A star looks down at me,
And says: Here I and you
Stand each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, -
Mean to do?
I say: ‘For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.’- ‘Just so,’
The star says: ‘So mean I:-
So mean I.’
“It was Sauron who showed me the way.”
Shock made Gil-galad’s eyes grow wide and his firm jaw go slack. “Sauron?”
With uttermost effort, Elrond managed to remain at least outwardly calm. “Yes.”
“But you... How?” Gil-galad’s eyes were not leaving Elrond’s face, even when took a step backwards and stumbled. Blindly feeling for a chair, he eventually sat down. His next words came out hoarse. “Your distrust was as great as mine. We always faced him together, you and I. Shoulder to shoulder. There was no... He...“ His eyes darted from side to side until they settled on Elrond again, who now saw comprehension in them. “Eregion?”
“What happened?” Gil-galad whispered.
Now Elrond sat himself down, too, carefully gathering his robe around him and folding his hands in his lap, hoping Gil-galad would not notice the tension in them that left his knuckles white. ”I cannot explain it fully until I tell you many things I have never told you before. For that, I have to return to the beginning. It is a long tale, and some things in it pain me to this day, but the time may have come for you to know all. I would just ask you not to interrupt.”
Gil-galad nodded silently.
“The story has to start with Elros. It cannot be news to you that he did not have much love for you. It was not because I chose your company over his, which I know you have always suspected - our paths would have diverged no matter what choices we made. It is true that you fixed my purpose, that you made me… fall in love with elvendom on earth, but Elros and I had parted long before that. I know that now. We were twinned souls, or rather, two aspects of the same soul, but not alike. No, Elros’ grudge against you was a different one, and one he never truly overcame. Elros, you should know, long considered you an usurper.”
Elrond fixed his gaze on a spot at the horizon, feeling Gil-galad’s eyes on him but choosing not to meet them. He spoke softly, but without hesitation. “You may remember that summer he returned from his long journey, the quest for his promised land that had taken years. After he had left me there, in Lindon, I had been angry with him, but soon all my energy was taken up by the challenges of the life we were building in your realm. Even if it was steeped in tragedy and tears, nothing could be more exciting to me than seeing the people, who were my people now, regain their strength, redress old hurts, rebuild the land, in freedom.”
There, Elrond paused. With the mention of Elros’ name, he’d been transported back to that fateful summer’s day and to a place in his mind he’d long refused to visit. It made his heart grow heavy, but he reminded himself that this was just a tale. A tale like any of the innumerable tales he’d told. For a tale to be told well, one did not need to feel the sorrow in it. But while he was speaking, the years fell away. Once again he was a young elf, in nothing yet a lord and, for a time, little touched by hardship, discovering a world in which everything was new. A new life, and new love.
“And then there was you. You were at the heart of it all. And Elros knew it as soon as he set eyes on me.“
~Forlond in Lindon, 2nd Age, the year 18
When we were children and in Maglor’s care, I had often refused to be parted from Elros. I would kick and scream whenever anyone tried. Without his presence I felt I lacked a mirror to my self, showing me who and what I was and was not. The mirror that allowed me to consider every action before it was taken, every word before it was spoken, for I could see it through his eyes as clearly as if they were my own. Without Elros, I used to feel incomplete and vulnerable. Naked.
With Elros a Man and myself one of the Firstborn, all is now different. I can no longer see myself through him.
I have never felt uneasy before in Elros’ company, but everything about him seems unfamiliar. The years at sea have changed him. I see it when he disembarks the ship and walks toward me, with long strides, his hands outstretched and a smile on his carved features. The wind is touching his dark hair, which he wears long, unadorned and unbraided. His clothing is well-worn. The contrast with my glimmering robes and finery could not be sharper. His men, who have waited patiently for him to step on the shore, follow him in silence, watching us with hardly veiled curiosity. When I take his hands his skin feels coarse – the skin of a mariner, weathered by salt and rope and water. I have not been around men very much in my life, and he is a man now, in every aspect. A tall and imposing figure, who wears the signs of his leadership comfortably.
But his bright eyes are still mine when he looks at me. I smile.
“Elrond, my dear brother.”
I disappear in his strong, hard arms. How can this man, who has spent exactly the same time walking the earth as I have, make me feel so young? Perhaps men do mature faster, I think. Perhaps it is because they must.
We spend the day inside the Mariner’s house at the havens, a place of bustling activity and laughter that I feel unfit for. Amidst long songs of elves and tall tales of men, we sit in a darker corner of the hall for the length of the afternoon, talking. Elros spins colourful tales about the sea, about storms and the beauties of the waves and miraculous journeys to the ends of the world. He tells me how the coasts have changed after Beleriand sunk in the sea, and how the sea seems endless now. He can barely contain his excitement when he describes their discoveries at the great island that has arisen in the west. ‘Númenor’, he calls it, West-Land. Simple, but precise. It befits his character.
“It is grand and full of wonders, Elrond,’ he says, eyes bright and arms gesturing widely. ‘Magnificent white rocks, tall mountains, luscious woods with silver trees and wide fields gently sloping. There is space enough for all of us to live in peace and comfort. We will build places of beauty and spirit, like the elves do here in Forlond, and for us the world will be anew."
I watch him silently, in wonder, having never seen him like this. This ‘us’ does not include me, I know. I will lose him to that land. The thought saddens me deeply, though I have grown accustomed to it. He left me before when he took sail, years ago, in his search for the land that was promised to the Edain - and not to me. He left me the first time when we made our respective choices. The third leave-taking will be definitive.
Apparently without noting my discomfort, he asks for my experiences in Lindon, and I am glad to leave darker thoughts behind. Now I feel myself lighting up with pleasure while I tell him about the building, the city, the new settlers, the disputes. I speak of grief but also of new beginnings, of craft and beauty and elegance. I find I mention you often, but I cannot stop. This new life, with you, consumes me. Only after a while I notice Elros’ slight frown whenever he hears your name, his narrowing eyes, his continuing silence while I speak on.
When I pause for a moment, he sighs. “Gil-galad,” he mutters under his breath. The harshness I detect in his tone startles me. Swiftly he turns and gestures at a nearby man to refill our cups. While the man pours, he looks at me, the harshness momentarily gone. “Gil-galad, Gil-galad. Can you sing a different song, Elrond? You are beginning to repeat yourself, and that means doom upon a songsmith like yourself.” It sounds playful, but he does not fool me.
“I… I spend much time with him. I enjoy his… company. He teaches me,” I try, feeling defensive. “But… surely you have no strife with Gil-galad, Elros? He has been good to us. He has been good to me. And if it weren’t for him..."
“Yes, I know. He saved us. A debt that cannot be repaid in a man’s lifespan, though it seems you are doing enough repaying for the both of us. But yes, Elrond, I have a strife with him who has taken the title of High King.”
“Taken? It was granted to him, as well you know. He merely accepted."
“Oh, Elrond, you are my brother and I love you, but when it comes to him your mind is unbelievably clouded. I hear you speak of love. Oh, you may not speak the words, but your whole being speaks plainly to me. No…” He holds up his hand when I try to interject. “I do not mind. If love were all, I would share in your joy, but it is not. As I see it, this is not a story of love - it is a story of power. He beds you and he earns you loyalty." I draw in my breath at this, but he does not hear. "Have you ever even considered he could have other motives for doing that?"
In my cheeks the heat grows. Embarrassment at his crudity mixes with anger swiftly rising inside me. In essence, he is wrong. You do not 'bed' me - though the Valar know I have wished for it. Words of love have been spoken, but, citing my age, you have shown unwavering restraint until now. “I don’t know of what you are speaking,” I bring out, with effort. “You make it sound…”
"Would you deny it, Elrond? Your heart is filled to overflowing. I see his mark upon you."
For the first time, I realise that I have longed for Elros' approval of my love, that I wanted nothing more from him than his blessing, and that I was trying to prepare and placate him with my tales of your deeds before opening my heart to him. I wanted, nay, expected him to rejoice with me.
But to Elros, I see I am transparent. I was not at all prepared for the conversation we are having, the frankness of his words. Now I do not feel inclined to share anymore.
“Let me put it to you plainly. Did it ever occur to you that Gil-galad’s fragile realm depends on your loyalty? Beguiled as you are by his... allurements, have you even once remembered who you are? The house of Finwë is our house, too. By rights, you are Gil-galad’s successor.”
“I know that.” The anger flies hotly through me, and it sounds curt. Once again, I am a child, I think. In the eyes of my twin, no less. He does not know me, I think, and he certainly does not know you. I cannot remember ever to have felt so insulted.
Elros stands up and turns to look at me, but my anger does not seem to register with him. He starts pacing, gesturing with his hands while he speaks, something I have never seen him do before. There is a certain tension in him that is new, a tightness to his skin, as if he can barely contain the energy within it. “But you are more than that. Most of the Sindar will not follow him or even acknowledge the existence of a Noldorin High King in Middle-earth - one of Fëanor’s kin. They have not forgotten the sack of Menegroth and the deaths of their king and queen. Their wrath is still very much alive. There are many, even in Lindon, who live to avenge Dior and Nimloth." He stops, and his voice, which was getting louder, is now low. "And you, Elrond, Dior’s grandson, you could be their leader.”
It is strange to hear him talk with such distance about Dior, as if he himself bears no relation to him. As if my affairs do not regard him. But then, they do not, I think, at least not in the same way they do me. Does he care at all for my happiness?
Trying to regain our equal footing and some of my pride, I stand up too. “I am Noldorin, like him. He is my king.”
“You are and yet you are not. You are as close to royalty as the Sindar have, Elrond, and you are the last of Dior’s house. Do not ever forget that. I am sure Gil-galad hasn’t.” At this, he looks at me pointedly.
"He knows me. He knows I have not the heart for crowns and sceptres, and I do not care for might and power.”
“You have not eighty years to your name. Who knows what life of magnificence you will live? Let me tell you this, Elrond…” He takes a step toward me and lays a hand on my shoulder, punctuating his words with his grip. “The elves in Middle-earth will need to find peace among themselves before long. Their strife and feuds need to be put away for the safety of all the elder race. Gil-galad knows, as well as I, that many a Sindar will never accept leadership from an elf of the race of Kinslayers, before Dior is either forgotten or avenged. Or even then."
“But the Sindar...”
“The Sindar would accept you and forget your Noldorin parentage in an instant, if you were to speak up and declare yourself Dior’s heir.”
I laugh, incredulous. “They will not. If they hate us as much as you say, they will not.”
At my ‘us’ Elros’ eyebrows shoot up. “They need you. Who else is going to lead them? Oropher? He is more vindictive than all of them combined. The discord will be endless. I am not saying it will be easy or painless, Elrond, but you could lead them, and lead them well. Not to avenge, but to bring peace and unity, and to help bury old grudges and feuds. Already you are their champion, in their eyes.”
“So. I could be king of the Sindar. When I come of age and gain some wisdom.” At hearing the sarcasm in my voice Elros frowns, but I ignore it and continue. “And then? The Noldor have a king. I am no threat to Erei- Gil-galad. It is too ridiculous to speak of.”
“It is not. Think, Elrond. In truth, the only reason why he is the High King of the Noldor is because they call him thus. And the only reason why they call him thus, is because they entrusted him with leadership and asked him to command them. He took a title that was offered, but the offer can be retracted at any given time - and will be, given valid inducement. Even among the Noldor there are those who have the wisdom to see that the elves, all elves, in Middle-earth need to unite to survive.” His tone is one of a patient teacher, and it enrages me. “Gil-galad has not yet shown himself the leader to accomplish this - nor am I certain that he truly wishes to make the effort, in his heart, to reconcile Sindar and Noldor. He is first and foremost Noldorin, and he will look to his own people first. Moreover, he lacks a certain kind of… diplomatic trait, if you will, that is sorely needed. He is as impatient as he can be wise. And yes, I grant you, he is wise.” He smiles at my expression, but I am not mollified. “But you can do what he cannot - or will not - simply by the nature of who you are. You, Elrond, are the one who could unite the people. You would not even need a crown. Your existence is a symbol of hope to many, Sindar and Noldor alike." Now he looks straight at me. "Do you not see? The Sindar accept him because you do. As he can ill afford your independence or discord between you, he needs to keep you close. You think you need him, but he needs you, and it is not for reasons of the heart.”
I realise that this is the longest speech I have ever heard Elros make. His old self is truly gone now, and in his place is a leader of Men – a man of action, yes, but with a mind that has evolved in ways that I do not yet know. Or trust implicitly. “You know little of it, Elros." Deciding on a different tactic, I try to speak with authority, lowering and steadying my voice as I have seen you do. "I do love him, and he has told me I am precious to him. But I make my own choices. He claims no ownership of me.”
Elros sighs, his breath visibly leaving his body, and looks at the floor. “I know your regard for him, Elrond," he says softly. "I feel it and I respect it.”
“You do? My ears must have betrayed me.”
“When you chose the Firstborn, you chose him. Do not think I was not aware of that. I have respected your choice, as you have mine. And, distrustful as I am of his motives, I do respect Gil-galad. I simply would hate to see you being reduced to a pawn in the plays of others. I know you think of him as your liege. But never, ever forget who you are, and the duty you have taken upon yourself.”
I sit down and look up at him, a question in my eyes. "My... My duty.”
“Yes, Elrond. Your duty. With our choices came responsibilities. This is your responsibility, and you cannot walk away from it. Your allegiance to Gil-galad keeps you from seeing your own path, and it keeps you from taking care of your people. All of them.”
Suddenly, I nearly choke. “You walked away,” I whisper. I clench my fists in my lap.
“No, I did not,” he says calmly.
“You talk of duty. You are eldest. This was your duty too, but you left it behind - and me. How can you say you did not walk away?” Tinges of bitterness have crept into my voice, bitterness that I thought I'd been able to turn into something sweeter.
He sits down beside me, takes my hand in his and slowly starts to uncurl my fingers. In the eyes, that can be grey as stormy seas, I now see only a glimmer of tenderness. “I walk the paths of men. This is my duty and my fate. We each have our own, Elrond, and we chose it willingly. I follow my path wherever it may lead. You will have to do the same.”
I look at him once, a long look that he holds without saying anything more. I am not trying to hide the hot tears that are running over my face. And then I walk away. Elros follows me, but we are silent when we seek our chambers. The next day we leave together for Forlindon, where he is to stay for a while, but the subject is not broached again.
From that day on, I feel alienated from him. We do not fight and our interactions are not unpleasant, but no meaningful words are spoken between us again until he takes ship to Númenor, to be a leader of his people. I will never forget his parting words to me, spoken in low tones while standing on the deck of his great ship: “Find your own path, Elrond, and follow it to the end of the earth, if necessary. May it be winding, may it be long, but have it be your own. Find your own greatness. And remember me.”
His words haunt me for years. I try to forget them, but I cannot. Never again am I as easy and carefree as I was before that day. He has planted a seed of discord within me, of doubt, and he lit a flame in my heart that I do my best to extinguish, but it won't die out. Still, I feel I am doing right to stay with you . I believe you are the leader of our people that I do not think myself to be. I believe you when you say you love me. As years pass, you prove that Elros was wrong: you do learn diplomacy, and many of the Sindar in Lindon keep a tenable peace with you, except for a few that will never be pacified. But I cannot help but see that in your eyes, I am not your equal. I am young, and your herald, and I serve you, in all ways that matter.
The flame burns more brightly in the night, whispering tales of yore, of Thingol, of Melian, of Dior and the manner of his perishing. In the day, I turn from the fields I used to scour to the vast libraries of Forlindon, where I read tomes in which the histories of my ancestors are written. Word arrives of Elros and the city he has founded in Númenor. My brother, my twinned soul, they have named King Tar-Minyatur. And in the dark at night, when I am alone, I ask myself: who am I?
But even though doubt gnaws at me, I cannot leave. You are my world, my brightest star. And every day, your bonds upon me tighten.