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Old 06-19-2021, 08:49 AM   #6
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,089
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapter 19 - Friends

(Mid Spring)


Several days later, just before noon, Lothuial and Lothlūn arrived. Adaron introduced them to Lorien, Noldo, and Sindo.

Lothuial, Lothlūn, and Lorien enjoyed each other immediately, and Adaron smiled; he suspected that the three young ladies (Adaron still thought of both himself and Lothuial as very young) would spend a great deal of time together. The three young ladies settled in and washed up, and then went to Lothlūn's room and shut the door. The door didn't muffle the chatting and laughter very well.

Thorontir and Mirthlūn arrived, and they began preparing for an evening meal. Noldo and Sindo learned that all eight members of the original escort were expected; Noldo worried, since Alphaelin and Aergeleb intimidated him so, and Helkaris and Rinloss made him uncomfortable in many ways.

Adaron tried to reassure him. "Alphaelin and Aergeleb have mentored me for many years. And Helkaris and Rinloss have their faults, but they are not dark. They are young."

"Young?"

"Rinloss is Helkaris' son. I think Rinloss took a fancy to Lorien and hoped that Cirdan would permanently separate you from her. But since Cirdan did not, Rinloss will not harp further on the idea. I hope Helkaris is as reasonable. He tends to be more stubborn than his son."

"You sound worried."

"I am more than half afraid that Rinloss will pursue my own daughter, and then I will have to turn down the son of a friend. I do not like the idea. But I would not marry Lothlūn to Rinloss."

Noldo studied Adaron, and wondered who he would approve of, and whether there was a shortage of marriageable male elves, that there were no other, more preferable suitors for Lothlūn. He puzzled over that, and then remembered Alphaelin and Aergeleb, and worried about what they thought of him still, and whether they disliked him, and whether he should care. Too many questions. With an effort he shook off his uneasiness. He and Sindo helped their four friends with the food preparations.

**********

Late that afternoon, the other four elves from the company arrived, and to Noldo's uneasy surprise, there were many more elves with them, and more still followed. The three floors of the house and even the garden began to fill. More food arrived in waves and was set out. A few musicians gathered and played out in the garden, and there was some dancing there and on the roof where the music could be heard as well.

Noldo and Sindo hung back in the kitchen, nervously looking for more things to do. "Adaron, I hardly feel that I shall fit in, or that we are ready to meet all these elves. Perhaps my family should go for a walk, or a ride, " Noldo suggested.

Adaron replied with mock surprise, "Why, I do believe that you are shy!" He smiled. "Do not fear. These are all friends of my family, and they are here to see Lothuial and Lothlūn. Most do not know your story, nor need they learn it. Very few, I think, will ever learn it as we have."

"We needn't be introduced in detail, then, " Noldo said.

Adaron nodded. "We will simply say that you are travelers, and guests in my house. If you wish your story to remain hidden, then do not display too much affection, and no one will ask."

Just as well. Noldo realised he had gotten quite careless about the amount of affection he showed Lorien in public anyway, having gotten used to life in the wild. Society, whether elf or hobbit, had stricter norms. Noldo sighed, and nodded, and took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, and called Lorien. She responded, and he explained as gently as he could what Adaron had just told him.

She laughed softly and sweetly in his mind, and told him Lothuial had already explained all of that, and he needn't have worried.

Just then the three ladies emerged from Lothlūn's room where they had been closeted away for hours. "Apparently they've been adjusting a dress for Lorien. I should say they are quite finished, " Adaron nodded approvingly.

It was a stunning dress, and Noldo forgot his uneasiness as he watched Lorien. The dress affected her too; her movements became more graceful still, and she stood as tall as she could, and her eyes glittered less and shone more. She was never far from Lothuial or Lothlūn, and the three of them composed one lovely picture after another. Noldo admired Lothuial's elegant grace, and wondered at Lothlūn's slender height. But seeing Lothlūn and Lorien together worried him. Lothlūn towered over Lorien, and he knew they were only two years apart in age. He pulled Adaron aside and asked him about it.

"Gildor mentioned that," Adaron replied. "He thinks it was the stress of losing her original parents, and then her guardians, and Doldo and Mallie; and then the cold winters without fresh fruits and vegetables just made it that much worse."

"What are you saying? That she'll never grow as tall as she should?"

"That is true. She may have reached her full height already."

Lorien was just one inch taller than his four-foot-nine-inch height. "No wonder your people hate me."

"Noldo, all of us are grieved and upset by your story and your early marriage. But none who have taken the time to truly learn your story, hate you. A few of us are even quite fond of you, now."

Noldo blushed, stung by the reminder, but he was still fretting about Lorien's height. "Don't most elves grow to six feet tall?"

"Many do. Not all."

"She is by far the shortest elf here."

"You and your family worked hard to care for her, and did all that you could do. You and Sindo have both paid for your foolishness, and your wife is returned to you. Don't berate yourself. Be at peace and look to the future. But if you do berate yourself, then Sindo will by far bear the heaviest burden since his guilt is the deepest."

That stopped Noldo. Sindo had suffered enough for his misdeeds. In one moment Noldo decisively dismissed the entire subject. Adaron knew he did, and was glad that Sindo had such a brother to look out for him.

A gale of laughter interrupted them, and Adaron smiled. "I had previously noticed that Lorien was overly solemn for a lady her age. I wonder if that is about to change."

"She laughed often with my mother, " Noldo said.

"Perhaps she will learn to laugh again, spending time with Lothuial and Lothlūn."

It was odd to watch the three of them. Tall Lothuial was solemn one moment, and then would burst into elegantly rippling laughter the next. Lothlūn was giggly and chatty and vivacious. Lorien was somewhere between the two, sometimes mischievously alert, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes bubbling and silly. On the surface Lorien and Lothlūn looked closest to each other. But then the conversation would suddenly turn serious, and occasionally Lorien or Lothuial would grow solemn; and then even the laughter had a solemnity about it, though it was no less joyful. But a moment later, Lorien and Lothlūn would be lightheartedly giggling again.

Watching Lorien's rapid mood changes made Noldo's head spin. "Help me, Adaron, " he murmured. "I need all the counsel you can give me."

"Yes, you do, " Adaron replied, having noticed the same thing. "I will be there for you whenever I can. She is formidable. But she does appear to be enjoying their company. I wonder if my wife and daughter will not do more for Lorien than I will do for you, even despite my best intentions."

"She seems to be thriving around them."

"Yes, I think she is."

By keeping the ladies in sight as they wandered about the house, Adaron had succeeded in leading Noldo and Sindo away from the kitchen. Noldo suddenly realised Mirthlūn was by his side, with a glass of wine in his hand, in quite high spirits.

Mirthlūn smiled warmly at Noldo. "Lorien is absolutely radiant. Lovely. The very embodiment of feminine vibrancy and strength. And that dress is an appropriate setting for such an exquisite jewel. Wait 'til she goes outside in the starlight. I wouldn't miss such a sight for all the wine at this table."

"Beware, " Adaron muttered. "He'll name her any second now."

Noldo smiled fondly up at Mirthlūn. "Mirthlūn, how do you say, 'Strong-Willed and Tenacious' in elvish?"

"What did you say?"

"'Strong-Willed and Tenacious'."

The words rolled around in Mirthlūn's mind. "Sindarin for strong-willed... hmmmm ... obstinate would be tarlanc... Or better, strong-spirited, bell-fear; tenacious-- how about dauntless... thalion. Unquenchable would be uluithiad."

Noldo tasted the combination of syllables. "Tarlanc Thalion... Belfear Uluithiad. Hmmm. Yes, those names do sound like her."

Mirthlūn seemed to snap back to reality. "You can't mean to apply those names to Lorien! Noldo, my goodness, this is all much too masculine. Really, Noldo, 'Strong-Willed and Tenacious' is hardly an appropriate name for such a glowing, radiant, heavenly creature!"

"Oh, I don't know, " Noldo shrugged. "Adaron named her that, and I thought it was perfectly appropriate. Quite perceptive of him."

"Oh, but you can't be serious, " Mirthlūn scolded.

Adaron smiled. "I wouldn't argue with him, if I were you. You don't have the rest of the company to rescue you if he turns his will on you now."

Mirthlūn gave Adaron a look of mock-terror, and then turned to Noldo. "His point is well taken; I'd best behave myself, hadn't I, Little Feanor!"

Adaron wilted under sheer guilt, and shot Noldo an apologetic glance. "Sorry."

Noldo laughed.

"In all seriousness, " Mirthlūn continued. "Lorien; dreams, dreamland. Pleasant enough. But hardly a name to do justice to such a beautiful creature. Don't you agree? She really does need another name."

"I'm perfectly happy calling her Lorien, " Noldo admitted.

"Oh, use your imagination!" Mirthlūn cried.

"You've never made such a fuss over Lothlūn," Adaron suddenly interposed.

Mirthlūn actually was at a loss for words, for about five seconds. "I thought you didn't like my names."

"You don't have to name her. But you've never even seemed to notice her."

"Ah... ...Should I?"

Adaron shot Noldo another glance of apology before he proceeded. "Lothlūn is every bit as attractive as Lorien. If you're so comfortable telling Noldo how lovely his wife is, why don't you take a minute and tell me how charming my daughter is?"

Noldo glanced at Lothlūn, and saw Rinloss chatting with her. Suddenly he understood. Mirthlūn, however, clearly had not caught on.

"Lothlūn has a quick sense of humor," Noldo pondered thoughtfully, savoring the words as he spoke, "and a lovely, musical laugh that makes her eyes sparkle like the sun on the river. She's lively, she's intriguing. She is tall and elegant and moves with a delightful shimmering grace, like a birch in the wind. Don't you agree, Mirthlūn?"

Mirthlūn's eyes grew wide, and he studied Noldo with something akin to amazement, and then turned to Adaron, who smiled at him and raised an eyebrow.

Noldo turned towards Lorien, and called her. "Lorien, shall we go outside and listen to the musicians?" She started towards him. He smiled invitingly at the other ladies, and they also smiled, excused themselves, and came laughing toward Noldo. Rinloss looked disappointed.

"I wondered whether the three ladies would be inseparable," Adaron said, smiling gratefully at Noldo.

Mirthlūn filled his glass again, suddenly off-balance, and Adaron waited for him as the ladies went out with Noldo. Mirthlūn studied Adaron, and then tried the edge of his thoughts, but Adaron's mind was closed tight.

"Adaron, what are you thinking? Your daughter is twenty-eight years old."

"I am thinking, " replied Adaron as bluntly as he could manage, "that the next twenty-two years will be over before you know it. Consider that yourself. You know you're tired of being alone. Twenty-two years is not that long to wait."

Adaron turned, and Mirthlūn, struck dumb by amazement, followed him outside where they joined Noldo, Sindo and the three ladies.

No one had any trouble, nor even hardly any discussion, from Mirthlūn for the rest of the night. Some pondered his starry eyes and wondered if he was composing a poem, or perhaps thinking up new names for everyone at the party. And he did make up a few new names. But they remained secret for another twenty-two years.

*******

Chapter 20 - Discretion

(Mid Spring)


Meanwhile, all this talk of renaming Lorien was bothering Noldo, and suddenly he realised why. Alphaelin had asked him why he used the name Lorien when he, Alphaelin, perceived that Lorien was not her name. He did not doubt that Lorien now knew what her original name was; he wondered why she had not told him. But she was busy with her friends, and he did not want to disturb her with his sudden curiosity.

He began wandering around the garden, and then into the house, through the rooms, and finally searched the roof. On the same bench he had sat on six nights earlier, listening to the song of Fingolfin's challenge to Morgoth, he found Alphaelin and Aergeleb. He was surprised to see them both stand to welcome him. They were both gentle and friendly, and they set him at ease; they invited him to join them on the bench, and he agreed.

They knew he had come with a specific question, and they waited.

"Alphaelin, when we first introduced ourselves out by the river, and I introduced Lorien, you asked me why I called her that, and that that was not her name. Do you know her original name? Her true name?"

Alphaelin hesitated. "We do. We are not certain that we should tell you what it is. We wonder whether it would be best if we did not."

"But why?"

"Out of kindness to you, Noldo. Lorien is a perfectly acceptable name for her. There is nothing wrong with calling her that. You do not need another name for her."

"What harm can knowing her name possibly do to me?"

"We do not know, and so we have left that choice up to Lorien herself. She knows you, and she will choose what to say and what to leave unsaid."

The subject seemed closed.

"May I ask you another question?"

"Yes."

"Why did you spend time in Lorien's thoughts, and in Sindo's thoughts, and yet not in mine?"

Alphaelin replied, "But we did."

"You did? When?"

"When you challenged us."

"The eight of you together?"

"Yes."

"But... what could you have learned by that? It only lasted for a moment."

Alphaelin replied, "If Aergeleb and I had not had Sindo's tale first, we would not have learned as much as we did. But we saw how Sindo sees you. We saw that you willingly submitted yourself to your father's judgment when you transgressed. We had seen through Sindo's eyes how you had fallen in love with Lorien. We knew that your love for her was based on Osanwe, and compassion for her, and responsibility for her. That base, despite her tender age and yours, was a foundation that Aergeleb and I hoped that we could trust."

Noldo listened, waiting and wondering.

"But when you turned on all eight of us," Aergeleb continued, "we could see what you were willing to risk for her. That showed us more about your love for her than hours of exploring memories. At that point, Alphaelin and I felt that we could trust you."

"I don't understand," Noldo said. "When Adaron challenged my will, I buckled. Quickly. I tried to give in even before he wanted me to."

"She wasn't threatened then, " Aergeleb replied. "He was merely attacking your pride, and you saw little value in resisting. But when your wife was threatened--whether the threat was real or perceived-- that was an entirely different matter."

Noldo considered that for quite a while, and then thought of something else that had been bothering him. "Why was the ride to Forlond made in silence?"

Alphaelin replied, "Because Lorien had much to remember, and much to learn. Aergeleb and I took turns teaching her much that she did not know."

So it had not been for the sake of hobbit-torture after all, then. He was relieved to learn that. It also explained why she had turned around so few times; she had been busy learning. "Will she teach those things to us?"

"That is up to her. Much of it is simply the history of her own people. She is free to teach you whatever she would like."

Noldo nodded, stood, and bowed. "Thank you. I have found much more kindness here than I expected."

They smiled sadly at that, and bade him farewell, and Noldo went back down to the garden. Seeing him coming, Lorien lit up into the loveliest smile, and he was content simply to join her and stand by her side.

Meanwhile, up on the roof, a tall young lady approached Alphaelin and Aergeleb. They rose to greet her and exchanged courtesies, and then she spoke very softly.

"My lords, I am concerned about the very young lady who is staying here in Adaron's house. I believe she is being referred to as Lorien."

Alphaelin and Aergeleb exchanged unhappy glances and then waited.

The lady's eyes filled with tears, and she dropped her voice to the quietest possible whisper. "My lords, I and my friends have perceived that she is with child."

Alphaelin raised his hand gently, and answered her softly. "It is known to us, and has been addressed by the wise. Neither we nor your friends will speak of it further."

The lady composed herself, placing one hand to her lips as if to seal them, but she could not contain her tears, and they fell freely. She studied Alphaelin and Aergeleb, and knew that they shared her grief; and she reminded herself that the issue had been addressed by the wise. Cirdan knew, then. All would be well; as well as it could possibly be. She took a deep breath, dropped into an equally deep curtsy, once again composed herself and returned to her friends, who were quite subdued throughout the remainder of the evening.

Alphaelin and Aergeleb sighed, knowing that others could perceive Lorien's condition as well. Cirdan and Gildor had warned them that keeping the story quiet might become rather difficult. And they had at least eight more months of dealing with the rumors and questions, before Lorien's earliest possible departure date. They would have to tell Adaron that his insistence that Noldo, Sindo and Lorien enjoy the elvish gathering had been insufficiently cautious. They were not looking forward to the discussion.

*******

Noldo, Sindo and Lorien stayed at Adaron's house through the summer and into the fall. They found their freedom somewhat curtailed after the party, for which Adaron apologized profusely, but Noldo was quite relieved. During the spring and summer they went out often at night into the fields and along the river. Noldo's favorite pastime was still riding; Sindo rode Archer, and Noldo and Lorien rode Hunter, Lorien riding behind Noldo with her arms around his waist. Hunter had gotten used to Noldo only having one hand on the reins; his other hand always covered or clasped one of Lorien's hands. In the fall they rode less, but when they did, Noldo rode behind Lorien, enjoying the shine of her hair, sometimes casting it around him like a golden cloak.

They made few new friends among the elves, but the original company of eight were always in and out of Adaron's house. Noldo never really relaxed around Helkaris. Noldo and Rinloss did seem to come to an uneasy truce of sorts, although Rinloss always suspected that Noldo had something to do with Mirthlūn's sudden interest in Lothlūn, which Rinloss rather resented.

Cirdan visited several times, at night, usually to speak to Adaron, although he also took time aside with Noldo and Sindo individually, to ask them how they were and offer them any assistance they needed. But they never could think of anything that Adaron hadn't already thought of.

Gildor visited more often, and discussed Noldo's plans for moving to a hobbit settlement. Gildor cautioned Noldo that the hobbits along the Bruinien and Hoarwell were at once more and less open-minded than the old settlement along the Langwell river had been.

"They are less concerned with the old laws and customs; they left much behind when they crossed the mountains. They, like you, learned that survival sometimes takes precedence over societal niceties. But they have become more tribal, and less open to outsiders. Loyalty is valued more than ever, sometimes more than it should be. You may find that your choice of a wife from outside your tribe is deeply resented."

That would produce a severe backlash against Lorien, Noldo realised, with a sinking heart. "But I can't not go home. Gildor, I need to go home; I need to be with hobbits again. What should I do?"

"I do not know the individual settlements, nor can I make suggestions about where you should go. That you will have to decide," Gildor said.

Lothuial delivered in mid-fall, and for many weeks the house rang with the cries of her child. Adaron did not mind the noise, and Naurloth tried not to. Adaron mused, "It is tempting to name her Lothlorien, in honor of our guests." Lothuial smiled warmly, liking the idea. "But we are trying to give them their privacy, and that would hardly help their cause."

Mirthlūn suggested Lothrin for Crowned With Flowers, and Lothuial liked that too.

"Well, " Adaron sighed, "I suppose it's not too pretentious. Any lass in a field of daisies can make a crown of flowers." Noldo laughed at him.

But Mirthlūn shook his head. "You misunderstand me. Name her Lothlorien, and call her Lothrin for now. Our guests will have their privacy, and you can unveil her true name any time you choose after our guests leave." That pleased everyone, and so it was decided.

Noldo noticed with no little pleasure that Mirthlūn referred to Noldo's family as "our" guests.

As fortune would have it, almost to the day that Lothuial's child began to cry less, Lorien's child was born. But many of the neighbors assumed that it was the same child crying. The voices of the two children were very similar.

Any similarities ended there. Noldo's son had blond hair, and blue eyes; but instead of being Lorien's deep-October-sky-blue, they were one shade lighter, with a grey ring around the iris. Somehow, even though the child's eyes were blue, they were definitely hobbit-eyes. Everyone agreed about that. And the child's blond hair (he was born with a full head of hair) was wildly curly. Compared to Lothuial's little Lothrin, his body was stockier and smaller. He laughed often, and his favorite sight was the river-- until he saw the sea.

Noldo struggled hard to come up with a name for him. They had been debating for months before he was born, and still it was three days after the boy was born before he settled on something.

"He was born in Forlond; you could call him Fordo, or Forlo, or even Foldo, " Sindo suggested.

Noldo knew that Sindo's suggestions made good sense, and would roll well off the tongue, and look fine under his own name in a genealogy table. But, "No, " he said. "His fate was bound up with the Lune River. If we had not set out to find the Lune River, he would never have been born. And it was arriving at the Lune River that moved me to propose to Lorien at last. I'll call him Lundo." He pronounced it to rhyme with the river.

Sindo gave him a bit of a wry look. "I don't like the 'u' sound. Hobbits won't pronounce it right. And do you want to have to explain that you named him that because that's where you were married?"

Noldo shot him a look that said the discussion was over, and Sindo sighed. But he got used to it. Adaron liked the name, and Mirthlūn congratulated Noldo on his use of symbolism and said that the name held good poetic promise. Noldo had to laugh.

Now he had to decide when to travel. Winter was almost upon them, and Noldo guessed that the journey ahead of him would take three months without a newborn child along. He discussed it with Adaron, who gently insisted that he wait 'til spring. Nervously, Noldo yielded, after checking with Cirdan and Gildor and Alphaelin and gaining their assent. With Noldo's and Adaron's withdrawal from society, the rumors had quieted down somewhat.

"There is a third option, " Adaron mused. "We could all return to the forest at the foot of the Ered Luin in Forlindon. It would be a little colder, but it would be quiet, and you would all have more freedom to move about."

"My uncle, " interposed Mirthlūn, "has a cottage in the forest east of Forlond. It is empty all winter, but it is also very quiet, and that would take ten days off of your journey in the spring."

This had great appeal. Mirthlūn spoke to his uncle, and it was arranged.

Everyone but Helkaris wanted to join them. Noldo was surprised and delighted that Alphaelin and Aergeleb mentioned wistfully that they would have enjoyed coming along, but the cottage was too small.

Even Rinloss expressed interest, primarily in the interest of keeping an eye on Mirthlūn and Lothlūn; but there were not enough rooms in the cottage, nor any other cottages nearby, and Rinloss concluded that his suit had been defeated, at least for now. He tried not to be sullen.

So it was settled; Mirthlūn, Thorontir, Adaron's entire family, and Noldo, Sindo, and Lorien with Lundo, mounted late one moonlit evening, along with several packhorses carrying warm clothing and food supplies, and headed east. Alphaelin, Aergeleb, Rinloss, and Helkaris were there to bid them a quiet farewell, and as they were riding slowly out, Gildor arrived to convey Cirdan's farewell. He drew Lorien aside.

One look into his serious eyes and she grew solemn. He spoke. "Lord Cirdan instructed me to tell you that he wishes you well, and hopes that many joys find you. But when those joys are past, when your husband and brother and your own children have left the circles of the world, you are welcome to return to the Havens. You then will have his permission and his blessing to sail west with the next departing ship, or any ship thereafter." He then kissed her hand and bade her farewell.

Noldo noticed that when Lorien returned, she was far more solemn and very quiet. She was thoughtful for several days.

Sindo begged to be allowed to hold Lundo as he rode, and Noldo enjoyed the idea. Sindo proved to be a doting uncle, and Lorien was frequently able to ride with Noldo on Hunter, her own pony running free alongside.

They stayed the winter at the cottage, hunting, riding, walking in the forests, the children cozily wrapped and warm in Sindo's rabbit furs. Mirthlūn arranged for regular shipments of food stores. Noldo and Sindo discovered and grew into an elvish love of the stars. They sang and talked and told stories into the night. Often as the songs and speech faded into satisfied and restful silence, the group would all open their thoughts just to enjoy the meditative stillness found in friendship. That winter would remain one of Sindo and Noldo's most cherished memories.

As spring broke, however, a joyous eagerness came upon all of them. Noldo understood it in his own family, but in the elves it puzzled him, until he learned that all of the elves had decided to accompany him on his journey. He was absolutely astounded.

Adaron smiled. "When you arrive at the hobbit settlements, we will roam in the wild. It will be no hardship for us, but a joy; we will find some woods to wander in for the summer. Perhaps we will visit Imladris. And we will help you settle in any way we can. You have won our hearts, little Noldo. Perhaps we will help you dig your tunnels." Adaron laughed merrily at himself, but Mirthlūn and Thorontir agreed staunchly.

"Elves can tunnel well at need. You will not require anything as large as Nargothrond, but we will help you dig and build a good home. And I will name your home for you," Mirthlūn promised solemnly.

Noldo wept grateful tears, and thought he was looking forward to whatever name Mirthlūn might choose. Sindo was astounded and utterly delighted; he and Naurloth had become fast friends.

There was little to pack and little to prepare. They would hunt and purchase food as they went, and the way was well known to Thorontir and Mirthlūn, both of whom enjoyed the forests of Eriador. They set out the next day.

*******

Chapter 21 - The Hole Next Door

(Mid Spring)


Gildor's caution about the tribal loyalties of the Bruinien and Hoarwell settlements stayed with Noldo, and he gave it plenty of thought. He decided not to travel down the river and through the settlements, but to settle on the northernmost, or north-western-most edge of the settlement. He wanted to be as close to Forlond, or perhaps Imladris, as he could. He wanted to give Adaron easy access to him and his family. Adaron liked the idea.

So that meant the Hoarwell, he thought. He wanted the northernmost section that was included in the settlement, so they swung north and followed the river southwards. When they arrived after a long and pleasant journey, they stopped at the first hobbit dwelling they found, and got directions to the nearest patriarch's dwelling. Noldo sent Sindo alone down the river to find the patriarch and obtain permission to settle, and also with instructions to find the nearest Inn; Noldo wanted a mug of beer.

Meanwhile they stayed and chatted with the hobbit. His name was Sandy Shallows, and he was a fisherman. He had a small, well-made wooden boat, and he fished the river and had a small garden. He was delighted to see Noldo, and a bit in awe of the elves.

"We don't see many of the fair folk on this part of the river. I hear tell that they can be heard singing in the forest betimes, but I'm not big on the forest. I'm happy with my fishing. There's odd folk in those forests, I hear."

Sandy assured Noldo that the beer at the Inn downriver was pretty good considering, and the food was proper. "You'll be settling hereabouts, maybe?" Sandy asked.

Noldo nodded. "I don't mean to interfere with your fishing. How far upstream do you fish?"

"Well, now, I can show you if you step up on the hill above my front door." Noldo followed him up. "Higher, now, up over here. All right. Now see that bend there? Beyond the rock. There's good reedy fishing right there. Beyond that it's all sandbar or sandy bottom for miles and miles; I never go past that sandbar."

Noldo nodded. "We'll look at the land above the bend, if that's all right with the local Patriarch... what did you say their name was?"

"Fernybanks. Go ahead and look at the hillsides, lad. Nobody as comes from across the Misty Mountains is bound to be refused. There's a loyalty here, there is. You'll be welcomed."

Noldo sighed. He wondered what part of the Anduin that the Fernybanks were from originally, and if they knew, or had known, any Fairbanks. He shook off the question.

"Fernybanks. Well, all right, and thank you. We'll go and ride the land now. Thank you, Sandy, and I hope we'll be seeing more of you. You'll send Sindo upriver to us when he returns?"

"Aye, that I will. Good luck to you." Sandy nodded and waved, and returned to his baskets of fish.

Noldo and all the elves led their horses upriver, past the rock and around the bend, and went a ways beyond that for good measure. Mirthlūn had a critical eye on the hillside.

"Here, I think the earth turns from sand to good soil; up there, to the right of that little ledge outcropping. There are woods behind it. I wonder how far back those woods go."

Thorontir obligingly mounted and went to explore.

Noldo liked the idea of having his hobbit-hole up by the woods; he had never relished being too close to the river, always having worried about floods. "We could fit two smials up there, couldn't we, Mirthlūn?"

"Smials?"

"That's what we call our tunnels."

"Smials. Why do you want two?"

"One for Sindo, one for me. He'll settle down and marry, too, one of these days. As soon as he comes of age, I hope."

"When will that be?"

"He's twenty-seven now. Another six years."

"And you? How old are you?"

"I'm thirty-one."

Mirthlūn raised an eyebrow at him, and Noldo nodded. "Yes, I did. Three years early. I thought you knew."

"What I don't understand, " Mirthlūn continued as if nothing had happened, "is why you don't build one large hobbit-hole, with lockable or barrable doors."

"Well, I suppose we could. But normally it's one smial per family. Well, but I suppose the larger families, the dynasty sorts of families, they build big interconnecting tunnels, but..."

Mirthlūn smiled. "Perhaps we should build two smials connected by a barrable tunnel."

"Perhaps we should ask Sindo what he wants."

"All right."

"But you are right about that hillside, Mirthlūn. I like the looks of it. There's only one thing wrong with it. It faces east, not south."

"Ah, I see your point. Then, " Mirthlūn swung his eyes further upriver, "That would be a better spot."

Noldo agreed. The new spot had all the advantages of the first, but the river had bent eastward for a long reach, and so the broad bank faced due south, and the woods ran due east-to-west behind the hillside, offering shelter. The sun would be bright on the hillside all winter. The soil was a rich loam. There was room for four or five good-sized hobbit-holes. And Noldo liked the idea that it was a bit further removed from Sandy Shallows' hole.

They waited for Thorontir to return; his horse was blowing hard. He had run his horse ten miles into the woods and returned. Noldo was delighted to hear that the woods were fairly deep.

The ladies and children stayed waiting for Sindo, and the rest rode up the hillside to survey the surroundings. They spread out, and explored the woods, letting the scenery dictate their speed and focus, moving through the woods in a broad and wide semi-circle around the prospective site.

The woods behind were deep and rich and healthy, with a moist but well-drained forest floor and the same good soil, and the elves thought that they could be quite content in woods like these. Noldo saw enough signs of game that he concluded the woods were teeming; Ranger had said that the hobbits here primarily gardened and fished, and from the sign, not much bothered the wildlife here. Noldo also thought that Lorien would like the woods. After an hour of happy exploring, they returned back to the hillside.

Noldo and Mirthlūn discussed several possible front-door sites, and discussed how the smial-tunnels would wind into the hillside, and whether they would turn left, or right, or branch both ways. Mirthlūn seemed determined to build Noldo a palace.

Noldo discussed the possibility of having a back exit from the tunnel directly into the woods. Mirthlūn loved the idea.

The ponies Noldo wanted kept where there was a close water supply, and that proved more of a challenge, until Thorontir remarked on a bubbling brook that tumbled down the hillside to join the river from the woods. That was further upstream still. So the stables had to go on the right of the brook, farther upstream, and the hobbit-hole on the left of the brook. That shifted Noldo's front door further upstream still. At first Noldo did not want it quite that far upstream, and they debated a while, Mirthlūn cautioning Noldo that a long walk to the brook would seem worse in the winter than in the summer. "And you'll need a good sturdy bridge over the brook so that the ponies can cross."

In the midst of all this discussion, Sindo returned. He had had a pleasant meeting with Fernybanks, who had listened to his story and told him to settle and dig where he pleased anywhere on the outskirts of the settlements, and then had walked him down to the Inn and bought him a beer, and introduced him to several of the locals.

They had asked his name and his origin, and he had told them both; they had listened without recognition to his name and Noldo's, but when he mentioned the Langwell River, they had nodded. "There's a few folk from up that way." He had asked whom, and had been told that there were four or five families further down river.

"Well, we're not going down river, " Noldo said. "I know I said I wanted a mug of beer, but it will have to wait. Come and see what we've been planning." Noldo, Sindo and Mirthlūn went back to the hillside and began planning in earnest.

Mirthlūn asked Sindo whether he wanted his tunnel connected to Noldo's or separate. Sindo didn't know. But when he mentioned the backdoor into the woods, Sindo brightened. "Oh, I'd definitely like that. We could make the backdoors close, if we wanted to. That would almost be as good as a connecting tunnel."

But Mirthlūn was fixated on connecting the tunnels. Finally, in the end, to make him happy they settled that they would dig long storage tunnels towards each other, far enough so as to be almost connected, but leave them separate. Then if they wanted to it would be a simple matter of breaking through a foot or two of earth and connecting the tunnels later. And the backdoors into the woods would be from those storage tunnels. To this Mirthlūn acquiesced.

The sun was setting, and being rather tired from all the debating on tunnel design, they all gathered at the edge of the woods, some dangling their feet over into where the grassy hillside began, and watched twilight fall over the river as they ate and sang softly. Noldo held Lorien who held Lundo; Naurloth and Sindo sat on one side of him, and Adaron, Lothuial and Thorontir on the other side. Beyond them, primly side by side and hands carefully folded in their laps, sat Mirthlūn and Lothlūn.

The odd thing, thought Noldo, is that even after all these months-- has it been over a year now?-- Mirthlūn can talk anybody's ear off but hers. With her Mirthlūn is completely tongue-tied. He wondered if that would last another twenty-one years, or more.

Tomorrow, he thought, he would ride downriver with Sindo and ask to borrow shovels. And as soon as he had two shovels, the digging would begin. He was looking forward to it. The first priority was making a snug place for Lorien and Lundo, and Lothuial, Lothrin, and Lothlūn, to sleep. He did not doubt that the elves would spend most of their nights in the woods, but in case it rained, the ladies at least would be dry.

********

Noldo was astonished at the progress that they had made in just two weeks. Mirthlūn was a formidable taskmaster, and Thorontir, Adaron, and Naurloth needed little urging once they appreciated the task at hand. To the left of the brook and Noldo's front door, and furthest downstream, Sindo's smial had a front hall, and from there branching to the right, had a bedroom, and a parlor roughed out, with plans for a kitchen and pantry and then the long storage tunnel running towards Noldo's smial. There was a layer of last-years' hillside grass on the floor. Sindo missed the heather from the Ettenmoors, but he did not mention that, nor complain about the slightly dusty grass.

Noldo's smial had the front hall, a steadily lengthening tunnel reaching towards Sindo's tunnel, and off it were three rough bedrooms and one rough parlor with a fireplace. They were planning on starting a kitchen and pantry the next day. Thorontir had assumed charge of the fireplaces, and laid the hearth with rounded river stones, and then went into the woods for rough stones for the chimneys.

The one thing that the elves did not consider was wooden paneling or doors. Noldo asked Adaron about that as they dug side by side in the parlor, and Adaron replied, "We would be grateful if you dealt with that when we are gone; we would rather not see the trees fall."

"Perhaps we could barter for already cut wood, " Noldo mused.

"You could, " said Adaron, "if that would make your own mind easier."

That meant it wouldn't ease Adaron's mind at all, Noldo guessed. He personally had no desire to begin offending Adaron in any way, least of all by cutting down trees. Adaron observed, "At the rate at which Thorontir is bringing in stones, you may not need the wood for much beside doors."

Noldo smiled. He would worry about the details later. Their hole on the moors had never been lined with anything but heather, thatch, or woven branches. It had been snug enough. One good door for him and one for Sindo would set him at ease.

"I wonder, " said Noldo, "what we could do with driftwood that is lying along the riverbank, or fallen wood that is lying on the forest floor. Perhaps we could put some of that to a good use."

Adaron realised how hard Noldo was trying to avoid offending him, and nodded. "Yes, perhaps you could. It is a good thought."

There was a shout from Sindo, and Noldo saw a pony laboring hard halfway up the hillside, carrying two hobbits. He wondered who they could be. Slowly everyone came to a good stopping point, and came out to the hillside.

The pony was either old or unhealthy, Noldo could not tell which. One of the hobbits slid off, and slowly led the pony the rest of the way up the hill. The hobbit limped rather badly on his right leg, and Noldo noticed he held the reins awkwardly in his left hand. His right hand he kept in his pocket. The lass on the pony had her face turned down. They looked pained and weary. Pity welled up in Noldo as he watched them climb. Lothuial and Lothlūn started up the hillside to the campsite to gather some food for them, and Thorontir headed for the brook to fetch some water.

They came closer, and Noldo and Sindo drew together and stood side by side. Finally the pony halted, and the lass slid off, and the hobbit removed the pony's bit so he could graze. Now that they had almost arrived, they seemed hesitant to approach further. Noldo and Sindo glanced at each other and started to approach them. Lorien swept forward to their side, holding Lundo, and the four of them met the two hobbits.

The cause for the hobbit's lameness became clear; burn scars ran across the right side of his face, and down his neck. From the way he moved, it looked as if his entire right side had been burned. Noldo glanced at the lass, and saw that she likewise had burn scars, down the left side of her face from the corner of her eye downwards, though not as broad or deep. She walked with a slight limp, on her left side. But both her hands had been badly burned. Noldo and Sindo's hearts wrung with pity, and they were hesitant to speak, but Noldo said, "Good afternoon, and welcome to our homes, such as they are."

The hobbit looked them each in the eye, and said, "It's good to see you so well. You're looking healthy, Noldo. And you, Sindo, you're strong, a fine strapping lad."

Baffled, Noldo looked at the hobbit again, and suddenly his head spun, and his knees felt weak. He raised his eyes to look past the hobbit at the lass, and as he recognized her he burst into tears.

It was Ned and Waterlily Fairbanks.

*******

Chapter 22 - Reckoning

(Mid Spring)

For moments that seemed like minutes, everything stood terribly still. Noldo had an overwhelming desire to take both Ned and Lily into his arms, and he was desperately trying to fight off that desire and afraid that he would fail. He groped blindly for Lorien's hand, found it, and held onto her for his sanity's sake.

She put her other hand on his shoulder, and for a moment he felt her gentle thoughts on the edge of his, and then Sindo plunged into his mind. "I did this. This is my fault. I'm going to help them as best I can. Let me handle this." And just as quickly, he left Noldo's mind.

Sindo approached Ned, and said quietly, "Come in, please, both of you. Come in." He gently took Ned's good shoulder and Lily's wrist, and turned them towards his smial.

But Noldo stepped forward. "Ned."

Ned turned a guarded stare on him, glancing from Noldo to Lorien and back, and waited.

"Ned, I-- I thought you were gone. I thought I would never see you again. Nor Lily." His voice broke. Noldo reached for Ned's good shoulder. "I've missed you both so much." His voice broke again, and he stepped back and could not meet Ned's eyes any more.

Ned thought about that for a while, and his eyes softened somewhat. "Join us, Noldo, " Ned said, softly. "And you, too, please, lady."

"This is Lorien, " Noldo whispered. "Lorien, this is Ned. And this-- " his voice broke again, Lily looked up and met his eyes, and that finished Noldo off. He could not breathe, nor could he tear his eyes from Lily's; he froze, tortured and ashamed, desperate for his wife's presence behind him, but he had let go of her hand.

Sindo cleared his throat, Lily looked away toward Sindo, and Sindo finished the introduction; "Lorien, this is Lily Fairbanks."

Lorien nodded kindly and gently said "At your service. You are welcome here, " which Ned thought was a bit strange, but kind.

She stepped forward and took Noldo's hand again. Lorien's thoughts enveloped Noldo's; she tried to bring some comfort into his mind, but she was carrying her own sadness over Waterlily's plight. In despair Noldo turned to Lorien and buried his face in her hair; suddenly Mirthlūn was at her side taking Lundo, and Lorien wrapped her arms around Noldo.

Ned, now baffled and thoroughly embarrassed, turned to Sindo for help, and Sindo gestured westward towards his doorway. Adaron and Naurloth accompanied Sindo, Ned and Waterlily westward to Sindo's front door; they sat there in what would prove to be his front-door-yard, and Lothuial, Lothlūn, and Thorontir, who had been cautiously hanging back, followed them there and made them as welcome as they could. Ned and Lily were very quiet for a while, occasionally glancing eastward at the still-weeping Noldo, as Sindo chatted about the new tunnels and the plans for the stables. Then Ned began to ask Sindo questions about his journey.

Mirthlūn and Lorien stayed with Noldo, who burrowed deeper into his wife's embrace and wept his heart out. The meal was long over and Sindo had told the entire tale of their trip across the mountains and their settling on the moors, before Noldo stopped shaking; even then he could not gather enough courage to walk over to Sindo's dooryard.

"You know what she meant to me, " he whispered, pleading; "I'm so afraid. Lorien, help me." He burrowed into her mind, desperately seeking strength from her. Lorien was almost as afraid as Noldo, but trying hard not to show it and unable to fight his fear at the same time as her own. They were trapped together in their common fears and regrets, spiraling deeper into despair as they sought strength in each other and could not find it.

Mirthlūn did not know how to pull them out of it. Eventually Lorien saw him look westward at Adaron. She listened to the thoughts fly, and knew that Adaron had engaged Ned and Lily in conversation, and Sindo was on his way across the hill.

He came to Mirthlūn, and took Lundo from him, and held the wide-eyed boy in front of Noldo. "Why did you name him Lundo?"

Hoarsely Noldo responded, staring at his son. "Because of the river. We looked for the river. And we were married by the river; we spoke our promises there. The oath." Slowly Noldo straightened. He looked into Lorien's eyes, and the oath resurfaced in their minds, and they remembered it and began to calm down. They remembered the day, the ceremony, the promises. They remembered that the air and the river and even the ground had seemed to listen.

One more deep, ragged breath, and Noldo looked out over the river below him, and reviewed the oath in his mind one more time, and then turned to his wife and repeated it, softly but clearly. She smiled at him, and repeated it back to him. He took her in his arms, and filled her with the strength that he had just found.

"Are you all right now?" Sindo asked quietly.

Noldo nodded cautiously. "It won't be easy, but I think I'm all right. For now, anyway." One more breath and he grasped Lorien's hand firmly and led her back across the hillside towards Sindo's dooryard. Mirthlūn and Sindo followed.

He faced Ned almost comfortably.

"You'll spend the night, of course, " Noldo said. "It took you most of the day to ride here, didn't it?"

"If you're sure it's all right, " Ned studied him.

"Of course it's all right." Noldo nodded at Sindo, who said, "We have plenty of room, and plenty of food, and you'll be snug and dry."

Noldo invited Ned to see his smial and the planned site for the new stables. Ned hesitated, weary and not relishing the thought of limping across the hillside; Noldo whistled, and Hunter came. "Naurloth, would you mind giving Ned a leg up?" Naurloth lifted Ned easily onto Hunter, and Noldo thanked him and smiled up at Ned, and clapped his good hand, and led Hunter towards Noldo's smial. "I should get you out into the woods."

Ned gave him a wry look. "Show me your bad hand, " Noldo soothed him. Ned reluctantly did. Ned's thumb was gone, and his forefinger badly burned. Noldo considered his remaining fingers, and said, "You really only need two good fingers to nock an arrow. And your left hand is all right, isn't it?"

Ned looked at Noldo, and back down at his right hand, and worked his three good fingers a little, pondering. "My shoulder's a bit tricky. But it might be worth a try. How would I find the arrow behind my back with no thumb?"

"The quiver doesn't have to be on your back. It could be where you could see the nocks when you reach for them, " Noldo suggested. "Being out in the woods ought to do you good. We could make you a lighter bow to start with, and let you take your time. "

"We?"

They were walking past Noldo's front door now. Noldo nodded. "Ned, I want you to think about staying here. With us."

Ned shook his head. "I hardly think..."

"Ned." Noldo stopped Hunter and turned to face his old friend. "Things have changed. There are some things we can't change back, now or ever. Some things are all awry. And some things that will be haven't yet become clear. But one thing hasn't changed. You are my friend. And I want you to stay with me. I want you to come hunting and riding with me and my brother. I want to meet you at the inn for song and laughter and a beer. And if you'd oblige me by living in my neighborhood, I'd be grateful."

"And Lily?"

"Tell me about Lily." Noldo bit back tears, and Ned watched him. "Why did you come looking for us?"

"I was hanging on to your memory as her last hope, " Ned replied. "Lily can't keep a household; no one would marry her except for the sake of her heart. I knew you would. At least, I thought you would."

"I can't marry her, Ned," Noldo said hoarsely. "But I can't leave her destitute. You say she can't keep a household. What is it that she can and can't do?"

"If she wears fawn skin gloves, she can garden, carefully, or gather herbs like she used to. But she can't sew, and cooking isn't an option; her hands can't take the heat of the kitchen. "

Noldo's eyes steeled. "We don't need a seamstress, and we don't need a cook, " he said.

"What are you getting at?"

"Lorien learned to sew in Forlond. And Sindo always cooks. But, " Noldo met Ned's eyes, "none of us like to garden, and Lorien doesn't do well on just meats, not for very long. She thrives on fresh plant food. Roots, leaves, vegetables. I should have a grain patch for her, but none of us can face the idea. I need a gardener in my community. Badly."

Ned thought about that.

"How about you, Ned? If need be, could you pitch in with the weeding and such? That is, when you're not out hunting with us."

"Sure, " Ned frowned.

"Then we need you too. Think it over. "

"We live way down the river."

"We're digging new rooms now. If we're going to want an apartment for you and Lily, or a whole separate smial, now is the time to decide that, while we've got the help. We can always give you a barrable door. Lily will be quite safe. You could have a hole anywhere along this south facing slope, and be warm and well-lit all winter."

Ned thought, and thought. Ned's own little hole downriver faced east, and was generally damp and chilly, and that was bad for them both, making their limping worse. And it was dark and dreary in the afternoon. Noldo did have a good, warm, bright slope here; the soil looked good too, and the woods above reminded him a bit of the forests above Doldo's old home above the Langwell, except that they let in more sunlight and were cheerier, and not as steep. Noldo led him over the clear rushing brook, and past the site of the stables. They startled one rabbit after another. Then Noldo led him up into the woods, where after a few minutes they also startled a fine buck. Ned couldn’t help noticing that the moist earth was producing several different varieties of good mushrooms.

*********

Lorien and Sindo joined Lily, and together they set about trying to be a friend and ally to one whom they felt they each owed a terrible, unpayable debt. Lothlūn and Lothuial hovered nearby at first, bringing such comforts and pleasantries of the body and soul that they could. But Adaron suspected that Lorien and Sindo wanted to be alone with Lily, so the four elves went back to work in Noldo's smial, with instructions to call immediately if they could be of any assistance. The ladies retreated to a respectful distance, likewise available if called.

At first, Lily could not decide whether she was glad Noldo had left with Ned, or not. She had been desperate to see him, but it had all suddenly come crashing down-- how had he possibly married before he came of age? But then, many of the hitherto unbreakable customs had been set aside for one reason or another as people crossed the mountains and dealt with hardships and death. She would wait and see if there was an explanation. And even if there wasn't, she thought, there was no sense in being unkind. Her own hurt would fade in time. At least, she told herself that it would, as bravely as she could. She wanted to wish Noldo well.

Sindo by himself set her at ease. But she was jealous of, and very uncomfortable around this slender, golden, other-worldly creature who had captured Noldo. However, she tried to be a good guest, and courteous. It was easy for her to be respectful towards Sindo, who had always been kind, although he reminded her a bit too much of her Noldo. No, she reminded herself, not "her" Noldo; you don't have the right to call him that anymore; apparently you never really did. It was just a dream. She tried not to be bitter, but it was hard.

Sindo, Lorien, and Lily sat in a triangle on the ground, and Lundo played nearby until Lothuial and Lothlūn spirited him away to play with Lothrin.

Lorien and Sindo asked her many questions, and listened closely to her answers. She didn't want to tell them the story of their escape from the marauders along the Langwell, and their crossing over the Misty Mountains. But she said that they had stopped at Rivendell, and that the elves had been extremely kind to both her and Ned. Other than that, she chiefly spoke of the local culture, how close-knit it was, and how folks were having their own difficulties adjusting, and how unbalanced the population was. Lorien gave her a puzzled look then, and she reluctantly explained that there were many more hobbit lasses than lads, after all the fighting in the valley. Then she began talking about gardening in the sandy soil along the riverbank, and the fishing, and raising chickens and goats.

Sindo guessed that Lily's injuries made her situation even worse.

When she grew weary of talking, Lorien sang to her, and Sindo sang along whenever he could. Periodically Lothlūn returned with water and fruit. Lily began to relax, a little, and thought that Sindo was very kind to her, and that Lorien was showing her quite a bit of respect and deference. She wondered why.

Noldo and Ned returned after sunset. Ned was growing interested in this northern bend of the river, and its new denizens. But he was afraid to ask Lily if the idea of staying interested her.

Sindo begged Lily to stay the night in his smial, and he would sleep in the forest with Adaron and Naurloth and Thorontir. Lorien with Lundo returned to Noldo's smial. Lothuial and Lothlūn offered to stay in the smial with her, and she hesitantly agreed. But she had not had such cheerful and peaceful company in a while, and Lily and the two ladies spoke far into the night.

Ned and Mirthlūn stayed in one of Noldo's rooms. Mirthlūn was watching Lundo, as Lundo was fussy that night and Lorien was exhausted from the stress of meeting Lily. Mirthlūn held Lundo for a while, and then Ned became interested in the boy. "Blond curls. And look at those eyes." Ned held Lundo a bit, and Lundo seemed to appreciate him, and quieted partway down. While Ned held Lundo, Mirthlūn explained that the elves' presence was temporary, but that they planned to visit often. Ned plied Mirthlūn with questions, and Mirthlūn told what he could about their wintry stay in the woods, and their journey to Hoarwell. But of the times before that Mirthlūn would not speak.

"I imagine Noldo will tell me what he wants me to know, in due time, " Ned considered, thinking that the secrecy was a bit odd, but reflecting that elves were mysterious anyway. He considered asking Noldo, but Noldo was talking to Sindo.

That night, before he went up the hill to the woods, Sindo asked Noldo, "I have a question for you about Lily."

Noldo waited.

"If I do find that I'm interested in her-- if I find that I grow fond of her, will I have your permission to pursue her? To court her? Or even to ask Ned for permission to do so?"

Noldo's jaw dropped, even as the beginnings of hope kindled in his heart.

"You were right about her, " Sindo said. "Everything you said about her. She's lovely. She's courteous, soothing, patient, respectful. I'm already tempted to be interested in her, after just one afternoon. But before I let my guard down any further, what I want to know is, whether I have your permission to be interested in her."

Noldo nodded. "You have it."

"Then there's one more thing."

"What?"

"Crossing northern Eriador that winter, you showed Lorien all your memories of Lily."

Noldo nodded, dreading what might come next.

"Why don't you give them to me."

"Give them to you?"

"It's worth a try, isn't it? I want to see them anyway. Maybe you can further let go of them, at least a little. Lorien helped you to let go of them, partly, didn't she?"

"That was different; I thought I was grieving Lily's death. But still, it's worth a try. I need to let go. I'll try it. I'll need Lorien with me, I think."

"I should think so, " Sindo agreed. "Let's try it tomorrow night."

**********

The next day, all the hobbits slept in. When Noldo woke, Lorien was watching over him, and he was tempted to think that it had been a bizarre dream at first, but when he gently caressed the edge of Lorien's thoughts, he realised she was worrying about Lily. He wept and struggled again. Lorien shed some tears of her own. But eventually they calmed, and took comfort in each other, and remembered the Lune river and its place in their life together, and their son. Once again they took courage from the oath they had spoken, and shared that courage with each other, strengthening one another.

Noldo went up the hill and woke Sindo, and they came back down, and built a fire in Noldo's parlor fireplace, and soon there was toast and tea and coffee, and slices of baked apple drizzled in honey. Sindo thought they needed to find someone who raised chickens; he hated taking care of them himself, but this breakfast was missing eggs badly.

"We could use some milk, at least for the tea and coffee, " Noldo commented. "Perhaps a goat. I don't think we have enough grazing to support a cow and the ponies together."

"A goat? What's the point? And don't we need eggs more than we need milk?"

"I don't mind goat's milk. It's better than none."

"Your chatter would wake the dead, " Ned groused, coming into the parlor. "Eggs can be had, as can milk, downriver, if you're willing to make the trip."

"I'm not sure we want to count on that. But it's good to know."

"Well, you could probably find a goat too. Maybe."

Lorien came into the parlor long enough to hand Lundo to Noldo with a quick kiss, and then headed out the door. "Ladies' breakfast is planned next door, " she said. "I suspect the other hungry elves will be calling shortly."

She was correct; Mirthlūn had gone out and rounded up Naurloth, Adaron, and Thorontir, who crawled in to the parlor carrying some more bread and dried fruit from their campsite, and several containers of water, and some herbs they had gathered on the hillside. Sindo added some rabbit meat to the thyme and rosemary, and more toast was made, and the elves sat cross-legged by the fire and enjoyed a hobbit-breakfast, smiling at Sindo's apologies about the lack of eggs.

As they finished breakfast, Noldo turned to Ned, refilled his coffee, sat beside him, and gently asked him how he had escaped the fires on the banks of the Langwell.

Ned stared at the ground. "We were out fishing, north of the village. We headed home when we saw the smoke. But we realised that the entire shoreline was crawling with goblins and orcs. We never did come to shore. We could see that our house was on fire, and everything was burning and there were goblins everywhere. And then they started shooting at our boat.

"The first arrow hit my right shoulder, and caught my clothes on fire. Another arrow hit Lily's seat, and her dress caught fire, and that's how her right leg and cheek were burnt. It was at that point that we both jumped into the water."

Noldo and Sindo were both weeping, and Ned waved at them. "Now, now, we're both fine, so there's no sense in getting all upset."

"I'm sorry, Ned, go on." Noldo dashed his forearm across his face. Sindo made no such effort, and wept on.

"Well, as I was jumping out of the boat, another arrow hit me in the leg. I was in too much pain to think straight. And I started to go down. And that's when Lily took me by the shirt with one hand, and the boat with another hand, and held my face above water. "

Despite his previous admonition, Ned began to cry as well. "The boat was burning. But she wouldn't let go of it or me. When one hand got too burned, she changed hands, and held onto it with the other hand. Until finally, she saw another piece of wood that she could hold onto, and she somehow hauled me up onto it, and let go of the boat, and we floated downstream on that. By then the smoke hid us. And we drifted down river half the night, and when she came to the sandbars where she could touch bottom, she pulled me to shore. She found some other refugees headed south, and sweet-talked them into bringing us along; and they put both of us on their pack ponies, bless them.

"I crossed the mountains in delirium. I don't remember the passage at all. I remember waking up in Rivendell. They healed us both wonderfully, as I've been told by several hobbits since who fared less well. And then we traveled down the Bruinien, and settled further south, and here we are, " he finished, wanting to be done with talking for a little while anyway. "How about we head up into the woods and see if we can find some mushrooms for second breakfast?"

Noldo thought that if Ned learned where all the good mushrooms were growing, he would more than pay for his keep. He glanced at Sindo, who touched the edge of his thoughts and told him the same thing. They laughed, and Ned wondered about what, and Ned and Noldo went off together to hunt mushrooms. Noldo put Ned on Hunter again. Ned pointed out the mushrooms, and Noldo gathered them, and Ned took off his tattered waistcoat and bundled the mushrooms into it.

The day passed pleasantly, with Ned finding numerous half-plausible reasons not to head back home in any big hurry. Lily wondered why, but wasn't in the habit of fighting her brother in front of his friends, and so let it go. She was beginning to enjoy Sindo's company, and Lothuial and Lothlūn, and little Lothrin.

Ned and Lily each retired a couple of hours after sunset. Lothlūn and Lothuial with Lothrin again joined Lily, and Mirthlūn joined Ned, bringing Lundo with him. Thorontir joined them as well, for no apparent reason, but Mirthlūn was grateful; sometimes he was at a loss with the child, and sometimes with the hobbit, and he was grateful for Thorontir's presence.

Late into the night, Adaron, Naurloth, Sindo, Lorien and Noldo sat up at the edge of the woods overlooking the river. Noldo slowly and carefully remembered everything that he could about Lily, and one by one, set each memory in front of the other four, and tried hard to let go his ownership of each memory. To a certain degree, he succeeded. Each memory hurt a bit less. Each time, he hoped more and more that Lily and Sindo would find happiness in each other, and friendship, and strength, and hope. And after he released each memory, he sank deeper into Lorien's acceptance of him. By the early morning hours, he was exhausted, and asleep in her arms. But he was also free enough to think of Lily without tears or despair.

Lorien curled up beside the exhausted Noldo, and gently slipped into dreams, weaving hers with his, feeling safe for the first time since Lily had come. But Sindo sat awake for another hour, with Naurloth and Adaron waiting patiently beside him. As he reviewed Noldo's memories, owning them, imagining himself there, seeing Lily's eyes glowing and shining, and the sparkle in her hair and the blush on her cheek, Naurloth stirred beside him.

"What if she does not love you?"

Sindo smiled softly, and shrugged. "I don't know. But I'm not afraid of that. Time will tell, I suppose."

Naurloth did not have to pry in order to sense the softening and gentleness in Sindo; it was flooding out of him. Naurloth considered Sindo, a little concerned, but eventually decided that such tenderness would go a long way in winning Lily, and let it go. They waited beside their friend, as he drove Noldo's most tender and affectionate memories deeper and deeper into his own soul.

When Sindo finally curled up beside Noldo and Lorien and also fell asleep, Adaron put his cloak over Noldo and Lorien, and Naurloth put his cloak over Sindo, and the two elves wandered off in the starlight.

"Father, " began Naurloth, "I'm not sure why you wanted me to be present for that. Wasn't it rather personal, and a little too romantic for someone that's not married or betrothed?"

"Yes, Naurloth, it was. But I have a question for you. Once Sindo realised your talent for Osanwe, he spent a lot of time in your mind, didn't he?"

"Yes, Father, he did."

"And he has invited you into his mind, often. And you have enjoyed that."

"Yes. He is a good friend."

"Yes, he is, Naurloth. I am glad that you and he have developed a friendship. Now tell me: are you beginning to understand the difference between sharing thoughts and controlling them?"

Naurloth studied his father, and began to understand the lesson his father had immersed him in this evening. "The consequences of controlling thoughts are very difficult to anticipate, aren't they, Father?"

"They are, even when the control is exerted with the best of intentions. Futures, relationships, destinies hang in the balance. Tremendous damage can be done."

Naurloth knew the lesson would go deeper still, but he was glad of it.

"Naurloth."

"Yes, Father."

"Who will teach you to correct the improper Osanwe manners and customs that you have learned from Sindo?"

"Are his manners so very improper, Father?"

"They are terrible. He learned them from bonding almost completely for a year with a spoiled child. They have improved, but he needs much improvement still. So does she."

"Then I do not know, Father. Should I ask Alphaelin?"

"You should ask someone that you trust, that is skilled and mature. I would consider Alphaelin, except that I wonder whether Sindo may have pushed his own abilities further even than Alphaelin's experience. Perhaps Gildor would be your best choice. We will seek counsel when we return home, or if we reach Imladris."

"Thank you, Father. I had not considered this."

"There is yet more for you to consider, Naurloth. You have thought about Sindo's control of Noldo, and I trust that you will continue to ponder that and explore its ramifications. I want you to also think about the bond that formed between Lorien and Sindo, how it formed and why, what dangers were involved, and what the consequences were. And then consider, finally, the bond between Lorien and Noldo that formed the basis for their courtship. You begin already to understand the consequences involved there; follow them through to their possible conclusions in your mind."

Naurloth studied his father, a little overwhelmed. "Yes, Father."

Adaron nodded. It was a lot to think about even for him. If anyone had warned him that his family would be exposed to such disruptive influences from a family of halflings, he would have been highly skeptical.

But knowing what he knew now, he wouldn't have missed any of it. He wondered if anyone else would have uncovered Naurloth's talent in Osanwe at such a young age. He wanted to believe that somebody would have, but then, the truth was that so far nobody else had.

And now that it was discovered, Adaron wanted it developed wisely.

*******

The next morning, once the household was astir and breakfast had been eaten, Ned, Noldo, and Adaron went out hunting, and the other elves busied themselves in the smials or in the woods.

Sindo and Lorien rejoined Lily. Lorien began to tell Lily her own story. She made light of her once-forgotten elvish past, and began the story at the fire on the hillside above the Langwell, and across the mountains, and to the new home on the moor. And she told Lily honestly of her love for Noldo. She carefully and persistently revealed her heart to Lily, who wasn't sure at first that she wanted to hear it, but listened politely. Lorien told Lily in detail how she had pursued Noldo relentlessly for a year and made no progress.

"Nothing I could do or say swayed him away from you, even though we all believed that you and Ned were gone, " Lorien said, gazing at Lily. "His memories of you were like an anchor to him."

Lily wondered why Lorien was telling her this, and resented it a little. Obviously the anchor had not held.

It was at this point that Sindo broke into the story, and began telling Lily about thought-sharing. "The elves call it Osanwe, but we didn't know that. We just knew that we could be inside each other's minds. At first, as I learned and improved, Lorien and I spent entire days sharing thoughts without stopping. Later that stretched to weeks, both night and day. And then we simply bonded together. Basically, in the end we were together night and day for an entire year. We became almost inseparable, and the mere idea of being separated from her was terrifying to me. My father didn't know that at the time. Noldo began to suspect, a little, that we were too close for our own good; but he had no idea how extensive it was."

Lily wondered what this had to do with Noldo, and why Lorien and Sindo hadn't ended up together, but she was intrigued now, and listened in earnest.

Sindo told her about Noldo's aggravation with, and Sindo's love for, Lorien, and the conflict that arose between them.

"Finally Noldo learned thought-sharing too, in order to try and teach Lorien to call the elves. She didn't though. She just called Noldo, and me. She didn't remember what the elves were, or why she should be calling them. So she called Noldo. And he began to hear her. He resented her at first, and resisted her. For a long time, actually."

"A very long time, " mused Lorien.

"And then one afternoon, he gave in to her, and opened his mind to her briefly; but then he felt so guilty about it, and I got so jealous, that he fended her off again. On our father's orders, after that, the thought-sharing between either of us and Lorien was supposed to stop. I was ready to disobey that order. But Lorien, for Noldo's sake, obeyed it. And I was separated from her for the first time. The strain on me was terrible. It was torment. I would have given anything to be reunited with her."

Lily raised her eyebrow at Lorien, who nodded, and said, "I wept and wept. I was inconsolable."

"Shortly after that, by father's orders, we rode south, looking for a settlement of elves that could take Lorien off of our hands. We rode past Rivendell."

Lily had been to Rivendell, briefly. They had restored the use of her hands to her. "Did they help you?"

Sindo met her eyes, and suddenly came forward to kneel right in front of her. He was suddenly terrified that she would reject him for this, and his eyes pleaded for mercy as he spoke. "We rode right past. And Lily, there were two elves that tried to contact us as we were riding past. I kept Noldo from them, and I kept the elves from Noldo. I drove their thoughts away, because I didn't want elvish help; more importantly, I didn't want to lose Lorien. I wanted Noldo to marry Lorien so that she would be my sister and I could keep sharing thoughts with her. And I started trying to bend Noldo's thoughts in that direction."

Lily's eyes grew wide.

"Lily, I gave him no peace. I was manipulative and controlling. I treated him horribly. I tormented him. Lily, I am so sorry for what I did to him. He thought I was going mad, but I wasn't. I was just doing anything and everything that I could to avoid losing Lorien to the elves."

Lily studied him, saw the regret in his eyes, and waited.

"Part of bending Noldo's mind toward Lorien, " continued Sindo, fighting tears, "included reminding Noldo that you were dead." He held her eyes, struggling with his own shame. Lily gazed at him, wide-eyed, and did not know what to say. Sindo did not try to excuse himself.

"Another part of that, " Sindo continued, stammering, "included asking Noldo why he loved you, and--" He struggled to continue. "And telling Lorien what I learned. She listened."

Lorien spoke slowly. "Lily, I pursued Noldo with every advantage I could possibly find. And I used every piece of advice Sindo gave me. Even later, as I asked Noldo more about you, I studied everything that Noldo told me about you. I became as much like you as I could, Lily. "

Lily's head spun. This ethereal, enchanting elvish beauty had had to imitate her in order to win Noldo? Lily studied Lorien; as she looked into her eyes, she saw something she could not explain. Perhaps it was pity or compassion; perhaps it was respect. But she knew that Lorien did not have to tell her all of this, did not have to be spending the afternoon with her, did not have to admit that Lily had kept Noldo's heart for so long. She wondered what she would have done in Lorien's place, confused and fearful of being sent away, and hanging on to the hope that she could be accepted and made part of the only family she could remember knowing.

There was much that she did not understand. But although she felt hurt, she did not feel angry, not at Lorien. Was she angry at Sindo?

Lily studied Sindo. He had intentionally, deliberately distracted Noldo away from her, and done everything he could to give Noldo to Lorien. She felt betrayed, and he saw that in her eyes, and understood. But she also saw the remorse in his eyes, and suspected that he felt as bad, in his own way, as she did now. She pitied him; she knew what losses he had suffered; she had lost her parents too. She wondered how she would have felt if someone had threatened to take Ned away from her, and how fiercely she would have fought to keep him in any way that she could. But her pity for Sindo balanced against her own, far more painful loss of Noldo. Lily struggled, wanting to be kind, wanting to be generous, wanting to avoid bitterness. Sindo and Lily studied each other for quite some time, and then Lily dropped her eyes and thought for quite a while.

As the minutes wore on, if Lily had looked up, she would have seen Lorien watching Sindo, and Sindo's now dreamy eyes studying the softness of Lily's cheek, the one with the burn mark running downwards from the corner of her eye to her jaw. The red scar contrasted with the softer, rosy color of the cheek it framed, and with the glossy brown curls cascading past her gentle face. He was wondering what it would be like to brush his fingers through those glossy curls, and then, brush his lips ever so carefully and gently against that cheek.

She was so near. Suddenly he wondered if there was a possibility that she might not mind.

Lorien crisply tapped the edge of his thoughts. "Don't be absurd," she rebuked him sternly. "Of course she will mind. She's still grieving her loss of Noldo. "

She was absolutely right, of course. He sat back, blushing slightly. But that didn't mean he had to stop dreaming about that lovely cheek, or those shining brown curls. They traded glances, and Lorien tried not to smile.

That evening, in the twilight, if Noldo had dared to meet Lily's eyes he would have seen pity in her glance. But he did not. He did, however, notice Sindo's eyes lingering softly and tenderly on Lily.

Ned noticed too.

**************

Chapter 23 - Extended Family

Ned and Lily moved in to the other half of Sindo's smial, with a sturdy barred door made of the best available driftwood between them. It was the best door on the hillside. Lily tended the gardens, and Ned helped her, and hunted small game, having grown quite skilful with a light bow. He hung the quiver over his pony's left shoulder. His fame as a mushroom gatherer grew despite Noldo's efforts to keep it quiet, and he made rather good money selling mushrooms downriver when the woods were moist. But he always made sure Noldo's clan had enough to satisfy them before he took the rest to market.

Lily grew in respect for Sindo, and then in appreciation of him, and then she came to love him. When Sindo turned thirty, Ned gave him permission to marry Lily three years early, and Noldo agreed. The spring ceremony was also attended by Adaron's family, who happened to be visiting, including Mirthlūn and Thorontir. After the ceremony, Lily joined Sindo next door, and Ned stayed where he was. After they married, Sindo slowly began teaching Lily Osanwe. It was difficult; she had almost no natural talent for it. But she was willing to learn, and he delighted in working with her.

Lorien's second child was a girl, delivered that same spring, with Lorien's eyes and hair, very slender and tall for a hobbit-baby.

Mirthlūn started to comment how amazing it was that Lorien had delivered two children in just four years, but Adaron suddenly descended upon him like an avalanche and subdued him immediately. Afterwards, Mirthlūn sheepishly confessed to Noldo that he had only meant to remind him that Feanor had had seven sons. Noldo laughed merrily, reaching up and slapping Mirthlūn's shoulder.

Noldo considered various hobbit-girl names while Lorien was expecting, but three days after the child was born she still had no name. Finally Noldo approached Lorien and asked her, "Would you consider naming her Mallorn, after my mother?"

Her long silence puzzled him, until finally she turned her October-blue eyes on him and said, "I've been afraid to tell you this, Noldo. But you never did ask me about my own birth name."

He waited.

"Do you want to know my name?" she gently prompted.

He thought long and hard, and finally said, "Yes, darling, I do."

She stood, and took him in her arms, and kissed him, and then to his surprise she released him and stood back.

"My name is Mallorn, " she said.

She had known it would be difficult for him to hear, but at least several years had passed. He paced for quite a while, and then returned to her, and took her hands.

"Darling, I can't call you that."

"I know."

"I'm sorry."

"I know. It's all right."

"Does Sindo know that that is your name?"

"He does. He asked me right away, as soon as I knew."

"And you both chose not to tell me."

"Yes."

He nodded. "You chose well." He sighed. "If we call the child Mallorn, she will be named after both of you... three generations in a row." He pondered, and she waited. "But no one would know that except Sindo, you, and me."

"And the elves."

He nodded.

Lorien said, "Remember that Adaron named his child both Lothlorien and Lothrin?"

Noldo smiled. "Do you have a nickname in mind?"

"We'll think of one. Or perhaps Mirthlūn can come up with one."

Thunderstruck, Noldo gasped. "Mirthlūn promised that he would name our smial! He never did! Did he?"

She laughed. "Of course he did. I refused to let him tell you the name. He was crushed."

"Lorien, what was it?"

"Absurd. That's what it was."

"Oh, but you've got to tell me."

"It's totally ridiculous."

"I'm sure it's overly ambitious."

"Outrageous. It's outrageous."

"I want to know. Please."

She oscillated between indignant refusal and suppressing the rising giggles. "He-- he called it-- Little Valinor!" She burst out laughing hysterically.

Noldo shrugged and chuckled. "Well, we knew it would be grandiose."

But she was laughing far too hard to have even heard his comment. He wandered out the backdoor into the woods and found Adaron.

"Did Mirthlūn tell you that he named our hillside 'Little Valinor'?"

Adaron cringed and groaned, and hid his face in both of his hands, shaking his head. How long would his dear friend continue this horribly embarrassing indulgence of hyperbole? Would he never be reasonable? Adaron was suddenly thankful that Thorontir and Mirthlūn were deep in the woods with his wife, his son, and his two daughters, and only Noldo was present to witness Adaron's discomfiture.

Noldo gently took Adaron by the arm, and as Adaron looked down at him quite surprised, Noldo said, "Have you noticed that no matter how he is laughed at for his grandiosities and exaggerations, Mirthlūn never gets angry? Never acts injured or annoyed?"

Adaron looked surprised. "This is true." He gave Noldo his attention.

"Sometimes, I wonder if Mirthlūn doesn't make up his wild names to be intentionally funny. Don't you think so?"

Adaron looked rather uncomfortable, and Noldo thought it was unusual for Adaron to be at a loss for words.

"One of these days, O Mighty Father, I wonder if you could reward one of his grandiose names with a chuckle."

Adaron looked so astonished Noldo half expected his jaw to drop, but his dignity didn't fail him that badly.

Laughter sparkling in his eyes, Noldo reached up, and as he so often did to Mirthlūn, he clapped Adaron's shoulder. "Perhaps you could lighten up... just a little."

With a huge effort, Adaron dutifully and magnanimously received Noldo's advice, and, looking extremely thoughtful, rather like Naurloth usually did after one of his father's lectures, turned and slowly walked into the woods to find his family.

Noldo, after considering Adaron's retreating back and thinking how well he loved his staunch friend, quietly chuckled a few more times.

Then he turned and wandered alone downhill to the water's edge, and in the bright noon sunlight, stood by the river, and then turned to look up at his hillside, glowing in the sun. Lily and Ned were working in the garden, and Sindo, flirting and dallying near Lily, was showing Lundo how to pull radishes. Lundo had more than he could carry (and more than the clan would eat that day) but he was still pulling more.

Up above Noldo's front door, Lorien was standing at the edge of the woods, holding little Mallorn. Her cream-colored dress glowed white in the sunlight, her eyes shone, and her hair was fiery gold; meeting his eyes, she turned with a proud smile so that he could see his daughter's face. He smiled as he studied them, deeply content, and thought how very happy he was.

Little Valinor. Noldo laughed out loud. He rather liked it.

**************

Chapter 24 - Epilogue

Lorien crested the hill and looked westward, and saw Adaron, Thorontir, and Mirthlūn riding towards her. Behind them the sea shone, and it beckoned her; soon, she thought, soon. She urged her mount down the hill and met her friends.

One by one, they embraced her. Mirthlūn embraced her last, and sadly asked her, "Lorien, Faelnaneth, has your last child left you?" Knowing the answer, he held her fast as she wept. Thorontir and Adaron wept with her, and when her tears slowed, they mounted again.

Together they rode to Adaron's house, where his whole family awaited her. They greeted her with a mixture of joy and sadness. Lothlūn proudly displayed her infant daughter. "What's her name?" Lorien asked, and Lothlūn giggled. "Lhūnel we call her, Blue Star; but her birth name is Bereth Lhūnel, Queen of the Blue Stars." They laughed merrily. Mirthlūn smiled, but did not apologize.

Lothrin had also married, but as yet had no children. Adaron had hunted far and wide for the right husband, and had practically wooed the young elf himself on his daughter's behalf; and once again, Rinloss had been disappointed. Adaron was waiting for Rinloss to ask him why, because he honestly felt that someone should tell Rinloss about his quick temper and his judgmental attitude, and this would be the perfect opportunity; but Rinloss never asked, and neither did Helkaris.

The next ship was scheduled to leave in a month, and Lorien had planned to leave for Mithlond early, but Cirdan sent her word that the ship would pick her up at Forlond instead. She was grateful. There was no one in Mithlond that she particularly wanted to see, and she dreaded leaving Adaron's family.

They asked her to stay, and not to sail; Lothlūn begged. She listened with tears in her eyes, and was tempted as long as she gazed at them; but the moment she looked down or away, Noldo's memory and that of her children, and Sindo and his children, filled her mind. Forlond could not hold her.

Most surprising, to all but Adaron, was Thorontir. Adaron and Naurloth looked out into the garden one afternoon to see Thorontir kneeling before Lorien, earnestly pleading, his face wet with tears. She was weeping, but with pity, and Adaron knew that all Thorontir's hopes had been in vain.

"Father, " Naurloth asked, "if he wanted to be married, why did he not pursue Lothrin?"

Adaron shook his head. "Because he fell in love with Lorien. He has been waiting, and hoping, the past hundred and sixty years, that when the mortals that she loved had all left her, she would be able to love him."

"When did he realize that he loved her?"

"The winter we all spent in the cottage in the woods. He told me then that he finally understood Noldo's inability to rest without her that day we first arrived in Forlond. I do not think he has had much rest since."

"But Father, he had never courted her in any way."

"How could he? He had to wait, and hope, and say nothing."

"And now her mind is set to sail."

"Yes."

"Father, I had always thought that Lorien was meant for Sindo, and that her marriage to Noldo was due to Sindo's interference and her own stubbornness. But was I wrong? Was Lorien meant for Thorontir all along?"

Adaron sighed, fighting off tears of his own. "Such choices and such destinies we cannot even begin to judge," he replied. "Avoid such judgments, and do not dwell on them. It is difficult even for the very wisest to discern what should have been."

"But Father, you asked me to consider these things."

"Consider, yes. Judge, no." Adaron sighed. "But as to the heart of your question, my son, it would not surprise me to learn that Thorontir believes what you suggested. And that will only make his grief deeper."

Thorontir was no longer kneeling, but he was still pleading, still weeping. Adaron wished Lorien would leave him so that he and his son could comfort him, if they could. But one hundred and sixty years of waiting would not be wept away so quickly, and she did not leave him in his grief, but waited respectfully with him. He was grateful at least for her pity. Eventually Adaron and his son turned away.

*********

When Thorontir and Lorien finally left the garden, Adaron came to find him. What he saw worried him; a new grief was etched in his face. Adaron asked him why.

"She is not simply going to Valinor, " he replied, and tears began to flow again.

"What do you mean?"

"She is going to ask for permission to follow them."

"I don't understand."

"To follow Noldo. And her children."

Adaron was stunned. "How will she do that?" he asked, although he was afraid that he knew.

"She has been thinking about the choice of Luthien, and her audience with Mandos. And she wants to follow her husband and children. She misses them more than she wants to live."

"What will you do?"

"Do? What can I do? Her choice is made. All I can do is sail with her on the small chance that her request will be refused. But I do not think it will be."

"And if her request is not refused?"

"Then what rest will I find here?" Thorontir asked.

To that Adaron had no answer.

*********

NOLDO= LORIEN MALLORN
LUNDO
MALLORN
ADARO
MIRLO
THORO
LILY
DOLDO
ALFAELO
ARGELO

SINDO=WATERLILY FAIRBANKS
NAURLOTH
FORLO
LINDO
LOTHLINNOLIEL
MITHIEL

**************
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