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Autumn  by Aldwen


A Third Age gap filler featuring an episode that might have taken place in Rivendell shortly after Celebrían’s departure to Valinor. Consistent with my other stories.

Thousand times thank you to Ellynn for beta-reading!

The trees in the valley are bare. Only some oaks and beeches still retain their leaves, and they hang on the branches yellow and withered. The hours of daylight have grown short. Dusk in the mornings and evenings lingers, wrapping the cliffs, the woodlands and the buildings in a grey shroud. Even the voice of Bruinen is a lament. The whole valley seems to mourn the absence of its lady. Maybe that is but a reflection of my mood, for we are one in many ways – Imladris and I.

The rains have set in: large drops are sliding down the glass of the library window. The sky is weeping in my stead, for I have no more tears, and the sharp pain I felt earlier is dulled to an all-encompassing sadness. There is more of that sadness now than I ever recall bearing.

To some measure, it has always been mine to bear, for as long as I remember. Sadness laces even some of the very first memories I have, of sitting on a white stone stairway leading to the shore and straining my eyes to catch a sight of a white sail on the skyline. Sadness for my father’s absence. My brother always dreamed of the day when he would be old enough to accompany father on his journeys. I always longed only for his return. None of these dreams were destined to come true.

Events occurred whose meaning we learned only much later. One summer morning our mother embraced us tightly, and our nurse took us to the seashore cavern and told us to remain there and be quiet until she returned. She did not come back. In the afternoon the wind grew chill, and the water started to rise, trapping us in the narrow space. Terrified, we climbed on the stone shelf at the cavern’s end and called for help. I still remember the damp air, the sound of waves washing against the stones, the fear and helplessness. And then the sudden flicker of hope when our calls were answered. Two tall figures striding towards us, strong arms lifting us from the ledge and carrying us to safety. Only years later we learned that our uncles, who had saved us from a certain death in the rising tide, came red-handed from Sirion where they had slaughtered our people and driven our mother to take a leap from a cliff to save the Silmaril.

We did not know it then. We were told that mother had departed to look for our father, long lost at Sea. We were told that we were to stay with our uncles. We were grief-stricken then, but I recall the stories Maedhros told us to keep our sorrow at bay, the songs Maglor sang to drive away our bad dreams and nightly fears. And I also recall that from the first day we spent with them, the sadness, too, was present.

It was different than at home. Not the unfulfilled longing-kind of sadness, but something deeper, far more inconsolable, something that bordered with despair. I did not understand why a shadow of grief passed Maedhros’ face when I sometimes spoke in one voice with my brother or finished a sentence Elros had started. I did not understand why Maglor was sometimes weeping alone when he thought nobody was near. That sadness never retreated fully, it was always there, behind a corner, always waiting, always ready to dig in its claws again. The more we grew to love our uncles and our new home, the more unbearable it became. I willed it to leave, thinking in childish foolishness that it is enough to desire something strongly for that thing to occur, and I was bitterly disappointed when it did not depart. It remained on the faces of the fortress guards who had seen too much death and blood, who had themselves killed. It remained in Maedhros’ posture and eyes as he stood before his mother’s portrait, lips moving in a silent plea for forgiveness the picture could not give. And it remained in Noldolantë.

I heard it for the first time on a summer night maybe two years after we started to dwell with our uncles. Awakened by a bad dream, I sat up in bed and looked at my sleeping brother, contemplating whether to wake him and tell him of my nightmare or not. But, as I was about to shake Elros, I suddenly heard soft sounds of harp. The melody at once seemed to me exceedingly beautiful and, to hear it better, I climbed out of bed, quietly slipped in the hallway and went to the music room. There I halted, opened the door in a slit, peered inside, and saw Maglor sitting by his harp, fingers running over the strings in sequences of sweet and sad sounds. His eyes were closed, but even from the door I could see tears on his face. Something restrained me from going to him and offering comfort; maybe a vague realization that for some things there is no consolation. But I also could not leave. I had never heard anything so beautiful and so heart-breaking at the same time. I believe I still have not. So I silently withdrew behind a column in the dark hallway and listened, long into that night and many other nights, often enough and long enough to memorize the intricate melody. The words I learned later. Much later.

We were eighteen years old when rumours of war reached the north, and our uncles sent us to the coastlands, to our mother’s people. And ere we left, we learned the truth of the events in Sirion. My brother departed in rage. I departed in confusion. How was it possible that those who had shown us only love and kindness were blood-stained murderers of their own people? It took me a long time to understand, a long time and many conversations with Aldanwë, the healer who accompanied us. He now spoke of the events we had never been told, of the centuries past, of the fate of the Noldor that was of their own making, yet bitter beyond tears. He spoke, attempting to redeem to some measure the sons of his once-best friend in our eyes – children he had seen grow up, children he had loved.

Elros refused to hearken to him, still in rage, but I listened, and slowly understanding grew in my heart. Yet this understanding brought little comfort. My brother cut the ties with the past when leaving; he seemed to have left behind even the memories. I could not do that. I carried it all with me, and the sadness that had reigned within the grey walls of the old fortress followed me.

I still marvel at Círdan’s patience with us then; one still raging, ready to lash out with angry words any moment, the other gloomy and silent, hardly speaking at all. The Sea was Elros’ salvation. The books and the studies were mine. I had already been drawn towards the arts of healing before, and now, gently directed towards this path, I embraced it eagerly, seeing a way to amend at least some of the hurts in Arda. It taught me compassion, and it also made some cracks in the walls I had built around my heart so that, after a time, I was ready to allow some light-heartedness and joy in my life. To admit friendship there. And that helped me to endure the next blow of fate. My brother’s choice. I had foreseen our parting. But not like this.

Whenever I think of that, pain stabs my heart again, like in that moment, hearing the reply of Elros to Eönwë. ‘I choose to be counted among the Secondborn Children of Ilúvatar, and gladly do I accept the fate of my people!’ Proud and confident he stood there before the herald of Manwë, but for me the world went dim. Brother mine, even though I understand your decision, that day wounded me deeply, and that wound was very slow to heal. Yet, would I have altered my own choice if I had known of your resolve? I think not. My spirit is with the Eldar, with the long flow of time, both swift and slow for us, and starlight is closer to my heart than the bright flame of Anor.

The rain has abated now, but the wind has risen. It shakes the tree branches; the last leaves are fluttering in the air. I should go and look to the matters of the house, but instead I stand here alone, watching the overcast sky, wrapped in my grief. The ship that bore away my beloved wife sailed more than a month ago, and I was aware of our inevitable parting long before that. I could heal the wounds on Celebrían’s body, but my power was not enough to drive away the shadow of anguish and fear from her soul. Once again, I was helpless against the fate. How I attempted to conceal my grief from her! I put a smile on my face and spoke of hope, of healing she would find beyond the Sea. I spoke of the time when we shall meet again, and as I did that, I pushed aside the thought of countless days that would pass without her smile, without her warm presence. For I cannot leave while our time here still lasts. I am bound to Endor by my duty and by my choice, and also by the love I feel towards this land, despite all I have lost on this shore. This is my home. I have no other.

Ada, are you grieving?”

I turn. My daughter stands on the doorstep and I attempt a smile, yet there is no deceiving her. She comes to me and lays her head on my shoulder, and we stand in silence, watching the overcast sky. After a while Arwen raises her face towards me, and her eyes are grave.

Ada, Elladan and Elrohir rode away this morning. Again. I fear for them.”

“I fear for them too.” I touch her cheek gently. “But this is how your brothers fight their grief.”

“There is such anger and despair in them,” she whispers. “In their rage, they are blind to danger. I dread the day when one or both of them will return badly hurt. Or… worse.”

“I will speak with them, Arwen.” I pull her close, and she rests her head on my shoulder again. “I promise.”

I feel her nodding, and I feel a stab of regret also. I will speak with my sons. But I am not certain I can find words to turn their steps from the path of revenge they have now taken. Yet try I must, otherwise I may lose two of my children too.

“You will find the words.” My daughter reads minds nearly as subtly as her grandmother. “They will see reason. They always do, in the end.”

Despite sadness, I smile faintly and set my arm around her shoulders. There is winter ahead, cold and long months, yet I hope that the frost and the snow will at least keep my sons at home until their grief is somewhat lessened. And when the spring comes and the mountain passes are open again, I shall ask my daughter to go to Lothlórien for a time, to walk under the golden mallorn trees on the green sward. Her grandparents’ power and wisdom will heal her sorrow. Mine are not enough. Once again, not enough.

Arwen presses closer to me; again she has perceived my unguarded thought.

“You cannot be enough for everyone, Ada,” she says softly. “You comfort all others, but who would comfort you if I will be away?”

“It will comfort me to know that you have found joy again, Arwen. You and your brothers. And you will find it. After rain comes the Sun, as the clouds are driven away by the wind. After winter, there is spring, rebirth and awakening. And even as the ever-turning circle of our weathers and seasons, so sorrow and joy, too, are intermingled. Life is a blend of both, and as such we must accept it.”

As I say this, I wonder whose words I am now repeating. And then I remember. Celebrimbor said that once.

I remember first seeing our cousin in the fortress of our uncles. I recall how I was afraid of the anger I saw in his eyes, as he stood there in the courtyard of the stronghold facing Maglor. That anger, too, I understood only much later. But then it had swiftly faded, and Celebrimbor had remained with us for many weeks. We had swiftly grown to like him, and his presence had lightened the veil of sadness. I still remember our adventures in the stronghold and in the woodland and also the grief at our parting.

And later, I remember Eregion and Ost-in-Edhil, the white-walled city of the Noldor, the wonder of craftsmanship, the dream of Celebrimbor’s heart. I recall his peerless works, gemstones becoming alive in the things of his making. I remember his swift smile. His courage. The light in his eyes as he revealed to us the Three Rings, his greatest work. That light was soon to be extinguished by the Enemy, but Celebrimbor’s love for Endor still lives on in his creation.

I feel a slight stirring in the corner of my mind, and as I look at my hand that rests on the windowsill, I see the blue stone of Vilya glittering as if by its own inner light. Does the ring remember its maker, I wonder? Does it grieve for him?

My daughter’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

“Will the sadness ever leave, Ada?” she asks quietly, and I must answer with words of hope, even if I feel little of that now. Yet not none.

“Yes.” I lay my hands on her shoulders and look into her grey eyes, so solemn and sad now. “Yes, it will leave. After the night the new day will awaken. That is the way of life, Arwen. Everything passes, even sorrow. Believe me.”

I put such confidence in my words that I nearly succeed in convincing myself, and my daughter’s faint smile mirrors the one I put on my face.

The wind breaks the clouds. Suddenly a piece of clear blue sky appears over the valley. The mists are blown away. A ray of pale autumn Sun falls on the riverside bushes that still bear leaves. The coast of Bruinen glows red and golden in its last adornment before winter when the plants will sleep beneath a coat of snow and the coastal cliffs will be covered in ice. Somehow, the sunlight and vibrant tones lighten my heart; it is as if they would speak to that tiny spark of hope that still dwells within me, strengthening it. And I decide to let this spark grow. To smile. To laugh again, after some time. There are still so many things to enjoy and to be thankful for, and that is something I must help my children see.

There is a clatter of horse-hooves on the paved path in the yard. In a brief while two horses appear, and one quick glance is enough to see that both riders are unscathed. Arwen sighs in relief. I squeeze her hand shortly, then kiss her brow.

“I shall speak to your brothers now.”

~ The End ~

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