Ghost

It had been a very long time since he had dreamed of Imladris.

For the most part, life in Valinor was sedate, quiet, and sane. Celebrían had brought him home, exhausted and utterly depleted from his centuries of struggle against Sauron, to a new ravine nestled into the foothills several hours' ride outside Alqualondë. There, thanks to her patient tending and, just a little over a century later, the arrival of his sons - both of them! - she had nursed the healer back to health. Time had passed; his sons had married and had children, those children had married and had children, and those as well. The house of the Peredhil had prospered and grown.

Now he spent his time in his gardens, with efforts that ruling a scattered people and fighting a war on so many fronts had virtually prohibited. His healing knowledge he passed on, but so much of it was simply not needed in this peaceful place. As little sickness plagued the Firstborn, most of his herbal knowledge had been written down so as to be preserved when lack of use took it's toll. A few times a year, he would be asked to assist with those most seriously injured in one of myriad kinds of accidents to befall the inhabitants of Alqualondë, for accidents were nearly the only thing that required his services. And after the long centuries in Ennor, it was a relief to only deal with broken bones and flesh wounds that had no sinister poisons in them to be counteracted.

His gardens flourished with the progeny of his extensive and exhaustive studies in plant genetics, as well as a few carefully chosen plants from Ennor that existed nowhere else in Valinor except, perhaps, Yavanna's personal garden on Tanequetil. He and others in Imladris had developed a taste for the hobbit's taters, and had brought a few with him; now, only his cooks knew the proper way to prepare them, and only his household were interested in consuming them.

And although his wisdom and reasoned perspective was much-sought-after by the courts of several kings, he had finished with politics of any flavor. Not even the request of a newly-rehoused Gil-Galad had moved him. His home was with his wife and family; his life was a peaceful one, free of worries about the feelings or desires or ambitions of others, and that was how he liked it.

He had to admit, however, that there were times that he missed his former home. There had been a music to the waterfalls there than were unrivaled by any in Valinor, no matter what the opinion of others. The gentle turn of the seasons, from the freshness of Spring to the soft warmth of Summer, the slight chill of Fall and the light dusting of Winter snow had been a comforting rhythm during a tumultuous time. It didn't snow in Valinor at all - at least, not where Celebrían had built their new home.

But in his dreams, he rarely visited Imladris. The number of centuries that it had been abandoned now since Celeborn had led the last of the Edhil to the Havens had mounted, no doubt higher than he could imagine. He paid very little attention to time now; there were no edain whose lives were fleeting to make him aware of it, and the people and places for whom he might grieve were lost to him forever. Celeborn had apologized, one of the few times he and his wife had visited with them, that the forest and the weeds had already begun reclaiming the settlement before he had departed. By then, he had numbered Imladris among the irretrievable, along with Aragorn and Arwen and Elros,

And indeed, as he found himself standing in the main courtyard in front of the Last Homely House itself, looking toward the grand gate, it was no surprise that the forest and weeds had made great inroads toward reclaiming the land to wilderness. Vines clambered around every pillar, draped every protective wall; and trees - mature and stately - now grew where once had been hard-packed dirt. Some of the wall had fallen, and those portions still standing showed clearly that the fallen stones had been displaced by intrusive roots and water that had frozen and thawed hundreds of times. Everywhere the grass grew tall, totally unkempt - and now dying as the autumn settled.

He let his eyes follow familiar paths to places he'd once known intimately. The stable, its walls built of the same stone as the walls, had partially crumbled and fallen in. The other out-buildings beyond - the forge, the armory, the cottages - had fared no better; most of them had collapsed completely, leaving behind only piles of rubble that could barely, if at all, be seen through the weeds.

At last he turned to take in what was left of the Last Homely House, his refuge where he had sheltered so many in the long, agonized struggle to maintain a bastion of Light in a land where Shadow seemed determined to conquer all. The broad portico still stood with stone pillars supporting stone beams. From the front, it looked to be still intact, but vines covered nearly everything, and all surfaces were covered with golden and brown leaves from the trees preparing for their winter sleep. The door to the House stood open, gaping.

That was no surprise; Celeborn had told him they had left the House thus. No Elves would ever wander those hallways again, and it was unlikely that Mortals would have much to do with such a deep and isolated ravine for a very long time. So, Celeborn claimed, he had left the doors to all the buildings open as an invitation to the wilderness creatures in the area to take what had been an Elven haven and make one of their own of it. And, as a fox slunk from the shadow inside into the brambles at the edge of the portico, it looked as if the wilderness creatures had done exactly that.

But his curiosity was engaged. What was left of his home, his refuge? Slowly he walked across the courtyard and up steps that were so clogged with grasses and plants and discarded leaves that he needed to watch his feet so as not to trip. There was light beyond the door that hadn't been there before, and he proceeded slowly.

To the right, where once the Hall of Fire had made visitors of all races welcome, the ceiling had fallen in long ago, letting in the elements – and the seeds of weeds blown in on the breezes. Here and there, through the profusion of dead vegetation that carpeted what had once been a pristine and polished wooden floor, shards of the blue roof tile could be discerned where it had fallen. The outer walls stood still, but the glass that had filled the windows in them was missing.

His head lifted; he had heard voices.

Voices? In this ruin?

With a frown, he followed them to the left, into what remained of the suites of rooms that had been offices and, further back, private apartments. All of the doors, which had normally been closed during Imladris' long life, stood ajar if not gaping. Beyond were pools of half-light from what little sun could make its way through overgrown windows, if not from gaping holes in the ceiling where sunlight could penetrate. Some furnishings remained - or rather, the ruin of furnishings remained. Anything that appeared intact also looked as if a stiff wind - or an careless touch - would send it collapsing in on itself. Bed frames either leaned against walls or lay shattered on the floor, mattresses long vanished. Only items built of solid wood remained, and all of it looked anything but solid anymore.

And still he could hear voices.

Whoever they were, they had to be toward the back – in family suites.

Leaving off investigating every room he passed, Elrond followed the voices. Now he could discern more about them: one was deep and male, another a pleasant female alto, and a third a piping soprano - a child? Were people actually living here? Who were they, and how had they come to this remote place?

He paused near another gaping door. Through it had once lay Celebrían's garden, the one place in all of Imladris that had been his and his wife's alone. Only family members and those very close to him had ever been allowed entrance. The hours and evenings he had spent here, grieving for all he had lost, for all he was prevented from rejoining. He couldn't visit what was left of his home without seeing what had become of his refuge within a refuge! The door stood just enough open that he didn't need to push it further.

As everywhere else, nature had taken over and sought to reclaim what had once been landscaped and manicured and tamed. The pebbled path that had meandered across soft lawn was gone - or at least lost beneath a carpet of dead grasses and tall weeds that gave way to little else. The statue that he had commissioned and erected in Celebrían's memory still stood, although completely covered with vein-like vines. He walked over and gazed into the stone face to find that the elements, once freed from the restraints that Vilya had imposed upon them, had washed away all the features that had long called Celebrían to mind.

For once, it didn't matter; all he had to do was wake up and roll over, and he would once more have the living, breathing Celebrían in his arms. He didn't need a statue to lean on anymore, the way he had all too often wept onto those cold shoulders in Ages past. Still, a fragment of fondness for the surrogate remained, and he touched the cold, blank face with love.

Laughter sounded behind him, and then the sound of quick footsteps that came into the garden with him. There were two of them - small and definitely Mortal children, both with mops of dark curls that reminded Elrond suddenly and almost painfully of Estel's curls when he had been that small. They were intent on their game of chase-me, darting along the edges of the garden, far too close to the nearly-crumbling walls.

He hadn't expected to see anyone. This was a dream, wasn't it?

Obviously, they hadn't expected to see anyone in the garden either, for suddenly the two - one only slightly taller than the other, perhaps a year or two older - were staring back at him with wide, dark eyes. Their mouths gaped like the many doors of abandoned Imladris.

It seemed impossible: they could see him!

"Mah-mee!!!" the littlest one burst out and, spinning on a heel, beat a hasty retreat, leaving the older child alone.

Elrond put up a defensive hand, shaking his head. No, no! The last thing he wanted to do was frighten children. What could he do? How could he communicate his harmless intent? His mind spun. There had to be something…

Oh, yes!

In the years of Estel's… Aragorn's… childhood, a compartment built into the bottom of the statue of Celebrían had been cleared out, and the gardener's tools replaced with carved horses, as well as a set of carved men and a wooden ball with which to knock them down. To his knowledge, the toys remained; few outside family had known of them, and neither of his sons had mentioned that the hidden cache had been once more turned into a tool repository. When the time had come to depart, none had thought of them. This child, this intruder into a place that was older than they could even imagine, might find the toys of interest. After all, the men and little horse were of soapstone, and perhaps the wood had been protected enough…

Elrond crouched down next to the statue and beckoned. Speaking to the child would no doubt do any good, for they each more than likely spoke a language that the other didn't understand, but gestures and smiles were universal. Come, he beckoned again, seeing the fear in the dark eyes turn to surprise and then a hint of curiosity. Come, look where I show you.

When the little one took a step, he nodded encouragingly and beckoned again, his smile widening. Come closer. I have something for you, if you can be brave.

The child was brave, Elrond considered, taking one step closer and then another, until he could have reached out and touched it. And he was tempted. Too many times he had cared for and nurtured Mortals, and this little one's face had a very familiar chin and set of the eyes. Is this one of your descendents, my daughter?

No matter. Now that the child was close enough, he pointed down to the small, almost invisible knob set into the statue's pedestal. He mimed pulling on it, and then scooted back so as to give the child room. The little one blinked and looked back and forth from his face to the knob. Again he nodded and pointed. Take it, and know you are welcome here.

"Em-mah!" The command in the word was unmistakable, and suddenly the child broke and ran for the man who had appeared in the doorway who held out his hand. Behind the man stood a woman with the smaller child in her arms, and all of them stared at him as if seeing something that they hadn't been prepared to see.

Slowly Elrond rose to his full height. This was what his dream had brought him here to see, for the features of the man's face were very familiar – as was the grey of his eyes. It was as if both Arwen and Estel looked back on him across the Ages. He smiled, put his hand to his heart and bowed, giving for the very last time the Elven salute of the Master of Imladris to a welcomed guest.

oOoOo

Elrond jerked awake and sat straight up, feeling almost dizzy from the sudden shift of his consciousness from a dreamed and ruined Imladris to the waking reality of his bedroom in Barvedui. Beside him came a soft sigh and then a gentle touch. "My love?" Celebrían's sleepy voice inquired. "Is all well?"

"I believe so," he replied, relaxing back into the familiar comfort of feathered pillows and soft linens. It seemed so real!

"Sleep then," Celebrían advised, shifting her head onto his shoulder and putting her arm across his middle. "We meet our newest great-great-grandson tomorrow. The House of the Peredhil continues to prosper."

I wonder how many great-greats stand between me and the little one in the garden of Imladris?

"You're right," he murmured and dropped a kiss onto his wife's forehead before letting his eyes lose focus once more, thinking a soft prayer of gratitude that he had been permitted a glimpse into his progeny still remaining in Ennor.

The House of the Peredhil prospers indeed!

oOoOo

"And then, he just vanished. I always wished we'd been able to figure out more about the people who had built that place before it was all cleared away and the dam was built. That man - whoever he was - looked so kind, and more than a little bit familiar!" Emma sighed. She could still feel the warmth of that smile, even after all these years.

Beside her, Mark laughed and took a swig of his beer. "All right! I gotta admit, your story is the best of the evening."

"This wasn't a story. This really happened!" she insisted, pushing at him in pique.

"Oh, come on! Do you honestly think I can't tell a good yarn to be told around the campfire?" He nuzzled her hair. "Or in front of a nice, roaring fireplace?"

Emma frowned at her fiancé. Mark knew very well that she had traveled widely with her archeologist parents when she was younger, and that they never failed to back up any of the tales she told. Never had he mocked her before, and yet, never had she told anyone of this particular incident. By agreement, this had been a family secret.

"This isn't just some ghost story I dreamed up because tonight's Halloween," she insisted. "This is a family story that we don't tell often. And I have proof that he really was there."

"Oh yeah?" Now he did sound challenging. "What kind of proof?"

"These."

Emma rose and walked over to one of the many small display cabinets that decorated her home with small mementos of her parents' life work. She slid aside the plate glass and took several somethings from within it. "My father found a door at the base of the statue that they hadn't seen before, right where the man had been pointing. The hinges were of stone - something completely unexpected, given the age of the place. These were inside."

And into her lover's disbelieving hands, she put an exquisitely carved and very lifelike stone portrayal of a horse in full gallop, ten small carved men, and a fragile-looking wooden ball.

"Dad had them dated at the lab, and they're incredibly ancient," she told him, a fond finger following the lines on the galloping horse. "They don't match any of the carvings of known peoples who used to live in the area. My father let me keep these, because he claimed the man must have wanted me to have them. Besides, they presented a mystery that the power company didn't want exposed. They wanted permission to get that dam built, not to be delayed by more archeological investigations."

"And your father saw this man too?"

Emma nodded. "And my mother saw him too. You can ask them tomorrow, if you really don't believe me."

"Maybe that was your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather you saw," Mark suggested, obviously still teasing her, "visiting his old stomping ground."

"Perhaps," Emma allowed. "I think I could do a lot worse than be related to him."

She gathered the carvings and wooden ball and carried them back to the display cabinet. Thank you, Grandfather, if that's who you were. Haunt me again sometime, will you?

FIN