Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.
Irving Washington, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Some things come back that really would have been better left alone. Some wounds never fully heal.
She came back. Oh yes, it was her, Celebrían, his wife, his silver queen of so long, mother of his children. Ambushed in the Pass as she travelled to Lothlorien, held captive by Orcs and tortured. Celebrían had been rescued by Elladan and Elrohir and brought back.
And yet something was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
It started with small things.
Elrond had insisted on being the healer to treat his wife, the only healer, from the moment his sons had ridden into the courtyard, yelling and crying for him. It had been he who had taken her from them, he who had carried the too-light form, covered by a cloak, to the healing wing, and he who first saw the wounds.
He had ordered that wing of the healing halls cleared that day. No visitors were allowed, no other healers welcomed to help.
Glorfindel himself stood guard at the entrance to the hall, gently but firmly turning away all the curious who came to see if the Lady was doing well. Night and day, he stood a silent sentinel to the hall, and when one curious elfling tried to sneak past, thinking Glorfindel asleep (his eyes were open but had the glazed, distant look of an Eldar in walking sleep) the child was scooped up, squeeking in surprise, and sent back to his naneth and adar.
No one got past Glorfindel.
However, it was also Glorfindel who first noticed the butterflies and moths. Wings on one side pulled from their bodies, they flopped along the ground in clear distress and shock, unable to fly.
He followed a trail of bright yellow and blue wings.
It led to the window under where Celebrían was staying in the healer's wing.
Standing with the gathered wings cupped in his hands, bright as jewels, Glorfindel stared at the window, suspecting and yet unwilling to entertain such a horrible thought.
Celebrían was gentle and kind, a patient mother and loving mate. It was her laughter that often cheered the gloomy winter days. She was everything that was good in Imladris.
Logic forced him to look at the facts, but he did not like what his mind was piecing together. Something ominous lurched to life, staring at him in his mind's eye, but he set it aside. This was not the time for fanciful mental meanderings.
Glorfindel resolved to be a better guard. A sneakier guard, and he would discover who was doing this, and stop them.
He looked up at the window again, and almost took a step backwards, a shock running through him as he caught sight of a face watching him. Silver hair rumpled from a nap, Celebrían offered a fey smile.
And sank slowly back out of sight.
It left him shaken, unaccountably chilled.
Glorfindel began to wonder.
Celebrían had been brought back to her own rooms, the suite she shared with Elrond, to finish healing. Very few were allowed to visit; the twins, Arwen, some few trusted friends. She was not to be upset, nor reminded of what had happened. A great trauma, terrible and wicked, it had injured her deeper than wounds showed.
The bruises, ugly purple and red wounds from where the Orcs had kicked and bitten her, lightened to brown and then a horrible yellow.
One wound, however, would not heal, and oozed bloody pus no matter what Elrond did. He tried everything he knew, and sent his healers to scour the books and scrolls of the library. One, a friend and healer he had known since Lindon, he sent to read the oldest texts, those in the obscure glyphs of the Avari hoping they held some hidden knowledge, long lost to the Ages.
She jumped as hands fell lightly upon her shoulders and squeezed, only relaxing as she leaned back and looked up. "You startled me."
"You're not usually so intent that you don't notice me." A kiss to the top of her head, and Glorfindel sat next to Bronwe, leaning in to see what was so fascinating. "This entrances you over myself?"
"Hardly." Brushing a golden braid, trailing over the page, aside, Bronwe traced a line of glyphs. "Is it familiar to you?"
He grimaced. "Not at all."
"Never ran across any Avarin Elves in your wanderings, hmm?"
Glorfindel leaned in closer to press a kiss to her temple. "Of course, but we did not sit down and share tea and a game of show me your letters."
"Is there such a game?" Bronwe smiled at his snort and scooted closer. They'd been apart more often than together of late, with Glorfindel guarding Celebrían, and she missed him. "This line here, if I'm reading it correctly, is dealing with dark blades of those who hunted the Avari."
The glyphs were smudged; the parchment incredibly old and Glorfindel wrinkled his nose. "Dark bla..." He drew in a sharp breath and sat back to stare at his wife. "You think they used a Morgul-blade on Celebrían?" Without waiting for an answer, he shook his head. "She would be dead."
"Or a wraith, at least which is what we've found, yes." Bronwe shook her head. "But she is not dead and ..."
"Bron." Taking her hand, he met her gaze. "Does Elrond know this?"
"You've seen wounds like this."
Bronwe nodded, and gently closed the rare book. "They were always killed, or so we thought. I suppose the victims actually were made wraiths. But adar spoke of dark creatures that grabbed the unwary on the Great Journey. Sometimes the person came back, but they were...twisted. Wrong."
Grey eyes solemn, she shook her head. "He never used that word."
She shook her head again. "Thralls were often the dead whose fëar were ensnared by Morgoth, but some were broken, hröa and fëa so twisted that they were almost unrecognizable."
"And they did Morgoth's will." At her nod, Glorfindel squeezed her hand. "You attend Celebrían with Elrond at times."
"Yes. He needs help with her sometimes, when the wound," Bronwe gestured to the book, "the wound that will not heal, is …." She swallowed and leaned in against him, pressing her face to his neck. "We keep her as low as possible so she will not feel the pain but she is in agony, Glorfindel. It's awful, putrid and black and nothing we do seems to cleanse the wound."
Wrapping an arm around her, Glorfindel hugged Bronwe close and just held her. There was nothing to say. She had seen soldiers ripped apart during the war and though he would do anything so that she would not have to see those things, she was a healer and adamant about not being kept safe, away from those she could help.
So they were looking for information on Morgul-blades and the healing of those wounds. Elladan and Elrohir had said nothing of finding such a weapon, and they would have told him.
If it had been a Morgul-blade, and had not killed Celebrían outright, what was it doing to her now?
"How long have you been at this?" Gently setting Bronwe back, Glorfindel smoothed the hair from her face and examined the dark circles beneath her eyes.
"We need an answer. Soon." Used to showing a calm, confident face to everyone who had asked, Bronwe let her husband see her anxiety.
He nodded and squeezed her shoulders. "Come with me. Eat something and then you can get back at it. Bron..." Glorfindel knew the stubborn look and refused to accept a refusal. Standing, he held out a hand. "You'll think clearer for letting your mind rest a bit."
He'd been making Elrond take breaks as well, she knew. Erestor had said he'd sat with Celebrían for a bit, as had Arwen. Celebrían had been asleep the entire time, but it had made Arwen feel better to be near her mother. Everyone was worried about the Lady.
A short nod and she stood, walking over to put the book up on a high shelf where no casual reader would look. "Not that just anyone can read Avarin."
Glorfindel snorted and reached out to take her hand. "Or would want to."
An affectionate smile for an old tease and he nodded. "Something I shall remind you of, lest you forget." He paused, one last memory nagging at him. "Bron...can she walk?"
"No, nor even stand at this point. The wound is to the back of her calf. It's deep, affecting the muscle."
Then how had he seen Celebrían standing at the window? Sliding an arm around Bronwe's waist as they walked, he pondered that question.
Elladan frowned as he looked into the bag the head groundskeeper held open. "So many."
"And more." Roccondil shook his head, worry clear in the green eyes. "I didn't bring them all, milord. There were some that were ripped open, others with no heads."
"Would one of the wild cats do this?"
The Silvan Elf pulled one of the dead birds out and gently set the sack down. Rolling the dead Starling in his hands, examining it again, he shook his head. "I see no claw marks, no teeth marks. The bird's neck is broken and that is not something a cat is known to do." He handed the bird to Elladan.
No, it wasn't. There were plenty of cats around, he and Elrohir had been responsible for hiding many of the pregnant cats when they were small, wanting to see the kittens. One litter, then another and another... It hadn't been long before the cats had become a problem. "They haven't been that plentiful, have they?"
"The cats?" Tugging at a braid, Roccondil shook his head and offered a slight smile. "Not since you and Elrohir were small."
Neutering the toms just as they gelded the horses and bulls had done a fair bit to curb the kitten problem. "Foxes kill birds, but never this many and never just leave them."
"Milord", Roccondil sighed. "I hate to say this, but I've seen this before."
"No, not for a long time, a very long time."
Elladan arched an eyebrow, aware that in this particular elf's thinking, that could be before the arrival of the sun and moon. "Can you narrow it down to an Age?"
A snort and Roccondil gave a fond smile. "Child, I forget nothing." His smile faded, gaze going distant with memory. "After the kinslaying at Doriath, lad. Some who survived, they were never quite right again. Saw too much hurt, too many dead, and it hurt them." He tapped his head then put a hand to his heart. "Some followed to Sirion, but more simply disappeared into the forests. We never knew if they survived the sinking of Beleriand."
Or if something far worse became of them. Elladan did not like that idea. "Keep this quiet, Roccondil. I'll inform my father." He hesitated, stroking the feathers of the Starling gently before putting it back in the bag. "Let me know if you find more."
A bow and the groundskeeper turned, whistling for his hounds, who loped happily to his side, tongues lolling.
Something was wrong in Imladris, and Elladan was desperately afraid to even think on one possibility. He needed to tell his father.
"I...I don't want to think-"
"Then don't." Elrond, back to the room as he looked out the window, spoke with a voice gravelly and hoarse. He'd spent the night at Celebrían's side, calming her any way possible. Singing, speaking, telling her stories. In desperation, she'd been crying and wailing, he'd given her the tiniest bit of a plant that Círdan had sent to him. Black and rather sticky upon drying, it grew in the shallow tidal pools of the sea and was very, very potent. The Telerin Elves had known of it for Ages.
Elrond kept the container of the substance locked in a cabinet that only he had the key to open. Last night he had opened it, dropped a pinch into wine and given it to Celebrían to drink.
It had quieted her, leaving her only capable of murmuring rather than writhing in agony. A blessing he had thought, but come morning, she had looked at him in a way he had never seen.
As if she, and she alone, had a secret. The curl of her mouth and the fey light in her eyes had made him pause, just a moment's hesitation, but she had noticed and the smile had grown.
"Celebrían is going to get better."
Bronwe, seated next to Elrohir, clenched her hands together and looked at the floor. She had seen the wound, the terrible wound, late in the previous afternoon. It had been as black and inflamed as before, a deep slash to Celebrían's calf. The screams of pain as she and Elrond had tried to clean the wound rang in her ears all night.
"But the birds?"
"Have the groundskeepers look for predators. Badgers, weasels. Foxes." Elrond turned and frowned, clearly impatient at being interrupted with this. "Something will turn up. Bronwe, keep looking in those texts. There must be something."
With that, they were dismissed.
Once out in the hallway, down from the door to their father's suites, Elrohir stopped Bronwe with a hand to her arm. "What does he search for?"
"A way to heal her." She squeezed his hand, knowing of the children, Elrohir fretted more for he was closest to his mother. "You've seen her calf."
He nodded and pressed his lips together.
"Come on, 'Ro." Elladan touched his brother's shoulder with a nod to Bronwe. "We need to help search the grounds."
"You will let us know..."
Bronwe nodded and offered the best smile she could. "The very moment." Watching the twins walk away though, she couldn't help but worry. She had spent many years at the seaside and knew which plant Elrond was using to quiet Celebrían. The strength of the plant was well-known. Animals died after eating just a bit of it and if it was not helping douse the pain...
Casting a look at the closed door behind her, she drew in a deep breath and headed for the library. Time to see how Erestor was doing in his search.
The first snow arrived, dusting the valley's trees and hills in white, casting the hush of thick grey clouds, heavy with the promise of more snow, across the skies. Riding in just as the storm closed in upon the valley, a courier, his horse snorting and blowing steam from his nostrils, clatered into the main courtyard and leaped off the tired animal. A groom ran forward to take the horse, and lead it away too cool as the courier tried to shake the dirt and snow from his cloak before approaching the main entry.
Erestor, hearing the hooves on the stones, met the courier on the stairs. "Welcome to Imladris."
"I bring a message from my lady and my lord of Lothlórien."
Finally! Erestor couldn't help the frown. How long had they waited for word from Celebrían's parents? "Come in. Warm yourself. I'll go inform Lord Elrond." He led the courier to the kitchens, where fires kept the room very warm and settled him at a table. "Mirel, some food and drink, if you would?"
Wiping her hands on her apron, the head cook sized up her company and nodded. "We'll take care of him, Erestor."
Erestor hurried for the healers wing, giving only the briefest nods to those he passed. Finally, standing before the door that previous to Celebrían's injury was rarely closed, Erestor knocked upon the closed door. He waited, schooling himself to patience.
After a moment, the door opened and Erestor almost took a step back in surprise. Elrond's tunic was bloody, as were his hands and his frown was one Erestor had never before seen. "Milord...a courier has arrived. From Lothlórien."
"Courier." Elrond turned away, shoulders slumping. "I had hoped at least one of them could come."
Erestor said nothing, for there was nothing to say. They had all speculated on Galadriel and Celeborn's absence. After a long silence, he gently asked, "Elrond. Do you want to speak with the courier or shall I?"
"What?" Elrond shook his head. "No. I'll be there shortly. You've made him comfortable?"
"In the kitchens."
Rubbing his bloody hand absently on his tunic, Elrond nodded and walked towards the back of the room. "Good. I wonder if a cut above the muscle would do it? It's the nerve..."
Erestor fled before he heard any more.
Courier dismissed, Elrond carried the letter back to Celebrían's room and sat in the chair next to the bed. She smiled and leaned against the pillows, stroking the down quilt with one hand. Her hair, the beautiful silvery hair that had always spilled down her back, lay in tangles, bits of it half-braided. Birds feathers had been stuck in some of the messy plaits, and long, long strands of it stuck to the pillows.
Elrond had given up trying to get her to let them brush her hair. If they had to cut it all off once she was better, so be it. Her shrill screams had been more than he could bear. She had yet to speak, and only ever hummed and crooned to herself and the pillows, cradling them as if they were a child. "I have a letter from your parents, love."
Plucking a pillow from the pile, she'd drawn eyes on it, and found a hair ribbon that she had used to tie in the middle, Celebrían cuddled it to her chest and rocked back and forth, crooning and stroking the pillow.
Watching her, Elrond told himself she was merely in shock still. She had gone through such a great trauma, and been so wounded. She just needed time. Time to heal and then it would be fine.
Breaking the wax seal, Elrond pulled out the crisp sheets of parchment and began to read. Early storms had dropped copious amounts of snow on the pass and winter wolves prowled the mountains making travel all but impossible. Galadriel was scrying at her pool every day to see how her daughter was and Celeborn was out riding daily with the marchwardens, hunting the foul beasts who had done this to his daughter.
They had not forgotten her.
Celebrían giggled at that, and whispered into the pillow, before throwing herself to the side, back to Elrond. The abrupt movement dislodged her leg, carefully wrapped, and Elrond had but a breath to drop the letter and reach for his wife.
And then she started shrieking.
"Naneth." Arwen hesitated, wary of upsetting her mother, so approached her slowly and sat only when Celebrían was looking at her. A smile and Arwen was pleased to see her mother echo it back. "Has someone given you a present, Naneth?"
Celebrían had yet to speak a single word since her rescue weeks before, though she crooned in a toneless voice at times. Celebrían clutched the cloth doll closer and scowled at Arwen.
Clearly saying 'mine'. It wasn't familiar at all, not one of Arwen's old dolls, long since cast off, nor any that she recalled seeing. The body was a throw pillow, tied in half by a grimy blue ribbon. The silver fringe that had once gone around all four sides had been pulled out, left only on the top, and the other strands were tied in raggedy knots to form hair. The eyes were two black spots that looked to have been drawn on using a sooty stick, possibly from the fireplace. They were big and stared sightlessly out from Celebrían's embrace.
There was no mouth.
Two bare sticks had been stuck into the pillow for arms and two more for legs. The doll made an odd sound when Celebrían shifted it in her arms, almost as if there were hard objects inside, scraping along each other. She moved it away from her daughter, setting it on her other side. "Naneth, I won't try to take it." Arwen smiled, but it faltered when no answering smile came from Celebrían. "Did you make it yourself?"
A nod, and long look of suspicion.
Arwen decided to drop the subject and perhaps bring it up to her father later. He would know where the doll came from.
Celebrían cradled the doll and crooned to it, an eerie descant that clashed with the music coming from farther up the Hall of Fire. Elrond had agreed it would be good for his wife to be out of her rooms, though she was strongly dosed against the pain, and closely watched by Elrond and his sons. They sat in a corner of the Hall, ready to take her out of the room should the music and those seated around them prove too much.
Elrond and Bronwe had managed to bathe Celebrían and dressed her in a clean, warm gown. Her hair was still wildly tangled, though they had been able to finger-comb it a bit but she seemed to like it in disarray.
"She's recovering, but slowly." Bronwe noted Erestor's unrest as he surreptitiously watched Celebrían. "It was a horrifying experience."
"I cannot imagine." He looked away, controlling a shiver as the crooning descant reached his hearing. "Will she recover fully though?" Erestor kept his voice soft, not wanting to be overheard.
"I don't know." That was all she could say and not feel as if she was betraying Elrond. A warm hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently, and Bronwe looked up. Glorfindel had come to her side, though he still watched Elrond and his family. "I hope so." She put her hand over his and smiled as he took her hand, but his somber expression did not ease.
Lindir strolled through those gathered, strumming his gittern and smiling as he continued his song. He loved to do this rather than remain in place and sing. This way he could see all the faces and how they were enjoying the music and it was food to his soul.
Slowing as he approached the end of the Hall, Lindir looked to where Elrond and his family were seated, encircling Celebrían. He switched to a song he knew she loved, a song of praise to the stars and Elbereth, keeping his voice pitched very soft. She looked up as he approached, and for the flicker of a moment, Lindir met her gaze. There was something so sad, so awful in her eyes, that he faltered, fingers missing a chord. He picked up the thread of a new song immediately, and looked away, afraid of what he might see, but felt her gaze, unwavering upon him as he walked away.
Glorfindel, who had seen the entire exchange, watched Celebrían. She turned to look straight at him suddenly, and a slow smile, the same fey look he had seen at the window, twisted her mouth. He held her gaze, unwavering against the madness that beat there, and finally she looked away.
Elrond and his children carried her away soon after, wanting to get her to her rooms before the pain came back.
But Glorfindel had seen something in her that kept him awake long into the night, long after Bronwe, curled against him, was asleep.
He did not close he eyes that night, nor did he sleep, but he listened.
Listened to the laughter that began low, the chortle of someone amused, but slowly worked up to the high, hysterical sobs that were too close to the shrieks of a wounded animal to be comfortable.
Bronwe awakened and, hearing Celebrían's sobs die to chilling giggles, shivered. "I should go see if Elrond needs help with her."
She sounded uncertain, and Glorfindel hugged her tightly. "We'll both go. I doubt anyone in this wing is sleeping tonight after that." He certainly wasn't!
The sound of more giggles drifted down the halls as they got up and dressed.
The sobbing wails were much worse, and went on far longer, even after they reached Elrond's suite of rooms. A curt command to enter and they hurried to help Elrond as Celebrían struggled against her husband's hold. Screaming, so shrill, so high, so piercing, Glorfindel feared they would all be deafened, Celebrían fought against their hold. "She is dreaming!" Elrond didn't dare let go of his wife's arms. She had already tried to throw herself off the balcony into the falls, far below.
Bronwe let the men hold Celebrían and tried to get a hold of her head, but Celebrían was not only screaming but trying to bite anyone who dared come close enough. "Celebrían!" As the woman's gaze settled on her, seeing but not seeing, Bronwe captured her face in both hands, and held Celebrían's head in place. "Be still! Calm, Celebrían, shhhh...it is Bronwe, and Elrond is here, see?"
Celebrían trembled, a leaf in the wind of hysteria, but Bronwe's will prevailed and slowly, muscle by muscle, Celebrían relaxed.
Gently stroking the tangled hair back from Celebrían's face, Bronwe continued to speak, soft and calm as Elrond guided them back towards the bed. "That's it, shhhhh. You're home, Celebrían, you're safe."
Tears brightened the blue eyes and for a moment, there was heartbreaking clarity in Celebrían's eyes. "Elrond?"
"Here." He answered immediately, stepping forward as Bronwe fell back, giving way. Gently taking Celebrían's shoulders, Elrond gazed searchingly into her eyes. "Love, you're home and safe."
"Yes. Nothing can touch you here, -"
A giggle, and the now-familiar smile twisted Celebrían's lips. A tear slid from her eye as she laughed and laughed and laughed, the sound of it echoing down the hallways and corridors of the Last Homely House.
The twins knelt in a clearing, and stared in shock at the bodies of several cats and about a dozen kittens scattered around in the grass.
Every last one was dead.
Elladan looked at his brother, seeing the horror warring with the disbelief. "Elrohir-"
"There is something terribly wrong!"
Grey eyes met and held, something intangible passing between the two. Elladan shook his head. "I cannot."
"She needs us!" Both stood.
"That THING is not our mother!"
Elrohir stepped closer. "We found her, rescued her. How can you say-"
"I know what my eyes show me!" Elladan took hold of his brother's shoulders and shook him. "I want to go back to that cave."
"We need to discover what happened to her."
Elrohir shook his head, tears trembling in his eyes. "We know what happened, Adi." He would never be able to get the sight of his mother, bound and bleeding, crying in desperate fear, out of his mind. Voice choking, he shook his head. "I want to remain with her."
"I'll ride with the Rangers. They're near."
"Glorfindel would go with you."
A grimace and Elladan gestured to the dead cats. "He needs remain here until we discover what is happening."
To protect them. That was left unsaid, but Elrohir didn't want to hear it anyways. "When will you go?"
"Then let us..." Elrohir knelt and reached out to gently stroke the delicate furry body of a grey kitten. Its neck was at an oddly wrong angle, just like all the others. "Can we bury them?"
Elladan just nodded and headed for his horse and saddlebags, where he kept a small spade.
"The doll chills me."
"It's a pillow, Lindir."
Grimacing, Lindir pushed white hair behind one ear and ran his fingers across the strings of his gittern, producing a nervous, fluttering noise. "No disrespect, but there's something very odd about that pillow of milady's."
"Lindir." Erestor leaned against the table wishing the late autumn sun was more warming as it slanted through the window. "If you don't wish to do this, that is fine. Elrond said Celebrían is fond of your voice but another can be found to do this if you say no."
He wanted to refuse the request, to pass the honour of being asked to attend the Lady Celebrían in her own chambers and sing to her to some other musician. There were plenty in Imladris. Plenty who had not seen the fearful thing in her gaze. Pride dictated that he fulfill the request from his lord, and one part of Lindir's mind was insisting that so gentle a lady could never harm a living thing.
It was just him being churlish. Perhaps breakfast had not agreed with him. "No, I'll do it, Erestor." Lindir set the gittern aside and stood. "When shall I serenade milady?"
Smiling for the far more normal attitude of one of Imladris' better known minstrels, Erestor straightened. "Warm your fingers up, songbird, and follow me."
Perhaps he could ease Celebrían's misery. It was that thought that spurred Lindir on as he picked up his gittern and followed Erestor.
"This." Bronwe pointed to a blurred word, and looked up. "Can you make it out?"
Elrond, seated across from the pair, didn't even bother suppressing a snort as Gildor Inglorion leaned in to press his shoulder and thigh against Bronwe. "Let me look a bit closer."
"Any closer and we'll try this out on you first." Bronwe was well-used to the heavy flirting of her husband's good friend and only smiled as he cast a hurt look upon her.
"I'm not your love. And the word, Gildor."
"Aye." Another dramatic sigh and Gildor leaned forward. "The old Avari, they're not like you and me, you know."
"No one is like you."
Gildor batted very blue eyes. "I knew you cared! All those threats of bodily harm-"
"The word, Gildor."
Ah well, it was always fun to flirt with his old friend's mate. "Occupy."
Bronwe stared. "Occupy."
"Aye. It's -"
She was on her feet, and racing after Elrond before Gildor could even get another word out. The Exile sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Crazy place, this Imladris. Men, Elves, Dwarves. What next? A bloody Balrog?"
"She's not here." Elrond whirled, almost running Bronwe down as she reached Celebrían's room. "Get Erestor and Glorfindel. I'll find Elrohir."
White hair spilled across the floor, the tips mingling in a red pool of blood. The gittern was shattered, pieces of it scattered across the rug where Lindir's body was sprawled.
Bronwe took a step forward, but even as she took in the very odd angle of Lindir's head she knew it was too late. Elrond grabbed her and kept from entering the room. "He's gone." Pain crossed his face and was gone as he turned her around. "She must be found, Bron."
A nod, sick at heart for Lindir, Bronwe raced from the room to do as bidden.
She had not meant for it to die. Had not thought it would be so ...fragile. It had come to her hand so readily, so happily, singing a trilling song. Her fingers had closed around the small songbird, wanting to bring it closer, to keep it here, keep it safe.
Safe from the tall, shining ones who thought they were so clever. So knowing. What did they know? A sneer curled Celebrían's lips, then she looked at the bird and whined sadly. "Poor bones, poor feathers. Keep you. Keep you safe."
But where? Not in the chest under the window. The other one was there, also so fragile. So, so easily hurt.
As if they cared. Ha! How long had she been at the cruel hands of those creatures? How long had they touched, tortured, bitten and kicked her? More, but no...her mind shied from that. Retreat, retreat. Here. We are here. Yes, that would do. Opening up the jar, Celebrían put the bird gently inside and closed the lid, giggling to herself. Safe little bird, all curled up for the winter. "Shhhh...sleep, birdy, sleep," she whispered and turned, grinning to herself. She had so many, so many kept hidden, kept safe.
Not like they had kept her safe. They had failed her. Failed and they told her she was safe. SANG to her, spoke to her.
She hated them.
Celebrían picked up her doll and hugged it to her chest and slipped out of the room. Only the doll knew how it felt. Only she knew all the secrets.
And she would never tell.
Glorfindel shook his head, frustrated at the seeming mystery. "How is it that someone who cannot walk, who screams nightly in an agony of pain, manages to elude all searching for her?"
"The house is large." Erestor could not understand it either. He had been here when the House was built. He knew the rooms, the nooks and crannies where the twins and Arwen both had hidden when children. Imladris held very few secrets, if any, from him and yet Celebrían was proving to be a very unpleasant surprise. "Did Elrond say if ...if Lindir..."
"I cannot credit it,"Glorfindel growled, and pulled aside a long, velvet curtain. He waved the dust away and sighed. "How could she overtake him? How?" How was she evading them? Celebrían had much to answer for it seemed.
And that pained Glorfindel. He had accepted her as his lord's wife, Elrond's lady and loved her as most in Imladris had. Yes, some resentments lingered against her mother, but those were old arguments, and hardly valid even for those with very long memories. There must be another explanation!
"She is not here." Erestor lifted the lid of a dusty storage trunk, not expecting to find anything but curtains and perhaps an old toy or two. "Glorfindel."
There in a step, Glorfindel grimaced but reached in to pick up the bag, stained with smears of dark red. Opening it, he snorted. "Paints. The type the twins used on their little figures in their games of strategy."
"That is a relief." He'd feared the worst, and Erestor realized he was expecting something bad. Very bad. "There is only the attic left in this wing."
Glorfindel dropped the bag back in the trunk and let the lid fall with a thud. "Then let us look in the attic."
Even the twins, adventurous as two wolf cubs, had not been known to hide in the attic. It was cold in the winter, hot in summer, dusty and, Elrohir swore, full of ghosts. Nonsense of course, but Erestor nodded and followed Glorfindel for the stairs.
Elrond had insisted on going alone, sure he could find Celebrían. He had sent Elrohir to the stables to make sure all of the horses were there, and to warn the guard to watch for someone trying to leave.
He had not wanted to let them know it was Celebrían.
It could not be her doing all of the horrible things. She could not, would never harm innocent creatures!
Elrond closed his eyes and put a hand to his chest as an ache began to grow there. Something was terribly wrong with his wife, something he did not want to admit even to himself. But his heart would not be lied to; loss was too familiar a thing to pretend ignorance. "Celebrían." He called to her, knowing she should not have been able to walk at all, let alone through the entire house. "Love, please... let me help you."
The rooms were empty, not an unusual thing, and normally he would be happy to find all the healing rooms vacated. But the air was thick, heavy, as if something ominous was about to befall him.
She was near. Wife, lover, mother of his children, Celebrían could never hide from him. She drew him like a moth to flame. "Celebrían. Please."
Slither of soft cloth, whispering in the wind, a light footfall, and she was there, moonlight making a nimbus of her tangled silver hair. "Please what?"
It was the first time he had heard her speak, heard her use words, make any sound other than a scream, a whimper, whine. "Let me help you."
The fey smile he was beginning to associate with her curled her lips. "How would you do that, husband?"
So cold, her voice, the room, all of it so cold. Elrond's breath puffed out in a wisp of mist. "Tell me what ails you." He held out his hands. "Come back to me, Celebrían."
"I did." It was hard, like ice, that voice, that beautiful face, as familiar as his own. Moreso, for he had looked at it every day since their marriage. Looked and loved. "Am I not here before you?"
She sounded so like her mother it was chilling. Elrond shivered. "I...I do not know. Are you?"
One gliding step forward, then another and she was touching his face, her hand ice cold. "Elrond, beloved. Do not doubt me."
Had he doubted? "N..no. I don't." His thoughts tangled, the long span of his life and his memories suddenly jumbled and tripping over one another. Was he in Lindon? Yes, he had just met the stunning daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn at one of the king's dinners. So beautiful. So innocent and the smile...
Elrond smiled, leaning into her touch. She shivered and he gently took hold of her shoulders. "Beloved, what is wrong?" He could hear the crash of the ocean's waves upon the shore. The palace was just a short distance from the sea. "The night is cool. Let me get you a cloak."
"No, I'm fine." Her gaze didn't waver from his. "Walk with me?"
He offered his arm, and when her delicate hand lightly touched his sleeve, Elrond knew all would be well.
"I hate this place." Erestor batted at a spiders web, hoping the weaver wasn't still around.
Glorfindel lifted lids on storage chest, rummaged through trunks and chests of drawers, uncertain exactly what he was looking for but sure it was near. Something was drawing him, strong as a cry for help and he absently brushed a web out of his face as he stopped before an exquisite replica of the Last Homely House. Here, his instincts urged. Here! Lifting the lid, Glorfindel set it aside and peered in. "Erestor!"
He jumped at the snap of command in the voice and hurried over. "What?"
Not wanting to touch the thing, Glorfindel pointed down, into the largest room of Arwen's old doll house.
"Stars." A grimace, Erestor really had no desire to touch the thing either, and he pulled the long sleeve of his tunic over his hand before carefully plucking the thing up.
Celebrían's pillow doll stared at them from her sooty huge eyes.
"What is inside of this thing?" Erestor set it down on an old desk and it made an odd thunking noise.
Glorfindel, who knew of death and being reborn, who had seen both sides and even at present lived in both, let out a long breath. "We must bring it and find Celebrían."
"Erestor." Glorfindel shook his head and found an old tunic to wrap the doll in before picking it up. "Time is quickly running out. Hurry!"
They rushed for the main hall.
"She is not here." Elrohir shifted closer. They had walked through the stables, alerting the grooms and handlers to watch for Celebrían who was so ill she was delirious. Elrohir had already told the guard to spread the word. "Bron...what is wrong with Naneth?"
"I wish I knew." Bending to stroke one of the barn cats that rubbed against her legs, Bronwe caught sight of something sticking out of the compost heap at the end of the barn. "'Ro..."
He saw it as she pointed and put a hand on her arm. "Stay here."
A snort and she followed, though she stayed back.
Elrohir bent and slowly reached out, hand hesitating for a heartbeat before steadying and gently touching the silver strands. His breath huffed out in relief. "It's just hair!"
But Bronwe crept closer, shifting aside leaves to see. She paled and let the leaves drop again before looking to Elrohir.
"Nana." A tear rolled down Elrohir's cheek. "What have you done?"
Each of the twelve dead birds had a lock of silver hair tied around its neck
"Let's get back to the house." Bronwe slipped Elrohir's hand into hers and lead him. "Come on, 'Ro."
Heartbroken, he followed.
For once, Erestor didn't chide Glorfindel for bellowing, but ran with him, searching the house for her master. "Elrond!" He almost ran down Arwen, who looked alarmed. "Have you seen your father?"
"No, I was out gathering herbs and just got back to find everyone in an uproar. What-"
"Not now, Undómiel." Glorfindel, usually endlessly patient with Arwen, gently moved her aside. "We need to find Elrond and then all can be explained."
One narrowed-eyed look and Arwen conceded. "Have you looked in the houses of healing?" She followed as they rushed for the door and almost ran into Elrohir and Bronwe. "Follow us!"
They got outside and around the main house to where the river ran fast and cold, down, down to a very steep waterfall. "There!"
Elrond and Celebrían stood but a rock's throw from the water's edge, he was smiling serenely as she nodded.
"Carefully," Erestor warned and promptly had the bundled doll thrust in his arms. A grimace and he circled right as the rest circled left.
Only Glorfindel headed straight and he looked ready to take on a balrog again, the light that lived in him shining forth suddenly. He lunged for Elrond as the pair turned, grabbing his arm and yanking him back. Elrond staggered, and would have fallen if not for Elrohir, who caught and held him.
The light shone brighter as Glorfindel turned to confront Celebrían. She stood her ground but shifted uneasily. Eyes blazing the brightest blue, Glorfindel caught and held her gaze. "What are you." He spoke softly, words resonating with a power that would not be denied.
A shake of the head, Glorfindel reached forward to take her arms. Still gentle, surprisingly so, he walked Celebrían away from the water until they stood in a circle of family and friends. More and more people rushed from the house, hearing the commotion and joined the circle. "How long did you wait in that cave? Wait for one to come along weak enough, powerless enough for you to overcome?"
Moaning, head thrashing from side-to-side, Celebrían trembled. "Ages! Ages! Let me go!"
"Nay." Glorfindel looked to Erestor and nodded. "Would you bring the doll, please?"
"NO!" She tried to pull away, tried to claw and bite, but Glorfindel would not be moved. "I want to live! I want to feel and breathe!"
"This is not your body."
"Mine! I found it. She was leaving!"
Shaking his head, Glorfindel held her gaze. "You must leave."
The light was bright, so bright. Burning darkness away, burning, burning. "I am frightened!"
"Heed the music, child. It will not harm you." But he did not waver. "Go to the music or go into the forest, but you must leave. NOW."
The word rolled from him like a boom of thunder and Celebrían recoiled then suddenly sagged.
"Quickly, Erestor. Hold the doll to her."
Erestor, who now realized what had happened, pressed the doll against Celebrían.
And they waited, all silent, watching to see if the chest would rise in a breath. The eyes flutter.
"Elrond." Bronwe gestured to Arwen and Elrohir, who cradled their father between them. "Come, bring him next to her." They did as bid and Elrond shook his head.
"It's too late."
"It is not." Glorfindel's voice was sharp, but he shook his head, expression tender. "Elrond, call her back. Call to her, coax her. She is tired from fighting and weakened. Afraid to return to a body so wounded."
"Then it would be better to let her go." Pain and anger, oh he had lost so much. Too much. He could not do this.
"Ada." Arwen, eyes shimmering with tears, squeezed his arm. "Please." Elrohir was right next to her, looking hopeful.
For a moment, he had felt all the pain rush back, relived every moment of loss. His parents, Elros, taking his last breath. Gil-galad looking to him right before he died. Elrond closed his eyes, and drew in a deep breath. "Celebrían." Gently freeing himself from his children, Elrond went to Celebrían. "Hear me. Follow my voice. Come to the light."
He was burned out. A shell. A husk. The only warmth he felt was that of Glorfindel's brilliant light. "Come back to us, Celebrían."
And something in the doll shimmered, a silver mist slowly, reluctantly sending a tendril towards the body. Silent and dimming, it slithered into Celebrían.
Who gasped and shook, before her eyes shot open.
And then the screaming began, long, shrieks of agony and despair.
Elrond looked to his children for a moment, his face bleak, before taking Celebrían's arm. "Celebrían...shhh...we are with you!"
Glorfindel caught up her other arm as she thrashed and flailed, collapsing as her leg gave out. "Healing wing?"
"Yes!" Elrond let Glorfindel lift her, and led the way, his children following.
Erestor stood in stunned silence, the doll still in his hands. Dark eyes full of shock, he turned to Bronwe as she touched his arm. "What have we done?"
"What we had to." But she did not sound certain either.
A year. One long year they tried to heal the horrific wound. One long year of pain and agony for Celebrían, who grew weaker and weaker. She began to speak of dying.
Aman was the only hope, and Elrond, weary, heartsick, could no longer bear to hear his wife crying in the night. Her parents had come to say good-bye, but even Galadriel had only sadly admitted there was naught to be done this side of the sundering sea.
A year after being tortured and tormented by Orcs, a year after having her fëa forced from her weakened body by a houseless spirit, vengeful and hungry, Celebrían travelled to the Grey Havens with her family and said good-bye. Healing, they all hoped, would be found in Lorien's gardens.
And long winter nights when Elrond sat alone at his fireplace, warmed only by memories of happier times, his gaze often went to the pillow doll in its place of memory upon the mantle. His children would not touch it, and averted their eyes when they stood near the fire, swearing that they saw the stiff branch limbs shift.
Elrond told them it was merely cloth and wood, the bones that had been inside long removed, the cord of hair binding Celebrían's fëa to the thing cut. It could not move, could not shift or be found in different places in the room.
It was impossible.
But he wondered.