Again Valandil found himself in the shrine, staring at the shards that reflected his image tenfold like a broken mirror. Behind him, he heard the rustle of robes and felt the presence of Elrond filling the doorway. He waited a space for Elrond to speak, yet the Elf-lord said nothing, only watched.
At last, Valandil broke the uneasy silence. "I want the shards of Narsil returned to me." He did not turn to speak, or make any move to see how his words were received. "If I cannot have my father's mortal remains, I would have his sword whose pieces were brought to me long ago."
He knew it was rudeness not to face Elrond as he made the request—nay, it was a demand and he knew it.
Many moments passed before he heard the exhalation of breath that preceded Elrond's reply. "I would give it to you if it was in my power to do so," he said, "but I cannot relinquish it."
"I was not aware that it was yours to withhold." Valandil heard the acid in his voice. An urge to soften his tone tugged at him, but he shoved it aside as one of the schoolings of his childhood. He was no boy who must go warily under the eyes of his guardian; he was a man grown who might speak his own mind without fear of being chastised.
Elrond's reply held the same cool sting. "I was not aware that it was the place of a guest to make demands upon his host. The skill to reforge the blade is not here."
Now, faced with what he knew to be a lie, Valandil turned. "Many times you told me that those who built this place were Noldorin refugees from Eregion, Celebrimbor's own people, and yet now you would have me believe that there is not one among them with the skill to work steel. Do you truly think me so gullible?"
"There are many who have since gone over the Sea," said Elrond, "and many smiths among them. Aye, there are smiths here at Imladris, but some urging beyond my ken tells me the shards must remain here. Do not ask me to yield that which I must keep, or ask me for what purpose when I know only that I must."
Had an ordinary Man told him such a thing, Valandil would have laughed outright and scorned the reply as nonsense, yet even in his indignation he knew that an Elf might see and know things that a mortal could not. He had known it during the wars of his youth, when as a child he was a bewildered witness as the entire household of Imladris paused and fell into a long grief for some reason that did not become apparent until a messenger brought word of Ereinion Gil-galad's fall.
Had I been one of the Firstborn, he thought, I would have known of my father's fall long before word of it ever came to me. And now, decades later, he could not decide if this peculiar foresight of the Elves was something to envy. "That is all you have to tell me? Narsil would have a place of honor in my house, and if the blade cannot be remade then I shall lay it in the tomb where my father's bones should also lie."
Elrond's voice became grave and distant. "It is not for me to give you at this time."
Turning now, Valandil no longer attempted to conceal his frustration. "You told me the same when you gave me that poor copy of the Elendilmir and sent me on my way in my youth. But now I say to you nay! It is a sword of the kings of Men—it is not for some Elf-lord to hide away among his parchments and other relics of past Ages. It is my birthright, and if I choose to bear it away from here, none may gainsay me!"
A Man would have physically restrained him, or called upon guards to do what he might not. Elrond did neither; he calmly remained where he was. "Soften your tone, Valandil. I do not claim it as mine. I have never done so and do not do so now," he answered, "but I will not yield it to you merely that you might seal it away in the darkness of the tomb as if dead. Even broken, it remains a flame of the West and may yet stir hope in Men. I have given you your father's shield and armor, all of him that was brought back from the Gladden Fields, and I would have given you the Elendilmir as well, had it been recovered. I have given you my affection and counsel insofar as it has been mine to give—"
"When I came to Annúminas I knew almost nothing of the ways of my own people," said Valandil. "You do not know how strangely they looked on me, who behaved more like an Elf than the Man he was. Do you know how long I labored to learn the ways of Men that I might govern my own realm?"
Elrond dipped his head in acknowledgement. "I regret that pain," he said. "It was never Isildur's intention or mine that your childhood be so isolated. Your father knew not that your mother was with child when he sent her here, yet in the camps of Dagorlad, in quiet moments, I heard him speak of you, that he rejoiced in your birth and much desired to hold you and see you take your first steps."
This was something Elrond had not told him, even as the youth that he had been wept behind closed doors and struggled to become a man before his time. Why did you not tell me this? Why did you not seek to comfort me with those words when I was young and the grief too near? "I did not know this," Valandil said, his throat closing around the words.
"I had not thought to tell you, but the omission was not deliberate," explained Elrond. "War is not a time for introspection, and many other matters weighed upon me in those days. Others had looked after you in your infancy, and I did not expect you to remain here. Your father had written to me to say that he intended to bring both you and your mother back with him to Annúminas. In my eyes then you were but a temporary guest."
Under the Elf-lord's unwavering gaze, Valandil looked away, at the lintel of the doorway, at the carvings upon it, anywhere but Elrond's face. At last, he excused himself, pushing past his host almost before he heard Elrond murmur that he had leave to go.
I do not care for your permission, he thought to himself, hissing at the heat that rose to his face as he brushed past his men. They rose at his passing, and Valandil heard a voice that sounded like Estelmo's inquiring after him, but he did not acknowledge his captain. He went as quickly as etiquette permitted, scarcely daring to breathe for fear he would not be able to contain himself before he reached the sanctuary of his rooms.
Once in the chamber Elrond had had hastily prepared for him, he evicted his squire and the other servants and bolted the heavy oak door fast behind them.
The night before, weary from the road, he had not recognized the guest room; many such rooms he had occupied as king, most far more ornate than this. Upon waking, however, he knew it as the chamber he had occupied as a boy. To see it again brought to him memories unbidden, and a twinge of heartache he had not thought to feel again.
He sat on the edge of the bed, gathering the linens in both hands as if he would gather them to him, bury his face in them. And then, in a long, rough exhalation of breath, he saw a droplet darken the bleached fabric. Nay! I am a king of Arnor, of the high Men of Númenor. I do not sob like some maiden! He bit down on his lip until he tasted blood, but now droplets both crimson and clear spattered onto the linen.
A knock echoed against the door, followed by Estelmo's voice. Valandil swallowed and ordered him to leave. He felt rather than heard Estelmo hesitate, and an instant later the captain spoke again, his voice coming muffled through the oak.
"Sire, if you are not well, let me send for a physician. The men wonder if you have not taken a chill, you behave so strangely."
"I am not ill," Valandil growled. His throat hurt from the sobs that had wracked him, and he did not have the energy to speak more. "Leave. I will send for you when I have need of you."
Later, as the light began to fade and the shadows creep across the room, he unbolted the door but did not go out. One of the servants brought food; he had no stomach for it and left it untouched on the small table by the window. The only thing he had energy enough to do at the moment was take off his shoes before lying down; that he lay upon stiffened droplets of his own blood and tears mattered not to him, nor what others would say when they came to make up the bed.
Darkness took the room. He lay in a half-doze, vaguely aware of the small movements his men made as they kept watch outside. He did not pause to consider what they must think of his odd behavior; he was their king and had no need to explain himself to anyone. Estelmo might inquire in the morning, but would not press the matter once rebuffed.
Voices could be heard murmuring in the corridor, and then the latch turned, so quietly as so to be almost imperceptible among the other night noises. A shaft of golden light spilled into the room, and was quickly extinguished as the door closed. Valandil gave a little start, then subsided. Likely it was another servant, come to strike tinder to the wood in the grate. Estelmo would not have permitted a stranger to enter.
But instead of the familiar hushed sweeping and scraping around the hearth, he heard the rustle of silk and velvet, and felt a body settle on the edge of the bed. "Valandil," murmured a voice. "I know that you are awake. Still, I will not ask you to rise to acknowledge me. Know only that I would not lie to you who are mine own kin. It is not often that I speak of it, but you and your kin are of the blood of Elros whom I loved and lost. There is much of him in you. He, too, was restless and driven by his passions, always searching for something. Whatever it was, I imagine he found it in Númenor. I only saw him once more after we parted on the shores of Beleriand. He was in his waning years, and there was a peace in him I had not seen before.
"I would not withhold from you that which you should have, but the shards of Narsil must remain here. For what purpose I know not, yet there is some higher design in this, that neither you nor I may know."
On shaky arms, Valandil slowly roused himself. He peered groggily at the shadow that was Elrond. "Then how can you know?" he mumbled. "If even you cannot see it, how can you know?"
He heard the slide of linen under Elrond's hand as the Elf-lord smoothed the rumpled bedding; even in this light, he would have been able to see the droplets of blood. "It is not for me to try to explain the ways of the Firstborn, how they may know where Men may not. I can say only that I have foreseen a day when the sword may be remade. Do not ask me more, for I have no answer."
Valandil did not want to believe him. The sword is all I have left. He lay silently in the darkness, waiting for Elrond to speak again.
"There is no profit in pain, or in clinging to the broken pieces of the past. That which you seek is gone, mortal matter washed into the sea by the mighty Anduin or eaten away or buried so deeply none might find it. You know this, Valandil, you have known it from the first."
"I know," Valandil murmured.
"Then why do you persist? What compulsion drives you search so fruitlessly for so long, when others would long ago have abandoned the hunt?"
His wife had asked him, and when he would not answer, his son had asked. I am the king of Arnor, he had thought then, and they have no right to question what must be. And so he had been silent, ignoring the disapproval that met his orders. Why, then, must I answer you, Elrond, who is even less to me?
"Because bones are all I can ever have," he said brokenly. "It would be something I can hold in my hands and say this is my father. And if I do not…do not do this, I will have failed him." Tears spilled from the corners of his eyes, and as the first rivulets streamed down his cheeks onto the pillow, he released the sob that rose in his gorge.
He heard the shift of fabric, felt the weight adjust itself upon the bed, then a hand was gently touching his hair, smoothing it away from his damp face. A voice whispered above him, lulling and shushing him. Why are you doing this for me now, when I am a man and ashamed? he wondered. "You should….leave," he choked. "I-I am—"
Elrond's reply was a warm breath in his ear. "There is no shame in tears. Your grandfather was mighty among the lords of Men and yet twice he wept before me like a man broken, once after the Downfall and again when Anárion was slain. And I wept, too, when Elros died and Gil-galad fell. Even among the Valar there are those who weep. Do not think yourself above tears."
Shame had been reduced to a mere word, a sound that carried weight among the men outside the door but not here. His numb senses carried him beyond shame, to a place he had last inhabited in his boyhood. Emptiness met him as surely as the waters of the Anduin held nothing for him, and he made no answer save for his tears, only felt his sobs gradually subside as his body lost the strength to sustain his grief, and he slid into a benumbed slumber.
"This gift is for Eldacar your son." The bundle Elrond handed up to him was square and slightly heavy; it was no doubt a volume of lore such as the Elf-lord was wont to give. Eldacar liked books, though, and would not groan as his father had upon receiving such a present.
Valandil took the bundle in his crook of his arm and handed it off to Estelmo to pack away with the gift the Lady Celebrían had given him for his queen. He wondered why Elrond had waited until he was already in the courtyard and mounted to give his gifts, but stifled the urge to ask.
He murmured the proper courtesies, allowing only his eyes to convey his impatience. I would be gone from this place and you know it. Already I have tarried too long, wallowing in my weakness. All his men knew was that for two days their king had been unwell and unable to leave his rooms; perhaps Estelmo guessed at the truth, but he did not speak of it.
"And this is for you," said Elrond, handing up a long, narrow package. By the length and weight of it, Valandil knew it was a sword. As he took it, Valandil's eyes wandered across the courtyard, past the throng of assembled servants to the path that led to the shrine, and his breath caught in his throat. He did not dare to hope the gift was what he thought it might be.
Elrond laid a hand upon his stirrup, drawing his attention. "Nay, it is not that," he said. "Take now this heirloom of my house and let Narsil remain for some future hope."
Valandil met Elrond's gaze, holding his eyes for a moment before glancing down at the stirrup. Elrond's face tightened imperceptibly and he slowly released the stirrup. Both hands came up, crossing over Elrond's breast as the Elf-lord bowed to his guest. "Pelo nalú i laiss en-galadh guil lín," he said.
Once before, as the twenty-one year old Valandil prepared to leave Imladris for the first time, Elrond had released him with such words. And Valandil, dressed for the first time in kingly raiment and surrounded by noble Men who had come from Annúminas to escort him to his new home, had bowed in turn and murmured "Hennaid evyr" to honor the lord who had been his guardian and acknowledge his passing from youth into full manhood.
A part of him felt compelled to repeat those words, to give thanks for what had been offered, yet in Valandil's heart there was numbness where his joy should have been. He would not ride this path again. There was no longer any hope of profit in it, and though he had known it long before he returned to Elrond's house and was forced to acknowledge the uselessness of his grief, coldness burned in him for those things Elrond withheld from him.
Among the other things of the past which I must bury, he thought, all memory of this place I will bury as well. I have had my catharsis. I will think no more on tears.
Touching his fingers to his cloak-clasp, Valandil replied, "Be iest lín."
And then, gathering the reins in his hands, he urged his mount forward through the gates of Imladris for the second and final time.
Pelo nalú i laiss en-galadh guil lín: (Sindarin) May the leaves of your life tree never wither.
Hennaid evyr: (Sindarin) Many thanks
Be iest lín: (Sindarin) As you wish