Disclaimer: see chapter 1

The sapling was glimmering faintly in the moonlight. Galadriel reached out and touched it gently. "Like, and yet not," she said.

"But this tree lives," Gandalf said, sitting down on the bench by the fountain.

"As the Trees of Valinor live yet in my memory," returned Galadriel, and into her companions' minds came an image of light and splendour.

"And in mine," Gandalf acknowledged. He drew out a pipe and lit it, the glowing weed lighting his eyes.

Elrond trailed a hand in the water of the fountain, and gazed down at the reflection of the stars above. There was silence, and an onlooker would have said that each of the three was occupied with his or her own thoughts. Eventually, however, Elrond said, "Not yet, then, but soon."

"In a year or so," agreed Gandalf, sending a smoke ring sailing through the branches of the tree. He met Galadriel's eyes. "The long years of your exile are over."

She was silent for a moment. "It has not all been exile," she said. "I have been happy here. But I think, at last, our time is drawing to an end."

Lifting his eyes from the water to the high Tower above them, lights twinkling in its windows, Elrond nodded, and sighed deeply. His companions watched him, sympathy in their faces.

"She will be happy," Galadriel said. "And Gondor is now in good hands."

"The best," Gandalf added. "Aragorn will be a good King. You've done well, Elrond; shown him the best of Men and the best of Elves. Brought out the best in his blood."

"I know all this," Elrond said, heatedly, beginning to pace the width of the small garden, hands hidden in his robes. "Our time is passing, my lady awaits me in the West, and Estel will be a good king. A great king. But I am still angry, nay, furious, with him, with fate. I lost my brother to death, and my parents to the heavens, and now I must lose my daughter for love. And I can do nothing." He held up his hand, and the stone of his ring shone blue suddenly in the starlight. "This is useless, useless!"

"But they have not always been useless," said Gandalf, his own red stone glinting as if in answer to Elrond. "Everything has an end, my friend, even the Eldar, and their works. You know this. You have always known this, better than most because of what you are."

"Yet some ends come sooner than we would hope," Elrond returned. He sat down on the edge of the fountain.

Galadriel looked at him, and smiled sympathetically. He met her gaze and shook his head.

"No, my lady, use speech. My mind is too full of grief tonight."

"I would say, then, do not grieve," Galadriel said. "You know you are not the first father to feel you are losing your daughter to mortality, Elrond. But this is not the First Age. For the moment, no darkness threatens. You know that Arwen will live a long and happy life with Aragorn, and she will remember you with love. Surely that is better than her sailing West and leaving her heart behind her? "

Gandalf puffed on his pipe and said nothing, but watched his companions silently, a glint in his eye.

Galadriel rose, and touched Elrond's arm. "Elrond, you know this is true. And maybe this union of Aragorn and Arwen was meant to be, to reunite the two divided lines of the Half-Elven." She smiled warmly at him. "Indeed I have never seen two beings as like to their ancestors. Does that not tell you something? Remember her with love, and remember him with love, and you can tell Celebrían you bade farewell to a daughter who was happy."

Standing, Gandalf came to stand near them by the White Tree. The three rings glowed warmly as they were brought close; red, crystal, sapphire. Elrond looked down at them. There was a long pause. No sound echoed in the courtyard save for the fountain, singing to itself cheerfully.

"Soon, then," Elrond said, finally.

* * *

"I hope you haven't got something dreadful planned with the lords Elladan and Elrohir," Frodo said, as the hobbits walked back to their lodgings. "There was a lot of suspicious laughter from your end of the table."

"And very little from yours, cousin Frodo," Merry returned. "You all seemed remarkably sombre. Even Strider, and he should be happy, now he's married and is King and all."

"It wasn't all sombre talk," Sam said. "Prince Faramir and Mr Strider were telling tales of their journeys and battles a lot of the time. It was right interesting."

"But there was something that made you all depressed," noted Pippin astutely.

"We were talking of Boromir," Frodo said. He paused. "And, a little, the Ring. But I am fine," he hurried to add, as Merry and Pippin both opened their mouths to speak. "Indeed on the whole we had a very cheerful conversation. I certainly don't think Aragorn has been as light-hearted since we left Rivendell. Yet it is he who has the hardest job of any of us now."

"All right, Frodo!" Merry said, interrupting his cousin. "You were as jolly as any of us, I see that now. But you must forgive our concern. We have been awfully worried about you since we got back to the City. You seemed well enough when we were in Ithilien, but we just haven't seen you around much here."

Frodo clasped his hands behind his back, feeling the bandage perhaps more than ever. "I'm sorry, Merry," he said. "If you were worried, you should have said. Next time speak up!"

Pippin nodded, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. "We will, never fear. Sam, you must tell us if he's feeling out of sorts and we'll come and cheer him up."

Frodo laughed out loud. "Bless you, Pippin. Sam, did you hear that?"

Sam, who for some minutes had been walking along with his head at an angle, watching the stars, said, "Mr Frodo?" before registering the question. "Yes, Mr Frodo, I did hear that. To tell you the truth, Mr Pippin, I was hoping you'd say something to him. I'm glad you've spoken up."

Sighing, Frodo shook his head. "You three are incorrigible. The conspiracy has never broken up. But I'm glad you're here. Gandalf was right to make sure Elrond allowed you to come." The hobbits exchanged smiles. "Now," said Frodo, "tell me and Sam about these half-Elven jokes. Perhaps we could find a way to play one of them on Legolas or Gimli."

Merry and Pippin eagerly started to talk, interrupting each other amid friendly jests. Frodo listened, a smile on his face, and began to forget about his pain - at least for a little while.

* * *

She was standing by the window when Aragorn came in, the curtains open and her hair blowing in the gentle night breeze. "How did it go?" she asked, without turning around.

Aragorn took off the silver circlet on his head and placed it carefully on a chest of drawers before crossing the room to Arwen. "Well," he said. "Better than I had expected." He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her close to him. "What are you looking at, my love?"

"At the Evening Star," she said softly. "It looks different from here."

"The stars are different here," Aragorn agreed. "But no less beautiful." She turned her face to his and he bent to kiss her. "Will you become accustomed to this life, do you think?" he murmured. "To this city of stone?"

"And to my body that will fail?" Arwen said. She smiled. "Yes. Though it may sound strange, yes, I will grow used to it. For this is a beautiful city, and the people are generous and kind, and I have you."

"It will not always be easy," he returned, a hand up to caress her cheek. "It will often be hard."

"But we have each other," Arwen replied. She kissed him, her eyes meeting his, and then she took his hand. He followed her across the room and dropped beside her on the bed, leaning across to blow out the candle on the table close by.