The softest of breezes swirled through the drooping leaves of a large garnet hued Maple, carrying the faint sound of melancholy voices across the meadow towards the gently inclined coastline.
"Are you hiding here to avoid joining in the singing, Aravir?," a mellifluous whispering caught the cloaked figure by surprise and he whipped around to search the inky twilight for the shimmering form belonging to the amused voice.
Aravir grinned broadly as his eyes fixed upon Elbereth Elentari and removing the pipe from his mouth he nodded sheepishly, "aye, Gilith tar (Queen of Starlight), you know me too well!"
Her tinkling laugh lifted the pensiveness which had surrounded him these past days and he bowed formally, addressing her in a lightened tone.
"My Lady, how goes things with you? Lord Tirion mentioned upon my arrival yesterday that you had once again vanished after the last new moon," he watched her tranquil features for any sign of disquiet before continuing, "... and I am glad you have returned during my stay. I have much to relate to you."
Aravir shrugged his hood onto his shoulders, the cool wind sweeping his shoulder length hair off his face as he inhaled the pipeweed slowly, savouring the soothing taste. He marvelled at the way the hazy moonlight seemed to envelope and reflect off the inscrutable elleth before him and how her gaze made one drown in a galaxy of stars.
Her lips formed a smile and she gestured towards him invitingly. "Walk with me, mellon nin, we have much to discuss. Tirion and the Elves of Tavrobel shall have to do without our song this eve!"
Elbereth turned and wandered along the marbled docks towards the gently rocking swan ships moored further along the harbour. As Aravir reached her side, she urged him to recount his latest journey, listening patiently and without interruption.
He detailed his surveillance of the Shadow Lands, the unsettling quiet of Blackmoor and the subdued calm along the border of the swamplands. Vhaerun he had only viewed from mountain outposts, uncertain of the post-war atmosphere inland, yet noting hurried movement along the coastline and ships leaving the bay.
"No word of the Clan of Amerakhte then?," Elbereth chimed in, her tone strained.
The Ranger shook his head, puzzled at the outset of his expedition at her insistence that he endeavour to locate the drow tribe she named, yet now, upon his return, frustrated at his lack of success and negation of her query. What dealings did the White Lady have with any Shadowlanders? The Elves had shunned all contact in Ages past after much loss of innocent blood and he was certain that none of the other Elven folk had the least interest in the fate of any Shadow Clan.
He refrained from questioning her motivation. Elbereth Elentari was a mystery to even the wisest of Elves. The oldest among them could remember her from their own distant childhood. She came and went at will, beholden to no one, her formidable foresight undisputed and unchallenged. She had never in living memory been wrong in her assumptions or advice and stranger still, her name appeared in annals of the previous Age, yet just how many Ages she had walked the earth was a secret she kept to herself.
She had always been held with the same high regard by the Realms of Elves and the Kingdoms of Men, as she was now, yet very few details of her history or direct participation in events of the past filled the treasured tomes of the elven archives.
Aravir's cheeks burned as Elbereth gave him a querying look. Her eyes flashed and held his for a moment and the inevitable surety that with one glance she had delved the deepest secrets of his soul sent a shiver coursing through his body.
He swiftly averted his eyes, staggering back a step and clutching his pipe with whitened knuckles.
"Do not be discomforted, Aravir. I see many things, yet speak of few. Your heart is pure, your intellect sharp, your integrity unshaken," Elbereth's look softened, "I know you have many questions, but there are things that must wait to be revealed, for their time has not yet arrived to be thrust upon mistrusting minds."
She surveyed the waves lapping the steps and her eyes followed the graceful path of a lone swan nearby before giving Aravir an encouraging smile and resuming her walk along the docks.
He continued. "Upon returning towards these shores I crossed Annwn. Young Hugh Hughes has been set loose by Brigid after rigorous learning and set the task of finding his path to Bywater and GreenFields," he paused as Elbereth nodded, a tender look crossing her visage at the mention of the Hobbit Shires.
Aravir grinned as he recounted the errand Brigid had confided to him that she had entrusted Hugh with and warned him not to return to the Port without achieving the goal... a haul of pipeweed to bide her over the winter!
Their shared laugh swept over the docks, lightening the mood as they walked on a while in companionable silence.
"I believe the lad may encounter an obstacle or two before he returns to Annwn, but this is as Brigid plans and she believes his progress is considerable," he paused, breathing in the tangy sea air before adding, "I think he will be a worthy addition to our rangers and lookouts in the north. Thank Eru those regions have been saved strife these long years. Annwn and the Shire have been unprotected for too long."
Elbereth turned to face him, her gaze quizzical. "Annwn was never unprotected, my friend. You disregard the powers at Brigid's command and also seem to forget the Fae!"
Aravir looked at her in surprise. Most Elves preferred to ignore any mention of otherworldly folk. They were mostly unseen and unheeded.
"Yes, Aravir, it is unwise to neglect the Faeriefolk or any of the races allied with them. You have had numerous encounters with the Mer and Centaurs yourself! Annwn profits greatly from its vicinity to the hidden Otherworld and do not forget that the errands of the mysterious one known as The Shadow," here she paused with a grin, "have usually sent him through those regions on his journeys. This was not coincidence."
Her eyes were bright with amusement at the Rangers bemusement and although he smirked at the mention of the afeared moniker that had been bestowed on him by others, his face soon fell and his mood turned sombre.
"Saelil (Wise One), there are but few elves left scattered across the continent and many still board the ships to the West in increasing numbers." His tone became urgent. "When will you join your kin in the Undying Lands? Each departure of yours send the Elves of Tavrobel into despair!"
A gentle smile played across her soft lips as she replied in a soothing tone, "I go where I am summoned, gornon (Valiant One). My path is rarely clear and my efforts to foster accord and unity among the true hearted often lead me afar." She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, "Yet I always return here, do I not?"
Aravir managed a small smile as a feeling of peace surged through his body, the warmth of her hand a source of calm. He nodded in assent, pondering her words, but his chief worry resurfaced in the following outburst. "And yet the Elves depart in ever greater numbers. What shall become of those races left behind. Evil never sleeps for long it seems!"
The White Lady was suddenly bathed in moonlight as stray clouds parted, revealing the moon resplendent among the glittering stars. She was not perturbed by his uneasiness. Her voice resonated through his misgivings and were carried by the breeze even to the feasting Elves upon the hills of the elven haven.
"These times have been destined as the Age of Men, my friend. You must learn to have more faith in your brethren. Once it was the Hobbits who shaped the fortunes of us all! "
Elbereth spoke and her words were as song, rhythmic and epic.
"In the span of time that is such as the blink of an eye to an Elf, they learn to grow and survive, love with ferociousness, protect each other without question, endeavour to thwart Darkness and adapt to ever-evolving challenges... all this they achieve without the certainty of everlife in the West among their kin and the revered Valar!"
Her speech captured his attention, giving him hope and new confidence.
"The courage of mortal men and woman of Lisianthus, the battles they have valiantly fought in the past and their constant striving for a peaceful future is legendary."
Elbereth strolled towards the arched doorways to return to the elven festivities under the trees.
Her parting salute accompanied by an expression of promise... "If you doubt the chances of survival of peaceful races after the elves have diminished, Aravir, then remember my words and know that the Valar would never abandon the beloved Second Born of Eru Iluvatar. Men shall forge alliances and grow in strength and wisdom. Their future is unknown and where they wander after taking their last breath is concealed from all, except Eru. But that they shall continue to do significant things has been foreseen and the Dominion of Men was part of the Music of the Ainur."
"Do not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not."
And as this parting phrase was carried upon the breeze to his ears, Aravir regarded the fading figure with awe, all doubts dispersed. He returned his near cold pipe to his lips and began softly humming the melody borne across the swaying grass, sung by the Elves of Tavrobel sitting a way off under the starry sky above him.