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I Faer Nîn Nínia Aden A Goveninc

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The unimaginable had happened: The One Ring had been destroyed. By two hobbits no less. They had somehow crept into the black lands of Mordor all the way to Mount Doom to cast it into the fires and had gone by, mostly, unnoticed. Talion was surprised that neither he, nor the other Nazgûl had found the hobbits. Especially since he had known they were looking for them, long before he had used the Ring he’d taken to prolong his life had corrupted him.

 He had felt it suddenly: the moment the Ring had been plunged into the fire, causing the mountain to erupt into flames. Exploding from the inside out and sending debris soaring through the air. The scorching rubble was hurled towards him and the Fell Beast he had been riding and knocked them to the ground as the chaos ensued around him. The last thing he remembered before all had faded to black, was the heat of the molten rock flowing down from the remains of the mountain and the screeching of the other Nazgûl over the deafening roars that had come from the Dark Tower.

How much time had passed since he came crashing down? Since he had been laying there? He did not know. And he was unsure whether to curse or praise the miniscule chance that he had landed on a tall spit of land that hadn’t been covered by the now cooling lava. He had expected to die there when the Ring had been cast into the fires of Mount Doom, causing the volcano had burst. He had been so sure at that moment, that he was destined to perish. Despite his previous expectations, however, Talion did not want to die in Mordor if he could help it.

Opening his eyes, he looked up to see the first pale grey sky in a long while. Such a scene was uncommon but welcomed over the usual dark skies riddled with ash that he had become used to over the years. The sun was still blocked from sight by thick clouds, illuminating the land but a little, but it was preferred to the heavy smog and poor visibility.

His body ache from lack of use and being pressed into the stone for so long a time. He began to wonder as he stared up at the heavens just how far he’d have to travel to leave this accursed land, and whether his body would fail him, and the thought alone made the throbbing in his muscles worsen. Slowly, and with some effort, he sat up and began rubbing at his weary eyes before they lay on the carcass of the Fell Beast he had been previously riding some feet away. Judging from the decay about the monster, he had been there for some time indeed. At least a week, perhaps even more he gathered from the flies buzzing about the corpse and the considerable amount of flesh missing from the awkwardly outstretched leathery wings. The sight was enough to cause his stomach to knot and to feel nauseous, so he was not about to go any nearer to the creature to look for more solid signs to the length of time he had been laying there. 

Talion then stood up sluggishly, feeling as though his legs would give out from under him from the feebleness he had felt within them and the constant ache, but he persisted. He decided it would be best to take a moment to learn his surroundings before attempting to walk with unsteady feet, hoping that the frailness he felt would pass quickly as he looked about his surroundings. The black craggy rocks were a familiar sight, jagged and dangerous looking as always, but he had never seen them so scorched and so empty. Mordor was just as barren and lifeless as it had always been, but somehow it looked more desolate than ever now that the land was emptied save for a few remaining Orcs who skittered about whilst trying to find passage to escape and avoid the patches of still burning earth, staying on the blackened earth beneath their feet which lacked the usual fell blood-stained hue.

He might have quietly laughed at the thought of Mordor being even more charred in the past, then at the sardonic comment of his Wraith companion that would follow shortly after. The thought of the Wraith left his mouth dry and his chest felt tight from the grim remembrance of Celebrimbor. While he felt the shadow in his heart had indeed faded, it still weighed on him heavily. Whether the shadow came from the betrayal of Celebrimbor or the corruption that the Ring had instilled on him, he was again, uncertain. Although he suspected that it was a bit of both. The continued thoughts of the Elf lord caused Talion’s mood to sour further and grow more dismal as he relived the memories of the cunning treachery of Celebrimbor.

But Talion didn’t let his thoughts tarry for much longer on the Wraith. For him, the pain of Celebrimbor’s treachery was still too near and he had brooded enough for possibly two lifetimes. Instead, he focused on whether he would be able to leave Mordor now that everything had come to an end. It was then that he had realised where he was, and he began what would be a slow trek towards the Black Gate in the north. Fortunately, when he had been knocked from the Fell Beast, he had landed relatively close to the border of Mordor. He was not more than a few days out, and since the land seemed devoid of save but a few Orcs, Talion was certain that his passage would remain unhindered. Thus, he was grateful that his journey wouldn’t be too long for he was truly weary. Already he had wandered for too long in the Land of Shadows.

It took all his strength at first to force his legs to hold him and walk. Their vigour returned slowly, much more so than he had become used to, but Talion persisted although the feeble feeling was still very much present and persistent, sending pins and needles up and through his legs.

As he came upon the Black Gates days later, Talion began to wonder if he really was as bound here as the Wraith had first said while he stared at the land beyond the blackened walls and the stark difference between the lush grass before him and the scorched earth behind. He breathed in deeply, then, with some hesitation, he crossed beyond the borders of Mordor, first expecting some unknown force to hinder his way. But with great relief, he found himself stepping on the soft grass as he left Mordor once and for all.

Talion continued, though without any real destination, savouring the crisp chill of the wind and breathing in the fresh clean air while unfastening his cloak and bracers. Running his fingers through the strings and making quick work with the metal clasps and then removing his long sword, Urfael, and dropping it to the damp ground with a soft thud before reaching for Acharn to do the same. He gave the broken blade of his fallen son a last solemn glance before allowing it too, to fall to the ground. He felt lighter, knowing that his war was over. The War of the Ring had been won.  His fight for Middle-Earth was finally at an end and he could perhaps rest in peace, if it was allowed of him. There was still some doubt in his heart, but a faint smile rested on his lips, and he finally felt the bitterness begin to leave him as the pains of what he had endured began to dissipate as he walked towards the calming light of the sun rising in front of him. To what he knew would be the end of all things he had come to know and suffer in this life.

For a moment, the world became too bright and Talion could no longer see. Shielding his eyes with his hands after closing his eyes and finding that his lids did little in the ways of protecting his eyes. But eventually the blinding light receded, fading into a light blue glow that reminded him briefly of the Wraith and how the world around him would seem to change into something more ethereal when he’d make himself known, allowing Talion to see into the Unseen World as he had so called it.

Talion continued through the thick haze, spotting shapes that resembled pillars in a large hall in the growing darkness that surrounded him. It reminded him of his youth in Minas Tirith when he’d be wandering through the green boulevards of Gondorian nobles, weaving between the white stone work of the villas and their lush, green gardens. Deep within his heart, he had hoped that he was in that familiar city. His home. For it was the place where he had hoped he would die.

The pathways from his memories were very old, standing even when the city was known as Minas Anor. But these columns were older still and were not crafted in the typical style of the Númenóreans. Instead, they were more akin to Elvish architecture with their flowing designs, yet there were differences still. Though none of which Talion could name, for in truth, his experience with Elvish construction was limited at best, having only Celebrimbor and his trinkets and barrows to refer to. All he has was the feeling that it didn’t seem to match. The corridors also felt far older than anything the Elves could have built. There was so much emotion contained within, sadness, remorse, anger, torment, happiness and peace. Talion could feel in his heart that this was a place that housed something or someone of great power.

He pressed on still, for while the halls weren’t as familiar as he had once thought or hoped they were, there was nothing threatening or menacing within them. He had felt calmer now than he had in many years as he wandered through the sobering stillness. But he felt as though the peace could be broken and shattered into fragments in but a moment. The only thing about these pale blue corridors that had left him with a slight feeling of unease was just how empty they were and the weight of being alone could be felt heavily.

Judging by the sheer size, and for how long he had been walking now, Talion felt like he should have run into someone by now or at the very least heard someone or something. But there was nothing to be heard in the calm silence. Not even the scraping of his remaining armour as he moved through the seemingly infinite pathways. He had thought to call out and break the silence but feared that his voice would be swallowed but the darkness should he try to speak.

He quickened his pace as a chill washed through him. Talion felt like he was being watched, but there was nobody and nothing around him. Although he wanted nothing more than to either find someone or something, so that they could tell him where he was or how to leave this place all together.

“You cannot leave. None leave without my say,” a soft ghostly voice called out to him, solemn and terrible. As if reading his previous thoughts.

Talion whirled around attempting to locate the sound of the seemingly disembodied voice. At first it had sounded like it was behind him, but nothing was there. Turning back, he intended to continue the path he had been on with haste.

However, his passage was blocked by the tall, dark figure that now loomed over him and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

But he sensed no evil from the form despite a similarity in appearance to the Nazgûl with its black garb. The long, ornate robes were a deep shade of black with subtle but elegant patterns of deep purple and made the figure too fair. Moreover, there was no lingering sense of dread surrounding it for it to be mistaken for one of the Nine.

Pale strands of hair wrought of pure silver fell from the inside of the hood, though the face of the stranger couldn’t be seen from under the shadows of the cloak. Despite all the mystery surrounding the figure it remained fair in both appearance and feeling. Though this did not ease his worry for Talion knew this being possessed more power than he could fathom.

“Who are you?” Talion croaked out at last, and his voice sounded hoarser than he had remembered it.

The figure did not answer his question immediately and with a simple but elegant extension of its hand, it beckoned for Talion to follow him deeper into the halls. At first Talion was bit reluctant but knew there was little more that he could so, so he followed the figure none the less as it began to walk, almost as if floating without waiting for him.

Talion had walked with the mysterious being for some time in the never-ending ways when the form finally spoke, “I am Námo. To thee and thine folk, I am called Mandos.”

Talion halted, surprised from the revelation and the thought of standing before one of the many Valar who had a hand in the creation of Arda. His inability to speak at first had lead Mandos to believe that Talion was lacking knowledge and began to explain his role in the world with notes of disappointment ringing through his voice. 

“When Men and Elves perish, they come to me for a time. Elves remain for a time but are bound to Arda. For thee and others such will depart. To where is uncertain to me for only The One truly knows. Tis not oft my decision when concerning the fates of Men beyond their coming here. But thy death, and thy tale is of great import in regard to this. Thus, thou willst speak with me, and tell me all.”

Talion heart felt heavy as he nodded. Watching Námo extend his hand once again in the same manner as before to bidding him to follow the Vala deeper into his dark halls and for Talion to face his judgement.

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For what had felt like an eternity they walked, and despite the time spent, Talion still felt unready and unwilling to begin the tales of his time in Mordor. The faint calm could no longer be felt, and his heart sank to the pit of his stomach the more he thought about what Námo wanted to know. It felt as though it could do more harm than good, and even knowing that he had lived most of his life doing good and trying to be man of honour, he could not deny that some of his deeds in the Land of Shadows were foul indeed. This knowledge was made even more substantial in the presence of who was about to judge him and his soul. It was by this point, too late, and there was nothing left that he felt he could do to redeem himself. But it didn’t stop Talion from praying silently to himself to be reunited with Ioreth and Dirhael.

Talion even wished that Celebrimbor would find peace, despite his betrayal and the deep hurt he had instilled upon him. But Talion didn’t understand why he’d wish such thoughts for Celebrimbor deserved naught but suffering. Talion, however, suspected it had been the fear of his own fate that had brought him to think of such a forgiving fate for the Wraith.  

Námo stepped ahead of him, positioning himself in the middle of a large circle of stone surrounded by elegant statues that Talion assumed were of the other Valar. In similar fashion to Námo, they were all cloaked and had a very sobering feeling surrounding them. Some held wooden torches of blue flame which illuminated the surrounding rock in an eerie glow, whilst the others’ hands rested upon their breast as if in prayer. In the still darkness behind the statues, Talion was able to see the outlines of bare tree branches and upon stepping unto the same platform as Námo he could feel a faint breeze. Crisp and clean, untainted but chilled in the faint glimmer of the starlight. Behind Námo was a great stone arch, tall and round with a reflective surface in between the rocks and made Talion uncomfortable with its existence the more he stared at it.  

“Art thou ready to tell of thy tale?” Námo’s solemn voice broke his thoughts and after realising that they were about to begin, Talion took a step forward, trying to show more courage than he had felt.

“As ready as I will be I suppose,” he murmured before giving a full recount of his tales in Mordor, even though part seemed to tear him apart, causing him to feel phantoms of the agony he’d endured. He told of his family and their slaughter by the Black Hand of Sauron. His meeting with the amnesiac Wraith who would be later known as Celebrimbor and their plan which had them at war with the Dark Lord. Dominating the Orcs and using them against Sauron. The forging of their own Ring of Power. Celebrimbor trying to dominate a Nazgûl and Talion’s refusal to do so. Which had lead to his betrayal by the Wraith and all the years that he wore one of the Nine Rings that had been gifted to the race of men. How he had fought off the corruption for as long as he could to protect Middle-Earth and how he had eventually succumbed and no longer had possessed the strength to fight it.

 Námo had stayed soundless all throughout the account as well as motionless. The lack of humanity displayed by the Vala when hearing his story caused even more unease. Nevertheless, Talion kept to his story, remaining as faithful as memory could to every detail until he came at last to his tale’s end. The bitter sting of his failure left him with his head cast down in shame as he waited for Námo to speak of his fate. However, Námo stood there much the same way as when the tale had first started. For a long while, he remained there, and it was by this point that much time had passed, and all had fallen silent. Talion feared he would go mad before learning of his sentence.

Yet the pause continued for more time still; Námo remained quiet and motionless while Talion had no guess as to when the Vala would speak again. He wasn’t even sure if he was contemplating what Talion had told. The silence made him shift anxiously from one foot to another and he began to pick at the skin surrounding his dirty nails until they were raw and bleeding in a few places in the corners.

“Thou hast been honest with me, and to that I am glad,” Námo spoke at last, his voice louder this time, but just as sombre as it had been and Talion could have sworn he had jumped from his skin.

“It does thee well and proves that thou art not so corrupt as once thought. But I cannot deny, and nor thee, what thou hast done. A shadow once was thee and banished from here thine fate should be.”

Talion’s heart fell, and he too fell to his knees and the tears immediately began to fall. Wordless he stayed there for a time, unable to voice the despair he felt. He knew it would come to this, but it didn’t stop his heart from aching at the realisation that he would never see his wife and child.

‘We will be together, my love. Soon! Forever!’

The final words of his wife haunted him, chilling him to the bone as he sobbed quietly. Waiting to be sent away from the sight of the Vala for all that he had done.

 “But,” Námo continued, and Talion looked up to him weakly, “Passed the test have thee, so Eru and I gift thee a final chance to meet again with thine wife and child. For this, thou must complete a task.”

Hope should have kindled within him, but Talion sensed the chance given to him, the task he was to accomplish, would be not so easy. He was already so weary and wanted nothing more than to rest. But that was not his fate.

“What am I to do?” Talion questioned and Námo said nothing and remained where he stood. For the briefest of moments, he thought that he had suffered enough already, and wanted to plea to the Vala to just let him go. But he knew there was no hope in this, so he held his tongue. The Vala turned his body gracefully and gestured towards the archway that had given Talion pause.

“Make thy choice. Go now and complete thine task, or be banished to nothingness,” the coldness and the absolute nature in Námo’s voice told Talion he would receive no more information. He was to take up this task without knowing; having to find it first wherever it may be.

Nodding, Talion moved passed Námo and with great reluctance to the archway, taking note that it appeared a mirror of water, but standing upright. Placing his hand upon the surface, he found it was terribly cold but not solid, so when he pushed his hand further against the chilled surface, it sunk in. He pulled his hand back once he felt a burning frost against his fingertips. ‘This is hardly going to be pleasant,’ was his final thought and Talion took a deep breath and strode through the biting cold. He found that as his body became weightless and felt to be floating. But he could not breathe, and the air was pushed forth from his lung. Desperately and on instinct, he kicked his feet to swim, as his body felt it was truly in water. The substance was enough so, if not water, that the motion produced the desired result.

His lungs burned, and his blurring eyes focused on the pale silver light in front of him. Growing ever closer as he frantically swam. Knowing that no matter what harm came to him, he could not die brought no comfort to him. The act was still agonising, and he felt all that no living creature ever should. Námo would not let him die here, but that was not what caused him panic. It was the feeling of his lung filling with liquid when he could no longer contain his breath within him and exhaled only to inhale again. Drowning was not one of the many ways in which he had died previously, and a new terror at the torment that came with drowning overtook. His throat shut, and he began to convulse, and writhe in suffering until all faded away from sight and the world turned black.

Talion felt the tiny, hard pebbles pressing against his face first as life creeped back into him. Normally, he’d be gasping for breath when this happened, but instead his body lurched forward as the excruciatingly painful fits of coughing took hold of him, expelling the water from his lungs.

Whimpering every so often when he was allotted small puffs of air. Despite not opening his eyes, he knew it was dark when he awoke. And Talion stayed where he was coughing and wheezing, ignoring the chill of the water he felt from the lower half of his chest down, until the first light of dawn forced its way through his eyelids. Slowly he opened his eyes and tried to blink away the blur over the world.  But even through his hazy vision he could see the outlines of trees, and the green colour of grass.
Talion laid there for a spell, letting the haze that clouded his sight leave, and deciding very early in this process that drowning had been, by far, one of the more terrible deaths he had suffered. His chest still burned to take deep breaths from all the coughing, but slowly began to feel more normal.

Finally, and gradually, Talion pushed himself up from the ground weakly. Hand reaching up and brushing off the remaining pebbles that stuck to his cheek, feeling the deep imprints they left behind from being pressed against his face for hours. He searched his surroundings to gather an idea of where exactly he was. Gazing at the large, rounded white rocks and holly trees that dotted his hilly country. The river he had found himself in was vast, so much so that Talion could not see the other side, and it was dark with depth. He pondered where he could be for a while, before concluding that, while this was certainly a part of Middle Earth, it was not an area while he had travelled to often, if ever. Being in Eriador seemed likely, as it was an area he didn’t frequent often, and when he had, it had always been more to the north and colder. Considering the warmth of the air here, he assumed himself to be more south.  

Standing up, Talion made the decision that it would be best to search for a settlement or shelter. Whichever came up first, but he hoped for the former, wishing to rest at least for a night on a bed. He considered himself fortunate that he had washed up in a river as people often settle near bodies of water. He began to follow the river south, as he couldn’t see any signs in any direction that indicated either of the objective he was looking for, but he didn’t make it far at all.

“No! Not that way! They say there is only trouble that way,” called a small voice that halted Talion and he located the source after a brief moment hiding behind a thicket of holly trees. A child was hiding there, and when she deigned to reveal herself to him, Talion noticed that the small girl was in fact an Elf.

“You need to go more north!” she commanded, feigning bravery as her little hands clutched at the bottom of her light blue, grass stained tunic. Her spout of bravery faltered shortly after when he stepped forward towards her and she looked as though she was about to run away. Curiosity seemed to win the battle of flight, for she peered at him inquisitively despite her noticeable hesitance. Looking at him as though he was the queerest thing she had ever seen, and Talion wondered if perhaps he was the first human she had seen. But Talion was no better about his gawking than she, as he had never seen a child of the Elves.

“What are you doing out here? Causing trouble?” he asked with a teasing tone that he would have used with his own child had he found him out in the wilderness.

“No! I’m just making a crown. See?” She said as she walked up to him, and he smiled at her response to the fatherly question and tone before bending down to look at the point leaves of holly that she had strewn through her dark hair around her head.

“So you are.”

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” she asked him while holding up the circlet with a grin after removing it from her hair, leaving it a bit dishevelled.

“Yes, it is.”

 The Elf child beamed at him, and her unease seemed to fade more and be replaced with inquiry.

“You’re not an Elf,” she said while standing on her tip toes and glancing at his ears.

“And what’s that on your face? Hair?”

Talion chuckled, “I’m no Elf, tis true. As for this,” he said while grazing the back of his hand against the stubble on his chin, “Just a beard. Common among my people. The race of Men.”

She made a queer face, scrunching her nose and pursing her lips together, “It sounds so coarse. Is it itchy? Can you get rid of it? Where are you from?” and the child’s questions continued endlessly making Talion laugh heartily. Telling the inquisitive child to calm down, and that he could only answer one question at a time.

The child seemed unhappy that her questions could not and would not be answered all at once, but she seemed pleased that at least Talion was willing to answer at his own pace. She sat herself on the grass tugging at his wrist eagerly to get him to join her and speak with her as she was full of excitement. The child asked question after question, never losing enthusiasm. Talion answered all her questions, but excluded any violence, darkness and death. She listened in wonder as he was currently telling her about Gondor and the White City and its people. Her eyes wide with wonder, reminding him of Dirhael when he was a young lad wanting to know everything there was to know in the world. She seemed especially fond of the White Tree and its connection to the kings.

It’s getting late,” Talion glanced at the setting sun as it threatened to go behind the white rocks, and he remembered quite suddenly that he never found a settlement or shelter. He’d worry about it in a little bit, for the moment he was more concerned about his young friend.

“You should head home. I am sure your parents are worried by now.”

She just smiled, but there was a sadness behind it, “Amya is used to it. But I will. Where will you go?” looking up to him as they stood while brushing off the grass on the back of her legs.

“I’ll figure something out,” Talion mustered a smile to keep her from worrying about him but judging from the look on her face upon realising he had nowhere to stay, it was clear she wasn’t going to have any of that.

“Come with me!” she grabbed at his larger hand in her small one, tugging at him to follow her. “Amya would like to meet you, I’m sure she’d like you. And you look like you haven’t slept well in an eternity-” her words faltered, and she looked to him and they both realised that although they had spoken for many hours, they had never exchanged names.

“Talion,” he answered and began following her, if for nothing else but to make sure she made it home, worried that a child so small had been in the wilderness. But if he was honest with himself, he would be glad to have shelter. Especially with the Elves. Talion found himself rather excited at the idea of staying with the Elves for the first time.

“Tyeleperinanarien!” she responded with her name, and Talion doubted he’d remember the Elvish name. “Or Celebanorien... Or just Anorien...Or Anarien...Anarien is fine,” she trailed off seeing the confusion in Talion’s eyes over the long name and there was a light touch of pink to her cheeks about it.

“Anarien it is then,” Talion said with a faint smile, “Well, lead the way.”tumblr_p4mm7rllKU1ts7fi3o1_r4_1280

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Anarien kept a hurried pace, for no other reason than having fun, but it left Talion panting. He could not understand how he could have spent years in Mordor, running from Uruks and other monstrosities after traveling for days, but had difficulty keeping up with a small child. Perhaps, he wondered, he was closer to being a human now than he had been. Talion was grateful when the child began to puff and was exhausted from their endeavour. She took a moment to breathe, allowing Talion to do so as well, and Anarien began climbing up a steep hill, calling out to him that it was a short cut to her house, and they’d have to cut through less of the city. He looked at the hill with vague exasperation but followed her all the same. “

What is the name of your city?” Talion asked her during their ascent, not only to gain some information on the area, but general curiosity as well as Anarien had been the one asking questions previously.

“Ost-in-Edhil. It means city of the Elves. Not a very creative name, but it’s home.” He nodded, although he had no idea where the city was on a map for the name was completely unfamiliar and thus made more questions rather than providing answers.

Talion and Anarien finally reached the summit of the hill and he peered over to see the dim torch lights of a city build upon a bluff of granite and facing westwards towards a small lake, and on the north west front another river, running swiftly by it. It looked as though it had once been a fortress but repurposed for living. Even from a distance, he could see the white stones and marbles that compiled the city.

“My house is right there,” Anarien said, pointing a little finger down towards a house that looked to be small, but comfortable.

 “I have to sneak you in though,” she muttered quietly, but Talion had not missed it and searched for an answer that Anarien was determined to not give.

"Come on!” she said at last ignoring him further when he pressed the matter of him being snuck in like a criminal. Talion gaped as she laid on her side to tumble down the length of the hill down to the city. After a pause and seeing her reach the bottom unscratched, he followed, though not in the same fashion, choosing instead to walk. All while muttering under his breath that he had obviously found a trouble maker. Going out into the wilds, coming home late with strangers was probably the last thing Anarien’s poor parents wanted.  

He at last was at the bottom of the hill and received a few jabs from the child about being slow and no fun. He made his own fun at her while pulling a twig from her hair saying, “It’s what happens when you get old. You have less fun. And you’ll be older before you know it.”

She pouted, but said nothing more, just grabbing his hand and leading him towards the high walls that surrounded the town. Only letting go of his hand to begin scaling up one of the grey walls with practice. 28458951_1799995396686385_537361966_n Clearly, this was not uncommon for her to sneak out and back in again and had he not been proficient in climbing, he might have had a hard time following her, but he found where to place his hands and feet with relative ease, and Anarien told him the rest when she felt he was taking too long otherwise. And once he was over the wall, he again saw jump off into a rather large pile of hay. Disappearing and reappearing a moment later, bidding him to do the same thing with both hay and holly in her hair. After a moment of contemplation and realising that the surface of the wall was too smooth to climb down, Talion followed her in jumping into the hay. Immediately brushing himself off after standing up, whereas Anarien seemed content with being dirty and it bothered him that she looked so dishevelled with her grass stains and different plant life sticking out of her dark hair, so he knelt and brushed some of it off her shoulders and back.

“You’re going to be pulling things from my hair all night if you keep this up,” snickering and taking his hand again, Anarien led them with a more leisurely pace towards her home. Seemingly ignoring or unaware of some of the stares that the few Elves who were still up and about were giving them. Talion tried being polite and nodding, but there was no way around it. He was a stranger here made even more strange by being of the race of Men.

Anarien stopped when they came to a tall home made of white stone that had a copper coloured line going along the lines of the roof.

“Wait here!” she commanded and ran off before Talion could so much as protest. She was gone for only a moment before he heard his name being called in a hushed yell. Looking up and to the east, he saw Anarien, and she dropped a rope that was made of what appeared to be bedsheets.

 “Trouble indeed,” Talion muttered, but began scrambling up the make shift rope after making sure no one would see him. His own mind mocked him, reminding him that the last time he had done something like this was with Ioreth, and while this was certainly more innocent he still couldn’t believe he was sneaking into the room of a girl again. He began to understand why Ioreth’s father had hated him so and was so furious with her. He also found himself grateful for having a son instead.

“And why was it that I was snuck in?” Talion scolded Anarien quietly after hopping over the marble windowsill, taking on the tone that he would use with Dirhael when he was suspicious.

“Well,” she started, fidgeting with her hair before her blue eyes met his, “I was in trouble not that long ago for bringing a lynx kitten home. And then some birds the month before.”

 So, she was one of those kinds of kids, Talion thought with a sigh. Trouble with a good heart but trouble all the same.

“I’ll tell Amya in the morning,” she pouted, folding her arms across her chest and turning her head away from Talion to avoid his scolding. “She was already mad at me for coming home after sun down, so I don’t want to introduce you. Not just yet.”

Anarien then made herself busy, cleaning up the various toys that had been scattered around the room, and revealing a deep green carpet and a dark coloured wood underneath. After that, she darted out into the hallway, coming back with some more blankets, of both cloth and furs, and a few pillows and piled them onto the floor.

“It’s a bit small for you, but you can have my bed. Elves don’t really sleep much anyways. And you look like you’re going to fall over. I’ll sleep here,” she motioned towards the little pile she had made for herself fluffing it and scattering it in a chaotic fashion. Talion was about to protest, still wanting to meet her mother as well as offering to be the one to sleep on the floor, but she announced that she would be washing up and left the room again in a hurry. Not having much else he could do, Talion laid on the bed that she had spoken of. It was tall enough for him, but only wide enough for a child. He brushed his hand against the dark wood as he sat himself down on it, expecting the wood to creak at his weight, but it offered no groans of exertion. With care, he removed the remaining armour that he wore, setting it down quietly at the end of the bed in a neat manner. He left the rough clothing on that he had slept in for years and laid down on the soft bed, looking out of the large window that he had crawled through, seeing the first silver moon in years. How many years had it been since he had slept in real bed? Talion couldn’t answer the question, also deciding that he wouldn’t dwell on it while his lids became heavy and he was lulled into the most peaceful sleep.  

Talion awoke late into the night out of habit, no longer used to sleeping a full rest. Sitting up, he noticed both Anarien sleeping soundly in her pile of blankets, and a small plate with a few pieces of bread and another with butter. One of the pieces appeared to be half eaten, but the rest remained untouched and he knew Anarien left some for him and chose to let him sleep.

Leaning down, Talion picked up the plates, careful to not make them clink and wake up Anarien whose hearing was quite sensitive. Setting the plate with the bread beside him on the bed, he reached for the butter, noticing a small knife had also been left there. He found it peculiar however. It was too rough to be of Elf make, or even made by Man. But it was nowhere near crude enough to be from Orcs or their like. The metal was bumpy in places and it was blunt, even for a butter knife. It seemed to even struggle to spread the butter cleanly, and Talion considered why it was in an Elf’s home as he placed it on the plate softly and chewing on the bread. He ate his fill, despite the effort it took with the dull knife before setting the plates back where Anarien had originally placed them. Laying back down on the small bed, he tried to sleep some more. It took some time, but eventually he had found it.

Talion would have liked to wake up to the light of the sun, but instead he was roused from sleep by a raised voice speaking words he didn’t understand, followed then by the smaller voice that he had come to know as Anarien, speaking in the same tongue. This went on for a time, and when Talion was starting to feel a tug of worry, Anarien came into her room sheepishly, followed closely by a taller woman who wore a scowl on her fair face. Anarien said something in Elvish, gesturing to Talion with an upturned palm and blue eyes cast down.

“I’m sorry to meet you in such fashion. But as you can see, I’ve got my hands always full with a certain Elf whom I can’t believe brought home a human like she would an animal.”

From her tone, Talion could tell this was indeed Anarien’s mother, and she was quite infuriated with her daughter.

“Children will be children,” Talion began slowly, “But I admit I was not much help, for I was so exhausted. I intended to have her bring me down to you the other night, but I had fallen asleep before I had the chance.” Anarien looked to him with surprised eyes, followed by obvious appreciation for him trying to get her out of trouble. “I am Talion,” he said in introduction, placing his hand to his breast and bowing his head slightly as he knew was good Elf manners.

“Haeroniel,” she repeated the action, but it was curter, “I see you’ve already met Anorien.”

“Celebanorien!” the child snarked and was quickly given a tug on the ear. “I did, but I thought I heard her say Anarien, if I am not mistaken?”

“Anarien is an older form of her name, but her name all the same.” Talion nodded, about to asked Haeroniel more, but he could see the mother had already had enough for the day.

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“Listen Talion, whether you mean well or not, I cannot house a criminal. All who enter Ost-in-Edhil are to be reported to our lord or those of his council. Since I am sure this one jumped the walls,” she said, while tugging on Anarien’s ear again despite her struggles, “and you followed her in this manner, you are considered undocumented and I will have none of it. See to it that this one brings you to an official and then the both of you may come back here.” Haeroniel released Anarien’s ear and left the room still furious as the child rubbed the life back in her ear. Talion looked down at her as he stood. She stole one glance and him and then looked back down again. But he had seen that her eyes were red from crying.

“That went well,” he tried cheering her up, “I would have thought your mother would have taken you out of this world for this.”

 “I’m sorry?” Anarien looked up at him completely confused, “Why would she remove me from the world?”

Talion chuckled wholeheartedly, amused by the sheer confusion presented on her face. “It is a saying. Your mother is the one to bring you into this world, and so she can take you out of it.”

Anarien was still baffled by the saying, giving a slow nod that made sure to get the notion that he was still weird to her across.

“I suppose we should go see this lord. Perhaps you can tell me about your city, then I can tell you how mine is?” This made her face light up again, and Anarien told Talion to wait downstairs while she got out of her night clothes. While Talion was not fond of the idea of being around an angry Haeroniel (or any angry mother for that matter) he went downstairs as Anarien had instructed him to. Pausing only a moment before to reach for his armour, which he forsook seeing no need for it whilst walking through the city. He thought differently though when he saw Haeroniel look up at him with daggers in her eyes. But they softened soon after, and she apologised, saying that she had meant the glare for Anarien as she offered him a plate of simple, but good food in the simple white stone kitchen on a wooden table, set neatly with fine silverware, not at all like the blunt knife from the night. She offered him an egg with some mushrooms, leeks and tomatoes, the same of which she offered to Anarien when the child made herself present, wearing a lavender coloured tunic with some silver trimmings around the sleeves and high collared next, and light grey trousers that came up to her calves, and silver coloured sandals.

 “So,” Haeroniel started, and both Talion and Anarien winced, readying themselves for whatever storm was coming their way. But it never came, “Where are you from Talion?” Breathing a sigh of relief, Talion allowed himself to relax and could see that Anarien had done much the same.

“I am from Gondor.”

“Gondor?” Haeroniel repeated, her expression was of clear misunderstanding, “I’m afraid I know no city by that name. Is it in Númenor?”

 Talion’s brows furrowed, “No. It is far to the east and south in Rhoavanion. Almost neighbouring Mordor.”

“There’s nothing out that way,” Haeroniel countered, and then hushed Anarien’s protests as soon as she started, “But what if we don’t know about it?” Anarien countered, and it was a good argument to be sure, especially backed with the fact that her mother hadn’t left Ost-in-Edhil since she was born.

“We would have heard something. Cities don’t just come out of the ground, they must be built, and such things take time and are hardly unnoticed. Especially in this time.”

 “At this time?”

Haeroniel looked at him grimly, “We have all heard whispers of strange happenings throughout the lands, particularly in the dark lands to the east. It is said a tower has been built in Mordor recently. No good will come of it. We need to be prepared.”

“You mean, Barad-dûr?” Talion asked cautiously, feeling his heart pounding in his chest from the memory. But hadn’t the Black Tower existed for many years already. He began to grow anxious again, and he felt that everything he knew was now wrong.

“I know not the name of it,” Haeroniel admitted, and began cleaning the table, ushering Anarien to take Talion to the guard house and get his documentation. Anarien was already out the door, and Talion paused, looking to Haeroniel before leaving, “This question might be senseless, but,” he hesitated for a moment, “What year are we in?”

“Senseless indeed,” Haeroniel laughed for the first time, but it did little to ease his heart. “It’s June of the year 1204 of the Second Age.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

            “Are you sure you are alright?” Anarien continued pressing him with questions as they walked almost in silence through Ost-in-Edhil. The shock of learning that his city wouldn’t exist for almost another two thousand years left Talion feeling ill; like a rock was sitting in the pit of his stomach. She continually didn’t believe his responses of being fine and continued the onslaught for a while longer before growing silent and realising that it might have been something he wasn’t ready to talk about. So instead, she began pointing out pieces of her city and telling him about them. From the bakery owned by a Ragnor, to the brewery of Daniros, to the tavern, the Bottomless Mug where her mother worked long hours. Pointing at the buildings if they were close enough, but often going on tangents on things that had nothing to do with what she had previously been speaking about. Talion was grateful for the distracting Anarien provided him and did his best to listen to her since it seemed he’d be spending quite some time in Ost-in-Edhil.
They came across a great structure, the roof dome shaped, with lovely gardens surrounding the area.

“Where are we now?” Talion asked, knowing that the building was not the guard house or anything similar of the sort.

“It’s the council hall, and a library,” Anarien tugged at his hand, encouraging her to follow him inside. “I don’t get along with the guards,” she said and Talion assumed he had a look on his face that gave away his question. It made sense the more he thought about it, and it was probably why Anarien was so skilled at climbing the walls. But Talion almost preferred meeting with one of the guards as he was less politically savvy than he cared to admit, and the glares being sent his way from the two sentinels while walking through the tall pillars and through the open doors caused him to shift uncomfortable. Anarien muttered to him to pay them no mind, and that they were scowling at her more than him as she hurriedly led him down the wide corridors of bookshelves. The wood was old, but the contents, the books, scrolls, and parchment within were older still, and Talion wondered if some of them were from the First Age, or possibly a time before. Beautiful paintings, depicting what Talion assumed were moments in history, lined the stone walls and he peered at them with wonder. Especially the ones depicting the Valar. The one containing Námo stood out to him most due to his recent encounter. His pace must have slowed and Anarien tugged on his arm again while he was looking at a painting that held a dark image. Huge and terrible with a dark crown atop his head with a glimmering stone seated in the middle. “Come on!” Anarien called out to him, and he followed, even though he wanted to learn more about all that was depicted here.

“Wait here,” Anarien whispered when they came up to a large wooden door, “I need to make sure he’s not busy,” and slipped in silently, once again leaving no room for Talion to ask any questions. Anarien took longer than she had when she had lead him to her house, and Talion wondered what she was doing in there.

 After a half an hour had passed, he took one of the books out of the shelf, intending to read it, but found it was illegible to him due to his lack of education in the Elvish language. With a sigh, he flipped through it, finding some drawings that were of some interest to him and he glanced at those for some time, almost going to the end of the book before hearing the door open once again, and Anarien’s head popped out and with a gesture of her hand, beckoned for him to come to her.

“Sorry, there was a meeting going on. As punishment for interrupting, I had to sit there.”

Talion quirked an eyebrow, but then saw that there were several Elves streaming out the door now. All were dressed impeccably and beautifully. They carried themselves with such confidence that there was no doubt they were important here. Each eyed Talion upon walking by, each with a puzzled look to him and a less than pleased look that followed that was meant for Anarien. One murmured something in Elvish and Anarien retaliated and her ear was tugged for a second time today.

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“There’s no need for that,” Talion put himself between Anarien and the Elf when he started shouting at her and tugging on her ear a little too hard for Talion’s liking.

“You would not say so if you knew what she said,” the tall Elf said in retaliation.

 “You might be right. But I recall you saying something first. I don’t need to speak your tongue to know it was less than kind and was provoking her,” Talion stood fast and the Elf was certainly offended as he stormed by, bumping into Talion and leaving with no apology. Anarien whispered her thanks and for the second time in the day he saw her rubbing the life back into her ear. An act from a mother made sense to Talion, but this random Elf, Talion felt he had no business doing such. He inquired about her ear, and she reassured him she was fine and that she’d get the one who did it later, which made Talion curious about what sort of plan she would hatch. She took his hand again, pulling him into the doors and closing them behind them while Talion stared at the high domed ceiling. A pale turquoise blue that appeared made of glace that housed the large desk he assumed all the important Elves had sat at moments ago, made of mahogany. Papers were strewn about but in a tidy manner, and maids were quickly cleaning up the small meal that had been shared. They all paused for a moment when they saw Talion, but then quickly resumed their work. Anarien did not grab his hand this time but pushed him towards the door in the very back of the large room.

“Quit gawking at everything and let’s go!” she grumbled playfully at him, full on shoving him and Talion thought to hold his ground there just to make the point that she couldn’t move him. But the stares were starting to wear down on him, and he found himself wanting to go back to the house for a spell, or even the wilderness. She passed him again when they were at the door, calling to someone inside that they were here and ready.

“I heard you, Anarien,” the voice called out. A voice so familiar that Talion’s blood ran cold before his tall companion walked through the door to greet them, alive and undamaged.

“Well met, stranger,” he spoke to Talion, placing his hand upon his breast and bowing his head. Talion repeated the gesture.

“Well met,” he repeated, but it felt strained and queer as he introduced himself.

 “And I am Celebrimbor, lord of all you see here.”
‘I know who you are,’ Talion thought, but said nothing as Anarien began telling how she had found him near the river, brought him home, and was in trouble for it this morning.

“You will have the longest ears in Ost-in-Edhil if you keep up this pace,” Celebrimbor laughed, and Talion found it strange to see such, as the Wraith never did. Everything felt off, and he felt out of place, shifting uncomfortably once again. Ponding the task Námo had appointed to him but said nothing about.

“But I’d like to speak with Talion myself,” Celebrimbor shook Talion out of his thoughts upon hearing his name, and Talion questioned if Celebrimbor had noticed his unease.

“But I haven’t seen you in days!” Anarien countered him, pouting all the while and surprising Talion with her casual nature towards the lord of her city. Celebrimbor turned around, grabbing a pouch that Talion heard the familiar clinking of coins in and he handed it to Anarien.

 “Go get some sweet rolls for us. I trust you won’t eat them all on your way back this time.”

 “I didn’t last time,” Anarien grumbled, but took the money from him and he gave her a slight push on the back to encourage her to head out. She protested with him for a moment but was soon off and heading out the opened heavy wooden door they had previously entered from.

“You two seem close,” Talion chose to speak up, still feeling strange about his placement in this world, and knowing all the things he knew would happen, but he said the words with such ease.

 “Her father, Anardîr, passed shortly after she was born. He was a dear friend of mine, so I housed her and Palanyeldë, or Haeroniel as you might know her, for a time after the incident.”

“What happened to her father if you don’t mind my asking?” Talion inquired, realising that he had only seen Haeroniel in the house this morning.

“Orcs raided the area near here. Anardîr was hunting that day, and the rest you can imagine,” Celebrimbor turned from him for a moment, taking a deep breath and Talion let the subject matter go. But the Elf lord continued, “I’m worried she looks to me to fill that gap.” Talion raised an eyebrow and stepped forward.

 “What do you mean by that?” A faint smile lined his lips and Celebrimbor shook his head as he asked the question.

“She introduced herself as Celebanorien when she met you?”

 “She did,” Talion nodded, “And something else I don’t think I could repeat no matter how hard I tried. We settled on Anarien for my sake.”

“Elves name their children either after the father or mother, taking a stem of the word and changing the ending. Anar means the sun in Quenya, and Anor is the same in this new ‘Sindarin’ that is coming to be. Anardîr and Anarien. It feels strange that she wants to take my name and place it in her own, and it gives her mother pause. She feels her husband’s memory is being disrespected.”

 “She’s a child. I may not understand everything there is to know about Elves, but I doubt very much that she is purposefully disrespecting anyone,” Talion responded, noticing that Celebrimbor seemed perturbed by Haeroniel’s feelings.

“Purposefully or not, Haeroniel does not approve. And I needn’t upset her. But Anarien is...” he paused, trying to think of a kind word.

“Stubborn?” Talion filled in the blank and the Elf lord nodded with a smile.

“I’m sure you’ll know soon enough the extent she’ll take things.” The Elf lord took a seat behind his desk, and with an extension of his hand, palm open, he offered for Talion to take a seat as well.

“Anarien told me you had come from a place called Gondor. But I fear I have no idea where this city is, and I have never heard of such a name.”

 Talion’s heart fell again but began to beat uncontrollably. Of course, she would mention that even when her mother had told her Gondor wasn’t real. “It’s a small encampment where Men are thinking of settling and building a great city. It is planned to be in the East,” Talion didn’t like the idea of lying so he stretched the truth. The city was planned to be there after all. “I see,” Celebrimbor whispered behind a fair hand, thinking carefully on what Talion had said.

“Anarien had spoken as if it were a large city. Though the child tends to get carried away. It is true though that she found you near the river Sirannon? She said she saw you laying there for some hours, hearing you cough often.”

He had never thought about how long she might have been there when they met. Clearly a lot longer than he thought, and he was there a lot longer as well.

 “She did, though I do not know the river’s name.”

“What were you doing out there? She said you were laying in the water as if drowned,” it felt like Celebrimbor’s blue eyes could bore holes into his skull, and Talion tried to focus on the light wooden panels behind the Elf lord.

“I don’t remember much. I was walking in the green grass, then everything faded to black. I know not how I came to be here.” More lies to hide the truth.

“How long will you be staying in Ost-in-Edhil?” Celebrimbor reached to his left, grabbing some of the leaves of paper that were on a shelf and thumbing through them until he had found what he was looking for and placing it on the desk while grabbing a quill and dipping it in the ink.

“I’m not sure just yet. But if it is alright with you, my lord,” he paused, feeling strange to call the Elf by such a formal title, “I’d like to stay for a while. Anarien was showing me the city on our way here, and it is a beautiful one. I’d like to know it better.” This was apparently the right thing to say, and Celebrimbor seemed pleased as he scrawled down information on the sheet of paper in a neat and flowing handwriting.

“Give this to Haeroniel,” he said at last, extending his reach to Talion and giving him the piece of paper. “It is proper documentation for you to be here, and if she’s willing to house you for a time, you may stay there. But if you require different housing, please tell me or another member of the council first.”

Talion nodded, taking the paper and looking at the writing, finding it to be just as illegible to him as the book he had looked at previously and pocketing it. “Has anyone else entered the city recently?” Talion asked, unable to help himself. He needed to know if the Bringer of Gifts had come. Celebrimbor smirked again.

 “Only a trouble maker with a human I’m afraid. One of which is sitting in front of me. The other is probably stuffing her face with sweets.”

Talion chuckled, both at the remark and the peace of knowing that there was a possibility of him being able to make right here. They spoke for a little longer, and Celebrimbor became more like who Talion had known with a sarcastic comment here and there, but always warm unlike the Wraith he knew.

Anarien finally came back, with a sweet roll for each of them, and one more for herself. But judging from the crumbs on her tunic, Talion assumed she had one, possibly two on her way back.

“Anarien,” Celebrimbor took the roll from her, and set it down on the desk before levelling himself with her, handing her another small pouch, “Why don’t you take Talion to the Central Market and get him some new clothes. His look to have seen better days, and we can have him looking like that in our fair city, now can we?”

 Anarien looked over to Talion with a smirk as he looked down at the thread barred tunic and then back to their much nicer attire. Too nice for him.

“I’ll take him,” Anarien started, placing her hands on her hips, she made her demands, “But I want to spend some time with you in the forge. Can I try to make another butter knife? The one I made before doesn’t work so well.”

Celebrimbor agreed, stating that it was her first craft and that she should remain proud of that fact regardless of how well it worked. Reminding her that she was proud of it when she had first made it. Talion grinned at the solved mystery of the crude butter knife in the house of Elves.  Satisfied with the answer, Anarien took Talion’s hand again, leading him off once again into the city. Talion gave a quick farewell to Celebrimbor and promising to pay him back as he was lead out of the building by an overly excited child. He heard the Elf lord laugh and say no payment was necessary as he was rushed outside.

“Want to race me?” Anarien asked the moment they were outside.

“I’ve no idea where the market place is.”

“Just follow this road here,” she said, pointing towards the street, “It leads to the centre of the city, like I told you earlier.”

Talion nodded, and was about to protest racing, but Anarien shouted “Go!” and was off and he ran for no other reason than to keep her in sight. A feat that proved more difficult than he had thought, and he missed the extra speed that he had in Mordor as she weaved through the people and jumped over crates and barrels, stopping only when she had made it to the market place, panting as she hunched over with her hands on her knees.

“I win,” she puffed with a grin, giggling quietly at the now out of breath Talion. She grabbed the bottom of his tunic and lead him into one of the shops where they were greeted the tailor owning the shop. He came over to Talion after Anarien said a few words with him, and he measured him out quickly, and darted off again shortly after. Searching through his own racks for something that would fit.

“I have these for the time being, but if you’d like, I can have something made for you in three days,” he said while setting two tunics and two pairs of trousers on a table. One tunic was a dark blue and had an elegant white trimming around the high-necked collar and at the wrists of the long sleeves. The other was a light grey with gracefully made buttons sewn into a leaf like pattern when closed. The trousers were of a simple dark grey, almost black with laces to hold them up. But the latter pair seemed to be made of a sturdier fabric and more for travel. Talion chose the light grey tunic and the durable trousers. He was content with just buying them and heading back to the house, but Anarien teased him about his looks and that was what everyone was staring at. Never minding the fact that he was human. The tailor offered his sewing room for Talion to change after Anarien had paid for the clothes with the money she was given by Celebrimbor.

It felt strange to wear the Elvish clothes he thought as he pulled the piece of paper Celebrimbor had given him out of the old pocket and put it into the new. They were softer than his own and offered more movement and Talion found he quite liked them as they put in the order for another couple of tunics to be made as well as trousers. But he stated he would rather have something plainer, to which the poor tailor seemed perplexed, but said he would complete the order in no time and would have them delivered to Anarien’s home. They said their thanks and took their leave.

 “Now we only need to do something about your boots,” Anarien said thoughtfully as she glanced him over while they were walking home. “I could get some sandals for you tomorrow.”

Talion laughed and shook his head, “I’m fine with my boots, but if you want to clean them,” he started off, teasing her and delighting in the way she pouted and disagreed before he even made an offer.

“Fine then, I guess I won’t go out with you to get another treat tomorrow.” It was comical how quickly her tone had changed with him and how she was ready to pull the boots right off his feet.

“By the way,” she stopped him when they were just outside her house, “You were looking at that book back in the library weird,” she looked up at him, and Talion realised that she had never thought about him and his abilities, or lack thereof with Elvish.

“I can’t read it,” he admitted with a sigh, crouching in front of her, “I don’t read or speak the language of the Elves.”

“But you stopped Arodon earlier? Did you not understand either of us?” Talion shook his head and Anarien looked sheepish.

“You probably wouldn’t have stopped him if you had heard what I said.” Talion didn’t push her for an answer, knowing that she wouldn’t give it anyways.

 “But I’ll try to teach you if you want. Amya and Celebrimbor are teaching me how to read and write, so I don’t think I can help too much, but I can teach you to speak! He called you ‘Soa’ which means... filth. I’m sorry he said it. So, I called him ‘Yernathaurnér’. Which means something like, wretched old man.” Talion began chuckling so hard he fell on his rear, never once imagining that his first words he learned in Elvish were to be insults and thrown around so casually by a child.

“What?” Anarien started to giggle herself, but also laughed so hard she was clutching at her sides when Talion tried repeating “Yernathaurnér” which had sounded nothing like what she had said.

“I don’t think my skills are in Elvish, Anarien,” he breathed out, thankful to finally stop chuckling as his sides had started to hurt.

“Sindarin,” Anarien corrected him, “We use some words from the old days, but Sindarin is what you’re learning.”

“Sindarin then,” Talion said grinning, attempting to use the word one last time as he questioned what Anarien had planned for the one she had called Arodon, and although she corrected him again, she insisted that he was doing better and then went on to explain that she was thinking about breaking into his house and hiding everything he owned in different spots. Talion knew he shouldn’t encourage such behaviour, but he told her to do something that was less obviously her. To set something up and to make it look like it was just misfortune that had struck the Elf. She bit her lip, thinking about what he said, and then went on to say that she would give it more thought, as well as let Arodon think she wasn’t going to do anything so that she could surprise him more later.

 “He hates mice,” Anarien finally spoke up, “I think I’ll go grab some from the docks and put them in his house.” Talion chuckled again.

 “In trouble with him often?”

“He lives in the Ardhlarem. Its where all the nobles and important people generally live. Most of them don’t really bother with us living normally, but there’s a few who are just mean. Arodon is one of them. He’s always tugging on my ear, even when Amya has told him not too. But he just threatens to get her kicked out of her job.” Humming, Talion knew exactly the type of person this, Arodon was. Remembering the nobles in Gondor who were less than kind to him when he was around her age.

“We’ll come up with something. But for now, maybe only sneak one mouse in there. And don’t get caught.”

Chapter Text

 

            Three days had passed and, as promised, the clothes had been delivered to the house. Plain, to his liking, and well fitted, feeling more durable than the previous clothes he’d bought with Anarien the days before. The tailor was skilled in his craft, but Talion supposed that all Elves were considering their immortality. He was left to ponder his own skills, having his life extended had led to him being more skilled in survival and hunting then a normal ranger, but he very much doubted he would be considered talented amongst the Elves. Unless of course the Elves in question were the very young.

He considered this for a time, looking out the window in Anarien’s room and the people walking below. Haeroniel had to work early this morning and was unable to make breakfast, and Anarien had been sent out to buy food for the two of them. At least that was what he had gathered with the simple Sindarin words and childish drawings of Anarien leaving the house and then buying bread at the market. Talion had no idea how long she had been gone already when he had awoken, only knowing that her pile of blankets and pillows had already been put away. He had insisted she use her own bed the other night, but she had none of it and slept contently on the floor. Perhaps he’d ask her to take him into town a little later to find the tools to construct a bed, or outright buy one if the price was fair. His mind went back to thinking on his skills, and how woodworking was not one he had been particularly good at, but he had made a bed for Dirhael that served him well for a long while, so he could make one for himself if need be.

As he stared out at the people living below, Talion realised that this was the first time he’d been truly alone in a long while. He had the Wraith during his time in Mordor, always felt if not seen. And when he fell into Shadows, he had always heard the voices of the Nine in the back of his head. Always calling to him and bidding him to join and serve. This was the first time in many years that his mind only held his own voice, and he’d been alone in Ost-in-Edhil. Dwelling on his task, Talion knew deep down that this city would fall to a man appearing as the Bearer of Gifts and would have the Rings of Power forged. Everything he’d come to know here would end. Was he to stop it from happening? Or just watch? Holding hope, Talion wished for the former, but how was he to prevent it? No one would believe his tale no matter what he said until it was too late. And that was assuming that the Elves didn’t immediately distrust him and his sanity. Already he felt he had made a fool of himself in from of Haeroniel when he inquired about the year.

Searching through his memories, he tried to piece together the memories he had learned from Celebrimbor. Hazy and unclear they were even back then, but now almost completely dark and all he could recognize was Celebrimbor himself while the rest was just figures and voices taking place in those key moments. In trying to remember the faces of those he knew would be important, he found that he couldn’t easily recall the faces of his wife and son. Faded were the images, and he worried he would lose them all together and it made him want to leave the Elven city all together so that he could be with them. But it wasn’t allowed. Not until he was finished with his task, so not for a while yet. The only hope he found in his memories, was that he was still able to hear Ioreth’s voice clearly, and he recalled her singing what would become her last song on the Black Gate.


            On winds and waters may you cross
            See mountains white and blue
            But on your road, let’s not forget
            The love I have for you
            Dance on beaches in Anfalas
            Sleep in moonlit fields of view
            May you cross another golden age
            With preciousness free flowing
            With Halfling, Elves and Dwarves engage
            Their wisdom on you bestowing

 

“Is that a song from your city?” Anarien asked and startled him. He hadn’t noticed himself singing softly or her coming back into the house and room. She stared curiously at his saddened expression.

“My wife made it. She loved to sing, but it was her last.” He turned away from Anarien, not wanting to talk about it further.

“Is she...Gone?” Anarien quietly asked, and he heard her set down what he assumed was the food on small wardrobe. Exhaling slowly, Talion nodded.

“She is. And my son.”

 Anarien stayed quiet, but walked over to him, calling his name softly but noticing that he avoided her gaze like she would have if she were upset. She wrapped her thin arms around his waist and leaned her head into the side of his ribs, “You will see them again. They’ll wait for you in the Undying Lands.” The corners of his lips curled slightly at her childish innocence and her unawareness of how long they had been waiting already.

“How much longer will they wait, I wonder?” he murmured and wrapped the arm that she was closest to around her.

“As long as they have to. They’re your family. That’s what a family does.” He said nothing, but he found hope in her words and prayed that what she said was true.
They stayed where they were for a time, Anarien never letting go of him.

“I know it’s not the same, but you’re family while you’re here,” she said at last when he released her shoulders and she finally let him go. All he could offer her was a broken smile and thanks, but that seemed to be all she required as she went back to the table and offered him the food, and the one sweet roll she had bought for herself, claiming that sweet things always made her feel better and therefore should do the same for him. After handing him the roll, she ran over to a small chest in the western corner of her room where she often put her toys, rummaging through it until she took out a fake bottom in the chest and pulling out a piece of paper carefully and handing it over to him. Talion glanced over the drawing and immediately knew who it was based on their resemblance.

 “Teithon drew at Celebrimbor’s request. I don’t have any memories of knowing Ada. But Teithon is good at what he does, perhaps if you described your family to him, he could get something close,” Anarien’s suggested softly, and a bit sheepishly.

“I will think on it. It seems we have more in common than we know,” Talion sighed and handed the piece of paper back to her, and with great care, she put it away. She offered to take him somewhere, anywhere he needed, but Talion told her there was nothing and for her to run off, have fun, and not worry about him.

Several hours had passed when Talion felt more like himself after thinking on everything that had happened to his in the last few days, and what Námo had said. Deciding that he would do what he could to keep Ost-in-Edhil safe. He’d have to keep a good eye on Celebrimbor, and for this Bearer of Gifts who was sure to meet with him. He had ventured to the council hall to speak with the elf lord but was told he was not there or at the forges, but at his home in the far end of the city. Telling Talion to look for a bridge at the southern edges and he would find Celebrimbor’s home there. It was a bit more difficult without the help of Anarien, but he had been learning to navigate Ost-in-Edhil rather well and came upon Celebrimbor’s home a lot sooner than he had expected.

The bridge was long and lead out into the single triangular shaped home just has he had been told. The villa was placed within a small, rocky outcrop, and indeed, the only way to it was by going over the bridge. In the green courtyard, he could see the tall Elf lord and Anarien with a bow. It appeared around her size and Talion wondered if Celebrimbor had made the bow for her, while he was clearly giving her instructions on how to hold herself, aim and fire, as he was crouched down on the ground next to where she stood, adjusting her body if need be, and helping her to place her hand in the proper manner on the bow to not hurt herself. There was a round target made of hay across the way, and several arrows laying off to the side of it and a couple scattered through the target. Anarien fired and missed the target.

“Your feet are too far apart, Anarien,” Talion called out to her, and she jumped a little before looking up at Celebrimbor who nodded in agreement. Shifting her stance, she nocked another arrow and fired after a deep breath. While she didn’t hit the centre of the target, she at least hit it and celebrated the small victory with a cheer.

“You have some skill with a bow?” the tall Elf lord asked and Talion nodded.

“I was a ranger before,” Talion responded, surprised when Celebrimbor reached for his own bow on the rack and he knew that it was Azkâr, an old gift from a Dwarf friend.

“I’d like to see,” a wicked smile crossed his lips, and he handed the bow to Talion, unknowing that he was already familiar with the bow. The weight, the feel of the wood, everything came back to Talion in an instant, and he quickly nocked an arrow and let it lose. Hitting the target in the centre without much effort. Celebrimbor voiced his surprise and Anarien pouted about it being unfair that a human should be a better archer than an Elf.

“You shoot with the precision of an Elf,” Celebrimbor said to him after sending Anarien for food, which seemed a common way to get her to leave but come back so that he could speak. Celebrimbor clearly knew the child had a sweet tooth, and it lead Talion to wonder if the Elf lord had his own cache from sending her off all the time. When he thought about it a little further, it was a good way to send her away, but guarantee that she would come back.

“I’ve had some practice, as I’ve said.”

“But men do not often shoot like that,” and the Elf lord sounded suspicious of him. “I’ve lived a great many years, and I’ve never seen a man perform archery with such skill that it reminded me of an Elf. Is your Gondor renown for such? I’ve yet to see even Númenóreans with such skill as age often renders them feeble before the chance is allowed.”

“Perhaps I am older than you,” the attempt for a joke was weak at best, but Talion found himself cornered, wishing that he had never made the shot. But it seemed to deflect the situation for the moment, as Celebrimbor eye practically rolled to the back of his head, and Talion noticed that some things never did change.

 “Then why, I wonder, are men so concerned with their deaths when they can outlive the Elves?” He smirked as he said it, but Talion could tell the Elf lord remained warry even though he said the words with such sarcasm.

“Then, I wonder, if perhaps the Elf is feeling his skills are threatened by a mere man?” Celebrimbor chuckled at the remark quietly.

 “The only Elf feeling that way is Anarien. You win for now, Talion. Perhaps I should have more faith in the skills of men.”

Talion released a sigh he hadn’t known he’d been holding and was relieved that Celebrimbor would just accept the skill he had. At least for now.

“Perhaps you and your skill in archery and the wilderness could be of use to me?” Celebrimbor started again after a moment, but never looking at Talion. Instead, he watched the bridge that Anarien would be crossing any moment now like a hawk.

“What would you have me do that an Elf could not?” Talion grinned when he saw the sideways glance that the Elf lord directed towards him.

 “It’s not that the Elves cannot, rather they will not,” and he continued when he saw the questioning look on Talion’s face,

“It is as I said to you days earlier, Anarien’s father, Anardîr was slain by Orc in the area years back. It is normally an uncommon event, but it does happen. It worries me that it has been happening with more frequency, leading me to believe they have made camp somewhere near here and are gathering numbers. The city used to be a fortress, which is why we have these high walls around it,” he gestured to the walls surrounding the city from across the bridge with an open palm up, “So the Elves do not concern themselves with it. They feel safe here, and indeed, they are. But I worry when that day will come to an end.”

“You would have me track them, I presume?” Talion looked to him and he nodded.

 “I would. Then perhaps lead a raiding party myself or have you take some Elves to deal with it. I feel that until I have proof of why these attacks are happening more frequently, I cannot rally anyone to do anything about it.”

“But, you are their lord.”

At that the Elf smiled sadly, “I am a smith before I am a lord, and I fear the people know this. I did not grow up expecting to rule, and once I renounced my father I knew that it was my fate to be only a craftsman. But fate is strange, and here I am now. I’ve done as well as I can, and I will continue to do so.”

Talion placed a hand on his companion’s shoulder, and the Elf lord looked over at him with a queer expression.

 “You’re not alone. I mean to help if I can,”

Celebrimbor smirked, “Then perhaps you may,” he said, hearing the slapping footsteps of Anarien and her puffing as she came back from the market with a few treats in her hands. Celebrimbor watched as she handed one to himself and Talion before running off to hand one to the maid cleaning up the mess of arrows she had made.

“I’ll have a sword and bow made and ready for you in two weeks’ time. I will not send it to the house, come here. I don’t want Anarien to follow you,” he said in a hushed whisper and Talion nodded, noticing Celebrimbor’s temperament changing as the child came back to them. They stayed there for a few more hours, helping Anarien with her archery before Celebrimbor announced to her that she should be heading home since the child had mentioned her mom had went to work earlier than normal, thus she would be home earlier.

“Why don’t you take her to the bathhouse,” he suggested, “I think she’d very much like to spend more time with you and relax.”

Anarien nodded and promised him she would take her mother there when she got home and even extended the offer to Talion, but Celebrimbor laughed and said to the child that he wouldn’t even be in the same room as them and Anarien seemed quite perplexed by this and Celebrimbor settled it with Haeroniel would explain it when she was older. Which Anarien scoffed at before beginning to lead Talion back to the house. Haeroniel was already waiting there, and they two girls went off to the bathhouse just as he suspected them too. Coming home way after sun down and laughing and smiling and he realised that was the first time he’d seen the two not arguing and together for a length of time beyond meals and the words Celebrimbor had said about Haeroniel wanting to spend more time with Anarien suddenly stood out to him more than it had in that moment. He had gone out to the market while the two were away and bought some simple foods for a small supper consisting of meats, cheeses and fruits. Although, simple Haeroniel expressed continuous thanks to him for getting her out of making supper that night. Talion thought it was nice to see Haeroniel in a more relax state, and it reminded him of the days where he would do little things to help Ioreth when she was exhausted from days of Dirhael making trouble. He mused at how he kept drawing comparisons to his own family, and then the quaint Elven family that allowed him to stay there. Remembering Anarien’s words clearly when she came over to him smiling with a piece of parchment that contained the writing of the Elves, mapped out for a child to learn, and Haeroniel sat between the two of them to teach them both to read, spending more time with Talion to teach him words and pronunciation.

‘I know it’s not the same, but you’re family while you’re here.’ The words echoed in his mind over and over again while they went over the writing for a couple hours.

Chapter Text

The weeks had passed uneventfully. Either Talion had been bored in the house while Anarien and Haeroniel took care of business, or he found himself being lead all over the city by the child. Talion enjoyed the monotony however, trying to not dwell on the fact that he was about to hunt down an Orc encampment. He looked over at his armour while walking down the hallway, which had laid in the same spot in Anarien’s room since arriving that first night with the child. It was strange to think that he had spent almost a month with the child and her mother since being sent back. That it had been a month since he had needed it last. Talion had not even bothered to move it into the new room he occupied in the Elves’ house.

It was a smaller room than Anarien’s and her mother had said that her and Anardîr had planned to use it for another child had her husband not passed away. It was strange to have spent the first night in there, but the feeling did not last long. He walked passed the armour for the time being, knowing that the Elf child was still within the house and would immediately ask questions and following him until they were answered. Talion found her down stairs, just like he thought he would. She was eating the breakfast that Haeroniel had made presumably before going off to work.

 “Do you want to go with me to Mirdaithrond?” Anarien asked in between bites, further stating that she wanted to collect some of the ore that was there. Talion shook his head as he sat down at the table with her. She had a plate ready for him and he took notice that the blunt butter knife was back, sitting on the table next to the butter as well as a small ornate wooden box,

“Why don’t you go see Celebrimbor at the forges?” he asked after taking a few bits of food, despite knowing that the Elf lord wouldn’t be there. He had hoped that it would allow for a bit of time for him to slip away, but Anarien already knew he wasn’t there, stating that the Elf lord had told her he had business to attend to today and that he would see her another time soon. Anarien looked dejected as she ate but muttered something about heading to Mirdaithrond by herself. Talion saw no issue with this and told her to be home before sun down. But he made sure to put emphasis on her being home before and not a moment after. Anarien rolled her eyes in a similar fashion to Celebrimbor, suspecting that she had learned the manner from him. Alive or dead, Celebrimbor did this often when he was annoyed and Talion couldn’t help but think it was so unbecoming of an Elf lord and would have to hide the smirk that followed. She stood up and took her plate to the sink to clean it later and returned to the table and pushed the small box Talion had seen closer towards him.

“It’s a gift,” Anarien smirked, and Talion was curious what could possibly be within. Opening it, he saw that there was a small knife that was clearly meant for shaving. The wooden handle had beautiful leaves carved into it, and the blade almost appeared to be made of silver.

“Since your beard keeps on growing,” she said with slight distain. Talion chuckled, remembering that she had been so perplexed just a couple days before when he had mentioned his beard was a bit overgrown. He had laughed even harder than when she asked in utter confusion.

“It grows? All the time?”

 Talion had noticed at that time, that Anarien really did have a hard time understanding that humans changed more often than the Elves, and while she was certainly curious she was still young enough to keep mentioning how she thought it was weird. Though she had pipped down when Talion had brought up how he had felt it was unnatural how little change there was in Elves.

“Thank you, Anarien,” he said at last, noticing the child had become oddly silent, as if worried he did not like it. “Did you and Celebrimbor make this?”

 “I helped,” she said sheepishly, “He did most of the work though.”

Talion grinned at her, “I expect you’ll make me one by yourself someday?” he encouraged her, delighting in the way her eyes twinkled.

“Of course I will! When will you use it?” she tilted her head towards the knife.

“I’ll use it after I clean up tonight.”

“So, does that mean I’ll see you without the hair on your face? Or will there still be some?” she eyed him carefully while asking her questions, “And then it grows back later anyways?”

Talion nodded again and Anarien shook her head, muttering something about not understanding this feat until she saw it several times. She left it at that however, stating that she wanted to get to Mirdaithrond, so she could have enough time to find what she wanted. Talion was not opposed to this, and watched her leave the house, waiting for her to disappear from his vison entirely before head back inside to begin putting on his armour. Talion decided to forgo the heavier pieces in favour of the lighter leathers considering he was scouting rather than defeating armies. With a sigh, he began put everything on swiftly, wanting nothing more than to get this over and done with.

He left the new Elven clothes at the home, choosing his older clothes but finding their roughness almost unfamiliar, and donned most of the clothes from when he had just been a ranger of Gondor, and not an ally to the Bright Lord. He no longer had his weapons, and he regretted this now as he tied the bloodies piece of fabric through his tattered belt instead of on the sheath of Acharn. As for the rest, he had no bothered to repair the items since arriving in Ost-in-Edhil and he noticed how torn and tattered everything was as he walked by one of the glass mirrors in the house. He ignored his own reflection and began the trek to Celebrimbor’s home after making sure Anarien wasn’t in the area one more time. 

He had become familiar with the way there after having Anarien guide him there so many times since their first meeting. Talion had become fairly familiar with the Elven city, but there were still areas that had hadn’t frequented. Most of which were on the western side of the city, as both Anarien and Celebrimbor lived on the eastern side. Thankfully, within the eastern side of the city, the Elves had grown used to Talion. They had stopped staring at him, and some had even spoken with him and were getting to know him as he would walk through the city. Today, he had to tell the people that he had a meeting with their lord so that he could politely decline their wanting to converse.  They understood, but he could hear them whispering about what the lord could want and if it had anything to do with the Orcs that had been in the area and how tension had been running higher than usual. Hopefully he could ease the peoples’ troubles and put an end to their suffering, Hopefully, he could help these people, unlike his own kin. This became almost a mantra in Talion’s mind, and he paid little to no attention to the beautiful city before him, rather listening to the words of the people: their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and Talion found himself wanting to protect all of these. Perhaps that was what Námo had wanted.

Celebrimbor stood outside him home, looking out at the bridge almost anxiously but appearing more at ease when Talion arrived. Greeting the man with a slight bow and a hand over his breast, just like he always did.

“I was worried I would see Anarien cross that bridge before you,” the Elf lord stated first.

“She said you already told her that you were too busy for her today,” Talion told Celebrimbor, quirking an eyebrow at the Elf lord while waiting for his response.

“This does not often stop Anarien but being stuck in a boring meeting will. She’s been forced to sit through many thanks to Arodon, so she tries to avoid them if possible.”

“And I presume this is what she thinks is going on?”

Celebrimbor smirked and nodded, “Seemed the best way. The child is stubborn, but I am not without my wits. I know how to keep her away if need be, and the need is great.”

Celebrimbor lead Talion into his home, but not for the first time. The triangular motif had become acquainted to Talion over the last couple weeks. But despite that, Talion had yet to see the home any further than this and doubted that he would for a while yet as Celebrimbor handed him the sword that he had promised. The craftmanship was unlike anything Talion had ever seen. Both light and strong, beautiful and deadly. Talion admired the work that went into the stout blade.

 “Fairimacil,” the Elf lord called the blade proudly as Talion admired it, “Blade of a Phantom. As you should be like on your mission.” Talion chuckled softly at the translation, muttering the words.

“Fitting,” under his breath, though the words held more meaning than Celebrimbor would understand. “Would you happen to have a dagger by chance?” Talion asked, sheathing the sword in the scabbard he was given, “Not to seem ungrateful, but a dagger might be best for stealth, whereas this sword would be best for groups.” Celebrimbor nodded, and handed him another blade. A dagger such as Talion had requested. Like Fairimacil in design other than being shorter and being marginally thinner.

“Hatheldhîn, the quiet blade,” Celebrimbor named the second, “I trust these will be sufficient in your task.”

It was a statement more than a question, but Talion nodded all the same, strapping the sword to his back, as well as the dagger. But not before removing the bloodied piece of cloth from his belt and wrapping it around the cover of the dagger. Celebrimbor said nothing, but Talion could hear him questioning the sentiment of the item.

“It belonged to my wife.” He left it at that and was pleased that the Elf lord did as well.

“Where is it I must go?” Talion asked quickly, not wanting to delve into this conversation once again.

“We’ve spotted Orcs in the northern fields of Eregion following along the river Sirannon,” Celebrimbor paused, seeing the familiar face of Arodon running up the stairs to his home. Talion was displeased to see the elf again but saw the worry in his eyes. “

My lord, I am sorry to interrupt your meeting but,” Arodon caught his breath while Celebrimbor persuaded him to continue. “There’s a large Orc raiding party that has been spotted from the northern Parth Eregion!”

“How many?” Talion demanded to know, readying himself to spill their blood.

“Some thirty or forty is what our scouts reported.”

“That’s not too bad,” Celebrimbor said while steeling himself for the possibility of joining in the battle as well.

“They’re heading for Mirdaithrond my lord, the Gwaith-i-Mírdain are not prepared for such forces.”

 Talion stopped hearing the words Arodon said after Mirdaithrond. Feeling his heart races, he pushed Arodon out of the way, intending to run but Celebrimbor grasped his arm firmly.

“What are you doing?” the Elf lord demanded, seeing the intense worry in Talion’s eyes.

“She’s out there,” he almost shouted, pulling his arm from the strong grasp forcefully, and darting out the house. It took Celebrimbor only a moment to realise who Talion was speaking of, and the last thing the ranger had heard was the Elf lord commanding that his armour and weapons be readied immediately as he dashed out.

He flew through the city, lungs burning all the while, stopping for no one or even offering an apology when he ran into someone. He quickly thought about his path, and where the gate to the city was, deeming it too far away, and worrying that he wouldn’t make it in time. Instead, Talion ran towards the walls. Climbing up the stone houses with ease to reach the top of the wall. Jumping down and continuing to run despite the protests of his knees from the landing while he crossed onto the main road that lead to the triangular structure that lead to the north. That was the only hint that he realised he had while dashing. He could see the disgusting figures of the Orcs coming into view, laughing and taunting in their cruel tongue.

Talion rushed behind one of the larger holly trees, hiding himself from the large numbers. While it was true that he had fought greater numbers in Mordor, he had always had the support of his Wraith companion for when one would come up behind him. Not only that however, but there was the fact that he couldn’t die, and would inevitably come back to haunt the Orcs made things considerably less tense, but the concern that Anarien was somewhere in the area almost brought him to panic.

Especially as he watched them stalk about, searching through the trees and behind the white rocks in the area. One of the Orcs was coming particularly close to the holly tree he was hiding behind, and with a deep breath, Talion drew Hatheldhîn, readying himself to silently kill the Orc. With lightning like speed, Talion sent the thin blade through the orc’s throat and the pathetic creature never made a sound. One by one he picked them off as he hid behind the rocks and holly trees, making a considerable dent in their numbers before finally getting caught.

“Man filth!” One of the Orcs yelled, and Talion found himself rolling his eyes much like the Elf lord as he had grown tired of this many years ago whilst locking blades with the Orc as he made his measly threats to Talion’s life. He had picked off about fifteen of them previously and counted that about ten remained as he fought through them savagely. Reliving the hate that he had felt towards these creatures during his time in Mordor. Slaughtering them utterly and brutalizing them savagely which caused the remainder to flee in fear, though not without making threats towards the Elves and the city. Threats of coming back with greater numbers and gutting him in particular. He might have chased them down to track their camp, but he held himself back.

Searching the trees and the rocks instead, much like the Orcs had, calling out Anarien’s name softly at first, but more loudly as time passed. His heart hurt, fearing for the worse when he had heard nothing for a long time while searching.

“Talion?”

 He heard her voice weakly coming from above. Talion looked up and saw the child hiding deep within the branches of a tall holly tree.

 “I’m here,” he called out to her, watching her clutch at the branches desperately. “Can you get down?” he asked, and she shook her head. Talion nodded, attempting to climb the tree himself, but finding that it couldn’t support his weight.

“Jump down,” he called out to her and watching her shake her head again, “I’ll catch you, don’t worry!” Talion tried smiling at her, to try and convince her. But the child wouldn’t move, saying nothing, but shaking her head. It took some more coaxing, but eventually he got her to hang down from the branch she was stuck on and promising her that he’d catch her over and over again.

Eventually, she let go, and Talion caught just as he had sworn. He was about to put her on the ground to inspect if she was hurt, but Anarien wrapped her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist, clinging to him as she began to sob wildly. Her voice faltering as she spoke in both the tongue of Westron and Sindarin. Talion caught only a few words but understood that the child was terrified and that the Orcs had seen her and were in fact hunting her right before Talion had shown up. Talion shushed her quietly, patting her back and rubbing small circles into it. “

You’re alright,” he whispered, “I’ve got you.” Talion stayed there and whispered to her, attempting to comfort her like he would have with Dirhael. Even when he saw the Elf lord and his men coming over the hill, he stood there holding onto her, telling her it was only Celebrimbor when she grasped onto him tighter.

 The Elf lord sprinted towards them, immediately questioning if she was alright, to which Talion nodded and telling Celebrimbor that she was just scared. The Elf lord nodded, reaching for the child.

 “Tolo sí gwinig,” he spoke softly to her, reaching for Anarien who only held onto Talion, tightening her grasp and refusing to leave. Although he said nothing, Talion noticed a flash of hurt run through Celebrimbor’s eyes, and he mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” to him and the Elf lord nodded.

“It is best we get her home,” he said at last, patting her back much like Talion did before running his fingers through her dark hair, “She’s seen enough for today.”

Talion nodded, following Celebrimbor and his men back to the city as Anarien clung to him. They walked in silence, and Anarien face never left its place in the crook of his neck. Talion wondered if she had fallen asleep at one point but heard her sniffling softly in his ear and rubbing her nose against his shoulder. Talion had been worried about the scolding she was to receive from Haeroniel, but it never came. Haeroniel squeezed them both, thanking them quietly for bringing Anarien home. Haeroniel finally pried Anarien from Talion, taking the small child to her room to sleep, then coming back to speak with Talion and Celebrimbor.

“Thank you both,” she said again, bowing deeply, “I was so afraid that,” she choked on the words and Celebrimbor stopped her.

 “She is fine, and that is what is important. Leave the business to the Orcs to myself and Talion. For now, focus on keeping that nightmares that are sure to follow at bay,” Celebrimbor said grimly, looking over to Talion who nodded. Haeroniel nodded and left the two to speak and going back up to Anarien’s room, unknowing of what to do.

“Did you see where they went?” Celebrimbor asked, his voice quiet but Talion could hear the rage behind it.

“They headed further north, but I admit to not following. I wanted to find Anarien first.”

“I’ll send a party out that way and we’ll slaughter them,” the Elf lord claimed behind gritted teeth.

 “Would you like me to ride out with them?” Talion asked, and Celebrimbor shook his head, “I think Anarien needs you more.”

With a sigh Talion argued, “She needs you too. Perhaps take her to the forges soon. Keep her fixed on staying in the city for a while. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about her escaping any time soon, but she will miss the outside.” Celebrimbor dipped his head, thinking about the words Talion had said and agreed with him.

“I was considering taking her as an apprentice later, but I suppose now might be the best time.”

“That would please her greatly.”

 Celebrimbor offered a grim smile, “I’ll let her have the time she needs to get passed the worst of this, then I will let her know.”

“A wise plan,” Talion approved of the decision and once again put his hand on the Elf lord’s shoulder, “I will help where I can,” he promised again, and Celebrimbor leaned an arm on the shorter man’s shoulder.

 “Already you’ve been a great help to Ost-in-Edhil. Elf children are few and far between these days, and Anarien is one of the few. Despite what the inhabitants may say, she would be missed dearly had something happened. You’re a good man Talion. I find myself wishing that you’ll stay in the city until the end of your days, friend.”

 A chuckle left Talion’s lips at his new title of being an Elf-Friend, “I suspect I’ll be around for a while yet.”

“Good, I look forward to it,” Celebrimbor said, breathing out a sigh but a light smile tugged at his lips.

 “I must be off. Take care of her, Talion,” and with that, the Elf lord turned and left the small house. Talion nodded, even though he knew Celebrimbor couldn’t see it. He strode up the stairs and peeked into Anarien’s room where Haeroniel sat at the edge of the child’s bed, holding her hand tightly. Looking behind at him when she had heard his steps, Haeroniel took one last look at her daughter, kissing her on the brows before gesturing Talion to speak with her, and for the second time tonight, Haeroniel thanked him countless times while in the hallway.

“Rest,” Talion finally said when the poor Elf mother was speaking in circles, “I’ll watch over her tonight, and so long as I am here.”

Haeroniel agreed that rest was in ordered, but keep speaking, just as stubborn as Anarien, but Talion listened to her never the less.

“Perhaps this is our calling,” Haeroniel said after a long pause, “Perhaps it is time we sail West.”

 Talion held his breath but hopped secretly that Haeroniel wasn’t contemplating leaving. She sighed, “No. No Anarien wouldn’t want that,” and Talion released the breath had had been holding.

“I want to go though, Talion,” Haeroniel continued, and he suspected that she was confiding with him something that she had been thinking of for a long time. “I want to see my husband. I want to see Anardîr. I want to go where I won’t have to worry about Anarien getting herself into trouble. But I have not yet heard my calling. So here I will stay until that day,” Haeroniel started to cry and started excused herself before Talion could offer any words of comfort to her. “I may,” she began again, “I may leave when Anarien becomes an adult, that way she has the choice to follow or not. I only hope I am permitted to enter,” Haeroniel then took her leave, letting Talion ponder the words that she had spoken and how their heartache was almost the same. But he couldn’t help the bitter thoughts that ran though his mind.

 ‘At least you still have Anarien. I’ve lost both my wife and son.’ Talion tried to shake those thoughts from his head but found it difficult. Walking back into Anarien’s room, he seated himself in the same place Haeroniel had been in previously, hearing Anarien weeping again and clutching at her hand.

“It’s alright,” he said again, and she wrapped herself around him again. Complaining quietly that his beard was scratching her face like it had earlier.

Talion chuckled, “Should I get rid of it now?” Anarien shook her head and said nothing as she cried a little bit more. Talion patted her back the same way he had when he had found her.

 “What was his name?” she asked in a shaky voice, “Your son?”

With a sigh, Talion answered, “Dirhael.”

“And your wife?”

“Ioreth.”

 “They’re nice names,” she quietly said, “Did Dirhael have a beard?” she pawed at his face, running her tiny fingers through it for the first time without making a strange face.

With a nod, Talion said, “He was beginning to, yes.” She stayed silent for a time, thinking over her words carefully.

 “Do you think they’d like me?”

“Why do you ask?” Talion quirked an eyebrow at the child, who looked embarrassed about asking the question.

“They wouldn’t hate me, would they?” she just rephrased the question, unwilling to tell him what exactly was going on in her head, though Talion had an idea.

“I think they would like you. Ioreth wanted a daughter, but got a son,” he said with a slight chortle, “She would have liked braiding your hair and making crowns of flowers.”

“Can you tell me more about them?” she asked, settling herself so that he could sit next to her, which he did, and she laid her head on his thigh while he played with her hair.

“What do you want to hear about?”

 “How about when you and Ioreth met? When did you fall in love?”

“Alright, I could do that I suppose,” Talion breathed another sigh, surprising himself at the ease at which he told his tale the Elf child. She had been the first person he had spoken to at any length since their deaths, and he found some peace in retelling his and Ioreth’s meeting. Finding that it cleared the foggy images in his mind that he had feared would leave him all together. Talion hadn’t finished the story before hearing Anarien breath in deeply, sound asleep. Unable to bear the thought of moving her when she had finally fallen asleep, Talion leaned against the hard wood, resting his head against his arm. It wouldn’t be the best sleep he had, but Talion swore that so long as Anarien was fine, then he’d make it through the night.

 

 

Chapter Text

The following morning was how Talion had expected it to be; waking up with a cramp in his neck and his arm feeling numb and lacking feeling. Anarien was upset when she woke, crying quietly in the hopes that she wouldn’t wake him. But he had heard and ran his fingers though her hair, trying to coax her. Anarien said nothing, and when he prompted her to speak the Elf child would stay silent.

“Come, let’s use that knife you made,” he smiled at her while he spoke the hushed words and scratching at his beard, purposely leaving out the Elf lord and praising her work on the item instead, “You did say that this has become rather unruly.”

 

Anarien reached out with her arms spread towards him when Talion stood, wishing for him to pick her up wordlessly. He did so, and she wrapped her arms and legs around him like she had the day before. Reminding him of Dirhael when he was but a small boy and terrified of the creatures he had heard lurked outside in Mordor. He adjusted her slightly as he thought of the memory fondly and then too her to the washroom; a plain and modest room in the house wrought of a simpler grey stone than the rest of the home with a simple, undecorated window that allowed for light to come in. He deposited Anarien on the small wooden stool in the centre of the of the room, used for when they would spill water over their heads and shoulders, scrubbing themselves clean before sitting in the metal tub that was further into the western corner of the room. She sat there, watching Talion as he poured the water from a silver pitcher into the small bowl of the same material that was always for the sole purposed of washing hands and faces. Reaching for the soap and wetting it before putting it on his face, Talion began to shave. The smell of birch and lavender assaulted his nose, a keen reminder that he had continuously forgotten to buy his own soap as he ran the knife down the side of his face and watching his reflection in the glass mimic him. The distraction worked as planned, as Anarien had stopped crying and was now watching him like a hawk as he went through the motions. Making a few remarks about the strange faces that he made during the process, and even a little while after when he was washing off the remaining soap from his face. She looked at him without the facial hair, appearing herself quite dumbfounded which made Talion chuckle.

‘Celebrimbor wasn’t the best smith to have ever existed for no reason,’ he thought to himself and admiring the closeness of the shave before turning back to Anarien.

“See?” he crouched down in front of her, “All gone. At least for now,” he smirked at her while she reached out and touched his cheek.

“Maybe I like the stubble as you called it after all. You look queer,” she said with her own strange, yet stern facial expression that made Talion sigh loudly, but in good humour.

“Never pleased with me, are you?” and Anarien shook her head with a tiny grin, giggling softly as she teased him further.

 “Well, let’s get breakfast then, my eternally displeased Elf Maiden.” Anarien rolled her eyes and watched as Talion started to exit the room. Once he was out in the hallway, she jumped onto his back. Talion caught her with ease, fixing her position so that she could wrap her arms around his neck more easily and resting her chin against his head.

“Take me to the kitchen. Your displeased Elf Maiden commands it.”

“You’re sounding more and more like Celebrimbor as the days pass,” this time Talion rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Are you should you haven’t been spending too much time with him?” Of course, the child shook her head in disagreement and firmly stated that there was no such possibility of such.

Haeroniel turned from where she had been cooking when she heard the pair coming from around the corner. Talion noticed that her green eyes were red and puffy, both from a lack of sleep and crying. Though a small smile graced her weary face at seeing her daughter in better spirits. Talion set Anarien down on her usual wooden chair in the dining area, and quickly went to assist Haeroniel with serving the food she had been making. Placing he eggs and bots of sausage on the table; first in front of Anarien, then Haeroniel’s, and lastly his own. The morning had looked promising when Anarien had been teasing him, but now they were eating in an awkward silence, which was only broken when Anarien finally spoke up, apologising for having gone out to her mother.

“It won’t happen again,” she promised, looking completely defeated behind the barely touched plate.

“I wouldn’t mind if you went out so long as you went through the gate, letting the guards know you’re going out there. This, and not going as far as you do.”

Anarien opened her mouth to protest, but Haeroniel cut her off, “Don’t lie Anarien, I know you wander off, and you wander far.”

With this the child closed her mouth and didn’t argue as she had intended originally.

 “But until everything has been dealt with, remain in the city. There are plenty of gardens for you to play in. And it would do you good to try and play with the other children.” At these words, Talion watched Anarien’s shoulders sink even further down as she muttered something under her breath that he, and her mother hadn’t managed to hear.

“What of Hadriel? Have you still not apologised to her? Or Amathion?”

 “They don’t like me Amya,” the child snapped, and Haeroniel grabbed her ear from her seat next to Anarien, “They don’t like being in trouble! Not every child in Ost-in-Edhil thrives on it as you do,” Haeroniel’s voice sounded exasperated again and was starting to rise in volume and ire as Talion assumed quickly that this, Hadriel and Amathion were just a few of the children who resided within the city.

“It isn’t just me and trouble, they- “Anarien started again and Haeroniel gave her a withering look and another sharp tug. Talion placed a hand on Anarien’s shoulder, wanting her to stop the arguing and diffuse the already tense situation before it boiled over.

 “Then what is it, Anarien, that makes it so hard for you all to get along? What is the problem?”

Talion braced himself for a full-blown war in the house, noticing that Anarien was beginning to get rather heated herself. But the child held her tongue, much to his surprise and Haeroniel released her ear at the lack of words. Seeming content that her daughter had not talked back, but completely missing the underlying hurt that was present in the way Anarien was holding onto herself.

The child pushed her plate forward, hardly touched in surrender as she stood up and walked out of the kitchen and the door leading outside. Slamming it on the way, making Talion cringe as he watched Haeroniel pitch the bridge of her thin nose, clearly trying to hold on to her anger and she began cleaning up the plate that Anarien had left behind. But it seemed she was unable to keep her anger in check, as she tossed the plate almost violently into the sink and exhaling slowly afterwards while mumbling an apology for her outburst. Talion assured her that it was quite alright, and that he had many of the same issues with his son in the past, attempting to sympathise with the clearly exhausted Elf woman. But he really couldn’t recall a time where Dirhael had made either himself nor Ioreth upset enough to begin throwing things.

“I just don’t know what to do with her. I say anything she doesn’t like, and she argues.”

“I’m uncertain, but I have never seen her interact with any children since coming here, and she seemed hurt at their mention. What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?” Talion allowed for her to confide with him if she so chose or deny him. He knew that he could get at least one part of the story from Anarien later if he needed, though maybe not today.

“Anarien snuck them out of the city. Over the walls, of course. Hadriel stayed with her, but Amathion got lost when they sprinted and neither one could find him. Instead of returning to the city and alerting a guard, they decided to look for him themselves. It was long after nightfall, and nobody knew where they were, as they had never seen them leave. It caused quite the ruckus as the guards had to mount a search party. Eventually, they were found. When scolded about the dangers of bringing her friends into the wilderness because they could get lost, Anarien argued with the guards that it was Amathion’s fault for not keeping up and that if he had, he would have never gotten lost and would have been home before sundown. She completely missed the reason why they were all in trouble. And when Hadriel and Amathion’s parents learned of their children’s adventure with Anarien their ears were longer after only an hour! Amathion was first to blame Anarien since she had done so to him, and Hadriel soon followed. Neither one was let out of their houses for months unless it was to help with their parents’ businesses. This was also not the first time she had them up to their ears in discipline. Anarien has never apologised for it either. If I am honest, I suspect that they have grown tired of her and of being in trouble. So, they see it best to just stay away from Anarien. They’ve avoided her for the last five or so years. The other children do not speak with her either. They don’t want to risk it.”

Talion nodded throughout the tale, though his heart felt heavy knowing that Anarien was very much alone. It was probably why she was always seeking attention from Celebrimbor, especially with how much work Haeroniel had. But it seemed that the children of Elves were more similar to human children than he had originally thought. They could be completely innocent, but also inexplicably cruel.

 “Tis true, children don’t want to face the wrath of their parents. Elves and humans seem no different in this manner,” Talion’s lip curled into a crooked smile.

“She’s still young. She has time to learn.” Haeroniel cut him off, “She’s old enough to know better,” she almost spat and Talion could tell by her tone that these issues had been building up for a long time indeed.

“She’s only seven? Perhaps? If my guess is correct?” He tried to laugh it off, but Haeroniel glared daggers at him and stole his voice.

“She’s almost twenty-three years old. Young for an Elf, yes, but she should still have more maturity about her than she has.” Talion was stunned, and he was certain that his face had shown it when Haeroniel added to the statement, “She’ll be full grown when she’s fifty. About the age of sixteen or so to your eyes if that puts things into perspective for you.”

 “I see,” Talion cleared his throat, “I can’t say I was expecting that, but I guess I didn’t know what to expect.”

Haeroniel sighed, taking a few deep breaths before speaking again. “Go to her,” she said at last, “I’m sure she’s run off to Celebrimbor.” Her face fell, but she excused herself to get ready for work before Talion could say anything more.
Talion took his leave, stepping outside the door and was surprised to see that Anarien had not left the house, but was in fact sitting on the side completely out of sight and throwing rocks into the dirt street. He joined her by her side but waited until he saw Haeroniel leave the house without noticing them, before speaking with her. He figured it was best to give the two some space, but he was also still reeling at the thought that she was older than his son had ever been.

“I thought you would have gone to Celebrimbor?” he said at last when thought her mother was far enough of a distance away as he sat down next to her on the hard, dry, dirt.

“I just wanted to stay home,” she tossed another rock as she said the words and immediately began picking for another one out of the dirt.

 “That’s very unlike you,” Talion pointed out and watched as she turned her head so that he couldn’t see her face.

“I’m sure that he would like to see you.” Anarien sighed, picking up another rock and throwing it. It landed near to the first one she had thrown.

 “He’s probably busy.”

 “And when has that stopped you?” Anarien grumbled, knowing that Talion had caught her with her own excuse. Grumbling something under her breath as she picked up another rock, this time flinging it with some force and Talion watched it break as it hit the wall adjacent from them.

 ‘Clearly, she got her love of throwing things from her mother,’ Talion thought with some of his own exasperation. He was getting a bit tired of dealing with the two angry Elves, but he had a pretty good idea of what was bothering her, and what the real issue was.

“If you want to avoid leaving the house for a while, because it is what feels safe to you, I understand and I won’t force you to leave,” he placed a hand on her shoulder much like he had earlier when he tried to stop her quarrel with Haeroniel, giving it a firm squeeze before tossing some of her hair behind her back, “But realise that you cannot hide forever. You will have to go out and face the world again. It is better to do it now, rather than later when it becomes more difficult.” She didn’t look at him, but she at least wasn’t trying to purposefully avoid his gaze any longer. Anarien bit down on her lip as she thought about his words and nodded to him and stating that she understood what he was trying to convey. They sat there for a spell, and Talion threw a few stones with her (though not nearly as hard to break them as she seemed to be).

“Hadriel and Amathion joined in with the other kids in teasing me,” Anarien finally spoke up, beginning to admit what Haeroniel had confronted her about earlier; having suspected that Talion was curious about her side of the story.

“After they got in trouble?”

She nodded.

“What do they tease you about?”

 Anarien groaned as she brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them, “They’re always saying that I am trying to replace Ada with Celebrimbor. I’m made fun of because of that alone by the normal kids. But the rich kids also tease me for not having a father and Amya being alone,” she hunched over more than she had already been, and it was the tiniest Talion had ever seen her.

“I don’t want to replace Ada,” she whimpered, sounding as though she was on the verge of tears again. “But I want to spend time with someone. I don’t have memories of Ada. I never knew him. All my closest memories of a similar feeling are with Celebrimbor. They don’t understand I barely see Amya and even when I do, she’s tired and there isn’t much time.” Anarien sniffled, and Talion leaned into her, hugging her shoulder tightly as she tried to sink further into herself to protect herself from the pain she was feeling.

“I’ve grown tired of it. Hadriel and Amathion aren’t worth it.” Talion sighed, rubbing her arm and keeping her close for a time before he spoke,

“They’ll understand someday that what they’ve said is unfair and cruel. But you needn’t be friends with them or spend any more time with them than you see fit.”

“Maybe,” Anarien huffed and sniffled again and Talion was certain she didn’t believe him, but at least she was listening.

“Does your mother know what they are saying?” he asked, thinking that Haeroniel would be much less critical of Anarien in regard to her not giving an apology if she knew what was actually going on.

 “It would hurt her too much to hear what they have to say about Ada. But she also thinks the same about Celebrimbor,” Anarien finally looked to him with a sad smile, “That I spend too much time with him. That adding “Celeb” to the beginning of my name is an insult to Ada. She doesn’t want me to spend time with him, but she doesn’t want me to run amok in the forests. She wants me to play safe with the other kids, but it would hurt her too much to know what they say. I love her, and she’s already hurting.”

Anarien spoke like an adult, and in this instance, he could see what Haeroniel meant about her being capable of a greater maturity than her physical self would depict. It rendered Talion silent for a time, and Anarien took this as a sign to continue.

 “Celebrimbor knows all of this. He’s heard the whispers of the kids, he knows how Amya feels about our relationship. I see it in how she’s become more critical of him and wants to avoid him more. I fear he will want to distance himself from me soon.”

Talion shook his head, and spoke in a firm tone of voice, “He won’t. He was so worried about you when he had learned you were out where the Orcs had been spotted. You’re important to him, so much so he wanted to ask you something when you were feeling a bit better.”

She looked up to him with furrowed brows, demanding without any words to tell her. Talion chuckled and ruffled the hair on top of her head, which she certainly hated and complained about him messing up her hair, even though Talion couldn’t see much of a difference. Maybe a couple hairs out of place at most.

“It is not my place to ask you for him, but he would not be willing to make such an offer if he wanted to put distance between you.”

 Even though Anarien was still trying to glare at him for the stunt with her hair, there was a hopeful look in her eyes that had been absent all morning. Talion wondered if she suspected what Celebrimbor had planned for her, or if she was without ideas.

“Are you sure,” Anarien asked sheepishly, looking more like a child again despite the grim sound of her voice. But Talion found that he preferred her this way with an optimistic innocence, rather than maturity that was unbefitting of her appearance.

“I couldn’t be more certain,” he grinned and Anarien beamed at him while standing up and dusting off the back of her legs.

“So, you do know what he’s going to ask, am I correct?”

“Yes, you’re not wrong,” Talion followed her in standing up and dusting himself off as well, but he looked down at her and saw that she was still rather unsure of herself. Her posture gave everything away, the way she was holding her arms close to her and around her body spoke in volumes.

“Do you want to race to his house then?” Talion slyly said, giving her a sideways glace and trying to appeal to her usual spontaneous attitude and preparing himself to be winded by the time they got to the Elf lord’s home.

“Not today,” she murmured, “I did enough running the other day. And I would beat you anyways,” her job at him would have been more humorous had he not imagined her running from the Orcs, crying in fright, remembering how she sobbed and clutched at him. He had to cheer her up, so he egged her on, even though it felt forced.

 “I don’t know about that,” he taunted her, “My legs are longer.”

“Give me another twenty years, and I’ll be taller than you. Not that it mattered the first time.”

 Talion chuckled and grinned brightly, “I’m almost as tall as Celebrimbor, surely you won’t pass him. Besides, how do you know you won’t be short for an Elf.”

Anarien gave an overdramatic sigh along with rolling her eyes, “I’d only have to jump over a few barrels and the race would be lost. You’re taller, but I am less likely to trip,” and as she said the words, her foot landed improperly on one of the rocks she had tossed, making her falter slightly at the unexpected unevenness of the ground. She caught herself, but not without Talion noticing.

 “Elven grace, huh?”

The glare he received was worth every insufferable eyeroll and the small punch to his arm. She had hit him with some force, enough to possibly leave a light bruise, but nothing more. “

None of that now,” he chided, and she huffed in aggravation, still glowering at him as he began walking away from her.

 “Come now, let us go see Celebrimbor. Race or no.” He had her riled up enough that he knew she would follow, though the manner in which she did so was in question. Anarien leaped onto his back like she had previously this morning, much to his surprise. He had half expected the Elf child to dart passed him.

“My delicate pride is wounded, so carry me human pet,” Anarien jabbed at his ribs with her feet after he had adjusted her, not unlike she would have if she were on a horse.

“I’m a pet now?”

 “Brought you home like I did that lynx kitten, so the answer is yes,” Anarien stated bluntly without missing a beat.

“Guess I am no better than a lynx kitten.”

 “Not by much.”

Talion sighed as he began walking with her on his back,

“You’re already on your way to be a smaller Celebrimbor,” he muttered.

 

They continued to batter much in the same manner all the way to the Elf lord’s home. Celebrimbor was stilling outside in the courtyard on an elegant bench, flipping through the dusty pages of a thick book. He took longer to notice them than Talion had expected. Or perhaps he just took his time in acknowledging them as he searched through one more of the pages, reading some of the flowing words within before Anarien decided he had ignored them long enough; she hopped off of Talion’s back and walked up to and greeted the Elf lord who gave her a warm smile. As he looked up, Talion could see in his eyes that Celebrimbor was still weary from the previous night, despite the manner in which he had said hello to Anarien and the way he was grinning. Somehow, the Elf lord looked older than before. They spoke at length in Sindarin and it sounded like she had said something like an apology to Celebrimbor, though Talion wasn’t sure. He was only going off of what her voice had sounded like in the Elvish tongue, and the way she wrapped her arms around Celebrimbor’s broad shoulders. The Elf lord answered her in a hushed tone, and Talion assumed he was trying to bring some comfort to the child as well as telling her that he was just happy that she was safe and sound. They spoke a little longer yet, but the conversation eventually died when Anarien questioned what it was that Celebrimbor had walked to talk to her about.

“Talion had said there was something you wished to ask me?” she tugged at his arm lightly, and Talion couldn’t help but think that it still looked diminished compared to all of her previous interactions with the Elf lord. With a pat on the head and a chuckle, Celebrimbor told her to run off and get some food for them all to have while they spoke. The way in which he had glanced at Talion while speaking was sombre and he knew the Elf lord wished to speak with him over matters of grave importance. His usual plan of not including Anarien, however, was thwarted when the child quietly declined with a simple, “I’m not hungry.”

 Celebrimbor’s brows furrowed at her words, first staring at Anarien and then glancing at Talion, who mouthed silently to him.

 ‘She doesn’t want to be alone.”

A sigh, and then a nod and Celebrimbor suggested that they come inside. He hid his frustration from the child, understanding why she was behaving that way, but Talion could sense that whatever the Elf lord had wanted to speak with him about was of great importance.

They were seated in the large room where Talion had been previously handed his new weapons the day before. Pulling out a chair at the small, round table for Anarien and asking her if she was certain she wasn’t hungry. “You barely touched your food this morning. At least eat something small,” Talion spoke up after she shook her head at Celebrimbor. Anarien pouted but agreed with a nod when both Talion and Celebrimbor were sending concerned stares, and mild scolds in her direction.

“I’ll have some bread then if you don’t mind.”

With that said, Celebrimbor asked one of the many servants who had been walking by to bring the bread, as well as some fruits for them to share. And within mere minutes, the food was laid upon the table and the bread Anarien had requested was placed in front of her. She was almost glaring at the bread, as if it had wronged her somehow, while she grabbed at a smaller piece and nibbled at it slowly. Celebrimbor made some small talk with Talion, but he watched Anarien like a hawk as she picked at the food. A smirk graced his face, one that could possibly be described as wicked as he taunted her.

“However do you believe you’ll become a smith if you don’t eat and keep up your strength?”

 They watched as Anarien began to glare daggers at them, looking more like her mother than Talion had ever realised.

“You need some meat on your bones if you plan on doing such work. You’ll need to be well fed if you plan on beginning your apprenticeship tomorrow.”

Anarien blinked a couple of times, seemingly processing what he had said to her, like she hadn’t heard him properly the first time and Talion couldn’t help the small snicker that escaped his throat as he watched the reaction.

“But,” Anarien started hesitantly, placing the bread back down on the copper plate, “You told me we would start when I was older,” her voice faltered nearer to the end of her statement, realising that she may have just delayed the training which she so desired and that Celebrimbor would suddenly go back on his word; though it was clear she had been perplexed enough to ask.

“I know you Anarien. You’ll stay in that house until you feel like the walls are closing in around you and you can no longer stand it. While you do so, you will let many an opportunity fly by. I will not allow such. Be sure to come here tomorrow after sun rise and we will begin. Be sure to eat, however,” he picked up the piece of bread that she had been biting at and held it in front of her and Anarien took it still with some reluctance, though it seemed less forced than before.

Talion could still see the unease in the way she moved and the way her eyes became increasingly more worried as she thought more about the prospect.

“But what of the Orcs? We’re going to Mirdaithrond, correct?”

 Talion looked to Celebrimbor after Anarien asked the question, looking for an answer himself as he knew there were certainly a few who had gotten away and had made threats all the while doing so.

“You needn’t worry,” the Elf lord said with a certain amount of calm that Talion was unsure about, “They were slaughtered in the night.”

The child didn’t appear convinced, pressing him further and asking, “You went back out after taking me home?” she glanced at him with a hard stare, one that Talion was happy to join her in and he was certain Celebrimbor had noticed.

“Yes, the remainder were dealt with,” he said the words to Anarien, but he had avoided Talion’s gaze all together. He considered that the Elf lord was lying to Anarien to get her out of the house and to comfort her. But he knew that if there were any Orcs in the area while they were there, Anarien would never trust the Elf lord again. Celebrimbor continued to assure her that everything would be fine until eventually the child agreed to meet him in the morning, but at his home. Refusing to leave for Mirdaithrond by herself. Talion finds this plan wise as he still scrutinises Celebrimbor, worried that he would unintentionally led the child into danger. But Anarien eventually grins, even with worry in her face, Talion could tell that she was excited to begin the apprenticeship. He sat there for the most part in silence as the finished their small meal, mostly thinking about how he would approach the subject with Celebrimbor without Anarien’s knowledge. Talion decided that it was best to come back to the Elf lord’s home after Anarien had been put to bed and discuss matters then.  

Talion was extra careful as he walked through the darkness surrounding the house, especially since Anarien hadn’t closed her door since she was still afraid. He peeked into her room, seeing that her breathing was levelled and soft signalling that she was deep in sleep. Thankfully, she had been eager to go to bed early, wanting to get an early start in the morning. Anarien had become more excited when they had arrived back at the house, almost talking both his and Haeroniel’s ears off until she had decided that she needed to clean up and go to bed. With the utmost caution, Talion creeped by and opened the wooden door outside, and closed it soundlessly to not wake up either one of the Elves in the house. He took a deep breath of the crisp night air and started off towards the home of the Elf lord, seeking the answers he had so desired from this afternoon. The path to Celebrimbor’s home was now instilled in his mind and he could find it without difficulty. Of all the places he had visited in Ost-in-Edhil, he knew this road best. Talion set off with haste, not wanting to waste the precious hours that he had and her certainly wanted to be back at the house before either Anarien or Haeroniel awoke.

Talion stepped through the courtyard fully prepared to knock on the Elf lord’s doors and wake him if need be.

“I thought you would show up,” Celebrimbor’s deep voice sounded right as he was about to pound his fist against the door. He was leaning against one of the smooth marble pillars a few steps away from the door, and Talion wondered how he had missed him.

“Did you really have you men slaughter those Orcs? Or were you just trying to get her to step out the house?” Talion got straight to the point, not wanting to play the game of sarcastic remarks he knew Celebrimbor was capable of. Celebrimbor glowered, his voice taking on the harshest tone he had heard. Never hearing him speak in such manner, even in Mordor.

“She isn’t yours to keep safe!”

Talion sighed at the jealousy dripping through his words, “Neither are you. Neither one of us is if you want to play games of rights,” he hadn’t meant to shout the words, but Talion squared his shoulders and stood behind them, “But you said it yourself, Anardîr isn’t here. While I may not know him, I know he’d want her safe and not have a care for who it was keeping her such.”

His words cut the Elf lord deep for he could see the pain written in his fair face as they cut through to his heart. “At least I am of Elf kind. I can protect her for longer than a life time,” Celebrimbor stood in front of him now, looming over him and boring holes into his head.

“And I’ll protect her so long as I am here, and as best I can! Why is this an issue?” Talion retorted, refusing to let himself be intimidated by the Elf lord, “You called me friend just the other day. If your word means so little in that instance, I hate to see what they are like in the long term.”

Celebrimbor almost snarled but said nothing and turned away from Talion with ire.

“Have I hit a nerve, oh Bright Lord?” he pushed Celebrimbor further, feeling the bitter sting of the Elf’s betrayal coming back to haunt him. His words meant nothing to Talion, not until he proved them. Though he had more to say, Talion held his tongue, for he could not be thrown out of Ost-in-Edhil. There was still so much more for him to do here.

“I’ve already lost everything I’ve ever had,” his voice broke down, softer as the rage he felt began to pass at the thought of everything he still had to do and why he was here. “I’ve lost my wife. My son. I couldn’t save them. I won’t fail another. Not while there’s breath in my body.”

Celebrimbor sighed, and Talion could hear that the Elf lord was still less than pleased with him after the scathing comments.

 “Finish off the Orcs that got away,” he said at last, confirming Talion’s suspicion about them remaining. “They left a trail. Should be easy enough for you to track, ranger,” the Elf said the words ‘skill’ and ‘ranger’ as if it had left a bad taste in his mouth and the entirety of the command was filled with contempt,

“Since you desire to protect her so.”

 “Is that what you were going to ask me when we arrived, and you couldn’t get Anarien to leave?”

 Celebrimbor nodded, answering his question.

“As you wish Bright Lord. I’ll be taking my leave to gather my weapons.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the Elf lord stopped him, extending his hand towards the bench he had been sitting on earlier and Talion could see that Hatheldhîn and Fairimacil were placed there with care.

 “I visited Haeroniel at the Bottomless Mug after you took your leave. She knows what I meant to ask you. And I would rather you not wake Anarien,” he answered Talion’s puzzled look before he could even ask it.

“How very kind of you,” Talion smarted off to him while picking up the weapons and fastening them to himself,

“Did you manage to get my leathers or armour from her while you were at it?” his sarcasm was deflected by Celebrimbor with ease.

“A man of your skill should have no need of that mockery of protection you call leather.”

 With a groan, Talion stomped away from the Elf lord, ‘I think I prefer him as a Wraith,’ he thought darkly, but remembered that a corporal Celebrimbor could at least be hit should it ever come to that.

Talion climbed the side of the Elven home with ease, mounting himself over the wall much as Anarien had when they first entered the city. Deciding it would be faster as he leaped down and hurriedly made his way towards where the area where he had previously slain the Orcs. Following the pathway that lead to Mirdaithrond seemed like the best idea, and indeed it proved fruitful. Even though the dark, Talion could see the shapes of the corpses of Orcs and the tree that Anarien had hid within. He stepped carefully, looking for the sunken earth the Orcs were sure to have made when they ran off to the north. Once the trail had been found, Talion followed the tracks and the broken branches and brambles that had been left in their wake. It took him longer than he would have liked due to the fog of night, but he at least found a set of prints that had been made by a particularly heavy Orc that made it a bit easier to follow. When he saw that branches from the holly trees had been cut with a crude axe, Talion knew he was getting close and proceeded with more caution as the smell of smoke invaded his nose. He crept up the tall, rocky, hill, keeping low as he saw the encampment come into view from underneath what was actually a cliff. Ducking behind one of the smooth white stones, Talion took a survey of the camp, counting at least twenty Orcs walking about, or just out in the open. But there was no telling how many were inside the tents or obstructed from his sight.

There were always Orcs hiding in the nooks and crannies of Mordor, and their camps were no different. Stealth was his best option, he looked for the best means down. Taking his time in planning, and then seeing a stay Orc leaving the bounds of the camp and almost below him.

A smirk spread across his lips, and he mumbled to himself, “Just like old times,” before jumping down from the ledge and slitting the creature’s throat silently. Talion took the precaution of hiding the body in the taller grass to keep his presence unknown for as long as possible as he hid behind the flimsy tents and white rocks. He counted at least nine throats that he had slit as he came inside one of the tents.

But a piece of paper, typical in the quality of Mordor, caught his attention on the crudely made desks. Talion picked up the flimsy paper with care, looking over his shoulders before reading the unexpected flowing and elegant handwriting.


            The plan is set. The wheels are placed, and we need only to put them in motion.

 

Although the writing was graceful, it was still written in Black Speech.

“This came from no Orc,” Talion murmured and dread tugged at his heart as he pocketed the scrap of paper.

“What’s this over here?” he heard one of the Orcs call out from behind the tent, and Talion knew immediately that they had found one of the bodies that he had left. Slinking down, Talion watched the shadows outside the tent gather together. He could pick off a couple, maybe three or four if he was quiet enough and the lined up perfectly for him, but there was no avoiding it. He could see the rest coming out, drawing their wicked blades and spouting curses and threats to their unseen foe. Talion peered out from the tent warily, and quickly guessed how many there were remaining, and he was thankful that there weren’t as many as he had previously thought. There were only fifteen or so remaining, and Talion guessed that he had taken out the greater portion of their numbers the day before. Sneaking out and behind one of them, Talion broke his neck, and quickly slit another’s throat before the rest were alerted to his presence.

“It’s the Târk from the other day!” one shouted while another threatened to put a maggot hole in his belly.

Talion drew Fairimacil, and clashed blades with the foul creatures. Taking them down one by one with ease as Fairimacil tore through the unrefined armour with more ease than he was used to, and the black blood stained the ground as the last of them fell. Talion cleaned the fetid blood from the blade on the rough canvas that made the tents. He checked the area for any more Orcs, but found none, all while looking for any more incriminating papers which also there was none. The camp was empty, and there were no Orcs to be seen. Just as the Elf lord had commanded. Now, there was truly nothing that Anarien had to fear. At the thought of the child, he looked to the sky and saw the beginning red line of the sun on the horizon and hurried back to the Elven city.

Chapter Text

 

Talion managed to sneak back into the house unnoticed as the sun started to creep over the stone window frames and into the house. Quickly, he removed the note from his breeches and took off the filthy, bloodied clothes. He slipped on a new pair of trousers before kicking the soiled garments under the bed and intending to throw them out once he knew Anarien wouldn’t be in the house. If he was anything like his previous attire, there was a mess about him. Looking down at the dried blood on his arms and chest had proved this.

In his mind, he kept telling himself that he had to make sure she had no idea that he had left during the night and he rushed to make sure that all the evidence would be left out of sight before she rose.

Talion mourned the loss of the grey Elven tunic and decided that he should have another made for him as he checked the halls for any sign of Anarien, dashing for the washroom once he realised that his path was clear with his red tunic in hand. He intended to change into it after washing off the dried blood from his skin. Rubbing at it roughly with the cold water that was left in the room and a cloth which left his skin on his arms, neck, and chest red and irritated.

He was able to rid himself of the dried black liquid and the scent of sweat before hearing Anarien toddling about in the corridor. It wasn’t the best job, but it was acceptable, so he slipped the red tunic over himself first, and then opened the door to the hall. He was immediately greeted by the small Elf child, who seemed to be a bit startled that the door had opened so suddenly. After her surprise died out, she yawned and rubbed at her still tired eyes with the back of her fist.

“You’re already awake?” Anarien asked with another yawn, “You’re never up before me.”

Talion nodded, walking back to his room and carefully picking up the note when Anarien yawned again and pocketing it. He was pleased that she either hadn’t noticed or hadn’t cared for she had asked nothing about it.

“I thought you might want me to take you to Celebrimbor. You still seemed worried the other day,” he offered, even though his body protested and wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest. He had to get the parchment to Celebrimbor.

“I would like that,” she said with a smile that made the idea of a few more hours of lost sleep more bearable. She yawned again, this time with a stretch and Talion smirked as he wondered when her nearly boundless energy would make itself known for she was normally wide awake by the time Talion would wake.

Talion followed her to the kitchen, taking notice straight away that Haeroniel was nowhere to be seen and he thought it quite odd as she was always the first to rise and was up and at least half way through making breakfast before either one of them decided to leave the comfort of the blankets. He looked over at Anarien, who appeared to be just as confused.

“Perhaps she is working late? Or early?” Talion suggested, stepping forwards and rummaging through the cabinets for something to make. Anarien didn’t seem convinced and stood there lost in her own thoughts for a time before Talion ushered her to sit down and insisting that she should eat.

“What would you like?” he asked, then listed off some of the things that he had found in their storage.

“Anything. Just something hardy since I am working with Celebrimbor,” Anarien answered him, and he gave a light affirmative hum remembering that the Elf Lord had told her to do such after finding out that she was refusing food.

He laid out some bread and fruits that had been picked the day before and placed them in front of Anarien first. Turning then to light the stove so that he could cook some of the sausage that remained before it spoiled.

“It is just unlike her,” Anarien said at last while Talion was in the middle of cooking.

“I’m sure she has her reasons,” and he was sure that her mother did, though even he was unsure of what they were. He still didn’t know Haeroniel as well as he would have liked. A sinking feeling would always appear in his gut when he remembered how Haeroniel spoke about her desires to sail to the Undying Lands and her missing company made him concerned that perhaps she was speaking with Celebrimbor, or whoever she needed to speak with to find her means to get there.

He contained a sigh and served the food to Anarien while convincing himself that Haeroniel was doing no such thing. He found himself unwilling to speak, and it appeared Anarien wasn’t in much of a mood to do so either as she silently ate at the food.

“Why were you up?” the child asked suddenly after finishing the last of her own meal. “You’re never awake before me.”

Talion sighed, for she had a point. She continued to hound him however, before he could even come up with an excuse.

“And what happened to your arm? It is bleeding a bit,” she inclined her chin. Looking down, he had noticed that there was indeed a small blood stain peering through the fabric. Although the deep red colour of his tunic masked the stain to come extent, it was not enough to keep Anarien from noticing. Talion cursed himself for missing that small detail and for being so hasty while washing.

She eyed him carefully and scornfully. But her glare dwindled when he said nothing, and she came to her own conclusion.

“You killed them last night, didn’t you?” she asked firmly.

“Aye, I did,” Talion admitted. He was caught, and there was no way around it.

“Why? We have city guards for that! That is their job! Or at least it should be,” she argued, getting upset, but fighting off tears as her little face became red.

“You’re not wrong but -”

“But what?” Anarien interrupted him with a shout and her eyes resembled Haeroniel when she would glare daggers. She sat there waiting for him to answer her as he cast his head down.

Talion knew he could pin the blame on Celebrimbor, tell her that it had been the Elf Lord who had commanded him to do so, but he didn’t want him to lose face with the child.

“You’re a bit too smart for your own good,” he said at last, looking at her softly.

 “I did what I had to do. I protected my home in the past, and I shall do the same here and now. You once said, ‘while it is not the same, we’re family,’ isn’t that right?” he asked her, and she nodded.

“It was my duty to protect my home. I was trained to track prey, fight, and survive. Despite all of it, I still failed my family in the past. I won’t fail this family.”

“But -” Anarien began to speak up again, but he wanted nothing more to do with the subject.

“Enough! Anarien!” Talion snapped at her, instantly regretting it as her eyes went wide and those tears she had been holding face fell. She hid her eyes from him and looked down at the wooden floor.

“You won’t fail this family,” she said softly after sniffling, “That’s all I wanted to say.”

Talion sighed again, standing up and taking both of their empty plates and placing them in the sink before walking to her side and kneeling on the floor next to her. Anarien looked over at him with red eyes, and then looked away almost instantly.

“I just don’t want you to die like Ada,” she chocked on the last words.

“If my death means that you and your mother will be safe, then my life is forfeit. But, that doesn’t mean that I am going to surrender myself willingly. I will fight as much as I am able so that I may come back here. Come back home,” he said whilst placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Promise?” she said looking back at him with red eyes.

Talion smiled, holding up his hand in a fist but with only his smallest finger lifted and Anarien gazed at him queerly, making him realise that the idea of a pinkie promise was a human idea.

“Lift your hand like mine,” he instructed and wrapped his little finger around her own and pulling slightly to show how their fingers did not easily separate.

“Its like a chain link. Not so easily broken,” she said while inspecting the action.

“Exactly, just like my promise to you,” he said and explained the premise of the action to her. She seemed contented with the idea and wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand opposite to the one that was still linked with his own. Eventually Anarien broke their linked fingers and wrapped her arms around his neck and shoulder. Talion patted her back and was pleased that he had diffuse the situation.

“Come along now,” he said and began standing back up, causing the child to let go of him, “We should be going. You’ve got an apprenticeship to get started. And we shouldn’t leave our Lord waiting.”

Anarien giggled, “He is rather impatient,” she teased Celebrimbor while hopping out of her seat, “I am sure you’ve noticed such?”

“He seems to be in a perpetual foul mood with me,” Talion chuckled, and he was glad to see that her good moral was returning, and she was acting more like her old self. “Do you think he’s jealous?”

“Maybe that’s why he’s always in a foul mood with you,” Anarien continued their bantering over the Elf Lord, “An Elf who is jealous of a human? Why, all of Ost-in-Edhil will be wondering what this human has that no Elf has.”

“A first for the Elves, I think. Jealously of the race of men,” he said and Anarien snickered.

“Perhaps you’re of higher status than a lynx kitten after all.”

“I would like to hope,” Talion said with a chortle and they stepped outside of the house. He watched some of the Elves walk by. They were either on their way to work or taking care of some morning errands he assumed.

“Come on!” Anarien shouted suddenly and darted out in front of him and running through the city and the people at full speed.

“If you wanted to race just say so!” Talion shouted in retort, sighing after the fact and running after her and keeping an eye on the dust she was kicking up while weaving through those passing by in the slowly waking city.

 

Talion was puffing for air a little less heavily than he had in the past when the Elf child had decided to race him through the city to the home of the Elf Lord. He mumbled something under his breath about her always testing the limits of his stamina while Celebrimbor stepped out from his door to greet them.

He spoke with Anarien briefly, asking her if she had eaten like he had commanded and smiling when she had nodded. Talion saw a bit of hesitation cross her face when Celebrimbor had asked her if she was ready to head to Mirdaithrond, but she steadied herself and nodded readily.

“Then we will be on our way,” Celebrimbor said, but then he looked over to Talion and acknowledged him for the first time this day, “Will you be joining us, Talion?”

Although there was a pleasant smile on his lips, Talion could see that the Elf Lord was worried and there was much that he wished to speak with Talion about.

“I shall,” Talion responded, pulling the note from his pocket, “I actually had an order for you, if you’re willing to look,” and Talion extended his hand with the note folded over to Celebrimbor. The Elf Lord took the parchment a little too apprehensively and unfolding it a bit too quickly causing Anarien to inquire as to what it said.

“I was just commissioning him for a bow. I realise it is more a skill of woodworking rather than blacksmithing, but I figured if he couldn’t make it, then perhaps he knew someone who could,” Talion covered for Celebrimbor as he watched the Elf’s bright grey blue eyes scan over the writing and his elegant brows furrowed.

“I see,” he said and cleared his throat, “There is much we have to discuss about this order. But first, let’s get you set up,” he said while patting Anarien’s head and then moved his hand to her shoulder and gave her a light push to walk.

“While Hinnordir gets this one fitted with gloves, an apron and such, we can get at least get started on your orders Talion,” Celebrimbor said.

“Maybe you should get better armour made as well,” Anarien suggested as they walked out of the courtyard, “Your leathers are so tattered Talion. They can’t offer that much protection.”

“I think I have enough skill to manage,” Talion smirked when the Elf Lord glared at him for using the words he’d spoken the previous night.

Anarien shook her head, “No, he needs armour. I’ll work on it with you!” she said and tugged on Celebrimbor’s sleeve as he forced himself to smile and agree to the making of the armour while Talion silently praised the child for getting him the armour he had sought so effortlessly, even if it was little bit late.

“I am assuming you mean to protect Ost-in-Edhil. You swear to do such, so long as you have breath in your body, correct?” Celebrimbor prodded him back.

“Well that armour would help keep me breathing,” Talion said.

“But those leathers won’t!” Anarien chimed in and frowned at Celebrimbor, “You have to make the armour!”

Celebrimbor muttered something so quiet even Anarien had missed it with her keen hearing but agreed all the same although he was clearly frustrated.

Talion wondered if the Elf child knew if Celebrimbor had been the one who had sent him out to kill the Orc or not. He suspected that she put two and two together when she looked over at him with a lopsided and sly grin that promised she was plotting and causing trouble.

Throughout their walk to Mirdaithrond they spoke in good spirits. Even Celebrimbor spoke with Talion, as well as making a few remarks about Anarien in revenge for her earlier teasing.

“I am not clumsy for an Elf!” she cried out and shoved Celebrimbor, but not with malice. The Elf Lord wasn’t phased at all, and she hadn’t managed to cause him to loss his footing despite all her efforts for the whole duration of their trek. In fact, she was pouting by the time they arrived, muttering under her breath that she would trip him and see the great and mighty Celebrimbor fall on his rear someday.

“Enough of that now,” the Elf Lord chuckled, pushing her shoulders again, “Go see Hinnordir!” and with that, the child ran off passed the tall bell tower at the entrance and down the stairs inside of one of the three towers that was closest to the path that they continued to walk down.

“That is the Gatehouse,” Celebrimbor explained while gesturing to the building that Anarien had dashed into, we keep a vast majority of our supplies in there so that the forges over there,” he said while extending his hand so that it was now facing south towards another tower.

“That one over there,” he now brought his hand to the last tower that was southern in direction as well, but further away from where they stood, making it more east within the triangular courtyard they now stood in, “That is the House of Guests. Should any smiths or craftsmen come here, they have a place to rest.”

Talion nodded, taking in the tall white towers and walls that surrounded them. Typical to Elven design, there were plenty of trees in the courtyard, and green grass surrounded the dirt paths. There were also a few benches around a beautiful gazebo that was between the forge tower and the guest house. The flowers looked as though they would bloom soon, as there were many unopened buds that seemed as though they were about to burst.

“What do you think that note means?” Talion asked at last, breathing in deep and enjoying the sweet smell the unopened flowers left in the air.

“I’m unsure,” Celebrimbor said after a moment of silence. “Something is amiss, but that was already known. Orcs occasionally come into this land, though it is not often and without so many numbers.”

“Perhaps,” Talion started with some hesitation, wondering if perhaps the Elf Lord would inquire as to where the idea came from, “Do you think Sauron has returned?”

Celebrimbor almost snorted, “Why would you think that?”

“Orcs don’t use Black Speech. Not entirely. Few words here and there. But that is a whole sentence. Small though it may be,” Talion remarked, though he didn’t disclose that he knew what the item had said.

“It is good to know that Haeroniel and Anarien taught you to read Tengwar enough so that you could figure that out,” the Elf Lord stated, “A good thing indeed. I had not known that about Orcs, but that begs the question of how you know?”

  Talion grimaced, for he assumed correctly that Celebrimbor would question him. He always did.

“I am a ranger after all,” he said, “I have had plenty of dealings with the Orcs. While I can’t say I have seen them write, the way they speak, as I have said, contains only words of Black Speech.”

Celebrimbor nodded, “I can’t say I have heard Orcs speak much at all. Generally, I kill them on sight.”

Talion chuckled softly, “I tend to use a bit more stealth, thus I tend to hear more.”

“A fair strategy,” the Elf Lord said, and Talion looked at him with furrowed brows, unused to receiving any sort of praise from him.

“If you should like,” Talion started again, leaning in closer to Celebrimbor and lowered his voice as he saw Anarien coming back up the stairs with another very tall but lanky, blonde Elf, whom he assumed was Hinnordir, “I shall explore the area surrounding Ost-in-Edhil and see if I can find more pieces to this puzzle.”

“I would like you to do so,” Celebrimbor said with a look that showed his approval, “When will you depart?”

“As soon as you finish that armour. I am fond of breathing as well as Ost-in-Edhil.”

Celebrimbor laughed heartily for the first time in Talion’s presence and he wondered if he had finally worked his way through the Elf Lord’s cold, and untrusting exterior.

“Then I suppose we should get started on that right away,” he grinned with delight at Talion before turning his attention to Anarien who was running up to him with a leather apron that was a bit too large for her that had a pair of gloves that looked as though they would fit as well as the apron did.

“There was nothing smaller,” Anarien said sheepishly when Celebrimbor quirked an eyebrow at her attire. He gave another soft chortle, placing his hand on her shoulder as he teased her.

“I should hope you will sprout up like a tree soon! I am not expecting a Mallorn out of you! But your continual short stature isn’t giving me much faith,” Celebrimbor teased Anarien whose face was completely red, and she began shouting about how she would get taller and to just give her another century.

“I jest, I jest,” Celebrimbor said at last, patting her shoulder and ushering her to the forge portal.

“You can rest in the guest house if you wish to, Talion,” Celebrimbor offered, “It appears you need some rest. We’ll come get you if you’re still resting by the time we’re done.” With that, he took Anarien down the stairs into the forges. She looked back once at Talion, who smiled and waved at her and she did the same before disappearing around a corner of a winding staircase.

Celebrimbor was right though; Talion could feel his body protesting again as it desired sleep above all else. Stepping over to the benches, he laid his body down on the cool stone and stared up at the sky for a moment. Thinking about what he had just gotten himself into and how he would go about looking for any clues. His knowledge on those who wrote in the Black Speech included only Sauron, the Black Hand, the Mouth, and Ologs. As to whether the Tower or the Hammer had been able to speak the foul tongue was unknown to him though he assumed that they could, given their position in the Dark Lord’s armies. But considering what the note had said, and the perfect penmanship, Talion thought Sauron himself was the most likely candidate.

Talion began planning the route that he would take around Eregion to search for anything that would give away the Dark Lord’s plans. Telling himself over and over again that he needed to find something, anything that he could, until he dozed off.

His slumber was restless for the thoughts of where to search for these signs plagued him after many years of turning up fruitless and the feeling that he was running out of time made his stomach churn so much so that he could feel bile rising to his throat.

He had to stop him, he had to! He couldn’t fail. Not again. He had to stop him, he had to! He couldn’t fail. Not again. He couldn’t lose them.

“Talion?”

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and although the touch was gentle, he awoke with a start. Breathing heavily with sweat dripping from his brow.

“Talion? Are you alright?” Anarien asked again, concern was rooted deeply in her bright blue eyes.

“I’m fine,” he said looking up at her before swinging his legs to one side of the bench and sitting. Wiping at the sweat on his face with his hands before resting his face in his palms. He groaned softly, rubbing at his face and eyes one more time before facing Anarien.

“How was training today?” he asked with a slight smirk as he noticed there was a dark smudge of coal on her brow and she seemed to have acquired more filth on the apron she wore than usual.

“I forged a blade by myself today. Or rather, I forged a blade that was to Celebrimbor’s standards by myself. I started grinding it, but it isn’t finished just yet,” she answered with a large grin and Talion’s heart swelled with pride as she sat down next to him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and squeezed her tightly.

“Do you need any leather or other materials for the grip?” he asked as he always would whenever she spoke of forging an item, regardless of whether it was up to Celebrimbor’s expectations or not. She finished her works whether the Elf Lord thought them worth her time or not, bringing what she could home to be used there, or blunting any weapons for the garrison to practice with.

Anarien shook her head, “I don’t need anything right now, but I will tell you should I require anything,” she looked up at the vines and branches entangled around the gazebo in front of them, admiring all the flowers that were in bloom and breathing in their scent as it was carried on the light spring breeze.

“I’m going to head home,” she said at last after some time had passed, “I was going to try and cook something for Amya before she gets home. Are you coming with me? Or did you have anything you needed to discuss with Lord Rúthui?”

“He’s in a bad mood I see,” Talion said with a grin, understanding more and more words in Sindarin then he had ever dared to dream after living over a hundred years with the Elves.

“He’s avoiding paperwork. Which means it is piling up. Meaning -”

“He’s in a bad mood,” Talion finished for Anarien, who giggled and nodded.

“Then I suppose I will take my leave of here as well,” Talion said, standing up and stretching. Causing his back and knees to groan and click from staying there for so long.

“Are you finally getting old on me?” Anarien teased, grabbing him by the arm and preparing to walk him as if he were a frail old man.

“I’ll start being old when you’re finally taller than me,” Talion harassed her back, still delighting in the fact that she never had made it to be as tall as she had once threatened to be and that she was in fact, a bit short for an Elf.

Anarien rolled her eyes and let go of his arm, already bored of his jokes and any and all jokes concerning her height (for they had been made for many years by Celebrimbor) and she grumbled for him to keep up as she began the walk home without him.

Talion laughed quietly to himself as he began to follow her. Once he had caught up to her, he found himself still taunting her a bit.

“You really need to find something else to harass me about beyond my age if you’re trying to get under my skin,” he said looking over at her and hearing her say something about beginning a search for something else.

But deep down he was happy that she made jokes about his age, or rather his agelessness. He had been in Ost-in-Edhil over a hundred years now and watched her grow from a small child to a young adult in the later, but still awkward stages of adolescence. Anarien hardly resembled the child he had known, for she was no longer as lanky as she had been as a child but instead with strong arms and legs from her work that made her appear a bit stout, even for an Elf, but especially so for an Elf Maiden, but this did not make her any less fair. Her hair was almost always pulled back into a single braid in the back of her head, held together at the base of her skull with a large silver clasp that Celebrimbor had made for her when she had come to the age of fifty. She had worn it since that day, along side with the leather apron that Talion had crafted in some spare time after taking the skill more seriously since he had the time and wanted to be more useful in the Elven city.

Had he been normal, he would have never lived to see her at this stage in her life. Even with his lie about being of Númenórean decent, he was treading on thin ice. Other than his hair and beard growing, his face and body hadn’t changed, and his ageless appearance brought great concern to Celebrimbor, Haeroniel, Arodon, and some of the other Elves that he was in constant contact with. Only Anarien seemed comfortable with his strange preservation. Talion pondered if she had realised the stories he told her of ‘The Traveller of Time and Space” had some truth behind it.

She had asked him for stories from his land when she would be ready for bed, and at first, he had plenty. But over the years, he ran out of any he had told Dirhael, or that his father had told him.

In a moment that he would call desperation, he started telling her about himself and Celebrimbor when he was a Wraith in Mordor. He hadn’t spoken out loud about all he had done, and never knew what those around him would think of him. Talion hiding his own tale within a fairy tale was a way he could gauge what Anarien thought of his deeds without directly telling her it was him, and for him to hear what she had to say about matters.

He doubted very much if he had told her that the stories were true, that she would believe him. Even now with how close they had become over the years. Even knowing that there was something queer about his unchanged appearance. She didn’t care about any of his oddities.

She affectionately called the stories, “The Tales of the Traveller of Time and Space and the Bright Lord” and she was very fond of those during the time he had told them to her before she drifted off into slumber.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Anarien broke his thoughts for the second time, holding onto his shoulder again and halting him from walking. Talion nodded, not realising that he had been lost in his own thoughts for so long that she had noticed.

“You just seem like you’re in a far-off land rather than here,” she said, and her voice was heavy with concern, “Is something on your mind?”

Talion nodded again, and insisted that he was fine, but he could tell that Anarien didn’t believe him. She let the matter go for the moment, but he knew that she would bring it up another time on another day when he was held captive in his mind.

“Did you ever find what you were looking for?” she asked when they came up to the door. Anarien already knew that Haeroniel was working late today, and thus spoke freely. Both the Elf mother and Celebrimbor remained ignorant the fact that Anarien knew Talion was searching for something that brought him close to Orcs in order to protect the city.

“No,” he breathed a sigh, walking through the door and allowing Anarien to follow before closing it behind them both.

“Is that what’s troubling you?” she asked while picking out some of the groceries that she had bought the day before and began preparing their meal, hoping that she would have it done just before Haeroniel came home.

“Yes, and no,” he said as he stood next to her, grabbing some of the vegetables that she had brought out for the stew she intended to make and began helping her cut them with one of the many knives she had brought home.

“So, yes, you are troubled you haven’t found what you’re looking for. What is this ‘and no’ that troubles you so?” she asked.

“That soon I won’t be trusted even if I found the information I needed. Celebrimbor, your mother, Arodon, and others all find me queer. And indeed, I am! As unchanged as I am,” he admitted his fear in confidence to Anarien. Her acceptance of this peculiarity of his was one of the few things that had kept him sane over the many years he shouldn’t have lived.

“Perhaps your being here and your queer state of being is more important than any of us know,” she said with a sad smile, “But for me, I am just glad you’re still here with me, and it is my hope you’ll be here for a long while more.”

Talion stared at her with a sad smile as she worked and again pondered how much she knew, or at least suspected.

“The world works in strange ways, I don’t question these matters. I cannot change them, nor prevent them, so I do not meddle and they will take their course however they wish,” she said, interrupting Talion before he could even ask what she was thinking.

“We have more power to change things than you know,” Talion said quietly, but either she didn’t hear him, or chose not to answer. He assumed the latter, for Haeroniel came in shortly after Anarien had let the conversation die. It was likely she did so that her mother wouldn’t inquire as to what they were talking about as she strode through the door, pleasantly surprised that there was food cooking and closed to being done.

She thanked them both, placing a kiss on Anarien’s head before retreating into the washroom to clean her hands and face. Once she was done, the two of them already had the food on the table.

“We are all going to Lord Celebrimbor’s home tomorrow,” Haeroniel announced once most of the food had been finished, “You need to wear formal clothes. His order, not mine, Anarien,” Haeroniel continued and cut Anarien off before she even had a chance to protest.

“It will be done,” Anarien replied, though she rolled her eyes slightly. It was almost impossible to get her to wear anything that lacked pants and Talion gave a slight chuckle at the fact.

“Why ever would I have to dress formal, Amya? It seems queer,” she said with a quirked eyebrow and Talion tried recalling the very few occasions where Anarien had to dress well. They were quite few and far between. So few in fact, that although Talion had been in Ost-in-Edhil over a century, he could count the occasions on a single hand.

“It’s a celebration,” Haeroniel answered with a knowing grin, though she did not share.

“Alright, keep your secrets then,” Anarien giggled, “I guess I will have to find out in the morning.”

“Tis naught but good news and celebration,” Haeroniel said while standing up, and she began to clean up the empty plates. Talion insisted that he would clean up, but she declined his help, saying to them both that she had appreciated their effort to make the food.

“You work as much as Celebrimbor does,” Anarien chided with a playful tone, “I’m surrounded by those who are obsessive with their work.”

“Thankfully it rubbed off on you, otherwise I’d have half completed knives throughout the kitchen!”

Talion laughed at their banter, and slowly they began to pick on each other in Sindarin while Anarien forced her way to the sink to help with the dirtied dishes. There was little to no room for him, so Talion departed into the washroom to take care of his beard for it had started to get unruly again. He thought that he too should look the part for this meeting with Celebrimbor. Haeroniel had said that it was all good news and celebrating, but in the pit of his stomach, Talion was worried.