Epilogue: Faithful to the Last
Elrond sat back in his chair with a tired sigh, cradling his wine cup in one fine hand, and closing his eyes. At his right hand a small table held a simple meal, scarcely touched. Slowly the duties and cares of the day faded from his face, but they were not replaced by a look of peace, rather by sorrow and a deep loneliness. Only a single lamp softened the darkness of his chamber, but the doors to the balcony were open, admitting the soft evening breeze and the pale light of the moon. Faint sounds of music drifted up from the Hall of Fire. Songs were being sung, in celebration of the crowning of the new Queen of Gondor and Arnor, and for the homecoming of the Master of Imladris.
But Elrond felt no joy, only a great weary sadness. It was over. Finally. The Ring had been destroyed, Sauron had been vanquished forever. He had fulfilled the last service to his long dead king. His daughter was wed in happiness and splendour in City of Kings. The Age of Man had begun. Yet for him, it was a hollow victory, bringing only empty days and lonely nights.
He felt his eyelids begin to flutter and his mind to flow into dreams. Would she appear again tonight? He had not been able to explain it, why Gil should come to mind now, after all this time, but she had walked in his dreams every night since he had left Minas Tirith. Perhaps it was the finding of the Ring that had stirred up the past, or being once again in the land of Gondor. Bittersweet it was, seeing her again, awakening the old, old pain - long buried but never healed. And yet, behind the loss and the sorrow, shone the memory of happiness and love.
The moon was bright outside, casting sharp shadows against the walls of the house, and over the flagstones of the paths. Paths along which a slight, dark figure trod silently, each barefooted step noiseless on the smooth stone. And although many Elves walked and sang in the gardens of Rivendell, yet none discerned the visitor slipping amongst them. The face was hidden in the shadow of a cloak, whose grey-green folds covered the livery of an ancient house. Past the brightly lit windows, looking in wonder at the beauty of the house, lightly over the grass, pausing beneath the huge oak to gaze upward at the ancient branches, then with a soft and slow pace, up each of the steps that led to the balcony of the Lord's chamber. Coming to a stop at the threshold, blending with the shadows, to look in upon the Master of Imladris as he sat dreaming. But at the sight so presented, a tiny sharp cry, too tardily stifled, broke from the lips.
Elrond's eyes flickered and focused. Was she there? In the doorway, silhouetted against the moonlight.
"Gil." He whispered.
She moved forward with a hesitating step, pushing back the hood of the cloak.
It was her. So close, so real, he could almost reach out for her.
"It is you, my little sleeper." The saddest of smiles came to his face. "Still haunting my dreams." He breathed a long sigh as the memories rose in him, the ache of longing that had never truly gone. "I miss you so very much, even after all these many, long years." He closed his eyes and a single tear fluttered from his lash. "If I could have but one wish, it would be that you were here with me now. You would know how to warm this empty place that was my heart."
"Oh my love." Her voice was soft as she crossed to him, and the arms she placed about him felt so comforting and familiar. "I am here. I am here."
Leaning his head against her breast, and clasping her to him, she felt so alive, so real. The stroke of her hand, the whisper of her lips against his hair, it was a though she were truly present. He gave himself up to it, closing his eyes against the world, feeling only her closeness, the warmth of her in his arms, the steady heartbeat beneath his ear. "Oh that I might never awake." He murmured.
"Elrond." Her voice was gentle, yet insistent, filled with that timbre of love that had echoed in his ears so long ago. "Elrond."
"Yes, my heart?" he whispered, pressing his face to her, not daring to open his eyes or speak aloud, lest she vanish.
"You do not dream." Her hand stroked the hair away from his face.
"What do you mean?" But it was too late, already his mind was folding in, returning to the world, the dream fleeing as his eyes opened to see the shadows of his room against the moonlight.
"I am here." Her voice was quiet. Her arms still surrounded him, the press of fabric against his face, the warmth of her body clasped to him. He tightened his embrace, feeling the contours of flesh and bone beneath his hands.
He sprang to his feet with a cry of disbelief, gripping her by the shoulders, astonishment driving all speech from him. Keeping hold of her with one hand, he reached with the other to turn up the lamp.
It was her. Gaunt and tired. Hair short and ragged, but undeniably Gil. Standing before him, here in his chamber at Rivendell. Three thousand years after he had given her up for lost. Still unable to speak he touched her face, running his fingers softly over the well remembered features, down over the neck, his brow creasing with sorrow as they encountered the iron collar, across the shoulders and down the arms. Pushing back the ragged sleeves of her tunic he stroked the deep scars about the thin wrists, then took her hands in his, the left crudely bandaged. Her eyes were the same, the dark familiar depths that he had looked into so many times, brimming now.
"But how?" He whispered.
A wavering smile came to her face, as she blinked back her tears. "The deepest rooms in the Tower of Barad-dûr had neither window nor door. Sunk into the very rock of the foundations. No gaolors stood guard, the very power of the Ring itself held them fast. For those imprisoned within, there was no escape, not even in age or death. Cursed to remain out of time, immobile, frozen, neither waking nor asleep. Only the command of Lord Sauron could release them."
Elrond nodded slowly, "But when the Ring was destroyed, that power was broken."
He looked at her again, taking in the exhaustion on her face, and guided her to sit in his chair, kneeling in front of her, and taking her hands again. "I looked for you." Pain was raw in his voice, "I searched everywhere. I had that tower torn down stone by stone but I could not find you." His words caught, "And then Mardil brought me your band, and we feared the worst."
"Oh my love!" she tightened her hands about his, swallowing her tears. "I gave it to the gaoler, so that he would let me keep your cloak." A tear fell from her eye. "It was all I had of you, and it was a comfort to me when I had no other."
He pressed her hands to his chest, unable to tear his eyes from her face. "And now you have returned to me, out of the land of Darkness and from the depths of time."
"I did not know if I should come." She whispered, "I did not know how things would stand between us after all these years." She smiled sadly, "But I had given my word that I would, and besides, how could I not look upon the face of my love, even for only one last time. I thought that I would come in secret, just to look on you, to see that you were happy." Her voice caught, "Then when I saw you here – it was as my dream, such a look of sorrow and loneliness upon your face, that I thought my heart would burst forth from me."
"Oh Gil." He reached his arms about her, gathering her close, back into his arms again. "You are here. You are home now." One long hand cradled the back of her shorn head against his shoulder. "Never again will anyone take you from me." He inhaled the scent of her, and it was as if the years disappeared, and she had never been away from him. Again and again he breathed her in, clasping her to him, unable even from moment to moment to believe that she was real. She leaned into him, settling her head in the crook of his neck, weariness seeping from her.
He gathered himself, forcing his mind to work, to deal with practicalities. "Come." He shifted her weight back into the chair, and rose to his feet, "Are you hungry?"
She nodded with a tired grin, and he reached to take bread from the table to give her. "Eat." He poured a little wine into the cup, and she took a small mouthful.
He pulled up another chair to sit opposite her. "How did you travel from Mordor?"
"I walked," she smiled slightly, "I knew the way." She looked about the room in quiet amazement. "It is exactly as I saw in my vision." She returned her gaze to Elrond, "The house, the gardens, the oak tree."
"How did you know?" he asked, reaching out to touch her again, "When you escaped from Mordor, that so many years had passed?"
A dark look came over her and she shivered. "When I returned to myself, all around was chaos. Rocks reiving, stones falling and scattering, the ground itself heaving and shuddering. Darkness was everywhere and the sound of wailing and terrible screams. I do not know how I got out, but I managed to make my way up the foothills of the Erid Lithui. From there I could see the destruction of the Tower as it sank beneath the earth, engulfed by fire from Orodruin. At first I was terrified to think that the army of the Alliance had been so consumed, for I could see no trace of them, and the plateau of Gorgoroth was buried beneath the wrath of the mountain." She paused to take another sip of wine, while Elrond stroked her arm comfortingly. "But when night fell and the ash settled," she continued, "I could see the truth." Her voice fell, "The stars…" She looked down, and he tightened his hand on hers, "…were all wrong."
"Oh, my heart." He whispered.
"I knew that a great number of years must have passed but could not tell how many it might be." She turned her eyes upon him again, "But as I made my way here, everything was familiar, as though I had walked the path before but had not remembered. And when I saw the garden and it was just as my vision, I knew I would find you."
"You have found me, my love." And he smiled slowly, a great light coming over his face and shining in his eyes, as he lifted her hands to his lips. He frowned as they brushed the dressing about her hand, and he lowered it to remove the soiled bandage. His mouth tightened with anger at the sight of the ruined fingers and scarred flesh. The back was seared with a deep brand. "Is this the mark of your gaolor?" he growled.
"No." she whispered. "It is that of the torturer."
"It is fortunate for him that he has already been dead for three thousand years." Elrond's voice shook with anger.
Gil gasped. "Is it really that long?"
He nodded gravely, and she shook her head in wonder. "I have so many questions, and I think you have much to tell."
His smile came again. "Indeed I do, my love." He rose to his feet, "But it must wait until the morrow. For now let me bring a salve for this wound."
He crossed the room to fetch his box of medicines, and when he returned she had already fallen asleep in his chair.
Gil hardly noticed as Elrond gently bound her hand. Weariness engulfed her, and yet it was with peace that she gave herself up to it. At last she was safe. At last she could rest. She murmured slightly as she felt his strong arms lift her, and removing the cloak, place her in his own bed.
"Rest now, my little sleeper." He whispered, folding her into his embrace, "I will watch over you."
'My beautiful dreamer.' She wanted to say, but before she could even think the words she had drifted into sleep.
Standing at the balustrade, looking out at the evening light on the garden, Gildinwen thought of the many things she had learned in the weeks since she had come to Imladris. Of Gil-galad's death, Isildur's taking of the Ring, the return of Sauron and the journey of the Ringbearer. Her mind still struggled to accept that she had been away for so long, that the world had passed her by as she lay, bound in darkness, entombed in the foundation stone of Barad-dûr. So many of her friends were long dead, and she would never see them again – Mardil, Bregor Gillow, Loreglin. But Galeria resided still at Rivendell, and many were the tears of joy they had shed at reunion. Peace she had now, and a home, a place of love and safety.
Behind her, she heard Elrond's step. She did not turn and he did not speak, but placed his hands on her shoulders. She felt her heart ache and she longed for him to hold her. Not in a comforting protective embrace, rather to touch her in that way they had once shared so easily. But three thousand years is a long time, even for an Elf, and although less than a year had seemed to pass for her, he had lived a whole lifetime. Had a wife and children, a family. She tried not to be envious, because she was glad he had found some happiness, and she knew she should be satisfied to still have his love. But her heart tormented her, his wife had been so beautiful, and they had lived together a thousand years. She knew she could never compare, especially now, with the indelible marks of Barad-dûr upon her. 'Perhaps I should not have come.' She thought, 'Let the past stay buried, rather than bring dark memories to this place.'
"You are very quiet, my little sleeper." He whispered, turning her slowly, "but your thoughts are loud."
She looked at him, unable to hide the sadness in her eyes.
He stroked her hair back from her face with his long hands, and she could not prevent the tear that fell.
"Ah, no." he brushed it away. "Let there be no more tears. Too many have been shed already." He pressed a kiss softly to her brow, his strong arms reaching to hold her close. Hands stroked her back, and his lips moved over her eyes, gently, softly. Then down, brushing the corner of her mouth.
She quivered as if it were the first time, and his hands spread against her, clasping her tightly to him. His mouth was on hers now, bringing warmth to her cold lips, awakening her. She clung to him, pressing herself against his familiar contour, opening her mouth to his advance. The familiar taste of him tearing a line of desire through her. She gave herself up to him entirely, leaning into his embrace, letting him hold her, her lips soft and open, eyes closed.
She felt a hand in her hair, strong fingers wrapping themselves in it, tugging her head back, his body awakened now, pressing needfully against her.
He lowered his mouth to her neck, kissing her throat, lips soft on the terrible scars. She gasped aloud.
Suddenly he drew back, dropping his hands, a look of shame on his face. "I'm sorry.." he whispered, "I…"
Confused she looked at him, a riot of emotion seething in her. "Elrond? What is it?"
He stepped back from her with a troubled frown.
"I should not have…." He looked away, "I am sorry."
Her face was a mask of dismay.
"I…I am too precipitate. I should know better. You need time to heal."
She had indeed been a fool to think things could be as they were. He had tried, perhaps out of pity, but she was flawed, damaged, an outrage and a shame in this place of beauty.
She turned quickly away, tears of pain and regret blinding her eyes.
Was that it then? All those years in that place, all the long, exhausting miles, just to step away without speaking her heart? To hide herself from him who knew her very soul.
She took a deep breath and turned back to him.
"Elrond." Her voice was very firm. "Look at me."
He met her gaze with some reluctance.
"You are killing me, my lord." She was blunt. "I need to know what it is you want."
His face was pained.
"I made you a promise." She continued, "To come here, and live with you for all my days, your wife, in all but name."
He straightened and met her look with his own.
"I have come here to fulfill that promise." Her voice was quiet but strong, "Not out of duty, but because it is what my heart truly desires." She swallowed, "Yet I know that I am not how I was, and that many, many years have come and gone. I know that you have made a life without me. And I would not have wished it otherwise." She tried her best to smile at him. "Now you must tell me truly, how things stand between us. Will they be as they were before, or…." Her voice almost failed her. "Or not?" she took strength again. "I must have an honest answer, whatever it is I will accept it."
"Gil." He strode across the room to take her hands. "I love you till I think my heart cannot contain it. Every morning I thank Illúvatar who has returned you from the dead to be by my side again. I want to hold you to me, and never let you go. There is not a moment of the day when I do not want to touch you. I want to take you in my arms and kiss all your hurt away." His eyes were intense, locked on hers. "I want to experience every pleasure that we had before, and all the ones we did not. But I feared that in my impatience I might hurt you, frighten you, drive you away….."
She stepped back into his embrace and placed a finger on his lips.
"Hush, my love. It is I. There need be no hiding of yourself, no pretence, no holding back. For I love every part of you, and naught you say or do can change that. You are my beautiful dreamer, my Elf-lord, the king of my heart and I wish nothing more than to spend all my days and nights with you." She removed the finger, and brought her mouth up to his. "And now," she whispered, "that's enough talk."
His hands took their place again, and his mouth replied to hers. She leaned into his embrace, letting him hold her as she closed her eyes to all but the taste and feel of him, and the awakening of her body. Softly, his lips stroked hers, their warmth and sweetness making her breath catch, and when he teased them apart with his tongue she felt her limbs weaken. His arms caught her, and as he released her mouth with a gasp, he lifted her easily, carrying her to the comfort and privacy of his bedchamber.
The gentle flush of dawn was streaking the sky when Gil awoke. A feeling of complete contentment and peace suffused her entire body. She felt supremely comfortable, warm and safe. At her back, a protective presence, a familiar heartbeat, and about her, two strong arms. The faint light made its way through the trees, which rustled quietly outside, the sound of the river tinkled in the distance, and a blackbird cleared his throat for his morning song.
"You are awake." He whispered.