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Partings  by Bodkin


By the time the fifth arrival had asked for the Lady, he knew that she was finding the day too much for her.  He sent the enquirer briskly on his way, informing him that if he were not able to take that kind of decision after so many centuries, there was no hope for him, and Celeborn then abandoned his attempts to reorganise the defence of the borders. His lady needed him in a way that these mundane tasks did not.

He knew where she would be, where she always was now when despair and the sea-longing overcame her. 

For so long her power, enhanced by Celebrimbor’s creation, had held Lothlorien in its bubble of timelessness, the seamless perfection of its protection held in her hands.  It had shattered in an instant as the One Ring was unmade and its disintegration had wounded the Lady of the Wood in ways that not even he could begin to heal.

She was finding each day harder to endure as the elves of the Golden Wood strove to re-establish the balance of the haven and every time he saw her she seemed a little less able to cope with the reality of life in the world that would come.

Galadriel rested beneath a young beech, her legs tucked beneath her and her head bowed so that her hair of pale winter sunlight shielded her face.  Water spilled from a spring hidden by the moss-covered rock to tumble into a small pool in the heart of the glade and Celeborn’s throat tightened at the sight of such misery in the midst of so much beauty.

She knew he approached and listlessly raised her head to watch him: tall, beautiful, keen as a blade of purest mithril, clad casually in greens and browns, he exuded the vitality of the forest. 

He sat beside her, wrapping his arms round her and drawing her close.

‘I do not want to sail,’ she whispered.

Celeborn rested his cheek against her bright head and their hair mingled, silver and gold, like the light of the Two Trees.  ‘You must,’ he said simply.

He linked his fingers in hers and lifted her hand.  The light within her gleamed ever more clearly through the translucent pale skin and she felt brittle, as though a sharp blow could splinter her.  He forced himself not to tighten his grip on her and refuse to let her go and instead pressed his lips to her hair and closed his eyes as he absorbed the feel and fragrance of her; she whom he had loved throughout the ages.

‘I do not wish to return, chastened by life on Arda, to sit meekly in my adar’s court,’ she said fiercely.  ‘I do not wish to have no purpose.  I do not wish to be driven from the home I have chosen.’  She turned her face into his shoulder.  ‘I do not wish to leave you.’  She stopped and drew a deep tremulous breath before adding, ‘And you will not go.’

He stroked her hair softly, soothing her with his presence.  ‘Not yet,’ he said.  ‘I have not done with Arda yet.  But I will come,’ he promised.  ‘I could not resign myself to living without you for ever.’  He dropped a gentle kiss on her head.  ‘And you do not return as a supplicant,’ he said.  ‘You are no broken Exile returning by the grace of the Valar to eke out an eternity in sight of the land of your birth.  You are triumphant, my lady.  You have achieved all that your kin intended when they crossed the Ice, despite the Doom that came with you.  You have fought evil and through your determination and resistance, Sauron is defeated.  You have earned the respect of all those who will greet you.’

She trailed her fingers along the line of his jaw before raising her head sufficiently to brush her lips to his throat.  ‘You exaggerate, my lord,’ she told him, comforted despite herself.  ‘I think there may have been some few others involved in the Dark Lord’s defeat – not the least of them being yourself.’

‘They will not care for that,’ Celeborn dismissed her words.

‘Then they shall be made to care,’ she told him.  ‘I will not have you dismissed as of little account.’

He laughed silently and she raised her head to look at him in protest.  ‘You would not be my lady if you did not seek out new battles,’ he explained.  ‘Although I think you will be able to find those more worthy of your effort.  I do not mind what the elves of the Blessed Realm think of me.’

‘I would still prefer to stay,’ she said wistfully.

‘But you cannot,’ he murmured comfortingly.  ‘I do not hold it against you, my love.’

‘I do,’ she sighed.

‘You go to join our daughter,’ he said.  ‘To see her safe and whole and healed.  You take with you her husband.’

‘But not her children.’  Galadriel’s eyes, like bluebells in the rain, met his. ‘What should rebuild her family will shatter it for ever.’

‘She will understand Arwen’s choice,’ he reassured her, ‘far better than Elrond can. ‘She will not blame you for failing to prevent a destiny determined from the time of Luthien.  And the twins will sail in time.’

‘How can you be sure they will go?  I have not seen it.’

‘Well,’ Celeborn told her, shifting their positions so that she was sat across his lap, and holding her firmly, ‘your mirror is only so good.’ He grinned. ‘It has always been better for prophesying doom and disaster.  This is a matter of knowing people’s hearts and that is far too delicate a task for a bowl of water – the twins will stay for Arwen and Estel, and they will sail for Celebrian and Elrond.’

His wife assumed an expression of outrage.  ‘Are you telling me that I have no understanding of my grandsons?’ she asked.

Celeborn lowered his head and pressed a kiss to her lips.  ‘None,’ he said with cheerful mendacity. ‘You have always been too busy concerning yourself with the affairs of the world to indulge in such details.’

Galadriel ran her fingers through her husband’s hair, gazing intently at him as if she wanted to absorb every tiny nuance: the way the light caught his face, the warmth of his eyes, the slight smile that only she saw, the sound of his breathing, the beat of his heart.

‘We have been apart before,’ he reminded her.  ‘Both from choice and from necessity.’

‘But, in this, I cannot change my mind,’ she said.  ‘Always before we were within each other’s reach, but this division -,’ she hesitated.

‘I see what it is,’ he nodded.  ‘You do not trust me.  You doubt I have it in me to make the right choices without you by my side to direct me.’

She drew a sharp breath of indignation.  Outsiders might perceive her as dominant, pushing a compliant husband into following her lead in all things, but they knew better.  They were equals, and his quiet determination and bond with both his people and the land had been instrumental in altering her perception of the role of leadership.  Where she had intended to rule, she had learned to serve; where she had desired supremacy, she had come to use her power to resist it.  Still she resented the insensitivity of sycophants, who, dazzled by her, ignored the elf by her side.  Had it not made him laugh, she would have resented it more.

‘That is it,’ she agreed.  ‘You cannot do without me.’

He caressed her, sliding one hand down her back to rest on her hip.  ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Walk with me.’

The wood here, at its heart, was tranquil.  Underfoot, crisp leaves from the previous year’s fall shielded the fresh growth of spring and the scent of renewal was in the air. Celeborn touched occasional trees gently as he passed, relishing the patient strength and the slow awakening of the seasonal song. 

‘Where are you taking me?’  Galadriel asked curiously, as he guided her with an easy sureness between the trees.

‘It is my business to lead, my lady,’ he teased, ‘and yours to follow. You will see.’

Here, other trees appeared among the mallorns: tall sturdy oaks, majestic beeches, lithe birches, supple willows.  The trickling rill welcomed small flows of crystal water, building it up to a clear cold stream that rippled between moss-covered boulders.

Galadriel’s bare toes buried themselves in the vivid green grasses that sprouted pointed shoots like Arda’s arrows through the tired remnants of the old year.  She considered demanding the information, but her husband turned sparkling eyes on her and she decided that she did not care.  They were together and they had abandoned the responsibilities of tending the Wood’s many casualties and the dread of their inevitable division. This was a moment for them to hold in their hearts over however many centuries their separation would last.  Windflowers nodded their white heads under the budding trees and the dangling catkins drifted pollen across the shafts of sunlight in search of the tiny red flowers of the hazels.  The business of life and growth were underway regardless of the great events that dominated the lives of dwarves and hobbits, men and elves.

They paused as a gap in the canopy intruded into the serene continuity of the trees, revealing the broken branches of a fire-damaged oak ripped by lightning that had brought it down centuries before its time. 

Celeborn clasped his wife’s hand and drew it up to his lips.  ‘Yet even here,’ he said, ‘there is a promise.’  He indicated the fresh growth around the base of the old trunk: primroses flowered profusely in the welcome light and tiny saplings, each no more than a pair of leaves, unfurled beneath the parent tree.  New buds pushed determinedly from the ridged bark, as if to say that nothing, not even disaster, could prevent the tree from reclaiming its place in the forest.

‘You are being philosophical,’ Galadriel accused him.  ‘I am no tree.’

He laughed gently.  ‘What are you then, my lady?’ he asked affectionately.  ‘The ice on a spring puddle, needing the warmth of the sun to melt you rather than a blow to shatter you?  You have been hurt – by time, by exile, by loss – aye, and by bearing a power beyond what any should have endured.  You need to heal, my love – and you cannot find that healing here.’

She stepped closer and looped her arms around his waist, dropping her head to his shoulder.  ‘You are sending me away,’ she said, her voice muffled.

‘If I had received a wound, you would ensure that I sought treatment,’ he murmured.  ‘Just because your injury cannot be seen, does not mean it is not there.  You know, I know – Elrond knows – that you need to sail.  If I must, I will bind you and have Mithrandir carry you aboard.’

She tilted her head back and her eyes narrowed dangerously. ‘I would like to see you try,’ she said.  ‘You would not dare.’

‘Oh well,’ he replied casually, ‘if you would like to see it, I am sure it could be arranged.’

She put her hands on his chest to push him away and opened her mouth to retaliate, but caught the glint in his eyes and relaxed.  ‘I think not,’ she said tranquilly, slipping her hands round his neck to bury them in his hair.  She remained silent for some time as the sun gleamed in her tresses and Celeborn closed his eyes the better to enjoy her nearness.

‘I know I must take ship,’ she said finally.  ‘At times, I ache for it so much that every breath hurts.  The song of the sea drowns out the whisper of the leaves and its rhythm is in the beat of my heart.  But I still do not wish it.’

‘We know better,’ he told her, ‘than to expect that we get that for which we wish.’ He touched her cheek gently as she raised her face to him. ‘I cannot come, for duty bids me stay.  There is still a place for me here among these forests.  You cannot stay, for your time here is done.  But we are one,’ he reminded her.  ‘Apart or together, we cannot be sundered unless we choose to allow it.  It falls to you to build a refuge across the sea – one that will be there when I come to you.’  He smiled but there was a sorrow in his voice. ‘If you still want me then.’

‘So in this,’ Galadriel returned his smile comfortingly, ‘it is my business to lead, my lord, and yours to follow.’

‘I concede,’ he said, and bent his head to brush his lips against hers.  ‘But we have some seasons yet, my wife.  Let us savour every moment left to us this side of the sea.’  He ran his fingers through her fall of hair, letting the living gold slip through like water and put aside thoughts of the future.  ‘Come,’ he said, his voice as eager as it had been when their bond was new.  ‘I know a place where we can be alone.’

She smiled.  The sea-longing was there in the back of her mind, as it always was now Nenya no longer kept it at bay, but she would endure it while she could, for some things mattered more.  She slid her hands down her husband’s back, enjoying the feel of strength and warmth that was such an integral part of this elf who had taken an exiled Noldor princess and made her a Lady of the Wood.  Her kiss deepened as she yielded to his desire to have her while he could, to take every opportunity to fortify themselves against the wearing of the years, to remind each other why their love had endured throughout so many trials.  ‘Do not make me wait too long, my lord,’ she warned him.

‘Now, or in the lands of your birth?’ he asked, his slow smile like sunrise.

‘Neither here,’ she told him, as she held him tightly to her, ‘nor there.’

Even in his desire to console her he could not offer a promise he did not know he could keep.  ‘I will come when I can,’ he said.  ‘I cannot tell when that may be, but I will come.’



He stroked her gleaming ebony hair as she sobbed on his shoulder.  ‘You could change your mind,’ he suggested provocatively.  ‘You could leave Estel and go with your adar.’

Her breath caught. ‘No, I could not,’ she said emphatically.  ‘I have made my choice and I could make no other – but it does not stop me grieving for what will be lost to me.  My adar will sail soon – I will never see him, or my naneth or Daernaneth again.  Not in this world, nor beyond it.’  She rested her head against her daeradar.  ‘I cannot show my sorrow to anyone but you,’ she said simply.  ‘It hurts Adar too much and it makes Estel feel guilty.  They are both prepared to give me up to make me happy – but they will not realise that my happiness is bound to bring with it a grief that cannot be avoided.’

Celeborn walked with her in the studied wildness of the Citadel’s gardens, gazing disapprovingly at trees shaped to provide an elegant counterpoint to the planting. Their long robes brushed against the neatly raked gravel of the paths.

Arwen laughed, a rather watery giggle accompanied by a sniff, but a laugh nonetheless.  ‘Oh, this will have to change,’ she said, shaking her head.  ‘It is bad enough that the garden is encompassed by stone walls, without having every plant standing to attention like the guards at the gates.’

‘These men of Gondor have a lot to learn,’ her grandfather commented, then, stopping, turned Arwen to face him. ‘You will neither of you find it easy,’ he told her seriously.  ‘Estel is as alien to them as you are, my dear one, and I suspect he will find confinement within these walls, restrained by royal etiquette, intolerable at times.  You will need each other.  Do not hide your sorrow from him, for he might come to imagine it to be more than a natural sadness for the loss of your parents and feel that you regret having chosen him.’  He hesitated, then continued, ‘He, too, is losing the only adar he has ever known – and he fears that he is parting from him in bitterness and hatred.’

‘I will speak to Estel,’ Arwen agreed.  ‘I will try to make him understand that I love him and could not take any other path than the one that he follows.’  She looked at Celeborn hesitantly.

‘It may not help,’ Celeborn smiled wryly, ‘but I will talk to Elrond.  If I am unable to penetrate the guard he has over himself, I will set your daernaneth on him.  And may the Valar have mercy on him.’

Arwen stood on tiptoe and kissed her daeradar’s cheek.  ‘Thank you,’ she said simply. ‘You are the only one to accept my choice as having been no choice at all.’

He closed his arms round her and pressed his lips to her forehead.  ‘I remember Luthien,’ he said softly.  ‘I watched it grow: the tragedy that was her love – a tale of misfortune that need not have been, had those who loved her more than life not wanted to protect her from her choice and turn her to their will.  I would not see that happen to you, my granddaughter.’ 

‘I am glad that you will stay a while,’ she said, ‘you and my brothers.   It is a comfort to me that I will still have family on this side of the sea.’

‘I wish to know your children and your children’s children, my Evenstar,’ he said, ‘and see Estel grow into the great king he will be.  I will not leave until I am no longer needed here.  On this you may rely.’ 

The pledge she heard in his voice made her look at him sharply.  Arwen inclined her head, understanding the offer of support hidden beneath the simple words.  ‘Thank you,’ she said again.  ‘Although I am not sure that Daernaneth will be very happy with you should you delay your journey by too long a time.’

He smiled.  ‘She will cope,’ he said, ‘and she will thoroughly enjoy attempting to make me suffer for my dilatory arrival.’

‘Take my brothers with you when you sail,’ Arwen requested, her voice low and intense.  ‘They will not leave while I still live, I know, but do not let them sacrifice themselves for pride.  They are elves in their hearts.  Take them to Naneth and Adar.’

‘I will do my best,’ he promised.  ‘And my best is very good,’ he added with an air of smug self-satisfaction that made her laugh again.

They passed through a small gateway and climbed a set of steep steps that led to a point from which they could look over the wall and down across the broad expanse of the Pelennor to the wide ribbon of the Anduin as it curved with apparent lazy grace towards the ocean.   Small figures moved busily across the plain, some accompanying carts as those exiled from the city continued to return, others carrying goods from the docks at the river’s edge, more scavenging the evidence of battle from the rutted land, or harvesting patches of garden crops: all busy resuming lives interrupted by war.

‘So many people,’ Arwen said softly, ‘all expecting something from me.  I do not know if I can be a queen, Daeradar.’

Celeborn laughed.  ‘Being a queen is easy, Undomiel,’ he teased her.  ‘Being a good queen is a little more difficult – but it asks nothing of you that has not been bred into your bones.  You are the descendent of Melian, of Nimloth, of Elwing, of Celebrian.  You are the granddaughter of Galadriel – a queen is what you were born to be.’  He sobered.  ‘Estel will need your experience, child,’ he said.  ‘For all he grew up in Imladris, he has spent many years alone.  He will find it difficult to tolerate the councillors and the place-seekers, the monotony and the formality.  You will be able to guide him through it – for he can trust you with his very life.   I believe you were always intended to be Elessar’s queen, Arwen.’  He looked down from the wall contemplating this land of men, tall, his silver hair lustrous in the sunlight, an imposing figure, like a hero of legend, bright and pure and deadly, his eyes filled with the experience of the ages.   Beside him stood his granddaughter, slighter, as dark as he was fair, but beautiful as a star-kissed night, her hair studded with sparkling jewels, gowned in blue silk the shade of the sky just after sunset. 

Aragorn would have stopped to watch them, had not the presence of Galadriel’s hand on his arm pushed him into continuing to walk the paths of the private garden.  Seeing Arwen with her daeradar only made him aware again of the price he was expecting her to pay for her devotion to him and he was conscious of a wave of sadness.

‘No-one made her choose you,’ Galadriel observed, without apparently having paid him any attention.  ‘It was her decision.’ 

‘I never should have spoken to her,’ Aragorn said wretchedly.  ‘She is as far above me as a star – I would always have loved her, but I should have stayed away.’

‘Do not be foolish,’ his wife’s daernaneth said sharply. ‘Why do you think that would have made any difference?  If you could love her from afar, could she not do the same?  Do you think you would have spoken to her of love, had she not encouraged you?  And close your mouth,’ she added.  ‘You look as if you are catching flies.’

The king obediently pressed his lips together.  ‘Are you suggesting -?’ He stopped, not entirely sure where his thought was going.

‘That Arwen chose you just as much as you chose her?’ Galadriel asked. ‘Yes, of course I am.’  She looked at him sympathetically.  ‘Arwen is not one who will sit back passively and hope that life will turn out the way she wants it.  She knew your face from her dreams the moment she saw you.  She had been waiting for you for nearly three thousand years, and she was not about to let your shyness stand between you.’   Galadriel turned to the King of Gondor and raised her hand to push up his bearded chin.    ‘Elrond did not want her to love you – and I am sure that you cannot altogether blame him for that – but had he truly wanted to keep you apart, he would have had Arwen stay at Imladris to act as a second mother to you throughout your early years. Few men fall in love with those who have changed them when they were wet and insisted that they ate their greens and studied their lessons.’  She met his eyes, blue holding grey, until finally Aragorn was forced to drop his glance.  ‘Why do men wear beards?’ Galadriel asked curiously, her fingers brushing his jaw. ‘They feel most odd.  I shall have to speak to Arwen about it.’

Aragorn blushed at the very idea of the topics that might be covered in the possible conversation between the two elves.  ‘Do you mean,’ he said, ‘that Adar – Lord Elrond – knew what would happen when Arwen and I met?’

‘He is still your adar,’ Galadriel told him gently. ‘He has not stopped loving you, Estel.’

He looked at her unhappily.  ‘I can see why he cannot bear to speak to me, Lady Galadriel,’ he said, ‘but please, if you can, heal the rift between him and Arwen.  They have so little time left to be together.’ 

‘He is afraid,’ she told him.  ‘He is afraid he will lose all his children – as all who have loved him and whom he has loved have been lost.’

Aragorn hung his head, kicking at the gravel with the toe of his boot and sighed softly, reduced to childhood by the wisdom of the Lady of the Wood.

‘You should speak to him,’ Galadriel said.  ‘I can talk to him if you wish – but he needs to hear those words from you, Estel.  He wants to know that he can leave you to live your lives – and that you will forgive him for leaving.’

Raising his eyes to meet hers, Aragorn looked shocked.  ‘I have never blamed him for anything,’ he insisted. 

Galadriel smiled sadly.  ‘Do you think you are the only one who is torn, Elessar?’ she asked.  ‘Do you think Elrond would not choose to remain with you both for every day left to you?  We cannot stay, he and I, though we would give much to remain. We have little time left in these lands and none of it should be wasted.  Make your peace with him, Elrondion.  Go to him.’

The King of Gondor knew where to seek his foster father.  As gardens and trees drew the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, so books drew the Master of Lore.  Elrond was in no mood to bury himself in the depths of the citadel’s archive, where he would be confronted by the curious gaze of men, so his instincts would take him to the private study of the king, a room lined with books and scrolls, smelling of old leather and fresh ink.

Aragorn paused in the doorway, feeling foolishly reluctant to enter his own room, like a child who had been summoned to judgment to face the consequences of his actions.  ‘Adar,’ he said hesitantly.

Elrond raised his head from the cool wood of the window panelling where he had rested it – some moments or some hours before, he could not be sure.  ‘Yes, my son?’ he asked, his voice even and calm.  He turned towards his daughter’s husband, one eyebrow lifted quizzically, shrugging on his public face as easily as one of his long experience could, but he had not been swift enough to hide the shadow behind his eyes.

‘I am sorry.’  Aragorn moved towards him automatically, abandoning the guilty caution that had marred their relationship in recent years, remembering only that this was his adar, who had taken him and raised him with the same love he had shown his own sons.

‘I, too, am sorry,’ Elrond responded.  ‘I fear that, in my reluctance to bless your union with Arwen, I have forfeited your affection.’

Aragorn looked at him fiercely.  ‘Never,’ he said, enveloping the elf lord in a powerful hug.  ‘It is I who do not deserve your forgiveness – I feel that I have stolen Arwen from you.’

A long sigh preceded Elrond’s soft words.  ‘She was not mine to steal, Estel – as you will learn one day.  You have children and do your best to raise them.  You love them always – but they belong to themselves.’  He raised his long-fingered hands to cup his son’s head.  ‘She chose you and she chose wisely,’ he murmured, pressing a gentle kiss on his forehead.  ‘You have my blessing, both of you.’    He looked in the clear grey eyes of the king, his approval and affection clear to read.  ‘I am sorry that I will not be here to support you – and that your children will grow up without knowing their daeradar, but I am become too – thin,’ he said, turning his gaze on his own hands.  ‘Time has become like sand, slipping through my fingers,’ he remarked wonderingly, ‘and the wind blows through my bones.  If I stay much longer, I will fade.  I am a relic of a past age.’

An expression of concern tightened Aragorn’s face.  Immersed in his flood of guilt that Arwen had surrendered her immortality for him, he had failed to observe the changes in his adar’s face that spoke of age and weariness and the weight of responsibility that had brought Elrond to the point of despair.  ‘How long will you remain?’ he asked, his voice gruff with loss.

‘A turn or two of the sun,’ Elrond said reflectively. ‘No more than five, I would think.  There will be arrangements to make – Imladris to leave in safe hands, the passage to organise, farewells.’  He paused. ‘I shall be sorry not to see your son,’ he added.  

Aragorn cleared his throat and blinked to clear his vision.  Since early youth he had known that he would die, but somehow he had envisaged an Imladris that would remain eternally unchanged, with Elrond serenely directing the activities of the haven. Seeing the elf lord contemplating his own departure from a world that could no longer sustain him gave him a feeling of bereavement similar to that he had felt when his mother died.   ‘I love you, Ada,’ he blurted out, with the embarrassed awkwardness of a grown man caught admitting to emotions.  ‘I will hold you in my heart always.’

‘And I, you,’ Elrond told him more easily.  ‘You are my son, Estel,’ he added, a wealth of meaning in his few words.

‘Arwen,’ Aragorn said, stopping as he realised that he did not know how to express his worry.  ‘She – she needs to know that you understand.’

Elrond turned to the window, gazing down into the bright garden where his daughter sat between her grandparents.  He could see them in the eye of memory in the same positions as they rested in the gardens of Imladris or sat among the mallorns of the Golden Wood while Arwen listened to their tales of ancient days. Arwen; her head resting on Celeborn’s shoulder as her eyes drifted in sleep; pulling faces as Galadriel brushed the tangles from her hair; confessing her mischief; talking excitedly of her joys; weeping in their arms after Celebrian had been injured; frozen between them as her naneth’s ship sailed beyond their sight:  Arwen; her face bright when she told him of her love for Isildur’s heir, defensive when she realised his distress, patient as she waited for her destiny.  His princess, his Evenstar, his Luthien, his hostage to fate, his gift to the new age.

She looked up to see him at the window, her husband at his side, and smiled.

She needed to know he understood.  Although Estel had not been able to put it into words, she needed to know that he loved her, that he accepted her decision and that he would let her go.  He could do that.  He must.  If he had to sail to join her naneth, leaving their daughter to die a mortal death, the least he could do was to leave Arwen secure in the knowledge that the bonds of love would hold them beyond time and distance until the final day when the world would be remade and they would be reunited.

‘It is a beautiful afternoon, my son,’ he said, turning to Aragorn with a slight smile.  ‘Perhaps we should spend it in the garden.’



Elrohir stopped and looked down over the valley. 

The Bruinen flowed cautiously between its frozen banks, avoiding the areas where slow-moving water had gradually chilled to a temporary solidity, but the trees dripped steadily in the brief bright sun of late winter.

He drew a deep breath of the icy air and released it as a stream of mist to drift away in the breeze.  ‘We should have come sooner,’ he said anxiously.

His brother rested his gloved hand on his shoulder.  ‘We are here now,’ he said.

‘What has happened to our home?’  Elrohir fretted.  ‘We have never seen it like this.  It is – petrified.’

‘The Rings have failed,’ Elladan said with certainty.  ‘Imladris, like Lothlorien, is beginning to fade.’

‘I hope Adar is all right,’ his twin frowned.  ‘We should not have stayed away so long – we should have come back with him when he returned from Gondor.’

‘It is too late for should haves.’ Elladan encouraged his horse to pick its way down the sheltered slope towards the hidden valley.  ‘Come on, Elrohir.  There is no point waiting here and worrying.  Let us get home and out of the cold.’

Over centuries they had returned from their adventures to enjoy the welcome and comfort offered by their home.  Frequently they had left thick mud and bitter winds, blizzards and torrential rain to enter the shelter of the mild valley, where snow was an enjoyable rarity, the gentle rain nurtured the land and the very air refreshed them, but this was the first time that the chill of the outside world seemed to have settled into the woods of the haven and congealed.

‘The birds are silent,’ Elladan mentioned as they pushed forward with increasing unease. 

‘I cannot hear the trees,’ Elrohir added.  ‘They have always had a song of greeting, even in the depths of winter.  It feels as if they are waiting for something.’

Imladris sparkled with a layer of frost that turned the elegant framework of graceful buildings set subtly among the trees and streams into a magic realm.  Long icicles reflected the light and the trees bent under their unaccustomed weight of pristine snow.

The twins exchanged glances as they rode into the courtyard calling for attention.  A bustle sounded in the house as word of their arrival spread.  Grooms came to relieve them of the responsibility of caring for the horses, and they took their packs and headed through the nearest door to the comfortable warmth of the house.  Attendants beamed at them and brought them mulled wine.

‘You will want to change into dry clothes,’ Erestor told them, lifting an eyebrow at the drips they were leaving on the floor.  ‘And a bath would not come amiss.’

Elladan grinned.  ‘We have been travelling a while,’ he said, ‘but I would have thought that the cold would have been enough to prevent us from becoming too ripe.’

‘How is Adar?’ Elrohir asked with concern.

Erestor’s face stiffened somewhat.  ‘He will be better for seeing you,’ he allowed.  ‘He has been waiting long enough.’

‘Just because the war has been won, it does not mean that there is nothing left to do,’ Elladan snapped.  ‘We have been working to clear up some of the mess Sauron left behind him.’

Elrohir placed his hand on his brother’s.  ‘Finish your drink,’ he said easily.  ‘We will go and rid ourselves of the evidence of our journey.  Where will we find Adar, Erestor?’

The reliable and responsible advisor, whose patient work kept Imladris running smoothly, looked worn almost beyond words.  ‘I am sure Glorfindel will come and speak to you before you have finished your preparations,’ he said.  ‘But, should he not arrive, your adar will be in his study.  He is almost always there these dark days.’

‘Adar is clearly not coping well,’ Elrohir said, throwing off his travel-stained cloak and unbuckling his sword-belt.  He dropped into a smiling silence as several servants brought in buckets of hot water and filled the tubs.  He thanked them and responded cheerfully to their good wishes. 

Elladan rummaged in the cupboards in the bathing chamber, looking for the preparations to fragrance the water and cleanse hard-driven elven bodies.  ‘He could just be tired,’ he suggested.  ‘He must have found it painful to watch Arwen commit herself to Estel’s fate.’  He stopped as the servants returned with a final contribution of heated water, continuing as they closed the door behind them.  ‘After all, we found it hard enough to keep smiling.’

‘You know what Daernaneth said,’ Elrohir told him implacably.  ‘The destruction of the One Ring hurt both her and Adar – they will have to sail, and sail soon.  Adar knows he will lose Arwen, he does not wish to lose us, too.  We can help Adar endure best by telling him that we will sail – not now, but in time.’

Elladan shed his dirty clothes and sank into one of the tubs.  ‘Bathe, brother – while the water remains warm, which will not be long on a day like this.’  He ducked his head under the water, lathering his black hair and ducking again before he continued. ‘I cannot say that I will not sail – but neither can I swear that I will.  I know I will not leave while Arwen might need us.’

Stripping swiftly, Elrohir proceeded to wash his own hair and remove the grime of the journey.  ‘Neither will I – but I am prepared to admit that I feel certain that I will go in time – and I see no harm in telling Adar.’

‘I am glad to hear it,’ Elrond’s calm voice remarked.  ‘I did knock, but I am afraid there was no response.’  He handed Elladan a towel to rub his head.  ‘You do not wish to leave your hair wet on such a day,’ he said.  ‘I have no desire to put pressure on you, my sons,’ he added gently.  ‘Do not keep your distance over the short time we have remaining for fear that I will try to extract a promise from you.’

Elladan stood up and reached for his robe, wrapping it round him as he stepped out onto the wet floor.  ‘I am sorry, Adar,’ he apologised.  ‘I do not feel that I am ready to make any undertaking.’

Taking a towel to dry his hair, Elrohir remained silent.  He was as certain as he could be that Elladan would respect his twin’s decision that he would eventually sail, just as he would uphold Elladan’s wish to remain for the foreseeable future.  For three thousand years they had supported each other and he saw no reason why this choice would divide them.  He thrust his arms into his robe and turned to hug his Adar.

‘You look tired,’ he said, drawing him through to sit in front of the fire now blazing on the hearth.  ‘We have some wine here somewhere.  Would you care for some?’

‘We have been busy – and the winter seems to have eaten into us this year,’ Elrond remarked, accepting the glass his son handed him.  ‘There have been wolves in the valley, and it is many years since they have approached so close to us.’

Elrohir perched on the arm of his adar’s chair and placed his hand on his shoulder. ‘It seems particularly cold to me,’ he agreed, ‘but, of course, we have come from the south.’

‘Did you see Arwen on your way back?’ Elrond asked wistfully. 

‘We did,’ Elladan told him as he sat on the opposite side of the fireplace. ‘She is blooming – both she and Estel sent letters thick enough that we almost rebelled against carrying them.  We saw Legolas, too.  He had spent some time at home and Thranduil had consented to his return to Ithilien – he was taking some advisors to decide how many elves should accompany him.’

‘We called in at Edoras,’ Elrohir remarked, ‘and paused at Isengard, just to see what was going on – before we spent a week or two with Daernaneth in Lothlorien.  Daeradar was busy, but he returned a few days before we left.  The wood suffered considerable damage while we were with Estel in Gondor,’ he added soberly.

‘And it is suffering further now that Daernaneth is weakening,’ Elladan added.

‘Just as Imladris is experiencing change – and so is its guardian,’ Elrohir said softly, his voice almost inaudible over the crackle of the fire.

‘Is it that obvious?’ Elrond asked, closing his eyes wearily. 

‘We need to talk, Adar,’ Elrohir said, leaning over to kiss Elrond’s brow.  ‘Not tonight, but soon.  I think you will feel better once some things are in the open.’

Elrond patted his son’s knee.  ‘You are right, my son,’ he said.  ‘There are too many shadows – we need to open the shutters and scare them away.’  He rested his head against the chair’s high back for a moment, then drew himself up.  ‘I will leave you to dress,’ he said briskly, setting his untouched glass down on a small table.  ‘I believe a feast is being prepared to welcome you home,’ he smiled.  ‘I will see you shortly.’

The twins remained silent as Elrond withdrew, gazing at the flames, their thoughts preoccupied.

‘I have never seen Adar as being weak or needing support,’ Elladan said moodily. ‘He has always been so strong – even when Naneth -.’  He broke off and drank a mouthful of the rich red wine.  ‘To find him so – diminished – is even worse than seeing Daernaneth looking like an alabaster vessel filled with light.’

‘They are both inconceivable,’ Elrohir sighed.  ‘If ever we needed proof that the Age of the Elves is past, my brother, then it has been provided to us.’

The twins paused outside the dining hall to prepare the required expressions of delight with which to greet the unexpected celebration of their return, when a hand clapped each on the back with an unnecessary force.

‘Ha – strangers!’ a familiar smooth voice declared.

‘Have we offended you, Glorfindel?’ Elrohir asked mildly, turning to greet the tall golden elf who led Imladris’s defence.

‘Offended me?’ he smiled narrowly.  ‘How could you?  I can scarcely remember who you are!’

‘We have been busy,’ Elladan snapped.

‘You have been avoiding your adar,’ Glorfindel corrected him, ‘because you did not wish to make up your minds – or because you were unwilling to tell him what you intend to do.’

Elrohir flicked a warning look at his brother.  ‘I do not deny it,’ he said ruefully.  ‘But we are here now – and we will not leave again unless we must.’

‘Good,’ their friend and mentor said simply.  ‘Your adar needs you.’

‘Arwen sent you her love,’ Elladan said stiffly, choosing to retaliate with simple words that made the golden elf lord wince.  He, perhaps, returned as he was from Mandos to a second life defending the descendants of his king,  had, more than anyone, found the thought of his beloved Evenstar’s choice a bitter one.  His desperate pleas to the Valar to grant to Arwen and Estel the fate of Idril and Tuor had gone unanswered, as he had known in the bright light of day that they would.   The founders of the dynasty of Telcontar of the greatest House of Men could not be granted the destiny of elves – but that made their doom no less harsh.  ‘She would like to have you come to Gondor before you sail,’ Elladan continued.  ‘She misses you.’

Glorfindel cleared his throat.  ‘I doubt I will be sailing soon,’ he remarked airily.  ‘I am in no hurry to return to the Blessed Realm.’ 

‘We are in no need of a minder,’ Elrohir informed him, lifting an eyebrow in an unconscious imitation of his adar.  ‘We are grown old enough to care for ourselves.’

Glorfindel smiled blandly.  ‘Would you force me to sail against my will?’ he asked. ‘Your daeradar will need someone who can talk of the old days.  I will remove to the Golden Wood if I find I am no longer welcome here.’

‘Our home is yours,’ Elladan said, rather less harshly.  ‘You are family, Glorfindel.’

The older elf pulled the twins into a swift hug.  ‘And, as such, subject to all the abuse a family member receives,’ he said dryly, as he pushed them through the doors to receive the happy acclaim of the household.

They found themselves reluctant to leave the fireside as the night wore down and elves drifted off to their beds to prepare for another freezing morning.  Finally, only Elrond and his sons, together with Erestor and Glorfindel, remained beside the burning logs.  The Hall of Fire was quiet in the intimate darkness of night as the candles flickered out and left them in a room brightened only by firelight and the intermittent gleam of distant stars.

‘You will both be the Lords of Imladris when I am gone.’  Elrond broke a silence that had extended companionably across an hour or two.

Elrohir turned and stretched, cat-like, from where he sat on a pile of cushions at his adar’s feet, his hand or shoulder or knee in constant contact.  ‘Both?’ he said, surprised. ‘Is it not Elladan’s place to deputise for you?’

Elrond ran his fingers through his son’s dark mane.  ‘It is,’ he said.  ‘But this is the result of a conversation I had with your brother many years ago.’  Elladan smiled apologetically at his twin.  ‘He said, and I suspect still feels, that between you, you will make a formidable leader.’

A slight sniff from Erestor preceded his contribution.  ‘Elladan knows who will be best suited to all the fine detail the role requires,’ he said.

Elrohir bristled at the implied criticism of his brother. ‘I would support Elladan, no matter what my title or lack of it,’ he said.

‘Do not bother to argue about something so obviously true,’ Elladan told him lazily. ‘I am better at the big picture; you look after the details.  It works – why change it?’

‘Neither Glorfindel nor Erestor wish to sail as yet,’ Elrond continued, ignoring the interruptions.  ‘They both intend to remain in Imladris, but there are many who mean to join me on my trip to the Havens.  I am afraid, my sons, that I am leaving you a very small domain to guide into the new age.’

‘Adar -,’ Elladan hesitated, and a sudden shaft of moonlight caught the tears in his eyes and turned them to silver.

‘I understand, my son,’ Elrond responded, his voice husky with an emotion too deep to express.  ‘I do not ask you to be anything you cannot be and I will say nothing to push you one way or the other.  You are my sons and I love you, but the choice is yours to make.’

Without thought, both surged to take their adar in their arms and hold him; longing to shield him from the sharpness of the wounds inflicted on him by harsh divisions and the ravages of time and wanting to take comfort from his presence while they still could.  Elrond returned their hug, relaxing as the twins’ defensive wall, erected to hold in the pain of Arwen’s choice and their sense of loss at the imminent departure of their adar and daernaneth, crumbled and he finally found himself able to say the words that haunted him.

‘I am not leaving you through my choice,’ he said, his voice a thin thread of pain. ‘I would never do that.  I would stay for you all beyond all reason.’

‘It is not the same,’ Elladan told him softly.  ‘You are not leaving elflings to make their way in a world filled with kinslayers and the minions of the Dark.  You have done everything and more that can be expected of you, Adar.  It is your time to rest – to join Naneth and seek peace.’

‘The responsibility has been passed to your children,’ Elrohir reassured him. ‘Throughout three ages you have borne your burden.   It is time to let it go - to leave it to Elladan and me – and, most of all, to Estel and Arwen.’ 



Everything was grey: the sea, the sky, the ships, the cloaks of the waiting elves, their eyes, the mood.  What should have been a glad time of anticipation was shadowed by the fog of grievous departures.  And that heartache, Celeborn thought, was given expression in the faces of four small hobbits. 

The Ringbearer inspected the curly hair on his oversized feet, as if ashamed to meet the eyes of his cousins and friend.  He had grown paler still since Celeborn had last seen him on the road home from Minas Tirith, paler and thinner and with the same translucence that affected Galadriel and Elrond. 

For a moment the elf was aware of a furious desire to hurt somebody – preferably the long-dead Celebrimbor, whose passion for creating the impossible had led him into contributing to Sauron’s perverted desire for control.  He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath.  It had not all been his fault, he told himself, as he had over more than an age.  He had meant well: he could not help being the idiot descendant of an obsessive line, born to be destroyed by jewels and curses and dooms. 

‘It’s not your fault, Mr. Frodo,’ Sam said, his voice hoarse with grief.  ‘You’ve tried.  I know how hard you’ve tried.  It won’t let go of you, not anyhow.’

‘I have to go, Sam,’ Frodo replied, his voice murmuring with the song of the waves, already half-abandoned to the ocean. ‘I’ll never be free of it here.  I don’t think even my death would make it leave me be.’

Celeborn looked towards Galadriel where she stood with her grandsons’ arms around her and thought how strange it was that two beings so different could share so much.   She had fought the sea’s call over the last months with all the dogged determination she possessed, but still he had seen her weakening as it took possession of her.  Yet here was a slight Halfling who seemed to partake of a strength of mind and resolution comparable to that of one of the Eldar.   It should not surprise him – this was, after all, the Halfling who had carried the One Ring to its eventual destruction – but surprise him it did.  Frodo Baggins was infinitely more worthy of his place among the great in the Blessed Realm than many of the elves who accepted it as part of their birthright.

‘Don’t worry about us, Frodo,’ the bell-like voice of the green-eyed Took said earnestly.  ‘We will miss you, of course, but we are relieved that you are doing something for yourself at last.  It’s about time, isn’t it, Merry?’

‘We will ride to the Havens every few months, Frodo,’ Merry said practically, ‘and leave letters with Cirdan for you and Bilbo, so that each new ship should bring something from us.  I know you can’t reply, but you’ll be glad to know how we’re getting on.’ 

A smile crossed the elf lord’s face.  Meriadoc Brandybuck appeared to possess more common sense in his curly head than three ages of elves, many of whom had taken personal word of friends and family, but had never, as far as he knew, thought to treat the grey ships as a postal service.  He glanced at the Shipwright and they exchanged wry grins.  Cirdan nodded briefly, and accepted that Celeborn would join the hobbits in sending letters into the West.  After all, there was no harm in trying, even if the Valar should choose not to permit the liberty.

Frodo looked up and smiled.  ‘We would like that,’ he said simply.  ‘I know we will be thinking of you always.’

‘You don’t want to be doing that,’ Pippin said in mock horror.  ‘I wouldn’t want to be having to spend all my time behaving myself for fear that you’re keeping an eye on me.  There must be plenty of better things you can do with your time.’

‘Fishing,’ Merry suggested.  ‘Cooking – even in the Blessed Realm a hobbit has to eat, and elves don’t really understand food.’

‘Mushroom hunting,’ Pippin offered. ‘I expect there are mushrooms even better than Farmer Maggot’s – and without the risk of being caught by his dogs!’

‘Gardening,’ Sam said.  ‘If you’d told me before we left home, Mr. Frodo, I’d have seen you had some seeds so you could grow your own pipeweed and some proper Shire-bred taters.’

A deep voice harrumphed behind them.  ‘I shall see that Frodo is kept busy, young hobbits,’ Gandalf said, resting an affectionate hand briefly on each bright head.  ‘He will have too much to do to be worrying about you all the time.  And I am not a fool,’ he added, raising his bushy white eyebrows as he looked at Sam.  He slipped a folded white paper out of his pocket surreptitiously before returning it and patting it proudly.  ‘Seed for the best Old Toby, Master Gamgee.’

Sam opened his mouth and closed it quickly.  He looked at Frodo as the wizard moved away.  ‘You’d better make sure you get some of that, Mr. Frodo,’ he advised quietly. ‘There’s a lot more to getting good pipeweed than scattering seeds in the ground.  If you’ve got a moment, I’ll tell you what I’ve picked up.’

Celeborn shook his head and moved away from the bustle of elves loading last minute items on the ship that would carry his wife beyond his reach, only to catch sight of his son-in-law.  Elrond stood transfixed, watching not the activity, but instead gazing at his sons with an expression of hopelessness that unsteadied the older elf. 

‘You will see them again.’  The silver-haired lord put a sympathetic hand on Elrond’s shoulder.  ‘They will join you in time,’ he promised.

‘I have learned not to trust to hope,’ Elrond said, his voice bleak as mid-winter.  ‘I have little hope that Celebrian will be waiting for me, full of joy at our reunion, and I have still less that Elladan and Elrohir will decide to sail.’

Celeborn took him into his arms, offering him support and strength and the love of one who had known him since he was an elfling, orphaned by war and a lust for jewels and left to the care of those who knew him not, sustained only by the devotion he shared with a twin who had then left him to become a king of men.  ‘You are in need of your own healing, my son,’ he said with gentle affection.  ‘You are not alone.  Celebrian will be there.  Your sons will come – I promised Arwen that I would bring them and I shall, whether they will or no.  You have much to look forward to in the Blessed Realm.’

‘I was of the opinion,’ Elladan said from behind him, ‘that the choice was ours.  How are you intending to make us sail?’  He lifted a dark eyebrow at his daeradar.

‘I might use the same method with which I threatened your daernaneth,’ Celeborn replied amiably.  ‘Or I might just wait until you are tired of saying that you are not ready.’

‘You threatened Daernaneth?’ Elrohir said incredulously.  ‘You must be very brave!’

‘Foolhardy is the word I would choose,’ Galadriel remarked.  ‘Spend some time with your adar, my grandsons, for I wish to take this impetuous Lord of Trees away with me.’  She looked at her husband, her cheeks so pale that the blue of her eyes stood out like splashes of ink on a blank page, but with a depth such that he could drown in them.   

‘My lady,’ he said.  Words between them were unnecessary: they had said all they could say, they had wept all the tears they would shed, they had clung to each other through starlit nights while the world spun around them.  They stood as close as an embrace, but they did not touch.  Instead eyes held eyes with a challenge and an understanding that went beyond love, beyond passion, beyond speech, beyond cool reason.  They devoured each other: a last oasis before a desert, a last meal before a famine, a final chance to be together in neither of them knew how many years, decades, centuries, millennia, ages.

Around them the business of preparation went on: the sailors loaded the necessities of travel, families carried their goods aboard.  Cheerful farewells were called by those who were taking their final journey to seek out the Elvenhome promised them.  The frantic hurly-burly of last-minute preparations swirled around them, but they noticed none of it.

Galadriel stretched out a tentative hand, as if afraid that a touch would break them both, and she laid it gently on the front of his dove-grey robe. 

He caught his breath as shock stung him like a flick of white-hot fire and he moved instinctively to clasp the slender fingers, raising them to his lips, before leaning forward to capture her mouth.

Pippin gazed at them with open fascination, nudging Merry to attract his attention to the couple who had no thought for anyone else and to whom all, except the youngest hobbit, had granted a pretence of privacy amidst the milling elves.

‘It’s none of your business, Pip,’ Merry insisted.  ‘Come away.’

Frodo exchanged a glance with his cousin.  ‘Come on, Pippin,’ he said.  ‘I want to talk to you and Merry and Sam – and say goodbye to Bill.  The tide is almost full now – we’ll have to go aboard soon.’

Elladan laughed shortly. ‘Well, the Halflings should brighten the voyage for you, Adar,’ he said in an effort to appear normal.  ‘Provided they are not sea-sick, I suppose.’  He lapsed into silence again, unable to take his eyes from his adar’s face.

‘Goodbyes are intolerable, my sons,’ Elrond said, holding them both as if he could not bear to let them go.  ‘You are always in my heart.’  He swallowed and drew them close to place a final kiss of blessing on each brow.  ‘I will miss you.’

‘It will not be for ever,’ Elrohir said, his voice cracking.  ‘Give our love to Naneth.’

‘We will come,’ Elladan said, trying desperately to keep his tone steady.  ‘I promise, Adar.  When the time is right, we will sail.’

Elrond’s eyes met Elrohir’s and each breathed an almost unnoticeable sigh.  ‘When you are ready, my sons,’ their adar said, accepting the undertaking without further comment. ‘We will be waiting for you.’ 

The quayside quietened as those boarding the ship abandoned their ties to the lands of their birth.  Elrond dragged himself reluctantly away from his sons as Mithrandir claimed him.  ‘It is time,’ the wizard said with gruff sympathy.  ‘We could stand here for days, my friend, but the final words will have to be spoken sooner or later.’

Frodo stepped back from a last embrace with the group of hobbits, leaving the three of them to close into a huddle, shoulder to shoulder.  He raised a hand and attempted a smile.  ‘Look after each other,’ he said, as he joined the Bearers of Vilya and Narya. Gandalf dropped his hand on the Ringbearer’s shoulder consolingly.

‘Bilbo has already found your cabin,’ he said.  ‘He is waiting for you.’  He looked kindly at the three remaining hobbits.  ‘You will do well,’ he told them.  ‘You will have long and happy lives – as you deserve.’  He turned his attention to the two elves each still lost in the other’s face. ‘Lady Galadriel,’ he insisted.

She moved slowly, like someone trying to move through treacle, drawing away from Celeborn until only their hands linked them.  ‘Do not keep me waiting too long,’ she whispered fiercely to her lord.  ‘Or I will be most displeased with you.’

He kissed her fingers. ‘I shall try to keep in mind that my lady’s sword is to be feared almost as much as her tongue,’ he replied with the deceptive tranquillity that exists at the very eye of the storm.

She clung to his hand, reluctant to take the last step that would remove her foot from the land and end her long connection with Middle Earth, taking her back to a home that was, in truth, home no longer, but drawn, nevertheless, by the compulsion that told her that the time of the Rings was at an end and that she could no longer delay her departure.  They needed no words of leave-taking, for each could hear the pain of the other as their song, bound together for so long, began to tease apart.

Celeborn watched the scene unfold before him with an agonising slowness as the Ringbearers crossed to the ship, and gathered against the rail to bid their final farewells.  Frodo withdrew the Lady’s starglass from his pocket and held it up, gleaming with promise of a brighter future.  Cirdan indicated that the ropes should be loosed and, as the tide turned, the pearl-grey ship began its slow separation from the land.  The white sails were raised, dazzling in a sudden ray of light, and the wind filled the billowing canvas as the ship moved inexorably towards the West.

The hobbits stood, dry-eyed, and watched until the White Ship moved beyond their vision, and waited longer still, until the twin sons of Lord Elrond dropped their heads and wept, for they knew then that Frodo had passed out of the sight of Middle Earth on his way to healing in the Blessed Realm, taking with him many of the greatest of the elves.

Far off, in distant Gondor, Arwen Undomiel looked to the west and paled, for she could feel the departure of her kin like a shadow darkening the sun.  Elessar Telcontar, known as Strider, the Dunedain, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Estel of Imladris, the last foster son of the great Lord Elrond, the heir of Isildur of the line of Elros, Tar Minyatur, took her in his arms and held her close, and together they mourned the passing of the Ringbearers.

On the wind-whipped quayside in the Havens, Celeborn put his arms round his grandsons and drew a shaky breath.  ‘And so begins the Age of Men,’ he said, as they turned their backs, elves and hobbits, and trudged mournfully away from the salty barrier of the sea.

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