Chapter 1: Imladris
They were riding north from the West-gate of Hadhodrond; Galadriel, Celebrían and a strong force of Sindar and Noldor, supported by a larger group of Silvan elves from Lindórinand lent to them by their friend Amdír the king. All of them cautious, riding silent and wary.
Celebrían had not known what to expect to see in Eregion, now. When they had crossed the mountains through the halls of the great dwarf-kingdom, going east, Eregion had been a thriving kingdom of the Elves. It had been their home, that they were only leaving for a little while to travel and visit friends, and get away from the increasingly bitter arguments between Mother and cousin Celebrimbor.
Now they had come back across the mountains to an Eregion entirely changed. The woods had been burned black right to the foot of the mountains, leaving only the blackened skeletons of trees. The land was full of the smell of smoke under pale weeping skies, and there was a terrible silence about the place, as if the land itself had been screaming, and had fallen silent only because its voice was exhausted.
Celebrian touched her sword hilt for the hundredth time, wishing, for once, that she had her mother’s skill with using it. She had learned to fight with it, of course; Father had insisted upon that. But she had never taken to the art, and had always hoped she would never need to practice it.
They came to Ost-in-Edhil, the city of wonders, home to the people of the jewelsmiths of Eregion, and Celebrían looked away in discomfort from the remains of the blackened gate. But there was no looking away from the smell, a mix of filth and rot and a hint of roasted meat.
When they had left, Ost-in-Edhil had not had such tall gates or walls. The broken, blackened guard towers along the road were new, too. Celebrimbor had spoken of building them on his one brief, hurried visit to Lindórinand, when he had come in person to reconcile with Mother and warn them that war was brewing. Now, here were the towers, and they had not saved the city in the end.
Celebrian had never thought she would never see home again.
Mother sat still, looking at the broken gates for what seemed like a long time. Then she sighed.
“So the hope of the Noldor has failed once more,” she said. “Now I have two great scores to settle with Gorthaur the cruel: for Finrod and for Eregion. The years pass and grief grows.”
She looked around at them. “I will not pass by without looking for survivors: we will take the time to search the ruins and mourn the dead. But be wary! There should be no great number of enemies left here, since the Númenorean army has driven our enemy away far into the east, but there may still be a few orcs lingering. Don't be taken by surprise.”
They moved through the city with caution, but the elves passing light over ash and fallen stone found no survivors left in the ruins of the city, only bodies, stripped clean of anything of value they might once have possessed, and left sprawling in the ruin of their home for the carrion-birds to peck at, interchangeable, nameless and sad.
They gathered the remnants of the people of Ost-in-Edhil, grieving, into a clear space outside the walls. It was not the first time that Celebrían had seen death, but it was the first time she had ever seen anything like this, and she found herself first shaken, then numb, and then taken over by a terrible serious practicality that felt strangely unlike her usual light-hearted self. Looking around at the others as they laid the dead gently to rest, and began to raise the mound over them, she could see the same blankness in their eyes. They had not brought tools with them, but there were plenty of those still in the ruins of the city.
The work was long and hard, but at last the mound was raised, and Celebrían found herself staring at it blankly. She had seen the still faces, the black blood, and yet the whole situation seemed unreal, as if she might turn at any moment and find the city stood whole again, full of the sound of hammers ringing, looms weaving and voices singing.
Galadriel put a hand on her arm, and Celebrían turned and met her eyes that were sad and full of understanding. “There are not as many as I had feared,” she said. “I think some at least must have escaped. We must sing the lament for those who died. Will you help us, or would you rather rest?”
Celebrían shook her head uncomprehending. “I’ll sing, of course,” she said. “We’ve all worked hard, after all. I’m not any tireder than anyone else.”
“No, of course,” her mother said, and gave a tight, sad smile. “I’d only hoped you would never have to see anything like this.”
Celebrían turned and gave her a swift, lopsided hug with one arm. “I’ll survive! It’s awful, I know, but we’ll cope with it one day at a time.” She made herself smile. “And one day you’ll catch up with him, horrible old Sauron, and then he’ll never be able to do anything like this again.”
Mother smiled back. “I’m not so confident as you. I have no wish to to face him on my own! But perhaps the Numenorean army will manage to finish him off after all. We can hope for that, and in the meanwhile, at least say a farewell to the dead.”
“Yes,” Celebrían thought, and then looked up at her mother. “Shall I lead the lament? You look tired, and there might still be enemies about. I’m better at that than I am at those. Orcs, I mean.”
Her mother, obviously, was better at both songs and fighting the enemy than Celebrian, but after all there was only one Galadriel. That was suddenly a more worrying thought than it had ever been before. The idea that her mother’s strength might have a limit was an uncomfortable one.
Her mother began to shake her head, then, to Celebrían’s surprise, seemed to think better of it. “Dear Celebrían. That is a kindly thought. Perhaps it would be fitting for you to lead the lament. You were born in Eregion, after all.”
Celebrían nodded. “You should have a rest,” she decided, since Mother for once seemed inclined to take her advice, and turned to the elves of their party, to hold up a hand to call for their attention.
In the end, they were not attacked once on the road north, though there were signs of the Enemy’s passing all around. Twice they passed what had clearly been battles, where the orc-bones lay strewn thick, but here there were no signs of the dead of Elves or Men.
Northern Eregion had been a pastoral land, with tall long-haired yellow-eyed goats grazing the hills and cattle lowing in the valleys between knots of holly and oak-trees. The route Sauron’s army had taken was trampled, the trees hacked and burned, but away from the path he had taken, the land seemed almost at peace, unless you listened very carefully to the stillness that meant fear where there should have been small careless sounds.
But already the land was forgetting the horror: even around the battlefields, new leaves were sprouting on the scorched holly trees, and green new grass was growing between the pale bones.
They met with scouts patrolling beside the river Bruinen; Sindar, friends of Father, in fact. That was good luck, because Celebrían was fairly sure that it might have taken them months to find the way that the scouts led them, along a path that led steeply downward between clumps of heather into a shadowy rocky cleft that seemed to lead nowhere. The sky overhead was darkening to a velvet blue, and the scouts lit silver lanterns that brought bright sparks from the grey rock.
Then they turned a corner, and before her a wide valley opened, surrounded by tall cliffs that were dim and dark in the faint light, but the valley-bottom was lit with many camp-fires and lanterns of a great host. Above them, a wide sky full of stars seemed almost to reflect the many points of golden light, and the sound of a distant river running over stones floated up to them.
Celebrían had certainly never been here before, and yet the place felt oddly familiar. She caught her mother’s eye and Galadriel nodded.
“Yes, I feel it too. Your father has been at work here,” she said and smiled as if a fountain of joy was bubbling up within her.
They had not seen Celeborn for what suddenly seemed impossibly many years. He had stayed behind in Eregion when they left, saying he would not take the road through Hadhodrond. Father had always had an odd dislike of Dwarves, having fought against some of them long ago. Celebrían thought it was very foolish of him. None of the Dwarves they knew were old enough to remember those days, and indeed, King Durin and all their other Longbeard friends were from a quite different family who had never had anything to do with Doriath at all. But Father could be a terrible old stick-in-the-mud about it. All the same, Celebrian had missed him terribly.
Celebrían smiled back at her mother, suddenly filled with delight and excitement, and she urged her horse onward to the ford, splashed through it with great enthusiasm, and jumped down joyfully into her father’s welcoming arms.
Once Mother had joined them, there were a good number of other introductions to be made. Mother, of course, knew everyone, but Celebrían had never met the High King of the Noldor, Ereinion Gil-galad.
He looked rather dauntingly intense at first, with frowning dark eyebrows and a stern air about him. But he smiled at her very charmingly, took her hand and asked her very seriously about what they had done in Ost-in-Edhil, and listened gravely to her rather flustered reply, and she decided that she liked him after all, particularly once Father had explained how Gil-galad and his host had come out of the West to defeat the army that Sauron had left besieging Father and his friends in the valley.
One of those friends was Elrond, descended from Lúthien herself, the son of the Evening Star. She had never met Elrond, but everyone knew who he was. When her tutor had taught her the history of the Peredhil, she had imagined the Heir of Lúthien as something like a mixture of Celebrimbor and her mother, but with something strange and different about him, from his inheritance from Men and from the great Lady Melian. Someone strange and magnificent, and more than a little doomed.
Now she saw him in person he looked like an elf, though he was perhaps a little broader in the shoulders than most. Certainly he was unusually beautiful, with long shining dark hair and grey eyes like a sky full of stars, but he seemed quieter than she had somehow expected. He had one arm in a sling, she noticed. He must have taken a wound in the fighting.
With him were a few Men of Númenor. Celebrían had not met very many Men before, and they had been shorter than these, round-faced and cheerful cattle-herders that had lived in the villages of the river-lands. These Men seemed very different, tall, broad and courtly, and clearly well used to war.
She asked Berengar, a man with grizzled grey hair who was leaning on a crutch, when they had come from Númenor, but he shook his head and smiled crookedly.
“It was my grandfather who came from Númenor, my lady.” Gil-galad had begun to lead the way up towards the higher level ground where many tents were pitched, and they followed him, walking slowly to allow for Berengar’s crutch. “The lord Ciryatur and the host of Númenor are still in the far south: we here are the people of the coast. I’ve never been to Númenor myself, I’m from Eryn Vorn.”
“Oh. That’s like me, then!” Celebrían told him. “My mother came from Valinor in the West and my father is from Doriath, and so I’m one of the Eldar, though of course I’ve never been to Aman, or Beleriand either. I grew up in Eregion...”
She remembered what Eregion was like, now. “Do you know about Eryn Vorn?” she asked him, suddenly concerned. “Is it..?”
“Yes, I’ve been luckier there than you,” he said, and the corners of his eyes crinkled sympathetically. “When the Enemy gave up on catching Elrond, he hurried off to deal with the High King, so he had no time for ravaging along the coast before the navy of Númenor arrived. Word came a few days ago that my home was spared.”
“That’s very good news,” Celebrían said, feeling relieved for him. “Ost-in-Edhil was so terribly sad, and... we heard about Celebrimbor.” She was trying not to think too specifically about what they had heard about Celebrimbor, and definitely not to imagine it. “It’s good to hear of anything escaping the ruin. But you’re Elrond’s kinsman, so you’re one of the children of Elros?”
Berengar gave a short coughing laugh. “If you want to put it poetically! I have some remote connection to the family. I never can remember the details myself.”
Elrond, who had been walking ahead beside Gil-galad looked around and stepped over to join them. “Berengar’s great-grandfather was the great-grandson of my brother’s youngest son’s daughter,” he explained.
“Goodness,” Celebrían said inadequately, rather daunted by the sheer complication of the many mortal generations thus revealed. Berengar snorted in amusement.
“Yes,” Elrond agreed. “ ‘Nephew’ or ‘kinsman’ is easier to say. And I am very glad to have such kinsmen. We would have been lost without them.”
“I’m still astonished that the lord Ciryatur and the rest of them actually showed up,” Berengar said candidly.
Celebrían looked at him in surprise. “Why? Surely since Númenor is the home of Elrond’s kin, surely they would wish to come to his aid?”
Berengar grimaced “I thought Númenor had lost interest in the north-west of Middle-earth. I’m a bit worried about that.” He shot a stern sideways look at Elrond.
Elrond laughed as they came up among many long rows of tents to a sort of central square where a great oak tree stood, its red-flushed spring leaves visible by the light of the many lanterns hanging from it. “Berengar considers me a most frivolous elf, I'm afraid, Celebrían. He likes to add a spice of grim realism to my airy hopes. He’s become a byword for gloom in the camp, in fact, and I have a suspicion that he enjoys it.”
“You are a frivolous elf,” Berengar said doggedly, thumping his crutch down emphatically. “But more of my family are honest Men of Minhiriath than strange half-elven folk from beyond the Sea, and Númenor has not been kindly to them, or to their lands. Be honest, Elrond. Just because they — we — are your brother’s kin, you can’t think we’ve done no wrong. ”
“No,” Elrond said, and his smiling face turned serious again. “I won’t argue that. And there is grief and evil mixed with strength; of course there is. How could there be anything else? But both of you have seen our Enemy’s work. Númenor, for all that it has... changed somewhat, for all that I fear the shadow ahead, is better than that. They may have turned up late, but that’s still better than never, isn’t it? But here we are.”
Elrond stepped forward under the widespread branches of the great lamplit oak, shining under the starry sky and raised his voice a little. “Galadriel, Celebrían, friends of Eriador and Lindórinand. Welcome to the Camp of Imladris. It has been our home for almost three years now, but I hope you will forgive us that things are still a little rough and ready. We arrived in something of a hurry, with no time to prepare for siege! We're all very thankful to Celeborn and his people. They have used all the skills of lost, lamented Doriath to keep us all fed, clothed and housed, and that is a deed as great as any in battle.”
“Thank you for your welcome, Elrond,” Galadriel said seriously. “It brings me joy to see you and your host are safe. We feared for you all, when we and Durin’s Folk were driven back to Hadrahond and could not come to your aid. We have all suffered great losses, but perhaps now we shall have a chance to build new homes in peace.”
“I hope so,” Gil-galad said. “I have asked Círdan to join us here as soon as he can, so we can hold a council and make plans for the future of Eriador.”
“Oh!” Celebrían said cheerfully. “If we had only known before! We could have travelled here with king Durin from Hadhodrond, rather than having to wait to send messengers to ask him to come and join us. But then, I suppose it will take a little while for Círdan to get here, and then the lord Ciryatur is off in the south at present still, so I suppose he will have to get back, too. Is he going to bring Thrar of the Ered Luin with him?” She suddenly noticed that Father was making his fierce shushing face, and felt herself turn embarrassingly red.
Gil-galad frowned imposingly, and although Elrond gave her an encouraging smile, somehow that only made her blush more.
“This is primarily a matter for the Elves, my lady,” the High King said, and Celebrían resolved fiercely to think harder before she spoke next time.
Chapter 2: He said nothing of it
Eregion, as a place to live, had been elegant, comfortable and convenient: Khazad-dûm, when they had passed through it had been vast and magnificent, if a little oppressive, and Lindórinand among the trees had been simple and full of joy.
Imladris was quite different to all of them. For the first few days, Celebrían’s first impression was that it was crowded, damp and astonishingly loud. As well as the river running through the valley there were many streams falling from the heights. In the sun, they made spectacular white plumes as they fell from the high cliffs, but they also created a great deal of mist which clung to tents and hair and clothes. Many of the troops staying in the valley were Men, who had loud and often rather tuneless voices and heavy feet. Tents did very little to quiet the noise, and Celebrían and her mother resorted to a minor enchantment to dampen the resonant sound of snoring that echoed from the wet rocks at night.
There was no point complaining about any of this, so Celebrían resolved to embrace it. She put on her practical jerkin and breeches and while Mother, Father and the important people were having their council, she went to find out what she could do to help. She might not be a great healer, but she could sit and talk to people who were bored and miserable, and sing a little to ease their pain.
She was more skilled with food and supplies. She warmed with a small fierce private pride when Father began to delegate some of the work of arranging supplies to her, and took joy in coaxing fruit and grain artfully from trees and pastures that could never have supplied such a host without the help of such arts.
She was singing softly to a field of oats when Elrond rode past with Erestor and a handful of their friends.
“Is the Council over already?” she called. Elrond turned his horse neatly and slipped to the ground next to her.
“Not yet,” he said. “Erestor! Take the others up to the pasture, would you?” He turned back to Celebrían. “We called a halt for today, since the main point, that Imladris should be the new stronghold of the Eldar in the East of Eriador, and that I should stay here, was agreed, and the other matters will probably involve a good deal of argument.”
“Oh dear. That sounds rather awkward and difficult,” Celebrían said. “I do hate arguments! So you aren’t going back to Lindon? Won’t you miss it? You’ve lived there for such a long while, after all.”
Elrond smiled at her warmly, and Celebrían had to remind herself firmly that Elrond had never shown any interest in being more than friends with anyone in all the long years he had lived in peace in Lindon. He was hardly going to make an exception for her , singing to oats in her old breeches with a patch of mud on one knee.
“I shall go and visit Lindon and the King, of course,” he said. “But I need to be here, now that Eregion is gone. Someone needs to watch the East and the passes of the Mountains.”
“There’s still no word of where the Enemy has got to, then?”
Elrond shook his head. “We know the Númenorean army drove him far into the East, but he slipped away.” He hesitated. “I don’t think there’s any great risk that he will return soon. He has lost his great army. If I read him rightly, he will want to gather another before he comes West again.”
“If you read him rightly,” Celebrían repeated, and shuddered. “Who knows if we are reading him rightly now? He seemed... Well, you know, if I’m honest, I thought Mother was making a mountain out of a molehill about him. Annatar. Sauron. Whatever we call him.”
“Sauron,” Elrond said, frowning. “I hear he dislikes the name, which is all the more reason to use it.”
“It’s a foul name. But then that fits him. Yet... it’s awful to think he seemed perfectly nice, to me. I couldn’t see what she was fussing about: I thought it was just... you know how she was with Celebrimbor, sometimes. Well, perhaps you don’t, but they were. Both of them sort of pushing at one another, as if there was a silent competition, and they both know the rules though nobody else does?”
“Yes,” Elrond said gravely, and then a spark of mischief lit in his eye. “I always thought they were a little too alike to get on well.”
Celebrían laughed with surprise. “No! But mother isn’t at all like... goodness. But she is, though! Do you know, I think you’re right? Elrond! I never noticed that before!”
Elrond laughed. “That was what I wanted to ask you about, as it happens. Is your mother troubled by something at the moment? She seemed... unfocussed. It’s very unlike her.”
Celebrían wrinkled her nose. “It is, isn’t it?” She looked up at his concerned face, and decided that there was really no reason not to tell him. “It is the sea-longing. It always used to trouble her from time to time, but she says it catches her more sharply now she has...you know.”
They both knew that Galadriel had been given a ring of power by Celebrimbor before he died, when he had made that last hurried visit to Lindórinand.
“That must be hard for her,” Elrond said.
Celebrían nodded. “Harder because she is forbidden to cross the sea, I think. If she could go, but chose to stay, it would be easier, but since she is under the Ban... It makes her think of Alqualondë and my grandmother Eärwen and all our family there, you see. Sometimes she wants to talk about them, sometimes she says it’s still too close and too full of grief. You know, when I think about it, I think perhaps it’s hard now because of poor Celebrimbor, too? It used to be the two of them who were the last leaders of the rebellious Noldor, and both of them under the Ban together. Now it’s only her, and so she thinks of her home. Poor Mother! I wish I could do more to help. But she hates people fussing around her, and after all what can anyone do?”
“I suppose, not much, though I’m sure it must help that you are there,” Elrond said sympathetically. “Your thoughts about the sea-longing seems wise to me: I haven’t felt that call myself.”
Celebrían looked at him, startled by the implication. “You mean that the King has given you...”
“Yes. He feels that the Enemy will expect it to be with him, and when he comes again, is most likely to attack Lindon first. It will be safer here, and... an inheritance, he called it. ”
“Should you be telling me this?” Mother had agreed with Celebrimbor that talk of Rings of Power should be strictly forbidden, and Celebrían had thought that Gil-galad had done the same.
“You’re Galadriel’s daughter and Celeborn’s,” Elrond said, and spread one hand to express all the various family and historical implications of that. “You would have heard it at the Council if you hadn’t decided that Councils are dull and the oats needed your attention more!”
She laughed. “I don’t think Councils are that dull, Elrond! But I thought about it, and I couldn’t think what I would have to add, that my parents can’t say just as well or better. It seemed a better use of time to be here than there.”
“You’re very able with the growing of crops,” Elrond told her, with a kind smile. “We’re all grateful for your assistance.”
“Thank you! I think these will do for now,” Celebrían told him, looking out across the tall delicate plants that were swaying gently in the breeze, ripples running like waves across the surface. “If we only get a little more sun, then they will be ready for the harvest. It must have been hard to keep this up for years through the siege.”
“So your father says... I wasn’t here for much of it: I was keeping the Enemy distracted and not looking in this direction. A somewhat wearing game, but hiding in Imladris and trying to keep everyone fed was just as difficult. Better now there’s a mill for grinding grain and at least some hot water, but it must seem very uncomfortable to you after Eregion.”
“The snoring at night is very loud,” Celebrían said and laughed at the thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where you could hear thousands of people all snore at once!”
After a moment of looking a little taken aback, Elrond laughed too. “Imladris will be a good deal more pleasant once we have built houses - with proper walls! And when there aren’t quite so many people here, I hope. Some of my host will be setting off to travel west tomorrow. ”
“Not quite such a pressing need for oats, after all” Celebrían said. “Never mind! They’ll keep till they are needed. Father wants Mother and me to stay here with him for a while, did you know? He doesn’t want to go to Lindórinand, and Eregion now would be far more uncomfortable than this.” She hesitated, then added merrily. “I promise we’ll try not to snore!”
Elrond laughed with an air of genuine surprised delight. “Yes, Celeborn told me this morning that he planned to stay. I’m glad to hear that you will be here for a while too. You must give me your opinion on my plans for the buildings we will be putting up. Shall we walk back to the camp, and I’ll show you?”
White gulls are calling
They had been living in Imladris for five years now, and the leaves were again blushing fresh green against the rocks, and the pastures in the valley-bottom were scattered with pale spring-yellow primroses. The tents were gone, and the hosts, and the High King, and instead a tall new wooden hall stood high above the valley, looking out across the river towards the waterfalls. Two long wings spread out either side of it, accommodation for the Lord of Rivendell, his guests, and his people.
There were farms and buildings further up the valley now too, but the guards who watched the valley constantly mostly lived in the house of Elrond. Elrond regularly took turns watching with them for any sign of the Enemy, and often ventured further afield, into the mountains or south towards the closed gates under the mountain, looking for the Enemy. But there was no word of him.
Celebrían was planting primroses down alongside the new steps that Erestor had designed to replace the slippery path along to the nearest waterfall. Galadriel was sitting at the top of the bank, in theory, helping her with the flowers. In fact, she was sitting so that she could see as far west as anyone could see from inside the valley of Imladris, with her white hands folded in her lap and a very distant expression on her face.
Berengar came stumping around the corner of a rocky outcropping, with Celeborn beside him. Berengar was walking much more easily now than he had when they first met, Celebrían was pleased to see. The newest wooden foot with the clever articulated ankle mechanism seemed to be suiting him. She set her handful of primroses down and scrambled up the bank to greet them. Mother stood up as gracefully as ever to greet them, but she still had that faraway look on her face, and the surface of her mind shone with the green of waves under blue skies, and echoed with the crying of the gulls.
“I came to tell you the news. I’m going home,” Berengar told them. “My leg is as well now as it ever will be, I reckon, and I’m not getting any younger. I want to go back to the coast and see what’s happened there for myself. It’s not the same just hearing about it in letters.”
“I think we should go with him,” Father said bluntly. He took Mother’s hand a little cautiously, and Celebrían could not decide if he thought she might be angry, or if he was afraid that a careless touch might shatter her as if she were made of glass. “There’s been no sign or sound of the Enemy at all. There is no need for us to wait here: Elrond will do well enough without us. I think we should go to the Sea, for now at least. No doubt the Enemy will return eventually, but by then you will be stronger.”
“I will not go back to Lindon,” Mother said. She did not explain why, but Celebrían knew. The Ring of Fire was in the keeping of Círdan: if Mother went to Lindon with the Ring of Air, then the two would be together, and all the more vulnerable.
Father shook his head. “Berengar doesn’t live in Lindon. He lives down the coast, in the far west of Minhiriath, near the Baranduin. I suggest we travel with him as far as his home, then take a ship and travel south to Belfalas.”
“I would be very delighted if you would agree to travel with me,” Berengar put in. “It’s not too easy for a crippled man to go so far alone. Or so I hear. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m thinking ahead.”
“Belfalas?” Mother smiled at Berengar and then looked at Father. “Why Belfalas?”
“Why not?” Father said and smiled encouragingly. “It’s by the sea, and the weather is pleasant so far south, almost like Aman, I’m told.”
“I’ve never been to Aman, of course,” Berengar said. “But I sailed down to Cobas Haven near the Elvish town at Edhellond a time or two in my youth. The song you sang of the white shores of Alqualondë, my lady, it put me in mind of Belfalas. The green waves on the beach near the mouths of the river Anduin.”
“It’s not the same, I know,” Father said gently. “But it might help soothe the ache a little.”
She squeezed his hand a little, and looked at Celebrían. “And you? You are more than old enough to make your own choices: will you come with us, or go to Lindon, or stay here?”
Celebrían looked at her mother and thought how it must be to be banished forever from your home and your family. “I’ll come too,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. It sounds a lovely place. I’d like to visit Berengar’s home too, where the people of Númenor who live out in the open meet with the people of Minhiriath who live in the woods. It sounds interesting.”
Berengar looked at her and smiled his crooked smile. “Interesting is one way to put it. Tense is another. But they’ve escaped the ruin that the Enemy brought to the inland settlements, and the word is that that has damped down a good many arguments - at least for now. They may be a tad surprised when I turn up with a wooden foot in the company of lords and ladies of the Eldar, but no doubt we’ll work things out.”
Chapter 3: A long time later, in Belfalas
Celebrían was cutting herbs in the little bright garden that looked out towards the sea. It was good to be able to think only of herbs again.
She had even come up to the herb-patch without putting on her sword-belt, and it had been a long time since that had felt like a safe thing to do. The little harbour of Edhellond was some distance from Mordor and so sheltered from the heart of the war, but the war had been a very long one, and safety had been hard to come by everywhere in Middle-earth. Even in gentle Belfalas by the sea, they had seen raids. But Sauron had been defeated at last, and peace had come. It had been hard-bought, but even with the loss of Gil-galad, the High King and his friend Elendil, no-one could say it was not worth the price.
Someone was coming up the steep path below the house. She peered down, a bunch of rosemary in her hand and recognised, to her surprise, Elrond.
It looked as though he was enjoying the peace at last too. Usually Elrond wore armour, or at least a padded arming jacket. Strange to see him in a blue linen tunic with his hair loose down his back, instead of tied up for battle as it had usually been when she had seen him in the North.
It made him look less formidable, and younger, too. He was wearing a sword on his belt, but presumably that was habit. There was something else changed about him too, a faint air that reminded Celebrían of Eregion, and of Celebrimbor. She concentrated for a moment, blinking, and realised that he had Celebrimbor’s great ring of sapphire on his finger.
“Elrond!” she said. He looked up and saw her, and he smiled. His face lit up with the smile, and she found herself wearing a smile that was unexpectedly more joyful than merely polite herself. ”It’s been so long since we have seen you!” she said. “Have you come to Belfalas to take counsel with my father?”
Elrond looked oddly diffident. “No,” he said. “I came to visit you.”
“All the way to Belfalas? That’s a long way for visiting!” A little unexpected, since he had not sent word, but not unwelcome. There were not so many Elves in the little settlement of Edhellond to talk to. A visitor from the North would have all kinds of news to tell.
Elrond smiled again. “I was in Lindon with Círdan, and it came to me that now at long last, there was no hurry for me to go back to Imladris. Young Valandil has come of age and has taken up the throne of Arnor. He’ll be a fine king, I think, and he has plenty of advisors. So I thought of visiting you, and took a ship that was sailing south.”
“Well, it’s lovely to see you. I’m only cutting herbs, but I must get them finished and all laid out in order. Come and talk to me while I do it. ”
Elrond came up through the garden gate. “What are the herbs for?” he asked.
“Well, this big basket of cornflowers will go to make a medicine for sore eyes. There seems to be a problem with sore eyes among the children of the Men of Cobas Haven, at the moment. I have found that the cornflower remedy seems the most effective, so I am going to make up a new batch. The rosemary is for that, too. Then, I like to keep a good store of athelas dried, just in case, and it has been growing well this year, so I thought I’d cut some more of that. And finally, the thyme, sage and oregano are for the fish for dinner! Oh, except that if you are here, no doubt we will need more? How many people did you bring with you? Are they all at the house?”
“I didn’t bring anyone,” Elrond told her with that smile that was overflowing with delight again. “I left my escort in Lindon, visiting their friends, and came up here from the harbour all alone. It has been such a long time since it was safe to walk anywhere without guards.”
“I was just thinking the same thing when you arrived! Peace is going to take some getting used to.” She remembered again that peace had been dearly-bought, for Elrond in particular. “I was so sorry to hear of Gil-galad and Elendil though, Elrond. It must be hard for you to have lost your friends.”
Elrond took a deep breath. “And Isildur, Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon and so many others,” he said. “It’s some comfort to know they have brought us the peace they fought for. They will be remembered in many songs.” He had gone back to the grave expression, and Celebrían wondered if she should not have mentioned it.
“They will indeed,” she said. “Mother has begun making a song, though I don’t think she has quite finished it yet. ”
“I look forward to hearing it,” Elrond said, polite but not terribly forthcoming. She wondered again why he had come to visit her, in particular.
Elrond seemed to feel the conversation was not going quite right. He sat down on the grass next to the oregano and looked up at her sideways, with an odd look in his starry eyes.
“You know, I’ve thought about coming to talk to you about this for a very long time, and now I come to actually do it, it’s not going how I thought it would,” he admitted ruefully.
“How did you expect it to go?” she asked, collecting oregano with a practiced hand. “ Or perhaps that doesn’t matter. We’ve known one another long enough by now, Elrond. Surely you can just tell me whatever it is? I’m sure it can’t be anything dreadful!”
He laughed shortly. “I hope not. Very well then. I... Celebrían, I love you.”
Startled, Celebrían stared at him, one hand full of oregano. “You... are you sure ? I mean... well, that isn’t quite what I meant, but... well, how can you be? You’ve only just arrived. No, that’s not what I meant to say either. Oh dear.”
“I take it the idea doesn’t please you, then,” Elrond said, looking somehow as if he had half-expected this.
“No! No, it isn’t that at all. It’s just that... well, I never thought you would go falling in love with people. Or me. It seems so strange. All that long time since the fall of Beleriand you’ve never fallen in love with anyone, so everyone says. And now this.”
“Now you come to me quite out of the blue while I’m picking herbs, and tell me that you’re in love with me,” she said slowly, trying to make sense of it.
“It’s never crossed your mind that you might...think of me that way? ”
She put the basket down and sat next to him. “Well, yes. Of course it did. You’re very lovely. When I first met you I was young, foolish and quite determined that I was going to marry someone and have children. So of course I thought about it. I thought about Gildor too, and Amroth, and Thranduil... But particularly you. But there was never the least whisper of a suggestion that any of you might be particularly interested in me . So I decided after a while that perhaps that was not my path after all. That was when I took up herblore more seriously.”
“Oh,” Elrond said, his grey eyes wide. “So I have left this too late.”
“No!” Celebrían said without thinking at all, and then felt herself flush. “It’s just... unexpected, that’s all. I need to think about it for a while and work out how I feel, if that makes sense.”
“It does. I shouldn’t have sprung it on you so suddenly. It was just that I was so glad to see you, and of all the careful words I had thought of through the long years, none of them seemed right for the Lady Celebrían, standing in a garden full of herbs and smiling, with the sun shining on her hair.”
Celebrían ran a hand through her loose hair, pulling out a strand so the sun glittered on it, and wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn’t have greeted you in my old patched gardening dress with my hair all over the place, if I’d known that you were coming, you know.”
“In that case, I’m glad I didn’t send ahead. You are so beautiful as you are, like a tree in full blossom shaped only by the wind. When I first saw you arrive in Imladris, I thought that. As if you had just grown in place, and fitted perfectly.”
“You thought all that, but you didn’t say a word, all these years?”
He looked at her sideways under his eyelashes, a smile pulling up the corner of his mouth. “You didn’t say anything to me. Or Gildor, or Amroth, or Thranduil, surely, or you would not still be here in the herb-garden by the sea to give me hope. I don’t know Amroth well, but I’m fairly sure that neither Gildor nor Thranduil is such a fool.”
She laughed. “I couldn’t do that to my father! You know he and Oropher can’t stand one another.” The memory that Oropher too had died in the battle before the Black Gate came back to her, too late and the smile fell from her face. “Couldn’t, I mean.”
“I had noticed,” Elrond said wryly. “When I first knew them both, I had both of them urging me to become king of the Sindar, and simultaneously, not to trust a word the other one said. Though they were both very good about taking no for an answer. Eventually.”
Celebrían, though she was still thinking about poor Oropher, and Thranduil grieving for him, smiled. “Was that why you refused to be king? Because they kept arguing?”
“I had a good number of reasons,” Elrond said, twirling a stray cornflower between his fingers, brilliantly bluer even than the great sapphire of his ring. “But is that really why you are prepared to think about it? Because your father likes me better than Thranduil?”
“Of course not!” Celebrían said indignantly. “I said I thought about Thranduil when I first met him, when I was living in Lindórinand: I think about lots of things, don’t you? Once I’d thought about him, I knew quite certainly that he was not quite right for me. But I’m... not sure about you. I need to think about it, as I said.”
“Your father may have a different opinion of me as someone who loves his daughter, to an ally in war,” Elrond said. He looked away for a moment then made an unhappy face. “This seems a wretched thing to have to say, but... if one day we had a child... I am half-elven, yes, but in this case, it’s the other half that counts. My children might choose mortality, like my brother Elros.”
“A little soon to think of that, isn’t it?” Celebrían asked merrily, and then noticed that Elrond’s hands, lying in his lap, were twisted together in tension, though his face and mind seemed calm as still water. She looked at them, and leapt to a conclusion. “Or is that why you waited for so long and thought so hard before you said a word?”
“No,” Elrond said immediately, and then paused, looking at the cornflower stem wound through his fingers. “Or at least... I told myself it was the war. My parents married in war-time, you know, and they had very little time together before everything went wrong. And so I thought, I should wait for peace.” He looked up and met her eyes, and laughed, self-deprecating and a little pained. “But every version of this discussion that I had in my head got stuck when I mentioned Elros, so perhaps you’re right, after all.”
Celebrían reached out, took his hands, unwound them and rescued the cornflower, which she put safely in the basket. Then she wove her own fingers through his instead. “This is another thing I need to think about,” she said. “I don’t really understand it, if I’m honest, but then, I never met Elros. Perhaps if you told me about him, it would help.”
His hands went tense for a moment, and then relaxed as he looked at her. “If you like. Elros and I... we were very alike, when we were children. Sometimes he would be a little ahead of me, sometimes it was the other way around. But we were... we lost everything, when the Havens of Sirion fell, you understand. We only had one another.”
“You must have been very close,” she said.
“Yes. Yes, we were, in many ways. But at the same time, because we were so alike... Do you remember I said once, about your mother and Celebrimbor, that they were a little too alike to get on well? We were like that too, sometimes. Because we were so alike, we needed to divide things up, to each be ourselves... When it came to the time when one of us needed to go to Gil-galad, to the Edain, we drew straws. He went, and became the leader of the Edain, and after that their king, and after that... Númenor, and a wife, and children, and a mortal death. By that time we had grown far apart.”
“And you think that if you had taken the other straw?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I have wondered about that. I never wanted to be anything but an Elf, and I have never regretted my choice, although... When he died, I thought about it. I wondered if I wanted to change my path, if our places had been exchanged, if I would have done. I don’t know if it would have been permitted, even if I had asked. I talked about it with Gil-galad, in fact, and with... anyway, I was sure, once I considered it, that I was right to choose the Elves.”
“To choose the long defeat and the foreseen doom long delayed, as the song says. Are you afraid that Elros made the wrong choice, Elrond?”
“I believe there is no wrong choice,” Elrond said looking down at their linked hands. “I have not only a brother, but more kinsmen than I can count among the Edain, and I do not believe that the Gift of Men is a punishment. But I can see that to you, it might seem very different. You are an elf, your parents are elves, and you could all stay together until the ending of the world, if you wanted to.”
Celebrían thought about that for a moment, to make sure that she knew her own mind. She thought about Elrond, too, who had lost his mother and father as a child, and then his brother, too. She met his eyes.
“I was taught that Men are our close kin, the second-born children of the Father,” she said very carefully, choosing her words. She felt pity for the child he had once been, but it would not be fair to either of them to make a decision out of pity. “So, if... if there was a child, he would have the choice, like Lúthien. But not... not as a child. Only once he was grown up, and ready.”
“Not even then, Eönwë said. Not until I choose to sail into the West forever. But one day he would have to choose.”
“Well, I suppose children must make their own choices at some point,” Celebrían said practically.
Elrond made a startled noise of amusement. “That wasn’t what I expected you to say!”
“What did you expect me to say?” she enquired.
“Something about it being perilous to cross a gulf set by doom, and there being no joy but only shared grief on the other side?” Elrond said, and then smiled. “It sounds rather overcomplicated, now I come to say it out loud.”
“That’s a quote from my uncle Finrod, isn’t it?” Celebrían said. She let go of his hands and took a cornflower from the basket, then trimmed the stem and put it in her hair. “I never met him but... well. He was from Valinor, and when you come from Valinor, Mother says, the world seems a very safe place. Or at least, it seems that it should be safe, and ordered, and anything else is a terrible tragedy.” She took another flower, and tried to tuck it into Elrond’s hair, but his was too silky to hold the flower in place, so she tucked it behind his ear, instead. “But I am from Middle-earth, Elrond, like you. I know about unlikely hope, and about taking a risk. And I know peace doesn’t last.”
“So?” Elrond said, cautious.
She kissed him lightly on the nose, a kiss one might give a dear friend, perhaps, or perhaps a little more than that. He blinked in surprise and bit his lip a little, which she thought very endearing.
“So, you have come to Belfalas to talk to me, and you have talked very seriously about Elros and about children, and the Choice, and I have thought about that and you have your answer to that. But beyond that... I have said I will think about it, and I will. But to do that, I need to talk to you about all sorts of things, like music, and dancing, the smell that pine trees make in sunshine, what sort of food you like, and whether you like paddling on the beach, and whether you can swim, and a very great number of other questions that will come to me in a moment or two,” she said, and laughed at his expression.
He laughed back. “Of course I like paddling on the beach!” he said. “I was a child in Sirion, remember?”
She jumped to her feet and extended a hand to pull him up too. “In that case, let us go and paddle now, and discuss all of the other important questions I have to ask!”
He took her hand.
A wide sweep of sand, not quite as white, perhaps as the brilliant sands of Alqualondë, and small clear waves breaking over it. The light of the falling sun glancing on the broken water and the wet sand shone with a radiance that might rival the radiance of the Trees of Valinor. Or perhaps it did not. Neither of the two figures with their feet in the surf, holding hands and laughing were worrying about anything beyond today.