AN: First of all, thanks go out to Birgit. She has a horrendous schedule and is, I think, about to crack up, but she still made time to beta my one-shot and give sound advice. Birgit rocks.
Secondly, as you may have guessed from the summary, this is a "history fic" and, as such, it follows that there's Context and Background here. Fear not, though, dear readers, for said Context and Background are implied, rather than explicitly stated at length. It means you get to find little hidden gems of information as you read - from real-life history, canon history, literary history, and mythology. Woot!
Finally, I must explain: I have not mixed up my fandoms. I believe Jo named house-elves as such for a reason. You'll find out when you read.
It had been three days since the Norseman had dragged the near-mad elf into the council room and made him kneel before the elders of the witenagemot. Three days since the Norseman's servants had removed that evil stone structure from the earth of the forest where it had rested. Three days since they had dragged it back here to Gryffindor's stronghold, where it had been kept under close guard by night and day. And it had been three days since the scribe-wizard Earendel had had the chance to rest his weary bones. His dark eyes felt heavy, his judgement impaired. He could hardly summon the strength to lift feather to parchment, and as he had been specifically ordered by the Elder Serpent Tongue to watch, wait and note any strange goings on, it was vexing in the extreme. His weariness also made his temper very fragile, for his eyes flitted across the cold, underground room and found the Norseman, who had entered with the elf in tow. He felt his teeth grit and his quill crunch under the crushing rictus of his grip.
"Hwęt, Earendel," the Norseman said, greeting him with a sharp incline of his shaggy, fair-haired head.
Earendel nodded curtly in acknowledgment. It was all he had to do. "I know there is no love between you and Njall," the Elder Ravenclaw had once said, "but there will be no enmity between the members of this council." And so they were civil, if nothing else.
"Come, elf," the Norseman commanded, giving the magical rope that curled around the neck of the elegant creature a tug with his wand. "You must speak with our scribe-wizard, so he may write what you know of this thing of evil you have found."
The elf did not comply, as it seemed to have recovered from its initial shock. When Earendel had first laid eyes on it, it had been shaking and screaming incoherently, trying to flee and hurting itself. Now it fixed the Norseman with a dark look that could have rent iron. It raised its head haughtily and snarled at the wizard in its foreign tongue.
"Okręsilegr daušamagr!" it hissed, baring its teeth, the pupils of its black eyes dilating.
Earendel could not understand what the creature had said, as the elves had left this world long ago, but Njall evidently did. The Norseman blinked before he drew back a hand and slapped the elf so hard across the face that its beautiful head snapped to one side, making it stumble and fall to the floor. A corner of Earendel's mouth twitched with distaste. He had learned his craft in the Holy Isle, with the Muggle brothers of the monastery there, and had grown to dislike the use of brute force intensely. Unfortunately, it was always the way with the Norse heathen, who possessed neither subtlety, nor wit, nor learning.
"Rise, elf," he heard himself say, more harshly than he intended. "Do not do your proud race the injustice of crawling on all fours like a cur in front of your gaoler."
Now it was the Norseman's turn to throw the dark look. Earendel ignored the other wizard in the way he had learned from his Muggle brethren, knowing that turning the other cheek would infuriate him. The elf rose gracefully to its feet and started towards him, its head held high. The Norseman moved with it, leading it on as though he were taming a wild dog.
The elf sat about a foot away from him, the Norseman next to it. It did not look at him, for its overlarge eyes stared fixedly at the eerie stone arch that stood at the centre of the remains of the old, Roman amphitheatre. The shadowy strip of silk that hung from it fluttered constantly. But there was no breeze. Earendel shivered, then shook himself, glaring at the graceful creature that sat beside him.
"What is your name, elf?" Earendel began, again a little more harshly than he was used to. He was weary, after all, and this place, this situation, this whole series of events had unsettled him and had shaken him to his very core. There were rumours abroad, dark rumours, that told of what lay beyond the shadowy curtain. The whispers spoke of a gateway to the Underworld, that Death himself lay in wait behind the veil...
He shook himself again. This was no time for superstitious nonsense!
The elf turned to him with a look on its face that made the hairs on the back of the scribe-wizard's neck prickle with unease. Its mouth was drawn, and its eyes stared through him, glassy and unfocused.
"My name is Egill," it whispered in its mellifluous voice.
Earendel wrote this down with his broken quill, then repaired it with a flick of his wand before continuing his interrogation.
"What were you doing here?" he asked. "Your kind left these shores long ago."
"Not long ago by our reckoning, certainly," the elf answered, with the ghost of condescension. "But yes, we have mostly left this place."
"Then what were you doing here?" the Norseman cut in, giving the rope an ominous tug that said: if you do not co-operate, I will string you up from the rafters.
The elf looked at him as though he were lower than the lowest Muggle bondman before it continued.
"We were commanded by our Lord Oberon to persuade the unwilling - the ones remaining in their trees who will not leave this place. We were to persuade them to leave this desolate land, and we succeeded for the most part. That was, until we stumbled upon that evil thing..."
The elf trailed off, its eyes flitting again to the veiled, stone archway, regarding it now with open fear.
"We. You said 'we'," Earendel observed, fixing the elf a penetrating look with quill in hand, "so you were not the only one present? Who else was of your party? Where are they now?"
Earendel was startled to see the elf's large eyes glisten with tears. It began to tremble and the lustre of its skin muted. It bowed its head, and said nothing. Earendel made to press the elf further for information, but the Norseman interrupted.
"There was one other elf," the fair-haired wizard began, with a hushed tentativeness that was so uncharacteristic of the man that it Earendel wonder whether he would sorely regret asking. "It said to the elf Egill that it heard voices coming from behind the veil. It drew near in hope of finding their owners, for it is an odd thing that an elf such as he could not immediately see through the disguises of wizards."
"And then he came," the elf said hoarsely, raising its glittering, red-rimmed eyes to meet Earendel's.
"Who came?" the scribe asked, frightened now in spite of himself, though more at how the elf and his heathen colleague were acting rather than at any real threat he could divine.
The elf's mouth twisted suddenly in a manner at once sardonic and sad. It said, simply, "The one who comes for us all, mortal."
Earendel blinked owlishly. It took him a moment to fully grasp the implication of what the elf had uttered. When it dawned, he bit back a laugh and felt relief flooding every fibre of his being. What silly creatures elves were. They were as bad as the heathens with their heads full of ancient nonsense. The council couldn't really believe this half-mad elf's ridiculous jumble of lies?
"Is that so, elf?" Earendel said airily, writing down what he had so far heard, being careful to ensure his face remained tactfully blank. "And tell me, did you see this 'one that comes for us all'?"
"I did," the elf whispered, and as it did so, the lustre of its pale skin dimmed even further until it could have almost passed for a human.
Earendel noticed that the elf's reaction made the Norseman uncomfortable, as the man's blue eyes darted over to the stone archway, wide with fear. In the sepulchral air of the underground room, the scribe-wizard, for the briefest of moments, thought he heard a voice or voices, whispering. Instantly, his head snapped around towards the stone arch, his eyes roving over it frantically to detect a sign that something was amiss. But he found nothing. The veil, black as midwinter's night, fluttered innocently as it had done for the past three days and nights. Nothing amiss.
Nevertheless, Earendel was unnerved, and when he met the elf's gaze again, there was a knowing look behind its eyes. Earendel shook his head angrily.
"Magic!" he announced, his clipped tones echoing throughout the room. "The wretched thing is cursed. Yes!" he added, giving the Norseman a warning look, "The arch is cursed and anyone who passes through the veil disappears."
"That is true," the elf mused. "Those who pass through it do, indeed, disappear, but it is not because a spell has been cast upon the stone by your kind, arrogant mage."
"Then pray tell, Master Elf," Earendel began in a dangerously calm voice, "what does happen to those who pass through the veil?"
"He takes them," the elf said quietly, its voice waving slightly. "He took Aušun. I only saw him for the briefest of moments. Wh-When Aušun drew back the veil to see what was beyond, he reached out, wrapped his cold arms around his waist and dragged him in. Hair like frost. Skin like snow. Eyes as black and cold and merciless as the deepest reaches of the seas. He looked at me," the elf said, almost crying, almost pleading. "He looked at me and it was as though the fimbulvetr had descended upon my very soul. It was so cold..."
The elf trailed off and withdrew into itself again. It was shaking. Njall had gone pale and had all but forgotten about the rope - but then, it did not matter much, with his captor having imprisoned itself much more effectively than any wizard with a wand ever could have. The elf's tale had affected him, it had terrified him, the stupid, lumbering barbarian that he was. But then, that was to be expected. The heathens all believed in such tales. Yet once again, Earendel found his eyes drawn inexorably to the veil. He tore them away in defiance and disgust.
Then a shimmer of silver light darted into the room and danced in front of the Norseman. It was a summons from the Elder Hufflepuff. The other man appeared to listen intently for a moment before he stood up and said, "I must take the elf to the witenagemot, for they wish to question it further. Do you have anything else you wish to ask, scribe-wizard?"
Earendel shook his head.
"Very well. I shall request that the Elders send in another to replace you, Brother, for you must be weary. Now come, elf," the Norseman said, giving the rope a half-hearted tug.
The elf rose to its feet in a listless manner that plainly said that the creature no longer cared what would befall it. It walked gracefully behind the Norseman, but just before it left, it turned to Earendel and fixed him with a gaze so utterly forlorn that it tore at his heart.
For a while after the Norseman and the elf left, Earendel thought about the elf as he wrote down everything it said he could remember, word-for word, on his stretch of parchment. It must have been a shock for the creature, losing its comrade in such a manner, he mused. No matter. It would turn up somewhere and the elf would left looking decidedly foolish. He wondered vaguely where it would go when this debacle had run its course, whether it would return to its homeland, or whether it would remain. It was not likely, but he could hope. Having an elf around could prove an interesting and useful distraction.
When he had finished copying, he laid down his quill and stretched himself with a yawn and shivered. It really was cold down here. He amused himself with the thought that if he had spent any longer at his writing, no doubt little ice-sheets would have formed in his inkwell. He sighed and he was startled to find that he could see his breath turning to vapour in the air before him. Yes, it was cold down here, but it had never been this cold.
He was stricken suddenly with a horrible thought.
"...it was as though the fimbulvetr had descended upon my very soul..."
The elf's words rang clearly through his mind as the clamouring, strident calls of devils dancing in the pits of hell. A nameless, suffocating fear stole upon him and wrapped its fingers around his heart. All thoughts of superstitious nonsense blown away so much like corpse dust in a howling wind, he shot to his feet and, with fumbling fingers, began to gather up his quills and parchment. Finished, he turned to leave, only to find himself face-to-face with a young man...
Hair like frost...
Skin like snow...
Eyes as black and cold and merciless as the deepest reaches of the seas...
Earendel's mouth opened and shut. It was gasping for air, but finding none to relieve it. A sheen of sweat coated his brow despite the knifing chill. The pale young man did not move from his spot, but his black eyes surveyed him with a terrifying interest. Draped over one slender arm was an intricately woven garland of grass. The young man smiled. Then Earendel gasped, all the warmth and colour draining from him, as he felt the young man's cold hands passing the garland over his head. The young man stepped back, his hands clasped, and did nothing. He merely watched.
Spotting his opportunity, Earendel whirled round in a flurry of parchment and swirling robes. In his desperation to put as many miles as possible between himself and the other, he tripped on the hem of his robes and the world shifted underneath him. There was an agonising crack before everything went black.
When his body was discovered half and hour later, it was recorded that Earendel, the scribe-wizard, had broken his neck in a fall. It was said that he was weary, that he was suffering from the cold and that his judgement had been impaired because of it. The young scribe-wizard, Cędmon, who had been sent down to replace him had found nothing amiss, nothing at all to indicate foul play. There was only the veil in the ancient, stone arch, fluttering innocently without a breeze.
AN: Right... Context. I'll jot down everything I can remember as it comes to me - sorry if I miss anything. If you're still curious, ask me in the review board.
Egill the elf's insult to the pesky Norseman ("Okręsilegr daušamagr!") is in Old Icelandic. It roughly translates to "filthy mortal". There is no recorded word for mortal in Old Icelandic, so I went for the nearest option: man who is about to meet his death. It fits, I think, whichever way you translate it.
Earendel: the name comes from the Old English poem Crist "éala éarendel engla beorhtast" (hail earendel brightest of angels). Tolkien shamelessly nicked it and used it in his mythology. His hatred of the Njall, the Norseman, is consistent with contemporary politics. Earendel learned to write at the monastery of Lindisfarne on the Holy Isle just off the coast of Northumbria, and the Vikings gave it a battering time and time again in the late 6th century. The Vikings tended to 'winter' in England, and Njall, I'm thinking, is one of those Vikings who decided to stay because Norway was getting a little too crowded.
Witenagemot: a few of you will know this already, but Jo's 'Wizengamot' is a play on the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the witenagemot, which means meeting or assembly of wise men (witena = wise men genitive pl. + gemot = assembly). There's a link to witenagemot on wikipedia, so I won't explain it here.
Location: The Wizard's Council, in this one-shot, is placed in the Saxon kingdom of Sussex. More specifically, the place where the Council meets will be the foundation of the modern day Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic. The place is built on top of an old Roman ruin (the Romans colonised the southern shores of Britain), hence the odd layout of the Veil room in the DoM. Funnily enough, there is evidence that an influential witenagemot met in London, so that works out quite nicely as well.
Right, I think that's it. If you spot anything else, then let other people know! ^_^
Hope you liked it.