My most profound thanks to both Nieriel Raina and Aeärwen for their assistance with this story. They unraveled a confusing, twisted mass of words and somehow figured out what I was trying to do.
Also, the dialog in the very last section is lifted directly from The Fellowship of the Ring, p.336, for those following along at home in their Ballantine paperback editions. I hope you enjoy!
Elrond's earliest memories were of screams and smoke. The screams rose up from the battle, ringing loud and harsh in his young ears. The smoke billowed thick and heavy as Sirion burned, and when combined with Elros's rigid hold, the ash in the air made breathing difficult. His brother clutched him so tightly his ribs ached, but Elrond's own arms were wrapped just as tightly around Elros. They huddled together atop the cliffs overlooking the Sea, and they trembled in the darkness as their mother pleaded.
Her words were not for herself but for her sons, and gone was the pride of Thingol's House. Taking its place was a desperate grief so strong that Elrond shrank away from it, and as he did so, he received his first gleamings of foresight. He stiffened, his untrained mind struggling to fathom the sudden sense of warning, and Elros clutched him harder. But Elrond had eyes only for his mother, and with horror, he watched as she pressed a radiant jewel to her chest. It was as though a star descended in their midst. A star of such terrible beauty that all the world around it fell prey to madness. Her dark hair whipping about her shoulders, the daughter of Dior Eluchíl took one last look at her sons and stepped backward over the cliff's edge.
The night went black.
There was a roar of rage. A scream of denial. A clap of thunder so close and so loud that Elrond and Elros fell to the earth, unable to see or move. For a moment, Elrond wondered if he had been stricken blind, and he wished it had happened earlier, before his mother stepped back. In his mind, he saw her take that step. He saw the star that forced her from her sons, and he saw the night reach out to claim its own.
A sudden cry brought him back to his senses. Elros was torn from his arms. He struggled wildly, gasping a protest and shivering at the loss of heat and family. A heavy cloak wrapped itself about his shoulders, and strong arms stilled his struggles. He heard a gentle voice whispering soothing words, and eventually, the voice began to sing, lulling Elrond to sleep as it stole him away from the smoke and screams.
But in that sleep, he saw again and again his mother falling into the Sea.
In later years, it would be called the War of Wrath, but to Elrond, it was not a war. War he knew and war he had fought, but this… This was beyond description.
The heavens burned. Mountains fell. Valleys buckled. Great thunderings shook the very foundations of Arda, and the ground rent itself in twain. He and Elros stood together, heedless of their own safety and unable to take their eyes from the lights and vapors that filled the sky. At one point in the bedlam, Elros cried aloud and pointed to the far north, seizing Elrond's arm in a bruising grip. Elrond's breath caught in his throat. On the very edge of sight, grappling with shadows and flame, a ship sailed the sky. Elrond had no memories of Vingilot and did not recognize his father's vessel, but he recognized the Silmaril. It marked the start of his memories, as though the six years of life prior to his mother's leap were of no consequence, and he watched in terrified wonder as the Silmaril led the ship to vie with a dragon as black as the Void. A brief glimpse was all he was afforded, but a brief glimpse was enough. Then it was gone, lost amid the chaos of dark wings and blazing light.
Elrond could not say how long he watched, nor could he recount all he saw as the days, the weeks, and the years blended together. But after a last thunderous crash, a sudden silence fell upon the land. It seemed a fragile silence, as though a whisper could shatter it beyond repair, and Elrond held his breath. Then a song pierced the stillness. A song that drifted out across the broken land. It was felt more than it was heard, and every heart suddenly recognized it as a song of victory. A song that praised the hosts of the West and gloried in Morgoth's fall. And for the first time in Middle-earth's history, the sun rose over a world liberated from the horrors of Angband.
One by one, the elves left their shelters. From beneath ruined mountains and out of flooded plains, they walked in disbelief. The long war was over. Morgoth was gone! Elrond clapped a hand on his twin's shoulder, his smile as wide as the Sea, and they watched their people gather in the ruins. A joyous murmur swept the growing crowd. It started as a tentative whisper, as though the elves feared the victory was nothing more than a wishful dream. Then it gained in strength and volume, and before long, a great shout echoed through the land.
But the elves were given only a few brief days to celebrate, and after the hosts of the West departed the skies, Eönwë, herald of Manwë, came to those gathered with Círdan and Gil-galad. The celebrations faltered, and Eönwë spoke. He summoned them all to depart Middle-earth. To depart the lands they had labored to protect and safeguard. And though Elrond and Elros were too young to remember the previous wars, they felt keenly the love their kinsmen bore for the Hither Lands. Eönwë bade them make no hasty action but counseled them to think on the summons and rest. He had other places yet to go and he would hear their answer upon his return.
Weeks later, when Eönwë again came to the island, the elves were no nearer a decision. But the western shores were crumbling, and Círdan's ships were ready. That night, their minds still reeling with a victory too great to comprehend and a summons to grievous to consider, the elves slept on their choice. Struggling with a choice all their own, Elrond and Elros slept with them.
Until screams shattered the stillness.
Elrond started abruptly from a deep slumber, and a dark foreboding came upon him. He flailed in the dark for his sword, and side-by-side with his brother, he stumbled into the night. The foreboding grew as he ran in the direction he last heard the screams, and a shiver took him when he realized they approached the tent where lay the Silmarils wrested from Morgoth's crown.
He should have been prepared. He should have known. But he did not heed his heart, and he was not ready for the sight that awaited him. Perhaps his feelings for Maedhros and Maglor were too muddled to allow him any sort of preparation, for they had sheltered him. Clothed him. Trained him. Encouraged and nurtured his thirst for learning. These memories filled his mind as he stared into the faces he had come to love and trust as a child. But Elrond's memories also turned to the night when his mother plunged into the Sea. When he found himself torn away from everything he had ever known and had since forgotten. He remembered the darkness that had edged Maedhros's eyes whenever the Silmarils were mentioned. He remembered the anguish that had colored Maglor's voice whenever he sang of Tirion and Fornost. He remembered the guarded looks Elros had turned on both of them when he thought no one was watching. And he remembered learning the full horror of the kinslayings from Círdan when he and Elros had finally rejoined their people.
Their blades red and the two remaining Silmarils clutched tightly in their hands, Maedhros and Maglor stared back at Elrond and Elros. Those who had been charged to guard the Silmarils lay silent and still on the ground, their life's blood pooling on the dark earth. It was unthinkable. Concluding in the same manner as it began, the Oath of Fëanor found fulfillment, and Elrond shuddered as he heard the ring of drawn swords around him.
But he did not draw his own weapon. Neither did Elros. Their first meeting with Maedhros and Maglor had been stained with blood. They could not mirror such a tragedy in their final parting. In this, they were united, and though all the hosts of the Noldor and the Sindar cried for vengeance, Elrond and Elros did not move. They alone stood unarmed before the last surviving sons of Fëanor.
And then they were not alone. Eönwë stepped forward. None noted his arrival, but all noted his presence. With a tone that could have leveled mountains, he silenced the enraged crowd. Then he turned to Maedhros and Maglor, and in a quiet voice that was somehow louder than his earlier shout, Eönwë bid them depart.
The elves roared a protest, their voices outraged and murderous. The fury of the host seemed to culminate in a livid Oropher who stepped forward and leveled his spear tip at the sons of Fëanor, declaring loudly that the West withheld its influence when most needed and forced it when least wanted.
A barking command made Oropher pause. Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor, pushed through the crowds and advanced on Eönwë. His name meant star of radiance, and certainly he looked the part as he confronted Manwë's herald. But then he deliberately turned his back on Eönwë, and Elrond understood why Círdan preferred Gil-galad's former name of Ereinion, descendent of kings. In that moment, he was king over both the angry mob and the sons of Eärendil; whatever he decreed, all would abide by his wishes. And in that moment of decision, the High King of the Noldor looked to Elrond and Elros. His eyes stayed upon them for what felt like an Age, his gaze searching and measuring. Whatever he sought, he found, and at length, he turned to Maedhros and Maglor.
Later, there were whispers of Maedhros's death. Tales that Maglor still walked the shores. Elros followed these rumors closely, but Elrond did not. He had no need to, for he no longer wondered at his place and purpose. As the gathered crowd teetered upon the brink of terrible deeds, Elrond found his liege lord. And he swore then and there to follow Ereinion's command until Arda's ending.
As far back as Elrond could recall, which was back to that fateful night in Sirion, Elros was a constant in his life. The brothers were inseparable in childhood, a fact both Maedhros and Maglor had quickly learned to respect, and the trend continued until they were grown. They played together. Laughed together. Wept together. Fought together. Thought together. One would begin speaking, and the other would finish. Even though they chose different fates after the War of Wrath and even though they were separated by leagues of waves, it never felt as if they were ever truly apart.
Until Elros died.
Elrond received no word of Elros's death until over a month after the event, but he had no need for tidings. He knew of his brother's passing the moment it happened. He woke early in the morning to a sharp pain in his chest, and he stumbled from bed, his breath short and his vision dim. Somehow he found himself in the courtyard, surrounded by frightened sentries who knew not what calamity had befallen him. He was given a draught that sent him to sleep, and he woke hours later to the concerned face of Ereinion. Endless questions followed, but Elrond had no words to express the aching void in his heart. He did not truly understand what had happened himself save that he knew Elros was gone.
Before leaving Middle-earth, Eönwë had offered Elrond and Elros a choice: They could be numbered among the elves and seal their fate to that of Arda's, or they could be numbered among men and partake of an unknown fate beyond the circles of the world. Elrond, craving time to learn of the past since his own had been denied him, swore himself to the former. But Elros bore little love for the past. When the Silmaril took its sworn protector over the cliff, it stole not only Elrond's memories but also Elros's innocence. Elros remembered the days before their last night in Sirion, and he had sworn to forget, refusing to partake in the immortality of those who had shattered his earliest memories.
Not sharing those memories, Elrond had been unable to fathom why Elros would choose a fate that sundered him from not only his past but also his family. Elros tried several times to explain his choice, but his death spoke more eloquently than words ever could. Now, Elrond understood. Now, he felt the searing agony of mortal grief, and for the first time in his life, he tasted the bitter dregs of immortality.
For several days, Elrond lay abed, his thoughts fragmented and scattered. He felt like a ship suddenly ripped from its moorings and cast into the unforgiving Sea. He was adrift. Storm-tossed. Hopelessly and utterly lost. Ereinion visited him several times, his eyes anxious, and persistent healers plied him with foul draughts and tinctures. But the hours flowed by like sand, faint and fleeting, and Elrond showed no sign of improvement.
Then late one evening, while Gil-Estel twinkled on the horizon, Elrond heard singing.
He was too weak to rise and watch the singer, but the song was such that he did not need to see. He could hear the dance. The movements. The power in the notes. Surpassed only by the lullabies that Maglor used to sing, this music could have been the song of the wind itself. It drifted through his open window, stirring and lifting his heart as the wind might stir and lift the trees.
For the next week, he listened every evening for the music. At times, it came as the single voice he had first heard, and Elrond would sink into sleep as it fell and rose in harmony with the sigh of the breeze. At other times, it came as many voices, but Elrond could always pick out the voice that first sang alone. From that voice, Elrond drew strength, and for as long as the music endured, Elrond found rest.
The singers departed ere he recovered, and Elrond did not meet them. He learned later that they were Sindar and had journeyed in the company of Celeborn and Galadriel. Ereinion did not know who in that company was responsible for the songs that soothed Elrond in the dark hours, though he offered to ask. But Elrond declined. The memory was enough, for the music seemed to have entwined itself with his dreams. Always, he could recall its haunting notes.
Weeks later, when Númenor's official missive reached them and confirmed Elros's passing, the music that warded his dreams was all that sustained Elrond in his grief.
When Annatar revealed himself as Sauron and declared open war upon Eregion, Elrond used the long march across Eriador to decide whether he felt angry or guilty.
The anger stemmed from the fact that they could have prevented the attack, as well as all the events that preceded it. Elrond had sent messages of warning about Annatar, and Ereinion had not even permitted Annatar to enter Lindon, though neither he nor Elrond could say exactly what they sensed that made them fear the wanderer. But fear him they did, and they made this clear in the warnings they dispatched. But those warnings had gone unheeded.
The guilt stemmed from the fact that Elrond could have done more than simply warn. Indeed, he should have known more was needed, for the politics of Eregion were no secret. Celeborn and Celebrimbor were forever at odds, and Celeborn's inclination to heed the warnings was almost reason enough for Celebrimbor to doubt them. Annatar's offer of power in the forges only deepened the divide, and the lack of any evidence to back the warnings compounded the problem. Perhaps Elrond should have left Lindon sooner. Perhaps he should have ridden to Ost-in-Edhil and challenged Annatar directly. Perhaps he could have unmasked Morgoth's lieutenant in the beginning and rallied the elves to unite against their ancient foe.
So ran Elrond's thoughts during the journey from Lindon to the Bruinen, but the moment he led his army across the river and into Eregion, those thoughts came to a grinding halt. Taking their place was a sweeping horror, and from the wail of the rocks to the keen of the trees, Elrond learned the terrible truth: They were too late.
With effort, Elrond closed his ears to the clamor that hissed through all of Arda, and he led his forces forward. Every elf under his command sensed the presence of orcs, and every hand rested on bowstring and sword hilt. As they made their way deeper into Eregion, they encountered several scouting companies and dispatched them quickly, hoping news of their arrival would not reach Sauron. And at all times they looked for refugees from Ost-in-Edhil, but it required two weeks of tense and furtive searching before they were rewarded.
A whisper in the wind turned Elrond's head one morning. Having learned to heed his instincts, he followed the whisper south, and before long, the sounds of battle were heard. They hastened forward, and as the trees gave way before them, they suddenly found themselves joined to a furious battle. In the midst of the confusion Elrond found Celeborn, haggard and worn and too harried by the enemy to organize a retreat. Across the field, the orcs swarmed thick as flies over carrion, and at their head, raised aloft as a mocking banner, was Celebrimbor's mutilated body.
They fled. Elrond had not the forces to contend with so many orcs, and Celeborn's refugees were too wearied and grief-stricken. The best they could organize was a rout, and they wondered if they could achieve even that much. Fortunately, the orcs were content to remain behind and feast on the dead, which worried Elrond greatly.
"Why should they hasten after us?" Celeborn asked, and in his voice was a cold loathing that chilled Elrond's blood. "They are but a portion of the forces besetting us. The rest have moved to block the western roads. We cannot reach Gil-galad now. I am surprised you found us with as little mishap as you report."
"We crossed the Bruinen in the north and made our way south," Elrond said, mentally retracing the route. "Mayhap Sauron is more limited in his reach than you believe."
Celeborn looked at him for a long moment. "If that is your hope, you are welcome to it. And if you believe you can return the way you came, we will follow, for there is nowhere else we might go."
Which was not reassuring in the least, but Elrond felt the enemy pressing upon them from the east, the south, and the west. North seemed to be their only option, so north they went. But never did they find an open road to the west. They were repulsed in every attempt, and ultimately they were forced to take to the trackless wilds at the feet of the mountains, fleeing for their lives, searching for every elf that yet lived, and wondering when Sauron would head them long enough to bring to bear the full fury of his forces.
It was Gildor Inglorion who found safety. Ever the wanderer even in the midst of desperate flight, he scouted the lands north of Eregion and discovered a protected valley. A valley that was both defensible and sustainable. A valley that could support their army for as long as they remained hidden. But it was a valley they could not reach unless by some stroke of fortune they managed to distance themselves from Sauron's forces.
The stroke of fortune came from the dwarves, who issued forth from Khazad-dûm and sounded Durin's horn throughout the forests. The orcs turned aside to meet this threat, and the dwarves retreated back to Khazad-dûm, sealing the gates behind them. But the attack bought Elrond and Celeborn time enough to hide all signs of their passing and escape to Gildor's valley.
Elrond would never forget the swell of relief that filled him when he crested the sheltering cliffs and saw the valley carved by the river. Unsullied by enemy hands, the valley was green and lush with a steady supply of fresh water. They reached it just as the setting sun plunged below the horizon, and Gil-Estel winked at them as it sailed along the dusk. The elves declared it a good omen. Elrond's own history with the Silmaril sometimes made it difficult for him to draw hope from the evening star, but in this instance, he set aside his memories. After almost a year of hiding and fleeing, the shock of safety was more than he could bear. He fell to one knee, whispering a prayer of gratitude, and bowed his head as Celeborn gripped his shoulder.
Gildor led the company down the cliffs, but Elrond and Celeborn both remained on the heights. Silently, they drank in the sight of refuge, and they watched as the company reached the valley floor just as night drew its shadow over the wilds. Far below them, bathed in starlight, Elrond's herald climbed a high bank beside the rushing river and held the banner aloft. Then he plunged the banner's staff into the earth, and Elrond felt his fëa follow, sinking deep into the land. Here, he would mount his defense. Here, Sauron could not come.
For the next three years, while all the lands around them fell to Sauron, Elrond and Celeborn maintained a stronghold in the hidden valley they named Imladris.
It took the combined might of Ereinion's army and Tar Minastir's navy to force Sauron from Eriador. The siege around Imladris lifted, and Elrond led a relentless pursuit, his weary forces finding new strength in new hope. After almost a decade of war, Sauron was forced from the lands west of the Misty Mountains, and the passes eastward were opened to all Free Folk. It was a time of celebration and rejoicing, but the elves knew well that victory had been purchased at great cost. They vowed such an event would never be repeated.
The leaders of the elves met in Imladris. Galadriel came from east of the mountains to rejoin Celeborn, and even Oropher crossed the High Pass, leaving his fledgling colony in Greenwood. Together, they formed the first of many councils, and together, they planned a defense against Sauron. One of their first decisions was to keep Imladris as an elven stronghold, and to honor the one who had helped established Imladris, Ereinion named Elrond vice-regent.
But that was not all he did.
In the late hours of the evening, after the council concluded but before other stars could join Gil-Estel in the sky, Ereinion drew Elrond aside and made a request. Against the counsel of his advisors, he had brought with him Vilya, mightiest of the Three Rings, and he wished Elrond to hide Vilya in Imladris.
Elrond was stunned. While Sauron had been driven back, the western lands were by no means secure. Imladris stood on the eastern border of Eriador and the northern border of Eregion. It was a day's journey from the High Pass and only two weeks from Moria's western gates. It was a strategic place where armies might gather and watch for signs that Sauron's forces attempted a return, but it was not a safe haven where the treasures of the elves might be protected.
Elrond stated as much, but Ereinion was adamant. He gave no reason for his request, and Elrond could not tell if the lack of explanation was because Ereinion knew too little or too much. In either case, Ereinion was not to be denied, so Elrond agreed. He swore to protect Vilya and to hide it in Imladris. To hide it deep in the valley and to conceal it with all the might he possessed.
Once the oath was given, Ereinion seemed comforted, and they soon returned to the others. But Elrond's mind was no longer on laughter and tales. He abandoned the group that had gathered around a massive fire, and he wandered the valley, his thoughts awhirl with plans, defenses, and strategies. The weight of his promise to protect Vilya bore down upon him, and well aware of the ramifications should he fail, Elrond found himself overwhelmed.
Until he heard singing.
The haunting music was immediately familiar, for he had heard it before. He had heard it centuries ago in Lindon, and his burdens suddenly eased. He followed the music into a starry glade where his eyes widened at the woman who leaped and spun in dizzying circles. He had met her several weeks before when Galadriel arrived in Imladris, but now it was as though he saw her for the first time. Celebrían, they called her. Silver queen, and Elrond understood why. Her hair was a river of moonlight, and her voice blended seamlessly with the whisper of trees and water. She paused when she saw him, and her eyes sparkled with mirth. Laughing, she drew him into her dance, and for the remainder of the night, he thought no more of Vilya. He thought only of silver hair that put even Elbereth's lights to shame.
During the months that followed, Elrond made a point of walking Imladris beneath the moonlight. His days were filled with the needs and duties of his new office, and never had he been more weary or more anxious. But his nights were filled with haunting music that stole his breath and eased his mind. Sometimes he joined in. Sometimes he simply watched. And sometimes he would not find Celebrían at all. But everywhere he heard her song, for it was the song of the night itself. And when Celebrían departed eastward over the mountains with her parents, Elrond's heart went with her.
When Imladris was first established as a military stronghold, Elrond knew the Wise hoped to one day use it as a gathering place for an army strong enough to overthrow Sauron. That day was long in coming, but after many years and many wars, it arrived. It was just as momentous as Elrond had dreamed it would be, but with great grandeur came also great chaos.
The mayhem of many converging armies reached a fever pitch on the day before the Last Alliance was to depart Imladris. There were hours of instruction to countless captains and heated debates with Elendil concerning the arrangement of the vanguard. Elrond missed the midday meal because of an emergency meeting with Lindir and Galdor in the armory. Details clouded his weary mind as harried scouts tried to make sense of contradictory reports concerning what awaited them on the other side of the Misty Mountains. A shipment of mithril mail from Khazad-dûm—which Elrond had given up as lost to the wilds of Eregion over a week ago—arrived in the confusion of late afternoon, and both elves and men scrambled to divide the precious metal throughout the companies. After he secured enough mithril vests for his own command, Elrond instructed Erestor to keep the madness to a minimum and then fled to the sanctity of his quarters, hoping to find a quiet moment.
But even there, he could hear the sounds of swelling forces too numerous for even the valley to hold. He found himself checking his armor one last time, and then across a table, he spread the banner he would raise at Ereinion's side. Before the hosts, Ereinion was Gil-galad, and Elrond called him such. But in Elrond's mind, he would forever be Ereinion, for Elrond still yearned for the years beyond his forgotten past. He could not let fade the reminders of what had come before, and upon the banner, Elrond reverently traced the emblems of Finwë's house.
A soft knock sounded at the door, and Elrond hesitated, wondering if silence would prompt the visitor to leave. But Elrond was nothing if not dutiful, and he bade the caller enter. To his surprise, Ereinion stepped into the room. His eyes were apologetic, but beyond the apology, the High King of the Noldor was strangely subdued. Elrond possessed his own measure of anxiety for the siege they were about to levy against Mordor, but something about Ereinion's somber mien was different.
After a moment of strained silence, Ereinion softly said, "I seek an oath of you. One that must be freely given. If you refuse, there is no threat of shame or guilt. This oath is too heavy to lay upon anyone, and I would not have you give it if you feel even the slightest misgiving."
It was an abrupt way to begin a conversation, and Elrond paused a moment to gather his thoughts. He finally managed a concerned, "Say on, my liege," but inwardly he had already decided to accept whatever Ereinion asked. Elrond owed him too much to ever refuse.
With a voice that seemed pained and stretched, Ereinion took a deep breath and asked, "Will you safeguard Vilya in Imladris? Will you keep the Ring for as long as Vilya endures?"
Elrond agreed. After all, he had done such ever since Ereinion made him vice-regent of Eriador, and that was over two millennia ago. But Ereinion interrupted and warned Elrond that he was not finished. His gray eyes now darkening to the color of storm clouds, Ereinion continued, "If we succeed in our venture, Vilya might be freed from the influence of the One. Should that happen, I would have you be its bearer. I would have you wield the mightiest of the Three and work alongside Galadriel and Círdan to heal the hurts of Middle-earth."
At those words, Elrond realized what unnerved him about Ereinion's mood. Even amidst Elrond's grim fears, he clung to hope that they could achieve a world without Sauron, but in Ereinion eyes, there was no hope. Not for himself, at least. His sharp eyes, ever keen and searching, seemed veiled, and Elrond took a step forward as if to offer comfort.
But then Elrond considered what Ereinion asked of him, and he had to fight the urge to step back. Up until now, he had been a steward only of the Ring, fully anticipating that Ereinion would take up Vilya should they break the enchantments that subverted its arts to the will of the One. Elrond had no desire to be a Ring-bearer himself, and collecting his wits enough to speak, he wondered why Ereinion would ask such a thing. He wondered why Ereinion refused to lay his own claim to Vilya. But Ereinion did not answer and only repeated his request, again stating that Elrond was free to refuse. Stating also that the responsibility of bearing Vilya was far heavier than that of merely safeguarding Vilya. To Elrond, it seemed Ereinion wished him to decline, but also it seemed he spoke as one with no recourse. And as Elrond had resolved, so he acted.
He took the oath. In a quiet room on the day before the greatest alliance ever assembled marched forth, Elrond calmly and resolutely spoke the words that bound him to Vilya. The moment he made those vows, a burden fell upon his heart. A burden greater than the armies and the stratagems and the threat of Sauron. A daunting, crushing burden that drove all thoughts of the coming war from his mind.
Ereinion departed, called away by the constraints of his office. Before he left, he dismissed Elrond from all obligations for the rest of the evening and told him to seek rest. But still reeling from the enormity of what it meant to be Vilya's bearer, Elrond knew rest would elude him. Instead, he sought solace in the gardens, walking blindly down the twisting paths until a whisper of song tugged at his heart. He immediately turned aside, seeking the singer.
He found Celebrían beneath a tall elm. She had come to Imladris with her father, who represented both the Sindarin and Silvan forces gathering east of the Misty Mountains. The involvement of the Silvan elves came with more than its share of headaches, but Elrond was now intensely grateful for their alliance. With no thought for propriety, he rushed to Celebrían and lost himself in her startled embrace. And as the shadows grew long around them, he spoke in hushed tones of his fears. He did not speak of Vilya directly, for such a secret could not be revealed to her. Not yet. But she seemed not to need the knowledge. She understood he wrestled with a grievous matter, and as she had before, she sought to comfort him.
His father's star appeared on the horizon, and Elrond fixed his eyes upon it as Celebrían sang. She sang with the wisdom of her father and the power of her mother. She sang as she had sung in the days following Elros's death, and Elrond found himself carried away in the voice of one who could call upon the strength of both Sindar and Noldor.
But his burden did not lessen.
Celebrían sang on. Gil-Estel gleamed brightly. But at all times was Elrond conscious of a Ring hidden in the depths of the valley. This was not a burden Celebrían could ease. This was not a burden Eärendil could lift. And as day turned to night, Elrond tasted the first dregs of a bitter loneliness that would be as much his companion as Celebrían herself.
Celebrían's last days in Middle-earth were little more than a blur to Elrond. For a time, there was only horror. Horror and anger and dreadful imaginings, for in this, Elrond's wisdom betrayed him. He knew too much of orcs. Too much of darkness. Too much of the hatred the creatures of the enemy held for his kind. And when members of Celebrían's party stumbled into Imladris, bringing word that they had been attacked and Celebrían taken, Elrond's mind seemed to abandon him.
He led the search parties forth, but he would never remember the specifics of those searches. Not the weeks. The days. The hours. The minutes. He would never remember where they looked or who they found or what sharp, angry words he uttered that caused all save Erestor and Glorfindel to avoid his presence.
But he would always remember the rage.
It descended as a dark haze over his eyes. There was a screaming in his blood and a twisting in his heart. In the rare moments of coherency, he reached out to Celebrían with all the power Vilya granted him, and in the even rarer moments he brushed against her mind, she recoiled.
She did not recognize him.
She did not recognize anything.
Elrohir and Elladan found her first. Elrond arrived at a battlefield that rivaled the bloodiest scenes from the Battle of Dagorlad. Picking his way through a sea of carnage, he wound his way around the mangled remains of orcs until his eyes fell upon his sons, who had taken shelter beneath an outcropping of stone. Then Elrond lost sight of everything save the pale form lying still and lifeless in Elladan's arms. His rage shattered, breaking like glass upon the rocky slopes of Caradhras. A part of him broke with it, and he stumbled forward as though wounded himself. There was darkness in his sons' eyes, but he did not see it. Not then. He saw only the one they tended, and when he reached them, he clasped her in his arms and buried his face in her silver hair, sobbing like a child.
Weary days followed. Hopeless nights dragged by. They returned to Imladris, and Celebrían would rouse briefly only to shrink away, crying out when any touched her. Arwen came every morning and left in tears before noon. Elladan and Elrohir appeared at the start of each week but were gone the rest of the time in brazen hunts that consumed their lives just as captivity and torture consumed Celebrían's. She faded before Elrond's eyes, growing weaker and weaker with every passing moment. At length, she began to recognize him again, and when awake, she would allow his tender ministrations. But her light was gone, and she was soon to follow.
There came a moonless night when the stars were veiled and Celebrían's life seemed as weak as the fitful lantern casting eerie shadows about the room. Clutching her frail hands to his chest, Elrond sank down onto the bed and begged her to fight. To tarry. To remain by his side. And though she had no desire to live, Celebrían hearkened to his pleas. With a trembling whisper, she swore that her grief would not take her to the grave, and to that oath, she proved faithful.
It was a bitter victory.
Celebrían did not die, but neither did she live. She lingered in a wasting languor, a hollow shell that echoed the emptiness in Elrond's heart. The days had seemed long before, but now they were truly endless. Elrond hung on every word and every look, hoping to see a spark in her eyes. Hoping for a sign that her spirit and her mettle returned. But she had nothing left to give. Only her sworn word held her to life, and Elrond came to regret his selfish pleas.
Arwen was little more than a pale shadow, her radiance dimmed by her mother's grief. Elladan and Elrohir swore vengeance upon all orcs, their words brittle agony to Elrond's ears. In the end, Elrond turned to Círdan, who counseled that Celebrían be sent to the West. He also counseled that Elrond accompany her, but Elrond could not. Just as Celebrían's oaths bound her to life, Elrond's oaths bound him to Imladris. To Vilya. To one of the last requests Ereinion ever made of him.
Never was it more of a burden.
Together, Elrond and Círdan built a ship. Together, they bade it farewell as it sailed into the sunset. The next morning, with only Gil-Estel for company, Elrond watched for the sunrise. But he watched in vain, for he could see nothing beyond the veil of his tears.
Elrond was forewarned when it came to losing Arwen, but he did not realize it at the time. And even if he had, thirty years hardly seemed like enough time to discern the devastating consequences of his daughter's choice. Or even the choice itself.
The first rumblings of foresight came when Aragorn was no more than a score of years old. Elrond had learned he could not hold to the past as he once did, and he had vowed to think of the young man as Aragorn and not as Estel. Given all that happened later, it was probably one of the wiser things he did concerning Aragorn and Arwen. Though he loved him like a son, Elrond could not have associated hope so closely with the one who would separate him from his daughter.
In the days following the pair's first meeting, Elrond had observed the look of interest and longing that appeared in Aragorn's gray eyes. He had watched the young man's face light up whenever Arwen passed by. He had noted she paid him as much heed as she would any visiting Ranger, and something in his heart had warned this would not always be so. Yet he failed to appreciate the significance of this warning. Or perhaps he did but chose to ignore it. That possibility gnawed at him, for he considered himself a wise leader. To ignore something of such import seemed a severe lapse in judgment. But even as he berated his ignorance, he knew the cause and found no defense against it. Losing Celebrían, even if only for the time he had left as Vilya's bearer, was a crushing blow. He could not fathom losing Arwen as he had lost Elros, with no hope of reunion for as long as the weary Ages of the world endured.
But whether through inability or deliberate refusal, it still remained that Elrond was stunned to learn that Aragorn and Arwen plighted their troth in Lothlórien thirty years after their first meeting. It seemed a worse doom than that which had befallen Elros, for with Elros, he had not anticipated the pain their separation would cost. Now he knew what awaited him, and he knew this loss would also devastate Celebrían. Somehow, the prospect of sharing the grief did not lessen its weight but rather increased it.
When Arwen returned to Rivendell, Elrond spoke with her at length, taking care that in his speech he neither condoned nor condemned her choice. It was her life, her love, and her oaths. He could not forbid her heart anymore than he could forbid his own.
But he was Arwen's father, and when he spoke with Aragorn, he set the terms of her betrothal: nothing less than the unification of Gondor and Arnor under a single King. Aragorn pledged himself to that cause, but not just to the cause alone. Every Chieftain of the Dúnedain swore to do as much. What Aragorn promised was the realization of the cause. The realization of all their hopes and labors. It was a bold promise made late one evening beneath the light of Gil-Estel. Beneath the light of the Silmaril that had stolen away one from whom both Aragorn and Elrond were descended. And just as the Silmaril's betrayal had eventually sundered Elrond and Elros, the hope of the Mariner now sundered Elrond and Aragorn.
And both knew it. Both understood what such a promise demanded.
But Elrond was soon to understand even more, for when Aragorn at last departed, foresight opened in his wake. Elrond saw the dark, lonely road his foster son would walk. He saw the dark, lonely years his daughter would endure. He saw them embrace these lives for the sake of a new day and a new hope. And in the end, he saw himself—divided, conflicted, and bereft of them both.
Eärendil. Elwing. Maedhros. Maglor. Elros. Ereinion. Celebrían. Arwen. Aragorn.
Elrond's mind lingered on each of them as he surveyed his porch from the threshold of the Last Homely House. Beside him in the doorway, Mithrandir's eyes glinted, but the wizard said nothing and merely waited. A moment was granted Elrond to cast a last look at the company now carrying the hope and fate of all Free Folk, and in a rare moment of selfishness, he took that moment. He took in the aged hobbit shivering in the cold. The four younger hobbits whose eyes were fearful but whose hearts were firm. An elf and a dwarf who kept their distance from one another but who chafed with the same desire to be underway. Two men, one of whom stood restless at the edge of the porch while the other sat with his head bowed against his knees. Elrond caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turned in time to glimpse a silent figure retreating back into the house. Starlight glimmered against a cascade of raven hair, and in the sky above, Gil-Estel glinted a warning.
Knowing his moment was over, Elrond stepped forward onto the porch. Mithrandir moved with him as though in silent support, and Elrond called the group to him. He could not see the end of those who set out that night, nor could he pierce the mists of darkness that rolled forth from the East. He could only give them what he had learned over the many years, and that seemed little enough. But such as it was, he gave it.
"This is my last word," he said quietly, and he felt the company draw close. "The Ring-bearer is setting out on a Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid; neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need." His voice grew taut as he spoke, and he dared not think of what he had done to Frodo. But to the rest of the company, Elrond could offer a glimmer of hope, so he continued: "The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy will it be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road."
Mithrandir gave him a knowing look. Something flickered in Aragorn's eyes. But it was Gimli who offered a challenge. "Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens."
Elrond looked into his face and saw both youthful ignorance and dwarven heritage—a strong heart, a rich soul, and a drive of oaths unfulfilled. But though the dwarves bound themselves to their vows, passing them down through the generations, they lacked the lifespan to see how those vows chipped away at their race. Chipped away at their heritage. Chipped away at their homelands. But Elrond had sworn himself to the life of the elves so that he might remember, and remember he did: those who would not break with sworn words were doomed to be broken upon them.
"Maybe," Elrond said, and his voice was now no more than a murmur. "But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall."
"Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart," Gimli said.
"Or break it," Elrond answered.