Dusky twilight set in over the hidden valley of Rivendell, the setting sun giving way to the silvery moon. Inky purple coloured the sky, and the tiny pinpricks of stars resembled small jewels in the great fabric of night.
Hanncome Watson of Bywater and his companion had left Bree several days ago, heading East at a gallop and only stopping for the hobbit to get quick bites of food. He had nodded off on the last leg of the journey over the ford of Bruinen, but now as the horse bearing him and his companion began to make its descent into a steep valley he awoke, looking around him with wide eyes.
The hobbit stretched slightly, arousing the attention of his companion seated behind him. Sílchanar Eregnirion was his name, and he was a tall dark-haired Elf with piercing eyes that shone with all the colours of the sea. During Hanncome’s stay at Bree they had become friends while the Elf investigated the mysterious killings of four Dwarves.
Sílchanar was a ‘consulting Ranger’, in his own terms. Hanncome thought – and with good reason too – that he owned one of the sharpest minds in all of Arda.
“The Last Homely House is ahead, John. You’ve been asleep for hours,” Sílchanar told him, smiling as he used the hobbit’s nickname. Hanncome nodded, feeling excitement curl and rise within him the lower they descended. Up ahead he saw twinkling lights.
Then, out of the blue, voices erupted from the trees.
“A, Sílchanar! Lend and?”
Sílchanar said nothing, merely pressed on in the gathering darkness. John looked about him, trying to figure out where the speakers were.
“Friends of mine,” Sílchanar muttered in explanation. “Well, I say ‘friends’…”
“Man câr hí?” someone asked at that moment, and a tall ellon with a grey cloak dropped out of a nearby tree, landing on his feet to the side of the road.
“Ú-bêd edhellen,” Sílchanar growled at him.
There was a burst of silvery laughter, almost like the tinkling of bells in a spring breeze. John watched in awe as several more figures stepped from the trees, both male and females, evidently in the middle of some sort of entertainment if their instruments were anything to go by.
“Man i eneth dîn?” asked an elleth with brown hair and kind eyes; she wore flowers in her hair and her face shone pale in the light of the moon. She looked up at John, smiling, but her eyes quickly diverted to Sílchanar, who regarded her coolly.
“Am man anírog istad, Meluithel?” Sílchanar wondered, and Hanncome by now was feeling very lost.
“What does she want?” he asked his companion.
Sílchanar looked down at him. “Your name.”
“Oh.” John smiled at the elleth. “Hanncome Watson of Bywater at your service, Miss…?”
“Im Meluithel,” she replied, smiling back at him, before diverting into Common Speech much to his relief. “You are far more pleasant than your companion.”
“I guess that’s Lamaendir for you,” John replied, and suddenly the elves became very, very silent.
Sílchanar shifted uncomfortably astride their horse, Rochael. Said horse, being aptly named ‘wise horse’, stamped its hoof and whinnied softly, as if laughing awkwardly. John gulped, and looked around at the stony faces around him.
“I’ve said something out of line, haven’t I?” he mumbled.
“He told you to call him Lamaendir?” the first ellon demanded, a quiet shock settling about his features.
“Er, yes?” the poor Hobbit wondered. “Why, is that –?”
“The last person who called him that was his mother, before her passing over the Sea,” Meluithel whispered almost reverently, although it didn’t take the sharpest mind in Arda to notice the hint of jealousy in her eyes.
“It’s just a name,” snapped Sílchanar, seeming to have come to his senses. With a firm pat, he urged Rochael into a fast trot down the rest of the descent into the valley. When they came to the narrow, parapet-less bridge, Sílchanar dismounted and helped John down as well. Silently, they crossed the narrow bridge before mounting again, and finished the rest of the journey in uncomfortable silence. John couldn’t help but notice that Sílchanar still seemed uneasy with the extremely awkward situation from earlier.
When they passed through the gates leading into Imladris, John sighed as he noticed the hard glint in Sílchanar’s eyes and the way he looked everywhere except at his companion.
“If you don’t want me to call you that, I won’t,” he muttered as Sílchanar dismounted at the stables and helped him down.
“Do whatever suits you,” replied the elf, but John could see the tension in his jaw; the barely veiled anger towards something John couldn’t quite put his finger on.
He stopped at the exit to the stables, placing himself in front of the ellon – which really would have done little to hinder him, considering their height disparity. “It affected you, though. Me calling you that name –”
“It was not your fault. It was their reaction.” Sílchanar heaved a sigh. “It’s nothing.”
John had a sneaking suspicion that this incident wouldn’t be the last as he followed the elf into the Last Homely House.
The House of Elrond was filled with laughter, light, and music. John had to remind himself to look forward at times, because for the most part he was excitedly craning his head all around, trying to take in all of the woodwork, the mosaics, the tapestries.
“Wonder what the people back home will say,” he muttered to himself.
Sílchanar was talking in Sindarin to several nearby elves; they were staring curiously at John, but did not seem entirely surprised. Obviously the memory of Bilbo was still a recent one in the memory of Elves; them it must have only seemed like yesterday.
Pretty soon, however, John found himself in a wide room, with a bed that was probably originally made to accommodate Dwarves. A bath was laid out for him, as well as clean garments made of fine green cloth. It was refreshing, to say the least, to get out of travel-worn clothes and be rid of the dust from the Road.
No sooner had John clambered out of the bath and dressed himself in fresh clothes (which fit surprisingly well) did Sílchanar enter the room, looking only slightly more well-groomed. Considering that nearly a week’s worth of travel had barely shown on his body or clothes when he arrived at Rivendell, it would have taken only the most perceptive to figure out that he’d been abroad at all.
“I suppose you’ll want to know where the dining hall is,” the ellon remarked as soon as John began dragging a comb through his hair. The hobbit’s growling stomach was all the answer he needed. “It’s astounding, really.”
“That you Hobbits can be such slaves to the needs of your bodies.”
“There’s nothing wrong with six meals,” spluttered John, turning around to face the elf. “You, on the other hand, ought to have at least one.”
“I do eat.”
John snorted. “Air isn’t eatable, Sílchanar.” At that, the ellon looked highly affronted.
“I never said it was!”
“No, but I’ve never seen you eat in all of my days travelling with you.”
The dark-haired elf crossed his arms. “You eat enough for both of us. Besides, digestion only slows me down.”
“You’re getting a meal tonight, though.” The hobbit also crossed his arms, challenging his much taller friend. “There’s no case to solve just yet, so you’re slowing down tonight and that’s that.”
Sílchanar glared at him across the table all throughout their meal. Rivendell, it seemed, was a place perfect for doing whatever one liked whenever one liked, and so there was always food set out in the dining hall for people who needed meals, and songs flowing in the Hall of Fire for people who wanted to hear them.
Meluithel, the elleth from earlier with flowers in her brown hair, was also eating at this time. John couldn’t help but notice how much she stared at Sílchanar from her spot next to John. It made something uneasy curl up in his stomach for some unknown reason, which in turn made him feel rather silly because he honestly knew nothing about the history between these two elves.
“Will you play the fiddle for us tonight?” she asked after a moment. John looked up from his glass of wine and his bread to see Sílchanar pensively nibbling at a bit of cheese and Meluithel watching him curiously. In the lamp-light, the ellon’s eyes seemed almost dark blue, like the untold depths of the sea.
“Perhaps. John, would you mind?” It seemed that for now, their little spate over whether or not the ellon actually ate was over. John smiled.
“I’d love to hear it,” he replied.
After the meal the three of them headed for the Hall of Fire, where an elleth was telling the tale of Nimrodel of Lórien. For a moment, John was awash with feeling, even though he understood none of it – it was as if she had woven a spell with her words, painted for him a picture of a lonely elf-maid who tarried too long by the river Gilrain and lost her lover to the currents of the Sundering Seas. They had both waited so long for a love that would never come.
John wasn’t sure why his cheeks felt so wet.
Sílchanar was next, already poised with his fiddle. It seemed rather odd compared to the harps and flutes that the other elves had played before, especially since the fiddle was more of a Dwarvish instrument than an Elvish one. But still, it contributed to Sílchanar’s eccentricity, and he probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.
John smiled at Sílchanar; he smiled back, set the bow to the strings, and began to play.
What flowed from the fiddle could not be constricted to the narrow definition of ‘music’. The ellon played not only a string of notes, but a true melody so pure and clear that once again John felt moved to tears. Sílchanar moved with the tune; the moods of the music showed clearly on his ageless features. Passion hovered about his brow, yet tender were the fingers that coaxed out such magic from the fiddle’s strings.
“He plays beautifully, does he not?” a voice sounded from next to John. The hobbit looked to his side, alarmed, to see a regal-looking ellon sitting next to him. He was clad in silver and grey robes, his eyes were stormy grey, and his hair chestnut brown like Meluithel’s. His face was slightly round and his stature seemed a bit stocky for an elf, yet there was evidently wisdom and power in his eyes, hovering about his brow like some invisible crown. This elf was, even more so than Sílchanar, like one of the Elven-kings of old.
“Very,” John mumbled, wrenching his eyes from his new neighbour to look back at Sílchanar, who was at the moment playing an extremely sad development in the story behind the music. Without words at all, he conjured up images in John’s mind, too, images of a dark-haired elleth .
“The Lay of Leithian,” murmured the ellon next to John. “Told entirely through the fiddle. It’s one of his compositions.”
“Wait, what?” John whispered. “You mean… Sílchanar also composes?”
“He is an Elf of many talents, I’m afraid.” The ellon next to John smirked. “A great Elf he may be, but one can only hope that someday, he may even be a good one.”
John nodded, continuing to watch Sílchanar play. “Why do you say that? I’m guessing you’re not his friend.”
“How many friends do you think he has?” The ellon’s voice sounded resentful, slightly bitter. “I am the closest thing to a friend that Sílchanar Eregnirion is capable of having.”
“And what would that be?”
“An enemy,” stated John, turning to look at the ellon.
“To him, perhaps. Truly, one of such a dramatic nature as he would go as far as to call me his archenemy.”
John cast a glance at the flamboyantly-cut robes that his neighbour was wearing. “Well, it’s nice to know you’re above all that,” he remarked drily.
The ellon laughed, but his smile did not reach his eyes. “I will keep in touch,” he declared as as the music drew to an end and he got to his feet, smiling down at John, “Hanncome Watson of Bywater.”
With that, he left the Hall, and John watched him leave with mouth agape.
Sílchanar didn’t ask John about the mysterious archenemy until much later, after John had decided to retire to bed. Sleep seemed just as unnecessary to the ellon as food was, because he merely took a seat on the ledge of the giant window, watching the little hobbit prepare himself for bed.
“Could I have some privacy for a moment?” John demanded, and the ellon pouted but obliged.
“Who was that?” he asked as he turned his back on the hobbit. John sighed as he changed into a soft nightshirt.
“Who are you talking about?”
“The ellon who approached you during my performance.”
John had a feeling the enquiry was rhetorical. He decided to humour him anyway. “A friend of yours, apparently,” he replied as he poured water from a silver ewer into a basin and started washing his face.
“A friend,” murmured Sílchanar, as if he’d never heard the word before.
“Well, an enemy. Apparently your archenemy. Do Elves have archenemies?”
“He said he’d keep in touch, didn’t he?”
“Are you going to?”
“I barely know him.”
“You barely know me.”
There was a long pause. After a moment John sighed and turned to face Sílchanar, who had, obviously, turned from the window. The moonlight struck his face at an angle that cast half of it into shimmering light and the rest into shadow. It was moments like these that reminded John just how otherworldly the ellon could be.
His breath hitched in his throat and for some inexplicable reason his heart pounded a bit faster.
“Well, most folks I know don’t have archenemies,” John said, heaving a breath as he walked over to his bed and sat down on the edge, leaning forward with elbows on knees towards the elf.
“Sounds a bit dull,” remarked Sílchanar, smirking. “What do Hobbits have in their lives, then, if it’s so normal in the Shire not to have archenemies?”
“Friends?” John shrugged, “companions, brothers and sisters. And fancies, I suppose, some of which lead to marriage.”
“Like I said, dull,” Sílchanar muttered.
“You don’t have a wife? A consort? A female companion? Betrothed?” John thought of Meluithel and the longing in her eyes.
“No,” Sílchanar replied. “In all my years of life I have never seen the use for such companionship.”
“It could be nice.” John tried desperately to keep all thoughts of golden-haired and rosy-cheeked Marigold Morstan out of his mind.
“Nice it may be to ordinary folk. I simply cannot concur.”
John shrugged again. “So you prefer the company of men and ellyn.”
“I prefer the company of no-one,” Sílchanar grumbled. “My work is a demanding mistress.”
“Oh.” John bowed his head at that. “So if you don’t like to be with anyone, then what am I doing here?”
“Having an adventure, I should hope.” Sílchanar smiled tightly at him. “You ought to get some sleep.”
“Says the Elf.”
This time, the smile actually reached the elf’s eyes. He clambered down from the window to tuck the hobbit in, and noiselessly crept away as said hobbit slipped into a dreamless sleep.
John spent most of his days wandering the gardens of Rivendell, where he quickly learnt that there were many kinds of beauty, for the beauty of the Shire and the beauty of Rivendell could not be compared to one another. The beauty of the Shire lay in rolling green hills and bright flowers, in warm hearth-fires in cosy Hobbit-holes and the smell of pipe-weed. But the beauty of Rivendell lay in timelessness and wisdom, in the glory of the past and the deeds of valour amongst the Firstborn. Some of the last vestiges of a bygone era could be seen in the House of Elrond.
There was a small porch overlooking one of the most magnificent gardens, full of silvery blooms that resembled the shimmer of moonlight, and at a small table there John would often sit with a cup of tea. He was content to watch the Elves tend to the garden; he admired their reverence for all natural and beautiful things. Sometimes he even joined them.
One morning he was sitting on the edge of one of the planter boxes in the garden, his cup of tea cooling in the early breeze on the porch behind him, when he felt someone else sit down beside him.
“Forgive me, Mr Watson, for not meeting you sooner.”
A voice filled with the wisdom of the ages and the warmth of a summer day resounded from next to the startled Hobbit, and he turned to see an ellon with eyes that belied his age, his wisdom, and his many burdens. Clad in splendid robes of deep purple and bearing a silver circlet on his brow, he exuded power, mystery, and kindness.
“It’s an honour to meet you at last, Lord Elrond,” John breathed, for who else could it be but the Lord of Imladris?
“The honour is mine. I am glad to welcome you to my fair house. I hope you find everything to your liking?”
“It’s a splendid place,” John replied, smiling at the Elf-lord. He smiled back.
“Excellent. I had hoped to meet you days ago, but unfortunately business happened. I hope you were not met with trouble on your way here?”
“No, if there was Sílchanar didn’t tell me.”
At that, a shadow passed briefly over Lord Elrond’s face. John blinked, wondering if he’d said something wrong again.
“Ah, I had known that you were travelling with him.” Lord Elrond sighed. “How does he fare?”
“I…” John licked his lips nervously, feeling his mouth going a bit dry. “Truth be told I haven’t seen him since the night we arrived. Do you know if he’s all right?”
Lord Elrond raised his eyes heavenwards. “We can only hope that he is on a case and not on yet another path to self-destruction,” he murmured.
“Self-destruction?” John echoed.
“He did not see fit to tell you that?” The Lord of Imladris looked back at John, immense sadness clouding his brows. “He told you his Cilmessë, yet he did not tell you his past.”
John shook his head. “We met while he was on a case. I doubt there had been time.”
“And in the time since then he has not seen fit to divulge. But then again, Sílchanar never liked to do things by convention. In all the years that I have known the sons of Eregnir…” Elrond trailed off, absentmindedly trailing his fingers in the soil.
“I’ve never doubted that he was unconventional,” John replied, smirking. “He does play the fiddle, after all. And he told me he was married to his work.”
“Simply because the work is as long-lived as he.” Elrond’s eyes glinted mischievously. “And it does not act foolishly or ask inane questions.”
John laughed with him at that, but after a moment he paused and looked at Lord Elrond more seriously again. “His Cilmessë is Lamaendir, isn’t it?” he asked. “I called him that once, and everyone went silent, sort of shocked, I think.”
Lord Elrond nodded. “I myself only know because of his mother. It was also his Amilessë, his mother-name, and only she ever called him that ere her passing over the Sea. Most call him Sílchanar.”
“Oh.” John sighed. “So I shouldn’t be calling him that, should I?”
“If he told you that you could, it shows that he holds you in very high regard.”
“But I… I barely know him. Like you said, I don’t even know his past.”
Lord Elrond smiled. “Rude and impetuous Sílchanar Eregnirion may be, but even he does not give his Cilmessë to simply anyone. He must have chosen you for some purpose. Only time will tell.”
Abruptly, there came a loud discordant screech that sounded only vaguely fiddle-like. Lord Elrond grimaced and got to his feet, and the elves in the garden nearby dropped whatever implements they may have been carrying and clutched their ears. John winced; the din was jarring to his ears, and he did not envy the agony it must be for the elves and their much keener senses.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Watson,” Lord Elrond said as the noise died down a bit, smiling sadly. “You are free to roam my halls as you please, and do come talk with me in my study if the desire strikes you. The last Hobbit I had under my roof was Bilbo Baggins, so it has only been a short time since I last saw the Shire-folk, but it does our hearts well to see you enjoy our hospitality.”
“Thank you,” John replied, unsure of what else to say as the Elf-lord strode away. After a while, he returned to his tea to find it far too cold for his liking, so with a sigh he decided to search for the source of the noise.
The noise, which bore a strong resemblance to the dying screams of a most unfortunate cat, grew louder and louder the closer John got to the wing in which it came from. The door leading into the guilty room was wide open, and the windows inside the room were open as well to subject the rest of Rivendell to such auditory torture.
The room itself appeared to be part sitting room, part laboratory, with tables stacked high with all sorts of books, papers, and glassware carrying various bits of things John would rather not know the names for. A hearth sat to the left of the room, with a giant map of Arda above the mantelpiece and a skull on it. There was a low coffee table, two chairs sitting across from each other in front of the hearth, and a low couch on which a certain dark-haired ellon perched, dragging a bow along the strings of a fiddle at random and seemingly unaware of the effect he was having on the sensibilities of all others around him.
“You know, based on that I wouldn’t have called you much of a musician,” John called into the room. Sílchanar snorted, and continued to wrest horrendous notes out of his poor instrument. “Your torture of that poor fiddle must be damaging the ears of everyone else in Rivendell.”
“Serves them right,” sniffed Sílchanar, but he stopped playing all the same. “You would think a couple hundred years of this would desensitise them, but no…”
“I didn’t see you for the past few days,” John remarked as he hovered at the doorway a moment longer. Sílchanar harrumphed, placed the fiddle and bow on the coffee table, and flopped onto the couch in a decidedly ungraceful manner.
“You can come in, you know,” was all he would say.
John sighed, and entered the room, closing the door behind him. He strode over to one of the chairs and took a seat, facing Sílchanar.
“Is that a skull behind me?” he asked.
“Mm, yes. Another friend of mine, term used loosely.” Sílchanar sighed and stretched out on the couch.
John nodded, fighting the impulse to inspect the skull a bit closer. They sat there in an awkward silence for a moment longer before John asked, “Where were you the past few days?”
“Bored,” replied the elf.
“Bored?” echoed the hobbit.
“There’s absolutely nothing to do here.”
“And no one’s offered you a case, I presume?”
“Lestedir, after I delivered the report on the last one. This one’s not worth my time.”
“You have plenty of time. You’re an Elf.”
“Who craves mental stimulation that can’t be provided by dull cases.”
“That still doesn’t answer the question of what you were doing.”
Sílchanar put his hands over his eyes. “Does it matter to you?” he complained.
“Actually, it does, because apparently I’m important enough to you for you to give me your Cilmessë yet not important enough for the details of your past.”
At that, the ellon sat bolt upright, eyes flashing almost like lightning over a stormy sea. “Elrond told you?” he breathed.
“Not of your past,” John replied, crossing his arms.
“It really is none of your concern.”
“He seemed to think it was important.”
“I think not.” Sílchanar’s voice was dangerous. “Whatever happened before I met you is irrelevant.” And with that, he turned around and curled into the foetal position, evidently intent on ignoring John for possibly the rest of the day.
“Fine,” huffed John, getting up from his seat. “All right. Be an elfling about it.” He stormed out of the room to the sound of more cacophonies from Sílchanar’s fiddle, only to collide with an elleth dressed in blue who was preoccupied with the book in front of her.
“Ah, sorry!” squeaked the hobbit as he backed away from her, eyes widening as she briefly looked up from her book to assess him with calm grey eyes.
“Hanncome Watson?” she asked.
Did everyone know his name at this point? John felt a bit light-headed.
“Er, yes. That’s me. At your service, my lady.”
She smiled condescendingly. “Someone wants to see you.” With that, she turned around and walked down the hallway, obviously assuming that he would follow.
“Er, what’s your name? I mean, it’d only be fair, since you know mine –”
She pondered this for a long time. “Eithril,” she said after a moment, in a voice brisker than her walk.
“That’s not your real name, is it?”
It was odd, how Eithril was able to navigate the halls while totally focused on the book in her hands. John chalked it up to Elven senses of direction or something of the sort. Eventually she led him out along a bridge to a small gazebo, ringed on three sides by trees and surrounded by the babbling brooks with their small waterfalls. A bird chirped not too far away.
And seated on a bench in the gazebo was the ellon from the first night in the Hall of Fire.
“Hello again, Master Hanncome.”
“I was hoping to continue our discussion from the first night,” admitted the ellon as John stepped into the gazebo. “Have a seat.”
John shook his head. “I’m fine with standing.”
“You do not fear me,” remarked the ellon.
“You’re not very frightening,” bluffed the hobbit. What was he saying? Of course the ellon was frightening; he was probably twice his height! At least with the ellon seated their heights were levelled somewhat.
“The stout heart of the Hobbit,” sneered the ellon, smirking. “But strangely, even with such hearts your kind aren’t exactly known for being renowned in battle or wisdom –”
“What exactly are we going to discuss here, or am I free to leave and spare you from talking ill about my people?” John snapped, crossing his arms.
The ellon’s smirk only grew wider. “You met Lord Elrond today, didn’t you?”
“Is that any of your business?”
“My business is anything that has to do with Sílchanar Eregnirion, and I have it on good authority that that was the topic of your discussion with him. I did not manage to ask you this question last time: what is your connection to Sílchanar Eregnirion?”
“I…” John paused, licking his lips. “I, uh, barely know him. Just met him. So I’m nobody.”
“A nobody who was escorted to Rivendell by him and given his Cilmessë within the span of a week. Is it not odd that he should show such favouritism to a Halfling from the Shire?”
John’s mouth fell open. “What exactly are you trying to imply?”
“That he is holding you in a very strange position. I believe he is withholding his past deliberately from you. However, it’s not my place to divulge.”
“And having your assistant abduct me is within your bounds? Who are you?”
“An interested party,” replied the ellon smoothly.
“Right, I guess as his archenemy you would be.” John sighed. “What exactly do you do?”
“I believe I am the one who is supposed to be asking questions.” The ellon smirked again. “Do you plan to continue accompanying Sílchanar?”
“As much as you think your business is anything to do with him, I think that that particular question would be out of bounds. It’s none of your business whom I associate with.”
The ellon’s smirk merely widened as he took out a slip of parchment. “But if you do continue to associate with him,” he drawled, “even if you find yourself returning to the Shire, I would be more than happy to pay for your travel expenses on cases with him –”
“Because even with the Green Dragon family business I can tell you aren’t a wealthy Hobbit.”
“In exchange for what?” John shifted a bit, unsure of how the ellon managed to figure that out.
“Information. Nothing indiscreet, I assure you. I would just like to know what he is doing when he is out of Rivendell.”
“I worry about him.” There was a certain threatening tone in the ellon’s voice at that. “Constantly.”
John sighed. He wasn’t sure why everyone he had met so far was trying to dissuade him from associating with Sílchanar Eregnirion. From Sally Brunheather at the Prancing Pony to Lord Elrond, everyone seemed determined either to bring up the hidden aspects of the dark-haired ellon’s life and character or to turn the Hobbit into some sort of spy against him. Surely this grey-clad ellon who exuded the same sort of power and mystery as that of Lord Elrond – the sort that could only come with knowledge and experience – had other spies that would work twice as well as a Hobbit?
“Birds I may use, but Sílchanar does not interact with birds very much unless he is asking favours from them.”
John blinked, unsettled at how the ellon seemed to have read his mind.
“So you’re looking for a spy that can interact with him.”
“In a way, yes. And if you do agree, I would prefer to let my concern – or my involvement at all – go unnoticed, for there has been some sundering of close bonds between us, and the chasm between our interests in these closer years has grown wider and deeper.”
John shook his head. “I won’t do it.”
The ellon said nothing for once, only arched an eyebrow. John shook his head again and laughed.
“No, I simply can’t and won’t. It’s not how things are done where I come from, after all.”
“Surely that may be the case amongst you Hobbits who have no significant rivalries or enmities –”
“Oh, we have plenty of neighbours gossiping about each other,” muttered John darkly. “But what I mean to say is that I won’t do it because I won’t stand for that sort of thing.”
“You show remarkable loyalty towards someone you’ve only barely met.”
“No, I’m just not interested.”
“I see.” They lapsed into a temporary silence, as John noticed the lengthening shadows around the gazebo and his companion tapped at the floor. His assistant was nowhere to be found.
After a moment the ellon spoke up again. “I’m sure many people, from that barmaid at the Prancing Pony to Lord Elrond himself have warned you to stay away from Sílchanar, but your very presence here suggests that you won’t.”
John scowled. “Why would you say that?”
The ellon shot him the grandmother of all condescending smiles. “Hobbits do not try to travel out of the Shire, yet you did so, to go to Bree. And when Sílchanar suggested you come here, you agreed instead of taking the sensible route and going home. You did what you had to do in one night at Bree, yet you stayed for another to help Sílchanar with his case.”
“How in Arda do you know all of that?”
“I have my ways.” The ellon smiled. “When you walk with Sílchanar Eregnirion, you will never miss an adventure. They say Hobbits are not folks eager for such, yet you, Master Hobbit, crave it.”
John felt as if all of his breath had been stolen out of his lungs. For a moment, he could only sit there, blink, and try to remember how to breathe. The ellon had just told him everything that he had been fearfully turning over and over in his head for the past few nights, in the wee hours when he could not sleep and the moon outside seemed far too bright. Sílchanar had said that he was here for adventure. John hadn’t realised how true that was until now.
“Lord Elrond may have whetted your curiosity about Sílchanar’s past this morning, but that is only because he believes that separating you from an ellon as dangerous as Sílchanar will be for the best. I, on the other hand, think not.” The ellon smiled, and got to his feet. “Welcome home, Master Hanncome.”
Lestedir, the Dúnadan who had consulted Sílchanar for the Dwarf murders, rode through the gates of Rivendell the next afternoon, followed by a company of fellow Dúnedain. Their chieftain, Aragorn, was traversing once more the wilds of the East, having left Rivendell with a burden upon his shoulder that much resembled the one that Beren son of Barahir had borne to win the hand of Lúthien Tinúviel.
“Mae govannen, Lestedir!” called Meluithel as the silver-haired Ranger dismounted, quickly followed by his company. Her fellow ellith stepped forward to take the Dúnedain’s bags while several ellyn led their horses into the stables. “I hope I find you well? No injuries for me to tend to?”
“None at all this time, thank you.” The silver-haired Ranger beamed at her. “The visit will hopefully not last more than a night. Are the rooms ready?”
The elleth nodded. “Who is the woman you travel with?” Her eyes had flickered to see a dark haired, dark-skinned woman who was staring about her in wonder.
“Sally Brunheather, from Bree. Newfound companion to Amdirphen.” Lestedir nodded at his younger colleague, who was standing next to Sally as if eager to show her around the Elvish dwelling.
“We did not know she would be travelling with you.” Meluithel smiled at Sally. “Hello, Lady Brunheather.”
Sally stared at her, slightly slack-jawed with surprise for a moment before recovering herself. “Hello,” she replied.
“We did not expect your company, but we will have your room prepared very soon,” Meluithel told her, turning to Eithril, who had walked up with her gaze still affixed to the book in front of her. With several quick commands, the other elleth put her book away, introduced herself – as Eithril once more – to Sally before leading her into the Last Homely House.
“I presume we shall be bathing before we get down to business?” Lestedir asked Meluithel as the company started heading for the main building as well.
“No need to offend everyone in Imladris with your human stench,” Meluithel replied cheerily.
Lestedir shook his head at her, smiling nonetheless. “No need to offend the pride of those who help protect your borders,” he retorted.
They both laughed at that, but then the elleth’s eyes grew distant and thoughtful. “Has Estel been in touch? He has sent no word to Imladris, as far as I can tell.”
“Not since his return to the Wild two years ago,” Lestedir sighed. “He worries us all.”
“Ai, and in the meantime Sílchanar adds to our cares.” Meluithel looked down at her hands, shaking her head. “He brought another of the Periannath on his return from Bree.”
“Mr Hanncome Watson, I know.” Lestedir smiled. “I had the chance to meet him in Bree, after all. Now, tell me – what is our stubborn-headed consulting Ranger using as his rationale to avoid the case this time?”
“He claims that your case is only a six on some unknown scale and that he refuses to leave Imladris for anything less than a seven.”
“It’s a delicate case, though, and in light of his new companion I had been hoping that he would be more helpful towards the Halflings.”
Meluithel raised an eyebrow. “You did not tell me much about the case the first time you bade me deliver your note. What is it about, exactly?”
“The deeds to several pipe-weed plantations in the Southfarthing have apparently gone missing, and I was hoping that Mr Watson would be able to provide some insight on the… politics, perhaps, of the Shire.” Lestedir sighed. “They’ve agreed to allow the Dúnedain to help settle the case and find evidence, but since we have met with limited success…”
“And you think Sílchanar can find the missing deeds.”
“I’m certain he can, provided he doesn’t bump his head too often on the ceilings of the Hobbit-holes.”
Meluithel giggled. They approached Lestedir’s room; the other men were disappearing into theirs already. “I can only hope that we will have all of this settled by the end of the evening,” Lestedir sighed.
“He has been abysmally bored these past few days. The fiddling yesterday! It sounded worse than the caterwauling of Queen Beruthiel’s cats.”
“I’m afraid so.” A third voice at that moment cut through their conversation. Lord Elrond stood before them, grey eyes grave. “I fear that Sílchanar Eregnirion may endanger himself tonight.”
Elleth and Dúnadan exchanged dark looks, before nodding to Lord Elrond. “Very well. I feared that it may come to this,” sighed Lestedir. “May we discuss this at a later time?”
“My study, after your sorely-needed bath.” Lord Elrond’s nose only wrinkled slightly, to his credit. Lestedir sighed, nodded, and entered his room.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Oh look, Arda’s oldest elfling has deigned to grace me with his presence,” John replied snippily as he tucked into supper in the dining hall.
Sílchanar groaned and slid into the seat next to him. “Forgive me,” he muttered.
John blinked, and looked up from his stew. “Say that again?”
“I detest repetition.”
“I could have sworn for a moment you were being a decent Elf.” The hobbit smirked at the elf, whose mouth only vaguely twitched upwards.
“Forgive me, Hanncome Watson, for treating you so poorly despite bringing you here as my guest.”
John smiled brightly. “All right, what do you want to talk about?”
“Anything. Lord Elrond took my skull. I have nowhere else to turn.”
John’s expression slipped. “So I’m basically filling in for your skull.”
“You’re doing a commendable job already.”
John shook his head. “Do you think you’ll ever visit the Shire?”
“Perhaps, now that I know you.”
John wasn’t sure why his heart felt a little lighter at that. He beamed and reached for his pouch of tobacco and his pipe which he had kept in his pockets all day, saving his supply of Longbottom Leaf for this after-supper smoke.
“You don’t mind, do you?” he asked Sílchanar, who shrugged.
“Go right ahead. Breathing’s boring,” he replied.
John chuckled, and lit up. “One of the few vices I allow myself,” he mumbled, puffing out a smoke ring towards the elf, who watched it expand and dissipate before his nose. “Aside from occasional drinking.”
“Ironic, considering your family profession,” remarked Sílchanar, putting his legs on the bench next to John.
“It’s because of the family profession.” John shrugged, exhaling blue smoke in Sílchanar’s face. Sílchanar raised an eyebrow.
“Your brother’s a drinker?” he asked.
John spluttered, and then removed his pipe from his mouth as he coughed smoke all over the place. Other passing Elves shot him vindicated looks. John glowered.
“How on Arda did you –”
Sílchanar chuckled and gestured to the flint and steel John had used to light his pipe. “The pouch all of this came from was embroidered with ‘Harry Watson’ on it, so it must be from either your father or your older brother. There are extra marks along the flint that seem shallower than the rest, suggesting that the previous user’s hand was shaking when he went to light the fire and may have missed several times because of that. You rarely see a sober man’s flint with those marks, never see a drunk’s without. Therefore, either your older brother or your father must be a regular drinker. However, since you are here and not at home tending to business, I can safely assume that you have an older brother –”
John laughed. “Actually, no. I have an older sister taking care of that. It’s my father who drinks.”
“Ah.” Sílchanar looked mad at himself for not considering that option.
John resumed puffing at his pipe, letting the pipe-weed clear his thoughts. “Father falls in and out of ill health because of his habits. Sometimes I’m not sure how Mother puts up with it all.”
Sílchanar nodded, saying nothing for a bit. John let loose a beautifully round smoke ring; Sílchanar blew it towards the ceiling with a smile. Their eyes met, and John vaguely wondered if it was the pipe-weed making his heart race a bit faster or if he was imagining things.
“I could teach you how to smoke?” he offered.
“Lord Elrond would have your hide,” replied the elf, eyes twinkling. “I’m curious about this particular art, especially since the Dúndeain and that smoke-clouded Wizard have taken such a liking to it as well.”
“But you don’t smoke yourself.”
“I would rather not cough out my insides.”
“Lestedir said you liked the smell.”
Sílchanar grinned. “Sweet galenas has fragrant blossoms. You’ve probably only seen it in its dried state.”
They sat quietly for a moment longer, John smoking and Sílchanar thoughtfully munching at berries. Neither of them noticed the Rangers walking past, in the shadows of the pillars and arches leading out of the dining hall, towards the wing where Sílchanar dwelt.
After a moment the ellon spoke again. “I should probably head back to my room.”
“I’ll come with you,” John replied immediately, since he’d pretty much smoked through all the leaves in the bowl by then and wasn’t in the mood for another pipe. After cleaning up and putting his pipe and leaf away, the hobbit followed the elf out of the dining hall towards the elf’s room.
“It’s not irrelevant, though,” John said as they reached the corridor leading to Sílchanar’s room. Sílchanar stopped in his tracks, turning to face John. “Your past. But I’m not going to judge you on what you did. You aren’t who you once were.”
“Easy for you to say now,” replied the ellon, and it seemed to John that some indescribable sadness had descended upon his shoulders. For a moment he could see the age in his eyes, and the untold experiences and wisdom hidden in his gaze.
Sílchanar looked away at long last, leaving John to catch his breath, but as the ellon looked towards his room his breath caught and his face seemed to pale even further. John followed his gaze to see light from Sílchanar’s room, punctuated by the shadows of people moving within.
Together they moved to the door, but once Sílchanar saw the room’s occupants the colour flooded back into his face and he strode into the room, scowling.
“What in Elbereth’s name are you doing here?” he demanded of Lestedir, who was lounging on one of the chairs in front of the fire.
“I was wondering why you’d rejected my case when you were so obviously holed up in Rivendell being bored out of your mind,” retorted the Ranger, shrugging.
John looked around him to see Rangers everywhere in the room, opening chests and rummaging through shelves in search of something.
“You can’t just break into my room and ransack my things,” snapped the ellon.
“I’m doing this for your own good,” Lestedir replied calmly. “Lord Elrond tipped me off.”
“Tipped you off about what?” John demanded, stepping over to Sílchanar’s side. “What exactly are you looking for?”
“A plant,” answered Lestedir coolly, shaking his head at one of the Rangers, who had produced a phial full of what seemed to be dried herbs, “similar to athelas in healing prowess, but very different in other ways. Of its name I cannot give, but our friend here has been chewing its leaves with lime.”
Sílchanar growled. “I refuse to be your hound.”
“No, I’ve got Amdirphen for that.” At that, Sílchanar whirled about to see said Ranger straighten up, waving at him sinisterly. Next to him stood Sally Brunheather, examining some jars with a sickened expression on her face.
“Do these contain eyes?” she demanded.
“What are the two of you doing here?”
“Oh, I came here of my own free will,” sneered Amdirphen.
“You couldn’t sniff out a carcass even if it lay at your feet!” snarled the elf. “I’m not sure what foresight your mother had when she named you, but you have neither hope nor reason.”
“They all came here at Lord Elrond’s suggestion,” remarked Lestedir from his seat. “But I’m here to ask you and Mr Watson to take my case.”
“About the deeds to the pipe-weed in the Southfarthing? Ask the Sackville-Bagginses. Boring!” Sílchanar rubbed his temples and turned back to the Ranger. “How dare you set up a pretend investigation to bully me into taking this case? This is absolutely childish!”
“Well, we are dealing with a child. And it stops being pretend if they find anything,” Lestedir growled. “After all, Lord Elrond expressly told me that you were in danger –”
“Danger?” echoed John, feeling extremely bewildered as his world slowly turned upside-down. Sílchanar was doing what with a plant that was so dangerous?
“It doesn’t matter! I am clean!” snapped the ellon.
“Are your chambers? All of it?”
“Unlike you, I don’t even smoke.”
“What in Arda is going on in here?” demanded John at that moment. “Why is this plant so dangerous that Lord Elrond’s willing to have you Rangers search Sílchanar’s room against his will? I’m assuming this was part of the experiments in the Hall of Fire that you told me in Bree, but –”
Sílchanar was at his side in a moment. “John, be quiet,” he growled, but his eyes were pleading.
“Why? Do you not want me to find – oh.”
And in that moment, John realised what the others had been talking about. The path to self-destruction, the anger of Elrond Halfelven when he discovered Sílchanar’s ‘experiments’ – it’d all been some past habit of the ellon’s, some dangerous habit far worse than his own father’s drinking.
John wasn’t sure what to feel. Disappointment, perhaps. Anger, sure. But overwhelmingly instead he felt pity for the ellon who had been driven to such means to ease his long years in Middle-earth. Perhaps boredom had poisoned his mind, or the need to keep said mind from mental stagnation had driven him to chemical stimulation – but whatever it is, Sílchanar had put himself in mortal peril because somehow, he saw no use for the longevity of the Eldar if it would only bring him monotony, if it would only waste his brilliant mind.
And even so, he had stopped, hadn’t he? From when Lord Elrond discovered this habit to now, Sílchanar hadn’t touched the plant, had taken up solving cases in its stead. He was serving Middle-earth and escaping the shadow of his past, even if he didn’t want to see it that way.
Sílchanar was looking at John now, the sadness even more evident in his eyes as he stepped forward, seemingly filling up all of John’s vision until there was only Sílchanar Eregnirion in his world. The ellon dropped to his knees, peering desperately at him as if trying to read his thoughts.
John shook his head and took the ellon’s hand. “You tried to keep this from me,” he murmured.
Sílchanar said nothing, only nodded.
“I should be mad at you for hiding such things,” continued the hobbit.
Sílchanar nodded again.
“I can’t, though.”
Sílchanar’s eyes widened slightly.
“Who you were in the past isn’t who you are today. I told you that.”
“I thought you would desert me if you knew. Others far cleverer and stronger have done so.”
John wasn’t sure whether or not to take that as an insult. “I’m not going anywhere.”
At that, Sílchanar smiled, and it seemed as if some burden had been lifted from his shoulders as he released John’s hand and rose again to his feet, looking over at Lestedir who quirked an eyebrow at him.
“So you say the Sackville-Bagginses have something to do with the missing deeds?” the Ranger asked.
“Yes. Now kindly get your men and Miss Brunheather out of my room.”
With a final glance through the trunks and bags strewn about the room, Lestedir and the Dúnedain left the room. Sílchanar took a seat in Lestedir’s vacated chair, putting his head in his hands. John walked over, concerned, reaching for him.
“Was it ever as bad as drinking too much ale?” he asked quietly, taking Sílchanar’s hand again.
“My mind stagnates with boredom. It chased that away, made everything so much clearer and brighter.”
“In a sense, yes.”
“You have me for a companion.”
“That I do.” Sílchanar smiled at him again. “But eventually you will tire of me.”
“By that time I’ll probably be dead.” Another shadow passed over Sílchanar’s face; he seemed to have realised the same implications. “Don’t think too much on it, though. That’s still well off in the future, and I’m here with you now.”
At that moment, someone else strode into the room. Sílchanar’s expression darkened considerably as he saw the intruder, and John turned as well to see the ellon who had offered to pay John for spying on Sílchanar.
A cold sort of anger seized the pits of his stomach. John’s fingers tightened around Sílchanar’s.
“That’s the ellon I met in the Hall of Fire,” he mumbled.
“I noticed. What are you doing here?” Sílchanar demanded of the newcomer.
“I heard about the ransacking of your room –”
“You probably told Lord Elrond to give the order, didn’t you?”
“It would have been in your best interests. As always, I’m concerned about you.”
“So I’ve heard,” sneered Sílchanar.
“Ah, Lamaendir. Why do you insist on fighting me? You knew how much our feud upset Nana ere she passed.”
“I upset her? Me? It wasn’t me that upset her, Maechenebon!”
“Wait a moment,” interjected John. “Nana? Who’s ‘Nana’?”
“Naneth. Mother. Our mother.” Sílchanar scowled at the other ellon. “This is my brother Maechenebon.”
“We meet again, Master Hanncome.” Maechenebon smirked at him. “I hope our chat yesterday didn’t unsettle you too much.”
“What’d you do, bribe him to spy on me?” sniffed Sílchanar.
“He did, but I refused,” John replied, still reeling slightly from the revelation. Were brothers ever archenemies? Perhaps amongst the Elves – they do have eternity to drive each other insane, after all.
“Ah, what a pity. We could have split the fee. Think it through next time,” snickered Sílchanar, although the smile did not reach his eyes. John considered the cavalier statement for a moment – could one of those ‘cleverer and stronger’ friends of Sílchanar’s have capitulated to his brother’s demands in the past?
His thoughts were cut by brotherly bickering. “Putting on weight again, hawn vell?” Sílchanar remarked drily.
“Losing it, in fact,” sniffed Maechenebon.
John frowned. “So he truly is your brother, right? Not some sort of…” he trailed off hopelessly, looking at Sílchanar, who’d raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Not some sort of, oh I don’t know, spy for the Enemy?”
“Whatever gave you that impression?” Maechenebon asked, as Sílchanar snorted with laughter.
“Close enough,” whispered the younger ellon.
“Oh, for goodness sake. I work as a minor advisor to Lord Elrond.”
Somehow John was fairly certain that Maechenebon’s idea of minor was not actually minor at all, since he certainly was privy to more information than what would possibly constitute a minor advisory capacity.
Sílchanar’s laughter only confirmed John’s suspicions. “He could supplant Lord Erestor if he wanted, but thankfully he is far too lazy to do so. Now answer the question fully, Iston, what are you doing here?”
“I come to deliver a letter to Master Hanncome,” replied the older ellon. “It’s from his family in the Shire.”
John had barely slept that night after receiving the letter, and in the morning when he arrived in the hall for breakfast Sílchanar was there packing bread, cheese, and fruits into a bag.
“What are you doing?” John asked, as Sílchanar pressed the bag into his hands and took out another for more food.
“You eat six meals’ worth of food a day, and it takes about a week and a half to get from Rivendell to the Shire, not counting any detours, obstacles, or foes, and assuming I ride at a gallop –”
“Wait, wait. You’re coming with me, too?”
“Of course I am, if only to get you home as quickly and safely as possible. Can’t have a Hobbit wandering alone in the wilds with so much danger abroad, can we?” Sílchanar continued to pack in the food, until he had an armful of provisions. “You look terrible.”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“I packed some medicinal herbs, too. We Elves know the arts of healing quite well. If we make haste, we’ll be there to stop your father’s sickness from getting worse.” Sílchanar was buzzing with energy, but his confident words were belied by the evident worry in his eyes. John felt a surge of gratefulness.
“Thank you, then. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you.” And it was true. John still wasn’t sure why Sílchanar hadn’t rebuffed him in Bree, or taken him to Rivendell, or done any of these things which seemed so contradictory to what others thought of him. Even Lord Elrond mistrusted him to an extent. John wondered if any of the occupants of Imladris truly understood Sílchanar entirely – that there was another side to the acerbic ellon that ensured that the orphaned children of a dead serial killer would not starve on the streets, that insisted on accompanying a Hobbit back to the Shire to tend to his ill father.
Sílchanar sent him an odd look. “Don’t think about it. Grab something to eat and let’s go.”
Rochael was waiting for them in the courtyard when John and Sílchanar arrived with their provisions and supplies. The elf helped the hobbit mount the horse, before leaping on himself and leading him out of the gates of Rivendell.
At the lookout post in the Last Homely House, Meluithel watched them go with her heart pounding wildly in her chest. Lestedir stood next to her and Maechenebon next to him.
“May Elbereth speed them to their destination in time,” murmured Meluithel, and Lestedir put a comforting arm around her.
“Interesting fellow, that Hobbit,” remarked Maechenebon as Rochael faded from even Elven eyesight. “He could be the making of my brother, or make him worse than ever. Keep an eye on both of them for me, Lestedir, in the places where I cannot go.”
Lestedir nodded. Maechenebon turned from the window and smiled.
“Keep them out of trouble as best as you can, my friend.”