Author’s Note: The poem I attribute herein is actually by Kahlil Gibran, because I suck at writing poetry, and he doesn’t.
The Fall of Night, Part 4
It was barely a month later when a message came from Gandalf, about something of grave importance. Elrond closeted himself in his study for a full day after it arrived, and only Naurë threatening to take an axe to the study door made him come out again, his face as haggard as an elf’s face can become. Which is to say, not much. His hands were filled with sealed letters; these he thrust at his sons with the instructions to give them to messengers.
“You will tell me what is amiss, else I will take a switch to you,” Naurë promised grimly, and shut the study door behind her.
It was not a moment before it opened again and Haldir entered, looking disgruntled. “I was right behind you,” he said coolly.
She didn’t spare him a glance. “Well?” she prompted Elrond.
“The ring has been found,” Elrond said at last. “Gandalf and a host of others from middle-earth shall come here, so we can decide how it will destroyed.”
“But only the fires of Mount Doom can destroy it,” Haldir said, his voice low and uneasy. “This… this will mean a war.”
“More than a war,” Elrond told them. “A cataclysm.”
“Do Celeborn and Galadriel know of it?” the march-warden of Lorien wanted to know. At Elrond’s nod, he stood. “I must return to Caras Galadon. They will have need of me.” He bowed to them both, and left the room.
Elrond turned to Naurë. “What think you of this?”
“I am frightened,” she admitted. “But…” Her words trailed off and she stared into the corner, lost in thought.
“I have been working on a remedy,” she told him, leaning forward, the enthusiasm on her face making her seem much younger. “A remedy that could be of much use to a fighting force.”
The light of scientific discovery lit Elrond’s eyes. “Tell me more,” he encouraged.
“It returns the body to a previous state,” Naurë said slowly. “If a body is injured or ill, it… turns back the clock, as it were, to the previous day. The mind is untouched, the memories remain, but the body… is renewed. I have been working on it for the past decade, and almost have I perfected it. That is why I yet live—I should have died years ago, but for this tonic.”
“And you have waited this long to tell me of it?” Elrond looked somewhat affronted.
Naurë drew herself up to her full height of five feet even. “I wanted to be sure it was working, sir elf,” she told him, the slightest bite to her tone. “As I know full well how happy would be your reaction if it were not.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. Too well she knew him. “You say it is almost perfect. Why is it not?”
“It works to keep alive one such as myself, who is only old, but not injured. I do not know how effective it would be in healing one who was wounded; I do not think it has strength enough to undertake and repair a grievous injury. I yet lack one ingredient, or rather, the preparation of one ingredient.”
“And that would be what?” Elrond leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. Naurë had been the brightest of his human students; this remedy was a breathtaking application of her skills. If she could get it to work, what a culmination of a lifetime of healing it would be!
“The most important component is athela.”
He snapped to attention. “Kingsfoil? Then the reason it is not complete is because…”
She nodded, knowing the conclusion he’d reached. “Because I have not been able to have a king bless the athelas I use in the recipe.”
“And if you were to avail yourself of some king-blessed athelas?”
Now it was her turn to lean back in her chair and steeple her fingers. “Then I am fairly sure it could bring a Man back from the brink of death itself.”
Elrond quirked an elegant brow. “You are that confident?”
“It is that strong,” she corrected. “And I fear you underestimate the power of a king’s blessing. This is no normal remedy; there is magic in it.”
“Who else knows of it?”
“But for you, just Lalaith and myself.” Her canny gaze glinted in the fading sunlight. “I trusted no one else.”
Naurë was just as suspicious now as she had been seventy years ago. Perhaps more so. It was a characteristic he shared and admired, and he found himself grinning. “Excellent.” He stood in a smooth movement, holding out his hand to her. “You have full access to my workroom and any ingredients you need; produce for me a hogshead of this remedy and I shall produce for you a king.”
She allowed him to tug her to her feet, staring at him. “You are not jesting.”
His grin, if possible, became wider. “I am not.”
She clapped her hands to his cheeks and pulled him down, planting a kiss full on his lips. “Then I shall begin, sir elf. And woe to he who disturbs me while I work.” She left the room in her halting gait, calling already for Lalaith to join her. “And bring my satchel!”
Elrond returned to his seat, poring over a map of Middle-Earth even as he grinned, pleased at this development. Naurë had a project to occupy herself, and a reason to remain indefinitely at Rivendell; and this remedy of hers sounded promising as well. He had no doubt Aragorn would bless Naurë’s athelas, and that would raise the Man’s confidence in his own heritage and destiny. Oh, this was perfect, indeed.
He only wished that it had not taken a war to accomplish it all.
Lalaith was very relieved when her grandmother require her free time that day. In the past month, as her familiarity with Rivendell and elves had increased so had her affection for Rûmil, to the point where it was almost painful to spend time with him. The sun’s caress on his hair, the graceful movement of his limbs, the curve of his mouth when he smiled… all made her long to touch him, to hold him. Words of love were ever on her lips, ready and willing to wend their way to his pointed ears.
He remained either unaware of her plight, or unconcerned, and gave no indication.
And so she stood before the polished oaken table in Elrond’s workroom, measuring and pouring and stirring as per Naurë’s direction, the shade of the room cool in contrast to the heat of summer just beyond the windows. The glass of the beakers and phials was smooth and familiar to her fingertips as she selected and exchanged one for another, and she realized she was humming.
So startled was she at this discovery that she clapped a hand to her throat, feeling the vibration against her skin, and turned in amazement to Naurë. “Nana!” she exclaimed. “Did you hear it?”
“I did indeed,” Naurë said slowly. “Come, put down those things and sit by me; we must talk.” Lalaith did as she was told, placing her hands in her grandmother’s outstretched ones. “Lalaith, my child, my dearest one.” Naurë’s voice cracked a little; she cleared her throat and began again. “When we arrived here, I warned you about the lure of beauty. Have you heeded my words?”
Lalaith blinked. So Nana knew about her feelings for Rûmil… “You fear I am entranced by his looks.”
Naurë grimaced. “You must admit, there is precedent… remember you that apprentice shipbuilder from Grey Havens? He was a handsome one. And that Dunedain… very rugged and manly, quite appealing. I’d have gone for him myself, were I seventy years younger…” She caught Lalaith’s expression of censure and shrugged. “I am trying to tell you that I understand the weakness of the flesh, how a young woman can be susceptible.”
“I am not as shallow as you seem to think me, Nana,” Lalaith retorted, her voice trembling. “Rûmil would hold my heart were he as ugly as an orc.”
“True love, indeed,” Naurë murmured, mouth quirking with fleeting humour. “Tell me why, Lalaith. Tell me what about Rûmil makes you love him.”
“He is strong, and brave, and graceful, and elegant,” Lalaith began, her face dreamy as she recalled. “He sings and dances beautifully, and is so smart. He writes poetry, did you know?” Naurë opened her mouth to reply, but Lalaith rushed on. “And lovely poetry it is, too. Would you like to hear some?” Again, she did not wait for her grandmother’s answer.
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn
That it is the
pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving
Of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
“Only once did I have to hear that, to remember it,” Lalaith said breathlessly when she was done reciting, and sat beside her grandmother again, taking up her gnarled hands once more. “Is it not magical?”
“It is,” Naurë agreed. “But no more so than any other Elven poetry I have heard. And, in truth, naught you have said marks Rûmil as superior to any other. Elrohir and Elladan are just as you have said; so are Elrond and Haldir. So are any number of elves. Can you not think of something specifically that makes him worthy of your love?”
“I… it is not something I am used to expressing!” cried the young woman, agitated. “I do not know how!”
“You must learn, then,” Naurë told her gently. “For this is no minor matter. You play not just with your own heart, but with another’s, and his life as well. You must consider what future you may create together. If you do not, this love of yours is naught but a whim.”
“I am trying, Nana!” protested Lalaith. “I am trying!”
Naurë bowed her head over their clasped hands. “And I am trying to tell you how empty that sort of love can be, how it will leave you hollow. And, dear Lalaith, he is an elf. An elf can die of sorrow. You must take great care.” She paused, feeling very old and very, very tired, and sighed. “Surely you realize naught can come of it with him?”
Lalaith pulled her hands from her grandmother’s and clasped them in her lap. Staring down at them, she whispered, “But Arwen… Aerlinn tells me that Elrond’s daughter chooses to live a mortal life to be with her love, a Man.” She looked up, eyes huge and bright with unshed tears. “Is it not possible that Rûmil might someday love me enough to do the same?”
Naurë felt her own eyes fill. “My child,” she said, voice raspier than usual. “Arwen and her love are not for you to compare yourself to… they have a destiny, an important fate for Middle-Earth. And Arwen is half-Elven; she is given the choice to keep or abandon her immortality. Only a half-Elf can do so.” She watched the tenuous hope fade from her granddaughter’s face. “Rûmil is all-Elven. There is no choice for him.”
Lalaith stood and paced slowly around the workroom, tweaking and tidying as she went to have something to do with her hands.
“Child, consider Rûmil in this as well,” Naurë entreated. “If he loves you, your death from age or infirmity will destroy him. He is a fine elf, a handsome, brave elf. Would you condemn him to a lingering demise, despairing his separation from you? For that is the fate you would doom him to, if you insist on pursuing a love with him.”
“I thought you said he was no more special than any other,” Lalaith replied bitterly, wiping shreds of herbs from the surface of the worktable. “Why do you care about his doom?”
Naurë’s eyes narrowed; if Lalaith had been watching her grandmother, she’d have seen that woman’s ire. “You will not distort my words, child,” Naurë snapped. “I want you to examine your feelings for Rûmil, to be sure it is love, not infatuation or mere lust if you are intent on this destructive path. If you will risk all, then you had best be damned well sure it is for more than a jolly tumble!”
She stood shakily, leaning heavily on her cane as she glared at her granddaughter. “Think you I know nothing of hopelessness, of loneliness?” She stared down at the smooth, polished stone floor, blinking tears away furiously. “I know more of doomed love than you might think, child. There is more coming than you realize, bloodshed and war and death. It is a bad time for two to become one. You must be sure that your love is worth the havoc it could wreak.”
She turned to leave, but paused in the doorway, speaking over her shoulder. “Why is it that Rûmil alone makes your soul sing? Why none but him should be your mate? Why he could not be replaced, not with a thousand others? When you know this, you will know love.” Naurë sighed. “But not before, not truly.”
Lalaith sat in Elrond’s workroom a long time after her grandmother left, long after the sun cast shadows on the floor and the sky deepened to dusk, and still she did not leave. Only Elrond himself was able to bestir her from the place, as she was too ashamed to admit to the scolding she had received from her grandmother, and so had to insist that aught was wrong. He sent her on her way to the evening meal, engrossed in his own cares, and but fleetingly aware that her eyes, usually so clear, were shadowed; and that her face, usually so open, was drawn.