Gil-galad breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted the tiny campsite in the distance. This part of the coast had not been as badly hit by the storm as other parts, though there were plenty of downed trees and signs of flash floods caused by the torrential rain that had come after the wind and thunder and earth-breaking waves. She urged her horse forward down the sandy beach, dodging large rocks that had come to rest in the sand and the bigger pieces of driftwood that lay just above the water line, hung with drying seaweed and sheltering crabs that scuttled out of her way.
The campsite was empty when she reached it, but the fire was still smoldering and a pack lay beside it, along with Elrond's favorite pair of boots, so he could not be far. Gil-galad pushed her hair out of her face and looked farther up the shore, keeping her hand up to shade her eyes from the glare of the sun on the sea. She spotted him standing alone, knee-deep in the surf with the foam swirling around his legs. If he had seen her approach, he gave no sign. With a sigh, she swung down to the sand, unsaddled her mare, and let her go to graze in the tough grasses just beyond the sand. Then she found some more driftwood, dusty with salt and dried by the sun, and set them down by the smoking embers. Only then did she remove her own boots and leave the little camp to go to Elrond.
He did not look when she splashed into the water to stand beside him. His gaze was trained on the horizon, though Gil-galad did not think he was truly seeing it. Sometimes, when he looked into the middle distance it was with a strange sheen in his eyes that heralded the foreknowledge that was the gift and the burden of Melian's descendants. Here, though, there was nothing in his eyes—like his campfire, he was burnt out and nearly empty.
"Elrond," Gil-galad said, placing a hand on his shoulder. He tensed for just a second. It had been weeks since anyone had seen him, since Elendil's ships had limped into the harbor bringing an explanation for the storms, to the horror of all who heard. And to Gil-galad it looked as though Elrond had hardly eaten or slept in all that time—there were dark circles beneath his eyes like bruises, and his skin was sallow, his features made sharp by new thinness. He did not argue or resist when Gil-galad took his hand and led him back to the little campfire, and he roused himself enough to help her prepare a simple meal, consisting of bread and cheese and apples, along with a rabbit Gil-galad had shot that morning.
After she had seen him eat, Gil-galad moved around the little campfire to sit behind him. "Your hair is a mess," she said when he looked over his shoulder. "Did you bring a comb? No, I thought not. Men never think about that sort of thing." She pulled out a comb of her own and set to work. They sat in silence for a while, listening to the crackling of the fire and the steady rush and retreat of the waves. Finally, Gil-galad said, "Why did you come out here alone?"
Elrond didn't answer right away. He picked up a seashell and turned it over in his fingers. "I was—angry," he said finally. "It would not be befitting for the lord of Imladris to stand in the middle of Mithlond and scream at the sky, I thought."
Well, at least he was able to joke about it, however bitterly. "It would have caused some concern," Gil-galad said. The comb caught on a particularly nasty snarl and Elrond yelped. "Sorry."
In spite of the grief that had brought them both out here, Gil-galad was grateful for this moment of quiet. Once upon a time, when she had not been Ereinion Gil-galad but Finduilas Faelivrin, she had daydreamed about having children of her own whose hair she would brush and braid ribbons into, and who Gwindor would teach to swim in the Pools of Ivrin. But of course those daydreams had come to naught; it was not her fate to bear children, at least on this side of the Sea. And Elrond was not her son, however much he might have needed someone to mother him, he and Elros both. She kept combing his hair.
Finally, he spoke. "There were children still in Númenor. And Men and Women who didn't—who couldn't—" His voice broke. "Why did they do it?"
"Who can say?" Gil-galad said. "Perhaps there was no other way to destroy Sauron."
"I do not think he is destroyed." There was bitterness there, but also a note of something else, something heavier. "If Sauron is to be defeated I do not think will be by the Valar."
"Even Morgoth was lamed by the blade of Fingolfin," said Gil-galad after a moment. "And Sauron is not his master." She ran the comb again through Elrond's hair, now smooth and free of snarls, and then swiftly plaited it into a simple braid down his back. "If he did survive, we will find a way to deal with him." And if dealing with him meant driving Aeglos through his chest and seeing that smirk drop away from his too-pretty face, all the better. "In the meantime, the Faithful are looking to build something new, and Elendil is in want of your council. He is your brother's heir, more than Pharazôn ever was, however highly he thought of himself. And look." She lifted her hand over Elrond's shoulder and pointed to the west. The sun was sinking beneath the horizon, but above it, just where the sky was dark at the edge of sunset, shone Eärendil's star. "As long as Gil-Estel shines, there is hope. Even when we may not understand how or why."