Author Notes: I'm not entirely happy with this chapter, but the story is finished at last. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Disclaimer: The Elves still belong to Tolkien.
Forlond, SA 1697
He wakes with a cry on his lips. For a moment, his own chambers are strange to him. He pours a glass of water, his hands shaking so badly the water splashes half out of the glass. All at once, the livid dream returns to him and he can taste the fear and smell the sweat of agony. The glass drops from his nerveless fingers as he falls to his knees.
Celebrimbor's mind is utterly closed to him. He knows this is for the best - to protect the Three, to protect him.
A few minutes or an hour pass before he realises that he is still kneeling on the wet and glass-strewn floor. He rises unsteadily and goes to the window. It is well past time, he thinks, that Eärendil should begin his voyage across the sky, but the darkness is absolute. Unnaturally so.
He had sent too little help too late, and so had assured his lover's death. Could he have done otherwise? Had he let his sense of betrayal make the decision for him? The siege, focusing Sauron's attention on Ost-in-Edhil, has given him precious time to prepare for war. Had this not been the plan all along, a plan Celebrimbor endorsed?
He closes his eyes and his mind floods again with the disjointed images of that far-off place. Perhaps Celebrimbor will know that he is not alone. Perhaps he is beyond knowing anything. Of one thing Gil-galad is certain: the Three remain beyond Sauron's reach, and are still so, hours later, when dawn breaks to a grey, sunless morning and silence overwhelms him.
"You look particularly ghastly today," Arphenion greets him, stepping back to let him into his study.
Gil-galad leans over the map table. "Ost-in-Edhil has fallen. Have we sent the additional troops Elrond requested?"
"How great are our losses? Might I see the dispatch?"
"There is none. The city was taken yesterday."
"Yesterday?" Arphenion's expression changes from confusion to one that could almost pass for sympathy. "I see. I am sorry."
The map remains stubbornly unhelpful. He is desperate to take action - to make plans, decide upon their next step.
"We can do nothing until we know what has transpired."
"No," he concedes. He stumbles as he steps away from the map. The night's long vigil has cost him more than sleep.
Arphenion catches his elbow to stop him falling. "Go back to your chambers, you fool," the captain snaps. "Unless you want to frighten those who have not yet taken ship, you need to master yourself. This is no time for sentimentality."
He falls into his bed and sleeps so deeply that neither dream nor nightmare is conscious. When he wakes, he finds that Elwandor has removed his shoes and laid a quilt over him. Near the fire, the valet has left bread and sausage. He will frown in the morning to see the food untouched and the cider half gone.
"You must find a way to see the sunrise, Ereinion."
The starless night cedes to another grey morning. In his darkest hour, Arien has abandoned him.
"When?" Círdan asks gently.
He stares out the window. "Three days. It was not a good death." He is aware of wetness on his cheek and wipes it away. "It should not affect me so - we were sundered a long time." The pressure in his chest is so great, he cannot draw breath.
"And you have grieved for him all these years."
It is true. The years have magnified, not lessened the pain. Loneliness is the greatest of all hurts - the thought of ennin interminable in an empty bed is more than he can bear.
If he had not cut off communication, could he have persuaded Celebrimbor to see Annatar for what he was?
"No," Círdan answers his unspoken question. "You could not have done otherwise."
Gil-galad turns to argue, but Círdan silences him. "You knew Sauron when you met him. If not by name, by character. You knew what Celebrimbor did not. And the more he fell into thrall, the more he endangered you."
Love entails compromise. Yet, this would not have been compromise in the ordinary sense. He would have compromised himself, and he would have compromised the High King of the Noldor and all he that he oversees. If it has been a test to see whether he could put his kingdom before that most dear to him, he has passed.
Yet, in his heart, he knows that he has acted out of jealousy and loneliness.
He turns in early, leaving his correspondence in Elrond's capable hands. When Celebrimbor comes to bed hours later, he smells of sweat and metal and wood-smoke. Gil-galad never quite passes the edge between living dream and fully awake, and Celebrimbor, usually as passionate as the fire consuming him, is unexpectedly tender in their lovemaking. In the morning, they find themselves tangled together like vines.
Once, they had completed one another. Such is the Doom of his kind - one lives long after the joy has gone from life, when only regret remains.
He swallows the wail rising in his throat. Arphenion is right. Sentiment is a luxury he can ill afford. He looks up to see Círdan watching him with pain.
"Both joy and sorrow come from the heart. You cannot have one without the other."
He stares numbly into the mirror as Elwandor braids his hair. It is his habit to read his personal correspondence while he takes his breakfast and is groomed to meet the day. It is long, however, since he has had anyone but Círdan to send him private letters - Aldarion is gone, Pengolodh has sailed over sea, and Elrond's missives are no more than a captain's report to his king. As for Celebrimbor...better that he not think of him, much less the letters returned unopened.
"I think you are to be the lone soul who shall remain with me to the end, Elwandor."
"No, híren. Such is not my fate. But you will not be alone."
He stands to let Elwandor pin his cloak to his shoulders. The thick serge hangs like a millstone, and he is so terribly weary.
"Do you want more tea, híren?"
"No. You may take your leave."
Neither tea nor wool is likely to bring warmth to this grey morning. The chill in his bones comes not from the air but from his heart.
With a sigh, he reads the letter from Lady Nellas of Harlond again. Normally, he would have read the letter and composed a response already, but his mind has grown thick and dull. He reads, but the tengwar leave no impression. In between sentences, his thought wanders in a shadow of dread and uncertainty. The simplest of tasks seems enormous, and his unanswered correspondence has Lindir gibbering and pointing at the stack. (1)
He understands, now, why his mother had chosen to fight and die for Nargothrond. When all else is lost, the enemy remains. With each day, the pain in his heart lessens, but the cold steals deeper inside him, wrapping him in a stupor that is neither dead nor living.
He throws down his quill in frustration. A walk, perhaps, will clear his mind.
A fine mist falls as he takes his exercise. Despite the bright winterberry and firethorn, the skeletal rose bushes remind him that this is Firith, the season of death. (2)
The few elves walking in the gardens are unrecognisable under their cloaks. One, however, stands out among them, for his beard, glistening with fine, silvery droplets, would reveal him even if he did not wear his hood thrown back in defiance of the weather.
"My mother loved this weather," he says, as Círdan falls into step beside him. "It reminded her of Lake Mithrim."
"And you do not."
"I miss the sun."
"She is not much seen in Forlindon. I told you that you chose the wrong side of the bay." Círdan is silent a moment. "Elwandor is filled with anxiety."
"I continually forget that I am not master of my own servant."
"He loves you, as I do." Círdan puts a hand on his shoulder and stops.
Gil-galad meets his eyes reluctantly. He has marshalled his energies, careful lest Círdan see how low he has sunk, but it is for naught. The ancient elf is not easily fooled, least of all by the son he raised and calls his own.
"Know your time, Ereinion. The Noldor do not need another dead king. Sauron learnt many tricks of his master, not the least of which is despair."
"I know my duty well enough," he says shortly.
Círdan will not be thrown off. "I see this darkness into which you are falling, and I fear it will be your ruin."
"My ruin?" he challenges. "Or is it my fate?"
To this Círdan returns no answer.
"So Durin turned out his strength." Arphenion tosses the paper on the desk.
Erestor has at last come from Ost-in-Edhil, bringing better news than Gil-galad has dared to expect. The city, of course, is utterly destroyed, yet still, some of its people have escaped. Galadriel and Celeborn have survived; Nenya is safe. Though Sauron has turned his eye upon Lindon, he leaves an army unfought behind him.
"I have a company awaiting orders. How many troops will you send to Elrond?"
"I can send none."
Arphenion smirks. "You do not mean to take another lover."
"If I intended to get my captain killed, I would have sent you," Gil-galad snaps from his station by the window. The clouds hang low, almost black in their malevolence. He wonders if the darkness stretches all the way to Eregion. Is Sauron's arm indeed so long?
"Do you intend to do anything at all?"
He turns to face Arphenion. "I have others who would command my army and give me much less trouble. You would do well to keep that in mind." He walks toward the desk and retraces his steps to the window, scarcely aware of his pacing. "Celeborn's troops are lost to me, whereas Elrond's company is only a diversion. If our scouts are right, the enemy already prepares to march on Eriador. We are seriously outnumbered, and more take ship each day."
"To Angband with your numbers!" Arphenion's lachenn eyes blaze.
"Numbers are no trifle. Or did you learn nothing in the last Age?"
"As I recall, it was your own father whose failure of courage deprived us of your 'numbers'."
He will not be baited. "You made a trial without your full strength, and it brought utter ruin to the Elves of the North. I do not intend to make that mistake. We will hold the Havens to the last, but Eru willing, it shall not come to that."
"If you wait upon the Valar, you will wait long, Tauren. In that, at least, Sauron speaks rightly."
"The Valar will do as they see fit. Númenor, however, has pledged to help us."
"Númenor!" Arphenion raises his arms in disgust.
"They will come."
"They are Men."
"The Edain have failed us but once. They will come."
Arphenion laughs softly. "I will say that you can hold a grudge. If you bear half so much resentment for Sauron...tôl acharn, as that foolish man's father once said." (3)
Arphenion's voice fades away as a vision forms in his mind. It is his ruin and it is his destiny. Tôl acharn, indeed.
He has cut away the dying flesh, the grief and guilt, and all that remains of his heart is stone, a cold weight of revenge. He will have it, in the end. If revenge takes him to the Halls of Mandos, so be it.
He intends to take Sauron with him.
(1) Lady Nellas of Harlond
Yes, this is meant to be Nellas of Doriath. I was trying to come up with a canonical elf who might be a sort of mayor in Harlond, and it occurred to me that Nellas does not die a horrible death like everyone else in the Silm.
(2) Firith, the season of death
Firith technically means 'fading', but it comes from the root PHIR-, from which various words for death and mortal are also derived.
(3) Tôl acharn
'Vengeance comes.' (The War of the Jewels, 'The Wanderings of Húrin' p 254 pub Houghton Mifflin)