I had PM'd this story to Riv earlier, with an explanation that I had always envisioned the Hall of Fire as the home of a Bardic college -- therefore, it was not simply a place where the elves of Imladris gathered in the evening for music, storytelling, and poetry, but a place of learning where young artists could progress from apprentice to journeyman to Master and, in the case of very powerful singers, to Bard.
I further indulged this idea in a spate of creative writing that resulted in some Tolkien-inspired fiction. My protagonist is Lindariel (now you know the source of my screen name!), who begins my tale as a precocious young 5-year-old elfling from Thranduil's court in Mirkwood who has been sent to Imladris to be apprenticed in the Hall of Fire. On the journey from Mirkwood to Rivendell, the caravan her family is journeying with is attacked by orcs in the vale-filled lands between the Misty Mountains and Rivendell. Elladan, Elrohir, and the Dunedain arrive to massacre the orcs, but not before most of the caravan members, including Lindariel's parents, have been killed. Her mother had managed to hide the frightened child inside a trunk before coming to her husband's defense. Elladan is the one who finds her in the wreckage of the family's wagon and takes the traumatized child to his father, who calls her wandering spirit back. "Helping" Elrond is a charming 5-year-old boy, who just happens to be named Estel; Lindariel and Estel will become life-long friends. (I actually do have her entire life mapped out; one day maybe I will actually finish writing it!)
This short story depicts Lindariel's first introduction to the Hall of Fire. I hope you like it!
Lindariel could not help gaping in wonder as she walked through the hallways and courtyards of Imladris at Lord Elrond's side with Estel bounding ahead to point out the next "favorite" place they were to encounter and bounding back to gauge her reaction. At every turn, there were wonderful rooms adorned with rich fabrics and tapestries, paintings and stonework, intricately carved furniture, and planters full of ferns and mosses, herbs and flowers. There were shelves full of books and scrolls, statues of ancient warriors and beautiful ladies, brightly burning hearths with piles of cushions for reading or writing or storytelling or sleeping or just thinking. There were courtyards and gardens, arbors and hothouses, pergolas and pavilions and amphitheatres.
Thranduil's court had been a place of great luxury and constant merry-making, full of light and song, dancing and jesting, clever verse and intricate games. But Imladris was a haven of learning and an altar to memory, where thoughts ran deeper, pleasures were more satisfying and longer-lasting, and where the spirit was nurtured.
But the most wondrous place of all was the great vaulted room that Estel named the Hall of Fire in a voice filled with awe and reverence and great wonder and delight. Both sides of the long hallway were lined with large fireplaces, each with a dais for singers, musicians, or poets and concentric rings of stone steps where listeners could sit or students could be instructed.
Down the center of the room ran a series of pools and fountains. As Lindariel raised her eyes to the ceiling at Estel's direction, she gasped to see that over the pools the roof was open to the skies to admit the breezes of Manwë and the radiant light of the stars of Elbereth. When it rained, the music of the raindrops tinkling into the pools added to the glory of the music and poetry within the Hall. At the end of the Hall was the Great Hearth, where the Master and his family would sit for more formal performances and where contests and trials were conducted among the apprentice and journeyman students.
Throughout the Hall, at the different hearths, groups of harpists, lutenists, poets, and singers of various ages were gathered for daily lessons and exercises with their masters. Elrond quietly explained to Lindariel the meaning of the different colors the students wore: blue for apprentices, green for journeymen, burgundy for masters, and at the end of the room at the Great Hearth was a tall, brown-haired elf in a rich purple robe -- Amarthalion, the Chief Bard of Imladris.
He looked up from his seat at the Great Hearth and smiled with pleasure as Elrond approached with the delightful boy Estel and the newest apprentice to the Hall of Fire. He bowed briefly to Master of Imladris and then knelt to greet the two children and take Lindariel's hands in his. "Welcome, my dear Lindariel, to the Hall of Fire. This is the place where we celebrate the miracles of music and poetry, where we perfect our voices and learn to play wonderful instruments, to discover the songs within us, and to travel the Far Plain in search of knowledge and to worship the Valar. I have heard you sing, and your beautiful voice is a great gift that should be cherished and developed to its full glory. Would you like to come study with us?"
Lindariel looked from Master Amarthalion's expectant face to Estel's beaming, nodding grin, and finally to Lord Elrond's kind, familiar eyes. Elrond knelt also and laid his hands on her shoulders. "We will see each other every day, my dear, for in all Imladris, this is my favorite place. And Estel comes here often as well to learn songs and hear stories; I believe he has even managed to learn a few tunes on the flute, haven't you, my son?"
Estel blushed and bobbed his head, "I will come even more often if you're here, Lindariel. And when you're finished with your lessons, we can go play in the arbor and make boats and kites and help the cooks chase rabbits out of the vegetable gardens." The two Masters laughed readily at the boy's generous enthusiasm, and Amarthalion squeezed Lindariel's hands gently as he asked, "What say you, my dear? Would you like to meet your classmates?"
Lindariel's cheeks turned as rosy as her hair, but she nodded and whispered, "Yes, I would like that very much," and Amarthalion stood with a satisfied nod to Lord Elrond and led Lindariel over to the youngest group of apprentices.
By the way, Riv, I LOVE the idea of depicting Bilbo's little poetry-writing corner in the Hall of Fire. A quiet nook beside one of the small hearths with small overstuffed chair, a candlestand, a lap desk, and a side table with a plate of "afters" and a cup of tea? A little bit of hobbity comfort in the midst of all that elven grandeur -- it would be charming! And you just know Elrond would INSIST upon providing such a spot for Bilbo!