The rain was pouring down over Rivendell, filling the halls of the Last Homely House with the sound of rain drumming on the roof and rushing down towards the river. The steps outside that led down towards the bridge had become a miniature waterfall.
In the Hall of Fire, someone was singing a song that mingled with the sound of rain upon the roof to make a haunting complicated melody. Elladan was listening, and Elrohir was playing the harp, strings of notes like raindrops falling. Bilbo peered in the firelight to see if his friend the Dunadan was with them, but he was not, which probably meant that he had not yet returned to Rivendell.
Near the main door of the hall, Bilbo found the people he was looking for: Glorfindel and Erestor, engaged in playing a complicated game that involved a great number of finely carved counters on a board covered in green leather and marked with gold-embossed swirling patterns. As he arrived, Glorfindel gave a cry of triumph and Erestor buried his face in his hands.
“Are you winning, Glorfindel?” Bilbo asked politely.
“Not yet,” Glorfindel said, “But I have made a good start on it. The armies of Gondolin have poured into Numenorean lands!”
“You wait,” Erestor said, surveying the board with narrowed eyes. “The Numenorean revenge will be swift and deadly. Or it will once I can work out what to do about your cataphracts, anyway. What I need is a dragon or two. Or perhaps some Balrogs.”
“And so Númenor falls again into the hands of darkness!” Glorfindel said, laughing. “You can’t have Balrogs. They’ll eat all your infantry, and also I have had enough of Balrogs to last me several lifetimes.”
“And anyway you are the expert on Balrogs, and no doubt have worked out at least nine new ways to defeat them,” Erestor said. His hand hovered over the board for a moment, then he drew it back and bit his lip. “Also, Bilbo is the expert on dragons, so perhaps I had better not have any of those either, in case he decides to give you tips on defeating them!”
“Surely Gondolin and Númenor didn't both exist at the same time?” Bilbo said, examining the board with interest and feeling a little worried that he had got his notes in a jumble.
“Details!” Glorfindel said, with a magnificently dismissive wave. “Were you looking for me, or for Erestor, Bilbo?”
“Both of you, in fact,” Bilbo told them. “I’ve got stuck again on my translations. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the War of Wrath.”
Glorfindel shook his golden head. “I fear not,” he said. “That is after my time, or before it, depending on how you count.”
“And before mine,” Erestor said. “I am too young to remember the fall of Beleriand, as most people in Rivendell are, save for my antique friend here, and he missed the end of it. You want Elrond.”
“Antique?” Glorfindel exclaimed. “For that I shall sink your armies in the sea!”
“Well, you are antique,” Erestor said laughing. “A strange golden item from the depths of time, that’s you! Bilbo should translate you as a mathom, I think.”
“I wouldn’t dare!” Bilbo exclaimed, laughing too.
Glorfindel shook his golden head with a tragic expression of mock despair. “The young have no respect,” he said. “Not that you are as young as you make out, you whipper-snapper, and I have it upon good authority that Bilbo is the very oldest of his people! I think you will find Elrond at the bath-house, Bilbo.”
“Oh,” Bilbo said. “Well, perhaps I’d best not interrupt him, then.”
“He isn’t bathing,” Glorfindel said amused. “He is cleaning.”
Bilbo blinked. “Elrond is cleaning the bath-house?”
“Yes,” Glorfindel said tolerantly. “He likes to do it himself when he gets the chance.”
Erestor eyed Bilbo’s surprised face and smiled. “Perhaps not in quite the way you were thinking, Bilbo. Go and ask him about your translation, and you will see. When Elrond Halfelven has a washing-day, he does things very thoroughly. Why do you think it’s raining?”
The bath-house of Rivendell was set deep into the cliff face, adorned with fine carvings in the stone, and filled with a network of pools. Some were tiled with bright mosaics, and others lined with smooth bronze or simply cut into the face of the rock. There were pools as chill and clear as a stream from the mountains, some steaming hot, and those that were comfortably warm. Some of the carvings had a distinctly dwarvish look about them, and others were so old that you could only faintly see the shape of them where the water had worn away the detail.
It was not as magnificent as the bathhouses of the reborn Lonely Mountain, but Bilbo privately considered it rather more comfortable, as long as you avoided the baths that were built so that they could only be comfortably used by people very much taller than Bilbo.
Elrond was standing outside the bath-house in the pouring rain, wearing a plain brown tunic with the sleeves rolled up, his hair tied back, and the rain pouring down his face. Bilbo wrapped up in hood and cloak, almost did not recognise him until he came close. Clearly there was something very peculiar and Elven going on, and Bilbo intended to find out all about it if he could.
“Good afternoon, Master Elrond!” he said loudly, over the sound of drumming rain. “I have a question to ask you, but perhaps you are busy?” Elrond did not look busy, only wet, but you could never tell with Elves.
Elrond turned to him, dripping, and gave him a grin that made him suddenly look much younger and less grave than Elrond usually did. “I am almost done,” he said. “I will not be much longer. Can you wait, or would you rather go back indoors, Bilbo? You are less waterproof than I am. I would not want you to catch a cold.”
Bilbo was far too inquisitive to agree to that. “I have a hood and this cloak is a nice thick one,” he said. “I’ll wait with you, if I may?”
Elrond nodded and went back to standing quiet and dripping, and Bilbo waited too, feeling very damp and beginning to drip himself, although his hood was waxed and at least the rain was not terribly cold. He wondered what they were waiting for, and if when Elrond said ‘not much longer’ if he meant the same sort of ‘not much’ that Bilbo might have meant himself, or if they would still be standing here soaking wet with the rain drumming down on them when night fell, or for that matter, next week.
But then Elrond, through the rain, smiled, and lifted his hand, palm-up a little. “I think that is enough,” he said, and then some words that Bilbo did not catch that had an odd shuddering resonance to them, and made a rhythm that wove through the raindrops and danced with them. The rain began to slacken. But the sound of running water was getting louder, and behind it was a low rumbling sound. Bilbo looked around to try to see where it was coming from and finally realised it was from under his feet.
Water began to pour out through the carved stone arch of the door, clear and fierce as a mountain-stream in spate as Elrond chanted, with a glitter to it, as if of sand whirling in sunlight and Bilbo found himself standing in a stream. His feet were already wet, of course, but soon the water began to tug at his legs as it came surging from the door and away down the valley-side down into the meadows beside the river Bruinen. His feet were almost pulled out from under him by the force of it. Then Elrond’s song ended, and his long arm reached out and scooped him up onto the top of a weathered grey boulder that lay beside the path that was now a stream.
“Thank you!” Bilbo said. “I see that this way of going about things needs less elbow-grease than most, but it also seems somewhat perilous!”
“Elbow-grease?” Elrond asked, and laughed. He seemed to have no trouble standing in the swift stream at all, and the look on his face was both joyful and rather fiercer than Bilbo was used to seeing it.
“Scrubbing,” Bilbo explained, and mimed the action.
“Ah,” Elrond said, and smiled, though less fiercely this time. “This is quicker. And more fun, too, I imagine. A simple problem, simply solved. If only there were more of those in the world!”
The stream rushing from the steps of the bath-house was slowing, and the clouds had drawn away so that the late afternoon sun shone and glittered on the wet rock and the clear pools that the stream had left behind. The air smelled washed-clean, with that faint elusive scent behind it that Bilbo thought of as ‘smells like Elves’. It reminded him of something lost and precious that he had almost forgotten, from the long-ago days when all things had seemed new and filled with wonder.
He pulled off his wet hood and cloak and shook them out, and Elrond shook his head so that water flew in shining droplets from his hair and from his sleeves.
Bilbo regarded him doubtfully. “You still look very damp,” he said. “Are you sure you won’t catch a cold?”
“Middle-earth contains no end of possibilities, Master Baggins,” Elrond said, “So I am sure that is possible too, though fortunately so far I have escaped such troubles. I am more concerned about your wet feet. Let us go and get dry, and we will discuss this question of yours.”
Bilbo had dried his feet, and for good measure, Elrond had wrapped him in a large soft red towel before he went to change his own clothes.
“So what is this question that is so urgent that it brings an elderly hobbit out in the pouring rain?” Elrond said, when he returned, looking much more his usual dignified self in a long grey coat stitched with a pattern of curling ferns, to the room that Bilbo used as a kind of study. It had chairs suitable in size for the occasional visiting Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain as well as for Elves and for Bilbo himself, and a desk jumbled with notes and ink-bottles.
“Oh well, not urgent, exactly,” Bilbo said. “Well, not urgent at all, really, it was just that it came up as I was writing, and I wanted to ask someone about it before it went out of my mind again. Glorfindel and Erestor sent me to you. I wanted to ask what the War of Wrath was like. There’s almost nothing in the library about it.”
“It was a war,” Elrond said and shrugged. “You know what wars are like.”
“I know what a battle is like,” Bilbo corrected him. He thought about it. “One battle, anyway. It was terrifying and confusing. I wasn’t at my best during the Battle of Five Armies if I’m entirely honest with you. And I had a fearful headache afterwards.”
Elrond smiled. “That sounds about right. Imagine a very long series of battles strung together with boredom, pain, frustration, discomfort and occasionally, terror, for forty-two years, getting muddier and more unpleasant with every battle, until the end came, and all the armies came together, and finally it was all over. That’s the War of Wrath.”
“Oh that won’t do at all!” Bilbo said. “That sounds quite horrible: I’m sure people wouldn’t think that was a good thing to read about.”
“Ah, but you didn’t ask for something that would be good to read about, Master Baggins!" Elrond said, looking much amused. " You asked what it was like. I’m sure you don’t need me to help you weave entertaining words; you can do that for yourself perfectly well.”
“I’ve been trying my best,” Bilbo said, feeling very much flattered. “But I wouldn’t want to get things wrong, after all.”
Elrond leaned back and looked at him thoughtfully. Then he nodded seriously, and began to talk.
“The Hosts of Valinor arrived in the white ships of the Teleri, led by Eönwë, Herald of the Valar, and they were divided in two parts: the Vanyar, the people of Ingwë, and the Noldor, led by Finarfin son of Finwë. But the Teleri themselves did not land in Middle-earth or take part in the battles. The hosts of Valinor landed, and fought their way north to Angband through legions of orcs. That was a very slow and tedious affair, since there were so many orcs, and Balrogs, and dragons. The Balrogs were destroyed, and most of the dragons too, and the Enemy was thrown down. Those are the important facts: I’m sure you can make something of them.” It seemed that Elrond considered the details unimportant.
“What about the people who were left in Beleriand before the Hosts arrived? What did they do?”
“The Men of Beleriand, the Three Houses of the Elf-friends, fought for the Valar very heroically, those who were left of them. They had a great number of wrongs to avenge. You have read of the cruel fate of Baragund and Barahir, of Húrin and Huor, Bilbo.”
“I’ll have to look up Baragund,” Bilbo admitted, scribbling. “I can’t place him just for a moment. But I remember poor old Húrin, stuck a prisoner in his chair all those years and the terrible curse upon his children of course. I’ve got lots of notes about him and I’ve translated quite a goodly chunk of the Narn i Hîn Húrin now.”
“Good,” Elrond said. “Húrin was a great hero, and should not be forgotten. But there were a great number of Men on the side of the Enemy too, I am sorry to say, and there are Elves who have never forgiven that. I am afraid that Elves often do consider Men as all one great crowd, and do not consider that Men are quite as varied as they are themselves,” Elrond shook his head sadly.
“And the Elves?” Bilbo asked, hoping that Elrond might be persuaded to tell him a little more if coaxed. “You were there, and the last two of Fëanor’s sons, they who set out to win their father’s Silmarils back from the Enemy right at the beginning of the tale, and Gil-galad the king and Círdan of the Havens.. Oh, and Celebrimbor, and Galadriel and Celeborn. What did the Elves of Middle-earth do?”
“I was not counted an Elf, in those days,” Elrond corrected him. “We are half-elven, I and my brother Elros. That was before we chose our kindreds. He chose Men, and I chose the Elves, after the war. But yes, the Elves of Beleriand fought too, those who were left. They were mingled with the Houses of the Elf-friends by then anyway, since the Enemy had destroyed almost everything else... But I did not see the whole war myself, of course: I was thirteen years old when it began, and in any case the war spread across the whole of Beleriand and beyond. No one person saw all of it. I saw the end: the coming of the Winged Dragons that drove the host back, and the fall of Ancalagon the Black that broke the mountain of Thangorodrim. There is, I think, a description of the battle with Ancalagon and Morgoth’s capture written down by Pengolodh of Gondolin among the books of Rivendell.”
“Yes, I found that. I’ve translated it already, if you’d like to take a look?” Bilbo said, and shuffled the relevant section from his notes to hand to Elrond. “But it’s so short! I was hoping you might be able to tell me a bit more about it. Flesh it out a bit, in a manner of speaking.”
Elrond read the translation and nodded. “Fairly written,” he said. “But I fear I can tell you very little more, Master Baggins. I was not there to see Morgoth taken captive. I was outside Angband, on the plain. That’s the problem with fighting a war rather than reading about it: you often miss the parts that are good to read about later... I did say war was dull! I was not much older than you were at the Battle of Five Armies, then, and there were far more important people in charge of things.”
“But,” Bilbo said, puzzled, “Surely it was your father Eärendil who took the message to summon the host of Valinor, and then slew the great dragon and brought the war to an end? Surely nobody is more important to the story than him? There should be a great tale of him, to match Húrin’s, and the song of Lúthien, surely?”
Elrond looked sharply at him, clearly startled. Then he smiled. “When you first came here, Master Baggins, I thought I was offering refuge to an elderly adventurer in his last days. I had thought my library might offer you a little gentle entertainment for a while. But you have gone beyond my thought, and proved to be a scholar of rare quality and persistence. These are not matters that I am accustomed to being questioned about, and yet, in these days of failing peace and growing shadow, it is a joy to see a mind quest so keenly after old tales and half-lost knowledge, and seek to renew them as you are doing.”
Bilbo, a little embarrassed but enormously flattered, both at being called a scholar, and at the proud, if rather disreputable word ‘adventurer’, got up and bowed politely. “I’m pleased you take my questioning so kindly, Master Elrond,” he said. “Not least because it allows this inquisitive old hobbit a chance to put a question twice! Is there not more to say of Eärendil and his quest, and his battle with the Dragon?”
“I don’t know,” Elrond said. “I have not spoken with my father since I was six years old. All I know of his battle against the Dragon is what Elros and I saw from the ground, miles away. I think Pengolodh’s account came from someone who had a closer view. My father and mother were forbidden to walk again among Elves or Men in the Outer Lands. Eärendil fought the dragon in the sky, and then he returned to the heavens as a star, and that is all I can tell you.”
“Oh!” Bilbo exclaimed. “But that’s terribly sad!”
“It was all a very long time ago,” Elrond said, his face distant and thoughtful. “So long ago that sometimes it seems a dream. My father is a star, and my mother a bird, and my brother Elros died a king of Men, so long ago that Men wonder now if he was ever real at all, or only a distant myth of kingship made up by Men who have themselves been dead so long that their own names are forgotten.”
The room was quiet, then, but outside the window in an untidy sunlit tangle of climbing roses, a blackbird was singing.
“And so it pleases me that you are calling all these old things back out of distant memory,” Elrond said. “For the days march down into darkness, and it may be that the end of the Elves of Middle-earth approaches at last, and all their memory will be lost. This time, there will come no help from beyond the Sea. It is good to recall that once, Eärendil was more than a far-off star. It brings me hope to remember him. I see his face now in memory, as clear as I see you, and though he may be far away, he still brings us light.”
“But after the Dragon, the tale goes on thus: the land of Beleriand had fallen into the Sea. Some people had hoped that Beleriand might be saved, but by the end of the war that was impossible. The sea had come rushing in, the rivers were all broken and the land itself rent asunder. Beleriand was ruined, and Angband was broken, and when at last Morgoth’s thralls crept from the ruin of Angband, they looked out on a world that was utterly changed from all that they had known. And then Eönwë summoned the Elves of Beleriand to leave Middle-earth and sail into the West.”
“But you and Gil-galad the king didn’t leave?” Bilbo said, hastily making notes.
“No,” Elrond said, without elaborating. He went quiet for a time, listening to the blackbird’s clear song, and Bilbo did not quite have the nerve to put the question again in a different way.
The blackbird trilled one last time, and flew away. Elrond looked at Bilbo, and his fair face creased in a thoughtful frown. “But after that there is another matter that you should make sure to write down, too. When Morgoth was taken, the Silmarils were taken with him. And the Sons of Fëanor sent a message to Eönwë, demanding the Silmarils be returned to them. Eönwë refused.”
“Yes, I know about that bit,” Bilbo said. “And the sons of Fëanor killed the guards and stole the Silmarils and fled with them. Gildor told me that, years ago, when I went to visit him in the Tower Hills, and it’s in Pengolodh’s account too, look, here, on the second page of my translation.”
Elrond shook his head impatiently. “Yes, but there is more,” he said. “Eönwë refused them the Silmarils and said that Maedhros and Maglor must return to Valinor and submit to judgement for their crimes against Doriath and the assault upon their kin at the Havens of Sirion. Only by the judgement of the Valar in Valinor would Eönwë yield the jewels from his charge. Then Maglor desired to submit, for his heart was sorrowful and he said: ‘The oath says not that we may not bide our time, and it may be that in Valinor all shall be forgiven and forgot, and we shall come into our own in peace.’
"But Maedhros answered that if they returned to Aman but the favour of the Valar were withheld from them, then their oath would still remain, but its fulfilment be beyond all hope; and he said: 'Who can tell to what dreadful doom we shall come, if we disobey the Powers in their own land, or purpose ever to bring war again into their holy realm?'
"Yet Maglor still held back, saying: 'If Manwë and Varda themselves deny the fulfilment of an oath to which we named them in witness, is it not made void?'
"And Maedhros answered: 'But how shall our voices reach to Ilúvatar beyond the Circles of the World? And by Ilúvatar we swore in our madness, and called the Everlasting Darkness upon us, if we kept not our word. Who shall release us?'
'If none can release us,' said Maglor, 'then indeed the Everlasting Darkness shall be our lot, whether we keep our oath or break it; but less evil shall we do in the breaking.' But he yielded at last to the will of Maedhros.
Elrond looked over at Bilbo. “Have you got all that? No matter. Lend me your pen and notebook for a moment, I will write it down for you. So then they went out to take the Silmarils, as you know, and afterwards, Eönwë let them go.
“Each of them took to himself a Silmaril, for they said: 'Since one is lost to us, and but two remain, and we two alone of our brothers, so is it plain that fate would have us share the heirlooms of our father.'
“But the jewel burned the hand of Maedhros in pain unbearable; and he perceived that it was as Eönwë had said, and that his right had become void, and that his oath was vain. And being in anguish and despair he cast himself into a gaping chasm filled with fire, and so ended; and the Silmaril that he bore was taken into the bosom of the Earth. But Maglor could not endure the pain with which the Silmaril tormented him; and he cast it at last into the Sea, and thereafter he wandered upon the shores, singing in pain and regret beside the waves. For Maglor was mighty among the singers of old, named only after Daeron of Doriath; but he came never back among the people of the Elves.”
Bilbo blinked at him. “I thought that the sons of Fëanor had vanished out of history, and nothing was known of their fate?”
“There are a few small details here and there that Pengolodh may have missed,” Elrond told him, dipping the pen again and writing in the notebook in strong clear letters that were very different to Bilbo’s own spidery script.
“That is a great deal of direct speech that you are writing down there, Master Elrond, from two people who vanished out of history over six thousand years ago,” Bilbo said, watching him thoughtfully.
“Yes,” Elrond said, still writing.
“And I can’t help but notice — call me picky if you like, you wouldn’t be the first by a long shot — that that last bit about them each taking one of the heirlooms of their father, was the two brothers talking after they had stolen the Silmarils from the Host of the Valar and fled.”
“Yes,” Elrond said again. He finished the sentence and checked it through.
“It was Maglor who took in the... the children of Elwing, after the sons of Fëanor ruined the Havens of Sirion and Elwing fled to find Eärendil, wasn’t it?” Bilbo asked thoughtfully.
“Yes,” Elrond said a third time, putting down the pen and returning Bilbo’s notebook to him. “And though you might not think it, he loved us, and we came to love him too, and make sure you put that in too, Bilbo Baggins, because the story is not complete without it, any more than it is complete without the Evening Star.”
“But he came never back among the people of the Elves,” Bilbo read from his notebook and smiled at Elrond. “But you aren’t an Elf, are you? You’re half-elven.”
“I am counted among the Elves by the Valar,” Elrond said. “But I myself have never thought of myself as anyone but Elrond. And neither has Maglor. But there’s no need to put that in your book.”