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‘They will never accept us, brother. Never see what we are – only what we are not!’ The words hung in the air, the passion seeming to stir the heavy tapestries, like the frisson of distaste that shivered through the matriarchs at the presence of something ... unsavoury.
‘So you would rather abandon ages of history and our honoured bloodlines...’
‘That is what it is, brother – history! I would prefer to build anew and have people respect me for what I am. There is no point in looking back. We are not our parents or our grandparents. Come with me.’
Elrond turned to look out the window at the raw wooden hulls of the forest of ships.
‘But I am no man.’
His brother stepped swiftly to his side and grasped his shoulder. ‘The Noldor despise us because they consider us Teler, while the Teler distrust us because Maglor raised us. None of them know what to make of our Maiar heritage, but they are all certain that the blood of Tuor and Beren has corrupted us beyond measure. I have no desire to live an immortal life among those who patronise me.’
‘You would rather be a king, admired by your people for choosing to dwell among them,’ Elrond snapped.
Elros grinned ruefully and released his grip. ‘I am not known for my humility. I would rather find my own path than bow my head to another. When the Valar made their offer, I knew at once that it was the best thing for me.’
‘But I am not you,’ Elrond said, turning to meet his brother’s eyes.
‘Be my advisor,’ Elros pleaded. ‘Come with me to Nύmenor. You can study all you wish – build libraries that will be the envy of the world. I need you by my side, brother. We are twins – we have been together from the very beginning. Grasp this chance that has been offered us. A kingdom of our own, blessed by the Valar, which we can guide to greatness. Let us be free of all their squabbles about events long past.’
‘I cannot. I cannot choose to be what I am not.’ Elrond’s grief kept him motionless as he watched his brother’s restless pacing.
‘I do not understand you,’ Elros snapped. ‘We have been rejected – scorned – by those who should see us as their rulers. Why should we care what they think?’
‘But Gil-galad is my king.’
Elros drew a sharp breath and stiffened. For a moment, silence hung between them like a wall of glass. Then it shattered as if struck by a dart. ‘Then you have chosen.’
‘A choice that should never have been demanded of us.’ Elrond was sure of that. ‘For it was in truth no choice at all.’ The Valar had hidden a trap in a pot of honey, and whichever path they followed would lead to pain and loss. He knew that already, and there was nothing he could do about it. ‘I cannot deny what I am – I am an elf, Elros. I belong here.’
‘They will never let you forget that you are not one of them.’ Elros placed his hand on his brother’s arm and shook it urgently. ‘They will use you – flatter you when they need you – and turn their backs on you when they do not.’
Elrond turned, putting his hand on top of his brother’s. Already he could feel a distance growing between them. Their disrupted childhood had left them reliant on each other, trusting only each other and wary of any who sought a place in their hearts, but the Valar’s offer had already loosened the ties that bound them, sending them off to different fates. The touch of their hands became a clutch, a longing to hold on to what had been sundered, a bitter farewell.
And so it had proved.
Nύmenor had thrived, and Elros had shown his quality as the descendent of Finwë and Elu, ruling an ever-fairer realm. But great age meant different things to men and elves, and, as Elrond remained unchanged, his brother became an old man, dying finally a mere half-millennium into the Second Age, leaving Elrond to grieve his loss.
His descendents grew distant, until Elrond could barely tell them apart. They were worthy – on the whole – but Elrond could not invest himself in a family that had so little time. No sooner had he met his brother’s heir than he had been replaced by another. And each generation became more ... man-like. More detached from their proud elvish history. In the end, they were no more than allies in the fight against Sauron. Allies gullible enough to be deceived by him – foolish enough to take him into their hearts – stupid enough to destroy the kingdom his brother had sacrificed his immortal life to build.
He had supported those few who had escaped the fall of Nύmenor, watched them build again – and been there when Isildur had failed to destroy the Ring. Men were weak, and their blood had diluted Elros’s until his descendents contained barely a shadow of his greatness.
In any case, Elrond had his own family now. A wife whose ancestry crossed the boundaries between the Noldor and Teler, twin sons of his own and a daughter. He would never leave them as he had been left. They were his to raise, to protect, to love, here in the sheltered valley that had become his home. But tragedy struck him even here – the curse on his family could not grant him happiness for long. With his wife injured to the point where she abandoned him for Aman, his sons off slaying every orc they could find and his daughter taking shelter with her grandmother, he was left to do his best to keep his brother’s line alive, until ...
Aragorn, they had named him. His mother brought him to Imladris on his father’s death. A nice child. Open. Curious. Willing to learn. Elrond could not help but love him, even though he suspected ...
The trap was about to close. The Valar had taken his brother, and this child would break his family. Take his home. Leave him with nothing.
The kiss he placed on Arwen’s brow said what he could not. He would always love her, he would feel her absence always – and he wished her eternal happiness, even while he knew that her life would end in loneliness and despair.
‘Fare well, my children,’ he said. He could not even resent the child of his heart, who had taken from him the child of his body. This was not their fault. This had been foreseen, been set up, been nursed through two ages by those to whom time meant nothing.
As they rode through Gondor, through Rohan, towards Lothlórien, his mood darkened. So much had been gained – Sauron defeated, the Ring destroyed, the line of Elros once more reigning over Men – but ... He brooded. At what price? Elves poured from the Havens, with every day seeing more ships pass West. Soon, only the most obstinate would remain – and they would stay until they were driven out of the lands that even now turned colder to them.
And his daughter ... His sons ... Would he arrive in the West only to tell their mother that they had all chosen Elros’s fate? Would she reject him, too? Elrond, the Pariah. The offspring of Elves and Men and Maiar, unwanted by all of them, doomed to serve to no reward.
‘Adar,’ Elladan urged his horse beside his father’s. ‘We are about to make camp. It will be dark within the hour and there are enough ruffians abroad still for us to want to have the guards posted.’
‘Nothing will happen here,’ his father replied indifferently. ‘But as you will.’
‘Daernaneth’s party will be departing on the morrow,’ Elladan said, looking over his father’s shoulder to his brother and wordlessly sharing his anxiety. ‘She will want to talk to you about what will come next.’
‘We will pack up what we cannot bear to leave and head for the Havens. In the spring, I expect. There is little point in lingering. It will change nothing.’
Elrond stood at the edge of the camp, watching Eärendil’s ship drift across the vast sky over the plains of Rohan, wondering whether saving the world should outweigh the love of family for each other. Would he be able to bear the Blessed Realm if attaining it meant losing the family he loved? Would the passing of ages soften the pain, or intensify it? He still mourned his brother, despite the time that had passed. Still wondered what life would have been like, had Elwing remained with them, had his father not abandoned them.
‘Adar.’ Elrohir spoke softly, his voice no more than a breath on the evening’s breeze.
Elrond closed his eyes. He was unsure if he wanted to hear what his sons had to say. While he waited, he could still hope, but, once the words were in the open ... ‘Yes, my son?’ he said mildly. Shutting out the message would not make any difference – better a knife than a festering sore.
Elladan placed a strong hand on his father’s shoulder and Elrohir took hold of the hand that had borne Vilya for so long.
‘We have made our choice,’ Elrohir told him.
His sons exchanged a glance as he tensed. ‘You need not fear,’ Elladan added. ‘It may not be quite what you would wish ... or maybe it would.’
‘We are elves, Adar,’ Elrohir said simply. ‘We will sail West.’
‘Just not yet,’ his brother concluded.
Elrond frowned. ‘But I thought ...’ he started.
‘We had to make our decision before you sailed. We have decided – irrevocably – but we have asked for a delay. We are not yet ready to leave these shores.’
‘We shall not sail while our sister lives,’ Elrohir said firmly.
Elrond felt as if his blood had ceased to circulate in his veins, and only the touch of his sons’ hands kept him on his feet, until a spark ignited in his breast and he felt a glimmer of the warmth that had deserted him with the loss of Vilya’s power. They would come. His family would not be whole – it never had been, it never could be. He had been born into a people fractured by loss, sundered by the sea, shattered by rebellion, damaged beyond repair. He would never see Arwen again, nor Estel, nor any of the other descendents of Elros, but at least his sons would come to join him and their mother. And, if he had been asked, he would have come up with this as the most satisfactory solution to an intolerable situation. The twins would be there for their sister, as long as she needed them – and then they would come home.
‘Your choices – both of them,’ he said somewhat hoarsely, as he held them close to him, ‘please me greatly. You will ...’ he hesitated, ‘bridge the divide – as much as is allowed. Your mother and I will rest more happily for knowing that your sister will not be abandoned by all her family and we will be able to await you in hope, no matter how long it takes until we are together again, knowing that you will come.’
And then, maybe one day, he thought as a tendril of hope began to germinate, when time had run out, even for elves, Ilύvatar might find it in his heart to reunite all those who had been divided and all would be healed as those who had chosen different paths came at last together.
His sons remained with him through the night as the stars danced, until their light was replaced by the gold of a hopeful dawn and the song of a skylark broke the silence as it ascended above them.
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