Elrond stared into the fire. His mind was filled with a hundred different thoughts, and his head was pounding with the ceaselessness of it. In his hand he held a glass of miruvor that had barely touched his lips. It was his nightly ritual: he poured a glass of wine, seated himself in front of the hearth, and contemplated the worries that burdened him. Sometimes his thoughts were in the past, haunting him with should haves and what ifs. Other nights he looked to the future – on these nights he was happiest, for he often imagined his reunion with his lady-wife.
Tonight his thoughts were on the present. Arathorn, son of Arador, Chief of the Dúnedain, was dead, slain by an Orc arrow that had found its mark in his right eye. His young widow and child had left their home and were traveling to Rivendell. They were due to arrive tomorrow, near the noon hour.
The last chieftain to be raised in Imladris had been Arathorn I, the twelfth in an unbroken line of chieftains. He wondered if this one would bear any resemblance to his late brother and closest childhood companion.
Elrond and Elros had been inseparable when they were young. They had survived the destruction of their home together; they'd been partners in crime, mischief makers raised among the Kinslayers, and later the High King Gil-galad and the Noldor. It hadn't been until after the war that they'd grown apart.
Thinking of Elros made him grip the glass tighter. It was a pain that lingered in his chest, refusing to lessen with the passing of time. Elrond supposed it was the nature of Elves to feel the anguish of death more strongly than Men. It was unnatural for an Elf to grow old or to die, and his brother had done both.
Elrond raised the glass and swallowed deeply. His eyebrows drew together, shadowing his dark and brooding eyes. In the dying firelight he made a foreboding silhouette.
He registered another's presence a moment before he spoke. It was Glorfindel, his closest friend and confidante.
"Attempting to drown your sorrows, my friend?" His voice was soft and musical.
"Actually, I mean to read my fortune in the dregs," Elrond returned, his voice low and sarcastic.
Glorfindel crossed the threshold and entered; he brought with him a single white candle that outshone the dim firelight and brought a smell of jasmine to the air. He poured himself a glass of wine and took a seat beside his friend.
"You always did split the cork. Spoils a good vintage, that does. Better to read your fortune in tea," he commented, smelling the drink. Elrond remained silent, instead opting to drain the glass.
"What is on your mind, Elrond? You are behaving even more churlish than usual," Glorfindel asked, equal parts tongue-in-cheek and concerned.
"I am concerned over the frost," Elrond returned smoothly. "I'm afraid it will damage the cabbage harvest."
"Ah, I see. Yes, that would trouble me as well." The corner of Glorfindel's lips turned up.
Silence fell. The two Elves slowly drank their way through the bottle. Elrond spoke up again as Glorfindel uncorked another bottle. "What was it like to die?"
The golden Elf froze with the neck of the wine bottle poised over his glass. He turned his head slowly to regard his friend with serious eyes. "What is this about, my friend?"
"Please, humor me."
Glorfindel set aside his glass. He took the bottle and sat away from Elrond, abandoning his chair in favor of the hearthstone. He looked Elrond square in the eye and visibly gathered courage. "I don't know if you can understand. I will put it as best I can, but it is like a dream… I cannot clearly recall all of it.
"I knew that I was going to die, even before the Balrog struck his final blow. My spirit lingered, hiding within the shell of my dying body, until the very last beat of my heart. And then there was a freezing, paralyzing cold. The Helcaraxë cannot even compare to the freezing chill. In the beginning, it was nearly welcome, so intense had been the fire of the Balrog. But I thought that I would shatter into a million icy shards by the end. I still believed I had a body.
"Then there was pain. Sauron himself could not devise such torture. I realized that I was without a body, naked in the truest sense. This was torture of the mind, a reliving of past sins. I—" He faltered. His long fingers were clenched on the edge of the hearthstone, his knuckles white. Glorfindel drank a long swallow of miruvor before continuing.
"After that, there was a finite time in which I felt nothing. There was nothing to hear, or see, or taste or touch. I did not worry, I did not hurt; I did not feel."
Elrond's face was expressionless. Inside, his heart was rent with guilt for making his dearest friend relive these memories. But, in a tiny corner of his mind reserved for selfish desires, he was rapt.
"I can't place any sort of measure on the wait, but I suspect it was not as long as I imagine. Eventually I became aware of his presence. My senses were blind, but I knew he was there. There was so much love in his touch… He soothed my battered spirit with such warmth…" Glorfindel's voice trailed off, and Elrond did not press him to continue. He didn't need to hear any more.
"Forgive me, Glorfindel. I should not have asked you to relive that. I only seek to understand…"
"Be at ease, Peredhil. You cannot hide anything from me," the lord said slowly, with a faint smile. His eyes were tumultuous, and Elrond could not read all of the emotions written upon his face. "You have always sought to understand what unknown circumstance took your brother from this world."
Glorfindel stood, and Elrond did the same. They embraced firmly. Elrond thought he saw the candle light glisten on Glorfindel's cheek. When they stepped apart, Glorfindel rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Some things cannot be comprehended, Elrond. Elros is at peace. Be content with that."
Glorfindel took his leave, and Elrond returned to his chair. He remained there, motionless and blank, until the sun began to climb over the horizon and the birds to sing their morning song.
Perhaps he never would understand the life that Elros had chosen. He could not believe that a Man's soul could be snuffed out with the death of the body. Even Glorfindel, who had returned from Mandos' Halls, could not tell him his brother's fate. It was a puzzle he would not solve in the Outer Lands.
Elrond got up out of his chair and walked slowly to the balcony. His eyes stared in the direction of Eriador, from where a mother and child toiled through the wild.
One day, when Arda-Marred was broken and remade, Illúvatar's plan would be revealed. Elros was not lost for ever. He could wait.
Miruvor – wine
The he that Glorfindel speaks of is Mandos
Outer Lands – Middle-earth