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The Wedding of Hador and Gildis.

Chapter Text

(from the journal of Hathol, of the House of Marach.
midsummer day of the 414th year of the Sun
Barad Eithel.)

  The best thing we learned from the Elves was the art of writing. Of course it is very useful for sending messages, or writing lists, but the best part is that I may record my thoughts, no, unburden my mind, without troubling my poor wife. She will not last long now. Her heart was broken to miss the wedding, but I could not dispute with the chosen bride of my son. And, though I shall never admit this to my wife, I too would have chosen to wed here, in this dreamlike castle, this palace of wonders...
   But my poor wife ! I can hardly bear to look at her, she has shrunken to a horror of bone and sinew, her hair, her beautiful hair, so thin that the very veins on her scalp can be seen, it makes me choke with tears... She is so young, younger than I, she should be standing tall, laughing hearty and eating heartier, not shivering in her bed like one thrice her age !
My rage is as great as my grief, but what can we do ? Even the Elves... Poor Hador brought six of their finest surgeons, but they said, they told him, before ever they saw her, that they know nothing of the causes of the wasting sickness, nor aught that may be done. They keep her supplied with a cordial, which brings a faint glow to her cheeks, and a little vigour to her spirit, but she does not eat, less than a bird...
   It sometimes seems to me that we are being punished for our private scorn for our youngest, poor Maren, who seems to have the worst of everything. Where Hador is boisterous and charming, Maren is loud and annoying. Where Hador is a fine strapping man, healthy and vigorous, Maren is bony and wiry, and nervous as a squirrel. We feed him well, he works like three men, but no meat grows on his lanky frame, and the sleep of the exhausted gives him no respite from his groundless fear. She says he knows that we compare him unfavourably with Hador, and she may be right. But even his voice irritates me, though he merely offer me wine.
   I knew that he would not enjoy this place, he takes after his grandfather too much. Well, yes, and after me... But I am here, and now that I have seen...

   Oh the splendid towers of Barad Eithel ! I wish I were a bard, to write fitting words, the words of poetry. It is a place of poetry, and music, and song. I shall be haunted forever by the singing, and indeed I can see why Hador does not wish to return home. By the Hunter, I cannot blame him. There is nothing here as squalid as my own great House, the very hounds live as kings compared to us, it is shaming. Perhaps Hador is right, perhaps we could learn from these creatures, though he would probably strike me to hear me describe them so.

   I am dazzled and bewildered, I do not know what to say... They are all lovely, all young, tall, straight, slender, graceful, sweet voiced... I feel old, and I am not yet 46. My grandfather lived to 91. That is old... Or so we thought, all but great grandfather, who knew Elves.

   I asked one how old he was, but instead of answering he started telling me about the magic trees in the West. Magic trees. The awful thing is, they may be telling the truth, for all I know. It is certain that they have powers beyond our understanding ! My smiths have been asking about the silver there is everywhere here, on pillars ! Why, the very roof is covered with silver ! It is dazzling in the sunshine. They say it shines across the Ard-galen, that endless sea of grass, and guides the traveller. Wondrous !

   But when my smiths would learn how the silver was kept from blackening, the Elves spoke of substances in the earth that our people know nothing of, strange new metals, and powders of rock, which added to silver give it the power to withstand the actions of time. Oh we have so much to learn ! Hador was right, Malach was right, we must study the arts of these Elves, who know things that we do not yet know we lack.
   But my Hador is not one for gloating. When I told him of my thoughts on this matter, he was only glad that I might share his eagerness. Well, I would not go so far as eagerness, but surely our lives will be enriched by the grace of the Elves.

   My poor wife... It is a mercy that she is not here, though she would love the place, the people, the beautiful robes, especially this fine, no, splendid robe they gave me. It is green, the dark green of pines, with a mountain range embroidered in silver around the hem. Such charming flattery ! They made it just for me, in honour of the wedding of my son ! I shall look so grand, even Hador will stop sighing and saying "oh father !" like he does. But he should have worn the cat-skin. It has been in our family since before we came to Beleriand, it has always been worn by our chieftain, for wedlock, for mourning, and for high council. But no. "Oh father !" Well well, the robe they made for him, it is as fine as any the High King wears. I truth, I think it cut from the same cloth, that rich blue they wear, with embroidery of silver flowers, or rays of the sun, well, i do not know. My eyes are not what they were. On the hunt, all is well, but for close work... Even for this, I must stand up straight to see the feather move as it should. I do not like to admit such weakness, Hador might feel he must take up my load, but he is young, let him have his adventures here, there will be time for duty in due course. Indeed, when Gildis starts to bear children, he will find he is busy enough !

   This place ! The vast ceilings echo the sounds, but so sharply, I am truly astonished. When they sing all together, as they do daily, the rich depth of their music seems to take me outside myself, to melt away into the air like frost in sunlight. It moves all who hear it, the roughest of my troop sit still and quiet, while those with heart or good ears are often seen to shed tears. I myself... But what are we here for, after all ? What father could be unmoved to have his son wed the daughter, the lovely daughter, of his closest friend ? I told the High King, it is better than I dreamed possible, and he nodded slowly. He is a strange one; haunted, I'd say, but if old Malach spoke truly, the poor king has seen some awful things. His own brother drew a sword on him ! By the void... Of course, there are tales of such treachery among our own people, but few that ended without death, or at least bloodshed.    

   Yes, a patient fellow, Fingolfin. Though Hador laughed when I spoke my thought, but did not correct me. He is full of joy, as he should be, with such a lovely bride ! The High King has his own sister arranging matters for the ceremonies, they treat my Hador as though he were kin to them, close kin, at that. I am flattered, but still, as a father, and as a chieftain, I wonder what it is they wish of him. Even though lady Írimë, the king's sister, told me that there was a prophecy that one day our Houses would unite in blood, still I wonder... Unite in blood ? How could such a thing be ? No one knows if a child could be born from the blending of our kinds. We are so very different, for all they have eyes, noses, hands, feet... So too does the squirrel, but you would not...

   Well, but my thoughts spiral like the stairs of the Tower of Valar, with a new thought at every turn. What a tower ! There is writing on the stairs, in their old script, from the West, the words of the Song of Making, which they tell us brought the world into being. And sometimes when they sing it, in the great hall, I can almost believe it. The writing is so pretty, if you did not know that it was writing, it would look like waves, or a lowland forest, flowing across the uprights of the marble stairs like water in a stream. Hark at this poetry !

   They get you, in the end, their songs seep into your dreams, and even when wide awake, my mind drifts away as they sing, and I float like a hawk in the summer.

   But they are no dreamers, or not merely so. We were guided through the palace, what ! the city ! We were guided by the Steward, a quiet, thoughtful Elf, who looked older than most, though his face was as smooth as any newly come to manhood. I did not trouble to ask his age. But he showed us the storerooms, the wine cellars, barrels vast enough to drown a whole village, and shelf after shelf, room after room, of carefully sealed flagons, filled with sweet wine, and sweeter mead. My steward was very interested in their craft of sealing, such is the lot of the steward, and was led away after the tour, and has not been seen since ! I trust that he will not desert me in his eagerness to learn from the Elves, since I seem to have lost my favourite son to them. No, that is unfair, he has done nothing to bring me anger, nothing save love the Elves more than his own kind, more than his own family. But it is not his fault, old Malach would go on so, and when he found an eager listener at last in my Hador, well, the two were inseparable, until Malach broke his leg, and that was the last of his wandering. Poor old man. As I get older, I feel more pity for his lot, helpless in his chair for so long, after such a life.

   But the storerooms of Barad Eithel ! They could stand a seige of years. Years. I asked their steward, but he could not say how long they might hold out. He just said that he did not think that the Enemy would wait, that they would beat off attackers, or be destroyed. But they are wise, and far seeing, and they are prepared for as much as can be. A mere wedding feast will make little mark upon their hoard ! But their hoard is making its mark upon me, alas ! I was forced to cut a new hole in my belt. Before the wedding of my son. They are all eating sparingly to look their best, and I am eating like a starved hound. They laugh, and tell me that Hador ate thus when he came among them first. It may be that in our secret hearts we feel there is that in their food to make us more like them, to live forever, to be young forever... Or it may be that we are merely greedy. Well, I shall not be long here, and have only the plain food of my people to return to. Alas, I cannot even say that I miss our home cooking, for they have learned the tastes of Hador, which take after my own, and offer up their versions of my favourites, as fried cakes with fruit preserve, and pie... Oh the pies they make ! Pastry to melt your heart, and your strength ! They make cakes as we would bread, in an oven, and such cake ! Soft, crumbling and sweet, with fruit, or spices or syrups or preserves, hot cakes, cold cakes, cakes covered in nuts... My mouth waters at the memory, and the thought of supper.

   Barad Eithel... What a place. How can I tempt my son to return home ? I would advise him to stay, if I were anyone but his father. I feel that I ought to encourage him to remain, safer here than anywhere I could imagine, more comfortable, better fed, better armed, better clothed, all that they do, after their thousands of years of learning, is done better than we could do.

   But my son is taller !
   It makes me smile. It makes him smile. We have not spoken of it, except with our eyes, but we know...
   It would matter less if they did not value height so. For us, strength is the thing, but they seem to have gone past mere strength; they like a tall, elegant figure, like my Hador. It may be pitiful to invest so much in so little, but it is all we have, and I am grateful ! Well, but it may be that strength will be needed; if their 'shadow' is growing, there may be war, and then they will not look down on us so. Look down ! Ho, I shall make a jester yet !
   War... Yes, their stores of weapons are as vast and indeed glittering as all else here. Their swords are longer, of course ! And so much finer than ours. My smiths are as absent as my steward. Indeed, my 'court' has deserted me, scattered among the Elves, learning new things, leaving me alone with this book of empty pages, but a mind spilling over with bewildered new thoughts. I must be grateful to them even for this fine feather, and this smooth black ink, that does not dry or clot, but flows like the glittering words on the Tower.

   The feather, in truth, is from no bird that I have ever seen. They told me the name, but it is Elvish, there is no word in our tongue. It comes from the north, and is rare, but yields a goodly spread of writing feathers. I wonder if they will let me keep one ? For there is so much to write, and they fill their days, and mine ! with riding and dancing, singing and feasting. They work, as we do, but their work seems a part of the dance, a part of the song, they do not move about as we would, stumbling and grumbling, they flow, they float from task to task, the very smiths beat their hammers as though playing upon drums. And I am here, alone, blinded by a flood of new thoughts. My cleric would happily write these things for me, but I cannot share my thoughts with her. She would understand, but she would understand too well. I do not care to be so open with her, or with anyone ! I must think these things out for myself. Too much is at stake ! I must keep my family safe. I must keep my people safe. These Elves... What are they ?

   Well, we are here. We are learning from them. They have offered no threat of any kind. They give us gifts, marvellous gifts... The necklace they made for my dear wife will break her heart. Five years ago the sight of it on her long white throat would have broken my heart. But now, it breaks my heart to think of her trembling hand struggle to lift the almost weightless silver, and the pearls like raindrops on cobwebs. It is a thing of wonder. The stone that the king gave to my Hador, a green-blue elfstone, as large as a bird's egg, why that stone itself would be enough to move a small army !

   Armies, yes. They have given Hador colours, the colours of a lord of Elves. Not the green and silver of the House of Marach, but rayed like the Sun, with his spears as rays, on a white ground. His spears. They made him a sword that I wept to behold, the blade shimmering with the folding of the smithy, the pommel stone a sapphire scarcely less marvellous than the stone at his throat, and his lineage engraved on the scabbard. I must confess that my throat closed, and my heart surged with foolish pride to see my own name graven there.
   But Hador scarcely touches it, he prefers the spears, and now that I have seen him wield them, I cannot dispute his choice. In truth, and I write this with real pride, I dare not ! He would best me before I were within reach. He is fell, swift and deadly. I pity the foe to face him in wrath !

   But there are two to marry, and now I shall have another daughter. Who are the Elves ? Who can say ? But who is Gildis, the strangest child of my dear Geril, indeed, the strangest child I know. Well, of course she is older than my boy by two years, but he is so tall, so solid, he looks older than he is. Twenty three... I laugh, I blush, to recall myself at his age, head filled with naught but my horse, my hounds and my manhood. Well. But that was long ago...
   I believe that Hador has someone here, someone other than fair Gildis. He does not seem, he does not move like an untried boy. He has the polished shine of one who is loved and tended. It may be merely the influence of the Elves, it may be that he has a friend among the few Mortals here, or it may be that one among the Elves has taken a fancy to him. If such things can ever be, then my handsome boy is one to find out ! Malach spoke of rumours of such things, but I paid him little heed, alas ! I cannot ask the boy, it is his own business. But what of the maiden ? Who can say ? Such a quiet girl, so even-tempered, yet when she sings, you would believe her clad in unkempt skins, barefoot by the open fire, under the wild stars ! What a woman ! I think that whoever is smoothing the hair of my son will be disappointed once she has taken him to her bed !

   She takes after her mother, of course, but the mother has only a middling voice, and old Geril can hardly hold a note ! But the ways of breeding are unknown even to the Elves, who say that they hope to bequeath the best of their mood to their young, whatever that may mean. Well, if it be so, my grandchildren will be sweet and merry, quiet and wise, strong and tall, and handsome as Elves ! In truth, when they are together, she looks truly lovely, and they move among the Elves as though they were of the Eldar themselves. It warms my heart, and yet, at those times, he seems so far away from me that I wonder if he has ever been with me. This was always where he wished to be, curse that old man ! and now that he is here I feel forgotten, laid aside with the playthings of childhood, like the old wooden sword.