Thanks to daw the minstrel for beta reading this chapter.

Epilogue: The Third Age

Elrond entered Arwen's room, dark except for the moonlight streaming in the open windows, and sat next to her on the edge of the bed. She was sleeping, her eyes half closed, and her chest slowly rising and falling. Picking up her hand, he studied the fingers, again perfect, despite being badly broken before. In her other arm she tightly held her doll, given to her by her brothers, lost in the stream, and returned to her on the banks of the river that had nearly claimed her life. He smoothed back her hair, then leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Before having children, he had wondered at Elu-Thingol locking Lúthien in a tower. Once they were conceived, though, he had understood perfectly the desire to keep them safe from all harm, and his daughter most of all.

He rose and walked to the balcony that overlooked the waterfalls and the rose garden below. He saw the flash of silver of Celebrían's hair as she tended her roses, a task she had always performed herself, a task she found relaxing and rewarding. Her voice drifted up to him, and he could not help but smile and hum with her, and it seemed as if the roses turned to the sound of her voice and lifted their petals to drink in her song. He recalled how Glorfindel had aided her at times, and told her how Yavanna had sang to the Two Trees and they had grown in response. Celebrían had always hummed and sung while she worked, but now she sang to the plants. She looked up suddenly and saw him on the balcony, and she smiled at him. He reached out to her with his thought, filling her with his love and he felt her in his mind, encircling his fëa and lifting his heart. She had complemented his own skills in reaching Elrohir when their son had drifted from them, and while he had always known she would do whatever she could to aid their children, he was also intrigued by the power they, with Elladan, had been able to extend together. We should explore that together, she whispered in his mind. Then she suggested a few other things that made his heart pound a little faster and his anticipation for the night rise.

Leaving Arwen's room, he stopped at the suite that Elrohir and Elladan shared. They had arrived home in high spirits, visiting with their friends and the warriors they patrolled with. Elrohir had retired when Arwen had been put to bed, and Elrond could see that his son was tired. He raised his hand to knock on the door, but stopped, not wishing to wake Elrohir if he was sleeping. He pushed it open quietly and moved silently to Elrohir's room.

To his surprise, he found Elladan sitting at Elrohir's beside. A sketchpad in hand, Elladan was drawing with a charcoal pencil. He looked up and smiled as Elrond entered, and Elrond moved to see what Elladan was drawing. It was a sketch of the bridge falling, beams splintering and falling to the river below, the wagon striking the water, and Elrohir leaping in after it. Momentarily speechless, he could only stare at the scene that Elladan had brought to life.

"I am sorry, Adar," said Elladan quietly.

Elrond caught Elladan's hand as he reached to flip the pad closed, and instead took the drawing in hand. Leaning against the chair, he studied the sketch, thinking of the memories that those who witnessed it must work through. Elladan often painted or sketched, and it seemed to Elrond a perfect way for his son to work through his memories.

"This is a fine sketch, Elladan," he finally said. "I feel as if were there, though I am glad I was not." He looked up at his son, then reached to embrace him. "Have I told you how proud I am of how you handled yourself and took care of your brother and sister?"

Elrond felt the slight hiccup in his son's chest and heard the deep intake of air; then Elladan whispered, "Yes, Adar, you did. But I am glad to hear it again."

He pulled back and waited for Elladan to continue. "I do not understand, Adar. We've had nearly a week of good travel, and Elrohir was so full of joy yesterday. Then tonight, it was like he just collapsed."

Both of them looked at the soundly sleeping Elrohir, comfortably sprawled on the bed amidst soft pillows and silky sheets. His eyes were closed, which Elrond knew bothered Elladan greatly, for he saw it as a measure of Elrohir's well being.

"This is normal, Elladan. We have all been stressed, and our bodies adjusted to deal with that. Then suddenly we came home, and everything was as we left it. Life has continued here as if nothing happened; yet our lives have been changed by all we experienced. We wanted nothing more than to return here, and the normalness of it does overwhelm us. Our bodies now must adjust to that instead, and it is another big change. Elrohir is truly resting now. I would not be surprised if he sleeps heavily for a few days."

Elrond had watched Elladan's reaction to the explanation and saw the comfort he gained. "Your naneth is out tending her roses. Elrohir and Arwen are soundly sleeping. You are sketching. I am hovering over all of you. We all are adjusting in our own way and we will feel as we usually do in a short while. Keep sketching, Elladan."

Elladan settled back into his chair, and Elrond moved to sit at Elrohir's side. He smoothed the blankets away from Elrohir's face and rested his hand against his son's cheek. He noted the healing finger nail beds, and could not resist the urge to examine the area where the leg was broken. Content that Elrohir was merely tired, he rested both hands on Elrohir and concentrated on pouring his own healing strength into his son. A smile crossed Elrohir's face and then he sighed and relaxed into even deeper sleep.

With a final caress of Elladan's head, Elrond left his sons' room. As he walked into the corridor, he felt the slight thrumming of Vilya at his side. Drawn by a compulsion he did not understand, he paused, touching the pouch still beneath his tunic, and then pulled it free. He opened the velvet bag and slid the ring on to his palm. Light seemed to twinkle from within the sapphire, reflecting on the gold band near the stone. It seemed to Elrond as if the ring were glowing in its own light.

A noise in the hallway caught his attention and he closed his hand about the ring, then slipped his hand into his robe. Vilya's vibrations coursed through him, increasing in force and speed and then diminishing, as if trying to attune themselves to Elrond's own rhythms. Filled with wonder, he turned and strode down the hall and out of the house, following the path to the high waterfall. He quickly climbed the rocks, remembering as he did so coming upon Gil-galad at this spot so many years before.

He felt a smile tugging on his lips as he recalled telling his children of his and Celebrían's meeting the night before. Gil-galad had, in every letter they exchanged, managed to bring up Celebrían as a topic of conversation. She had blossomed in his court, as Elrond had known she would, and Gil-galad would tell him how her many suitors finally abandoned their courtship of her, for she always would tell them that her heart had already been given to another. Glorfindel had faithfully tended the roses Celebrían sent, reminding Elrond at every turn that she would return one day and expect to see her roses. Yet Glorfindel had not let him tend her flowers, either. In retrospect, Glorfindel had been wise. Had Elrond been the one to tend the garden, it would have been his. Instead, Glorfindel had stewarded the garden for Celebrían, fully intending to give it over to her when she finally came.

They had both been so sure, Elrond remembered. He had been less so, though not less sure of his love for Celebrían. He had known that Sauron would rise again and a battle unlike any since the War of Wrath would be fought against him, and Elrond was not sure that his future with Celebrían would be in Middle-earth. Darkness had settled heavily on Middle-earth in those years after Númenor had helped them defeat Sauron. Tar-Ciryatur had, within only a few years of his success in chasing Sauron to Mordor, returned to Middle-earth and begun building settlements. No longer just friends to the Men of Middle-earth, the Númenorians now held themselves as Lords, exacting heavy tribute and tariffs instead. They became known as the Dark Númenorians, and though they troubled the elves little in the next centuries, few elf friends remained. Númenorian ships could be seen in the south seas, but seldom did they come to visit the Havens at Lindon.

Imladris had grown though, thought Elrond as he surveyed the grounds from his position high atop the waterfall rocks. Many of the soldiers who had lived there during the years of siege returned with their families, providing a place of solitude and quiet far different than Gil-galad's realm in Lindon. Gil-galad found Imladris too quiet for his liking, remembered Elrond. He came on occasion, rested and relaxed as one might on holiday, but he would grow restless and soon return to Lindon. Elrond had to admit that he had wondered if Celebrían would also grow to like the culture of Lindon, and find the tranquility of Imladris too quiet for her liking as well.

And yet, when he had traveled to Lindon, he found himself searching for her from the moment he entered the city gates. At such times, little could gain and keep his attention. Then, when he finally would see her, little could remove his attention from her, though he did not often speak to her. Glorfindel teased him endlessly, and as time went on, Elrond was sure that not only was Gil-galad in conspiracy with the golden warrior, Celebrían was as well. Glorfindel treated her like a queen, and the two were often seen reviewing sketches and making plans, though they would become silent and cover their work if Elrond approached. Jealousy had arisen in him time and time again, and he found himself having to follow the same advice that he had given Arwen. He had finally submitted himself to Glorfindel, admitted his jealousy of the time he spent with Celebrían, and prepared himself to be rebuked. Instead, Glorfindel's expression had softened and he had apologized, reassuring Elrond his only intent for Celebrían was for her to be Elrond's wife one day. Elrond had sputtered, reminding Glorfindel 'do not raise her hopes about when that might be! We know not what perils lie before us as Men gain dominance in Middle-earth and Sauron gathers his strength!' Glorfindel had merely smiled and answered that Celebrían was not easily misled.

Gil-galad would pair them at every opportunity, which Elrond had not minded in the least, then discuss the joys of elflings and how comfortable Elrond had appeared with a babe in his arms. Not even glares from his cousin Galadriel would cause Gil-galad to cease his matchmaking. Celeborn, however, said little, though Elrond had concluded that the bemused look on the elf's face was becoming permanent.

And Celebrían had indeed grown into a lady, comfortable at court, comfortable with visitors from other realms, educated in the politics and economics of the realm, and yet unaffected by all of it. He had seen her meet with representatives of Númenor, attend tense discussions of their intentions in Middle-earth, and then braid her hair and shed her formal clothing to play with the elflings in the fountain in the center of town. His love for her grew each time he saw her, each time he thought of her, and when he would make ready to return to Imladris he would practice his betrothal request, silver ring clenched tightly in his hand. Yet the time would never seem right and he felt no peace to ask her, and so they would part, words unspoken, and the patient love in Celebrían's eyes would nearly break his heart. Somewhere in his chest of mementoes was that scrap of parchment with his written and rewritten request for Celebrían to marry him.

Peace had endured in the westlands for many long years, years in which the elves were content, and even the Men far from the coasts were largely unaffected by the doings of the men of Númenor, good and evil, in the south. Rumor came of Men long-lived, their bodies fading to invisibility, yet remaining cloaked and alive, and they were called the Ulairi, and the Elves learned with horror that these were the Men to whom Sauron had given the Nine. Then Umbar was built in the far south, a trading city for those faithful to the kings of Númenor and his imperialist designs and plans to become King of the Earth. But Pelargir became the port of the faithful Númenorians, and the first haven of those who were still called elf-friends. Elrond recalled how the relations between the Elves and Númenor had waxed and waned in the Second Age, at times less when a king rose to power with views and policies that seldom concerned more than the island nation, and at times more, when a king who sought to reaffirm and strengthen old alliances ruled. Elrond heard of how dark the days had grown, with only the brief rule of Tar-Palantir as a ray of light in that ever-darkening world. When he had died, his rule should have been passed to his daughter Miriel, but instead her cousin Ar-Pharazon had forced her to wed him and taken the kingship for himself.

He recalled meeting in Lindon with Gil-galad, Círdan, Glorfindel, Celeborn, Galadriel and others, as they learned that Sauron had submitted himself to Ar-Pharazon and been taken to Númenor as prisoner. Galadriel had predicted then that Sauron would soon usurp the rule of the king, and the doom of Númenor was at hand. Indeed it was, for Ar-Pharazon had been manipulated by Sauron to attack Valinor, and in doing so he had brought the doom of Númenor down upon all. Elrond's thoughts drifted back to Elros, and his excitement at the beginning of the Second Age over the gift of land they had been promised, of Andor, and the recognition of the blessing upon them by the Valar. That such evil could come from his twin's line was beyond comprehension. Elrond was suddenly glad for Elros, glad that he was now beyond the circles of the world and did not have to see what doom his descendents had brought upon themselves.

Word came to Círdan to prepare, that Númenor would be destroyed, thrown down and swallowed by the sea with all of her people. Middle-earth was not unaffected, with great waves slamming into her shores, altering the coastlines and the courses of rivers. Círdan had moved his ships up the Lhune as far as was possible, yet still many were damaged or lost, his havens were badly damaged and a considerable portion of the low-lying city destroyed. While the elves had lamented this destruction, they were unsettled by the other news that Ulmo had provided to Círdan: The Straight Road was now hidden, bent, and only with the guidance of the Valar would any ships now make the passage west. Mortal flesh would not withstand the journey unaided. Círdan would need to time such voyages carefully, and only with Ulmo's aid would they find the way.

The elves had been gratified when they saw the nine ships sailing from the west, and they learned that some of the house of Amandil had survived the destruction of Númenor. Elendil had been full of grief over the loss of his father, for they had not heard if he had reached Valinor or what his fate had been. Yet the brave Elendili had settled into Middle-earth, building the kingdom of Arnor inland in Northern Eriador and the kingdom of Gondor in the south.

Though Sauron had been in Númenor at its fall, he again survived and his spirit returned to Middle-earth. He had been weakened, but his ring was still with him and his kingdom in Middle-earth undiminished. Also undiminished was his anger at the Númenorians, in particular Elendil, who had survived its fall, and it did not take him long to strike. When Sauron had attacked the great cities of Gondor, Elendil had taken counsel with Gil-galad in Lindon, and the plans for the Last Alliance were born. For both kindreds knew that if Sauron was not defeated now, his strength would grow and his dominion over Middle-earth would increase until he ruled all.

And so Elendil and Gil-galad had gathered their huge forces and marched east to Imladris, and once again Imladris had become a military encampment. Their forces had stayed there for more than two years, while word was sent to Oropher in the Greenwood and Amdir in Lorinand, and to Elendil's sons in the south. The dwarves in Moria also came, though some of their estranged kindred fought upon Sauron's side. From all over Middle-earth came contingents of soldiers, gathering together in the south or along the route that Gil-galad and Elendil would follow south, joining their ranks to his. And Elrond had gone too – again the Herald of Gil-galad.

Elrond fingered Vilya, twisting the band in his hand and feeling the ring respond to his caress. He recalled the day Gil-galad had entrusted it to him. For seven long years they had laid siege to Barad-dûr, challenging Sauron in his own stronghold. King Oropher had died early in the war, in the first assault upon Sauron; and his son, Thranduil, had replaced him, proving less reckless and more willing to participate under Gil-galad's command. Amdir had died also, and in the sixth year of battle, Anarion, Elendil's younger son had also fallen. But it was in the seventh year, late one evening, when Gil-galad had called Círdan and Elrond to his tent. Spread out across his table were his final strategies and plans, worked out by the commanders earlier in the evening. They had all gone to their tents and to rest, for the assault the next day was to be their strongest push yet. Their warriors were tired of battle, deprived of adequate food and sleep, and longing for home. Elrond had just collapsed on to his cot when a camp guard summoned him back to the King's tent. When Glorfindel had risen to follow him, the guard had stood in his way, indicating that the king wished to speak to Elrond alone. Elrond recalled how Glorfindel's eyes had narrowed and his muscles tensed, but he had finally stood aside as Elrond went forward. Elrond could have hardly rebuked him; the warrior fought valiantly under Gil-galad, but Elrond was his first and foremost responsibility, and not even Gil-galad could supplant that. Elrond's life was owed several times over to Glorfindel.

He had entered Gil-galad's tent to find the king seated in his customary seat at the table, a small wooden box before him. Círdan had stood next to him, his face grim. Gil-galad had beckoned Elrond to join them, and waited until both Círdan and Elrond were seated before speaking. He had finally opened the box, and drawn forth two pouches, laying one before each of them.

"Long have these been in my keeping, yet on this night I am compelled that they should be so no longer. Before you, Círdan, is Narya, the Ring of Fire. Before you, Elrond, is Vilya, the Ring of Air. I entrust these to you, to hide them until such time when they may be wielded safely, or until their power is diminished and they become nothing more than a trinket. Remember now that they are under the dominion of the One. Do not bear them; keep them hidden," said Gil-galad quietly.

Elrond felt Círdan shift next to him, and he looked up at his mentor. Círdan's eyes were bright, and he seemed tense, a muscle in his jaw twitching. He held Gil-galad's gaze with his own, and Elrond looked from one to the other, suspicion growing in his mind as to the source of the battle playing out between them. Gil-galad looked away first, turning instead to Elrond.

"A piece of advice for you, Elrond, my son, if you will listen: when this is over, go home to Imladris and marry Celebrían. Make her your lady and serve the realm together, as you have these long years. There is happiness there for you, if you will accept it."

"Gil-galad," began Elrond, hesitating slightly, "it appears as if some foresight has come to you, some foreknowledge of what lies before us."

Gil-galad looked upon him, his eyes bright with unshed tears, and his voice broke as he spoke. "A long day is before us. Sleep, Elrond. Speak to Glorfindel, for he will wish to know."

Recognizing his dismissal, Elrond rose and began to slowly walk from the tent. He stopped at the tent opening, turning to look once more upon Gil-galad. The king's head was bowed, his long black hair falling loosely about his face. He looked vulnerable sitting in casual leggings and tunic, without armor or spear, without his head held high and his booming voice calling orders upon the field. He watched only a moment longer, enough to see Círdan reach out and take Gil-galad's hands in his own. Leaving the tent, he felt a deepening dread settle upon him, a feeling of doom, of darkness cloaking him and hiding the sun from his eyes.

"Elrond?" Glorfindel's voice interrupted his spiraling thoughts as he entered the tent.

Elrond still clutched the pouch in his hands, and Glorfindel had only to look upon the bag to know what was contained within. "Why does he give you this?" he demanded.

"I do not know what has come upon him," answered Elrond slowly. He turned the pouch over in his hand, feeling the wrapping within, but not the ring itself. "I fear some foreknowledge of his defeat, or capture, or….death…has led him to this, but he would not speak further of it."

Glorfindel had left the tent immediately, and Elrond later learned he had spoken to Círdan and Gil-galad. Glorfindel had not repeated the words spoken, and strangely, Elrond did not wish to know them. Instead, he had lain upon his cot until dawn had come, and his mind had led him upon a path of memory filled with the fair face of his king and foster father.

They had begun their assault early in the day, making a mighty push past Sauron's forces until finally, only Sauron stood before them. He was dressed all in black, a powerful imposing figure, and it was hard to imagine him in his fair form as Annatar. Since the destruction of Númenor and the body he had worn there, he had been unable to take any fair form, for great had grown the deceit and malice in his heart. Many had fallen on their ascent up the mountainside, until finally Elendil and Gil-galad stood side by side before Sauron. With a roar that shook the mountainside, Sauron had raised his arm, the One Ring bright upon his finger. In that moment, Elendil and Gil-galad had charged at him, Narsil and Aeglos shining as beacons in the darkness and gloom of Orodruin. Elrond remembered the scene as if it were playing out before him again, memories surfacing that he had ruthlessly squelched within him since returning home to Imladris. Elendil had struck first, his sword striking the thick armor of Sauron's breastplate. The king of men had shouted his pain as Sauron landed a great blow to his back, felling him and knocking him to his knees. Narsil broke beneath him as he fell, and Sauron kicked the broken sword to the side. Gil-galad had immediately driven Aeglos into the underarm of Sauron's upraised arm, into the slight area where no armor could be worn without limiting the movement of the arm. Sauron had roared in pain, yanking Aeglos free and throwing it down the mountainside. His wrath then fell upon Gil-galad, and they wrestled, Elendil joining in as he regained his feet. Several times, Isildur, Elrond and Círdan tried to approach the battle, and each time they were driven back by bolts of fire that issued from Sauron. Finally, Gil-galad and Elendil upended the mighty Lord, and Sauron fell, landing heavily upon Gil-galad.

In that moment, Isildur rushed forward and grabbing the hilt of Narsil, he sliced the hand off Sauron's outstretched arm, with which he had tried to balance himself when he fell.

Sauron made a sound unlike anything that Elrond had ever heard before, or since, and his body suddenly went limp, and Elrond knew that his spirit had fled. His body, bereft of a spirit and imbued with the mighty powers of a Maia, consumed itself, until naught was left but the armor he had worn.

Elrond had heard cries and shouts, and only now did he become aware that some of them were coming from him. A loud keening was emanating from Círdan, who had reached the fallen. Such heat was generated from them that he had to use his sword sheath to move the remains of Sauron aside. Beneath the dark lord, little remained of Elendil, and even less of Gil-galad. Círdan and Elrond both dropped to their knees next to the now smoldering ruin, and Elrond remembered little of those few moments in his grief. When he next looked up, he saw Isildur clutching the One Ring in his hand, the metal still hot from contact with Sauron, while staring in shock at his fallen father.

"Destroy it, Isildur!" shouted Elrond suddenly. "Where it was made, in Orodruin!"

Through tears of grief, Elrond rose to his feet and stepped around the bodies to Isildur, holding out his hand to pull Isildur to his feet. "We must do this now!"

Isildur had followed him to the cracks of doom, leaving Círdan with bowed head over the remains of Gil-galad. Yet, once near the fire, Isildur had looked upon Elrond, his face pale and his eyes wide. "I cannot," he finally replied. He looked lovingly upon the ring. "This I will have as weregild for my father's death, and my brother's. Was it not I that dealt the enemy his death blow?"

"Sauron is not dead, and for so long as the ring survives, he will survive! His power will again grow, for his power is tied to the ring! Destroy it, Isildur, I beg you!"

Isildur looked at the ring again, holding it aloft over the fire and it seemed he willed his fingers to let go of the metal ring, his hand trembling; then his whole arm began to shake, until he finally could not withstand the trial and dropped his arm to his side. "I cannot," he replied, and he tucked the ring into his pocket and walked slowly from the fire.

Elrond fell to his knees again, his anguish too much to bear, his king's death in vain, and he screamed his agony to the mountain. Gil-galad, foster father, friend and king: dead to this world, and in the Halls of Mandos.

He felt arms wrap around him, pulling his head to the white beard that had so intrigued him as a child. Gasping for breath, he looked up to see anguish equal to his own in Círdan's eyes. Where he had lost a father, Círdan had lost a son. Círdan pulled him to his feet, and with an arm about his shoulders, led him back to where the kings had fallen. There, Isildur had gathered up the shards of Narsil, and his father's helm and breastplate, then begun his descent down the mountain. He would not look Elrond or Círdan in the face.

Elrond knelt beside Gil-galad, recognizable only by his armor. His spirit had long since fled, and what of his body had not been consumed with Sauron's was slowly turning to ash, as sometimes happened when the fiery spirit of an elf departed. Elrond reached several times to touch the armor, still hot, then finally clenched his hands against his sides. There was no body to tend, to take to burial, to mourn.

Suddenly Glorfindel was at his side, and Elrond abruptly realized he had not seen his protector in some time. A flash of anger sparked in him, but it died as quickly as it came: Glorfindel's presence would not have saved Gil-galad. The three descended the mountain, noting that Sauron's orcs and agents had fled when his spirit had departed, and only some of the, where so many bodies, of Elves and Men and Orcs already lay, there to find their final resting places.

It wasn't until they reached camp that Elrond, in his deep grief, realized that Glorfindel was limping and very pale. It was Círdan who pushed the elf on to his cot and began to remove his armor, revealing an ugly wound to the abdomen and another cut than ran along his leg. The armor across the abdomen had acted to staunch the blood and hold the deep wound rigid.

Pushing his grief aside, Elrond began to tend the wound. "How did you end up with such wounds beneath your armor?" he snapped, the seriousness of the wounds nearly overwhelming him. He could not lose another friend on this day.

"Close combat, knocked aside," answered Glorfindel unsteadily, the pain causing a sheen of sweat on his face and chest, his face gray.

"Elrond!" said Círdan tersely. Elrond felt Círdan's hand come down over his own trembling fingers, and he snapped his head up sharply. Looking to Glorfindel, Círdan hissed, "Get a hold of yourself."

Elrond felt as if he had been slapped, or had cold water splashed in his face. He had concentrated on the wound and forgotten the patient. His hands shook and he considered for a moment sending for another healer. "You would trust no other," Círdan informed him dryly.

Taking a deep breath, Elrond concentrated his thoughts and healing energy on Glorfindel, lessening his pain and calming his spirit. He felt his own calm return, his own strength, and with that came the knowledge that he would survive without Gil-galad. When he had completed his work, he took a cloth and cleaned the dirt and blood from Glorfindel, the soothing motions helping him as much as making Glorfindel comfortable. When done, he cleaned the grime from himself and changed into fresh clothing.

Círdan sat at the table, turning the pouch in his hands over and over. Elrond sat down across from him, sipping from the goblet of wine that Círdan had poured for him. "Did Gil-galad foresee his death?" he asked quietly.

Círdan looked up at him. "He foresaw something, though I am not sure he knew exactly what. He left us both letters, as well as these rings, so clearly he felt his death was a possibility."

Elrond took the letter that Círdan slid across the table to him. He fingered the seal, but did not break it. He was not ready to read what was within

"It is time to go home," said Círdan, and he suddenly looked old to Elrond's eyes. "Celeborn said Sauron's armies have dispersed like smoke in the air." Círdan paused, blinking back tears of grief that again threatened his eyes. "Wars will be until the end, but I do not think I shall stray far from the sea until I pass into the west."

Elrond clasped the calloused hands in his own, drawing comfort from one who had taught him as a child, and giving what comfort he could to one who had loved Ereinion as much as he had. Together they sat as dusk fell and darkness settled heavily about them in their grief. Yet outside, rejoicing could be heard as Men and Elves and Dwarves celebrated their victory

Now, years later in Imladris, Elrond blinked back the tears threatening to spill from his eyes, emotion that overwhelmed him whenever he allowed his thoughts to dwell upon Gil-galad. The world had changed. The leaders of the great Second Age realms had all fallen. In the Greenwood, Thranduil would lead his father's people. In Lorinand, Amroth had been named King when Amdir fell. Isildur had taken up his father's crown at the feet of Barad-dur, leading his people back to their realms in Anor and Gondor. Yet Gil-galad left no son to take up his rule. He left you, Elrond reminded himself, a son in heart as well as distant kin. Yet he had no desire to be king of a fading people, for the Wise knew that the time of the elves was ending. The Noldor were a dwindling people; so many having died or sailed as the new age had begun. Their last king would remain Gil-galad, bright star of the Elves of Middle-earth. Círdan was lord of the havens, as he had been since the Valar first led the Elves on The Great Journey. Yet Rivendell will have no small part to play in this age or the birth of the next, Elrond reminded himself. He had foreseen this, as had Galadriel, Círdan and others. There shall be my home until I too pass into the West.

He lifted his head and looked out upon the grounds of Imladris, and the house where his people resided. Instead of seeing the scene as it was on this night, he saw again the twinkling lights that had greeted him when the returning army of the Elves had passed the final mountain pass and laid eyes upon her. For seven years he had been away, and the sight of Imladris would have been welcome regardless, but if anything, the land and house had grown in beauty. He had at first smiled, thinking Galadriel had undertaken to order Imladris as she had other homes before. But the touches were of a simpler beauty than he had come to expect from Galadriel, more homey and welcoming. When they had entered the courtyard, he had seen Celebrían on the porch waiting to greet them. His heart had skipped a beat as their eyes met, and he knew the longing in his heart was easily read through his gaze upon her. She had then caught sight of her father, and she flew to meet him in a manner reminiscent of how Elrond had first seen her over a thousand years earlier. More constrained now, and more graceful, yet the love and joy upon seeing Celeborn alive and whole had been as moving as the time prior.

But she came to him next, and she wrapped her arms about him and pressed him close, and he felt some of the despair that had darkened his heart since Gil-galad's fall lift. Next to her bright spirit he felt dark and shadowed, the grief in his heart still fresh and its wound still deep. She pulled back and gazed at him for a long moment; then she raised her hand and smoothed his hair back from his face. In her touch he felt such tenderness that he thought his heart might break. While he drew comfort from her, he also felt his grief rise within him until it felt as if he were choking on it. Abruptly, he pulled away from her. Celebrían flinched at his reaction, lowering her hand, but she did not back away from him. Instead, she twisted her arm through his, taking his hand in her own, and he felt her thumb gently rub against the inside of his wrist and the edge of his hand. Able to contain his emotions, he relaxed under that light pressure, and soon felt her touch warm and soothe him again.

Elrond smiled at the memory; how well Celebrían had adjusted to his pain, altering how she gave him comfort but not withdrawing from him. Having loved her from afar for many long years, he felt that love change at that moment, suddenly seeing the depth of the elf she had become. She had not faltered against his pain, but surrounded and enveloped him, supporting him without smothering him. He had seen her repeat this ability many times in the running of Imladris and the raising of their children, and it had taught him something about letting go, about letting other make their own choices and decisions, letting them be who they were while loving them wholeheartedly. He remembered once thinking this must be what mothers did; therefore his lack of a mother had not prepared him for this, but he had to remind himself that Celebrían had these qualities before becoming his wife and bearing his children.

Yet it had taken him a long time to allow Celebrían fully into his heart, and even longer before he afforded her the same grace she had so willingly given him.

Elrond remembered entering his chambers in Imladris, staring at the furnishings as if he were an alien in a foreign land. Yet they had not changed. He had felt numb, deadened inside, and despite the war's end, he felt a deep melancholy settle upon him. Círdan had led the remnant of Gil-galad's forces back to Lindon after only a few days rest. Like Elrond, Círdan was also numb, and he had admitted to Elrond that no other death had penetrated his heart with anguish as Ereinion's had done. Returning to the Havens would be a blessing, he had said, for the sea would soothe and calm him, yet he did not know how he could bear to look upon Lindon's palace and fountain and squares, and know that Ereinion Gil-galad would never return there. Elrond had felt fortunate at that moment that he would not need to live daily with that visual reminder of loss.

Celeborn and Galadriel had stayed in Imladris, choosing not to return to Lindon where they had resided for many years. Whereas Círdan and Elrond had parted with an unspoken agreement that none should take up the throne of Gil-galad, Galadriel had come to him several weeks later.

"You are the heir of Gil-galad, and last surviving male of the line of Finwë here in Middle-earth," she had said. "The kingship of the Noldor is yours for the taking, Elrond Peredhil, by birthright as well as Gil-galad's design. Will you take up the throne?"

Elrond had not moved during Galadriel's question, yet he looked within her with the same seeking with which she had perused his intentions at different times in his life, the most recent having been his intentions toward her daughter. For though the kingship of the Noldor did not pass to female heirs, she was the last surviving grandchild of Finwë, and more than capable of ascending as Queen of their people. Yet, he saw no such desire in her, nor did he see any clear motive for her question.

"I will not," he finally answered.

"Power is before you and yet you will not take it?" she questioned again. "The blood of all the kindreds of Elves and the Three Houses of the Edain flow in you; many titles you might claim, and yet the one before you, you will set aside so easily?"

Elrond rose, recalling the words that Gil-galad had spoken to him regarding Galadriel's desires to leave Aman and seek Middle-earth, to seek her own fortunes and lands to rule. He looked out over the balcony, allowing the soothing music of the cascading water to refresh him.

"The age of Men is coming," he finally replied, "even as the time of the elves in Middle-earth begins to fade. Our people have no need for a king. Yet, I foresee that our time here has not ended. My home and future are in Imladris, and only here will I lead them. Círdan will rule the havens until the last ship sails."

Galadriel walked forward to join him at the balcony, and for a long moment they did not speak. "Círdan has the Ring of Fire, and the Ring of Air resides now with you," she stated matter-of-factly.

Elrond did not respond, nor did she seem to expect him to.

"The One is in the hands of Isildur, and yet it is too powerful for him to wield. To bear it upon his finger would cause him great pain, and so he only carries it now. As its power diminishes, he will place the ring upon his finger, and the Race of Men will rise to heights unforeseen even as the dignity of Númenor becomes a mere memory. Our new enemy will not lie with Sauron or the East, but with those whom we have called friend, with those whom we have fought with and aided, as they have fought with and aided us. Isildur will destroy himself and all that Elendil dreamed of for their realms in Middle-earth. They will become too strong for us to fight, and too powerful for us to ignore. The Elves will become subject to them, or else flee from their tyranny to the West."

Elrond had felt his stomach clench at her words, and he could feel the muscles of his arms ache in contraction as he squeezed his own hands tightly behind him. Counsel had been taken before they parted from the Men, with Círdan and Celeborn and Glorfindel, and these very fears had been discussed. Attempts at conversing with Isildur had been rebuffed. Still unable to meet their eyes, the young king had assured them he would rule as wisely as his father had. His ignorance of the power of the One to enslave him and turn his good intent to evil was obvious to them, but Isildur did not recognize his own ignorance when it was shown to him. "Already he is under its spell," Celeborn had said sadly.

"I did not force Isildur at Orodruin," he said slowly, unable to find regret at his lack of action despite his extreme regret at the outcome. "Nor will my taking the title of king alter his actions. He has gone to the south, to Gondor, and even among his own men we have found those with the same concern, who watch his actions for us. No foresight have I been given to guide my thoughts on this."

"Nor I," admitted Galadriel. "The One still holds dominion over the Three; not even now dare we use them." She paused for a moment, watching an eagle circle lazily overhead. "I also do not wish title or crown, Elrond Peredhil. Gil-galad shall be our last king, and those of the Wise who remain will rule as a Council in the matters of the Elves."

Elrond had inwardly smiled, for among the High Elves left in Middle-earth, she was the most powerful. Adding her voice to those of the males who took counsel together at Dagorlad sealed their decision. Thranduil and Amroth had been informed of their decision, yet Thranduil had masked any emotion or thought at the idea of a Council and merely nodded his understanding.

Only three years later Ohtar had appeared, injured and bedraggled, one of only three of Isildur's party to escape the orc attack at the Gladden Fields. Carrying the emblems of Isildur's house, he had reported that none had found the One Ring on Isildur when his body had been recovered. Lost in the Anduin, as it remained to this day.

Isildur's wife had taken the other emblems, along with her surviving child, young Valandil, who was just leaving childhood, and left to return to their home at Annúminas. For over two hundred years, they had received no word or foresight of the One, and both he and Galadriel had noticed a slight change in the rings they possessed. The most noticeable effect had taken place during their rescue trip, when the rings had come alive. Yet both had noticed less obvious changes prior to this.

Elrond looked up, again letting his eyes roam over his house. In time, his grief had become manageable. Celebrían had waited patiently through that trial as well, and finally, with the blessing of her parents and Círdan, they had married and been blessed with children. Glorfindel and Erestor had remained with him, as his chief advisors but also as close members of his family and house. For Glorfindel it had been an assigned mission from the Valar, yet his love and loyalty were not items to be purchased. And Erestor, who had found healing for his broken heart and splintered soul in Imladris, had chosen to stay where he was at peace. Now, inside the house, his children were sleeping, or in Elladan's case, watching over one who was. Celebrían was in the gardens, and other elves were spread throughout. He had seen what Galadriel had done with Nenya; the healing effect on Elrohir had been miraculous. He looked down at the ring he held in the palm of his hand. It suddenly gleamed, as if noticing his attention had turned to it. Turning it over and over in his hand, he felt it begin to thrum, again trying to match its own song to his. He thought of the good he might do for his people, for his family, for those who came to Imladris in need. Gil-galad had told him this time would come, when the rings could be used for the good of the Elves. For this reason, he had not destroyed the two entrusted to him by Celebrimbor.

Elrond took a deep breath, then placed the ring on his finger.

To his surprise, the beautiful gleaming ring disappeared from sight, yet Elrond knew it was still there. Secret it would remain, for none but he would be aware of its presence. Yet, present it was. He could feel its weight, but he felt the presence of the ring as well. Now with its rhythms matched to his own, he felt a sense of power never before experienced. The stars seemed brighter, the perfume of the flowers at his feet more intense. The song of the waters cascading from the falls suddenly seemed to have a greater depth of range, and, even in the dark, the colors about him were imbued of many more hues than his eye had before detected. All of his senses were heightened, his vision and hearing more acute, and he felt as if he could reach his arms about all of Imladris at that moment.

Just as he was considering how he might first wield this new power, he heard the sound of an elf approaching. Celebrían came into view on the path below him, and she looked up at him with a smile.

"I have found you, my husband," she laughed softly, and he could not help but remember the promises she had whispered to him earlier in her husky voice.

Elrond jumped from his position, landing on a flat rock some feet below him, and Celebrían climbed up to meet him. He took her hands in his own, but felt her wince slightly at the same time as he felt the thorn in her finger.

"You are injured, my wife!" he answered, and then he leaned forward to kiss her. Her lips yielded beneath his, and his body hardened as she pressed soft breasts against him. He could feel every contour of her body, the scent of roses still lingering about her and accentuating the fragrance he associated with her. All of it seemed of a greater intensity than normal, and he found his sexual desire for her suddenly heightened as well. Recognizing this as an effect of the ring, he pulled back from her and sat down on the rock, then reached up to pull her down into his lap.

She wiggled slightly, deliberately stimulating him more, and he nearly groaned aloud. "Behave, Celebrían," he scolded playfully, then added, "At least until I have removed this thorn from your finger."

She stilled after one more defiant wiggle of her hips, and Elrond drew in a shaky breath to regain his self-control. He saw the long sliver imbedded deep along the knuckle of her first finger, even the tip buried beneath the skin, and knew he would need his tools to remove it properly. He gently ran the tip of his finger over the light brown mark, pushing only slightly to see if the tip would appear, but to his amazement, the whole sliver emerged. A drop of blood followed, and he scooped water from the pool lapping at the side of the rock, washing it away. He again lightly touched the area, confirming that it was gone, and he watched as a slight glow emitted from his finger and the opening healed and closed itself.

He was trembling with the realization of what Vilya had just done, the potential for its powers growing in his mind, when he was drawn back to the present in a delightful manner. "Thank you, Elrond," purred Celebrían as she twisted to face him, tilting her hips forward and into a position that took his breath away. Her nimble fingers were already at work on his clothing when she added, "You have brought me great relief, and I think it only fair that I provide you relief from your…uncomfortable state." Elrond's sense of pleasure increased until sound and vision were forgotten, and stars exploded in the night sky.

Some time later, when he had recovered enough to stand, he scooped his exhausted wife up in his arms, and carried her back through the garden to the private entrance of their chambers. He deposited her gently on their bed, removing her disheveled clothing and then his own. He felt Vilya on his finger, and considered removing it, thinking he should experiment wielding it in small doses. He decided to put that logical decision off until morning when he felt Celebrían in his mind, her fëa seeking his, and realized that his pleasure was not the only one heightened. Grinning, he crawled into bed and pulled Celebrían to him.

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Glorfindel watched Elrond carry Celebrían into their chambers, and he felt a weariness and heaviness descend upon his own spirit. He had suspected that Elrond would experiment with the ring, and in his heart he knew this had happened. He had been on his way to the waterfall when he saw Celebrían reach Elrond first, and he could see that Elrond was already stimulated before Celebrían reached him. His initial stimulation had not been sexual, but sensual, as all his senses were heightened. What had followed had been only a natural progression of events. While Glorfindel felt only joy for Elrond and Celebrían for the physical expression of their love, he knew that Vilya was awake and in use, and the stage was set, for good or ill, for its continued use into the future.

He settled into the garden that he had helped start for Celebrían so many years earlier, and though he knew it unnecessary, he kept watch over them from afar. While he had watched over first Elrond, then his growing family, tonight he added Vilya to the list. It was now part of Elrond, something that gave him the ability to do good but also had the potential to harm or destroy him. Glorfindel must protect it, but also be willing to part Elrond from it and destroy it, if needed. His heart heavy, he lifted his eyes to the stars as Eärendil passed overhead. I swore my fealty to you, to protect your son, and I will, he reiterated his promise. As was usual, Eärendil brightened over Imladris, making all the other stars appear brighter than normal, and peace settled about Glorfindel's heart. He began to sing softly, words of promise and love, and throughout Imladris, elves gave thanks that their lord and his family had returned home to them.

The End

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Thanks to all who have been following this story, and an extra special thanks to those who have left reviews or sent emails. They were of great encouragement. There will be a little Legolas story and perhaps a look at Elrond and Celebrían in the time of their courtship, marriage and birth of their sons, before we dive into HLIII. Thanks everyone!

Haldir's Heart and Soul: I like to think Elrond is a romantic at heart :)

Trustingfriendship: We will definitely see more Erestor and Glorfindel, especially in HLIII. Glorfindel gets to be a hero in that one!

Ithiliel Silverquill: I think the request for more Glorfindel was rather unanimous! I am contemplating writing a story with his as principal character, but he will definitely get much screen time in HLIII regardless.

Seeing-spots: I am glad you liked the story, but I admit I am glad it has come to an end. I am ready to move on too!

Lutris: I agree about Celebrían – she really was very patient! Thanks for your continual encouragement.

Dragonfly: In agreement with you about Glorfindel! We will see more of him.

Jazmin3Firewing: Getting the characters home and intact is a very good thing, I agree! Hopefully they have all grown a little more into the late third age characters we know and love.

Kivessa1: Poor Elrond - how terrible to find that not only can he experience lust, he gets jealous! All that self control, and humbled by a beautiful maiden. I think he did okay, though. ;)

Radbooks: I know the feeling of too little time, too many stories to write! Too bad we have to work and do all the real life stuff that real life requires! Writing is a wonderful escape, and its even better when I know people want to read what happens next. Thank you.

Mirellenna: If these have opened up the earlier ages, I am glad. Making the Silmarillion into more of a story, at least as it involved Elrond, was certainly my goal. I am really glad you liked it…thanks for telling me!