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She propped herself up on her elbow, all the better to stare at the figure sleeping beside her on the sun-warmed bank. He was here. She still marvelled at the reality of something so long anticipated and wanted: something, it had seemed, that would never happen. He was here.
She reached out a hand, but stopped short of touching him. He needed to rest and the shock of skin contacting skin would be too much to let him remain asleep. The … wholeness granted an elf by centuries under the skies of Aman could be, she knew from experience, too much for those who came, worn and grieving, from the Hither Lands. Only time would offer him the healing he needed. Time, and care, and undemanding love – and she could provide those in plenty.
Her fingers ghosted over the planes of his face. He was too thin: drawn as she had seen him after Dagorlad, pained by losses for which he blamed himself. Elrond tried too hard, she thought, tension knotting her belly before she closed her eyes and controlled her breathing. He took too much responsibility on his own shoulders and let it wear at him until only his pride kept him on his feet, enduring blow after blow. He interpreted his duty as service, first and foremost – the descendant of kings whose task was to keep the faith and ready others to wear their power.
His face tightened, as if his dreams were haunted, and he drew his knees up into a foetal curl, while his fists clenched defensively.
Celebrían stroked his hair delicately, murmuring the rhythm of an old lullaby, one that her mother had sung her in those bleak days before she was carried on to the ship heading west – a lullaby that reminded her of youth and innocence and green leaves rustling in tall trees and the dance of dappled sunlight. Of the scent of water and the fragrance of freshly-bathed infants.
Elrond’s frown relaxed and he moved his head into her touch, but he showed no sign of waking.
A breeze bearing the fragrance of tree blossom sweetened the air and brought with it the sound of distant bells. The shadows were lengthening, and, for all the day’s warmth, the evening would be cool, but she found herself reluctant to drag Elrond back to the noisy presence of all those who wished him well. To her mind, he needed silence and solitude and a time simply to be, before anyone started to heap more tasks on him.
It was a shame – more than a shame – that Gil-galad had not yet, as far as anyone knew, returned to walk the meadows and forests of the Blessed Realm. Being reunited with one who was somewhere between a parent and an older brother would have offered the lost half-elf some consolation for those he would never meet here. Celebrían sighed. But when had anything ever been easy for Elrond? He would not have known what to do with himself, had he found his entire family assembled on the dock to greet him. He had not, after all, even been certain that she would be there.
Her song moderated to an almost inaudible hum, just loud enough to reassure him of her presence without intruding on his rest. She had used the same technique on the twins, long ago, when they were small and prone to rouse each other to compete in caterwauling, finding that the repetitive sound soothed even the most fractious child. And, since her husband was not watching her to feel guilty and reproach himself for his failure to bring them with him, she allowed herself to miss her sons, and hope that they would be drawn to choose the risk the sea presented. One day, when they were no longer needed in the lands of their birth. She sighed and banished the thought – Elrond needed her now, and his recovery was what mattered.
She returned to her meticulous study of her husband’s form as the light faded and his father’s star rose above the trees, offering a cool, silver spangle on the blue silk of the night sky.
‘I watched Vingilot nightly, you know.’ Elrond’s voice sounded hoarse, as if he had been silent too long. ‘I watched it pass over and reminded myself that its light bathed you as well as it did me – and imagined that Eärendil could let you know how much I loved you and missed you.’
‘We are both sentimental fools,’ Celebrían remarked. ‘I sent you my love and support with every flight.’ She smiled. ‘I would resent cloudy nights when your adar’s ship could not be seen, as if I had been cheated of my chance to pass on any reminder of my loyalty – and of my devotion.’
Elrond pushed at the flower-studded bank in an attempt to sit up, but his wife leaned over him and settled herself down to rest her head on his shoulder, looping her arm over his waist and effectively pinning him in place.
‘There is no need for you to do anything,’ she commanded, ‘other than rest and regain your strength.’
Moving to press his cheek against her hair, Elrond breathed in the scent of her, the scent he remembered from before that last year when she was bathed in the tang of healing lotions and dulled by the odour of sickness and despair. He had fed every bit of strength he could spare into keeping her alive – and he knew that only her promise never to desert him had kept her from giving up, and only his assurance that he would rather have her alive and in Aman than abandon all hope of recovery had persuaded her to sail. And now … now it was she who coaxed him into seeing the beauty of the world around them and into leaning on her bright spirit.
‘I am sorry, my heart,’ he said, ‘to be so needy.’
She looked up, viewing cheekbone and chin, nose and the brush of eyelashes. ‘You are permitted,’ she told him, ‘to receive as well as give. For months I depended on you for the will to breathe – am I not allowed to nurture one driven beyond his power to resist?’ Her fingers traced patterns over his tunic, the symbols too complex for him to recognise, but her touch soothed him. ‘I have longed to have the chance to offer you what was gifted to me when I first landed. Do not let your obstinate self-reliance rob me of that.’
‘Never.’ There was a passionate earnestness to his voice that made her blood burn and her bones melt. ‘Dreams of this moment sustained me through times when I could see no happy outcome, but …’
She sighed. ‘You will find …’ She strove to find the right words – this was not a moment for clumsiness. ‘You will find that – it is different here. It is necessary to … surrender control and learn simply to be, if you are to be content. This is Aman, where the Powers dwell.’
‘I miss it,’ he confessed. ‘I was determined not to allow it to define me, but …’
She blinked. For a moment she thought he meant the responsibility – the role he played in defending Middle-earth, but then she caught her breath. She had seen her mother’s brittle control, her spirit-sapped fragility, and known it was caused by more than the absence of her beloved. ‘Vilya?’ she asked.
He sighed. ‘No power is taken and used without cost. The price seemed … acceptable. At the time.’
Fingers entwined with his and held him. Delicate, but strong: confident. Undeniably there. ‘And had you not used it?’ she asked.
‘Thranduil did not need to lean on the … debatable crutch of a ring of power.’
‘He did not have the opportunity.’ Celebrían used her thumb to stroke his hand. ‘For all his hatred of the Noldor and their trinkets, I doubt he would have rejected the gift of something that would have kept his forest safe.’
Elrond gazed up at the serene canvas of the night sky. ‘I think he would,’ he said meditatively. ‘He dug deep into the song and let it use him as a conduit – I think he would have found the power offered by the rings to be … false. Artificial. Like forcing the world to fit a mould rather than adapting to become part of it.’
His wife sighed. ‘We do things in different ways, my love,’ she told him. ‘But we fight for the same goals.’
‘No matter.’ He lowered his eyes to settle them on her face. ‘It is gone now. They are all gone.’
‘In time, you will no longer miss it.’
‘And them?’ The pain sharpened the air round them.
‘You will come to understand,’ she said. ‘Learn to forgive yourself for not having the answer to everything. Accept that Arwen had her own life to lead – and the right to choose where that would take her.’
‘She is my daughter. I wanted her happiness.’
‘She is happy,’ Celebrían assured him. ‘As I am with you. Even my adar came to accept that – after fighting the understanding for a while.’
‘She will die.’ Elrond swallowed. He had tried for too long to forget that the sea was not all that would divide him from his most beloved daughter.
‘Is it worse to die – or never to have lived?’ She continued to caress him gently, her touch soothing him and easing a fear that had lived with him for decades.
‘I could have stopped it,’ he admitted. ‘Had Arwen help raise him – few boys fall in love with one who has nagged them into cleanliness and obedience. Or sent her away for a century or two, until he had a wife and a handful of children and had no interest in elf-maidens.’
‘You could,’ she agreed. ‘But you were too wise to interfere – and I doubt it would have changed matters. Elu did his best to divide Lúthien and Beren, while Turgon seems to have accepted Idril’s bond with Tuor, but …’ She shrugged. ‘Neither managed to prevent the matches – they were bound to happen. Arwen was always destined for Isildur’s heir. She and I both knew it.’
‘You did not think to tell me?’ he complained.
Celebrían leaned closer and pressed a butterfly kiss to his lips. ‘Why worry you?’ she said. ‘What would happen, would happen.’ She shook her head, her pale hair reflecting the moonlight. ‘All we can do is follow the path set for us, and do our best. You have done that always, my dearest love. Let yourself enjoy where it has brought you.’
He maintained his stiffness for a moment, before collapsing into her touch. They were together again, where once he had thought that he would never be granted the chance to hold her in his arms, hear her voice, enjoy the scent of her closeness. She had never been prepared to let him brood, preferring to challenge and tease him – stir him out of his cautious reserve and make him laugh. With her here, he could begin to believe that, one day, he might be whole again.
Elrond squeezed the slender hand in his. ‘Let us go home,’ he suggested, ‘and start to discover what the future holds for us.’
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