5. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted?
By the dim light of her lantern, Celebrían could see the vague shapes of furniture. Benches and small tables, carefully draped, lined the entrance hall. A thin layer of dust clung to the draperies, though not nearly as much as Celebrían would have expected in a tower uninhabited for centuries. Clearly, someone knew of the existence of the tower, and came regularly to keep the door in good repair and battle the dust in the entrance hall. Perhaps the tower was meant as a haven for travelers, though Celebrían could not imagine that it saw many visitors. And she had seen no sign that a caretaker lived nearby.
Cautiously, she shone the lantern around the entrance hall until she located a stairwell. Like everything else, it was covered with a fine layer of undisturbed dust. No footprints could be seen upon it. If anyone did dwell upstairs, they had not heard Celebrían's knock, and had not come down to investigate. There was nothing for it. She would have to go up. She took a deep breath, gathered her cloak about her, and began to climb the stairs.
The first flight led her to a large, open kitchen. Bundles of dried herbs hung from the ceiling rafters, and barrels of flour, salt, and onions stood against a far wall. The large worktable in the center of the room was spotless, and the hearth had been swept. A ceramic cistern held water, which proved, upon inspection, to be fresh and clean. Celebrían scooped up a handful to drink, and considered the implication of this kitchen. It was a working kitchen that had been used recently, and would likely be used again in the near future. Celebrían wondered if the occupant might be resting further up in the tower. After a little searching, she found the next stairwell and climbed up another flight.
The next room was nearly empty of furniture. A simple rope bed with a straw tick mattress stood in one corner, neatly made with a clean, faded quilt. Next to it was a washstand. At the foot of the bed was a sturdy wooden trunk. When Celebrían opened it, she found clothing, simple dresses and veils. They had been well cared for, but something about them seemed odd.
Celebrían held one of the dresses up for closer inspection. She had not seen a style quite like it during her entire stay in Valinor. It reminded her of something she had once seen in her old life in Middle-earth, but she knew that she had never worn anything like this, neither in Lothlórien nor in Imladris. None of Arwen's dresses had such a high waistline, or the little puffs that this dress bore at the shoulders. Celebrían allowed her thoughts to stray back to her daughter, and decided that, as strangely cut as this dress was, it would have looked lovely on Arwen. The pale pink would complement her dark hair and set off the roses in her cheeks. The neckline was cut slightly low for Celebrían's taste, but the gauze veil that went with the dress would . . .
Suddenly, Celebrían realized what was so strange about the dress. She had never seen any Elven woman wearing a veil, but once, when she was a small child, she had had a box of her mother's old clothes. She had loved to dress up in the clothes and pretend that she was a great lady from an ancient tale. There had been a veil in the bottom of that box. She had asked her mother to help her put it on properly one day. After Galadriel had arranged the veil correctly around Celebrían's head, she had called Celeborn in to see the result. Both of Celebrían's parents had laughed delightedly, and Celeborn had told her that she looked "delightfully quaint." She had had to ask what "quaint" meant. Galadriel had explained that it meant charmingly old-fashioned, and Celeborn had added that veils had been fashionable for a while among the women of the Sindar in Doriath and Sirion at the end of the First Age, long ago.
Whoever lived in this tower – and Celebrían was convinced that someone did, in fact, live there – was a person who had lived in Middle-earth, but who had clearly not been there for thousands of years. She had been a high-born, fashionable lady, who still dressed in the styles of her youth. This suggested to Celebrían that the lady did not have much contact with people. That was only reasonable, given the isolation of the tower. Carefully, Celebrían folded the dress and veil, and replaced them in the trunk. There was another stairwell on the far side of the bedchamber, and she climbed it, wondering if she would meet the tower's mysterious occupant at the top.
This stairwell led her to the top floor of the tower. This one was a sitting room, as sparsely furnished as the bedchamber. Windows ringed the room. A set of shelves held a few dusty books and scrolls, and an armchair sat nearby, next to a small table with an oil lamp. On the other side of the sitting room, near an open window, was a small, armless rocking chair. A plain linen robe was draped over the back. Celebrían wandered over to the shelves to inspect the books. They were primarily old romances. The saga of Beren and Lúthien, tales that bore strange names that Celebrían thought must have come from the varied tribes of Men, even a volume concerning Elwë and Melian.
As she contemplated the books, something began to bang against the windows. Startled, Celebrían whirled around to see a flock of gulls crowding around the tower. Afraid that one of them would blunder in the open window and become trapped inside the tower, Celebrían rushed across the room, intending to close the window. Before she could do so, however, a single gull flew in past her head. It circled the high, vaulted ceiling of the tower, and then descended gracefully.
As it approached the rocking chair, its form began to blur and shift. Its wings extended and became arms, the fanned tail disappeared, and long, graceful legs unfolded from beneath its body. Before Celebrían could quite recover from the shock, a naked Elf-woman stood before her. The woman tilted her head in a sharp, bird-like movement and stared at Celebrían for a moment. Then she blinked, shook out her long, dark hair, reached for the robe draped over the rocking chair, and wrapped it around her body.
"This is a surprise," she said. There was no anger in her voice, only puzzlement and curiosity. Nonetheless, Celebrían's cheeks grew warm.
"I apologize," she said, dropping a graceful curtsey. "I did not intend to invade your home. I have been traveling, and the door was open downstairs. At first, I did not know if anyone lived here."
"Sometimes," the woman said dryly, "I wonder if I do."
Celebrían had just begun to accept that she had in fact seen a bird fly into the tower and transform into a woman. Now that the shock was fading, she remembered that someone had told her about a woman who changed into a bird, long ago. Elrond had told her the story, after they had courted long enough that he felt that he could trust her with some of his secrets.
"Elwing!" Celebrían cried. The woman looked up, startled.
"Yes," she said. "That is my name. Forgive me . . . have we met before?"
"No. No, we have not met. But yours is a name of legend. Songs are still sung about the wife of Eärendil, who flew to meet him in the body of a sea bird, bearing the Silmaril."
Elwing smiled at that. "Yes, I did that. It seems so incredible now, that people should make songs about that flight. I hardly knew what I was doing – I had not even expected to survive the fall from the window." She sat heavily on the rocking chair and began to rock back and forth, remembering the day that the sons of Fëanor had attacked Sirion.
"One of them had pursued me – I do not even remember which one it was any more – and we were fighting desperately in the sewing chamber. I was so terrified that I could not think clearly. I wanted to keep the boys safe, and I knew that it was the Silmaril that the sons of Fëanor wanted, not me. I suppose that I meant to throw it out of the window, but I could not let it go . . . I fell, and then, just before I hit the rocks, I was flying. By the time I caught up with Eärendil's ship, I was so exhausted that I did not know what to think, to feel. All I wanted was to sleep. To think that songs are sung about that . . . "
"I used to hear them when I was a little girl," Celebrían said, sinking to sit on her heels at Elwing's feet. "My friends used to sigh at the romance of it, at the image of you flying across the ocean to your husband." She laughed a little. "I confess, I did not find the story especially romantic."
"It was not. It was merely a series of desperate choices. There was nothing romantic about it, nor does the tale have a happy ending." Elwing sighed, and her eyes glittered. "I have not seen my boys again since, though I have occasionally had news of them. They faced the same choice that their father and I did, and Elros . . . Elros, my son, is dead because of it. And Elrond . . ." She choked, and fell silent. After a while, she looked up and focused on Celebrían's face.
"I am sorry," she said. "I do not know why I am telling you all of this, when I do not even know your name. It must be dreadfully dull for you to sit and listen to tales of such an old grief."
Celebrían reached out and took Elwing's small, cold hand. "Elrond lives," she murmured. "He grew up, and married, and has three lovely children of his own. They live in a peaceful valley, hidden away from the evil things of the world."
Elwing's breath caught in her throat. Her eyes shone, and began to grow liquid. "I want to believe you," she said. "You sound so certain."
Celebrían rose to her knees. "I am certain. Look into my eyes, Lady Elwing, and see the truth of what I tell you. I am Celebrían, daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn. I am the wife of your son Elrond, and the mother of his children."
Elwing stared at Celebrían for a long moment. Then the tears that had pooled in her eyes began to roll down her cheeks. Without a word, she pulled Celebrían into her arms, embracing her as if she had found a floating piece of wood to save her from drowning. She held Celebrían close to her for a long time, rocking back and forth. At last, she broke the embrace, and held Celebrían at arm's length so that she could look her in the eye.
"Thank you," she said. "That is the first news I have had of Elrond in more than an Age of the world. But, tell me, what are you doing here? Is Elrond with you? And my grandchildren?"
Celebrían's mouth worked, but she could not make any words come out. Elwing saw her distress, and shook her head. "No. You are here alone. You are exhausted, and there is grief in your eyes. We will discuss things thoroughly in the morning. I will put together a little supper for us, and you will share my bed tonight."
"Then let us be about our evening business." Elwing smiled, ran her hand gently over Celebrían's hair, and rose from the rocking chair. She moved toward the stairs, and then paused. "Wait," she said. "Before we go, there is something I would like you to see. I have not shown it to anyone else."
She went to the bookshelf and took down a particular leather volume. When she opened it, Celebrían saw that it was not a book, but a cleverly designed box in which one could keep treasures. Elwing carefully extracted a sheet of parchment and placed it in Celebrían's hands. "I drew this shortly after I made my choice," she said. "I think I knew, even then, that I would not see my children again, and I made this so that I would not forget them."
On the parchment was a charcoal drawing of two twin boys, just beginning to emerge from babyhood. Wisps of black hair curled over their foreheads and about their ears. Their eyes sparkled, and both little mouths were wide open with laughter. One twin glanced off to the side of the page, as if something unseen had caught his interest. The other stared straight ahead, and his bright eyes bored into Celebrían's heart. Though he was identical to his brother, Celebrían knew him instantly. "That is Elrond," she said softly. "That is my husband."
Elwing nodded, satisfied, as if Celebrían had just passed an unspoken test. A moment later, she took the parchment from Celebrían's hand and placed it back in the box just in time to rescue it from the tears that fell from Celebrían's eyes. "We will speak more of this later," she promised. She put an arm around Celebrían's waist and guided her to the stairs.
So it was that Celebrían came to dwell in the tower of Elwing, by the sea. At first, the two women shared the space quietly, doing such tasks as needed doing. Celebrían took the mule out on day trips to cut wood from the small, scrubby stands of trees that grew several leagues inland. She built herself a small, sturdy bed frame, lacing it tightly with rope that Elwing gave her. Elwing sewed a tick for the bed and showed Celebrían how to stuff it with dried sea grasses. She pulled a quilt from the bottom of her clothes chest and spread it over the bed
After that, their days fell into a comfortable pattern. Elwing would rise early and leave just before dawn. Celebrían got her own breakfast in the kitchen, and then did any necessary housework. This did not take long, and then she was free to spend the day as she pleased. She learned to love riding the mule up and down the beach, splashing through the cold surf. Often, she would pack a picnic lunch and stay out all day, exploring the wild, lonely country around the cape. There was a vegetable patch hidden in the grass a short walk away from the tower, and Celebrían expanded it so that it would continue to provide enough food now that two people lived there.
In the evenings, she lit the lamps in the high sitting room, draped Elwing's robe across the rocking chair, and opened the window. Shortly before sunset, Celebrían would hear the wailing of the gulls, and then the beating of their wings as the flock swarmed around the tower. The gull that was Elwing would fly into the room and transform into a woman, a feat that never ceased to fascinate Celebrían. They spent their evenings peaceably together. Elwing wove, or sewed, while Celebrían read to her from one of her volumes of old romances. Every few days, Elwing would go into the kitchen, mix bread dough, and set it to rise just before they went to bed. She baked it the next day in the darkness before dawn, and there would be fresh bread waiting when Celebrían woke up.
They passed several months together in this peaceful existence. Autumn passed into winter, and Celebrían was surprised at the chill winds that blew in off the ocean. "The area around Tirion is so temperate, I had forgotten that winter could bite," she said ruefully.
Elwing laughed. "We are farther north here," she explained. "The ruins of Alqualondë are north of us, but no Elves live there any more. That was the farthest north that our people ever settled."
"Then I am just as glad that we are here." Celebrían wrapped herself in a shawl and sat down in the armchair. Elwing leaned back in the rocking chair and gazed out the window at the moon and the stars. A silence settled over the sitting room. Celebrían took advantage of the rare opportunity to study the mother of her husband.
Elrond had inherited his mother's straight, noble bearing, her thick, glossy dark hair, and her delicate jawline. Celebrían decided that his eyes must have come from his father. Where Elrond's eyes were almost as deeply set and shadowed as those of Men, Elwing's were large and close to the surface of her face, giving her a classically open, Sindar beauty. She resembled her son, and she did not.
The result of this meditation was predictable, but Celebrían was so absorbed in her thoughts that she did not realize she was weeping until Elwing rose and came to her side, offering a handkerchief. Celebrían accepted it gratefully, but it was some time before she could bring her tears under control. Elwing perched on the arm of the chair and held Celebrían, rocking her slowly until she was calm enough to speak.
"I should not have done it," Celebrían moaned. "I remember the look on his face so well. He was beyond grief. I swore that I would never be among those who betrayed him, but now I am beyond his reach. I – I do not know how he can live with the pain I have caused him."
"I understand," Elwing murmured, and Celebrían knew that she spoke the plain truth. "I had but an instant to decide what to do. I am sure that my fall kept them safe, but there was no time to explain it to them. I had to abandon them and trust that it was the right thing to do."
"He made the decision with me," Celebrían said. "We agreed that it was for the best. I could no longer function, even on my good days, and he had reached the limit of his ability to heal me. I had to go away. But there is no returning from this place."
Elwing nodded. "It is the price we pay for obtaining that which we desire. You wished to be healed. I wished to be reunited with Eärendil and have the Silmaril as far away from my children as possible. And our wishes were granted."
"I am healed, in body and in fëa," Celebrían admitted.
"And the Silmaril is far away, and my children survived. And I do see my husband at certain times, when I take the form of a gull and fly to meet him on Vingilot. He cannot leave that ship, you know. I am not permitted to sail with him, but I may visit him during the daylight hours, if I wish."
The conversation had steadied Celebrían's nerves somewhat. She dabbed at her eyes and nose with the handkerchief, and twisted it in her hands. "Our wishes have been granted, but we have lost our homes, our husbands, our children. What do we have left?"
Elwing gave a rather watery smile and rested her cheek on Celebrían's head. "We have each other. I had thought that I was content to live alone here in this tower, but against all the odds, you appeared, the wife of my son, the mother of my grandchildren." A little shiver ran through her body. "I must confess that it has been a joy to have you here, the daughter I always wished for."
Elwing ran her hand over Celebrían's hair one last time, then stood up. "Let us think no more about our sorrows tonight," she said. "We will go to bed, and then tomorrow, we will go down to the shore, and you will tell me all the news of my living son. I suspect you are as eager to talk about him as I am to hear about him."
Celebrían laughed, and nodded. "But what of Eärendil? You fly to see him every day."
"He will survive without me for a day, child. The One knows he did not spend much time with me after our marriage. He was not even there on the day that the twins were born, though he returned home shortly afterward. He will not miss me tomorrow, I think."
"If you are sure, then."
Elwing nodded, and the two women went down the stairs to the bedchamber to veil their sorrows with sleep.
The next day was the first day that Celebrían spent walking along the beach with Elwing and speaking with her about love and loss, but it was certainly not the last. Elwing had been more eager for company than she had realized, and the two women now spent many of their days together. Celebrían told Elwing all that she knew of Elrond's history, from his childhood with Maglor up until the moment he had bidden her farewell at the Grey Havens. In return, Elwing told Celebrían about the golden days she had spent in the keep at Sirion with Círdan and her infant twins.
"When they were born," she said, as they walked along the beach just before dawn one day, "I was terrified that I would not be able to tell them apart. But they turned out to be two little individuals, from the moment of their birth. Even Círdan sometimes called them by the wrong names, but I never did."
"I had the same fears about my twins," Celebrían confessed. "But even when one of them snuck up behind me and put his hands over my eyes, I knew which one it was."
She stopped and gazed out over the shimmering grey expanse of ocean, so wide that she could not begin to see the other shore. "I hope that the twins and Arwen will be well," she murmured. "In a way, this was harder for them than if I had died. I cannot be with them any longer, but they cannot mourn me properly, for I am not dead."
Elwing nodded. "As you cannot mourn Elrond properly, and I cannot mourn Eärendil. It is a strange fate that we share, daughter of my heart. We live, yet we are dead to those who loved us across the sea. We are both wedded, yet I can only go to my husband with great difficulty, and you cannot go at all. We cannot be wives and mothers, and we cannot return to our old places as daughters. There are many days when I cursed the Valar for putting me in such a position, neither one thing nor the other."
Celebrían did not answer immediately. Instead, she turned her face to the horizon. The Sun was just beginning to rise over the sea, turning it into a field of glittering gems whose brilliance seemed as though it could outshine even a Silmaril. As the Sun rose, the burden on Celebrían's heart seemed to lift. She turned to Elwing with a beautiful smile, the light of the dawn shining in her eyes.
"We are not wives, mothers, or daughters, here," she said. "We are nothing but ourselves. Think of it, Elwing. We stand here on this shore, and we are free. It is up to us to determine who we want to be. That is an opportunity not given to many. We should treasure it, for as long as it lasts."
Elwing blinked, thoughtfully, and then an answering smile spread over her face. "I had not thought about it in that way. But I like your idea. It is certainly better than spending all of my days cursing the Valar."
"Then let us be ourselves." Celebrían laughed out loud, seized Elwing by both hands, and whirled her around on the sand. "Who do you want to be, Lady Elwing?"
Elwing spun around one more time, her hair streaming out behind her. "I do not know," she said, "but one thing is certain. I wish to be your friend."
"Good. And I will be yours."
Giggling like two maidens at play, Elwing and Celebrían joined hands and raced through the surf, splashing and rejoicing in the light of the new day.
Many thanks to those who have read and enjoyed this story. I enjoyed the opportunity to take a glimpse at familiar characters in a time and setting that is less than familiar for them. It is fun to see how life goes on and how people can grow and change when faced with peace and the opportunity to rest. I also enjoyed being able to write a story from a woman's perspective, featuring several other female characters. Most of these women are just names in Tolkien's text, and I found it an enjoyable challenge to bring them to life as real people. I hope that you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I will see you again later.