Merineth emerged from the lower levels of the archive at sundown and groaned aloud at the sight of a stack of old scrolls on her desk, with a note beside them written in Erestor’s impeccable script. Once again, it appeared that Elrond’s chief counselor had waltzed off early to the Hall of Fire for a night of revelry and song, abandoning his assistant to at least two hours’ worth of work relabeling before she might be free to do the same. Luckily, Erestor did not prioritize the backlog of tasks left for her, and she chose to occupy herself with transcribing some of the older Edain letters first before turning to the more tedious task of relabeling and re-filing.
At least she had company. Gilraen sat sprawled in one of the library’s armchairs across the room, bare feet dangling over one armrest, her shoes cast off on the floor below her. A book lay open in her lap, but her eyes were closed, and for a moment Merineth wondered if she had not lost her friend to the tedium of night duty after all.
She smiled. When she had first met Gilraen, she would not have imagined the reticent young woman capable of such a casual display. It had taken no small amount of coaxing on the part of Merineth and her friends to bring Gilraen out of her shell, but their patience had paid off. The winter months had brought distance, if not closure, to her husband’s death, and she had finally reached the point where she could move about Imladris with an unguarded ease. The mother of Isildur’s Heir held hidden reserves of mirth beneath her calm exterior, and Merineth found herself looking forward to the evenings that Gilraen conned Elladan or Elrohir into watching over her son while she joined her newfound friends for a glass of wine or a game of cards.
Or, on nights like tonight, keeping Merineth from murdering Erestor out of pure exasperation.
“How did you become an archivist, Merineth?” Gilraen asked now, flipping lazily through her book.
“How did I what?”
“Become an archivist.” Gilraen propped herself up on one arm. “Occupations are so different in Rivendell than they are in the Angle.”
Merineth screwed the cap back onto her inkwell and turned to face Gilraen, her curiosity piqued. “Different how?”
Gilraen paused and swung her legs back over the armchair.
“Everything we do, we do for survival. Well over half our men enter the ranks of the Rangers, and the rest are blacksmiths or farmers or cobblers. It is much the same with the women…our duties are divided based on what is needed, or if we have some special skill. My mother is a healer, and I had one friend who joined the Rangers, but she was an unusual case. Your duties here, Ravennë’s duties as concertmaster…”
“Would be deemed a luxury among your people,” Merineth finished, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. She had never given much thought to the daily lives of the Dúnedain—Gilraen spoke of them so rarely still.
Gilraen nodded. “Our records, what few we have, are stored in a room of the Chieftain’s house. And we certainly cannot afford to spare someone to look after them as their sole duty. When I was married to Arathorn, it fell to me. But it was hardly my only job, or even an important one.”
“Indeed,” Merineth murmured. Her hand twitched at the thought of such valuable records lying untended in a sun-soaked room off in the wilds of Eriador.
“So how is it decided, who takes on such tasks? Were you trained from a young age? Is it allotted to you based on the positions your parents held before you?”
Merineth snorted at the thought of her mother setting foot in the great libraries of Imladris for anything other than necessity. Bainel had been a handmaiden to the lady Celebrían, and had never quite understood her daughter’s bookish instincts.
“Family has little to do with occupation in Rivendell,” she said. “Otherwise I would be in Lórien with Lady Arwen right now. No, I got this job because I asked for it. I am a child of the Third Age, as Erestor is so fond of reminding me, and I have not had the same brushes with history that so many of my forebears have. So I look to find them in the pages that have been left to us, and to preserve what we have."
“So it is the legends of old that drive you,” Gilraen smiled. “It is not enough to hear them from the mouths of those who lived through it themselves?”
Merineth shook her head. “You are new enough here still, to think that it is always enjoyable to sit through Glorfindel’s flourishing accounts of Gondolin. And there are some tragedies that you simply do not ask about. Some songs we do not sing. Besides…one can never quite trust the accuracy of some memories, no matter how much one might trust the storyteller.”
Merineth sighed, trying to think of an appropriate example. Her passion for the archives lay less in the secondary accounts that filled the shelves of the upper levels, and more in the ancient letters and scrolls that filled the stacks below. To have touched a letter that had been written by Melian herself…
“You know, Lord Elrond was raised by the sons of Fëanor, for a time,” she finally said. “If one is bold enough to ask, he is quite free with tales from his childhood. I believe he has gained enough distance that the old grief does not bother him as it once did. But his stories are still biased, and colored by time. It is not the same as reading the words of the men themselves. These archives…they give that to us. We can make them live again."
Merineth stared up at the ceiling in thought, and she counted backwards from the next full moon. Is it tonight? It may be…
She finished her mental calculations and looked back up at Gilraen with a wide grin. “Can I show you something?”
Gilraen’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What is it?”
Merineth didn’t answer, but merely lit one of the lamps that were used specially for the stacks and walked down the narrow aisles until she reached the Noldorin archives. Holding the lamp above her, she peered at the small lettering that labelled each box or scroll. For reasons unclear to her, Erestor had insisted on the files organized in the original Quenya rather than Sindarin, which made finding anything far more complicated than necessary. Arafinwë…Feánaro…
“Got you,” she murmured in triumph as she beheld the small box that read Nelyafinwë Maitimo. She opened the lid carefully, gingerly lifting out the files one by one until she found the pieces of parchment she sought.
“Maedhros Fëanorion burned the majority of his letters,” she said to Gilraen when she finally emerged. “Not surprising, given the end he met. But his cousin Fingon kept several, and we've located a good number scattered over the ages. I uncovered this, oh…two hundred years ago? It was mixed in with some old military correspondence. Likely they thought it carried some strategy secrets long rendered irrelevant.”
Gilraen frowned. “There’s nothing on the paper.”
“Moon runes,” Merineth smiled. “The ancient art is lost to us, but it was just being developed when the Noldor reached Middle-earth. And if the moon is high on just the right night…well, you can see for yourself.”
She opened the door for Gilraen with a flourish, and Gilraen giggled as she stepped through the archway.
Merineth led them out the library and down the path to the waterfalls. It was a clear night, and the moon shone on the paper, illuminating the runes. Gilraen’s eyes widened.
“Here.” Merineth brought out the sheet of paper with the translation. “It took me upwards of a day to make sure that was all accurate.”
Gilraen took the paper and began to read aloud.
“…you will be shocked to learn that my good-for-nothing brother Caranthir is good for something after all…don’t I know how that feels,” Gilraen rolled her eyes before she kept reading. “He has somehow, incredibly, established trade between his people and the Dwarves in the Blue Mountains…”
“Hence the moon runes,” Merineth supplied.
“We can use them for long-term planning--and for more personal correspondence. The most recent packet of letters from Hithlum contained some rather questionable (if, thankfully, unsigned) verses that I can only assume were meant for me…Fingon was a poet?”
“An amateur one,” Merineth answered. “Verses written for his own pleasure, and for those closest to him. I have always wondered how he would have reacted knowing Maglor had gotten his hands on his songs meant for Maedhros…”
“‘Beginner’s Guide to Poetry’…I trust you will find it useful, and that any future verses will be at least as well formed as their subject…oh, he’s awful!” Gilraen laughed. “I never would have fallen for Arathorn if his letters had been so self-centered!”
“We all have our different tastes,” Merineth said. “No doubt Fingon found it endearing, otherwise he would not have continued to write such verses.”
Gilraen chuckled, and stared back at the letter, looking suddenly wistful. “He loved him, didn’t he?”
“That he did,” Merineth said softly. “We can hear it from those insipid songs Lindir composes, or we can see it on the very page. You tell me which you prefer.”
Gilraen fell silent, lost in thought, before she finally turned back to face Merineth. “Did any of Fingon’s verses survive?”
“It is unclear. We have none in the official records, and before I discovered this I assumed they were all lost in Beleriand. But Erestor turned a rather odd shade of red when I showed this to him the first time, and I remain convinced that he or Elrond has the original verses on hand in some unmarked drawer. Hidden for propriety’s sake, and all that. It is considered unseemly for historians to be interested in gossip.”
“Then you make for a rather unseemly historian,” Gilraen remarked, and Merineth laughed. “Have you ever tried to find the verses yourself?”
Merineth shook her head. “I usually make an effort to remain on Erestor’s good side. He has been…quite indulgent of my whims, and I intend to keep it that way. It’s the only way I’ll ever bring him around to eventually switching to a record-keeping system that actually makes sense.”
Gilraen nodded slowly. “Well, if he discovers them missing, you can always blame it on the innocent mortal who wanted hard evidence for herself. Besides, he is likely on his third glass of wine right now…”
Merineth gave a slow grin, and she held out her arm. “You’re going to be a terrible influence, aren’t you?”
Elrond was going to regret that he ever encouraged their friendship.