Part Two: Tol Eressea
The next morning, as he finished breakfast, officialdom found him in the form of a bored-looking elf with dull yellow hair. He was directed over by the girl who was going around filling cups with a woody-tasting tea that Erestor was sure he would eventually get used to. He loved coffee, which Imladris had imported for years by a circuitous route from the East, but it was a mortal crop and he supposed it had not reached the West. If it had, he was sure Rainano would offer it. The elf reached him and hovered. Erestor recognised him for what he was and waited, expecting at any moment to see a slate and stylus appear.
“Erestor of — Imladris? I am Hweston, from the Office for Resettlement. We are tasked with assisting new arrivals in finding their families or, failing that, suitable accommodation and guiding them in the choice of interests to occupy them. For these purposes, I need to ask you a few questions.” On cue, a notebook appeared.
‘A few questions’ lasted through the end of breakfast and two cups of tea. By the time he was done, Erestor found himself wondering if unsuitable new arrivals were put on board a ship and sent back? But no, that was not possible. Sent to another, smaller, less favoured island perhaps, to live out eternity where they could do the least harm…. Erestor amused himself by imagining such a place and populating it for life with a selection of failed candidates from this haven of elven decorum. He had used his imagination to good effect before during long meetings or detailed discussions that had little or nothing to do with him, and no one had ever managed to catch him out. Well, Glorfindel, yes. It took one to know one, as they said.
Gods, he missed the blond with his cheerful humour and simple honesty that was far from simple.
His ‘mentor’, for so the bureaucrat had introduced himself, cleared his throat and Erestor gave him a limpid, wide-eyed look, for all the world as though he had not missed a word.
“Talent,” Hweston repeated. “Dance, sing, paint, recite? Proficiency is not a requirement. You will have more than enough time to master any talent you wish to acquire.”
“Why would I want to … learn a talent?” Erestor asked, bemused. The dining room was almost empty and he was starting to feel conspicuous.
His Mentor frowned, displeased. “Eternity is a long time, Erestor. It is as well to find interests to fill it, particularly as you have no wife or children to pass the time with.”
“I’m sorry, I had no idea they were compulsory.” He had never quite been able to control the sarcastic edge to his tongue. Hweston, however, either ignored it or chose to take him seriously and squinted at him out of light green eyes.
“Of course it is not a requirement, but it is desirable. It gives ordinary elves focus and grounds them to a specific place. Without responsibility, you need interests to give your life shape.”
“I always found my work fulfilling, the day never seemed to have quite enough hours. “ Why he had never married was none of this person’s business, and he tried to make his tone dismissive. To his surprise, the hint was taken. Hweston moved on.
“Your work was of an administrative nature, I understand?” He made it sound surprising. “There is little call for such things here. Those of us who find this a calling are normally content to remain in our positions indefinitely. Perhaps you would enjoy spending time as a scribe, creating beautifully illuminated books? There was mention of a library.”
He sounded dubious. Erestor stared at him. “A scribe? I think not. The library was mainly a repository for history and science, which I oversaw rather than worked in. My hand is adequate though not exceptional and it was always a relief to have someone else taking notes.” He glanced at his cup, but it had been empty for some while and the girl with the teapot had vanished.
Hweston was apparently at a loss, because he seemed to gather himself before sitting back in his chair, putting the little notepad and strange-looking writing implement away into the bag hanging off his belt. “Perhaps I should return in a few days?” he suggested. “While you stay here and rest from your journey. I will make enquiries, there may be something that would – intrigue you. Or perhaps your family might come forward. Such things often take time.”
Erestor went for a walk; it seemed the only answer to a morning that had begun this badly. The tea girl as he had come to think of her enthusiastically recommended the nearby ocean path above the beach. Or else, she added with less confidence, he might find a walk up into town interesting. He decided to settle for something familiar and went to have a look at the sea.
The path was easy to find. It was neatly laid out in teal grey gravel with a border of white crystals, each shape leading on to the next in a manner that must have taken an age to organise, and possibly had – there was an endless supply of time here and this would be as good a way as any of filling it. The thought horrified him beyond words. Perfectly trimmed ground cover grew neatly down to a line just above the sand, filling the air with soft herbal scents. On the other side of the path an identical slope led up to the cobbled street where he could hear horses and carriages passing on the way to unguessable destinations and the occasional brisk footsteps of a pedestrian.
The beach was a narrow strip of palest gold lapped by white-capped wavelets on an azure sea. It looked almost virginally untouched and was completely deserted. He entertained an impulse to go down and walk in that calm water but put it aside. There were no footprints, no driftwood, no errant strands of seaweed. This was a beach for looking at, he sensed, not for wading.
The sea stretched endlessly off into the east until it met and blended with the horizon, while the strange, empty strip of sand marched on ahead, pretty but discouragingly alien to someone who remembered well-used beaches busy with fishermen and children and sea birds. With a small shudder, Erestor decided to try the second option and take a look around Avallónë instead. He had no clear idea how big Tol Eressëa was, but he knew it was in essence a port town, the entry to the West from where newcomers dispersed to more permanent destinations. He followed the path back to where he recalled seeing a small flight of neat stone steps set into the bank and went up to the street.
The buildings opposite had an anonymous look about them, all narrow windows and double doors. They overlooked a beach of surpassing beauty yet appeared to be storage facilities, not homes. He took the next street up and followed it, turning right – he thought it might be north, but was unsure –trying to make his way towards where he thought the town centre should be. The silence of this street was unnerving and were it a town anywhere in Middle-earth he would be thinking of back tracking by now, unsure of his safety. But this was Elvenhome, not some eastern port city; there were no threats.
Eventually, by dint of following streets along and up, he found his way back to the busier part of town where carts and carriages passed him smartly, riders trotted past on tall, thin-legged horses, and the pavements bustled with activity. He recognised a few places as either taverns or hostelries of some kind, and there was a large outdoor market where the main items on offer seemed to be flowers and small carved figurines. Otherwise buildings of unfamiliar design fronted onto the streets and strangers came and went, not sparing him so much as a second glance.
He became slowly aware that he had no money, no idea of what passed for currency, and the only thing he seemed to have in common with the people hurrying around him was that they were all elves. He had no purpose, no plans, no home other than the inn, which he hoped he would be able to find his way back to. His family could be anywhere or nowhere. And the other person he had hoped against hope would be there to greet him was clearly otherwise occupied.
Or perhaps he had not yet been reborn. The idea had not occurred to Erestor before and it was like ice water trickling down his spine, stopping him in his tracks. He had been so sure… but no one knew how long it took, how many were given the opportunity, whether they were like Glorfindel, in his old form and with his old memories, or if it was more like the mortals in the east believed, that the soul returns time after time to a new form and a new family. Well, for elves there would probably only be one rebirth, but what if he looked different or had no memory of the past they had shared? What if he hadn’t been there waiting because he didn’t know?
Before he made himself crazy with the convoluted reasoning this new train of thought, Erestor decided it was time to stop thinking and go back to the inn. Perhaps in a day or two it would all start making sense, but right now this town with its delicate spires and open spaces had nothing to offer him. Failing which, he could always find out where Elrond was and go see if he was having any better luck at settling in.
As it turned out, he had no need to go in search of Elrond, because his former lord was waiting when he arrived back at the inn. He had barely crossed the threshold when Rainano came hurrying up to direct him through to the garden courtyard and his waiting visitor. He was plainly embarrassed that he had not been able to explain where one of his guests was, so that Erestor caught himself almost apologizing for being thoughtless. Rainano had a good heart though, and took his responsibilities seriously. In that at least he was his father’s son.
Elrond looked tired but about a thousand years younger. Erestor guessed the energies of the Undying Lands were already starting to counter the draining effects of all those centuries of wearing the Ring of Air. He hoped it was having the same effect on Galadriel – she had started looking almost transparent towards the end. Elrond was wearing a blue and yellow robe that looked new and seemed to follow what he had seen of the local fashion. He rose at once from the bench and approached Erestor, hands held out. Somehow they ended up embracing, which was not a habit between them but seemed natural, almost comforting, in this strange new world.
Standing back, Erestor looked at the half-elf quizzically. “And so? You look well. Good family reunions? How are you liking it here so far?”
“Exhausting?” Elrond pulled a wry face as they sat down together on the bench. “People who are names out of history greet me like a long lost son, others are just curious about how a half-elf looks. I can see it in their faces though nothing’s said. Galadriel’s been wonderful – quite unlike herself. She’s introduced me to as many relatives as we seem to share out here, promised to take me with her to Tirion, even found out what my chances are of getting to see my parents.”
“There’s a problem about your parents?” Erestor tried to keep up with the flow of information but it was all starting to blur.
“They don’t generally welcome visitors apparently,” Elrond said, his tone neutral. “I… even as a child I was always aware they were one another’s world. Later I had a deal of sympathy for Dior when I heard his story, it was probably much the same for him on that island with Beren and Lúthien, the deathless lovers.”
“Idril and Tuor too?” offered Erestor. “In fact, all the great loves – I always thought they would be fairly self-involved. Not like real people, if you know what I mean.” Or people who had to keep their relationships secret and demonstratively get on with life.
“Oh, I’ve already met my Grandmother – Grandfather is off sailing somewhere. No, she’s wonderful, very warm and friendly. I don’t remember her of course, we were babies when they left. But she remembers us.” Elrond’s face became almost animated. “We had a long talk at the gathering last night, and she wanted to know everything about me and Elros and my family…”
His voice trailed off and he stared into the distance, his expression suddenly hurt and vulnerable. Erestor put a hand on his arm and made his voice firm. “Arwen made her choice with head as well as heart, my friend. And your sons will sail when it’s time. Glorfindel gave you his word and he would never break it.”
Elrond paused then nodded, taking up a similar tone. “Yes of course. He said if he had to knock them unconscious and load them on board, he’d do so.”
“And we both know he is more than capable.”
They spent a moment each with his separate memories of the former lord of Gondolin, both smiling. If he said the twins were leaving, leave they would. Glorfindel always got his way in the end. Well, almost always.
Elrond was the first to move on from this. “What of you? Any luck with finding your family? And have they not sorted out a place for you to live yet? It’s a pleasant enough inn, but I thought they were supposed to be very efficient.”
“No family so far, and I think fussy is what passes for efficiency here,” Erestor said a touch grimly, before launching into the tale of his breakfast meeting with his Mentor. Elrond heard him out in silence, an expression of polite disbelief on his face. Erestor just managed to stop himself from pointing out this was probably the normal lot of those not directly related to royalty as Elrond was, several times over, both by blood and by marriage.
Which brought him to an obvious question. There was no diplomatic way of asking it, though the fact that he was the one to raise it, not Elrond, was its own warning. “What of Celebrían?”
Elrond’s lips compressed briefly and his eyes flickered to take in two elves walking along the other side of the courtyard. “There was no healing for her here,” he finally replied quietly. “She passed to the Halls shortly after she arrived, the final escape from the pain and horror of her memories. She…”
He stopped, cleared his throat. “She was reborn quite soon after, it seems, but she had asked – that she never recall the past. Lord Námo agreed to it, which seems to have surprised everyone. She lives outside Tirion, the very young daughter of a member of the king’s court. She has two older brothers and a sister – a large family for these days, they tell me. She always said she’d have liked a brother…”
He paused for so long that Erestor thought he had finished, but before the sound of the inn’s songbirds could become oppressive, Elrond added, “Galadriel and I will see her when we go to Tirion to greet the rest of the family. A casual encounter has been agreed to, just so we can both see she is… as well and as happy as they say.”
Despite the pain in his eyes, his tone was resigned. Glorfindel had been optimistic, a believer in his people’s ability to heal, but Elrond had always maintained that, for whatever reason, Celebrían was not waiting for him beyond the sea. He had done all he could to help her, but still his guilt had been great. And as for Galadriel…
“And the Lady?” Erestor asked softly.
Elrond stared up at the sky for a while, then said, “She said there are worse fates than being given a second chance. And at least she will be able to see she is well. Celeborn though… it will break his heart when he finally gets here. She was…”
“Her father’s joy, yes.” As Arwen was yours, passed unsaid between them. Galadriel had been less of a hands on parent, busy with political ambitions and exploring the world around her. Celebrían had once confided in him that she used to feel like she was interrupting something important if she needed her mother’s time. Celeborn though had doted on his only child. It may have begun as a form of compensation while Galadriel was busy playing mind games with the High King or Celebrimbor, but whatever the reason, the closeness was undeniable and his pain at her loss had been staggering.
Erestor had known her most of her life and had been very fond of Bri, the warm-hearted, delightfully normal daughter of exceptional parents. He was not sure what he thought of this second chance and wanted some time with the idea first before venturing an opinion. “Not a good homecoming, my friend,” he offered instead, resting a hand lightly on Elrond’s forearm.
Elrond raised an eyebrow slightly, nodded. “Home? I suppose so. I think this transition has been a mixed blessing so far for all of us.”
He made no mention of mutual acquaintances in the conversation that followed, and Erestor found it impossible to form the right words to ask without sounding desperate or over-eager. Still, had he seen someone formerly lost and known to them both, Elrond would surely have said.
The day wound down slowly into evening. Elrond excused himself after a time, pleading dinner followed by another huge gathering of family and friends of family, most of whom had sailed over to the island specially to meet him. He asked if Erestor would like to join them, but the invitation was just a courtesy. One would need to be very hungry for company before other people’s family reunions started to look attractive.
Dinner was fish and vegetables again. The tea girl asked how he had enjoyed his walk and he spoke well of it, which made her happy though she wasn’t surprised – the beach, she said, was well-liked by everyone thereabouts. Rainano was absent and there was no one else he knew well enough to talk to. He recognised several people from around the Havens, but as seneschal of Imladris he had occupied a different world to theirs and on both sides they confined themselves to nodded greetings. He sat outside and watched the starlit sea for a while but the day had left him strangely tired – possibly due to the sea air – and he was ready for bed at an almost unheard of hour.
Once back in his room he resolved to read for a while after he had washed and changed. The water was once again tepid, making him wonder if it was brought hot and had cooled or if this was a preference here. Reminding himself to be sure to ask about bathing facilities in the morning, he put on the old grey shirt and got into bed.
His personal luggage held a good selection of reading matter and the book he chose was an old favourite, a selection of fables from the east, but tonight there was no comfort in it. Everywhere he had ever known was ‘east’ now, and further away than the moon. Finally he gave up and closed the book. Putting out the lamp, he lay on his back staring up at the ceiling and waited for the night to pass.