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Pelendur's Folly

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Elphir son of Imrahil, crown viscount of Dol Amroth, to Halbeleg son of Gilandil son of Halbarad, high lord of Arnor, with warmest greetings.

I hope that this letter finds you well, though that is far from certain in these dangerous days. News comes slowly from the North, and I must trust that life treats you gently after the losses your house suffered at Pelennor. How fares your father in his role as Steward of Arnor? I know neither he nor you thought to lead your people, much less take part in the governing of Gondor and Arnor reunited. You have an ally in the south, if an heir apparent's voice can be of service, and a welcoming ear for any burdens (personal or political) that may trouble you.

Have you heard news of the Perian's book? Frodo of the Nine Fingers is writing a record of his adventures, and much of our southern court is eager to read it. Would you like a copy, if I can lay my hands on one? Your company's adventures in the Ring War may rate some mention, for your deeds are closely linked with the Fellowship of the Ring. News of that record reminded me as well of our walks together, in the days after the coronation, when you told me of your sister and your home in the North. I fear I was churlish; I kept too many of my own stories to myself. For me the grief was still too near, and so I talked eagerly of my cousins, Faramir whom you knew and Boromir whom you did not, but I spoke little of their father. I would right that if I can.

You may already have heard stories about Denethor; you could hardly help it, being in Gondor after the War. And if you read the Perian's book, you are sure to read about the dark events in the Hallows as his kinsman Pippin experienced them. Pippin was a good sort, indomitable and brave to be sure, but he did not know Uncle before the darkness took hold. And they could not know what it means to fight a long defeat, as both you and I do. The Perian walked through Mordor, which requires valor to be sure – a stouter heart than beats in my chest! But to live for long decades under the shadow of the Mountain, that is a trial of a different sort, and it frays a man's soul.

Uncle was not an easy man to love, much less to like, even before the full force of war pressed down upon us. He was always severe, though those who knew him say he smiled more in the early days of his marriage. But his wife was dying before I was born, taken piecewise by a wasting disease, and Uncle was worn thin when I first met him as a child. Even so I could see the greatness in him, for he had a sharp mind and a fervent devotion to Gondor. Perhaps he loved Gondor too much, when he should have cared for all Middle-earth. I have heard that charge. But were it not for that devotion, your company would have come too late, and you would have found nothing but dust and ruin in the South. I saw Denethor behind closed doors, after his grief had been dulled by time but before the Shadow claimed its full price. I knew my uncle to have a keen wit and a dry humor, who enjoyed nothing more than a good game of chess and who loved his sons – and his nephews.

Writing this, I cannot help but imagine you reading this description. If I had told you this face to face, I am sure you would listen politely enough. After a while, though, I suspect you would remind me that even traitors might love their sons. And that is true enough. But Uncle was no traitor, truly, whatever other men might say of him. 

I remember one Mettarë afternoon, when my father and uncle drank brandy and played chess by the fire; I was ten at the time, and I had taken to sitting at his side so I might begin learning the art of rule. Just a few weeks earlier, Uncle had received word from an agent of his in Eriador. He had sought out news of a stranger, a foreign-born man who had served in Gondor some years before: the captain Thorongil. And his agent had traced that man back through Rohan, to a young man in Eriador. He bore your name, in fact, though Denethor thought that an alias. This Halbeleg rode often with the Sons of Elrond, and he sometimes wore a ring fashioned like "serpents twined that met / beneath a golden crown of flowers." I had sat taller in my chair at that; even as a child I recognized the Ring of Barahir, and knew its meaning.

My father asked Uncle what he would do, if Isildur's heir still truly lived, and for a moment Uncle said nothing. At last he set his drink down on the table between them, and he looked over at my father. "Pelendur's folly was folly," he said, "but it is still law, and I am charged with upholding it. I cannot bow to Isildur's heir while that decision stands, nor hand over Eärnur's crown – not without airtight proof." 

I committed those words to memory, for I had never heard Uncle speak disparagingly of Gondor's laws. Later, my father explained to me about the council, for my history lessons had not yet covered that incident. Gondor's king Ondoher had died heirless, and his steward Pelendur had been charged with choosing a successor. Your own forefather Arvedui made a claim to the throne as Isildur's heir and as husband to Ondoher's daughter. Pelendur, however, had rejected him, and had chosen instead our king Eärnil, a popular captain from the wars against Harad who had some small degree of Anárion's blood.

I thought Arvedui's first point had merit, and told my father as much. In their wild flight from Númenor, the Faithful's ships had been driven apart, and Isildur and Anárion's men had built Gondor together; it was Elendil's own folk who settled in the North. Certainly that early history gave Isildur's heir a claim to Gondor as well as Arnor? My father had smiled at my analysis, and had whispered to me (as between conspirators) that Uncle thought much the same! But Pelendur's decision, right or wrong, was the law of Gondor, and Uncle's first duty was to follow it. 

I know what Denethor said in the Hallows, how he flatly refused to bow to Isildur's heir. And I know how hard it must be to reconcile these two accounts. But you must remember, Halbeleg, at that point Denethor was half-mad with grief and despair. He had no great love of Thorongil, or of Mithrandir if it came to that; and he saw his House and his charge crumbling before him. Thinking on those final days, I am reminded of a game I used to play as a child, when my nanny took me down to the shore. I would grab sand from the beach, hold it tight in my fist, and then try to keep the ocean's wave from pulling it away. However hard I tried, I could not hold onto it. That failure nearly drove me to tears, when I was younger; and I only grasped at sand. 

I do not mean to argue against other records of those last days. I was not in the Hallows, and so I cannot speak to those moments as some can. Yet even in Gondor too many young men are becoming spoiled by peace, and they do not remember the narrow path our fathers walked before the King's return. Perhaps a new vantage point will help you understand my people better? At the least I feel relieved for having written it, and thank you for your time spent reading this letter.

Fare thee well, my friend, and may a star shine on your path. Write when you may.

Written at Dol Amroth on the 3rd of Nárië, the sixth year of the reign of Elessar Telcontar.


NB: The above document was found during restoration work of the Kamyanets-Podilskiy Castle, in what is now the Ukraine. While recovered while my father yet lived (exact date unknown), it was not released beyond the old U.S.S.R. until 1997, some time after that country was dissolved. It is odd that it should be found so far east, and I suspect (though I cannot confirm this) that the messenger was waylaid between Gondor and Eriador by brigands. He would certainly not be the first traveler attacked for the treasures of his saddlebags in the years after the War of the Ring. 

In any case my father makes no mention of this letter, or even of Halbeleg. Even so, I believe this missive to be authentic. The language and script is consistent with many documents from the Sibbesborg collection, and the reference to the Lay of Leithian (found also in that collection) supports this conclusion. I have translated it using the lexicon my father developed, and humbly submit it as a possible new source for the established history. – Christopher Tolkien