The view from Imladris' highest balcony had not suffered, Glorfindel thought. Though Rivendell was beginning to show the subtle ravages of ages long denied by halfelven will, the water of the mighty river churned over the falls as it ever had, throwing up colored spray in a syncopated counterpoint to the roar. Though the branches of trees - old friends - now bent with sudden age, the walls of the cleft valley towered with all their usual magnificence, sunlight throwing their lines and shadows into sharp relief by day, moonlight wafting in the mist by night. Still a beautiful sight, even if the stars hid their luster and mourned, it seemed, for a lost son. Imladris was yet a haven, Glorfindel reasoned, even if its lord was gone.
Glorfindel sighed. Imladris was dying, and it was hard to accept. But it would not die today, and his attention was drawn away from the aging vista to an elf who had seen nearly as many years as the valley. Celeborn of Ennor stood at the edge of the terrace and gazed with distant appreciation across this corner of the world, unmoving as the balustrade where he rested his folded hands, and it seemed that he was a statue carved from the same stone - rock from the heart of Middle-earth.
Glorfindel smiled to himself with humorless irony at the metaphor, which was not as comforting as it would have been in elder days, given that the stone facade on one of the great halls of Imladris had crumbled away but the day before. He suspected that other fronts would soon follow.
Celeborn had accompanied Galadriel on her final journey only as far as Rivendell and had taken his eternal leave of her by the shores of the Bruinen, its tumbling waters the only witness to their parting words. When the ringbearers departed for the West, Celeborn had not immediately returned to Lothlórien, as most had expected him to do. Instead he lingered, waiting. Few now there were to wonder why, and fewer still who knew the answer - and they did not speak of it.
Youthful eyes, for all their sharpness, might have reported that the ancient silver lord was a study in serenity, and would have overlooked the slight, very slight, tension of his shoulders. Would have utterly missed the slow, meditative breathing that was just a shade forced. Would have dismissed as weariness the well-concealed tremor in his fingers, and not perceived that in Celeborn, such a thing could only be the manifestation of powerful internal temblors. But Glorfindel was not young, and Celeborn was not well.
With the gift and curse of immortal memory, Glorfindel could clearly recall the somber journey from the Grey Havens centuries earlier. It had rained, he recalled, poured, with rivulets of water soaking through collars and hems. Nenya's doing, and Vilya's, Glorfindel suspected, as those who controlled water and wind could scare control their grief. The pervasive wet had been miserable company for a miserable company, but Glorfindel had not imagined that anything could be worse than the black despair that had swept through the party when Celebrían's ship disappeared into the mist.
Thus he had been unprepared when, on the twelfth day, Elrond fell from his horse with a groan of abject desolation, his head in his hands. Glorfindel had kicked his mount forward, fearing some foul deed, but Celeborn, who had been hovering at his son-in-law's shoulder for days, had leapt from his own mount and broken Elrond's fall before maneuvering the half-elf to the base of an old and understanding tree.
The horses' breath had steamed near their noses as they shifted back and forth, sensing the sudden confusion of their riders. There was little sound, save rain in trees and Elrond's ragged gasps. After a moment Glorfindel had slid from his horse as Elladan and Elrohir simultaneously splashed down beside him. But Celeborn stood swiftly from where he had knelt in the mud beside his daughter's husband and pushed the concerned elves back with an authoritative hand.
"Celeborn," Glorfindel had hissed urgently, catching his forearm with an angry grip, concern and weariness taking him over a line of propriety few had ever dared cross.
"She has passed into Valinor; she is gone from his mind," Celeborn explained shortly as he wrenched his arm away, meeting Glorfindel's eyes with a countenance lined in aching empathy, though anger lurked beneath. "Let him be." It was not until much later that Glorfindel realized Celeborn had anticipated this true sundering, and had known that the final blow of parting was nearly beyond a heart's strength to bear.
It had been many hours before Elrond mustered the strength to continue, and when he stood at last it was with the wandering desperation of one who could think of nothing else to do. Glorfindel cared for little else in the journey save the utter silence of his lord and the emptiness of loss in his face each time he unconsciously reached for she who was no longer there.
Glorfindel had seen similar ruin in the eyes of warriors who had lost a limb in battle, elves who would not think to try to grasp a sword or bow with a hand he well knew was gone, but might try to brush back an errant strand of hair or gesture in conversation. Like all supreme losses, Elrond's wound had been inflicted between heartbeats and was most keenly felt in the long shadows that trailed moments of forgetfulness.
Now Celeborn awaited the same blow, unable to escape it notwithstanding his foreknowledge. He stood above a crumbling land as fall passed into winter, a silhouette in the slanting light of another waning day, an immortal caught at last by time. His long years could neither slow the hastening hours to his doom nor balance the empty ages to come, and so he stood silent, shrouded with the premonition of long-deferred inevitability.
And Glorfindel hovered at his shoulder.
Celebrían turned from her contemplation of the sea when a mild voice called her name. "Grandfather," she said with a smile, and reached to catch the hand of the king of the Noldor.
"My child," he said, his voice warm with delight, "how do you fare this day?"
She smiled again and said nothing, but tucked her hand under his arm and turned again to the sea, sharing the view with him in companionable silence. When Celebrían had sailed for Valinor she had not imagined that anyone anticipated her arrival, much less longed for it. But his warm hands had caught her cold ones as she weakly disembarked, and his startlingly familiar face had filled her weary gaze. In expression and tone, form and eyes, she saw her mother. But she had quickly learned that his gentleness reminded her powerfully of her father.
She had needed such unquestioning love. When her grey ship had passed beyond the circle of the world and slipped silently onto the straight road to Valinor her connection to Elrond had been snapped as if it had never been. Though her heart had also been flooded with the love of the Valar and their gentle song had soothed her hurt, she had not been healed, not then, and the pain was no less, though she understood that she was permitted to dream of living whole again. She knew that true peace would remain a spectre of the mist until he was with her again. Elrond had not believed such a day would come, and in her deepest heart Celebrían admitted her own doubt.
Many years later she had asked why their bond had not endured; her grandfather had answered that Elrond could not have borne Middle-earth with visions of Valinor in his mind, and that she could not be healed with the sorrows of Middle-earth in hers. And so Celebrían had used the strength of long-sundered family, the unexpected gift of Aman, to ease the loss, and was restored. She knew, without needing actual confirmation, that Elrond had reached to his duty, and to Vilya, and therein found preservation, though not peace.
She had thought that perhaps she would feel the call of his heart or the echoes of his emotions, especially if those emotions were strong; that somehow even the sea and the will of the Valar could not keep them apart. It had not been so. The only messages she had ever received from him were notes penned in his familiar hand, carried by elves returning from Middle-earth. He, of course, received no such tidings, for the ships did not sail West to East. His notes were pleasant and beloved, but carried very little of substance. That had worried her more than anything he could have said.
Nevertheless, she had known that events in Middle-earth were coming to their unknown end. Though it was not openly spoken of, she knew that the situation was a dire as it had ever been. If nothing else, the ever-increasing stream of refugees confirmed those fears, as did the way that elves formally of Imladris changed the topic of their conversation when she approached. From time to time, one of them would be willing to give her the details that Elrond's notes lacked, but most were deeply reluctant to do so.
Then, for one fearful year few elves had sailed from the Havens - though many arrived in Valinor at the gates of Mandos. Those few who came on the ships told tales of ever-bold hordes of orc, of black riders who screamed in the night, of a flamed eye that pierced the staunchest heart, and none carried word from Elrond. Celebrían began to wonder if she would even know if evil triumphed.
"It has not," Finarfin answered, easily reading her thoughts from the expressions that flitting across and face and through the gentle kin-bond he had formed with her. He squeezed her hand. "Look, granddaughter." And so she stood on the white shore and gazed across the wide sea until she realized that she was seeing two horizons - one from the east, and one from the west.
Elrond? she whispered across the water, disbelieving. There was no answer, until: Celebrían, his beloved presence returned. He said nothing else, but she could feel the gentle roll of the ship beneath his feet and the sun upon his face.Celebrían reached hesitantly for his mind, and almost could not find it. Then she realized what she had done - she had searched first for sapphire penumbra that had ever eclipsed his soul.
It was gone, and he gleamed in the luminous radiance of his own majestic sovereignty.
She looked upon him with giddy awe. True, his mind was crossed with new wounds that had not been there when they parted. One was the grief of her passing. Another was an encounter with evil that had to be the One Ring itself. Aching above all was anguish for his children that he had not accepted, a desolation so deep that he had no power to hide it from her. Yet most profound was Vilya's absence. For all the years that she had loved him, all the years he had opened his mind to her, everything had been colored by its omnipresence. It had suffused him with such intensity that even she had never found this pure light, unfiltered by the opacity of obligation that the ring had necessarily imposed on his soul.
She probed deeper, surprised, for she had expected that losing the power of his ring would be the gravest hurt of all. But it had cut nothing from him; he was no less than he had been before, though he thought otherwise. But his wife perceived that Vilya had done what it had been made to do, and had preserved all that it touched with rigid perfection, even Elrond. Released now from the narrow confines that had been necessary to reach the heights and depths the ring had required, his shallowed profundity revealed a gentle fluidity that rippled exquisitely in her soul and a dazzling breadth that she longed to explore.
Elrond laughed. Wait until I can touch you, I beg you. Then you may explore whatever you will.
Bilbo elbowed his nephew in the ribs. "Look quickly," he said. "I do believe that Lord Elrond is smiling."
"I am lord of nothing, Master Baggins," Elrond said, turning gracefully from the prow of the ship. "And grateful for it. Perhaps that is why I am smiling." Bilbo looked dubiously at the former master of Rivendell. There was no mistaking Elrond for anything but a lord, even if he stood barefoot upon the desk of a ship.
"No," Frodo said slowly, his heart still recognizing the call of the elven ringbearers', even if the instrument of their connection was gone. "It is something more. Something has just happened, hasn't it?"
"Yes," Elrond answered, and his eyes flickered in some internal amusement before they deepened with thought and turned to the stern of the ship. "A moment, " he said as he stepped toward Galadriel, "and I shall explain."
"I am fine, Elrond," she answered with measured calm, her back to the group. To Frodo's eyes, she looked as she had when she had rejected his offering of the one ring - diminished and beautiful and sad. A simple elf-woman, and profoundly not.
Elrond frowned, and did not believe her.
"We have just crossed into the waters of Valinor," Gandalf explained to the puzzled hobbits.
In that moment it seemed that he changed before their eyes, although they could not say why.
With another lingering look at his mother-in-law, Elrond turned back. "My wife waits for me on those shores, " he said quietly.
"Your wife?" Frodo asked, startled, and Gandalf chuckled.
Elrond's eyes twinkled. "Truly, master hobbit. From whence did you imagine my children came?"
"I suppose I had never thought of it," the hobbit laughed. Then his face grew grave. "There is some sorrow in your parting, isn't there?"
Elrond leaned upon the edge of the ship and looked out across the water again. "There is some sorrow in every parting, Frodo, as well you know. But yes … she has been gone from me since before your father's fathers' fathers were born. Yet a moment ago, for the first time in many centuries, she touched my mind. That is why I smiled."
"She was not permitted to before?"
"No," Gandalf rumbled, glancing to where the former Lady of the Golden Wood stood. "The line between Valinor and Middle-earth is difficult to cross, even for those who are deeply connected."
Frodo suddenly understood, and looked to Galadriel. "Celeborn stayed in Middle-earth," he said quietly.
Elrond nodded. "My joy is her sorrow, though she has long known this day would come."
"She weeps," Frodo whispered reverently.
"Of that I have no doubt," Elrond answered, his eyes seeking an unknown shore.
Galadriel's hair was caught by the wind and it played about her face, which was turned away to the receding east. Her hands were folded upon the rail, the hand bearing Nenya placed serenely upon the other. But the fingers of the hand beneath were white and trembled from their hold on the polished wood, and suddenly Frodo wondered what price she had paid to step on the deck of their ship.
"What of Celeborn?" he asked.
Elrond looked over at the little hobbit, who looked back with gentle concern. "He also weeps," Elrond said softly.
"Why did he not come with her?"
Elrond smiled faintly, and did not answer. Remembering that Elrond also had lingered even as his wife sailed away, Frodo felt suddenly foolish.
"Forgive me, Lord Elrond," he said. "It is not my place to ask." And though Frodo did not know the full tale, he sensed that such choices were the fate and despair of all the wise.
Then Elrond looked more keenly into Frodo's eyes. "Nay, not fate," he answered, his voice thoughtful and deep, seeming to read Frodo's heart. "Celeborn was born in Middle-earth before the moon and the sun; he is a part of Ennor in a way that this difficult to explain. But that is not the whole answer." Elrond lifted his face to the sun, and breathed the pure air, and smiled again at an unseen touch. Frodo waited, his own smile playing on his lips, for he had not thought to ever see Elrond thus.
Bilbo, who had been unabashedly listening in, snorted and shook his head. Much of the age and care had already dropped from the old Hobbit's face, and Frodo was delighted to see that his uncle's eyes danced with their usual mischief. "Elrond is useless now, Frodo-lad, what with his lady back in his head. But I can answer your question, at least. Sam let you sail away. Why didn't he come with you?"
Frodo frowned. "Rosie. Elanor. The Shire. People and places that he loves."
"Yet he loves you as dearly, and he always will," Elrond said, smoothly picking up the conversation as he gave Bilbo an amused glance. Then he settled his face into the lines of tranquility to which all were more accustomed. "What is the difference?"
"Duty," Frodo answered softly after a moment. "His duty to me is ended, but yet remains with Middle-earth."
"Indeed," Elrond said with a nod. "We sometimes must release what we love when their time is ended, even if we must remain because our time in not. That is your answer. Or, an answer."
He companionably grasped the Ringbearer's shoulder before he leaned again on the ship's bow. A glint of gold and blue drew Frodo's attention, and the hobbit saw that Elrond held his Elvish ring in his fingers, rolling it about with an air of distraction that could not fully disguise the focus he turned upon it.
"But fear not, young Frodo," Elrond said. Then the elf looked up, and his grey eyes gleamed with the familiar dualities that marked the elves - melancholy and joy, reluctance and resolution. "For love may seek its own path when duty ends," he continued, and bent over the deep sea.
And opened his hands.
We've come to the end of this at last. It has been a fascinating journey, a tremendous joy, and an intriguing obsession. It was my purpose to cover some uncharted territory in this tale and to try to say something of value in the process. I hope I was successful.
Many thanks to each of you who reviewed. I write to preserve my own sanity, but was overjoyed by each note, and am grateful for the friendships they wrought. More than once, a comment from one of you made me think about an angle I had not before. Your insights enriched future chapters, and so this story belongs to all of you. That's part of the fascination of this medium.
Thank you also to any of you who read in silence. I hope you enjoyed the story, and thank you for staying with me.
I humbly acknowledge the source: the incomparable Professor Tolkien. He wanted to create a mythology, and indeed he did. Since mythologies are meant for retelling, I hope he will forgive this wandering minstrel's interpretation.
With kindest regards,
Revisited on 1/30/2005 to correct several grammar and timeline issues, with thanks to Marta for her help.