Part IX: The First Homely House
Part IX: The First Homely House
Faith sent Bilbo and Gandalf ahead, after their ponies, while she went back to collect her own, and their pack pony. She was better able to navigate the narrow ledge in the gathering darkness. She found the ponies a few hundred yards back along the ledge. It took some encouragement, but she managed to lead them back to the meadow where Bilbo and Gandalf had already started to make their camp.
Bilbo surprised Faith by having collected all the pieces of her broken sword. “The smiths in Imladris will be able to re-forge it,
” he told her when she asked why he’d bothered. “They will remake it, better than it was before.
“They have the technology, eh?” asked Faith with a grin, which earned her an enquiring look from Bilbo, as usually happened when she slipped into English. She sighed. “That was a bad joke, that doesn’t really translate.
Faith had heard Bilbo say a lot of things about the Eldar, and their skills, but she had her doubts about their ability to fix her sword. It had been the best that 21st century metallurgy and craftsmanship had been able to produce—the New Council only wanted the best for their Slayers. How could the seemingly mediæval culture she had found herself in match it? On the other hand the Eldar had made made Sting, and it had cut into that troll when her own sword had only shattered when she struck it.
She didn’t worry about it. She just took the pieces of the sword that Bilbo gave her and packed them away. She would take things as they came to her. Even if they couldn’t remake her sword as good as new, the steel it was made from was still better than anything she had seen since landing in this world (with the exceptions of Glamdring and Sting.) It could still be used to make a better sword than any of the others she’d seen.---
The next morning was clear and cold. The meadow was covered with frost, but it quickly melted as the sun rose above the mountain tops. They ate their breakfast, and packed up the ponies.
The day warmed quickly, as did the days that followed. They moved down from the mountain pass and they started to come back in amongst trees. The first trees they saw were stunted pines, but they grew larger, the lower they came. Other trees, birch and beech, with the green buds of new growth showing at the tips of their branches replaced the pines. Soon the only snow they saw was lying in deeply shaded crevasses in the rocks, and shaded hollows beneath the trees.
Their path came to a mountain stream, swollen with the melt water coming from higher up the mountain. It grew quickly as they followed it. Tributaries joined the stream, swelling it into a raging torrent of water: the headwaters of the river Bruinen, that flowed into Imladris.
They were all tired, especially their heavily laden pack pony, but they pushed ahead, knowing that they were approaching the end of their journey.
They came to a waterfall that Faith recognized. It was the waterfall from her dream. “Okay, points for the prophetic dream theory,” she told herself as they started down a steep, narrow path into the valley.
Faith became aware of singing coming from the trees around them:
The dragon is withered,
His bones are now crumbled;
His armour is shivered,
His splendour is humbled!
Though sword shall be rusted,
And throne and crown perish
With strength that men trusted
And wealth that they cherish,
Here grass is still growing,
And leaves are yet swinging,
The white water flowing,
And Eldar yet singing
Come back to the valley!
The song went on and on like that, full of tra-la-las and fa-la-las: the sort of music that Faith usually wouldn’t be caught dead listening to, but there was a pureness, and clarity to the singing voices that entranced her. She could feel that her pony was reacting to it as well. It was reenergized, moving with a fresh spring in its step.
The Eldar came out of the trees, and led them across the river to the First Homely House. Their ponies were relieved of their burdens, and taken to the stables, where they were fed with fresh hay, and oats, and their coats were brushed until they shone.
Faith had never seen anyone quite like the Eldar. They were the most beautiful people she had ever seen. They seemed to be both old, and young at the same time. They took a childlike delight in the world around them, always singing, and joyful. But there was always an undercurrent of sadness in their songs. Elrond was the greatest enigma of them all. To look at him, Faith would have guessed that he was in his 30s, most of the time. But there was an air about him that made him seem ancient. At other times he seemed to be little more than a teenager. She had heard enough about him from Bilbo to know that he was really thousands of years old.
A magnificent meal had been laid on for them. Faith’s attention kept wandering back to Elrond, all through it, and she caught him giving her surreptitious glances from time to time too.
After dinner came the stories. Gandalf told the story about Bilbo and the Dwarves’ quest to Erebor that Faith had heard a dozen times already, and then he told about the meeting of the White Council, and driving the Necromancer out of southern Mirkwood. He told of the Battle of the Five Armies, their journey home, and their meeting with Faith.
More stories came after Gandalf was done. Tales of times long gone, and people long dead. The stories went late into the night, until Bilbo nodded off to sleep in a corner.
Faith smiled at the snoring hobbit. “I think we’ve worn him out. I didn’t think it was possible for him to conk out when there were stories being told.
“He has had a long journey,
” said Elrond. “Now is the time for you to rest.
Faith lifted Bilbo into her arms, and she was guided to a room where she laid him in a bed. She was shown to a room of her own. One with a bed with a soft mattress, and silky sheets: better than any she had ever experienced in all her life. She was asleep within seconds of hitting the mattress.---
They spent a week in the House of Elrond, resting, dancing, and listening to the songs and stories of the Eldar. Faith told the story of how she came to this world to Elrond, but he had never heard of anything like that having happened before.
At the end of the week Bilbo was anxious to be on his way. He was nearly home, and he wanted to set out on the last road as quickly as possible. Faith wanted to go with him.
“I think you should stay here,
” said Gandalf.
“And why is that?
“I do not know, for certain,
” said Gandalf. “But I know that your road does not lead to the West. Rest here, and after I see Bilbo safely home, I shall return. I will guide you south through the Gap of Rohan to Isengard, to consult with Saruman, and, if he has no answer for you, north to Galadriel and Celeborn in Lórien. I will be travelling that way, to return our ponies to Beorn. If there is any answer for you in Middle Earth, Saruman, Galadriel or Celeborn should be able to give it to you.
Faith was embarrassed to find that she was fighting off tears on the morning when she bade farewell to Bilbo. She gave him a hug, and a kiss. “I wish I was coming with you.
“I would welcome you,
” said Bilbo, “but the people of the Shire are wary of the big folk. I wish it wasn’t so, but you would not be welcome there.
“Hey, no problem!
” said Faith. “There’s a lot of taverns where I’m not welcome either!
” She gave him another hug. “You take care of yourself, and if you have any problems that need pummelling, don’t hesitate giving me a call.
” said Bilbo. “I shall miss you.
“Go! If we keep this up, we’ll embarrass each other!
Bilbo went, with Gandalf riding beside him, and their pack pony following behind. Faith blinked, trying to clear the tears forming in her eyes, as she watched them depart.---
Faith spent the next week relaxing: sleeping in a bed with silken sheets, taking long, hot, baths, and generally enjoying the indoor plumbing. The evenings were pleasant: filled with music and dancing. Not the sort of music or dancing that Faith was used to, but one or two of the Eldar took an interest in learning to dance her way.
Her clothes had been taken away to be mended, and she was supplied with new gowns. They were all much too feminine for her taste, but they were very comfortable. She also got new underwear, that felt wonderful next to her skin. She was still happy to get her own clothes back: mended perfectly, so you couldn’t even see where the tears, and rough patches that she had applied herself, had been.
She made daily trips to the smiths’ forge, to check on the progress being made repairing her sword. It was taking longer than she had expected. The Eldar smiths refused to rush the process. It wasn’t just the blade that was being remade. There seemed to be half a dozen Eldar involved in the process: one to melt down the old blade, and carefully add small amounts of new metal, bits of mithril and other things to create a new alloy; another to beat the new metal into the rough shape of the new blade; a third to take that blade and refine it, creating a razor sharp edge on it; a fourth to take that blade and polish it. While they were doing that, others were building a new grip for the hilt, custom fitted to Faith’s hand, and a new scabbard to perfectly fit the new blade.
Before they had begun the forging of her new sword, the swordsmiths had spent a day with Faith, having her try various blades that they had in their collection: seeing how she handled them, asking her preferences for weight and balance. They had brought in Glorfindel, an Eldar swordmaster, to fence with her: to see how she handled a blade, and to observe her preferred style. Both Faith, and Glorfindel, had been surprised by how good their opponent had been in those practice matches. It became a daily ritual for them to meet, and practice fencing with each other.
Bilbo and Gandalf had been gone for over a week. The morning was sunny and warm, and Faith decided to go for a walk. She set out, following along the riverbank, up toward the waterfalls. The day continued to warm as the sun rose in the sky, and Faith found that she was starting to sweat a bit. She was feeling quite warm, even after taking off her leather jacket. The path she was following turned aside from the main river, following a small tributary stream that burbled over the rocks as it came down the hill. She followed the path up the hill. It took her into a small grotto with a crystal clear pool of water into which a small waterfall poured. Steps had been carved in the rock leading down into the pool.
Faith looked around. She was completely alone here. She hadn’t seen or heard any sign of anyone since she had left Imladris. She could hear nothing but the splashing of water, and the singing of birds. The pool seemed to be calling to her. She grinned, stripped off her clothes, left them lying on the rocks, and dove in.
The water surprised her by being much colder than she had expected. It almost felt like one of the rolls in the snow she had taken after spending time in Beorn’s sauna. She let out a loud “Whoop!” when she surfaced, and heard it reverberate off the rocks. She stayed in the pool, treading water, and looking around some more. She smiled when she saw steps carved into the cliff face beside the waterfall, leading up to a ledge forty feet above her: perfect for jumping off. She swam over to the steps, and climbed up them. She had been a little worried that the rocks might be slippery, but the steps had a textured finish to them that gave her wet feet traction. She quickly clambered up to the ledge, and with another “Whoop!” she jumped off it, back down into the pool.
Faith made several jumps off that ledge, and explored the rest of the pool. There was another ledge, just under the waterfall on which she could sit, or stand, and let the water pour down over her. That’s where she was sitting, when she stopped being alone.
Glorfindel had appeared at the top of the steps leading down to the pool. He quickly turned away after he caught a glimpse of her. “I beg your pardon, Lady. I did not know you were bathing. I was sent with a message for you.
Faith folded her arms over her bare breasts. “No begging required. What’s the message?
Glorfindel kept his back to her. “The smiths have finished your sword, Lady.
“What’s with this ‘Lady’ stuff all of a sudden?
” asked Faith. “I ain’t no Lady.”
She saw his shoulders shrug. “It seemed appropriate, after my rudeness for intruding on you this way.
“You couldn’t know.
” Faith slipped off the ledge, back into the pool. “So instead of getting all formal on me, why don’t you come down here and join me?
It was a couple of hours before Faith and Glorfindel got back to the smiths. They hadn’t had any towels so they had spent time basking on the sun-warmed rocks, drying off after their swim, before they got dressed again.
Faith hadn’t seen her sword for several days, not since it had been handed off to the polisher for the final finish. The polisher had not allowed her to observe his progress. She had been shown the polishing of other blades, and been taught how to properly care for one, so she would be able to maintain her own sword after she received it, but he had kept her own blade hidden from her.
The smiths brought out her new sword, in its scabbard. Presented like this, it looked rather plain. The scabbard was wrapped in leather with a matt black finish, as was the hilt of her sword. There was nothing shiny on the guard, or the pommel; nothing to reflect light that might give away her position if she was out hunting at night. It was exactly how she had asked them to make it. Looking closer she could see that the scabbard wasn’t really all that plain. Subtle patterns were visible in the leather: writing in the Eldar script, that they told her identified the smith who had made it, and Faith as its owner.
She drew the sword, and gasped. “This is a thing of beauty!” She smiled as she turned her hand to look at the gleaming blade. “This is wonderful!
” she told the waiting smiths. “Thank you, all!
The blade was polished to a mirror finish. She held it close, and could see a pattern like ripples of water in the steel. More Eldar script was etched into the blade. “What does this say?
” she asked.
“Magor Raugin,” said the smith who had polished it. “It would translate to ‘Slayer of Demons.’
“Cool!” said Faith. She stepped back to give herself room, and gave the sword a few practice swings through the air. It felt perfect to her. The balance was just right. The grip fit her hand flawlessly. She sheathed it back into its scabbard, and moved toward the smiths again. “Thank you all!
” She gave each of them a quick kiss.---
Faith and Glorfindel were taking her sword back to her room. Faith heard some shouting in Eldar coming from up ahead of them. The voice sounded something like a girl to her, but not. She didn’t understand any of the words, but the voice sounded playful. She cast a quick look at Glorfindel to see what he made of this, and saw him smiling.
They entered a small courtyard, and Faith was surprised to see a young, dark haired, boy, maybe ten years old, swinging a wooden sword at invisible opponents.
“Ho! What foe are you fighting, Estel?
” asked Glorfindel.
The boy turned toward them with his sword raised. “I am not Estel! I am Beren! And I’m hunting Orcs!
“Are there many Orcs hiding in the courtyards of Imladris?
” asked Faith.
“This isn’t Imladris. We’re in the mountains of Dorthonion!
” said Faith, “My mistake.
Estel raised his wooden sword. “Are you a servant of Morgoth, in disguise?
Faith smiled. “If I was, I’d be pretty silly to tell you, now wouldn’t I?
“I think you are!
Faith raised her scabbarded sword. “So, what are you going to do about it?
Estel tried to swing his sword under Faith’s, but she quickly countered the move, and came back with a thrust of her own, slow enough that Estel had lots of time to deflect it. She didn’t worry about what his wooden sword might do to her new scabbard: it had been made to withstand much more than what a child’s toy sword might be able to do to it.
Faith mostly kept herself on the defensive, letting Estel attack her, slowing her responses down to the point where it seemed at times that he almost managed to get past her defence to land a blow. When she attacked, she did so carefully, and slowly enough that Estel could block her.
She was still surprised by how good he was. This child would be a match for many of the adult Watchers that Faith had fenced with. And he learned quickly. A couple of Faith’s early feints had nearly fooled him, but he never fell for the same trick twice in a row.
Faith was aware that Glorfindel was watching them with amusement, and soon a few more people joined him. One was a woman with eyes and hair that reminded her of Estel’s, and she was looking on with much less amusement than some of the others. Faith decided to end the game, and let Estel’s sword slip past her defence, to strike her ribs.
She fell back, and clutched at her ‘wound.’ “Ahh! You slay me!
” She flopped over and lay still on the ground for a moment, before she sat up again, and smiled at the boy. “You are very good.
The boy wasn’t smiling. “You let me win.
“Yeah, I did,
” said Faith. “But no mere servant of Morgoth could defeat Beren Erchamion, could she?
Estel smiled at that. “No, she couldn’t.
Glorfindel brought the woman who looked like Estel over, and Faith wasn’t the least bit surprised when he introduced her as Estel’s mother, Gilraen. “Faith is a friend of Mithrandir’s.
That recommendation made Gilraen look on Faith much more favourably. “It is an honour to meet you, Faith.
“Likewise,” said Faith, holding out her hand. “Estel is a fine boy. I’m surprised I hadn’t seen him around, before today.
“We have been away, visiting kin,
” said Gilraen. “We only returned this morning.
“I hope that we will see more of each other,
” said Faith.
“I am sure that we will,
” said Gilraen. “But now, it is time for Estel to go to his lessons. I look forward to meeting you again, Lady Faith.
Faith smiled as Gilraen took a protesting Estel away. He seemed to enjoy his lessons about as much as any ten year old boy, when he could have been out playing. Faith turned back to Glorfindel, after they had gone. “So, that little bit of swordplay got me all sweaty again. Want to come scrub my back?
Faith sat on her balcony in the moonlight, smoking her last cigarette. Ever since skinny dipping with Glorfindel that morning she had been reminded of an itch that hadn’t been scratched for a very long time. It turned out that Glorfindel had scratched it very well indeed. She guessed that being thousands of years old gave a fellow lots of time to develop his technique. She took a final drag on her cigarette, and blew out a cloud of blue smoke. She watched it drift away on the gentle night breeze as she butted out the stub of her cigarette. She could hear stirring in the room behind her, and smiled. Glorfindel had done well in the technique department. Time to see what his stamina was like. She went back to where he was waiting in her bed.
*“Back to the Valley” taken from The Hobbit
, Chapter IXX, The Last Stage.
For a more detailed account of how Glorfindel scratched Faith's itch, see Making the Best of It