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Ingwë, High King over all the kings of the Eldar, stood at the prow of Vingilot, watching the starscape as the ship floated above the airs of the world. He was flanked by Arafinwë on his right and Olwë on his left. The ship had crossed the dimensional divide some time before but Valinor was still invisible to them. They would be making an almost complete circuit of the world before it came into view. Below them were landmasses still unexplored by the Eldar, though parts of the closest continent to Valinor had been mapped by those few of Olwë’s people who still ventured out seeking new horizons. Olwë’s own son, Falmaron, was one such.
As the three kings watched the stars, Lord Ulmo approached them. They turned almost as one to see him smiling fondly at them. “We will be home in a few hours,” he said to them.
Ingwë nodded but did not speak, returning his gaze upon the stars, his expression pensive. Olwë and Arafinwë exchanged concerned looks which did not go unnoticed by Ulmo, who motioned for the two to leave him alone with Ingwë. Arafinwë raised an eyebrow and then shrugged.
“I think I will go see what my daughter is up to,” he said to no one in particular. “If I know Artanis, she’s probably trying to take over the ship from Eärendil so she can go exploring.”
Olwë chuckled. “My granddaughter has a wild streak in her. I do not know where she gets it from, certainly not from my side of the family.”
“Nor mine,” Arafinwë retorted. “Maybe it’s from the Vanyarin side. You know how adventurous that clan is.”
“But you Noldor are the ones who left,” Olwë said rather pointedly.
“Not all of us,” Arafinwë rejoined, speaking softly, his tone wistful as he gazed eastward. Then he shook his head, as if to clear it of his thoughts, gave Ingwë, who had ignored the byplay between the other two, a concerned look and then sighed. Ulmo smiled at him and gave him a hug, then jerked his head to indicate that he would stay with Ingwë. The two kings nodded and drifted away.
“Are they gone?” Ingwë asked quietly as Ulmo stepped up beside him.
“Hovering, were they?” Ulmo said with a knowing smile. Ingwë shrugged, not looking at him. Ulmo put an arm around the ellon’s shoulders. “Tell me your thoughts, child.”
“My thoughts are dark, darker than that,” Ingwë replied, pointing into space.
“That is a vacuum,” Ulmo said conversationally. “It is neither dark nor light. Why are your thoughts dark, my son? What do you perceive?”
Ingwë finally turned to look at Ulmo, staring up at the Vala, for the Lord of Waters was a half a head taller than he. “We’ve made a mess of things, haven’t we?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, we’ve… we’ve screwed up royally, as I think Glorfindel would put it.” Ingwë had reverted to English at that and Ulmo had chuckled, understanding the words.
“I wouldn’t go that far, Ingwë, but yes, things are somewhat a mess, but it’s hardly your fault, or your fault alone. We Valar must shoulder some of the blame, though we did try to foster estel among the Eldar when we realized you were losing it, becoming lethargic and uncaring. But no one can make someone retain hope; that has to come from within.”
“It’s too late now, isn’t it?”
“No, child, it is not,” Ulmo said categorically. “It is only too late when you’re dead and your fëa is in Mandos. Until then, there is simply an opportunity to start over again, to pick yourselves up and get on with it. Part of the problem is that we of Valinor have been too long separated from Middle-earth and its people. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you Eldar actually need the Secondborn, even more so than they need you. The Elves living in Wiseman are a bridge between the two groups.”
“They seemed… happy,” Ingwë said almost reluctantly.
“And is that a crime?” Ulmo retorted with a smile.
“No, of course not, but…”
“But what, child?”
Ingwë sighed, returning his gaze to the stars and beyond. The ship had crossed the terminator moments before and they were now bathed in sunlight, though the stars were still visible. Ingwë stared into the heart of Anar and thought he saw Arien dancing at her core. Below them, just coming above the horizon was Valinor, the Pelóri rising above the landmass. In spite of appearances, Ingwë knew that they were still several hours from their ultimate destination: Valmar, city of the Powers.
“The Mortals are not how I thought they would be,” he finally said.
“They rarely are,” Ulmo replied gently. “Are they more or less than what you expected?”
Ingwë glared at the Vala but whatever retort he was about to make died on his lips as he saw actual concern in Ulmo’s sea-green eyes and his anger deflated. “I heard the stories, from Finrod and Arafinwë and others, including our Mariner, who has Mortal blood in him, but nothing prepared me for the reality of what we witnessed this past week.”
“You’re thinking of the confrontation that led to Daeron almost dying protecting Olwë,” Ulmo stated.
“Yes,” Ingwë replied tersely.
“And so a few, a mere handful, of Mortals who reacted out of fear, have spoiled it for the others who genuinely are happy to know that there are Elves in the world? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I was ready to wash my hands of them all and order all the Elves back to Valinor, including Glorfindel, who I know would have had to be brought back in chains, for he would never have left voluntarily,” Ingwë said hotly.
“But cooler counsel prevailed,” Ulmo said.
“Perhaps,” Ingwë allowed somewhat reluctantly. “I don’t know anymore.”
“Ingwë, what are you really afraid of here?” Ulmo asked softly. “Olwë lives and the Eldar in Endórë thrive, finding their place in the world.”
“Working as menials for Mortals as Findaráto does?” Ingwë retorted rather scornfully. “He was once a king in his own right!”
“Nothing done with love is ever menial, child,” Ulmo rejoined gravely. “Findaráto learned that lesson a long time ago. He is a living embodiment of the one thing you Eldar lack as a people.”
“What’s that?” Ingwë demanded, looking shocked.
“Humility,” Ulmo replied. “Arafinwë has it and you know why and under what circumstances he learned it. Olwë strives for it, though he has other issues that tend to get in the way, but you, child, have yet to embrace the concept.”
“Humility,” Ingwë said slowly, as if testing out the word.
“It’s not a dirty word.” Ulmo flashed him a knowing smile. “We had hoped that your own experiences as Ingoldo’s prisoner and what was done to you would break you of your arrogance, but apparently not enough.”
“That happened a long time ago, even by our standards,” Ingwë said, clenching his fists. “And how dare you accuse me of arrogance! That is the pot calling the kettle black as far as I’m concerned. You Valar invented the word, for Eru’s sake, so don’t accuse me of arrogance, my lord. You don’t have the right!”
Without giving the Vala time to respond, he stalked away, ignoring all who were on deck. Somehow, in spite of the fact that there were over thirty people aboard, the ship seemed to hold them all easily, but there still was not a whole lot of room for privacy. Ingwë ended up simply standing in the middle of the ship near where Eärendil stood beside Aerandir who was expertly handling the wheel, fuming silently to himself while everyone else studiously ignored him and tried to give him space. Arafinwë and Olwë approached him somewhat warily; Ingwë’s temper was well-known and feared even by them.
“How long before we arrive?” Ingwë demanded of Eärendil.
The Mariner gave the High King an amused look. “It will be another couple of hours, Ingwë, so I suggest you relax and enjoy the ride and the view.” He glanced up at the stars and made some mental calculations. “Two degrees to port, Aerandir, then hold her steady,” he ordered, no longer paying attention to his exalted passenger.
“Aye, captain. Two degrees to port,” Aerandir echoed as he turned the wheel slightly and the ship began shifting direction.
Ingwë glanced at Arafinwë and Olwë and sighed. Arafinwë smiled. “We managed to convince Erellont to make some tea,” he said, naming another of Eärendil’s crew. “It will be ready shortly.”
Ingwë nodded but said nothing while his fellow kings stood before him, none of them quite knowing what to do or say as Vingilot continued on its voyage.
*That went well.* Manwë’s voice bespoke to Ulmo in ósanwë as the Lord of Waters watched Ingwë stalk away in high dudgeon.
Ulmo snorted in humor. *Stubborn child.*
*Well, it takes one to know one, I suppose,* Manwë came back and Ulmo could sense the smile behind the words and he raised a mental eyebrow. Then Manwë’s tone became grave. *He’s frightened, Ulmo, though he won’t admit it to himself.*
*Of course he’s frightened,* Ulmo retorted. *They’re all frightened, Ingwë, Arafinwë and Olwë. They know what a monumental task lies before them and none of them feel adequate to it. I am beginning to think that we did indeed leave things too late, as Glorfindel accuses us of doing. Time is not on our side, not anymore. We should have done something about all this long before.*
*You know that would not have worked, Ulmo,* Manwë chided him gently. *Neither the Elves nor the Mortals were ready until now. I agree, though, that what needs to be done now will take much effort on all our parts. I think for the first time Ingwë truly understands what an impossible job we Valar have with regards to the Children, for he must do something that he has never had to do in all his existence: convince the Eldar to a course of action none of them wish to take.*
Ulmo nodded. *Yes, and not just Ingwë, but Arafinwë and Olwë and indeed all the kings of the Eldar. It will be interesting to see how they manage.*
Ulmo ‘heard’ Manwë’s snort of amusement. *Bring them to me as soon as you land,* the Elder King ordered and Ulmo felt his brother Vala’s mind fade from his. He remained where he was, watching as the three High Kings stood near the wheel sipping on mugs of tea. None of them looked happy. Ulmo sighed to himself, then decided to leave the Elves to themselves. He turned back to watch the view as they drew closer to Valinor and home.
The landing in Valmar was done with little fanfare, for they arrived in the late afternoon. Ulmo directed Eärendil to head for his own mansion where Vingilot could be safely moored to a dock to one side of the lake that surrounded the Vala’s residence. Either by design or happenstance, the Elves found the city oddly deserted for that time of day, but the contingent of warrior Maiar on hand to greet and escort them to the Elder King’s mansion might have had something to do with it. The Maiar bowed to Ulmo and the Elves before they headed the short distance to the entrance of the Elder King’s mansion where Lord Eönwë greeted them politely at the gates.
“Please follow me,” the Maia said and he turned and entered the mansion with Ulmo bringing up the rear of their party. Besides the three kings, Galadriel, Celeborn and Turgon were also with them, as was Eärendil. All the others had been directed by Ulmo to remain at his mansion and his chief Maia, Salmar, was there to escort them to where they might refresh themselves and take their ease.
Soon, they were being shown into a small audience hall where the Elder King sat on a throne. He was alone. Manwë smiled at the Elves as they gave him their obeisance while Ulmo and Eönwë looked on. The Maia took it upon himself to offer the Elves cool peach wine for refreshment which they accepted as they settled into seats provided for them. Ulmo remained standing.
“I trust your trip was… educational,” Manwë said without preamble.
“You might say that,” Ingwë said somewhat harshly. “At least no one died.”
“Yes, an unfortunate turn of events,” Manwë admitted, “but what I meant was, did you learn what you needed to know?”
“To do what, lord?” Olwë asked politely.
“To help your people to find estel again,” came the answer.
“You cannot force people to be hopeful or happy, though,” Arafinwë said.
“No, of course not,” Manwë replied somewhat testily, “else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We Valar would simply have waved our hands and you would all be walking about with silly grins on your faces.”
Several eyebrows went up. Ulmo, standing to one side, gave his brother Vala a sardonic look. Manwë sighed. “Forgive me. I did not mean to sound churlish.”
“There is nothing to forgive, lord,” Ingwë said, his own anger forgotten. “It is we who should beg for your forgiveness for placing the Valar in this position in the first place. I know some of us have struggled to bring hope to our people, to convince them that giving up was not the answer, but all our efforts have proven vain. I doubt anything we do now will be any better.”
“I allowed you to go to Endórë so you could see for yourself how the Eldar there thrive and what their relationship is with the Mortals,” Manwë stated.
“Their relationship is fraught with much danger from what I could see,” Ingwë retorted.
“A hazard of living in Arda Marred, I’m afraid,” Manwë averred, “but still, if you were to ask, and I doubt any of you did, most of your friends would not have felt the danger to be that great. They would agree that caution was called for but you saw that they did not hide from the Mortals within their own enclaves, as they would have done in earlier ages. They live and work beside the Mortals in their own environment, sharing the joys and sorrows of life together. Yes, they have problems with a small group, but the task of diffusing the hatred and suspicion of a small group is not insurmountable. In the meantime, we need to address the situation here in Valinor.”
“They’ve each been given a copy of the ultrasound of the triplets,” Ulmo said out of the blue before any of the Elves could comment on what Manwë had said.
“Ah, good,” Manwë said with a smile. “That might shake things up a bit.”
“How, though?” Ingwë asked. “You know that the general consensus is that Amroth and Nimrodel had no right to bring children into the world at this time. Showing them a rather blurry picture of those children is not going to change people’s minds.”
“Perhaps and perhaps not,” Manwë said with a shrug, “but as every warrior knows, you never dismiss even the humblest of weapons on hand. The ultrasound pictures are a weapon you can use to galvanize people. You only have to convince one couple to allow Eru to add a child to their house.”
“And it needs to be a couple from the younger generations,” Ulmo put in. “Leading by example among the elders is fine, but having those from younger generations take the initiative will be more effective.”
“Well, I suppose we could call an All-Aman Council,” Ingwë said, though he seemed rather doubtful about it.
“It will be a start,” Arafinwë said, “and we were going to call one anyway to start coordinating training for the war. We can certainly discuss other matters.”
“Perhaps we can levy a burdensome tax on every couple who does not add a child to their house within the next two years, and tax everyone who is unmarried who does not find a spouse within that same time frame,” Olwë suggested with a glimmer of amusement.
Celeborn chuckled. “Now that I would like to see. I wonder how many people will be willing to pay the tax rather than submit themselves to bearing a child or finding a spouse?”
“Well, if nothing else, our treasuries would be fuller,” Arafinwë quipped and the others sniggered. Even Ingwë smiled at that, as did the three Ainur.
“I will have word sent to Vanyalondë. Lórindol can contact the other kings for us,” Ingwë said, naming Finrod’s oldest son, who presently ruled the oldest and largest of the Southern Kingdoms. “We will meet at Midsummer. That gives us more than a month to plan.”
“Then it is settled,” Manwë said with a benevolent smile. “If you will permit, I will send Eönwë to Lórindol and give him the message. It will be faster and he can speak with the other kings as well. That will give them more time to reach Valmar.”
Ingwë bowed. “Thank you, my lord. I am grateful for your assistance.”
“Good. Good. Go now and take your rest. I believe Ulmo is acting as host. Tomorrow is plenty of time for you to leave for your respective homes.”
It was a dismissal and the Elves gave the Elder King proper obeisance before leaving. Ulmo remained behind, stating that Salmar was waiting outside to escort them back to the Vala’s mansion where a meal was waiting for them. Once the Elves were gone, the other Valar appeared. Manwë gave Ulmo a reflective look.
“Ingwë is angry, though Olwë and Arafinwë do not appear to be,” he stated without preamble.
“Either that, or they are just better at hiding their feelings even from us,” Varda interjected before Ulmo could comment, sitting in the throne next to her husband. Several chairs appeared around the thrones and the Valar settled themselves in them.
“Oh, all three are angry and worried,” Ulmo said as he took a seat, accepting some peach wine from Eönwë who was serving the others as well. “They saw how their fellow Elves fared in Middle-earth, even those newly come to its shores, and I don’t doubt that there is some jealousy involved.”
“Jealousy!” Yavanna exclaimed. “Of what would they be jealous?”
“Oh my dear, where do I start?” Ulmo retorted with a laugh. “If nothing else, they are jealous of the easy manner in which the Wiseman Elves move among the Mortals. We all watched the wedding. Can you imagine anyone in Ingwë’s or Arafinwë’s court treating Glorfindel with such familiarity? Or Findaráto?”
“You do not mention Olwë’s court,” Manwë said with a sly look.
Ulmo waved a hand in dismissal. “The Teleri are less uptight about protocol than the Noldor or the Vanyar. You know that. I think of the three Olwë was the most relaxed. Even Celeborn and Artanis were on their dignity and they used to live in Middle-earth and interacted with the younger races to a greater extent than any of the others, even Arafinwë during the War of Wrath.”
“Olwë is going to be a problem,” Námo said, surprising them all with his announcement.
“Why do you say that?” Manwë asked, looking troubled.
Námo gave them a slight smile that could have meant anything or nothing. “Because even now he is importuning Salmar, asking him if it would be possible to set up a satellite relay system between here and Wiseman so he can watch National Geographic.”
The others all started laughing. “And does he expect us to transport an HDTV flatscreen and set it up in his throne room so he can watch in comfort?” Aulë muttered.
“No, I’m sure he expects you to just whip one up for him with a single word,” Námo rejoined, giving his fellow Vala a wicked smile. “And while you’re at it, you can also produce a Barcalounger complete with a drinks holder and vibrator.”
That set the others off even more and it was some time before any of them were calm enough to continue the conversation.
“Well, I’m afraid Olwë will be disappointed,” Manwë said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I am not about to authorize satellite TV for him or anyone else.”
“Still, if there were a way to show the Amaneldi what is going on in Middle-earth, they might find interest in life again,” Vána offered.
“Yes, but at the moment not even the Mortals have that level of technology and I’m not about to introduce it here,” Manwë stated categorically and the others just nodded, understanding what the Elder King meant.
“What of this All-Aman Council Ingwë is calling for?” Oromë asked, willing to change the subject to something of more importance. “Will we be sending a representative as usual?”
“I am tempted to just let the Children do what they think best without any input from us,” Manwë answered. “We will host it, of course, but I would like to see how the kings handle the situation before we intervene.”
“Still, I think it would be wise to have someone visibly representing us,” Námo said. “We have always done so; to not do it now might lead to wrong conclusions among the Children. That’s the last thing we need right now.”
“True,” Manwë said. “So are you volunteering?”
Námo shook his head. “I am going to be busy dealing with Glorfindel. He will not take the news that he is fading well and I will need to be there to convince him of it.” He turned to Irmo. “Are you still sending him those dreams of the talisman?”
“Yes, though the last couple of times the dreams were interrupted and did not get very far,” his brother in the Thought of Ilúvatar said. “I think that now that the kings have left he’ll be feeling more relaxed and I can get through to him. He is due to have a session with Vorondur on Isilya.”
“So, who will we send to the Council?” Nessa asked.
“I will think on it,” Manwë said. “Previously, we’ve been content to send Eönwë or one of our other Maiar to attend a Council meeting, but I may decide to send one of us instead, to show the Children that we take this very seriously. I may even go myself.”
“That might present its own problems, though,” Aulë said. “The Children are likely to view it negatively if the Elder King himself takes a hand in things. You usually don’t intervene unless circumstances are dire.”
“And are they not?” Manwë retorted mildly.
“Not yet,” Ulmo answered before Aulë could. “At least, not as far as the Children are concerned. I agree with Aulë that your presence might do more harm than good at this point.”
“Well, we have a good month to think about it and decide,” Manwë said with a nod. “In the meantime, Eönwë, off you go. Stop at Tol Eressëa and let Gil-galad know first and you can also let Eärwen and Lirillë know that their husbands are back as well. Then head for Vanyalondë and start spreading the news.”
Eönwë bowed to his lord. “It will be as you say, Lord.” And then he was gone, leaving the Valar to fend for themselves.
“Well, it will be interesting to see what the response is, considering that this will be the first All-Aman Council held in, what, four hundred years?” Yavanna said.
“Something like that,” her husband said.
“The High Kings have their work cut out for them,” Oromë said.
“Let us hope that they find a way to motivate their people and bring them estel,” Varda said soberly. “Without estel, we have no hope of winning this war.”
“True, but we do have our ace in the hole,” Námo said. “The Eldar in Middle-earth, along with their Mortal allies may well be our salvation, but only if we are successful in making sure that Glorfindel does not fade in truth. If he is lost, all is lost.”
There were nods all around and the room fell silent as the Valar contemplated the future.
Words are Quenya:
Ósanwë: Mind-speaking, telepathy.
Ainur: Plural of Ainu: ‘Holy One, angelic spirit’, one of the ‘order’ of Valar or Maiar.
Amaneldi: Plural of Amanelda (sic): An Elf of Aman.
Isilya: ‘Moon-day’, i.e. Monday.
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