Grief surrounded Celeborn in lifeless darkness as he sat, abased. For a short time he knew nothing, nor even felt the press of his own fingertips against his face. But the instincts of survival in Ennor's perilous realm would not permit him to remain thus vulnerable. He could not abandon himself to sorrow without first opening to the world's song, alert for threat. It was thus with his mind that he felt her approach at first - the delight of the earth at being under her foot, her spirit's radiance falling like a bright sunrise over him.

He could hear footsteps; Galadriel's light, brisk tread, the almost soundless whisper of her skirts, and her breathing; swift, a little ragged. It broke off in a gasp. The footsteps stopped in front of him. Just for a moment he was utterly overcome and could not move. His wife stood before him, and he could not bring himself to look at her. So long he had been torn in two, frozen, famished, that he had ceased to think of the pain as pain. Its ending broke over him in a blizzard of joy. Four Ages of the world without air, and finally he could breathe. Tears pricked against his sheltering palms, and some emotion, too vast for him to name, shuddered through him. Just to be here, close enough to touch! Long he had lain dormant in the dark earth, drenched with cold rain, but the sun had returned and brought forth life.

It took all his courage, but he looked up at last and saw, through the dazzle of his lashes, a face that had haunted his dreams for ten millennia. Yet he had not remembered it as so very beautiful. Her shining eyes were wide and shocked, her lips half parted, as though she too felt that sudden, immense relief in his presence. No longer saddened, no longer diminished, bowed down with weariness and the constant struggle against the call of the Sea, she looked blazing and brilliant as she had been in Doriath, as she had been in her youth, when - like Feanor, like Fingolfin - she thought herself the equal of Morgoth and the whole world hers by right. She was a delirium of beauty, glory, strength and vanity, and - seeing her - he wanted to laugh with joy. He beamed instead. "Galadriel."

The sound of his voice broke the stillness which had lain between them. She shook herself, as though breaking from a spell, and her eyes flashed as she drew herself up to her full height, lifted her fist and slapped his upraised face with all her strength.

Working at the forges had not weakened her arm - the blow made his ears ring and, for a heartbeat, took away his sight. When it cleared he found her already in retreat, turned on her heel and hurrying out of the door. Not sparing Finrod - who had wisely made no move - a glance, he launched himself to his feet and pursued.

Galadriel no longer knew quite why she was so angry, or from what she was running. It seemed important to get away, almost as it had seemed during the Rebellion - to get away from something which threatened to stifle her, to take her life out of her hands and constrain her will. She needed air, freedom, space and time to think. A moment's unwelcome reflection told her that she had had far too much of these things already. Barren, empty space and endless, lonely time, these were the torment, these she should flee. Yet she could not stop her feet nor the wild, ecstatic fury which bore her on.

Oh she was too subtle, knew herself too well, to believe that she really desired to get away. But let him think so! Let him suffer as she had, not knowing, every day for untold years, whether he would ever arrive. Nights of secret weeping drowned her memory; a bleak, dark tunnel of healing denied, solace withheld. How could she be well when her own husband did not love her enough to set other things aside and be with her? How could she receive Valinor's blessing when she had left half of herself in the wilderness of Ennor?

Finally she had convinced herself that it did not matter. That their marriage had come to a natural end, and she should not mourn but go on into the future, hoping for a new beginning. Then! Then he chose to come! Just when she had achieved some serenity. And she was expected to take him back, without demur, without reproach, as though her ten thousand years of pain somehow did not count?

She was well aware that he followed her now. Her mind refused to contemplate the black pit of rejection if he had not.

Did he think he could just walk back into her life whenever it pleased him, and she would be waiting for him, passive, grateful, like a good little wife? She was a Queen, a daughter of Kings, and she did not need him. She did not.

"Galadriel. Please!"

He caught her trailing sleeve and stopped her. Turning, she snatched it back out of his grasp, but did not start walking again, instead folding her arms about herself and looking away. She had fled into one of the small meditation gardens and found herself contemplating a dark yew hedge, where grounded raindrops glimmered golden among the fleshy, coral berries. Her chest was tight and tears threatened. Valar! Not tears! Just when she was trying to be so righteously angry. No one undermined her control or made her act so stupidly weak as he did, curse him!

Out of the corner of her eye she was aware of him - the deep indigo of his tunic, a spill of hair over his shoulder like a bright comet across a winter sky. She let him turn her gently to face him, but would not take her gaze from the garden; distracted, almost overwhelmed by his closeness and touch. How had she forgotten that he was strong as the earth itself - dark and secret and solid, a haven, a safe place to be. For so long she had been lost on the ocean, abandoned to every swell and storm, scorched by sun and salt. Now she could come to land, now she could have shelter, if she would only let herself.

"Why did you not come to me?" she said, and heard her voice quaver shamefully. He should be weeping, not she!

"I did," he said, with the soft puzzlement of a man who has not understood the question. "I am here."

At so wrong an answer, she laughed harshly and shook his hands off her, anger spiking into a desire to hurt him as much as she possibly could. "You love me not. Not at all, nor ever have!"

He made some noise of protest at this, inarticulate in denial, but she gave him no time to pull his scattered thoughts into words. "Your own precious Ennor is all that matters to you, and I a very poor second. I will not be second!" Treacherously, emotion gagged her at those words, and as she struggled to find her voice, he breathed in, sharp and angry. They stood so close she could almost feel his outrage as her own.

"And I? I who for long years was second to your glory, your rule, your power, your fame, your Ring? Is my pride of less account than yours? I bore it for you. I was content. Do not dare tell me I love you not. For I do! You are my soul, Galadriel. But I cannot help having other duties, other tasks, even - yes - other things which are beloved to me. Perhaps if you loved me more you would accept me for what I am."

Now she wanted to slap him again, but to do so would mean looking at his face, and she could not risk it a second time. Seeing him gaze at her with such hope, so sweet a smile, his eyes bright with unshed tears - it had almost been enough to rob her of her rage at once. Such joy in him at beholding her! And she had forgotten how very fair he was. Her hand yet tingled from where she had touched his skin. "So you abandon me for ten thousand years to live alone, and I am wrong to resent that? What makes you assume you are still wanted? I have built a life without you, which you invade. Perhaps I want you here no more? Why do you just take for granted that I..."

"I take nothing for granted." He began sternly, then broke off, shook his head, and walked away a few paces, his back to her.

With a feeling of panic she followed him - she must not let him get away, or he might never return. "Celeborn!"

He turned and looked at her, and this time she met his gaze, her ire faltering at the depths of anguish she saw in his eyes. He believed her. Man-like, he took her words - the weapons of her anger - for the literal truth, preparing himself to yield to her will and leave. There were two paces between them and it was an abyss. "I presume nothing," he said softly, "I know I am owed nothing." He caught his breath in a small, soft gasp, such as she had once heard him utter when a crossbow bolt was dug from his side, and rubbed both hands over his face. Already there bloomed a faint bruise on his cheek, where she had struck him. "I thought," he began, wearily, "only to start afresh. Perhaps to court you again. To hope that, in time, you might come to feel for me something of what you once did."

Swaying backwards, he took one more retreating step, and laughed, unhappily, looking now not at her but past, to where the statue of Manwë stood in splendour at the centre of the garden. "No... not even that, in truth. I just wanted to see you. As a man in shadow longs for the stars, I yearned only to look at you again." His sight glanced over her once more, desolate but resigned. Dignified in misery. Her own pain suddenly seemed a small matter to her in the light of his. "If your love for me is ended, I know who to blame. And it is not you."

"Oh!" Wanting to punish, she had gone too far, cut too deep, and she could not see that wound without yearning to comfort. He did love her. He did. Or he would not have been so hurt. Closing the gap between them with three hurrying steps she wound her arms about his neck, and buried her face in his hair. Light and steel and strength and silver surrounded her. "O Valar. I meant it not! I did not mean it."

Whether he was bemused at this sudden reversal, or too used to her to be altogether surprised, he reacted at once, pulling her close with frightened, frantic zeal. They clung together, and if she sobbed into his shoulder it was with the comfort that she was not alone - grief and joy shuddered through the chest, pressed against hers, as he too wept in her arms. "It was so long!" she gasped, struggling with the tides of too much emotion, trying to explain. "You were gone so long. And I did not know..." She turned her head so that her tears could soak into the fine, expensive velvet. The embroidery of his collar had left a pattern of intricate interlace embossed into her chin, and she rubbed it smooth once more, trying to breathe. "I did not know if you would come at all. I could make no plans, let go of no grief, because I did not know."

"Like Amroth," he said, and sniffed hard. His voice firmed as he spoke, and his hand came up to rest on her hair, tentatively beginning to work free the many pins. It made her smile a watery smile. He never had been over fond of her elaborate crowns of braids. "We could not mourn properly for him because there was always the chance he still lived. I understand. Yet no more did I know, from day to day, whether or when the Sea-Longing would come, or the Land release me. I could not say yea or nay. And I cannot count how many times I cursed myself, and every Vala from Elbereth to Araw, for my fate."

"I will not tell them," she said, and fought against a desire to snuggle closer, close her eyes and stand thus until the next rainshower, or a few hundred years had passed. Instead she pushed him away. Only far enough to look fiercely into his eyes, her hands sliding down to rest at his waist. She was not going to take the risk of letting go, so soon after having caught him at last. "Never go away again."

"Where we go," he said, his composure as fragile as hers, but his determination no less strong, "we will go together."

This slight adjustment of the pledge was not as much to her liking as that he should promise to remain by her, wherever she chose to be, but she supposed it was fairer. It was, in any case, the best promise she would get from him. "Where I go, you will follow," she clarified gravely, nodding. It took no thought to make such a promise, not after the barrenness of these last Ages. "Where you go, I will follow. We will go together."

Celeborn pulled her close once more, marvelling. Sometimes it was as though she held the spirit of all three clans within her, and one never knew which would come to the fore. Where he had expected fire and iron, he had encountered water in tempest. He understood that she needed him to be a harbour, to brace himself and take the storm, until the waves could fall back and the sea lie calm within his encircling arms. But sometimes, he thought, shakily, she did not know her own strength, she did not know how close she came to breaking him.

Now she was as placid as a sunlit bay - light dancing from the gentle swell, lissom and warm in his embrace. He could feel her breathing against him, their hearts settling together into a mutual rhythm. With her scent about him - sandalwood and honeysuckle - like an aura of enchantment, her lips against his neck, and the damnable hairpins digging into his face, he began to think that he was not so unnatural a Teler after all. Did he not love this sea, dangerous as it was, in all its moods?

Opening his eyes to bestow a smile on the poor, manicured hedge, he caught the glint of harvest gold in the dark yew archway beyond the statue, and Finrod's face, framed in the curve of Manwe's palm. Caught in the act of peeking around the leaves, Finrod looked comically embarrassed. And well he might, thought Celeborn with no real rancour. Though the day had begun with so much irritation, at this moment he had forgotten how to be annoyed. "I swear you are the nosiest elf I ever met," he said, and grinned.

Raising his hands against his sister's imperious, questioning glare, Finrod held his ground. "Forgive me. I wondered if there were not one or two casualties here, who might require my help. That seems not to be the case. I'll go and leave you in peace."

"As you see," said Galadriel, with a poise that quite belied the streaks of tears on her cheeks, her unravelling hair, "we are well. But, if you would be of help, go to Celebrimbor instead. Though he will claim not to need you, I would not have him alone. This is a harsh thing for him, and in the very day of his triumph."

Much though Celeborn would have preferred not to think of Celebrimbor at all at a time like this, her concern for the smith provoked only a brief, habitual spark of resentment. It was her compassion at work - that empathy and kindness in her which had saved her from becoming another Feanor. To honour it, he knew he should be generous himself. "Wait," he said, as Finrod turned to go. "I have a thing to ask of him, a task that I cannot do myself. One that needs his genius."

He had intended to ask Finrod himself, but Celebrimbor - whatever else his Rings proved - had shown himself able to control time and the fëar of Men, and the very earth itself. Having just completed one astonishing device, might he not now be eager for a new challenge? And would it not give him something to think on, other than Galadriel?

"He will be delighted to have you in his debt, I doubt not." Finrod paused, tall and golden as a candle-flame in the shadow, his body all elegance, but his face full of curiosity. "If you feel it worth the fact that he will remind you of it until the end of time. What thing is this?"

How to start? He unwound his arm from about Galadriel's waist and took her hand, squeezing it reassuringly. She gave him in return a look of level judgement, which taught him hope, at the same time as reminding him how close he had come to losing all. It had been, perhaps, not the best time to broach this subject, but at least she would not have cause to accuse him of falseness when it did come out. Let her hear all, so that his plans could become their plans forthwith.

Her curiosity won out over the sense of slight that he had some secondary purpose. "Perhaps we should sit down together. It is chill here. Let us watch the evening sun go down over Tirion."

Following one of the mosaic paths, where orange-trees nodded, their glossy leaves spread, bearing golden fruit and pale, sweet flower on the same branch, they came out of a heavy stone door into a meadow. It was, Celeborn knew at once, carefully tended and designed to look wild, and he felt a small quirk of private laughter at the strangeness of the Noldor, who strove so hard for an effect they could have achieved by doing nothing.

The ground sloped away from them, and a breeze bowed the wildflowers, as though they genuflected towards the tower of Mindon Eldalieva, which bordered the view in a tall stroke of cloud-white stone. The mead ended with a line of lilac trees, their canopies heavy with violet, white and royal purple flower, as though it was spring, while the meadow's blond ripeness spoke of harvest. The timelessness of it seemed dizzyingly wrong; a nausea and weariness of artifice, and Celeborn sighed as he sat on the smooth marble bench, placed where the argent light of the tower would most perfectly counterpoint the golden blaze of sinking sun.

Galadriel sat next to him, reserved and carefully still. It took little empathy in him to know that she waited in a space of readiness while her thoughts caught up with the turmoil of her emotions. He felt the same. A long separation had come to an end. But what did that mean? What of the future? What were they to do now?

Finrod squeezed onto the bench with them, and Celeborn took the opportunity to nudge closer to his wife. The curve of her hip touched his as he shifted sideways, and her warmth washed over him, brighter than the falling sun. He sighed again, this time with content, and smiled at Finrod's quizzical look.

"Do you not miss Mankind?" he began, electing to come at his proposal by a flank attack. The whole Noldor nation had suffered so much the last time this idea was brought up, he would frighten them away by being too plain. "Finrod, Friend of Men."

Finrod gave a wry grin and brushed at a singed spot on his tunic skirts, where they had caught a spark. "I do at times." His eyes took on a loremaster's look, of unfocussed, inward questioning. "In considering any proposition it is hard to say whether we think a certain way because it is correct, or simply because we are Quendi, and our flesh shapes our minds. Men were... a mirror in which we could see our own faces. Without them it is harder to understand who we are. I learned much from them - Beor and Barahir, Beren, Haleth, Andreth. All of them."

"They feel the same, you know," said Celeborn. Though he had not Finrod's patience with the realm of ideas, this thought had caught him a number of times. "They remember us. They remember you, as a god, come from over the sea to bring wisdom. And they yearn with all their hearts not to be alone in creation - the only thinking, speaking creatures. They send messages of goodwill out into the Void, hoping that someone will hear. They miss us."

"How does this concern you?" said Galadriel sharply, as if she already understood his purpose. The shoulder which pressed against his tensed, and her eyes grew chill.

It was not a good start, but she had not yet drawn away from him, so he answered. "They are our family; Arwen's heirs, our distant grandchildren. The time is past when our presence might have kept them from growing into their strength. The purpose of that ban is achieved. Why should we now be apart? We are Iluvatar's children - sons of the same father. We would be enriched by being together."

Shaking his head, Finrod stood. His eyes were wide and fearful and his paces buoyed with painful energy. "You are suggesting another exodus? A way to lead the Sindar - or all of us - back? Can it be that you do not remember what happened the last time this was done?"

"The Valar would not permit such a thing," Galadriel said with certainty, the tone of her voice carrying both disapproval and personal hurt. "They are tired of having to rescue us." Her bitter words about being second in his affections echoed for a moment in the undertones of her voice.

Celeborn shook his head and put an arm around her waist, reaffirming through touch what he did not know how to say. "I do not suggest that. My desire is for... a small thing, a small chink of light to flow from one world to the next. Not a road but a... a Straight Path, if you like. For one or two to tread, no more than that - to go and come back." This was not proving as easy to explain as he had hoped. Perhaps the idea was as incoherent as his expression of it. But he had to try. "My grandfather is left behind, lost. There are those I would like to be assured were being searched for, to bring them here at last. Some quiet friendship might be re-established with Men, for all our sakes. And I... I am incomplete without that soil beneath my feet."

Fear had faded to pity, and he knew that one or both of them were now going to tell him that Ennor had to be forever forgotten on entering Aman, that that was just how it was, and though it was hard, he would get used to it. He had come prepared for that argument, with an answer from ancient lore. "When the elves first came to Valinor, did they not grow sick, deprived of the air of Middle-earth? And were not the defences of the Pelori opened, just a little, so they could remain? It is so with me. I need the ability to go back to enable me to thrive here. If this is true of me, may it not also be true of many Avari, many Houseless Ones, who linger still in Ennor? So many more would come, if it was known they could return, or even depart to the stars, did it not suit them here. This is not death, which must be the end of all hopes and duties, nor a prison, as Feanor claimed. So why should it not be possible to leave, and return, when we will?"

Galadriel softened at this, now that she understood that he was not seeking to abandon her again, nor to force her, by means of her promise, to a darkened world whence once she fled. Though her face had remained Queenly, thoughtful throughout, the rigid disapproval of her muscles slackened, telling him of relief, and she leaned, pliant against him. "This is a more modest ambition. And I cannot say it is impossible for the Valar to agree with it. They themselves sent Glorfindel back - they have set the example for us."

Finrod chuckled and perched once more on the bench's arm. "I suppose we, who wish to sail to other worlds, should not be concerned if you want to walk to one. I will speak to Celebrimbor and see if it can be done. But long ere he finishes such a device I will want to hear that you have spoken with Manwe himself and received permission. No more of Mandos' Judgement on our House!"

In the War of Wrath Celeborn had seen Morgoth Bauglir brought out in chains from Angband. Though captive, he was like a mountain walking - a shape of smoke and dread, his mere presence a torment. Manwe was greater still. To the Sindar, a figure of distant, indifferent power. World-breaking, and without tenderness for those who dared to live outside his over tame, garden kingdom.

"I have little liking for Manwe," he said, "and scant faith in the charity of his spirit, to hear the words of this dark-elf nobody, thrice left behind." He would stand before Manwe like Beren before Thingol, doubtless - a rustic, overcome by splendour, cast down by his own lowliness, struck dumb with wonder. Yet did not Beren achieve his aim in the end? No less can I do for my family, my people. If I have to challenge Manwe as Fingolfin challenged Morgoth, they shall not be forgotten. "Nevertheless, I too have had my fill of Doom. It shall be as you say."

Finrod's light footsteps faded away, and the meadow was full of the rustle of grass. A scent of orange blossom wound through the breeze. Further down the hill, a family were eating on their balcony, watching the sunset. The smell of their roast duck and heady wine floated into the evening with chatter and soft laughter. A skylark sang one final song ere the night, but a flitter of small bats were already wheeling about the glittering rooftops; comical things, like tiny, huge eyed foxes on wings. Celeborn breathed deep and let the breath out in a great sigh. Beside him he could feel the rise and fall of Galadriel's ribs as she did the same. The smile that for many minutes had lurked about him now crept onto his face. Peace. He was at peace.

Many times in Lorien, and their older kingdoms, had they sat like this; on the edge of a flet or a tree branch, legs dangling over a fatal drop, side by side and content. Touching and breathing, and looking out into the sky, while the busy serenity of the land, the sun's warmth, and their closeness built a quiet understanding between them, deep and smooth as Esgalduin, on whose banks they had first pledged their love. Sometimes words were not needed.

But this was not such a time. Galadriel shifted on the bench so that they sat facing one another, their knees touching, but otherwise apart. Misliking the separation, he took her hands. Nenya had always been spiky against his palm when he did this, and its absence was a jolt of meaning, of revelation that made his heart race.

"You seem to have taken on many tasks, my lord," she said, half amused, "since arriving here. Do you think you will accomplish all?"

"I hope," he replied, gravely, "that we may be able to accomplish them together. As Finrod has pointed out, the curse is over. No doom now lies between us, no ring, no god's curse nor arcane power. What we begin now we may build for the rest of time, perfecting it. There need be no more pain ahead. No more ruin."

She lifted her head like a hound who scents the chase, and there was a fire in her eyes that he had seen often, in the very early days. "I heard what you said to Finrod. Noldor and Sindar and Teleri united in a quest for the stars. Your brother and mine working together on the ship, and you and I working together to unite our peoples, to end the troubles, to open a great future for all."

A familiar clench of dread filled his stomach at that look, her restlessness having taken her away from him too many times. He was rooted by nature, and she a wanderer. The lifting of Mandos' Doom did not change that in either of them. "Would you desire to go with the explorers?" he asked, bracing himself.

The vision of future greatness shimmered into oblivion before her, and she laughed, released from its song, turning on him a gaze which him warmed him through with ancient affection; a love preserved unstained by Valinor's grace. "Sometimes," she said, gently "but if I had a home and husband here, I would always return. And you? Would you desire to return to Ennor and take up your rule there once more?"

Relieved, delighted, he too laughed. Perhaps - without doing violence to either of their natures - this could work after all. "Sometimes. But not to rule. To give advice, to search, to speak... But if I had a home and wife here, I too would always come back."

Deep golden light lay on the land as the sun sank, seemingly beneath their feet. The wind died and the dark, glossy leaves of the citrus trees ceased their hiss and murmur. There was, for a brief moment, profound silence, before one of the diners lifted up an untrained voice, sweet but thin, in the traditional hymn of farewell to Arien. Freeing a hand from her grasp Celeborn stroked back a loop of spilled hair from Galadriel's cheek. Soft as fur, heavy as gold, the glint of Laurelin's light shone there still, more beautiful than the sun, and he felt, as always, honoured that she let him touch her, half closing her eyes in bliss to feel the caress of his fingers on her face.

"I must speak of all of these things with Elu," he said, trying not to disturb the quiet. Whispering almost. "Come with me? He has longed to see you, and Melian too has missed you, who has need of a friend at this time."

"I would have gone," she gave him a rueful, tender smile. "But that I could not bear to see a place so like Doriath, where no Celeborn dwelled. The outward picture of my own emptiness." Her eyes narrowed, daring him to be amused, or to disbelieve the rhetoric, but he held his silence, and she laughed again, pleased. "I owe them both a long visit. So yes, I will come there with you."

Reluctantly, he combed his fingers once more through her hair, then drew away to untie the bag he had brought with him, lashed under tarpaulins in his small boat, carried over his shoulder on eagle back, and tucked into his saddlebags for the journey to Finarfin's house. Just as she feared mockery for saying something so foolishly romantic, so this gesture - which had seemed fitting when he planned it - now felt awkward, embarrassing, bearing too much of his soul for censure. He looked out to the early stars for courage, but they were wan, in a sky washed pale by the white beacon on Mindon Eldalieva. Even the heavens, here in Tirion, were tamed for Noldor pleasure, to reassure those who feared the dark.

"I could not live in Tirion," he said, and wondered how he had intended to say this. Probably not with those words, but they were out now and could not be recalled. "It is so airless, so over-tidy..." Dipping into the smooth leather bag, he brought out a double handful of small nuts, about the size of an almond, silvery and shapely, with a fine curve any gem-smith might have admired, and poured them into her lap.

"Mellyrn," she said, marvelling. Looking up, her eyes were full of pleasure and memory. The Golden Wood's fairness had not been Nenya's doing. Only its ruin could be laid at the Ring's door. No, it had been beautiful because there the trees were loved. He remembered each one by name, and knew that she did too. "They were a marvel of Numenor, so Gil-galad told me, and none came hither ere that land foundered. With all its perfections, there have, until now, been no Mallorn trees in Valinor. Whence come these?"

"They are the last seeds of Lothlorien," he said, touched by her wonder. "When I knew the wood was fading, weakened beyond my skill at healing, I gathered them to give to you. Four Ages of the World they stayed with me; a hope in my pocket, a pledge that love might conquer distance and sundering, that one day we would be together once more."

"Oh!" her laughter this time was mixed with tears. But even he, insensitive as he was, could tell these were blessed, a paradox of joy. She wiped them with her unbound hair, and they clung in the ends like glittering diamonds. "Tell me your desire," she said. "Tell me what you want from paradise."

Kneeling, like a liegeman to his king, or more, like a man proposing to his bride, with some of that same sense of fear and floating ecstacy, Celeborn looked up at his wife's face, for once shorn of all its masks and open as a girl's. "I want... to face the future, to do all these new tasks with you by my side. I want to make us a country, somewhere in Ardh-in-Eledhil, or an island - if you prefer - half way between your people and mine. Somewhere where both our hearts may rest."

She did not move, and he fell silent, wondering if he had said aught wrong, what she would reply. In the pause a blacksmith's hammer in the distant town rang a staccato rhythm, counterpoint to his anxious heart. "May we not build a home together," he insisted, "and plant there the seeds of old trees? May not new growth spring from the fruit of what once was?"

In reply she shook her head, and his spirit lurched in sudden pain. But it must have been a gesture to clear her thoughts, not of denial, because in the next moment she leaned forward and took his face between her hands. Softly she kissed his bruised cheek, and then his lips, light as the first butterfly of spring - the fair promise of a warm summer.

"We may," she said. "Yes we may. And at once."

Despair fell away and hope soared to meet the stars. He stood and drew her up beside him, returning the kiss with tenderness, as decorous as he should be, considering that this was Finarfin's house, and they stood in public view on the side of the hill. Yet his heart thrilled within him, and he was well content. For the first time in millennia sure where he belonged.

"Indeed," he laughed as they began to walk back to the house together, overcome with relief and brimming over with enthusiasm for his new life. "Let us begin this instant. I have rested long enough, and need no more healing." The stars and the Straight Path, talks between Celebrimbor and Galathil, the Eluwaith and the Noldor, a country to build and nurture and govern. Valinor was not the end he had feared, but a hundred new beginnings, bright with untainted hope. "No more delay. There is so much for us to do!"

The End.
Author's Notes

The idea of a 'Straight Path' to Valinor, along which a person might walk, if they only had the right token, came from Philosopher-at-Large's observation that the Elf-King, and the Elf-Queen in 'Smith of Wooton Major', might be Celeborn and Galadriel in another guise.

The elf-king - normally humble, but with quite a temper when he gets riled - who wanders the world of mortals in disguise, and allows one or two to find the way to Faerie by means of a fay-star; and the elf-queen - awe inspiring, gracious and as lovely as a dancing maiden in the springtime - do seem rather familiar.

This was written (partly) as a sort of 'Smith of Wooton Major' tie-in. It amused me to think that the fay-star, if it was a device made by Celebrimbor to allow passage from one realm to the other, might well be made in the shape of the Star of Feanor, which he also put on Moria's West Gate. A sort of gesture of family pride that would have the added benefit of annoying the hell out of his old rival ;)

Thanks to Reviewers of Chapter 7:

Wellduh: On the subject of racism among elves rubs hands . Well
actually there seems to be quite a lot of it. The elves were originally
created in three seperate clans - Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri. Everyone
loves the Vanyar, who are shiny and blond and holy.

Then some of the elves travelled to Valinor and some didn't. The ones
who didn't even start the journey became known as the Avari, and
everyone looks down on them. The Noldor and Vanyar arrived first, so
they look down on the Teleri, who got there last. But some of the
Teleri were left behind (when Elu Thingol was lost, they stayed behind
to look for him). They became the Sindar, and all of the elves in
Valinor look down on them because they have never seen the light of the
Two Trees in Valinor - so they are 'Dark elves'.

So, as far as Celebrimbor is concerned, Celeborn is his inferior
racially (because Celeborn's Teleri), culturally (because Celeborn's a
Sinda 'dark elf') and intellectually, because he's a genius and Celeborn
isn't. Which all makes it much, much worse that Celeborn got the girl
and he didn't :) Poor bloke!

Thanks AngelQueen! Celebrimbor probably is more clever, but he's just
far less wise - in the mode of brilliant scientists who do incredibly
stupid things because they have no common sense. Do not fret - happy
ending achieved! :)

Lirenel: g Of course, Celebrimbor won't be able to land on Pluto. But Celeborn - who is 'faded' to the point where no external force can harm him - will be perfectly happy anywhere without a space-suit. Another reason for them to need at least one late-comer from Ennor on the team :)