It had been a long day, the day that Elros sailed.
Elrond had watched the ship bearing his brother pass through the gulf of Lhun. Its creamy sail diminished between high green cliffs. Elrond had seen it vanish in the open Sea, amongst water shimmering amber, meeting the setting sun. In his younger days, Elrond could not have watched so far, nor gazed for so long into the eye of Arien. But Elrond had chosen to be one of the elves. He had felt their gifts slide into him: the sharper seeing, the keener hearing, the sense of lightness in existence.
The sun’s last glimmer sunk below the horizon. For all his eyes’ sharpness, there was no more to see. His twin, Elros, had passed from Middle-Earth, to dwell and reign in Númenor.
He turned away from the promontory with a sigh. Twigs snapped under his feet. Despite all that had come to him, he still carried mortal traces, and his tread was heavy as his heart. He had chosen to become an Elf, yet to stay in Middle-Earth. For the love of the Eldar, he had said: yet the pain of parting was upon him. He had not known how deep the sundering would cut. It was years too late to change his own choice. Elrond might see his twin once or twice more, if he ventured the Sea. But soon, by the count of years, Elros would pass on, beyond the Circles of the World. Then all reunions would be done.
Perhaps the people he had chosen could console him.
Elrond descended from the raw cliff-rise where he had stood vigil, letting the sea-wind scourge him. The Host of the Valar had remade this world after the War of Wrath, unseen powers shifting the groaning ground, new trees growing so fast their wood moaned. Then, had they left these shores, thirty turns of the seasons past. It had taken the Valar’s work some years to be stable beneath their feet again. As the earth settled, the Elves were daring to raise more than tents and build more than ships and lean-tos. Already, they called this region Lindon, the land of singers, for its many birds and the soft churn of the waves upon its rock-tumbled shores.
Elrond heard voices. They led him to a cluster of other folk amongst the shore’s boulders. One of them stood tall and broad, his dark, flowing hair marked by a white forelock. This was Celebrimbor, a forger, a wright, and the sole scion of the blood of Fëanor who remained.
Celebrimbor was Elrond’s kin, after a fashion. No blood united them, yet Celebrimbor was the sole grandson of Fëanor. Elrond, himself, had been fostered by Maglor, another of Fëanor’s sons. Both had repudiated the deeds of the Kinslayers. Both were young, by the count of the Elves, and swift of mind. Elrond should, he knew, feel a bond with Celebrimbor, yet it was lacking. He went over to see if he could change that.
As Elrond approached, a third figure unfolded from the ground, to overtop Celebrimbor: Círdan the Shipwright. Círdan was all Celebrimbor’s focus as he was told, “There will be no work of stone and water so fair as this! We shall build great banks where you wish them for your ships, to last for Ages of this world. You must yet tell us what you want for your dwelling-place.”
“I suppose? I’ve managed without house or hall,” Círdan said.
Celebrimbor protested. “You are of the Firstcomers! You should have something magnificent. Arching roofs for your noble height. Doors chased with shell and silver!”
Círdan laughed, gently. “I care little for great halls. Give me refuge for my ships, and I will sleep in the sand well enough. So be at ease, and take thy rest. I shall do the same. Fair night, young ones.” With this, Círdan ambled off, leaving Celebrimbor clenching his fists in frustration.
Elrond suppressed his own laughter. “You do well, Celebrimbor. I know where he goes: to rest in the lee of some unfinished ship yet aground. He speaks his truth. Aught that you do for his halls will please him.”
Celebrimbor brushed back his white forelock. “I am glad someone marks it! The Khazad will not build so near the Sea, and thus, we serve. When this is done, we of the Kinslayers shall have made some amend for our past deeds. Then we shall follow the friends we made, while they still live, and the call of art.”
“Follow them where?”
“To the mountains of Aulë!” Celebrimbor turned back towards the darkness of the mainland. His eyes dilated in anticipation. “I am told the slopes of Durin’s home, the Dwarrowdelf, are rich with gems. Gems of every color – blood, and sky, leaf and sun! The Khazad dislike hunting them beneath the open sky or in watery caverns, but they trade handsomely for them. Iron, and gold, and even mithril rattle from their hands. We shall go there, and dwell in peace as never before, doing works both great and fine!”
“We?” asked Elrond.
“Many of the stonewrights and smiths will go with my van. And, between you and I, Galadriel may come with us. She yearns for realms of her own. Would she not be a great Lady to follow?” Celebrimbor hinted.
Elrond lowered his eyes at the yearning in the other elf-man’s voice. “It is good to have a great lord – or a great lady. Especially after the sons of Fëanor.”
He did not know this was wrong until the words were said: and then, it was too late. Celebrimbor’s broad face tightened with pride. “Thus I seek to make amends with my works, for this world once broken. As Círdan said, fair night.”
Elrond left Celebrimbor to his pride and his visions. It came to Elrond that those visions were what stood between Celebrimbor and other Elves, more than sharing the blood and bread of Kinslayers. He continued along the shore, towards the central camp of Lindon.
There had been little use in building while the ground still quaked and rumbled. Elrond lived as he had most of his life: in a tent. The tents were growing grand after thirty years settled, and with many a loom set up to weave sails for the fleet that had sailed to Númenor. At the camp’s east entrance, two wardens were set. One of them had surely been chosen to speak in peace to any who came by, be they elf or mortal, dwarrow or Ent. The other had no doubt come along to beguile the long, peaceful night with talk. For both were loremasters of note. Erestor had been Elrond’s tutor, growing up with Maglor’s folk. He had a new friend and rival in the sly, sleek lead loremaster of Gil-Galad’s van, Pengolod. Their crisp banter made Elrond smile, but it came to a halt well before his heavy tread approached.
Pengolod said, “My lord Elrond,” and went to one knee.
Feeling every tangle and weather-stain about him, Elrond lifted a hand. “No need for that! I am no lord.”
Erestor says, “Not in name. But your noble kin brings you to the fore now. You have our king’s ear. Say, do you think he will give the nod to us starting a guild? We would renew the loremasters’ order of old, the Lambengolmor. Or would he bar it for the memory of Fëanor?”
“Do not fear that. I will speak well of it – I may even seek to join you.”
Pengolod, who had just risen, blanched. Erestor cleared his throat. “Mayhap you might lead us? You will exceed us all, soon, with a touch of Maia about you.”
“And of mortal Men, as well.” To change the subject, Elrond said, “I did not expect you both to remain. Do you not feel the lure of the Sea?
Pengolod’s smile flickered. “I was born to the sea, in Nevrast, and Unien did not claim me then.”
Erestor said, “The Sea loves me not: I am of the Noldor yet. Besides, what will we who were born of kinslayers?”
Elrond thought of Celebrimbor, and said now what he wished he had said earlier. “Trust in forgiveness. There will be room for all of us in the great realm rising here.”
“Hah! As in the many caves of Narogthrond,” Erestor said.
Pengolod protested. “Nay, Gondolin was the greater far! Its city on the hill, its vales, its libraries --”
Elrond sensed a quarrel of long standing and little bite. He left them to it, and headed towards his tent. His way took him past one of the grandest tents, on the edge of a woodland vale. The vale was full of a shining grass, its stalks swaying beneath heavy seed-heads. The tent beside them was woven of silvery hithlain, its door-curtains broidered with indigo. A lady stood before it, cloaked in grey, a silver pitcher in her hand. Facing the vale, she was singing, sweet and low. He could not discern the words, but her fair song caught him. He knew, without asking, the lady was singing to the rich grasses.
The Lady Galadriel.
He paused, to not come between the lady and her song. At last, after a final descending note, she looked to him. “Elrond. A star shines on the hour of our meeting.” As she said it, it became true. The first star of night pierced the heavens above her.
“My lady. It is a strange night, is it not? I watched the sun set, and I expect darkness full to fall, for there is no moon. Yet still there is a luminance.”
Galadriel tilted her head. One long lock rippled free from beneath her hood. In the early night, it was the same color as the ripening grasses, gold touched with silver sheen. “You see with elf eyes, now.”
“And hear elf voices with elf ears.”
Galadriel asked, “What do you hear this night?”
Elrond looked to the path where he had walked. “Others’ visions. Others’ dreams. What they would do in this Middle-Earth. Great works and fair, fellowship and learning. I even hear that some would rule wide realms.”
“Perhaps they do not wish it for power alone, but to create: to see a dream live.”
He turned back to Galadriel. Her chin was raised high, and her grey eyes gazed through him into, he felt, the deeps of time. “I knew your kin, Elrond. Melian, and Melian’s daughter, and her daughter’s son. I felt the tendrils of power that came from them. Each of them had a way of weaving the world to their will, for protection or desire. When I speak of living dreams, it is that way my thoughts turn.”
How strange, he thought, that she, too, seemed to ask him for forgiveness. It gave him courage to ask a boon. “It is said that you forsee. Might you scry for me, this night?”
Galadriel’s regard returned to him, and the present. “Would you, as well, shape the world?”
“I know not what I would shape. That is why I ask. What is my future? What will I dream?” Should he claim lordship, or knowledge? Stay in Lindon, or travel on? Or would there be a path between it all?
She bowed her head. “Come!” He followed her, back into the tent.
It did not seem strange to Elrond that such a great lady would be unattended. She was of the Noldor, and they valued privacy. The tent's wide space seemed larger, on the inside, than the tent could hold. There were rugs laid, and low wooden chairs. But there was no illumination save Galadriel herself: her face and hands, and wherever her mantle fell away, gleamed softly. Humbly, she took up a silver salver and knelt in the centre of the floor. As if she had planned it all along, before Elrond had thought of speaking to her, she poured her pitcher’s water into the salver. And Elrond gasped. For within the soft darkness, it seemed that she poured forth the stars.
“Elo!” he gasped.
The water-starlight shimmered and spangled over her astonished, beautiful face. She declared, “I have not seen it thus in many years. Not since one with power has worked with me…come. Witness.” And she gestured at the measure of stars between them. For an instant, he glimpsed a riven world, red with fire and blood. He, too, knelt, joining her in the light.
Elrond gazed into the rippling water. It shifted with silvery flashes. Between the flashes, moments shone, memories brought forward in time. A rainy night in a tower room, a table strewn with scrolls and knowledge, the twinge of being troubled by instinct. A dark array of war, blood on sharp holly-leaves. Fire, again, a great burning. A sense of laughter, in the company of an Elf and a Man (and his secret heart leapt at the thought of a reunion with Elros). His own hands, reaching down to lift a beautiful girl-child, white flowers starring her dark hair. The girl-child become a woman, hovering as he tended to someone (a boy? a young man?) on the brink of death. His hands, covered in the youth’s blood. He was healing, in the vision, at the price of causing terrible pain. He drew back with a gasp.
Galadriel passed her hand across the salver. The flashes broke into a thousand stars, then subsided. “As I see it, all that is great in this Middle-Earth shall come to you. A demesene, a house of lore; the greatest of friendships; to be wedded, and a father; to be great in power and in healing. Is that well, Elrond?”
He reached out and touched the surface of the water. His fingertip spurred a final, flashing star. “It will all have its price.”
The voice of Eönwë rang in Elrond’s mind. Thy choice will be that of thy children… That burden, heavy on him now, seemed too weighty for the tiny girl he had glimpsed.
Elrond swayed up. “Lady, I am grateful. But I must think on this.”
Galadriel bowed her head, gravely. “What we can know through scrying and what we can change are not the same. And by fighting a fate, you may bring it to pass.” She rose, too, and lifted the salver of water.
Elrond parted the door-curtains and let her pass before. She went to the edge of the vale and tossed the salver’s water upon the grasses. It flashed through the night air, and sparkled as it settled. Her last words were, “This, I will save for seed.” Her own thoughts folded around her once more. Elrond staggered away, leaving Galadriel beside the glade of grain: once meant for lembas, now marked for something more.
Elrond did not go far. Soon he came to another space amongst the summer trees. Leaves and branches latticed the night sky, interwoven with the stars. A rill tumbled down a low rise, to pool amongst blunted slabs of stone. This sweet water was the heart of the Lindon camp. It was a fine place for Elrond to collect himself.
What was his future? All that was great: the good and the terrible, his vision beginning and ending with the ravages of war, vast and small. Yet the path to it all remained obscure. More, each of his encounters that night had smote him with his difference amongst the Elves. He was a power, whether he would or no. The current of it in his twin Elros had carried him over Sea, to Númenor and to kingship.
Who else would be riven from him by it?
This was the pain of the Eldar, to watch and part, again and again. This was what had sent his mother Elwing fleeing to follow his father, Eärendil ; what had spurred his ancestress Lúthien to defy the Ban and the Gates of Mandos. These tales had seemed grand folly to him, nigh an embarrassment. He understood them, now. The loss this night, and the losses foretold, weighed his spirit like the stones still rearing raw from the Valar-torn shores.
Did he turn his back upon it all, upon the waste of war that shaped his life? The terrible choice he had had to make? He felt again, in the weight that held his feet to this Middle-Earth, it was too soon, and too late both, for any undoing.
This was doing no good. To be an Elf was to be bound by fate, the foretelling in the song of the Ainur. Elrond breathed deep, striving to exhale his woe. The night’s air was grown cool. A few birds sang. Elrond heard a sharp, chipped note, a late-calling thrush; the low dolefulness of an owl; the chirrup and trill of the nightingale. The nightingale rejoiced in the darkness. He fluted long, singing with the water, lulling the owl and thrush to silence.
Elrond’s heart slowed and opened. The low murmur of the water soothed him, its cadence setting off the nightingale’s song. The birds’ lives were brief, yet joyous, and the world was fairer for them. It came to Elrond again, what he had bethought when he had chosen: he had taken his side for the love of the Eldar.
What did that mean? Elrond knew, from his brother, that the Halfelven could love passionately more than once, and do so truly. There was more to the love of the Eldar than that. Hearing the song of the nightingale, Elrond felt the love the Elves felt for this world, where they had awoken at the mere of Cuivienen, and opened their eyes on the same stars he stood beneath. The way they loved their works: what they dreamed and did, sung and seeded. And also -
He looked up. A tall Elf stood on the opposite bank, in fine array. He was, like Celebrimbor, great-thewed: one of the last scions of the fighting Noldor, undiminished. Like a Sindar lord, he had attendants at his side. He was Gil-Galad, the High King of the Elves, and he was leaving the bank to slosh across the rill to Elrond. To his attendants, he called, “Spare your own boots, and go what way you will! I will speak with my friend.” Elrond caught that they sighed, seeing Gil-Galad’s cloak train splashed, but departed.
Elrond reached out a hand to pull Gil-Galad out of the stream. When settled on the granite, Gil-Galad said, “Asked the loremasters to tell me when you had passed. You look your name, with the very starlight in your eyes. How are you this eve?”
“Thoughtful,” Elrond replied.
“Are you lonely, with your brother gone?” Elrond had met many this night, yet Gil-Galad was the first to ask this.
“Not gone, but gone before. He and his horde of children were eager for Númenor.”
“It must be a great thing, to have a brother.”
“To have had one. We spent our life together, it is true. But, having seen him sail today…perhaps I prepared all my life for this parting.”
“Some ease in it is a mercy. My sister Finduilas died in the fall of Narogthrond.” Gil-Galad lowered his chin.
Elrond was startled. “I am grieved for your grief. Which must be strong – for never have you spoken of her.”
“Grief is the tale of our people, these yéni past. I am the King. It is for me to be strong for them.”
Elrond was glad of his strange status, this once, if it led Gil-Galad to speak freely. “From what I have seen this night, your strength has served, and may rest a time. The folk are happy; the nobles have their plans and powers. Celebrimbor wishes to give Círdan more than he will have, for his halls.”
“Ha! I never saw him happier than dwelling on a raft of reeds in the Bay of Balar, ankle-deep in every tide. I know he, at least, will remain.” His face grew grave. “Plans and powers indeed. I know that some will depart from Lindon. What of you, Elrond? When Elros’ time is done, do you go from here, to the wider lands?”
Elrond creased his brow, thinking on the visions that had flashed before him. “I know not where my path takes me. Yet I know what I would do.” He met Gil-Galad’s eyes. “I would have space for folk to have their dreams. For the stonewrights, the loremasters, the bread-givers. Not only for Elves, but for all the speaking folk who have good hearts and love lore. It may be so in a tent, or a homely house, as much as in a great realm.”
Gil-Galad fairly shouted, “But that is what a great realm should be! Why, with you by my side –“ He caught himself, or tried to, then shrugged and opened his hands.
Elrond stood before the elf-man whose every gesture rang great, who had seen starlight in his eyes, called him friend. If he had been going back to Elros’ tent, the brothers would have smiled over Elrond’s new admirer. Elrond knew in his heart what his brother would have said, was he there. He hoped he would feel it with such surety all the days of his life.
“I will stay, if thou wouldst – and call thou friend, too, if I might.” Confident, Elrond held out his hand. “As I spake before Eönwë : for the love of the Eldar.”
And they clasped each other upon the land that had once been broken, that flourished with new growth and song.