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Though bright things fade

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"Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say, - Behold!
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion."
—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Celeborn woke to silence. Blinking owlishly, he peered through dim light to look up at the curving beams of dark wood that rose above his bed. Bewilderment flooded him, and it was a moment before he recalled his whereabouts—a bedchamber in Elrond's Imladris. He heaved a sigh and moved his left arm toward his wife, but Galadriel was not there. The space where she had lain was cold, though the disarrayed state of the bedclothes attested to her former presence. The coverlet pooled about Celeborn's waist as he sat up and looked about the room in search of his absent bedfellow, but there was no sign of her.

Frowning, he slid from between the cool linen sheets and padded to the doorway. The hallway beyond was empty and quiet; at this hour, not even those who worked in the kitchens had yet bestirred themselves. But Celeborn could hardly wander the many corridors of Imladris in search of his wayward wife wearing naught but his skin, unlikely though it might have been to encounter any member of Elrond's house. Admitting defeat, he padded back into the room so as to dress.

It was not a difficult task to locate his clothes in the dark room, and as he shrugged on dust-colored robes and shoes, Celeborn reflected on his wife's behavior of late. Bidding farewell to the Golden Wood had been no painless severance for either of them, but Galadriel especially had felt their departure bitterly. Of all things bright and beautiful, through all the ages, he knew his wife had treasured Lothlórien above all else. For had she not wrought that fair realm with her own intent? And how much more does a craftsman love his own creation than the work of another? The legacy of Finwë could not easily be cast aside.

As he finished donning his garments, Celeborn nodded to himself. His wife's loss had been great indeed, and their conversation of the night previous had only served to further befoul her spirits. Thus it should have come as no surprise that she had not stayed long in their bed. Yet her absence troubled him keenly.

A burst of tart air flew into the room from the open threshold leading to the balcony without. His thoughts momentarily set aside, Celeborn followed the rush of wind and stepped outside.

The pre-dawn breeze was crisp and wintry, and this early in the day, the only sound to be heard was a rustle as it moved through the hedge. In the graying sky, the stars had begun to fade, but the Sun had yet to stretch her arms above the snow-capped peaks, just visible in the murky light. The breeze grew to a gusty wind that rattled the leafless branches. Rain was in the air, and it was this scent he had first perceived, touching his nostrils with feather-light tendrils.

Celeborn looked out into the gray morning. The breeze was ruffling his unbound hair, and he wrapped his furred mantle tighter around his shoulders. From his vantage point on a second-story balcony, he could see a small courtyard below, accoutered with moss and frost. The flagstone pavement was rough and chipped in places, but the space was not altogether unbeautiful. To be certain, the house did not possess the dazzling silver-and-gold radiance than had been so common in Caras Galadhon, but it could not be denied that Imladris held a beauty all its own—Elrond had made certain of that.

But Celeborn was not interested in studying architecture this morning, and his gaze barely strayed on the courtyard's masonry. There would be ample time for such things later.

Of more immediate diversion was the tall figure sitting alone on a stone bench.

How long his wife had been there, Celeborn could not say, but from the hunch of her shoulders, he knew whatever sleep she had managed to steal had not been restful. Doubtless their discussion was troubling her still, as it troubled him. He pursed his lips, leaning forward to rest his forearms on the baluster. Galadriel was not one who allowed discordance to burden her. To worry overmuch had never been in her nature, and it bothered him more than he would have liked to admit to see her so now, of all times. Celeborn's expression grew dark as he stared at his wife's golden head.

That his words from the night previous had unsettled Galadriel, he knew. The look on her face had been enough, hard as she had tried to repress the emotions. And when she had found her voice, she had seemed to be a lost child...

"Why do you say such things?" she had asked. It had been late, long after Elrond and the rest of his household had retired. The two of them were alone in their chamber, lit only by a single lamp that spangled her face with small patches of brightness. "Why do you say such things?"

It had been a struggle to remain firm. Celeborn had expected anger—was more comfortable with anger. Hurt and betrayal and confusion were not often seen in Galadriel, and he had not known how to remain unyielding. "Your joy in this land is lessened, my wife, is it not? And while your love of the East has lost its luster, your desire for the Western Shore has grown like a sapling whose presence in your thought can no longer be denied."

She blinked, but the timbre of her voice did not change. "My time has ended here, Celeborn; you know this. These shores do not sing to me as they once did."

"They sing still for me."

"But for how much longer? The song is weakening." She moved across the room deliberately, losing her earlier discomposure. Her pale hand came to rest upon the bare skin of his arm. "And husband, when you look on the Undying Lands, your sojourn here will seem but a dream, short and swiftly forgotten. It is folly to cling to Endor as you do. A dream cannot be remade, Celeborn; the stuff of dreams is not steel to be forged anew. The splendor of ages past is gone now. All dreams must end, just as all beauty this side of the Seas must pass away."

The Light of the Trees had been in her eyes as she spoke, swelling, mesmerizing. A chasm seemed to separate them, growing ever wider. Celeborn felt the presence of the crevasse break over him like a wave, and had struggled to find his tongue.

"Yet my dream is still in flower, Galadriel. I would not end this before its proper time."

"It is best that a flower be plucked when it is still in high bloom, that its essence may be distilled and kept forever, rather than be left to wither and turn to dust in the fullness of time." Her grip on his arm tightened, and he knew there would be bruises come morning. "All must fade; you know this. Like Lothlórien, like Doriath—all bright things must become dark."

"But not love."

The impenetrable veil cast over her face wavered, and Celeborn caught a brief glimpse of the confusion that swirled beneath. He smiled thinly. For long ages, he had stood by her side, and she at his; he recognized her feelings now, even if she did not.

"Galadriel, love does not fade," he said gently. "Neither distance nor time nor Power will lessen my love for you. Is this not what you fear?"

Her eyes had widened, and lamplight had mingled with Tree-light. "Celeborn, I…" She shook her head, paced away from him, then back. As she looked on him there was a new desperation in her eyes that rocked him back on his heels. "You must not leave me alone! Without you, I have not the strength to continue down this path, though there is no other left open for me. I need you."

"As I need you," he replied. Tenderly, he brought her trembling hands between his. "But our doom is not the same. For many years you have trod upon these lands, and your dream has found its natural end; your path is to pass into the West, while mine is to tarry a while longer on the Eastern Shore. You know this is so, my wife—why do you attempt to deny it?"

"You ask much of me."

"You ask much of yourself."

A bitter oath flew from her lips and she tore away from his grasp. Celeborn followed, and the rasp of his bare feet was like wind in the trees. Again, he reached for her, but she pulled away, keeping her face averted. The pale expanse of skin stretching across her shoulders and back gleamed coldly, remote.

"Galadriel, I am not afraid."

She turned. "Aren't you?"

"No." His voice was steady. "But you are."

She seemed to be on the verge of protest, but she said nothing for a long while. "I came into the East so that I might create a dominion of my own, and I have done so through great difficulty—and only with your aid, husband. To leave it behind is not so simple."

"Yet it is already done," he said. "Neither you nor I shall ever look upon the Golden Wood again, for it is no more in the circles of the world. The loss is bitter, yes, but not so terrible as you would have me suppose." He crossed his arms over his bare chest. "Nenya brought you no joy, Galadriel—why now do you cling to its memory? All bright things fade," he reminded her.

There was no mockery in his tone, but Galadriel had flinched all the same, hearing her own words used against her. Celeborn had always used that trick.

He tried again. "Through many years I have known and loved you," he said. "Do you truly believe my affection to be so ill-founded as to shatter under strain? You are wise, my wife, but at times you lack the insight to know your own foolishness—a common failing of your family line, I believe." His eyes danced merrily in spite of the tense atmosphere.

She turned around to face him, nose to nose. The Light of the West on her face had never troubled him so much as it did now. Faint twinglings of inferiority crawled the length of his spine.

"Your time of strength in these lands is over, my wife; mine is not. It is as simple as that." Knowing her disdain for his propensity to abridge seemingly tangled and labyrinthine issues, he preempted her rejection of his words with a soft murmur. He moved his hands toward her shoulders warily, but his wife did not attempt to rebuff his touch. "Depend upon it, my love, that I would fain go with you across the Seas, but in my heart I know that road is not mine to take—not yet."

The conversation had found an abrupt end after that. Galadriel, tired of argument, had broken free of his grasp and moved to stand by the bed, and now she slipped under the bedclothes. Celeborn, with no other recourse, had followed his wife's lead, blowing out the lamp as he crawled next to his wife. Silence had reigned in their chambers, but sleep had not been easy. Next to him, Celeborn had felt Galadriel's stiff body, heard her soundless sobs. And when slumber finally claimed him, he had woken to find his wife gone...

Watching her now, motionless as she sat in obvious contemplation, Celeborn could not help but wonder what it was she was thinking.

The winter wind gusted brazenly through his robes and buffeted his hair, and he shivered, grimacing.

"A storm is coming."

Jerking in surprise as the morning's silence was broken, Celeborn turned to see Elrond standing behind him, grave-eyed and somber. He attempted a smile in greeting, but did not reply. As usual, he had a feeling his daughter's husband was speaking in analogies he did not completely comprehend.

"She will make the right choice, Celeborn," said Elrond, moving to join the older man near the baluster. "She always does."

He released a puff of air into the morning breeze, a loud exhalation that echoed dully. "Melian told me something once," he confessed.

Elrond smiled. "I would imagine she told you a great many somethings."

"Yes, she did." Celeborn barked a short laugh. "But of those somethings, I've lost a great deal more than I retain." He shook his head, sober again. "No, when first I saw Galadriel, golden and splendid, shining with the Light, she pulled me aside. 'The love thou wilt hold most dear shall be the most bitter, but sweeter too for all that,' she told me. And she was right."

"Indeed she was."

Celeborn glanced sideways, but the other man's face was inscrutable as ever. He wondered who the younger man was thinking of: Galadriel, or her daughter?

He spoke, "The end will be good, Celeborn, and is it not the end that matters most?"

"Some would disagree."

"Do you?"

"I don't know."

"Well then," Elrond said, and Celeborn could have sworn he saw laughter trembling in the corners of his mouth, "I suggest you decide on that matter, and sooner rather than later. To seek pleasure for the moment or for eternity is a puzzle many have struggled with." He offered a wry smile. "Come down to break your fast when you will; I have matters to discuss with both of you." A raised brow and he was gone, leaving Celeborn more unsettled than before.

Shaking his head, he turned back to the courtyard, only to find himself pinned by his wife's sharp gaze. Abruptly, she rose from the stone bench, her movement graceful and fluid. With a slight, dissatisfied toss of her shimmering hair, she strode a ways, keeping her eyes on him, and Celeborn knew she had been aware of his scrutiny and Elrond's presence all the while. He wondered if she had overheard their conversation and studied her face closely, looking beneath her veil of enigmatic emptiness. There, traced in faint lines under her left temple, he saw her thoughts.

She would let him walk in his dreams, and would love him all the more for it.

She simply did not know it yet.