Elrond realized that something was wrong when he saw Maglor on his harp. He had seen his foster-father lost in thought while playing his instrument many times when he was young; but the bard usually managed to play coherent pieces nevertheless no matter where his thoughts had wandered.
The council had only started the day before, and the worst of events had been reported at length. The presence of the One Ring overshadowed the peace of Imladris, although Elrond could not be certain whether this feeling was caused by his own uneasiness rather than by any power of Sauron. He had taken his leave from the main building and the many visitors, who were eager to speak to him and only briefly felt guilty for it. Of course his feet had led him to his foster-fathers' guest house.
It was almost hidden away; few people would know to look for him there, and even fewer would come across it by accident.
Maglor, who might have been practicing songs to play in the Hall of Fire later, had been sitting at his harp for a while; and he had not finished a single lay since Elrond had arrived.
Instead, he was plucking at the strings without any coherent thread of thought, with no intention and no apparent goal. Elrond knew what it sounded like when Maglor was composing and trying out a new idea, and this was not like it either.
"Something is on your mind," Elrond spoke up at last, as Maglor showed no sign of revealing his thoughts.
Elrond frowned. This was unusual behavior for his foster-father. Elrond rose from his comfortable seat to find the Miruvor in the cabinet and pour some for them both. Now Maglor seemed to be aware enough to accept the drink without question.
"Where are your thoughts, Adar?"
"Far away, ion-nin." He sighed. "Far to the West."
Maglor laid down the harp. It was a beautifully-crafted piece, made in Eriador and still in almost perfect state. It remained in Imladris, ready for Maglor to play whenever he came.
"You said to me once that you have already made plans to sail. What are your thoughts now that the One Ring is here and Middle-earth's fate will soon be decided?" Maglor asked.
Elrond's eyebrows drew together, wrinkling his forehead. His features were plainly of mannish origin and had at times made him the target of foul gossip.
"I plan to sail if I can. To say it plainly: should we fail… I will fight nevertheless. We have separated Sauron from his Ring before, so I will put any and all efforts into such a lucky chance again. And should we win, I will take the ship not long after. Arwen has renewed her pledge to Aragorn. I cannot watch her die as I watched my brother."
The elf-lord's pain was all too clear for Maglor, who had raised him long ago and knew him better than any other soul on Middle-earth. Maglor grasped Elrond's hand to offer comfort and pushed a strand of dark hair back from Elrond's cheek with his undamaged left.
"My heart feels as yours does. I wish to sail," Maglor said.
Elrond blinked in surprise. He had only once breached that topic with Maglor, and never with Maedhros. He knew that Maglor missed Valinor in a more tangible way than those elves who had never seen the far West. Fear, however, or guilt or many other things, had kept him so far from entertaining the thought of returning.
"The years have worn me down after all," Maglor explained with a wistful smile.
"Come with me then!" Elrond burst out.
Maglor raised an eyebrow. "Think of what you're offering: Ulmo may well sink whatever ship I'm on."
"The ban of Námo was lifted at the end of the First Age," Elrond protested.
"True. And yet my welcome will be anything but warm. 'To the everlasting Darkness doom us if our deed faileth,' we swore; the earth drank blood, and we failed nevertheless."
For a moment, Elrond's voice failed him. He realized that his words had become too passionate, and Maglor's reminder of the oath prevented him from replying as heatedly as before. He gathered his wits and said more calmly:
"Sail with me, and allow me to speak for you. You are strong, you can face whatever awaits you."
"You have already given me too much, Elrond. What awaits me in Valinor is for me and Maedhros to deal with. And deal with it we will. I would rather have the smallest chance to see my loved ones who still live in Amman, and hopefully eventually those who passed into Námo's keeping, than remain here in Middle-earth when there is nothing left."
Moved by those words, Elrond replied formally:
"I know it is no easy decision for you, but I am glad you have made it, Makalaurë, son of Fëanor. My offer stands, and I hope you will accept it. But what of Maedhros? Will he came, too?"
"I have not spoken to him about it, yet," Maglor admitted. "I think I know him, though, and I worry that he has not made that decision yet."
"You will tell him, though?"
"In time, yes, if he does not already know it in his heart. Now, however, it is not the right time with Middle-earth's fate undecided. He and I will go back north after the Council. Sauron is ready to attack. I don't think that he has forgotten us, and the north will suffer not least of all."
"Why not stay in Imladris then? We have far more men than you do."
"You know I cannot. We would put you and your people at greater risk. Moreover, you cannot ask us to abandon those who share our home in Middle-earth. To them we will lend whatever wisdom and strength we have, and if it is not enough, well, then we shall enter Valinor on another path which none can block."
Elrond sighed, closing his eyes briefly at the finality of his foster-father's decision.
"So be it."
As announced in "The Seeing Stones", this is the end of The Protector and the Lingering series as a whole. Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, or favorited this story, and big thanks also to my beta and co-conspirator in inspiration, HaloFin17. It's been a great pleasure!