always things to talk about. While he was doing that, Prim would enlist the children of Great Smials in an expedition to Bindbole Wood. The theme of this expedition would be 'the first flowers of spring.' At least until they got there, when Tomilo would bring up the ents, and get the children arguing about their existence again. He did not think it would be too difficult to divert the expedition into an expedition to search for ents. Or entwives.
The Burdocs found it rather odd that Primrose should be called to Tuckborough by the Thain, and at first they were not going to allow it. A maiden travelling with an unmarried hobbit all the way across the Shire—and in these times, too! It was dangerous. And what would people think? But Tomilo was now a minor celebrity in Farbanks, and it was difficult for folks not to trust him. Even old folks like Prim's Mum and Dad. Besides, Tomilo promised they would be travelling with a band of shirriffs, who happened to be patrolling the Southfarthing (which was true). What finally decided it, however, was Prim herself. She was headstrong and fearless, and wouldn't hear of her Aunt Imma coming along 'just to see to her clothes and such' (her Mum's words). She could look to her own clothes (said Prim).
The two hobbits arrived in Tuckborough on the 25th of Rethe, which happened to be the anniversary of the downfall of Barad-dur. Although it was a holiday in both Gondor and Arnor, it was not one in the Shire. Even three hundred years hence, the rank and file of hobbitry still did not know the significance of the date, nor did they comprehend the stature of Frodo—one of their own—in the wider world. In fact, the name of Baggins had faded out of memory altogether. Both Frodo's and Lotho's lines had ended, and only the historians could now tell their stories.
Tomilo and Prim had parted from the other shirriffs at the turning to Tookbank, and had continued on across the hills by themselves. So they now came to Great Smials late in the day, rather cold and footsore. Lewa ushered them in and informed the Took of their arrival. They were told that he was napping and would see them at dinner. They therefore washed themselves and had tea and cakes with the children and other members of the family.
The Took was rather groggy at dinner; not much was said of import. After dinner Tomilo and Prim played a few songs with the children and then called it an early night. They would put their plan into effect in the morning. Tomilo reminded Prim to be sure that Treskin—whoever he was—got invited to go on the expedition as well. Isambard had said that Treskin had seen the ents, and he seemed like he might be the key to success.
The next day the Thain did not seem to take it ill that Tomilo had very little to report. He did not even appear to notice at all. After some cursory remarks about the Bridge at Sarn Ford, the Thain turned the conversation back to elves, and to the Lady Nerien. The Thain had seen the Lady ride through at the head of the great company passing west, of course, but he had not been able to speak to her. Nor had she returned to the Shire in the intervening months. But the Thain could think of little else. He was determined that Great Smials should eventually have some bit of memorabilia from Mithlond, preferably from the Lady herself. And he considered Tomilo his best chance for achieving that.
'Tomilo, my boy,' he said, looking over a desk cluttered with papers and books, and squinting at the mess from under his heavy grey eyebrows. 'I have only a handful of years left, as I see it. I've done just about everything a hobbit can do. I have no regrets, you know. Not one. But I've got my old heart set on one more thing—and that thing is starting an elvish room in Great Smials. A room where hobbits can learn something about elves.' He sniffed and wrinkled his nose, and got up to look out upon the garden below the window. 'We've been here,' he continued, 'living within a few leagues of their Havens for almost an age, and they might as well be on the other side of the Outer Sea of Ekkaia, for all we know about 'em. Now, it's true, we've got Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish, and that's something. But I want more. I want something from the hands of the elves themselves. It could be anything. I know they're a private people, who don't like meddling and snooping, but I don't ask for much. Just a copy of song, or a bit of a story—some pages that they'd just as soon throw away—someone sneezed on the ink or something. I mean it, Tomilo. Anything. Now you promise me you'll ask the Lady Nerien about it if you see her again.'
'Yessir, Master Bogubud, I do promise. It doesn't sound so much to ask. I'm sure she'll gladly send something for your museum, once she finds out how much it means to you. But I don't know when I will see her again. I think the elves are in a general mourning, after the death of Glorfindel, and the return of the balrogs and all. And the elves move very slow.'
'Maybe you could just write her, and mention it in a postscript.'
'Perhaps. I will think the best way to approach the subject. I will do my best, Sir.'
'That's all I can ask, my boy, all I can ask surely.'
Prim had been in the music room during Tomilo's conversation with the Thain. She and the children had been playing songs again, and dancing. Prim was an expert on the recorder, and she and Lewa (with her flute) had made quite a pretty duet whilst Isambard beat out time on the drums and the others added accompaniment on strings. Afterwards she told the children of her plans for an expedition to the Bindbole Wood. The youngest hobbitmaids were most excited. But Lewa feigned nonchalance, and the lads said they had no interest in flowers. Prim thought quickly, and told Isambard and the other boys that they could look for other things—vacated birds' nests or old eggshells or pinecones. She said they would also be needed to guard everyone, in case goblins arrived and tried to carry off the maids. This decided it, of course. Isambard asked if he could bring his knife. Prim said yes, as long as he kept it out of play until the goblins arrived. At this all the maids shrieked and said they didn't want to go now. But Prim took them aside and told them how it was, with a wink from lass to lass. They said why did the lads have to come anyway? But finally it was all cleared up.
'But will Grandpapa let us go?' said Isambard 'He hasn't said anything about any expedition to Bindbole Wood. That is pretty far off, you know.'
Prim said, 'Yes, I know. It is quite a journey. We'll be gone overnight. Many nights, maybe. But we have friends in Waymoot and Needlehole who will take us in. Your Grandpa knows them. I don't think he will mind.' The Thain would no doubt be thrilled to have the hole to himself for a few days.
'And Isambard,' continued Prim, 'be sure to invite your friend Treskin. I'm sure he would like to go.'
'He can't go, Miss Primrose,' interrupted Lewa. 'He is not even a Took. . . although he lives in Tookbank. He is a Boffin.'
'Well, what of that? I am not a Took, and I am going,' answered Prim.
'Treskin always gets into trouble. Isambard is not supposed to play with Treskin anymore.'
'I think it will be all right this time, Lewa. Shirriff Fairbairn and I will keep an eye on him. If he does anything extraordinary, we will arrest him.'
'You can be funny if want to, Miss Primrose. But I think you should reconsider. Treskin will try to turn your expedition into an adventure. Adventures are not things to laugh at.'
'Thank you, Lewa. You are right, I am certain. I will talk to your Grandfather. If he tells me Treskin is too adventurous, we will leave him in Tookbank, you can be sure.'
'But he must come,' cried Isambard, hopping up and down. 'It won't fun without Treskin.'
'It is not decided yet, Isambard,' said Prim. 'Be calm, please, until I have talked to the Thain.' Isambard said he would; but he shot a withering glance at his sister Lewa, who stuck out her tongue at him.
Prim did talk to the Thain. He assured her that Treskin was indeed a handful. But he said that it would be good to take the boy on one of these expeditions—as long as a captain of the shirriffs was along. Treskin was like a growing pup: he needed to be taken out and run for a while. The problem was finding him at the end of the day.
They left the next morning. With Tomilo and Prim were seven Took children, including Isambard. Lewa was not with them. She had decided she was too old for such excursions. And besides, she did not want any part of an excursion that included Treskin.
That young hobbit arrived from Tookbank the next morning. He turned out to be a rather innocuous looking lad of eleven or twelve. Rather thin and tall for a hobbit, but beyond that harmless enough in appearance. His hair was dark blond or light brown—it was difficult to decide. He probably had some Fallohide blood in him, at any rate. He wore a green cap, pointed in the front, which was unusual in the district. He would have worn a feather in it (he had once told Isambard) but the shirriffs wouldn't allow it. They told him he could have a pigeon feather, but he had dismissed that idea as unmanly.
The little troop walked only to Waymoot that first day—about twenty miles from Tuckborough. They camped in the living room of one of Tomilo's Fairbairn cousins, who was mighty glad to see them go again the next morning. Treskin had started a fire in the fireplace in the middle of the night (without permission—and without remembering to open the flue). They had all been smoked out and nearly smothered. All the furniture would have to be set out on the lawn to air, not to speak of the rugs. . . and the drapes.
The second day Tomilo walked the children off their feet, arriving in Needlehole after dark, even though they had left Waymoot at sun-up. He even had to carry the smallest girl the last few miles. They stayed with a Took uncle who had taken a Needlehole wife: Smallny was her maiden name (a corruption of Smallknees). No one got up in the middle of the night for any reason, not even to get a cup of water. They slept like logs until Tomilo and Prim rousted them from their covers, threatening to eat all the biscuits and honey by themselves. Treskin was the last one dressed and at table. He was still bleary-eyed and grumbling. 'At least we're almost there, now,' he said, nibbling a biscuit with his eyes half-closed. 'I didn't realize we was training for the infantry.'
'No,' answered Tomilo, 'Nor for the fire brigade, neither. At least this regimen keeps you from mischief.'
'Do we get to pick flowers today?' asked Holly, the littlest girl.
'Yes, Dear,' said Prim. 'We will take our biggest baskets, and you can bring back all you want. But remember that the wildflowers don't last long, even if you put them in water at the end of the day. So leave some in the fields to attract the bees!'
By noon they had all made it to the edge of the Wood. Tomilo and Prim allowed the children to run about as they would. They had all earned a bit of leisure. The smaller children remained in the open field along the edge of the forest. Here the flowers were most abundant anyway, away from the shade of the trees. But the older boys strayed into the woods for pinecones and other prizes. Tomilo kept a sharp eye on them. Especially Treskin.
The grass was tall in the bright sunshine of spring, and very very green. It seeded out at top in fronds that clung to the hobbits' dirndls and breeches. Bees and butterflies droned and dappled among the red and blue and yellow poppies and tulips and wildroses. Occasionally a tiny hobbit lass screamed in delight at finding a particularly choice bit of flora, and she would call Prim over to share her joy.
Isambard followed Treskin everywhere, trying to impress the older lad with his keen eye and sharp sense of adventure. Treskin mostly ignored him, or trumped him with superior observations. Isambard did not seem to mind. It was a thrill just to be thought worthy of companionship. He wanted a green cap pointed in the front more than anything. Except maybe to be taller and older.
As soon as the boys would manage to get out of sight, feeling gloriously naughty, Tomilo would walk by whistling like a nest full of birds, casually saying 'Good-day!' to them, as if they were all on the steps of the courthouse. They found it infuriating.
So when Tomilo was out of sight again, Treskin led Isambard further into the woods. They found a small cave between some large rocks and climbed down into it. 'We'll spend the night here if we have to. That'll show 'em!' whispered Treskin to Isambard—and the little hobbit laughed out loud. Just then Tomilo's head poked down into the hole.
'Ah, there you are. Playing at badgers, eh? May I come in? I have some business to discuss with you gentlemen. Very important.' Treskin ground his teeth, but said nothing. Isambard had a strong impulse to laugh again, but didn't dare.
'My good friend Isambard here says that you are the best man in the area to help me,' Tomilo said to Treskin, in all seriousness. 'To help me with what?, you may ask. Ent-spotting. I have heard rumours that ents frequent these parts. But they are mighty shy. It takes a special sort of person to find 'em. A sort of person so special, he comes along only once in an age. That's why they've been here eversince the Shire was founded, and remained no more than a bed-story—told and then forgot.'
'So,' answered Treskin, unconvinced.
'So. . . I need to find them. And what's more, I need to find them and then be sure they remain unfound after that.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean I want to keep it a secret. I don't want all the hobbits in the Shire running over here with picnic lunches, poking and prodding and asking a bunch of outlandish questions, driving the entwives—I mean ents—away. I want everything to stay just like it is. Except I want to see one for myself. Just from a distance, you know.'
'Well, in that case,' began Treskin. 'If you promise. No snoopers and nosers. Ents don't like to be seen—that's the way of it. They don't like company at all. They can avoid being snuck up on by most. But a very quiet hobbit, what comes along once in a while, like what you said—he sometimes can get a look at them before they run off, or look just like trees.' Treskin paused. He looked at Tomilo and then looked at Isambard, trying to conceal a grin. 'But no, I don't think I can. It wouldn't be right and proper.'
'I can get a feather for that cap of yours, as a sign of your proper distinction. If you do this,' added Tomilo. 'But, of course, you can't tell anyone the feather is a reward for finding ents. We will make up another distinction. Let's see. I will make you an under-shirriff—sort of a spy, like. I will talk to the Thain, see if we can start a lad's corp, to sort of keep a sharp eye on things. Patrol the hedgerows, and like that. You can be the first lad. Captain of the lads. First Honorary Under-shirriff of the Shire.'
'What about me?' said Isambard. 'Can I be an under-shirriff, too?'
'Of course you can,' said Tomilo. 'But you won't be a captain of the under-shirriffs, at least not at first. You will have to earn that. We will get you a proper cap. When you get older you will get the feather.'
'What kind of feather do I get?' asked Treskin.
'Well, I guess anything except a pheasant feather. The shirriffs already have that. They won't agree to your getting that, I'm afraid. But anything else you want, I suppose.'
'Swan,' said Treskin, without pausing to think.
'Fine. If you can find one. And you will have to find one for the other under-shirriffs, as they earn them.'
'They can find their own, as part of the initiation.'
'Yes, that will work, I guess. Now let us discuss our plan. You must not tell any of the other children what we are doing. They will want to come, and they will make a great racket and we won't be able to sneak up on a cow, much less an ent. And then they would tell the whole world when we get back. So it's just us, lads.'
Treskin got up and bowed. It was not easy to do, since he couldn't stand up straight in the hole to begin with. But he made the requisite dip, in standard hobbit fashion. 'At your service, Sir!' he said. Isambard followed suit, but he was short enough to make the full bow. 'At your service, Master Tomilo, Sir!'
'All right. Good. Let's go back and have some supper. And see what the others have gathered. Tomorrow morning we will return to the woods. I will tell the others we are digging a fort. They won't be interested in that. Too dirty.' Tomilo started to climb out of the little cave, then he thought of something. 'Which direction will we be going, Treskin? I mean, where did you see these ents?'
'Near the northern edge of the Wood, Sir. There is a sort of glade some distance inside the forest. Down in a dell, it is, like. Like a little kingdom hid away where no one knows of it. The ents has an orchard there. A pretty big one, with all sorts of pretty trees, flowering and whatnot. And bushes, too. Lots of berries and things like that. Smells good down there, too, if you know what I mean, sir.'
'Yes, very good, Treskin. It sounds wonderful. I hope we can find it tomorrow. Come on!' Tomilo grabbed his hand and helped him out of the cave. Isambard followed, wide-eyed and smiling.
Back in the field of flowers, the younger hobbit children had already stopped gathering for the day. Some were asleep in the grass. Others were munching a bit of fruit. Prim was playing her recorder, the butterflies and bees still buzzing about her head. They seemed to like the wavering music.
Once the 'men' had returned, the troop headed back to Needlehole. Treskin and Isambard were now satisfied with their existence, and offered no more trouble that evening. They walked about the hole with an important air, winking at the walls and the furniture in a very knowing manner. When Tomilo got out his pipe for a smoke, Treskin asked him whether he had an extra one. Tomilo had to hold himself to keep from chuckling. He only let out a stifled snort. But he answered, 'No, I'm afraid I left Farbanks with only the one.'
Once the children were asleep, Tomilo told Prim the plan. She was crushed.
'But I thought we would all search for the entwives!' she cried.
'Well, but you know I got to thinking, when I was talking to the lads, that the fewer that were involved the better. We don't want to scare the poor entwives away. Who knows what a whole gaggle of hobbit children would do when confronted with entwives. . . or the reverse, you know.'
'Yes, Tomilo, you are right. But I had wanted to see the entwives myself.'
'Maybe we can come back by ourselves, Prim. Once I know where they are, you see. But we have to be very secretive, as you know. And we need someone to stay with the other children.'
'Yes, yes. I know. That is what I am here for, after all. But you must take me to see them. If you find them, I mean.'
'I promise I will, Prim.'
The next day they returned to the Bindbole Wood. But they tramped a bit farther north this time, to a spot near where the Tod-Botham Road made its nearest approach to the Wood. There were farmers' fields all about, hobbit-high with barley; but a little towpath, along the edge of the Rowrindle Stream, led directly to the edge of the trees. Where the stream came forth from the Wood was a pleasant greensward, dotted with flowers. And along the edges of the water were many flowering plants as well. Noisy birds jumped from berry-laden shrubs to fish for minnows in the slow-moving Rowrindle, or to snatch midges from mid-air.
'I should have brought my fishing pole!' said Isambard. But then he remembered their important business, and he shut his mouth sheepishly.
The children ran to and fro on their little legs, uprooting everything they couldn't trod upon first, holding it up for inspection. The youngest boy liked to taste everything, and Prim had a time keeping him from the sumac and other unsavories. He always seemed to be chewing on something. A proper hobbitchild, by any measure. The littlest girl was on the point of toppling into the stream when Prim grabbed her by the laces and swung her back to dry land. It promised already to be a full day.
Tomilo and his two recruits snuck off into the trees at the first opportunity and headed east. Treskin led the way. Nothing was said for a long time as they high-stepped and ducked their way among the heavy underbrush, holding a straight line and forcing the plants to yield to them (for the most part). Treskin was an expert in finding a way where none appeared to be, bending his lithe body into weird shapes to avoid a tangling branch or a creeping vine or a bit of poisonous weed. Tomilo and Isambard followed as best they could, overmarking their footprints on his, like a moving palimpsest. Even hobbits could not move in such dense cover without making some noise, but it didn't matter—they were still far from their destination, and had no need of absolute silence as of yet.
As the sun topped out above them, they stopped and ate a bit from their packs. Tomilo had brought a moon of cheese and a loaf and enough water for the three of them. The water they didn't need—the Rowrindle was fed by many meandering little rivulets that blanketed the Wood like a spider's web. They drank from these during the day whenever they needed. Tomilo had not known this, though; and Treskin had not thought to mention it that morning.
It was early afternoon when Treskin finally turned round and informed Tomilo that they were getting near. It was time to start thinking of stealth. So Treskin began picking out a path based on its silence rather than its speed; and the little threesome (could they have been seen by a hawk flying over) would have appeared to be zigging and zagging madly, like a dragonfly going to meeting.
Suddenly they came to a very dense thicket. Nettles and thorns enveloped the forest floor. Bindweed and creepers and a hundred kinds of ivy crisscrossed from bole to bole, stopping the travellers like a wall. No one but a snake, or a very adventurous hobbit child, would have considered going on.
'So this is why they call it the Bindbole Wood,' said Tomilo knowingly. Treskin just looked to Isambard and rolled his eyes.
'We have to get through this, then it is not very far,' whispered Treskin. 'And no more talking.'
He led them along the wall of vines to the right for a bit more than a furlong. Finally they came to another little rivulet, eeking its way south to the Rowrindle. Where it ran from under the vines, there was a break in the thorn. 'Thorn doesn't like too much water,' Treskin whispered to them. He signalled to follow, and they crawled along the streambed on hands and knees. They had gone only fifteen feet when they were mostly past the wall. Treskin crawled out of the stream, but remained on his hands and knees. Tomilo and Isambard came up and joined him. As they looked ahead, they could all see that the forest floor began to go down. A few yards further on and all the rivulets springing up would begin flowing north, to meet the Upper Muddy. As if to signal this change, a line of rocks ran directly in front of them, almost like an ancient broken fence. From just below it rose the tiny spring that fed the rivulet they had just quitted.
Treskin began crawling again, and there was nothing for Tomilo and Isambard to do but follow. They inched over the low rocks and then began descending into the dell. Every ten yards, Treskin would stop and look about him, listening. The forest cover had thinned greatly since the wall of vines, but it was still heavy enough to hide a hobbit or three. They scurried down from bush to bush and bole to bole, hoping that each bole was indeed a tree and not an angry ent. As they continued, Tomilo noticed that the trees became more and more scattered, and that the light became brighter and brighter.
All at once they came to a steep ledge. The little rivulets flowed over it in short waterfalls, twinking and splashing down into the clearing beyond. But the underbrush suddenly grew to a greater thickness, almost like an unkempt hedge, and then stopped altogether. Just beyond where the hobbits were crouching, the woods stopped. The creepers stopped, the thorn stopped, the ivy stopped. The sky opened up and the sun slanted down warm from the southwest corner of the heavens, turning the gloomy Bindbole into a garden. Tomilo peered through the hedge upon a sweet-scented land of orchards and flowers. Cherry trees were in bloom, their white blossoms blowing in a soft wind, slowly carpeting the earth. There were lime trees, growing large along the outer edges of the orchards, like a brake against the north wind. A few chestnuts also grew along the northern edge of the dell, seemingly for a like reason—and for their colour. Other tended fruits there were as well: apples and peaches and plums and pears. Figs and mulberries and a thousand laden shrubs, all in a riot of bloom and berry. Many exotic fruits and nuts unseen elsewhere in the Shire, and unheard of this far north. Everything but oranges and grapes seemed to be growing in this magical land.
And as Tomilo looked on in wonder, he saw great shapes moving slowly among the trees and shrubs and herbs. At first they seemed to be walking apple trees or cherry trees—short and compact, rather round on top. But they carried no leaf or bloom, although something about their upper regions suggested both leaf and bloom. If one looked away for a moment, they blended in immediately with the surrounding trees, their movements hidden amongst the blowing leaves and swaying branches.
'The Entwives!' said Tomilo to himself in a low voice. But Treskin put a finger to his lips, and Tomilo became quiet again. The three looked on for many minutes, speechless. Isambard counted fourteen entwives in clear view, on this near side of the great dell. But large shapes were moving among the trees as far as the hobbits could see.
The hedge that hid them from sight continued in both directions in a great circle, growing in some places to a fair height, and in other places being but a narrow screen. On the east side of the dell an outcropping of rock intersected the circle for a few hundred yards, creating a natural wall. Tall arrowy pines shielded the dell above the rock, and cast their thin shadows northwest across the near part of the open grasses. Fewer trees grew in this region, but the entwives had used it to plant their most hardy herbs, and those that needed the least sun. Smaller entwives roamed these leafy areas, entwives resembling laurels or hazels or hawthorns.
The dell was fed by many little rills snaking across the fields and in amongst the trees, all of them running more or less to the north. A slightly larger stream fell over the rocks on the east side of the dell, under the pines. Here in the shadows was a dwelling of sorts. A tall stone table stood here, without chairs or seats of any kind. The hobbits knew it for a table, however, because upon it were set any number of earthenware vessels, all glowing green or brown or gold with their various liquids and elixirs. A well-worn path led up to the table. On each side of the path ran a culvert of clear running water that had been diverted from the waterfall by careful channels. Rows of small junipers also ran along the path on either side.
In the open space around the table, in what looked to be sort of room, open to the sky above, were many decorations. All were composed in some way from the trimmings or fallen cast-offs of the living things of the dell. A magnificent earthenware bowl, painted many colours, was filled with fruit blossoms gathered from the orchard floor. Laurel trimmings had been arranged in pretty patterns and attached to the rock walls by wedging their branches into the crevices. Even the mosses and lichens and fungi had been forced to grow down the face of the rock in beautiful shapes—like upside down trees or flocks of migrating birds.
Tomilo watched as an entwife emerged from this 'room' and made her way back to the orchards. She looked like a small fruit tree. She was, in fact, related to the peach trees; but the hobbits could not have known this since they had never seen a peach tree. Far south, in Ithilien, the peach tree was not uncommon, but they did not grow naturally in the Shire. Tomilo noted the entwife's appearance closely. Her arms emerged low on her body, being almost perpendicular to her trunk before curving gently up at the ends. She was covered in pink blossoms, although the hobbit could not tell whether she grew these herself, as it were, or wore them as ornamentation of the season. The features of her face were, like those of Oakvain, nearly or wholly hidden from a distance. Her hair was leafy, and mostly covered in blossom now anyway. As for her walk, it was very mysterious. Her legs were quite short and her feet quite large, so that one would not have imagined she could move at all. Tomilo thought it would be like walking with your knees tied tightly together, and cartwheels strapped to the bottoms of your feet. But somehow she managed rather well. It was almost a floating, or a gliding motion: a method and an affect of propulsion and ambulation beyond the mind of man or hobbit.
Finally Tomilo signalled the others that they must return. They had crouched behind the hedge for unknown minutes, lost in amaze. But Prim and the children would be waiting, and the three spies had a long and tortuous walk just to re-emerge safely from the Bindbole Wood.
This they did after a couple more hours of difficult work. All of them were scratched and scraped, with muddy knees and breeches-seats. But this was explained easily to the others, who, you will remember, had been told a fort was being dug. Fortunately no one asked to inspect this fort.
That evening after everyone had been shuffled off to bed, Tomilo sat smoking in the frontroom, his feet now washed and combed and propped proudly upon the the fender. Prim joined him with a goblet of wine.
'Well?' she said, her eyebrows very very high.
'Well?' answered Tomilo, looking into the fire.
'Tell me about the entwives, you great goose!' she said testily, slapping him on the shoulder. 'You found them I suppose?'
Tomilo stayed quiet for just a few moments more, both to savour the moment—the power he had, and felt, in holding such a magnificent story in his little hobbit brain—and to bring Prim's excitement to its proper boiling point. Just when he was sure she would explode the very next fraction of a instant, he cleared his throat and said,
'Prim, My Dear, I have seen the most wonderful thing today. In the past few months I have seen dwarves and elves and balrogs and wizards of several colours. But I have seen nothing that compares to this at all. You see I had known of elves and dwarves and these other creatures. Even the balrogs—I mean I hadn't known of them, really—but they are the sort of thing you see in your nightmares, and so they don't seem completely strange. But the entwives. . . . I know, you will say what about Oakvain? He was strange, surely? And that he was. But, Prim, there was only one of him; and I expected him, somehow. I knew there were ents, from reading The Red Book. But the entwives. . . . Until I saw them I couldn't really believe in them. I don't know why. I didn't think Oakvain was lying, you know. And why would Treebeard have made up a song about his wives, if they didn't exist? Maybe it was seeing them all together, in that strange dell that was all their own, that nobody else knew about. It was so unreal, I guess because I never became a part of it. We never entered that little world, so it still seems like it is just a picture in a book, or an image in my head.'
'How big was this dell?' asked Prim, standing up and walking about the room nervously. 'And what was in it? I mean besides the entwives.'
'I should say it was half a mile across, give or take a bit. Quite large.' Tomilo then described the dell as he had seen it, including the lodge of the entwives, and the table, and all the decorations.
'Ai! You must take me back as soon as possible. I will go mad. We must take these noddleheaded children back to the Tooks, and come right back. I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. They are lovely children, even Treskin, I am sure. But if I don't get to see the entwives soon, I will cry. I really will.' And to prove it, Prim burst into tears on the spot.
Tomilo comforted her, saying 'There, there. Do stop. Do. You'll wake the children. I'll tell you what we'll do, Prim. I'll take the children back myself, first thing in the morning. You can stay here and rest. I'm afraid you're going to make yourself ill. In two days I'll return and we'll go straight to the dell. You can sit and watch the entwives as long as you want. How does that sound?'
After a while Prim became more tractable. She finished her wine and then Tomilo put her to bed next to the children. But he returned to the fire and smoked some more, gazing into the flames and thinking about many many things—not only the entwives.
A Black Stone and a White
The Anduin flowed strong and cold with the spring runoff from the Misty Mountains. Everyday its banks rose another inch, as if in answer to some black summons, to keep the workmen from their quarry. But still the men of Osgiliath toiled on, surrounded by waters that would now be over their heads, if not for the barricades. Dwarves had been called in, to help in sealing off this area from the ever-pressing current; but still the seepage continued, sometimes slower, sometimes faster, sometimes threatening to carry away the retaining walls altogether. Many men and dwarves had been hired to sweep and siphon while others dug. It was like bailing a slowly sinking ship.
They had excavated perhaps ten feet below the river-bottom, and had fortunately not hit bedrock. But the mud was soft, and the soggy earth all round them flowed slowly inwards, making much of their work futile. They must keeping digging day and night, for if they left off even for a few hours, the riverbed would rise again to its original position, and all their weeks of work would be in vain. The dwarves partially solved this problem by extending the bottom of the retaining wall, so that as the men dug deeper, the wall went deeper also. But this was only a half-way solution, for the mud continued to come up from underneath, and would until bedrock were reached.
At last, on the seventh of viresse, at two hours before sunrise, a shovel hit stone. They were now twelve feet below the bed of the river, some three fathoms below the surface of the Anduin. When the men excavated the stone, they found it to be a jet-black orb, extraordinarily large and heavy. It had not been marked at all by the strike of the shovel. Upon measurement, it was found to be just under two cubits in diameter, and it could nowise be lifted by four strong men. A sled had to be prepared, and a sling. Two horses then pulled the stone from the site with long heavy ropes. Its delivery to the Citadel of Minas Mallor, across the Pelennor Fields and up the steep ways of the seven levels, was also not an easy task, and it was several days before it was set in a proper pedestal at the top of the tower.
At that time, the wizards had just returned from their journey to Krath-zabar and Fimbar* (the city of elves in the woods of Ithilien). They had been gone for sixteen days, and the King had begun to think they had extended their tour into Mordor, perhaps issuing into the plain of Nurn through the tunnels of the dwarves.
*Fimbar signified 'slender home,' since the wood in which the city lay was long and narrow, with its beginnings just south of the Emyn Arnen and its end some fifteen leagues further south. But it was situated between the Anduin and the Harad Road, so that at its widest point it was only a few leagues from east to west.
But the wizards were only waiting for news of the palantir. They had no more research to do in the Citadel, but there was one last counsel to take with King Elemmir—supposing the palantir were found, that is.
They had been given the full inspection of Krath-zabar, the mines and smithies and armouries and the newly crowded living quarters. But there is little to tell. The halls of the dwarf kingdom were impressive, maybe, to dwarves. But they did not differ in kind from the halls of Moria, which have been described already in some detail (save that they were less magnificent and much less commodious). Nor were they much different from the Glittering Caves, which will be described soon (save that they were not so marvellously wrought, nor so naturally adorned by nature).
Fimbar was also like a lesser copy of other places, in many ways. The trees were fair, but not so fair as Lorien. The houses were homely and inviting, but not so homely as the last homely house in Rivendell. The ships and boats were magical and light and fleeting as they raced down the forest stream to meet the great river, but not so light and fleeting as the ships of Cirdan in Mithlond. Only in one way was Fimbar unsurpassed among the dwellingplaces of the elves of Middle Earth: the beauty of the elves themselves. In no other place were elf children so numerous, and elf children are the fairest creatures of all of the creatures of Iluvatar.
Only here, in the south, were the elves actually increasing. All the older enclaves were stagnant or diminishing. The birthrate in the Greenwood was terribly low; in Lorien, little better. In Imladris it was near zero. And in the Havens of Mithlond and Lhunlond, it was zero. No elves, who were on the brink of sailing away, would be thinking of starting families. So in many ways, Fimbar was the new hope of the elves. Here lived the future of elvenhome in Middle Earth.
But this is not the place to give a longer account of the city of Fimbar. It plays small part in this story. For the wizards returned quickly to Minas Mallor when they heard news of the finding of the palantir. They were immediately called into the presence of the king upon their arrival. He led them up a long winding stair of white polished marble to the top of the tower and into the chamber of the palantir. This chamber was lit on all four sides by small windows, in the shape of narrow slits. The stonework about the windows allowed light to enter, but neither arrow nor other projectile could penetrate. There was no timbered ceiling in this top chamber: above the king and the wizards was the ultimate stonework of the Citadel, crowning out far above them in a sharp pinnacle. Only a few wooden rafters and buttresses loomed in the dim light above.
In addition to the narrow fortress windows, the chamber had been fitted with several louvers, some to emit smoke from the fire, others to emit or receive winged messengers. Pigeons and thrushes and ravens might enter or depart through a small trapdoor only a few feet above the heads of the guests, in the northern wall. But another (much larger) door had also been fitted into the roof of the tower, to allow for the arrival of the Great Eagles.
There were few chairs, however. This chamber was not used as a meeting place. It had received no one but the king for many years. Even the steward had not been invited to the chamber of the pinnacle. A few books lay about, as well as some intruments for measuring the stars. Several ancient mooncharts and maps hung the walls, as well as some equally old heraldic tapestries—all in dust and disrepair. A tray of old food was near the door, and Ivulaine almost tripped over it before her eyes became adjusted to the light. The kings of Gondor did not let the chambermaids or butlers into this room, of course; and kings were not ones to dust and clean.
The king's chair was set in front of the new palantir. A wooden bench, covered in dust, was shoved under one of the windows. It appeared to have been damaged by the rains of many years, dripping from the stone sills. There were coverings for the windows but they were not always used, even in the worst weather. The old palantir—the Stone of Anor—had also been moved with its table to a place against the curved wall, and already looked as neglected and forgotten as the the poor bench.
The king turned to the wizards and waved a hand at the great palantir of Osgiliath, now cleaned and gleaming black as obsidian under a slanting ray of light.
'There it is, my friends,' he said proudly. 'The product of your work and imagination. It is as you said. A thing of beauty unimaginable. And it was where you said. Precisely. Three fathoms down, if you would like to know. One fathom of water and two fathoms of mud. The Anduin has risen almost two feet in the past three weeks, Gervain. But my men were equal to the task—if only just barely, as I hear. And the dwarves were useful as well. But you know all about the dwarves.'
'Congratulations, Lord. It is much more useful here than it was in the Anduin, I gather?' said Ivulaine with a smile.
'It is indeed, Lady. I know you would not be so bold as to ask, but I have already made use of the stone—I have found it very tractable. It fits my mind like a well-trained horse fits my rein-hand. I saw you and Gervain riding from Fimbar, clear as day. And I have already caught up Gordebor in some of his mischief. Though I hope to make better use of it than that. Gordebor hopes I find greater prey also, I believe,' added the king, laughing.
'Did you feel no resistance at all, Lord?' asked Gervain.
'Not in the least. The stone is not groggy from its long sleep, if that is your fear.'
Gervain said nothing, but the sentence, 'Let him believe that, if he will. Do not question him further!' came into his mind, from Ivulaine.
'Very Good, My Lord,' is all he said.
Ivulaine was now walking about the chamber, and she had come to the Stone of Anor. 'King Elemmir. What may I ask do you plan to do with this stone, now that you have a better? Will you send it to Minas Annithel?'
'I was considering the very thing, Lady. But I do not think anyone in Minas Annithel could wield it. Nor is that tower inhabited by anyone of my family. The Ithil Stone that was there in the last age was placed there for communication between fathers and sons, in the royal household. But I have no intention of sending Gordebor there. And Rosogod in Fornost already has the Orthanc Stone. I had thought it be best to return the Anor Stone to the tomb of Denethor.'
'Do you remember, Lord, that on the day of our arrival several weeks ago you asked where we planned to reside? You wondered if we would return to Rhosgobel? The truth is that we have something to ask of you, as well as something to offer. Since the discovery of the Osgiliath Stone, what we have to ask of you has grown, and perhaps you may think that what we have to offer has also. Orthanc is empty, and the Anor Stone has now been superceded by the Osgiliath Stone. We may take some credit for this last circumstance, I think. But our offer is this, Lord. Lend us the keys to Orthanc, and lend us the Anor Stone as well, and we will guard your northern flank, beyond the Rohirrim. With the Osgiliath Stone, you can freely communicate with us. And all the fortresses of the Re-united Kingdom will then be inhabited. We had meant to counsel that you re-fortify and reman Orthanc regardless, since the threat from Morgoth will be from the north. And we still do so. However, your position would be strongest, we think, with Gervain and myself in that citadel—sharing it with your men, of course. Rhosgobel is not situated properly for the exercise of the White Council, as I hope you agree.'
'It is an interesting proposal. But I must consider it before I answer. It is much that you ask. And also much that you offer, I know. And yet I am unsure. Are you suggesting that you would be my captains, with oversight of my men in Orthanc?'
'Not at all, Lord. We were not sent from the west to be captains of men, though some would say that is what Gandalf became at the end, in large part. Your captains at Orthanc would be under your direct orders. We would only be residents of the Tower of Orthanc. Counsellors at need, both for you, through the stones, and directly, for your captains. But for the most part we would pursue our own projects.'
'Yes, well, it seems fitting. If you have wizards, you put them in a high tower and let them be wise. Although I must say it didn't encourage Saruman to do his best work.'
'I know you mean no offense by your light talk,' interrupted Gervain, 'But I must point out that neither Ivulaine nor I is Saruman. Saruman desired mastery. We do not. If we had desired mastery, I assure you we would have served ourselves better to have stayed in the South and East, where we had already won the hearts of the people and wide acclaim. To come here, where we are unknown, and in a region that only promises great turmoil, is hardly a recipe for domination. Also, one who sought a people to over-rule would not travel a great distance to place himself beneath the nose of Morgoth.'
'I find myself in a poor position again, I fear, Gervain, with nothing to excuse me but my own foolishness,' answered the king. 'I speak aloud thoughts that were best left unspoken. But you are correct that I meant no offense. I do not misdoubt either of you. But the situation is complex, and what you ask is not a small thing. I do hope you will give me time to consider it. I understand that you may be in some hurry to depart from Minas Mallor, having business elsewhere. But I cannot be rushed. Even a foolish king is yet a king, and he waits in his foolishness on no man. . . or wizard.'
'Your time is your own, Lord,' said Ivulaine soothingly. 'We are in no hurry. There is no business that we have that is more important to us that this, I assure you. And we will remain your truest allies and most faithful counsellors no matter what you decide on this. Whether we work for Gondor from Rhosgobel or Orthanc, or from the bed of the Anduin, rest easy that we do work for Gondor and all her allies.'
That evening the wizards sat in their chambers discussing the King and his new surveying stone. Gervain smoked a long pipe, marvellously carven in the shape of some fantastic animal—like a dog with a long snout or some strange pike with many teeth. The smoke came from its mouth and hugged the low rafters of the room, slowly blackening the yew and sending a fragant odour all about them. Ivulaine was making a tea in a sort of samovar she carried with her, from some leaves she had found outside the walls. She warmed her hands over the boiling water as Gervain removed the pipe from his lips to speak.
'Do you think Morgoth already has a stone?'
'He may. It would explain much,' answered Ivulaine, bringing her tea to the table with a plate of bannocks.*
'I suppose Sauron may have saved the Ithil stone from the fall of Barad-dur.'
'Yes. Or the stones of the north may have been found and sold to one of his agents, by the Lossoth.'
'I do not think the Lossoth would sell to the enemy—not knowingly,' added Gervain, blowing a huge smoke ring which circled the samovar before rushing out a crack above the door and whistling into the night. 'Not according to all reports of them. I think it more likely that the stones would be stolen or taken from them by cunning, if they were found by the Northmen at all. But maybe the Enemy searched the seas himself, and found what Ulmo and Osse could not or would not hide.'
'That is possible. At any rate, there are three stones unaccounted for, and one of them a surveying stone. At best, the enemy has none of them, and the Ithil stone perished with Barad-dur. At worst Morgoth has recovered all three, and has kept the surveying stone of the north for himself. In this case he has dealt out the others to Saruman and Sauron. Saruman would have the stone of Annuminas and Sauron the Ithil stone.'
*Biscuits or scones, baked with a hard crust.
'Did you think that Telemorn might have already felt some resistance from Morgoth, taking up the stone so soon and with no practice?'
'I did fear it. And still do. I doubt not that the two surveying stones are yet aware of eachother. The one in the north, if it were being used, would be sure to feel the awakening of the other. If Telemorn has felt no interference, that is good tidings at least. It speaks for the possibility that Morgoth has nothing.'
'I would that we knew more of this. The king may be in danger. But if we tell him of the danger, we may lead him closer to it. He may bend the stone to the far north, out of curiosity. That he should not do, I deem, whether Morgoth has a stone or not.'
'Verily. And despite Telemorn's openness, I do not think he would take well our further meddling in this matter. The Numenoreans have never been instructed in the use of their own heirlooms, and we have only just arrived in the west. We will study this matter further. Perhaps we should travel to Mordor, to follow the trail of the Ithil stone, if there be any such. And send messages to the Lossoth, to find if there has been any unusual activity in the past few years on their shores. But the final test will be when, and if, we are given the Anor stone. Only then we will know for certain who is overwatching the palantiri. Until then we must hope that Telemorn has inherited the strength of the Numenoreans along with their instruments of power!'
The next morning the two wizards finally quitted the great city of Minas Mallor, taking leave of the king and the steward. As the first red beams of the sun stole around the still-black Ephel Galen, the two wizards rode from the gates, retracing their way across the Pelennor Fields and beyond to the Rammas. They bid good morning to the guard there and turned their horses westward for the long ride to Edoras.
At breakfast, the king had given them leave to go to Orthanc, and there to look upon the ruins of the valley and decide what might be done. He would swiftly send a following messenger once he had come to a final decision about the re-opening of the tower, but for now the wizards might enter the circle and make report of it.
The King also sent greetings to the people of Rohan, especially the king and queen in Edoras. And he bid them make the wizards welcome as emissaries of Gondor.
Gervaine and Ivulaine had accomplished much in Minas Mallor over the past fortnight. They had met a king, found a palantir, and learned a great deal about the ways of the west. But now that they were beyond the fields of the city, another concern began to show outwardly in their faces. A concern far beyond that of the palantir. The wizards had been careful to conceal this concern before the king and the steward. They had not spoken of it, even privately in their own chambers. Beyond this, they had found it necessary to conceal some information from the king, information that they had found in his own libraries and vaults. Telemorn had asked them directly if they had found what they sought in the manuscripts, and they had answered that they had not. But this was not true. They had made a discovery of great importance. A discovery of such importance that it justified concealing it from a king. But as they rode they spoke of it, mind to mind; and their faces were heavy with the care of it.
'Gandalf kept this selfsame secret from Denethor, indeed from all the wise, for almost a hundred years,' said Gervain, as if to excuse their recent concealment from Telemorn. 'To tell it now would cause untold strife, and needlessly. We did no wrong.'
'Perhaps,' answered Ivulaine. 'But if Morgoth has discovered this secret—as he surely has: how else to explain the attack on Erebor—then is it sensible to keep it hidden from the wise? How may a New Alliance resist Morgoth if it is an alliance built on ignorance and secrecy? It may be that the truth would be less damaging than the finest discretion, no matter how well intentioned.'
'I understand your feeling on this, but I can't agree that this should be told. There is no one who would benefit of the telling. The wise remaining in Middle Earth are only ourselves and Radagast and a handful of Elf Princes and Princesses. But it is primarily from the elves that this must be kept, for their own sake. We may tell Radagast, but that is unlikely to avail us much. '
'The elves may be led to some new intemperance by this, it is true,' agreed Ivulaine. 'But they must be given the opportunity to choose their own fate. We cannot save Middle Earth by shrouding it in ignorance and secrecy. The alliance must know who it is fighting, and what it is fighting for. Even if this risks further splintering. The elves may choose poorly, as they oft have before. But they may choose rightly, and this may be the their final test. Who knows the causes of history, or its final meaning, but Iluvatar imself? I would not withhold this from the elves, lest we ourselves do evil without knowing it.'
'Can it be evil to be patient, or to counsel patience? To be cautious and to counsel caution? It would be rashness itself, even folly, to tell the elves that the Arkenstone is one of the Silmarilli, and that Morgoth has once again taken one of the three for his own. I fear to think what mischief the Noldor may still do, not to Morgoth forsooth, but to any who come in the way of a Silmaril, by design or chance. The Silmarilli are cursed. They have been cursed from the beginning, even as Feanor wrought them of the light of the two trees in Valinor. And they are cursed now, returning again to Middle Earth to cause discord and destruction.'
'The Silmarilli have never caused a jot of destruction, as you know, Gervaine. It was Morgoth who created the discord. The elves only responded.'
'You see, the discord arises even between ourselves. You apologize for the Noldor. I blame them. The only way to avoid the discord is to speak not of it. That is why the Silmarilli were left as lost in the chasms of the earth by the Valar, or put beyond the reach of elf or man in the sky. That is why Gandalf wisely spoke not of what he came to know. That is why we should speak not of it.'
'Why then did Gandalf write of it, and add his knowledge to the history of Gondor ere he left Middle Earth? We saw it written in his own hand, "The Arkenstone is the jewel of Maedhros, thrown into a gaping chasm filled with fire, but found by the dwarves of Belegost."* It is true that he placed this writing cunningly, where none would discover it but those searching for it. And in language few could discern. But he did write of it. What of that? I say he knew it must come to light. That it should come to light. Everything that is, must be. We cannot contain mischief or discord by lying to kings of Gondor and to Elf Chieftains.'
*Enedi-ondo Aereborro na myrre Maedhrusso, lannant ardanca edril quandi-narr, noesyth Pelegostho utuviond-da. This is the actual letter for letter translation, from the note of Gandalf. It is in the Rumilian mode, which was different in many ways from the mode used by Quenya scholars in Gondor (which was in the main Feanorian). The lettering of the script had also been chosen a purpose by Gandalf, to make it more difficult to read by those unfamiliar with the lettering of Valinor.
'Did Gandalf not "lie" to Elf Chieftains?' answered Gervain hotly. 'Did he not withhold this information from Thranduil before and after the Battle of the Five Armies? Do you think that the forest elves would have left the Arkenstone lying upon the breast of Thorin if they had known its true name? No, they would have sacked Erebor, or perished in the attempt. And they would have had the elves of Lothlorien fighting beside them, and the elves of Rivendell. Until the Silmaril was in the hands of one Elf Prince or another—at which time civil war would have erupted. Do you think the surviving Noldor would have allowed Thranduil to retain an heirloom of Feanor? The high elves would never be satisfied to see dark elves hold what only Earendil has held for two ages. Who knows what tragedy Gandalf's silence averted? Elrond himself, or Galadriel, might have fallen in these wars of elf against elf, and then where would the fellowship have ended? Who knows. The trees begin to fall thickly in such a scene, and Elrond's fall may have crushed Arwen, whose fall would crush Aragorn, whose fall would doom Middle Earth. This, Ivulaine, is one of those finest of threads upon which hung the doom of all.'
'That could be said of any thread, as you know, Gervaine my dear. Still, that does not make what you say untrue.'
'No. And what is more, think what may befall now of the same thread, cut too soon. The elves and dwarves, never friendly, would be thrown back into open strife. Those who sat with us at table together in Rhosgobel would again become enemies. The elves will accuse the dwarves of keeping a Silmaril. They will ask where it was found and why it was not reported. They will not accept the dwarves reply that it was not known that the Arkenstone was a Silmaril. The elves will counter, with much justice, that it should have been known, or guessed. How many jewels of that size and description have ever been known in Middle Earth? Then the dwarves will reply that Thranduil was close by at the bargaining at the gates—that he is reported to have seen the gem in Bilbo's hand. Why then did he not report it, or guess its true name? The argument will not die, Ivulaine, no matter what is said on either side. It has never died. It never shall. Gandalf would have been even wiser to have stolen the Arkenstone in the night, and to have thrown it into some bottomless lake or chasm. To have returned it to a place even more remote than where it was found by the dwarves.'
'Perhaps the thought crossed his mind. But where is such a place?' answered Ivulaine. 'The lowest recesses of the earth are thrown up by the molten movement of rock. The deepest seas rise and fall, depositing strange flotsam on the shores. The blackest lakes yet have beds that may someday see the drying heat of the sun. Remember, the One Ring returned from great rivers and darkest caves and strangest hands to worry the crowns of the world once more. And the Silmaril we speak of had erupted or been dug from a chasm thought to be limitless and safe. What then?'
'What then? Why then Gandalf buried the Arkenstone in secrecy in the heart of Erebor, in a closed casket of the dead. If he might not wrap it in earth or water, then why not wrap it in disguise? A disguise more thorough than any plumbless deep. He was wise, I say. And we would be wise to do the same. None but harm can come of the unveiling of the Silmaril.'
Ivulaine answered nothing, but her mind remained troubled, and Gervain could sense that she was unconvinced.
'Remember also, dear sister,' continued Gervain, 'that Gandalf concealed not only what he knew of the Arkenstone, but what he knew of the One Ring. Not until he reached Imladris on Shadowfax—after his fight on Amon Sul with the Nine—did Gandalf tell Elrond the burden that Frodo bore. It is written* that Gildor did not know of the ring when he met Frodo in the woods of the Shire, as the four hobbits fled the Ringwraiths. If he had, he certainly would not have left Frodo to wander about by himself. It is not until
*The Red Book, book one, chapter 3.
Glorfindel rode out on his white horse to escort Frodo across the river that one may infer that the elves had finally been apprised of the situation. The only one of the wise who knew of the ring until then was Aragorn. Why should Gandalf tell Aragorn but not Elrond or Glorfindel or Gildor? Because the elves, as wearers and keepers of the three, were more prone to misguided judgment. The ring was of less personal import to Aragorn, though it had been taken as an hierloom by his forefather Isildur.
'Likewise Gandalf felt it was better to let the Arkenstone lie dormant in the tomb of Thorin. That is why Gandalf was so concerned about the whole argument over the Arkenstone to begin with, outside the gate of Erebor. Only he knew what the stone really was. He was most worried when Thranduil saw it over the fire that night, when Bilbo secretly brought it to the camp. He knew that if Thranduil should recognize the gem, all was lost. The oath of Feanor would be awakened and all the Noldor of Middle Earth would come down upon Erebor to claim their own. But Thranduil was not a high elf, and had heard of the Silmaril only from afar. And the Battle of the Five Armies put all thought of the Arkenstone out of mind for a time.
'As we have just read, it was Gandalf's suggestion, backed by Dain, that the Arkenstone be buried with Thorin. What seemed a fitting memorial, though, was actually the clever means by which Gandalf avoided the curse of the Silmaril for another age (which he achieved). This is not the least of Gandalf's accomplishments. And from the view of history, may be his greatest.'
'It is difficult to predict the point of view of the future,' answered Ivulaine. 'Foresight is not a gift given even to the wise, except in brief glimpses. Before we make a final decision to keep this information to ourselves, I would know more of the dwarves' discovery of the Silmaril. It seems strange to me that the earth would not agree to hide such a small piece of itself. Wondrous gems there are in the bowels of the earth that none have ever seen, nor ever shall. Fate does not eject these gems into passing hands, simply to stir the hearts of living creatures. So much is at work here—so much that is beyond our understanding.'
'We know what we have read,' said Gervain. 'And there are few gaps in the story of Gandalf, it seems to me. I don't know what more you would ask. Until now, the Arkenstone was said to be the heart of the mountain, the discovery of Thrain. But how did it come there? Gandalf tells us it was carried there by Thrain from Moria. How did it come to Moria? By Maedhros. As you know, Maedhros and Maglor, the last two sons of Feanor, stole the Silmarils from the Valar and fled into Middle Earth. But the Silmaril carried by Maedhros burned his hand, and in a fit of grief he plunged himself into "a gaping chasm filled with fire". The jewel went with him.
'Now, as we also know, in the War of Wrath some few balrogs escaped to "caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth." As it chanced, Maedhros had cast himself and his jewel into a fiery cavern that was also the hiding place of one of these balrogs. This balrog therefore had the Silmaril dropped into his lap. The body of Maedhros was consumed by the dark flame, but the Silmaril was of course unaffected. The balrog took the Silmaril with him when he went by subterranean passages to the depths of Moria, and there he dwelled for unknown certuries.
'It is an age later, and still we are in Moria, during the time of Durin VI and Nain and their people. They are delving ever deeper in the caverns, in search of mithril. But Gandalf now tells us they did not 'awaken' the slumbering balrog, as it has oft been reported. No! They killed him while he slept and stole his Silmaril. But other balrogs, until then unfound by the dwarves, awoke at that time and hunted them and slew them, and drove the dwarves from Moria in their wrath. Thrain I, son of Nain, escaped bearing the Silmaril, and none other knew of it until the dwarves reached Erebor. There, only scant years later, the existence of the jewel became known to others of the party, and Thrain had to invent a story to cover its true identity and true place of finding. Durin and Nain, before they were killed, had suspected that this great gem was a Silmaril. Thrain had been told so by his father. They desired therefore above all other things to keep it hidden from the elves. So Thrain told the dwarves he had found it mining 'at the heart of the mountain' in Erebor. And he was believed. But he told his son Thorin I the truth, and each King told his son until Thrain II. Thrain's imprisonment in the dungeons of Dol Guldur prevented him from telling Thorin II, but he did tell Gandalf of the secret when he gave Gandalf the map and key to the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf chose to keep the information to himself, and to plot to rebury the dangerous Silmaril, which he did.
'Now, what I propose, to complete this tale, is that Gandalf did not realize that Sauron had already forced this information from Thrain. One of the first things Sauron planned to do, once he had defeated Gondor and reclaimed his ring, is to assault Erebor in full force and take the Silmaril. This he never achieved. But he carried this information still, even after his last defeat. And now he has used this information to work some of his "petty mischief". Morgoth learned from Sauron of the existence of the Silmaril, and this is why his first campaign was against the dwarves of Erebor.'
'This story is a good one, as far as it goes, Gervain. But there are yet holes in it. Sauron did not need the One Ring to move against Erebor. If he knew the Arkenstone was a Silmaril, why did he not direct an assault upon Erebor long before the forming of the Fellowship? A pair of Nazgul might have snatched the gem just as easily as the dragons did. And even if not, Sauron might have brought huge armies from the east to bear on the dwarf kingdom.'
'For one thing,' said Gervain, 'Sauron never had Morgoth's interest in gems. The Silmaril is not a token of power but of ornamentation only. A container of beauty and light. It would have pained the eyes of Sauron.'
'It pained the eyes of Morgoth, and weighed heavily on his brow, but he desired it nonetheless, if only because the good also desired it.'
'True. But Sauron sought only dominion. He had no interest in beauty for its own sake. In this he was always different from Morgoth. Besides, it was his ring that Sauron wanted. This was his obsession, as the Silmarilli are Morgoth's.'
'Yes, Gervain, I agree. Your argument is strong, as far as it goes. All discretion is on the side of silence. But we will talk more of this. And you would do well to heed my reservations. Gandalf hid this for a long time, but he did not take the secret with him across the sea. If you argue that he had reasons for his silence, I argue that he may also have had reasons for the telling.'
The greater part of the dwarves fleeing the caves of Khazad-dum had gone to to their strongholds in the east or west. But some few had been fortunate enough to escape to the Glittering Caves, which the Sindarin elves had named beforetime Aglarond.
Indeed, the elves had known of the natural wonders that lay here since the Second Age, when they had fled over the Blue Mountains. How or why this knowledge was kept from the dwarves for nearly two ages is unclear. Mayhap it was an oversight. The elves were not interested in the northern outliers of the Ered Nimrais, since the trees that grew here were sparse and unlovely. Also, the view of the southern stars was impeded, as well as those in the west, for any who would settle here. This was a situation not to be thought of by the elves.*
Despite the rather low esteem the elves must have held for Aglarond, it is still curious that its existence had never been mentioned, in all the years that the elves and dwarves lived together in Hollin and Phurunargian. It may be that the elves were silent a purpose—keeping the caves secret from the damaging picks of the dwarves. The comments of Legolas certainly lead one to this conclusion. His first reaction to Gimli's discovery was that the caves might be better left as they were. But Gimli assured him that the dwarves would not mine or delve here: they would be not conquerors but caretakers.
*You may ask, what of Imladris, and the eastern stars? Or of Lorien, and the western stars? Or of the Wood-elves Realm, in Eryn Lasgalen, where the stars could not be seen at all through the trees? The western stars being the most important to the elves, the last two of these three questions are the most pertinent; but it must be stated that Lorien was distant enough from the Misty Mountains (some thirty leagues) that only the horizonal stars were blocked from view, especially from the highest flets. This was no doubt some small grief to the elves there, but it was not in most cases unbearable—else the population of Lorien would not have been stable. Imladris was likewise more than ten leagues west of the Misty Mountains, which distance opened up the sky somewhat. And the eastern stars were not held in the same reverence as the western. As for the elves of the forest, all the stars were only a tree-climb away. And there were special wooden towers also made for the same purpose. But for the elves, the trees were never a hindrance to star-gazing: they were a convenient and well-loved means of climbing nearer the heavens.
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