The Shadow came and passed like a winter chill blowing down from the Hithaeglir, and an age of peace followed. In time, Elrond departed for Mithlond and the Undying Lands, taking many of his household with him; some remained, including Elrond's sons and the lord Celeborn, who did not accompany his wife when she sailed West, but they did not intend to stay indefinitely. Elladan and Elrohir lingered for the sake of their sister, who had chosen a mortal life and wedded Estel; when Arwen's husband died and she followed his fëa beyond the circles of Arda, they would depart, and Celeborn would likely go with them.
With Elrond's departure came the harbingers of time. These were subtle at first, a winter frost lingering longer than it ought or a peculiar stillness in the air where there ought to be a gentle wind or birdsong, but soon, in quiet corners, those who stayed in the Last Homely House began to whisper that things were not as they had been.
Certainly Nénuwen had no reason to believe the valley would not be as it had always been, though it lacked now the presence of many she had known and loved, but one day as she walked the short distance from the cottage the peredhel lord had built for her, she saw the rooftops and gardens of the Last Homely House under the harsh sunlight and it seemed to her that a veil had suddenly been torn away.
She paused, blinking, but the vision did not change. A sense of immense age and withering permeated the scene, pressing upon her, and all of a sudden she felt a deep sadness pierce her.
Her body trembled and she forgot the errand that brought her to the house. For all I know, it is an empty ruin, a place of ghosts and no one at all will be there to meet me. Slowly, with shaking hands, she laid the basket of herbs down on the path, suddenly no longer caring what became of them. She would have turned and fled, gone back to her own cottage beside its bubbling stream, but the sorrow that beat like wings in her breast did not want solitude.
In the library she found him, sorting among the few texts left on the shelves; a few had gone with Elrond, but most had passed into the keeping of the lady Arwen and so found their way into mortal hands. Everywhere the walls and chambers had been stripped, or seemed so, and she wondered that she had not noticed before.
He looked up from his work, a mixture of joy and puzzlement on his face, for she rarely come to see him at the house or, if she did, it was not at this hour. And then, he saw the stricken look on her face, the threat of tears, and set down the book he had been studying. "What is it, meldanya?"
She went to him, burying her face in his robe and allowing him to fold her in his arms. His fingers stroked her hair and he bent his head to murmur in her ear. "What is this now? You are trembling, melda. What has frightened you?"
In halting words she told him, as he stroked her hair and shoulders in acknowledgement. "Never have I seen such a thing," she said, "and I feel heavy, weary…."
"Quell," she heard him whisper, but it was not the fading of autumn he meant. "That is what it is to fade," he murmured back. "I know not how this place escaped it so long, but at last it has come. Mortals do not see it—their lives are too brief and they are not bound to Arda—but we who are at one with Arda feel her waning. The time has come, whether we like it or no."
She clung to him with hands that wanted him to protect her from the heaviness of soul that was fading. Cwenda who passed into Mandos faded; this was a kind of death--altaqueli, he called it, a great waning destined to come to all Firstborn who remained in Middle-earth. "I do not know which frightens me more."
"This is my home also, meldanya, but there comes a day when we must leave our home for something better. I, too, am anxious, for I know not what I will find in a land I have heard to be so fair, and yet I am weary enough of Middle-earth that I look forward to the journey. I think on those loved ones with whom I shall be reunited, and it gives me heart to continue. I think all such great journeys are thus, that we find both doubt and joy unlooked-for on the road."
His lips gently touched her brow. "If Lenwë had not left Cuiviénen, he never would have heard the beautiful music of the waters of Ossiriand. And if we do not leave Imladris, if we do not take that first step, how shall we ever know what hidden joys might await us? All that will be left to us will be long, sad years of fading."
He had said that to her before, when, on the eve of the lady Arwen's marriage to Estel, he once again asked her hand in marriage. How shall we ever know what joy we may find if we do not try? he had asked.
Or sorrow, she replied.
For a moment, he had been quiet, measuring her. I do not know what future lies before us, what joy or sorrow we might find in binding ourselves. Not even the wisest know. You fear the pain and sorrow of parting that might come, yet in very act of fearing my love will you bring it upon yourself.
With sudden tears of longing, she had broken and flung herself into his arms. She went to him, even as her mother had gone to her father, to ease the ache of loneliness and the inexplicable yearning to lose herself in another, even if he was a Noldo who might well bring her sorrow later; the only certainty was the ache his absence would bring, and she could no longer bear the possibility of such a loss.
Before Elrond and his household, she had accepted her lover's ring, carved of wood as he had promised, though she did not wear it on her finger after the ceremony, and that choice, too, was a gift he had given her. Instead, she wore it on a ribbon about her neck, removing it only when they made love, not wanting it to come between their flesh, her beating heart and his.
"I am afraid," she whispered into his shoulder.
"Aye, I am also afraid, pitya nénunya," he murmured back, "but we go to Aman together."
Trembling, her eyes misted with tears, she looked up as his hand brushed hers. A moment hung between them in which he said no words, only waited. And then, she placed her hand in his.