Disclaimer: All characters belong to the Tolkien Estate.

Many thanks to Cairistiona for the beta.

The Choices of the Peredhil

The Valar indeed may not withdraw the gift of death, which comes to Men from Ilúvatar, but in the matter of the Half-elven Ilúvatar gave to them the judgement; and they judged that to the sons of Eärendil should be given choice of their own destiny.

The Akallabêth The Silmarillion

~oo0oo~

Refugees had been arriving at the coast for weeks now and still more came. Most were on foot, trudging wearily, carrying with them small bundles of possessions too precious to leave behind. Some rode thin, tired horses and a few fortunate ones came in wagons. Among them were the remnants of Gil-galad's host, separated in the long years of the War from the main body of his forces but now, finally, making their way back home to Balar. Many were former slaves, released after years of torment in Morgoth's underground caverns. They had with them nothing except the rags they wore; half starved, terrified and broken creatures whose suffering defied imagination. Men came too; the survivors of the three houses of the Edain who had fought valiantly beside the Eldar. With them also were their women and children; their homesteads abandoned as they desperately sought an escape from the ravages of war.

All roads, it seemed, led to the South these days. Círdan was busy in the ship yards where he and his craftsmen continued to work tirelessly, only resting from their labours when the wagons hauling the felled beech from Arvernien failed to arrive. Throughout the War, Círdan had never ceased working, his clear sight recognising the great need for boats that would one day arise, whatever the outcome of the conflict. The harbour was full of the proud results of that long labour; every mooring along the quay was occupied with a tall, white ship. In places they were berthed three deep, the vessels stretching almost to the open sea. But there were still not enough ships to carry all to safety, all those now fleeing the devastation in Beleriand.

The welfare of the refugees had become the responsibility of Elrond and Gil-galad who between them were creating a semblance of order out of the riot of folk and dwindling supplies that they juggled daily, but they too were beginning to feel overwhelmed by their task. Elrond did not know how they would cope with so many hungry mouths to feed, but nonetheless cope they would; none would be turned away, even though a camp the size of a city now filled all the land for miles along the coast and it grew daily. Few were willing to sail if they had yet to receive news of loved ones, but those who lingered swelled the numbers dwelling in the make-shift camps to bursting point.

The Eagles had come to the Havens a month ago bringing tidings of the victory in the North. With them also came Eonwë's summons that all should depart from Beleriand. Elrond and Gil-galad had returned not long after. They had been fighting just south of Doriath near the Aelin-uial where they had witnessed the fall-out from the Great Battle around Thangorodrim. Lightning had filled the skies for days on end and the ground had shook and roared at the fury unleashed upon it. When they returned south, they had brought with them stories of fire-breathing creatures flying high in the sky which fought terrible duels with the great eagles of the Crissaegrim. Elrond had been especially moved by the coming of Eärendil and, with evident pride, had told how his father had slain the greatest of the dragons, Ancalagon, from the bough of Vingilot as it sped effortlessly through the sky, its path guided as ever by the light of the Silmaril.

Elrond had remained at Gil-galad's side throughout the War but, due to his extreme youth, at the beginning he had only been required to utilise his skills as a healer; but, as the fighting intensified, he had fought too and now his hands were as accomplished with arms as they were at healing. A few years ago, he had parted company with Elros and had heard nothing of his brother's whereabouts since. Now, with each group of refugees that arrived at the harbour, Elrond unfailingly cast a hopeful eye over their ranks, ever seeking to find the elusive face of his twin among the new arrivals. But, with every day that passed and Elros still failed to return, Elrond became increasingly despondent. The newcomers now brought disconcerting news of more and more lands disappearing into the sea, and Elrond began to fear his brother might not reach the safety of the Havens before the whole of Beleriand vanished beneath him.

As he went about his work, Elrond also tried to keep from his mind another nagging doubt that increasingly troubled him. These days, all the talk at the harbour was of the choices people must now make. The Eldar must now decide whether to sail West and return to Aman or to head East and make a new life in what remained of Middle-earth. It seemed the Noldor had been pardoned and were also welcome to return home. Many desired this. The life they had known in the Great Lands was over; not all relished starting again in a new Age. Celeborn and Galadriel, however, were to remain and had already departed for the Blue Mountains in the East. They had gone on foot and with them had gone many of the people formerly of Doriath; Sindar who had never seen the Blessed Realm and, as yet, had no desire to do so. There they would await those who decided to stay behind.

Círdan had apparently not been surprised by their decision. "Galadriel's time in Middle-earth is not yet over," he had said. "She will be needed by those that remain." Elrond had heard other, less generous reasons for Galadriel's choice but such matters were of no concern to him. But while others were busy making plans for a fresh beginning, he faced growing uncertainty over his own future. He did not know where he and Elros would belong in this new Age. They were Peredhil and as such unique. Would they be welcome to follow the Eldar to Valinor to enjoy a life of bliss in the Undying Lands, or were they to remain in Middle-earth with all the uncertainties associated with that existence? Elrond though had little time to dwell on his predicament since evacuating Beleriand was a challenge beyond the experience of any. People continued to arrive in droves and most days he worked from dawn until late when utter exhaustion finally drove him to his bed.

~oo0oo~

One morning near the turn of the year, Elrond was busy overseeing the arrival of more wagons loaded with timber when a message reached him that he was needed at once in the camps as a large group of people had arrived belonging to the house of Hador. They were mostly men, warriors who had fought in the War but also with them were some of their kin who had escaped from the occupied lands in Hithlum. Several had wounds and were in need of urgent treatment. Elrond immediately handed control of the timber shipment to an Elf in his command and followed the messenger through the assortment of huts and dwellings that stretched along the coast. Gil-galad and he had long ago devised a system whereby all refugees were welcomed to one meeting point upon arrival. Here they were fed and clothed as needed, any wounds were treated and names were collected before they were allowed to pass. In this way they hoped to reunite families as far as they were able.

The group of Men that arrived that afternoon was one of the largest to come to the Havens thus far. Many were seasoned fighters; most carried reminders of their battles on their scarred bodies and it soon became clear they had been engaged in some of the heaviest fighting around the Fen of Serech but had gradually retreated south to escape the fires and the floods. Their journey had been long and hard; all were weary, some nearly dropping with exhaustion. Elrond immediately went to the litters which carried the worst injured. Some of the wounds had been received weeks ago and many were festering. He worked quickly, expertly prioritising the most in need where his skills could do the greatest good. So engrossed in his work was he that he failed to notice the young captain of the men approach him.

"Hello, Elrond," said a familiar voice in his ear. Elrond's head jerked up from the wound he was examining to find himself unexpectedly staring into the smiling face of his brother. He was filthy, his face covered in grime, his hair lank and dirty, and he was thinner than Elrond remembered. But he was alive; very much alive!

"Elros!"

The patient momentarily forgotten, Elrond threw himself joyously into the open arms of his twin and gratefully immersed himself in the warmth of his brother's embrace. After a long moment, Elrond drew back and, still scarcely able to believe this sudden change in their fortunes, he gently took his brother's face in his hands, a multitude of questions flooding his mind.

"You are well?" he asked cautiously as he scrutinising his brother's eyes for hidden hurts. But it quickly became quite apparent to him that Elros was perfectly well. Then he started to laugh, all his cares forgotten now as tears of joy spilled from his tired eyes. "Where have you been? I've been so worried. Could you not have sent word? I was convinced you would never reach here in time. Oh Elros, I can't believe it is you! And what a warrior you have become. Are you truly the captain of all these Men?" Elrond knew he was rambling but he did not care. Nothing else mattered any more, nothing at all; he and Elros were together again and that was enough.

Elros was laughing too though tears were now rolling down his own cheeks. "If you will but pause for a moment, Elrond, I will answer all your questions! But you had no need to be concerned. Surely you know me better than to believe I would be drowned with these sinking lands. Do you not recall, I was always the stronger swimmer of the two of us!"

Elrond roared with laugher and hugged his brother once more, reluctant to let him out of his sight ever again, but he knew he must contain his joy and continue with his work for the need was great. Elros helped him all he could, organising food and shelter for those in his care. The brothers worked until dusk, but, when Gil-galad learned that Elros had returned, he insisted they take a break from their duties to spend time alone with each other. Weary but content, they made their way to the quay where they sat side by side, legs dangling above the water as they had done when they were little children. Together, they looked up in silence at the darkening sky and watched as their father began his nightly voyage.

"Every night I have watched him embark on his journey and every night I hoped that somewhere you were watching him too," said Elrond, reluctantly breaking the spell that seemed to have been cast over them both in the still night air.

"I did the very same," smiled Elros. "He was ever my hope that, should we survive the horrors of the war, we might yet find each other again someday." He shook his head, sadly. "Such dark days there have been."

"I wish we could have remained together," said Elrond. "I knew in my heart you lived, but, as time wore on and I heard nothing, I could not help but fear the worst. You obviously travelled much further than I, and, I suspect, your war has been the harder. But look at you now, my brother, a great captain of Men, no less. I do not doubt that you earned your command on merit but, pray tell me, Elros, how comes it that you have such a role, and you barely more than a child!"

Elros laughed. "A child, am I? I would have you know, my dear Elrond, that to the Edain, I am a mature Man and in the prime of my life at that!"

"I had not thought of that," replied Elrond. "I confess I have little experience of the Secondborn, in spite of their blood flowing through the veins of both of us. You must have many a story to tell of your adventures with them."

"Ah, yes; the tales I could tell you, my brother. We would be here until dawn if I told you all that has befallen us. And one day I will tell you everything, though, if I speak truthfully, there is much that I would gladly banish from my mind forever. But what I will tell you is that I would not be here at all but for the strength and the valour of my comrades. Having lived and fought beside these people for many years, I can well believe the tales we learnt as children of the heroic deeds of their kin, the tales of the likes of Tuor and Turin; Hurin and Beren. Their might with arms surpasses even that of the Eldar, and, although they cannot endure injury in the same way, they nonetheless throw themselves wholeheartedly into battle without care for the hurts they might receive. I know mortality is a thing passing strange to us, Elrond, even as our endless years are much a mystery to them, yet, the fragility of the existence of Men does not deter them from selflessly risking, and indeed at times giving, their lives for their comrades. Such generosity of heart have they; I benefited from it more times than I care to remember!"

"Then I have more reason to be grateful to those in your command than I first realised," said Elrond, thoughtfully. "I must confess my view of the Secondborn has been tarnished a little in light of the treachery of some of their race. I doubt it will ever be forgotten that Men once again chose to side with Morgoth against us."

"Sadly, that is true," said Elros. "I cannot deny that not all Men possess the honour of the Edain and there is much about the race that is a mystery to me too, but I would hope though, Elrond, that you would not judge Men by the standards exhibited by the lowest of their kind."

"I am rather ashamed to admit it, Elros, but I have never previously given much thought to the qualities of the Secondborn. With the exception of our own forefathers, I fear I have tended to perceive them as rather pitiful creatures with their fleeting lives and uncertain futures."

"Fleeting and uncertain they maybe," said Elros, with a forcefulness which took Elrond aback, "But their stoicism in the face of the Darkness is something for which I have the greatest admiration and respect."

"Then they too will rejoice that the Darkness is now no more," said Elrond. "Morgoth is banished and cannot return."

"That is so, but I wonder if it is enough. There is some dark secret in the past of Men of which they do not speak. I understand it to be the reason they came West in the beginning. But they did not escape whatever it was they were fleeing. Most Men, it seems, despair of things ever being otherwise, but there are those who still have hope and it is that which carries them through their many trials, small foundation though it might appear they have for such a hope. Remember, Elrond, not for Men is the sanctuary of the Blessed Realm where others of our race, even now, dwell in peace and great bliss. In spite of the defeat of Morgoth, I cannot help but wonder and fret at what this new Age will mean for our mannish kin."

As Elrond sat listening to his brother, he realised he had never heard him speak so passionately about anything before and wondered at this change in him. The evident affection and admiration in which he clearly held the younger Children of Ilúvatar had also given him much to think upon, even as he found it to be rather disconcerting and unexpectedly unsettling.

~oo0oo~

About a week later, there was great excitement in the camps, for the Host of Valinor, fresh from their victorious battles in the North, finally arrived at the coast, the very last of the armies to leave the floundering lands. Elrond and Elros, as nephews of the King, were expected to be at the forefront of those welcoming the newcomers, so, as the Host drew near, the brothers took up their positions along side Gil-galad and Círdan to greet the troops. Behind them gathered a great swathe of people from the Havens. Many came looking for kin among the Noldor who formed a sizeable part of that host, but most came merely to witness the splendour of the golden Vanyar Elves. Like Elrond and Elros, many had been born in Middle-born and had never seen their like before. And, as a fanfare of trumpets heralded their arrival, the brothers looked with awe upon the light that fell about these warriors from the Blessed Realm.

Eonwë, the herald of Manwe, rode at the head of the army and, dismounting, came forward to greet Gil-galad. The Maia's golden hair blew free in the wind and, in his magnificent armour and fine velvet robes, he seemed to the people of the Havens every inch some god of a far distant realm. After conversing with Gil-galad and Círdan, he turned to the two brothers.

Elrond quickly glanced at Elros, wondering if he was as nervous and unsure as he. A living legend stood before them, a divine being from Valinor no less, and clearly either Elros or himself was expected to say some words of welcome, yet Elrond was sure his voice would fail him if he tried to speak. Neither twin was accustomed to performing courtly duties and Elrond quickly reasoned that it was he who should take the initiative, being more familiar with the role than Elros. But, before he could force words into his mouth, he heard his brother's clear tones ringing sure and firm beside him, as might befit a great captain of Men.

"It is a great honour to meet you, lord," Elros said politely, bowing low before the golden being as if he had been performing such rituals everyday of his life. "Might I, on behalf of my brother and myself, also bid you most welcome."

"Thank you," replied Eonwë, with a reciprocal nod of his head. He smiled at the twins though he looked at them both for a long moment, as if studying them carefully, leaving Elrond feeling even more uncomfortable than he was already.

"So you are the Half-elven brothers."

"We are the sons of Eärendil and Elwing," blurted Elrond, determined not to be found entirely wanting during what might prove to be a unique encounter in his life.

"Indeed," replied Eonwë, "a most curious mix. It will please you then to learn that your mother and father are held in the highest esteem in Aman."

"You know them?" Eyes wide with wonder and his earlier reticence completely forgotten, Elrond would have eagerly launched into all manner of questions had not the herald raised his hand, forcing Elrond to immediately recover his sense of decorum.

"Come and see me in my quarters at dawn tomorrow," said Eonwë. "There is a matter of some urgency which I would discuss with you both."

But before Elrond could even think of opening his mouth to ask more, the herald had moved on and was once again engaged in conversation with Gil-galad. As he watched them, Elrond felt a sudden surge of uncertainty and fear, tempered with excitement which inevitably coursed through him at the thought of the unknown. He could not begin to guess at what Eonwë wished to speak to them about, though he very much hoped it concerned his parents. He had only the vaguest memories of his mother and very little recollection at all of his father. But, as the brothers wandered home again with the slowly dispersing crowd, he suddenly felt a great longing to go to the Blessed Realm and be reunited with them.

~oo0oo~

The next morning, just as the sun appeared on the far horizon, the brothers made their way to the large encampment of the host of Valinor which was set a little apart from the rest of the settlement.

The herald of Manwë had a very large and magnificent pavilion for his quarters, as befitted the chief emissary of the Eldar King. Eonwë was waiting for them as they were shown inside. He did not invite them to sit, causing Elrond, who was still far from at ease among these visitors from Aman, to hope that the encounter would not take long.

"Elrond and Elros, sons of Eärendil," Eonwë began in his great voice. "Listen with care to my words. When your father and mother sailed unbidden to the Blessed Realm, they were not permitted to leave, but Ilúvatar in his mercy granted the Valar permission to make a pronouncement upon their fate. And it was the decision of Manwë that, being of the Half-elven, your parents should be allowed to choose to which kindred they wished to belong; the Firstborn or the Followers. Your father asked Elwing to make this choice for them both and she chose to be accounted as a member of the Eldar race, although I think perhaps Eärendil on his own account might have chosen otherwise.

"I speak to you now on behalf of Manwë, who has entrusted me to deliver this message to you both. The Eldar King has decreed that this same choice should also be set before Eärendil's sons. I therefore say to each of you that the time has come when you must decide whether you wish to be accounted among Men or among Elves. Go then, Peredhil, and make your choice. You may chose the same way as each other or differently but, however you choose, return to me in two days with your decision. May Eru guide your hearts and minds so that you chose wisely, for the ultimate fates of both you and all your heirs will depend upon this choice."

Both brothers stood staring dumbly at the herald with shock. Eonwë smiled at them sympathetically and indicated to his guards to gently usher them from his tent. Once outside, Elrond and Elros looked at each other in disbelief.This was not what they had expected to hear and all the uncertainty and doubt over their future that had plagued Elrond for weeks came crashing down on him again. But then the gradual realisation came to him that now he and Elros had been given more options that he had previously hoped for and that all doors were suddenly open to them. His mind clear and his fears put aside, Elrond laughed happily.

"I do not know why we are so troubled," he said, smiling at his brother. "We can now do whatever we desire. We can go to the Blessed realm, should we wish it, or we can remain here. This is a matter for rejoicing not solemnity. And, as to the choice of kindred, surely in this we are as one and there is no choice before us."

But Elros did not answer nor did he meet his brother's gaze.

"Elros? We are of the Eldar, are we not?" asked Elrond with mounting concern at his brother's unexpected prevarication. "We were raised by them; we have always dwelt as one of them. We are of the Eldar; there is nothing else, surely?" But even as he said the words, he remembered the Men that Elros had returned with and he thought of the tales he had told. Since he had come to the camp, when not with his brother, Elros was usually to be found among his men. It was obvious to Elrond that he loved them dearly.

"Elros?" Panic rising, he tried again more urgently, desperately needing his brother to reassure him that he had no cause to fear his choice.

Elros smiled at him, his sympathy evident but he did not provide the reassurances Elrond sought. Elrond knew his brother would never lie to him but his silence spoke more clearly than any words. Suddenly, he felt a spasm of fear grip his heart, the like of which he had never known before and he felt as if he was falling into an abyss from which he knew, with absolute certainty, he would never escape.

"We have two days, Elrond; we should at least sleep on it," Elros said at last, but then he walked away and left Elrond feeling more alone than he had at any time in all his life.

Utterly wretched with fear and dismay, but having no wish to speak to anyone of this just yet, Elrond ran blindly to the beach where he hoped he could be alone while he desperately sought to make sense of the maelstrom of emotions whirling within him. He walked slowly along the wet sand, absently allowing the water to lap over his feet. For him, the decision as to which kindred he belonged was so straightforward and obvious that he knew there was no choice to be made. He was an Elf. It was that simple. He did not deny his mannish heritage; he knew the blood of all three houses of the Edain flowed within his veins, but in his heart and mind he was undoubtedly an Elf. He always had been and always would be. His life force pulsed with the slow, steady pace of Arda. He was young, as a new shoot feeling its way into the sunshine at the very beginning of spring; not for him were the quick years of Men, brief as a moth enjoying one short season before being snuffed out, never to return.

But was this true of Elros? Their blood was identical and yet in so many ways they were very different. It had always been so. There was something of the restlessness of Men in Elros. From what he knew of that kind, it seemed to Elrond that, unlike the Eldar, Men constantly sought to order and conquer the world around them. Men did not appear to find the same contentment or joy within Arda that the Elves did. Yet only now, as he pondered the differences between the two kindreds, did he realise that, even from their earliest years, he had long recognised this same trait within his brother. Elros could never just be as he could; he needed to be constantly working on something new and as soon as that task was accomplished, it never seemed to hold the same appeal as it had and he would then seek something else to engage his interest. Elrond had heard tell that this peculiarity of Men was a consequence of Arda not being their true home and that as a result they compared everything within it unfavourably with how those same things would be when they finally reached that home. Elrond assumed, though no one had ever told him for certain, that it was to journey to this home that necessitated Men leave the world after such a short span of years.

A short span of years!

As those words formed in his mind, his heart shot into his mouth. Should Elros actually decide to be counted as one of the Secondborn, then his time on Arda would be unbearably short. Already in his fifties, he would be considered in his middle years. And in the blink of an eye he would be gone - forever. In contrast, Elrond's own span would be unimaginably long, his years stretching into an impossibly distant future. But end it would, one day, when Arda was no more. And what then? Would they be sundered for all eternity? Panic suddenly rose within him. This was unthinkable. How could he possibly go on living in the world for years beyond count without his twin brother beside him?

Elrond sat in the sand and buried his face in his hands and wept as despair consumed him. So wrapped in his sorrows was he that he did not hear the approach of his king behind him. Gil-galad laid a hand on Elrond's shoulder and silently sat down next to him.

"He has told you of Eonwë's message, hasn't he?" said Elrond when, at length, he raised his head.

Gil-galad nodded.

"He will choose differently from me, Ereinion, of that I am sure, but I do not know if I can make the same choice as he. I fear it is not within me to do so. And yet I cannot bear what this will mean. I cannot be parted from him, I simply cannot. He is my brother, my closest kin. I love him dearly. Whatever should I do without him?"

Gil-galad put his arm around him. "I cannot pretend that your fears are groundless, Elrond, much as it grieves me. I know you both so well. In many ways you are so alike, but your hearts had ever beaten to quite different rhythms. But you have to make this choice for you and you alone. You have your own life to lead, just as Elros has his. You cannot change him any more than you can change yourself."

Elrond nodded; he knew this only too well, but neither did he feel he could ignore the uncomfortable fact that his father had chosen against the leaning of his own heart out of his love for his mother. He did not know if the love he felt for his brother was strong enough to bind them together in that same way. Feeling overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions within him, he sighed and continued to stare out to the sea. The sun was setting now, its golden rays reflected on the calm water. It was so beautiful. Arda was so beautiful. It was a complete mystery to him that Elros should even consider adopting a fate that would require him to leave the world so prematurely. Finally, unable to break through the fog clouding his mind, he turned his thoughts to the affairs of others.

"What will you do; have you made your plans yet?" he asked Gil-galad. "I have not heard either you or Círdan speak of the future."

"We will both remain in Middle-earth for a time yet," replied Gil-galad. "Círdan greatly desires to sail. The sea-longing has been strong in him almost from the first. But he will wait while there are still those wishing to depart. He sees far and I know not all his reasons. As for myself, the choice is simple as this is my home, I was born here; I am not yet ready to leave Middle-earth."

Then he laughed suddenly. "You may think me proud if you wish, Elrond Half-elven, but here I am a king. There seem to be rather a lot of those in Aman. No, my place is here. I shall depart over the Blue Mountains and found a new realm for those of my people who choose to stay."

He looked carefully at Elrond, as if weighing whether his next words would help ease Elrond's decision or make it more difficult.

"I would be glad to have you at my side should you decide to stay. You are also of the line of Fingolfin, my kin, but even without the ties of our blood, you are as a son to me and I would not willingly lose you."

Elrond smiled his gratitude.

"Think carefully before you decide, Elrond. I wish I could help you more but this decision is for you and Elros alone. One thing though I will say to you; remember this, you may have to live a very long time enduring the consequences of a bad choice so chose wisely and do not be too eager to be guided by your heart alone." With that, Gil-galad rose and left Elrond to his thoughts.

~oo0oo~

Elrond did not see Elros all of the following day or the next. He guessed he needed to be alone with his thoughts without being burdened by his brother's sorrows. But as the shadows lengthened, Elros came looking for him.

"The time has come, Elrond, we must go to Eonwë with our choice," he said.

Elrond looked into his brother's eyes and immediately saw the pain within them and at once he knew the decision he had reached. Although it was only as he had already feared, still he was shocked. Hurt and anger flared within him as he backed away.

"No, Elros, no!" he cried. "You must not do this, please, I beg you."

Elros looked close to tears himself but he reached out and, grabbing his brother, he flung his arms around him. "Listen to me, Elrond, just listen, though in truth I know not what to say. But believe me; my own heart is breaking even as I know I must do this. I can only hope that you will come to understand that this choice has been desperately hard for me too and even now I can feel my courage faltering and my mind wavering. It would be so simple to spare us both this pain, to change nothing and just remain as I have always been, but I cannot, Elrond, in my heart I know cannot."

For the sake of his brother, Elrond struggled to contain his despair. He knew he must listen to Elros's explanation though he would feel each word as a dagger in his heart.

Elros released his grip and stepped back, looking his brother fully in the eye. "I wish I could explain it," he began. "Ever since I have dwelt among Men I have felt as if I have come home. It simply feels right, as if I fully belong, something I have never truly felt before in all my life. I think you know this, Elrond, don't you." After a long moment, Elrond nodded reluctantly. He did know the truth of his brother's words, much as he wished he could deny them.

"The people of the Edain, my people, whom I have come to love dearly, look to me now to lead them and I greatly desire to do this," Elros continued. "But I would do so properly and completely with my whole being; I have no wish to be merely an Elven figure-head. I now have the chance to be as one of them, to share their hopes and their dreams and to live their lives as they do. I cannot do this if I am destined to remain in Arda until its end. I do not fear death, Elrond. For Men it is just the next stage in their journey and one I would gladly take with them. This choice would bring me the greatest joy, but for the pain of parting from you."

Through his anguish, Elrond slowly began to understand. Much as he felt as if a limb was being ripped from his body, he would be wrong, selfish even, to try to turn Elros from this path. His brother's excitement at the prospect before him was almost tangible.

"I cannot pretend I fully understand all you have said, Elros, but I can see that you have no doubts that yours is the right choice for you, even though I know that you will suffer the same hurt as I. I just wish we had been made the same way in the beginning that is all." He paused for a moment, his brows furrowed. "All we can do is trust that Ilúvatar, in his wisdom, made us differently for some purpose, though it would ease my heart greatly if I had a glimmer of what that purpose might be.'

Elros said nothing but drew Elrond's head towards his so that their foreheads touched. They both knew there was nothing more to be said but, for a moment, they wordlessly communicated their fears and their love and their enduring commitment to each other, no matter the sundering that now looked certain to be their doom. Finally, Elrond took a deep breath, stood up straight and said: "Come, let us go to Eonwë."

The brothers returned to the camp of the Valar and were again escorted to Eonwë's pavilion. As they entered, the herald rose from his seat and looked at them keenly.

"I see, Peredhil, that you have reached your decision," he said as he easily read their hearts, "Though your evident pain at your respective choices saddens me greatly." He then spoke to each of the brothers in turn.

"Elrond, to you then is given the life of the Eldar. You are welcome to sail into the West should you desire it or you may remain in Middle-earth for a time. Should you stay, it has further been granted that your children will be given the same choice that has been laid before both of you. While they dwell with you in Middle-earth, they shall live with the life of the Eldar but when you depart, this same choice will then be before them."

He then turned to Elros. "To you, Elros, shall be given the Gift of Men and an escape from the weariness of the world. A great span of years shall be given to you and your descendants, a time of life far beyond that enjoyed by lesser men. However, it is not your fate to remain in Middle-earth."

Elros looked at Eonwë in obvious bewilderment but the herald smiled at him. "The loyalty and valour of the Edain who fought against Morgoth is to be rewarded with a Gift of Land; Andor we shall call it. A new isle is to be raised out of the depths of the sea by Aulë. It will be blessed by Yavanna and enriched with all the kelvar and olvar that men need and desire. This isle shall lie to the west of Middle-earth but east of the Blessed Realm. It is to be a new home for the Edain, a new beginning, and you, Elros son of Eärendil, are to be its first king."

~oo0oo~

The brothers walked back to their camp in silence. There was everything to say and yet no words would come. There was a gulf between them now that could never be healed, not even if they had all the Ages of Arda before them. When they reached their tent, they were surprised to find Círdan sitting outside, waiting for them. The Elf-lord studied the twins closely as they drew level with him.

"I see it is done then, your choice is made," he said as he got to his feet. "If it is of any comfort to you, I believe you have both chosen wisely, though I can tell that perhaps you may doubt this at present. Come inside, I would speak with you both." He followed them into the tent and stood before them, stroking his beard thoughtfully, the brothers both looking at the wise Elf expectantly, eager for any words of comfort that might ease their hearts.

Silently, Círdan reached into a pocket in his tunic and produced two jewels which he placed in the palm of his hand and showed to the brothers. One was a ring, the other a star on a chain.

"I have here gems of great worth," he said. "The ring was left in my care a long time ago, the star but lately. Both were intended to be handed on when the time was right. I deem that time has come and you should now be given these things as was always intended by their former keepers."

He picked up the ring and presented it to Elros who turned it over in his hand, admiring the exquisite craftsmanship that had created twin serpents entwined beneath a sheath of golden flowers.

"I was given this ring by your mother when Eärendil left on his last voyage in search of Valinor," said Círdan. "She had a measure of foresight that he would not return and she asked me to give this to one of her sons. She said I would know which one when the time came. It is the ring of your great, great, grandfather, given to him by Finrod Felagund for saving his life in the Dagor Bragollach. As Barahir was of the Edain, I deem it right that it should pass to you, Elros. Wear it with pride in your lineage for you too are a worthy descendent of the House of Bëor."

Elros smiled at him. "Thank you, Círdan, this is a great honour. I shall indeed be proud to wear the ring of my forefathers." Without hesitation he slipped the ring onto his finger. It fitted him perfectly.

Then Círdan turned to Elrond. "For you I also have a gift that once belonged to Finrod. His beloved, the Lady Amarië, did not follow him into exile but remained in Aman. As a token to remember both her and whence he himself came, she gave to him this white star and told him to look upon it at times and think of home and the lady he left behind. There is some power in it that I truly do not understand; the Noldor still like to keep some of their secrets," he said with a chuckle. "When Finrod embarked on his ill- fated errand to aid Beren Erchamion, he left it in Nargothrond for safe keeping and it was refugees from there who brought it to Doriath and to Finrod's sister, Galadriel. She in turn asked me to keep it safe and give it to one of Eärendil's sons. She believed that it is through one of you that it shall come to serve its purpose many years from now. She said I would know which of you to give it to when the time came."

With that he placed the jewel in Elrond's hand. Elrond studied it carefully, such a beautiful thing that it was, yet he wondered at what power could lie within such a simple thing.

As if reading his thoughts, Círdan said mysteriously: "I believe, Elrond, that this is meant to be passed on to another, perhaps many years from now. More than that, I do not know."

Then, his eyes smiling gaily, he looked at the two identical faces in front of him, both so serious and so full of care. "Now, enough of these sombre faces. If, as I suspect, Elrond, you decide to remain, for a time, in Middle-earth with Gil-galad and myself, you will not be parted from Elros for a long while yet. It will be many years before this new land will be ready. There is much for you both to do. Eonwë himself is to come among the Edain and instruct them in many things so that they might fully reap the benefits of this mighty gift. You two can greatly aid him in this. Do we not then still have much cause to rejoice? Morgoth is defeated, a new Age is before us and we all live to enjoy it. We have every reason to have hope for the future."

With those words, he reached over to the board beside him and picked up a flagon of red wine, a rare treat in these unsettled times. As he poured a glass for each of them, he wondered at the very differing roles fortune would bestow upon these two brothers, superficially so alike but now facing widely different fates. Of one thing he was certain; the very special part played by the Peredhil in the history of Arda was only just beginning.

~oo0oo~

And from these brethren alone has come among Men the blood of the Firstborn and a strain of the spirits divine that were before Arda.

Of the Voyage of Eärendil The Silmarillion

A.N. The star Círdan gave to Elrond is the jewel that Arwen gave to Frodo. Sadly, we know nothing of its history.

Kelvar: things that move; specifically, animals

Olvar: things that grow; specifically, plants