Never before had the mood in the dance hall of the King’s Kastle been more somber than it was now. Even with the blazing fires that were not often lit, the room was still dreary and cold. Before leaving for the night as Thranduil had instructed, those who worked in the bar had rearranged the room and brought a few of the sofas down from the inn that was above the dance hall.
Oropher had taken care of assembling everyone on the list that Erestor had made that morning. Although Glorfindel had his doubts that everyone would be assembled as Oropher had promised, there they were. All of them, just as he had said they would be.
Elrond, of course, with Celebrian, and the twins with their wives. Although it was a small feat to have Elrohir and Glorcheniel at the meeting, for they lived at the Kastle, Elladan and his wife spent their time wandering, either in Orome’s forest or on the isle named Tol Eressea. Fidgeting on Elladan’s lap was his young son, sucking on his thumb when those he was not familiar with greeted him and told him what a cute little ellon he was.
Their younger sister, Vilya, was there, a daughter that Elrond and Celebrian had during the onset of the Fourth Age. Her husband, Melpomaen, was a bit fidgety himself- when Erestor spied him, his secretary from his days in Rivendell looked well away, a sign that Vilya, one of the few who knew the secret of his heritage, had told her husband as well. It was little doubt, then, that Lindir knew also. His wife was the youngest child of Celeborn and Galadriel, a tall, lithe elleth named Tallasinde. Tallasinde gave Erestor a reassuring smile and stood up, crossing the room to where he sat on a stool at the bar. She gave him a comforting hug and kissed his cheek before returning to her spot beside her minstrel husband.
The rest of Tallasinde’s and Celebrian’s siblings were there, as was expected. Orophin, since he lived in Valimar, received the news first. He, too, knew one of the secrets which Erestor harbored. In the row in front of him sat Valarda, leaning over her chair to speak with him, and with Rumil and his wife, Nenniach. Next to Valarda sat Elodien, with Haldir between herself and Legolas. Somewhat unexpectedly, Erestor spied Ilmendin, Legolas’ elder brother. Though he had listed him, he did not think Thranduil’s older son would show up. Ilmendin’s wife was not present, nor did she have reason to be, but Thaladir was, as were Galion and his wife.
Galion’s wife had three sisters, all of whom were present, as were their parents. Their father, Cirdan, had been known to Erestor for as long as he had been acquainted with Oropher. Erestor’s cottage in Valinor prior to the First Age had been next to the shipbuilder’s house and boatyard. The spot where their homes had once been was now the place where the residence of Beineilien, Ulmo’s waterkeeper and dolphin watcher, stood. She was married to Celebdreth, the only son of Rumil and Nenniach, and both were present as well.
Only two were missing from those expected to arrive. Erestor watched the door nervously while Thranduil, who had played the part of host and therefore was tending the bar, poured him half a goblet of brandy and instructed him to have some. Glorfindel was slowly nursing a bowl of spiced wine, keeping his attention on Erestor.
- - -
One name had been omitted from the list- Ecthelion. Erestor believed he had owed the ellon enough to personally speak to him instead of having him find out in an open forum type of situation. During the afternoon, while Oropher sent his messengers about to collect everyone, Erestor and Glorfindel had paid a visit to their dear friend in Valimar.
Ecthelion liked to think of himself as successfully unemployed. His argument was that he had worked, and very hard, for an entire age, and that his killing of not one or two but four balrogs, including their leader, was payment enough for him to slack when it came to responsibilities. His wife, a very sought after seamstress, viewed him as a ‘House Ada’, for he had stayed home with their daughter, Mae-Tithen, when she was born, and had not only raised her but also kept the house as well. It was not unusual, on warm summer days when laundry was best done along the shore of one of the rivers that wound through the central city, to find Ecthelion chatting away with a group of the local ladies while he scrubbed his trousers along with his wife’s blouses and mended a stocking or two.
Mae-Tithen had long since grown, and was an artist. She often accompanied her mother to the shop where the most vibrant gowns and intricately stitched tunics could be found. Young Mae spent her time sketching new designs for her mother to implement when embroidering the garments or drawing portraits for customers who came to the store. It was no surprise, then, to find Ecthelion at home, sweeping out the dust from the hallway onto the front porch.
Glorfindel had referred to this as the ‘practice’ session. It would be easier for Erestor to explain things first to someone he was extremely comfortable with, and who would not interrupt or storm out of the room unexpectedly.
After Ecthelion finished sweeping the front stoop and the porch and was satisfied that he had rid the house of all possible dust bunnies, thereby making his home a safer place, the three of them settled in Ecthelion’s den for biscuits and tea.
There was an odd clash in the den; at one time, it had been decorated in a very well thought out manner. On one wall hung a tapestry that Gaileth had woven for her husband for their wedding day. It was a beautiful scene, depicting Gondolin in all her glory, for Gaileth had been one of the fortunate few to escape the land and knew of its beauty in the elder days.
On the opposite wall was the doorway, and many smaller stitched pieces hung here and there, but among them in places where the wall had not formerly been covered were the drawings of a child. A picture of ‘nana’, ‘ada’, and ‘me’, it read, with a pony named ‘Dalelio’ behind them, all with stick-like appendages and large, round heads. Another, now with arms and legs ballooned up, of ‘adar on a horse’, bearing a slight resemblance to Ecthelion riding a donkey, for the figure’s feet were touching the ground. These were sandwiched between a framed piece of cloth on which Lord Eru’s prayer was embroidered and a sketch in charcoal of Ecthelion and Gaileth in a garden somewhere and signed with Mae’s initials.
The other walls were similar: Childhood drawings were mixed together with refined examples of elvish art. Then, there was the fountain, a replica of the grand one which had been at the center of Gondolin’s courtyard. This had been a more recent addition, one which neither Glorfindel nor Erestor had yet seen. Unlike the heavy, unpolished stones which made up the structure of the fountain in Gondolin, this one was comprised of gleaming, white marble and was inlayed with various precious stones. The spout at the top from which the water spilled forth was plated in mithril, if not made up of it entirely.
“Wonderful little thing,” remarked Ecthelion of the four foot high object situated in the corner of the room. “I did not even suspect, not even when Gaileth began to measure and move things around the room as I sat right in this spot.”
“It does add something to the room,” agreed Glorfindel. “A bit of you, I might say.” All around, every item on the walls was something made either by Gaileth or Mae. “I like it.”
“As do I. Which is a good thing; I was told there is little chance of moving it now that it is set up and working,” Ecthelion replied with a smile. “So, Erestor, what news do you bring?” asked Ecthelion as he poured the tea.
“I have a son,” blurted out Erestor, and Glorfindel rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“You what?” Ecthelion continued to pour, overflowing the second cup he had been filling.
Reaching forward, Glorfindel tipped Ecthelion’s hands to tilt the spout up. “I really do not think that to be the best way to start, Erestor,” advised Glorfindel.
“What should I say first, then? You think I should start with ‘I am one of the Valar’ instead?” Erestor and Glorfindel both jumped abruptly in their seats as they heard a crash. The teapot had fallen from Ecthelion’s hand, clattering on the platter and drenching the biscuits. Ecthelion leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his dark, curly hair. “Too much too fast?” questioned Erestor, biting his lip. Ecthelion, wearing a stunned expression, nodded his head.
“Shall we try again, and perhaps a bit more subtle this time?” suggested Glorfindel.
Erestor took a deep breath. “Ecthelion, there is something I think you should know.”
“Yes, I assumed as much,” answered the elf, trying to keep himself from fainting due to shock.
- - -
Erestor decided it best for him to be at the center of their attention, to keep everyone focused on what he was telling them. All of the chairs or other furniture that was available faced the stage, where the minstrels would often perform or speeches and recitations would be done. Instead of standing on it, Erestor was sitting on the edge with his legs draped over the front. Glorfindel was beside him, his legs crossed, and each of them sat on a large pillow, taken from one of the rooms as the sofas had been.
They had continued to wait, but it was Thranduil who had convinced him to go ahead even though the last two elves had yet to show up. Erestor cleared his throat, causing all conversation to cease. “My intention is to tell all of you everything in as little time as possible and with few interruptions. I know that some of you already know some of what I am going to say, and others of you know none of it. A few of you already know it all.”
It would normally have been the perfect time for Glorfindel to crack a joke, but instead, he shifted his weight so that he was leaning in Erestor’s direction slightly, a small show of support to him.
“If you will allow me, I would like to start at the beginning. Long ago, here in Valinor-“ Erestor paused as the front doors opened and he sucked in his breath uneasily. Glorfindel sidled up to him and placed his hand on the small of Erestor’s back. This gesture was enough to spur Erestor on. “When I was living in Valinor prior to the First Age, I met a young elleth whom I sincerely thought I would one day marry. We courted, flirted with the idea of married life, but it was not to be. When Artanis-“ He came to a full stop again as Celeborn and Galadriel entered the hall and found their way to a pair of seats near the back of the ‘audience’. “Between the time that Galadriel and I parted,” began Erestor again, “and the time when I sailed over the sea to the East, I was informed of something quite shocking. It was revealed to me that my father was Orome. I am half elder, and half ainur.”
There was a bit of a buzz in the room. Some even looked suspiciously at others, who seemed overly calmed about the news, their glances accusing them of knowing and saying nothing. “As the son of a Vala, I have some most unusual qualities. I am even named as one of them within their count, or more accurately one of the ‘lesser’ Vala, a child of the Valar. I have a sister; she is full ainur, her name is Nieliqui and perhaps some day I might introduce her to all of you, but I did not think that appropriate tonight, for there is another secret which I have been keeping.”
Noticing the looks being exchanged, Glorfindel raised his free arm in the air. “I knew he was Periainu since the First Age. I promised him I would not speak of it, except to others who knew. Some of you knew of this, some of you did not. I was the only one he told willingly; the rest of you found out because you stumbled somehow upon his secret and if you did not know would not know not to say anything to anyone else. Do not be upset at those who have known if you did not; his belief was that he saved you the burden of knowing.”
“That makes perfect sense to me,” spoke Rumil. “So, who knew? Surely, I did not, but I take no offense in not knowing.” He turned to his wife, who sat with a look of utter disbelief on her face. “Apparently, you were not in the trusted circle either,” he joked.
Orophin’s long arm rose into the air, and he pointed a finger down at himself. “Fourth Age, right here. I kept spreading all of those ridiculous rumors about him- then I came up with one that was so ridiculous, it was true.”
“My word, you can keep a secret,” said his wife, in awe more of the fact that Orophin had not told her, and less of the fact that Erestor was one of the blessed Ainur.
“We knew, Villy and I,” said Tallasinde of herself and Vilya. “Oh, and do not be sore with us, Uncle Ressi, we simply had to let Lindi and Mel know, too. Only because we were being called here for a most urgent matter, and honestly, this is Valinor. Is there anything urgent which ever happens here? Not really,” she continued, looking around to the others in the room as if to gain verification from them on the matter. “That is why we knew, we just knew, if it was urgent, it had to do with you.”
“I knew, as did my wife, and Thaladir as well. My mother and father were also informed.” Thranduil went on to explain. “In Doriath, we confronted him. We were mistaken on our convictions; we thought he was Morgoth,” he said with a slightly embarrassed smile.
There was laughter in the room, especially from his sons, but an end was put to it when Galadriel spoke and said, “You know, I never before noticed, but he DOES look a sight like Melkor.”
Erestor uneasily looked to the floor. “I knew,” said a timid voice near the back. It was Aerlinniel, whose hand retreated into her lap again. “It was an accident,” she told everyone as her three older sisters stared at her with gaping mouths. “But once I knew, I vowed not to tell a soul, not a single soul. I did not mind. I thought it was, well, something a bit romantic, keeping a secret like that.”
“I wonder why I did not know,” mused Cirdan, rather curious and not at all offended. Erestor smiled at him from his perch.
“I have far too much respect for you to have fraught such a weight upon you,” answered Erestor, and this seemed well enough for Cirdan. “The second part of my tale is not so easy to explain, but you will understand it better knowing what I have told you.”
He could not help but look at Haldir. There was never so much defiance in his eyes, so angry a look directed toward Erestor before. Regardless, Erestor folded his hands in his lap and began to speak. “I always wanted children. I adore them, in fact. I took it very personally when I knew of a couple trying to have a child without success, Elven or otherwise. Near the end of the Second Age, during the great battle in Mordor, we lost many of our noble kin. I was often messenger, the one to travel from the battle to the homelands of our fallen heroes to inform them personally of the deaths.”
“When I came to Lothlorien to tell those who lived there that Amdir King was dead and his son had taken his place, I found someone mourning not the loss of a friend or family member, but the lack of a son. I prayed with her, with all my heart. I wanted nothing more in those moments than to have her wish fulfilled.” There was shakiness to his voice, but he forged ahead. “I did not realize it at the time, but part of being who I am, of being one of the Ainur, is the awesome ability to create with our words and our songs. Her wish was granted. One year later, she found a child, a son, beneath the tree we sat beside the night I was there. My intention was that Eru would grant her and her husband a child, but it did not work exactly as I had planned.”
A wave of emotion hit him, and caused Erestor to cover his face with his hand as Glorfindel held him supportively. The first one to react was Orophin, who did so by clamping both of his hands over his mouth with eyes open wide. He looked at Haldir, who was flushed in anger and clenching his teeth, then to Erestor who wept silently into his hand. He said something, quite loud, but also muffled, into his hands, and then uncovered his mouth and said, “Oh. My. Lord.” Haldir flashed him a dark look. “Oh, then it must be true... wait. What about Rumil and I?”
Haldir turned around, and with a snarl, said, “You and Rumil are fine. Neither of you is a bastard, like me.” Bolting out of his chair, Haldir shoved his way past Legolas to get to the aisle, and then practically stomped his way out of the room, slamming shut the wooden door of the entrance. Elodien excused herself to follow after him, motioning that Legolas should stay and listen to whatever else was said.
At the back of the room, a tall silver-haired figure stood. “Erestor.” The dark elf looked up, his eyes meeting concerned blue ones. “I want no confusion regarding this matter. Are you saying that Haldir is your son?”
“Celeborn, I swear to you, this was never my intention.” Erestor coughed to clear his throat and said, “I thought he would be your child; it was all I ever aimed to do. I did not expect this.”
“You tricked me,” accused Galadriel, standing up and pointing at Erestor. “You probably knew all along what would happen!”
“No, no, I would never-“ The noise in the room rose so that Erestor could not be heard over it, though it mattered little. Galadriel was following the path Haldir had taken, escaping from the hall. Erestor slumped his shoulders and began to wish that he were anywhere but here.
Sound of something hard being pounded on the counter of the bar settled everyone down again. “Attention! Thank you,” said Thranduil as soon as the room quieted. He set aside the candleholder he had knocked against the wood to quiet everyone down. “This has been a very emotional evening for many of us, and will continue to be. I believe we could all use some time to ourselves, perhaps something to eat and a place to rest, and in the morning those of us who wish to discuss things further can do so. Erestor, is there anything you wished to add?”
“Just that... I am sorry,” he said, looking up again to where Celeborn had been, but the silver elf was gone. Looking drained and miserable, Erestor shook his head and rested his head on Glorfindel’s shoulder.
“Now that everyone is on the same page,” said Thranduil, “I offer the Kastle to all of you for the duration of the week. Longer if need be, but at week’s end, guests will begin to arrive for the winter.
“Some of us are already here,” announced Beineilien, for it was customary for her and her husband to spend the colder days here instead of in the valley where they could easily be snowed in and unable to leave for months. “It seemed a little silly to come if we did not intend now to stay.”
“Val, what do you think about winter here at the Kastle?” asked Orophin. He already obviously wanted to follow after his brother, but stayed until his wife acquiesced to his request. “Excellent. Pick out a good room for us. I shall return.” Orophin, too, left the hall. Many soon followed, either to find their rooms or to speak privately with one or more of the others.
Eventually, the only ones left were Erestor, Glorfindel, and Thranduil. “I think it went fairly well, all things considered,” said Thranduil. “And Erestor?” The dark elf looked over. “I think you honestly did the right thing, telling everyone.” Erestor nodded, but still looked unsure.
“Excuse me, boss?” Glorcheniel strolled back into the room. “I just wanted to ask, what did you plan to do about the whole end of autumn celebration this year? Did you still want that to go on or should we cancel it?”
“Damn, it’s in four days, isn’t it...” Thranduil sipped from his winebowl. “I suppose we shall carry on as always. It is tradition.”
“I do not want to be the cause to break with the custom of having the festivities here,” spoke Erestor from the stage.
Thranduil regarded Erestor for a long time, as if he were about to change his mind, but then shook his head. “We shall have the celebration here. Preparations have already been made. In four days time, the festivities shall commence.”