Part Three: Tirion
“But it’s a family matter, Elrond, I would be completely out of place.”
He had planned to spend the morning on one of the padded benches in the courtyard reading, but he was soon interrupted by Luntindo, who brought apologies for the delay and a promise that the rest of his baggage would be delivered later that afternoon. He had barely got back to his book when the sound of voices heralded Elrond’s arrival. He greeted Erestor with a still unaccustomed embrace, followed almost at once by an invitation to join him and Galadriel on a visit to Tirion where they were to be given a chance to meet Celebrían.
Elrond put down the tiny cup of pale green tea Erestor had just poured him and sat back on the bench, staring moodily across the courtyard to where the waters of a little terracotta fountain decorated with seashells danced merrily. His face was anything but merry. Physically he looked better than when they had embarked from the Grey Havens, but his eyes were still tired and watchful.
“Please don’t make me beg, Res,” he said in a weary voice. “Just come with me. Did you have something better planned?” His glance encompassed the discarded book and the otherwise deserted courtyard. “You were as close to Bri as anyone. And you must surely be curious to see fabled Tirion? After all the stories, even I quite wonder how it looks.”
Erestor was reminded of the determinedly persuasive boy he had known in ages past and sighed. He could put up a token resistance, he supposed, but knew he would concede in the end.
Reaching Tirion proved more frustrating than Erestor imagined was the norm in this placid land. It was a short walk down to the harbour where they found Galadriel already waiting. She was pacing. It turned out they were too early and that the ferry would only leave at midday. They stood around for a while, looking across the bay at the purple mountains, and then Erestor made the best he could of the situation by offering them tea at his temporary lodgings.
Galadriel looked as she always did, a little pale, though not as ethereal as she had seemed during the last few years in Middle-earth, and with a tautness that seemed at odds with the peaceful surroundings, especially if you considered she had been born on this shore and by rights should have felt it as a homecoming, no matter how reluctantly. She was unusually quiet once they were seated on the terrace and tea was being brought. The news about her daughter so soon after the loss of her grandchild must have hit her hard.
Still, the normal ferry from Tol Eressëa seemed an unlikely return to the city of her birth for a king’s daughter. Carefully he said, “Your family will be eager to have you home, Lady. I was surprised to find you still here.” Not very diplomatic, and she had known him a long time, long enough to read the words behind the implied question.
She shrugged gracefully and said, “I wanted a few days alone before dealing with all those people I haven’t seen since I left. My father would have sent for me eventually, when he felt I’d had time to recover from the voyage. I decided to choose my own moment. There would have been no rush on his part,” she added by way of explanation, led perhaps by something she saw in Erestor’s face. “Time moves differently here, it always did, and a thing not done today can as easily be seen to tomorrow or next week. After all, we are here for as close to eternity as makes no difference…”
She sounded exactly the way he felt about that. Being an undying being in Middle-earth was one thing, the passage of the years broken and invaded by the rush and excitement of transient life, and there had been no time to get bored. He was not sure he would ever feel at home in a place where a long-sundered daughter could be allowed to stay within a few hours of her home and not eagerly be sent for. It must have been a hard parting, her choosing her uncle and brothers above her own father; he wondered if she was nervous of her welcome, even after so long.
The boat when it came sped gaily around the point of land sheltering the harbour and berthed neatly close to where they once again waited. It had glistening yellow sails of a stuff that bore no resemblance to the canvas Erestor knew from his time in Mithlond or indeed from the ship that had carried them to this place. They embarked, the only passengers, and took station at the forward rail. The water was mirror smooth and of a blue so deep as to be almost unnatural. Once they rounded the island, they could watch the rock walls of Valinor stretch ever-higher as they drew closer, looming over them in shades of purple and grey. Nothing grew on those unwelcoming heights, which reflected the still-unseen sun back in harsh shards of light as though polished. Erestor had never seen mountains that colour before, but then the Pelóri were not merely mountains, they were a Valar-created barrier against the dark.
The harbour at their destination made the one at Tol Eressëa look small and utilitarian, which it probably was. White stonework gleamed on all sides, while a reception area with delicate arches and intricate latticework formed a screen along the side where small, bright-sailed pleasure boats were moored. Two sturdy craft that had a working appearance – fishing vessels probably – were coming in to dock. They displayed an unfamiliar flag and he tried to make out the design. Elrond, following his eye, shrugged. “No idea,” he said. “It looks a little like drawings I’ve seen of Vanyaran devices, so perhaps some family owns a fishing fleet?”
“That emblem belongs to Glorfindel’s uncle,” Galadriel said, rousing herself from a pensive silence. “A Vanyar going into trade? Times have changed, for the better perhaps.” She pointed as they drew close to their berth. “There’s the path up to the city, and if you take the right turn you would eventually reach Alqualondë. It’s not too much of a distance from here. Tirion is further – I wonder if they still hire out horses?” She gave Elrond a glance that was as close to insecure as Galadriel was capable. “You will come with me, won’t you? To the palace, I mean. The last time I was here was a very long time ago, it will feel – strange.”
Elrond was staring straight ahead at the towering wall of rock and the regimented peaks marching back and along, except for the broad opening facing the dock. He spared Erestor a glance and a raised eyebrow but said nothing. Instead he answered his wife’s mother in a quiet, even voice. “I will be honoured to escort you to your grandfather’s house, Lady. The one thing I missed in Imladris was living near the sea. I would like to see Alqualondë.”
Instead of horses, there were shell-shaped carts that ran unaided along a silver rail towards the famous gap. Galadriel showed polite interest while the captain of their boat explained that all they need do was get in, sit down, and wait to be carried up to Tirion. She passed it off as a nice little invention that by chance had not existed in her time, then climbed in with unhurried grace and settled her skirts about her, waiting.
Elrond and Erestor exchanged looks, then Erestor stood back with faux courtesy to let him enter first. Elrond showed him the corner of a tooth in a gesture so like Gil-galad with an annoying councilor that it quite took Erestor’s breath for a moment. Then he followed Elrond into the open cart and closed the door. It vibrated for a moment and then moved off in a whisper of sound, following the silver track, the distant city in the gap drawing ever nearer.
“Never look surprised by anything,” Galadriel told them calmly. “Everyone so wants to impress us. As though we all lived in stone huts over there.”
“How does this work?” Elrond muttered, keeping his face still in case someone, somewhere was able to watch.
She shrugged. “I have not the slightest idea. But it certainly beats walking and I was worried when I could see nowhere to borrow horses.”
Erestor kept silent, remembering Ost-in-Edhil where he had lived and which had been the most technologically advanced elven city of its or any other time. Not quite mud huts, no, but nothing like this. The sense of the foreign, the alien, grew stronger. Would he ever find somewhere he would fit in this strange land?
The carts finally came to a stop at a gleaming granite platform. He could see as they reached the end of the line that there was a complicated system of pulleys involved in bringing the carts up, and no doubt sending them back down again, but there was no time to look as Galadriel and Elrond alighted the moment they stopped and set off with him trailing behind.
The road to Tirion, which the silver rails ran alongside, was unmistakable. While a few offshoots meandered off to left and right, it stretched ahead of them, a gleaming white way made from tiny blocks of stone slotted intricately one to the next like a long, incomprehensible puzzle. It was very even underfoot. Erestor, on pretext of adjusting a bootlace, felt it briefly and found it smooth and slightly warm to the touch. His boots were a good pair, finely tooled and made of softest suede, but they looked almost too functional for this exquisite surface.
The road passed between the walls of the Pelóri, banks of scented flowers and small, aromatic bushes on either side filling the air with rich fragrance, and Túna rose gently before them, topped by the gleaming spires and turrets of the fabled city of the Noldor. It was like a picture out of the stories he had been told as a child, but colder, less inviting than the memory retained by those who told their children and grandchildren about their homeland across the sea.
The famous steps, which rose in several levels of lustrous white, were as described, but one important fact had been omitted from all those tales of beauty and excellence.
“Slippery as Orthanc,” Elrond cursed, almost losing his footing for the umpteenth time. “Why would anyone choose a flight of stairs as slick as oil underfoot to reach a city atop a hill?”
“We always took one of the informal paths down the side of Túna when I was a girl,” Galadriel told him. She had her skirts delicately bunched and raised in one poised hand and seemed to be gliding up the steps, her back ramrod straight, her head held high. Erestor recalled the same pose from other occasions, none of them pleasant.
The effect, however, was wasted; the handful of elves who passed them barely glanced their way. Granted there had been quite an influx from over the sea lately, but he had expected more curiosity than this. Galadriel certainly looked important, and had the famous hair to go with it, while Elrond — Erestor glanced at Elrond and saw they might have needed some fashion advice. His tasteful blue coat over grey pants looked almost deliberately subdued compared to the finery worn by passing elves.
They reached the top of the final flight of stairs without mishap and paused before massive gates thrown wide to the world. Erestor studied the view out over the harbour and across the bay to Tol Eressëa, no great distance away. He wondered if he could swim that far. Training for it might be a way to pass the time and would perhaps make Hweston happy. He assumed an absence of sharks.
Meanwhile, Galadriel and Elrond were in conference.
“Yes but if we’re presented to my father, possibly even my grandfather – your several times great-grandfather – we will be there for hours. We’ll never get away in time to see her. Shouldn’t we wait, do that first, and then deal with the palace afterwards?”
“Galadriel, they must already know we are here,” Elrond said patiently. Now the reality of reunions was imminent, Galadriel was being almost indecisive.
She gave an unladylike huff. “Elrond, I know how things work here. A time was arranged, we arrived later than planned, the meeting with my family will take hours, it is simply best to do a little sightseeing and then go directly to – to meet her. Otherwise we may miss her and have to do this all over again.”
Before Elrond was misguided enough to say what a father might expect of a long lost daughter, Erestor interjected softly, “Lady, I would certainly enjoy a small tour of the central parts of the city while we wait. Indeed, the ferry was so late that it has complicated everything. Your father does not have a formal reception planned, does he?”
Blue-green eyes offered a grateful look. “No, not really. Not that I know of? Just a public greeting in front of his household, I thought. So it’s settled then, Elrond? A walk around, a look at some of the main landmarks if they still remain, and then Rosewood Park at the arranged time – I can’t believe it’s still here after so long.”
“How does one tell the time here Lady?” It had been bothering Erestor since they arrived. “Everything is so different, even the light… especially the light.”
The smile did not reach her eyes. “Unnatural, isn’t it? It’s reflected sunlight from across the sea, nothing direct, so the shadows blur. Tol Eressëa confuses me too, but it should still be easy enough here because the bells still count down the span of the day as they always did. We should hear what would be called the noon bell back home soon. After which, we have an hour – or the equivalent of an hour here.”
“Like a city-wide clock?” Erestor asked.
“Exactly. Noldor efficiency at its best. And one of the few things Fëanor did not invent – he loathed the sound.”
They wandered the streets of Tirion like the tourists they were, pointing and exclaiming at glittering pathways made from crushed gems, exquisite statuary, meticulously tended flowerbeds and baskets of blooms. They discussed the possible height of delicate turrets joined far above ground by elegant walkways. Galadriel pointed out the Mindon Eldaliéva, the Tower of Ingwe, that rose above the others, its light not active at this hour of the day. Privately Erestor found the predominance of white hard on the eye, but there were a few pastel greens, pinks, even lilacs mixed in to soften the effect. The ornamentation also offered colour, even if much of it was from silver and gold embossed on doorways, railings, curbstones. It was all a little overwhelming.
Aesthetics were everything, and nothing was left to chance, even the open places looked manufactured. There were small, grassy squares with benches under sheltering trees that looked to have been there for eternity, cafés where elves sat outdoors drinking and eating, a pretty square where entertainments were being performed; they paused there a while to watch a troupe of acrobats and jugglers go through their paces. The applause from those who stopped to watch was more polite than enthusiastic, which rather summed up the mood of Tirion to someone born in a louder, brasher place.
He was almost relieved when the bells sounded to mark the turning of the hour. He did not like to admit it, but he had seen as much of fabled Tirion as he needed for one day, In contrast he remembered the winding streets, the noise and rush of Minas Tirith when they had visited for Arwen’s marriage. He and Glorfindel with Elrond’s boys had spent days exploring the different levels, and never tired of it. He had felt more at ease in that city of Men than he did in this, his ancestral home.
They got turned around a little and it took Galadriel a few minutes to find her bearings, by which time the bells had died down. He thought he would need to get used to that sound on an hourly basis; it was a little too high pitched for his tastes. He could understand Fëanor’s dislike.
“They seem shriller than I recall, or perhaps it’s just that my ear for music has changed,” Galadriel said, echoing his thoughts. “I know where we are now,” she went on. “We go along there, follow the path with the sea-themed mosaics, and if nothing’s changed it should lead us directly to Rosewood Park.”
There was an undertone to her voice that could have been eagerness, anxiety, haste – possibly all three. They took the pathway of dull white stone, with fish, squid, shells and starfish picked out in little coloured tiles, passed a café and an outdoor exhibit of carvings done in pale blue stone, birds mainly, so exact that each feather seemed perfect. Elrond slowed down to look at them, in less hurry to reach their destination. Erestor touched his arm, wordless. Like Galadriel, he needed to do this so that he could move on. To what, Erestor was not quite sure.