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Hot, dry air drifted through the open terrace door into Elrond’s study, baking the room in drowsy-afternoon, late-summer heat. The drone of bees in the flowers on the terrace provided a lulling counterpoint to the soft scratching of quill point on paper, as the Master of Rivendell noted the events of the last month.
The record was not encouraging.
Though Elrond seldom left his haven, his sons roamed far and wide through the North. This protected place, the Last Homely House, was still a welcome stop on the Great East-West road for the few who dared the dangers of travel. News came to him, and he knew the Age was growing darker. Forty years ago when the dragon was destroyed and the Necromancer was driven from Dol Guldur, he had entertained a faint hope, but the foundations of Barad-dûr were deep. The reports spoke of the tower being rebuilt. Evil still lurked in Mirkwood and the mountains swarmed with orcs and other foul things.
A stronger puff of breeze carried with it the perfume of honeysuckle that bloomed untimely on the terrace. Elrond’s pen faltered. The blue stone of the ring on his hand glittered. His hand rested only lightly on the paper yet the ring weighed heavily on his heart. He turned his head to better catch the scent, and the gold and white flowers that peeked through the twining foliage caught and held Elrond’s eye. An image of Celebrían appeared before him. He sighed wistfully. His thoughts ranged back through the years to the beginning of the Age when he had hoped evil was driven out of Middle-earth. His wife stood on the terrace, heavy with their sons, her laughing face buried in those flowering vines that still flourished there, sniffing their rich fragrance. Her pale gold hair had caught in the leaves and he had gone and gently freed her. Stroking the wayward strands back from her face, he was still amazed that this shining golden woman looked at him with love glowing in her deep, cornflower eyes. There was peace in the land and the cities of men grew and flourished. With this new Age, they could raise their children in joy, safe here in this timeless place that he kept secure.
Blue glittered again at the edge of his vision and he felt the press of evil at the limits of his control. The image of Celebrían’s face before him paled, color draining from her cheeks, lids dark and shadowed over her sunken eyes, their sparkle faded. He had carried her onto the ship and tucked her securely into her bed, but no answering tug from the sea pulled at his heart. He had longed for Rivendell, even as the craft, eager to be gone, swayed on the small swell in the harbour. Their sons were not yet ready to make the final choice to stay or go; vengeance consumed them. As for Arwen, the thought that she would still be exposed to the perils of Middle-earth haunted Celebrían: they had urged their daughter to join her mother on the voyage west. Arwen had wavered and only at the last postponed her decision.
Promise me this parting will not be forever, Celebrían had begged him. Promise me we will all be together again.
I may not compel our children, but I will do what I can, he had tried to reassure her. She had turned her face away and he saw a slow tear roll down her cheek as the time came for them to part.
The light tickle of a bee walking a curious line on his finger brought his attention back to the present. Elrond gently waved it back towards the door. Turning back to his journal, he noticed that his pen had been poised in midair, the ink dried solid on its tip. He gave a slight shake of his head and chastised himself for wandering in memory as he set to the task of cleaning it.
The words were again flowing smoothly onto the paper when he heard the click of the door-latch. He frowned. That this time was sacrosanct was well known to the household. He did not like to be disturbed. The door slowly opened. A dark head, wound with braids and lightly powdered with road dust peeked around the door. Laughing, twilight eyes sparkled at him from an unexpected but familiar face.
“Father, may I interrupt?” his daughter asked as she came fully into the room.
“Arwen!” Dropping his pen heedlessly on the desk, Elrond hastened to embrace her. Pressing his face against her hair, he breathed in the scents of campfire, horse and the indefinable freshness that was Arwen. He held her out at arms’ length and looked her carefully up and down, pleased to find that, though she looked as though she had been traveling rapidly, she was vibrantly alive and obviously safe. “I thought you still in Lórien. Which of my scouts needs to be reprimanded for letting you sneak past unannounced?”
“None, for I straightly forbade it. I wanted to surprise you.” Her delighted laughter filled his ears and assuaged a core of loneliness he often tried to deny he carried. She slipped away from his restraining arms and into the center of the room, stopping to face him.
He looked at her glowing beauty and her eager, secretive expression. Though her dusky hair and evening grey eyes were unlike Celebrían’s, he had always been able to see her mother in the shape of her face and the way she held her head. He had seen that same radiant look on her mother’s face, but then it had been turned towards him.
“Wish me happy, father.”
Elrond looked at her questioningly. Had his daughter, who so long had resisted the blandishments of suitors, and had refused to consider marrying in the height of this Age’s peace and glory, found love in this dark time? She nodded, her face lit by joy.
“You are in love? You have found love at last?” he asked her. She nodded again.
Behind his burgeoning joy, he was already mapping out the political implications of the match. Aragorn must be found and convinced to take a wife among the Dúnedain finally, now that the small hope he had had of winning Arwen was lost. Impatient with himself, for he did not know even yet who had won his daughter’s love, Elrond thrust the thought away and turned his full attention back onto Arwen. A sudden qualm struck him. “In Lórien?” he asked, needing the surety of her reply.
“Yes! I did not expect to love at all, nor to love him. But when I saw him again after so long… I was overwhelmed.” Her broad smile turned secret once more. “It seems impossible that I had not seen him this way before.”
Elrond ran over in his mind a number of likely candidates for the position of his daughter’s husband, but could think of none that she had favored. Arwen laughed and moved towards him. He reached for her and pulled her close. Looking down into her eyes, he saw her at peace and secure in the love she felt.
“I did nothing in haste, father, truly. Every day I spent with him increased my happiness, and on midsummer we plighted our troth on Cerin Amroth.”
He smiled, and, with a fondly recollected gesture, smoothed a wayward strand of hair back from her eyes with a laugh of his own. “I see you are happy, but you have not yet told me who has captured your heart. Do I know him? Have you brought him here or did you leave him behind in Lórien?”
“You know him well, and yes, he is here. I told him that we should shake the dust of travel from ourselves before we saw you. I sent him off to the baths, but I came ahead to tell you the good news privately.” For the first time Arwen looked uncomfortable. Her gaze slid away for a moment and then earnestly back to his. “I wish you to see him as he is, as I see him… a King of Men, and not a Ranger dirty from the wild.”
He froze and breathed out, “Aragorn.”
Once, in his youth, Elrond had been in a small boat with his brother. Elros had said something amusing and he had twisted back to laugh with him, pulling his paddle from the water. The next second icy waters were closing over his head, and only the shock of immersion kept him from inhaling water before he bobbed back to the surface. He felt the same now, his world tipped upside down.
Arwen reached out, and tentatively touched his shoulder, her face grave but her eyes still shining. “Many years ago, Grandmother said of me that I was very like Luthien and that perhaps my fate would be not unlike hers. When that troubled me, Mother always said that it only meant that I would find a great love. I have. I have found a great love. I will make the same choice as Luthien and as gladly.”
We will be sundered, then. Celebrían will look in vain for Arwen when I weary of Middle-earth at last and join her. No!
“He is a Man,” he got out at last through his shock.
“I did not seek to love this child of Men.” Arwen sounded exasperated as she slid out of his suddenly slack hold and paced restlessly over to the desk. “I thought him – I wanted him – to be just another of your fosterlings. I thought them all arrogant, cocksure, so brief. And yet Aragorn… he troubled my dreams. I know now I fled to Lórien for fear of meeting him again.” She came back to stand before him, and he saw in her eyes both the certainty of her love and her fear of distressing him. “You know him, father. You know he is insightful, kind, knowing, tender, absurdly attractive…” she trailed off and gave an unsteady laugh and a shaky smile. “Perhaps a father would not see that. I love him. I want his children. I want sons who look like him, and move like him. We will have beautiful daughters. Our love will last forever.”
Forever … forever… He, too, had held a beloved hand and sworn to love forever. Elrond walked out onto the terrace and gently fingered a leaf of the honeysuckle, breathing in the scent of sweetness that always recalled Celebrían. He was aware that Arwen had followed him and was standing near, still radiating an inner joy and certainty he had never felt in her before.
“Aragorn will love you all his life. But that is only a tiny flicker of time.” Elrond heard his voice harsh with his own grief. He carefully picked a fragile golden blossom of the honeysuckle and held to his face. He let it fall and reached out to caress a soft green leaf. “You do not understand the Gift of Men. Even now,” he hesitated, “Even now, it need not be your fate.”
“No.” She came to stand next to him, and her hand gently touched his where it lay on the vine. “I thought my roots rested only lightly in Arda’s soil. I thought I could pull free and shake them off with little loss and no pain.” She paused and he heard her deep indrawn breath. “But it is not so. My roots are deep. My love is here. My life is here. And at the end, “ she broke off and her nightingale laugh rang out, “I have estel. You named him so yourself.”
Her joy tasted of ashes in his mouth. Estel: the trust and hope in Ilúvatar’s mercy that said something would exist for Men beyond the limits of Arda. It had seemed a fitting name for the orphaned boy he had raised as his own. He knew, with a certainty he could not question, that, for Arwen, true estel would not be won easily. He feared she would be bitter and faded at the end of her far too brief life if she kept to this course, even with the ephemeral joys of her love for this Man to sustain her.
He felt her hand squeezing his.
“Do not forbid this, father,” she said anxiously. Glancing at Arwen, he saw her worried eyes, but her hopeful smile mocked the grief that clutched his heart.
“Will you be of the avari then, and follow this wanderer homeless through the wild, forgetting your place and your lineage?”
Again her laugh filled the terrace. “I would, but he will not have it. I will let him tell you all his plans. Aragorn says that the Eye is turned to Gondor and that now it will be possible for him to take up his place as Chieftain of the Dúnedain. He dreams of rebuilding Annúminas. He is a King, and his concerns are for his people.”
Sighing, he turned to face her. “I will not forbid this union, but nor will I give you, Lady of Imladris and of Lórien, to this Man lightly.”
Her arms came up and hugged him and he felt the feather touch of her lips on his cheek. “Thank you, father. There is nothing light about our love, except the joy it brings to both of us.” She released him and her hand touched her hair where it was still bound up in traveller’s braids. She gasped in alarm. “I must go. If he comes here without me…”
Elrond managed a smile. “Do not fear I will be unkind. Is he not also my son, and well beloved? Go. You cannot be more beautiful, but you could be less dusty.”
She reached up to touch his cheek with a slight caress. He watched her dance back into the room and peek out into the corridor before she left.
Elrond returned to his desk. Sourly, he examined the page of the journal disfigured by the splotch of ink from his carelessly dropped pen. He flipped back through the leaves, seeing anew the long record of losses and small victories. While the enemy’s Eye might be averted from the North now, a newly rebuilt Arnor, with Isildur’s Heir openly as its king, would draw It quickly with strength enough to overwhelm a fledgling kingdom.
It had been over ten years since Aragorn had been in the North. Elrond wondered not if, because all Men must, but how he had changed. Estel had always had the aura of kingship about him, and the reports said men still followed him willingly. But for his Arwen to be dazzled by him, Aragorn must have grown indeed.
Once again he set about cleaning off the dried ink from the pen tip, but his thoughts were on this latest of his brother’s heirs. He paused in his scraping and stared at the flakes of ink scattered on the page. Elros’s children had lived and died far from him. By the time their heirs had come back to Middle-earth from drowned Númenor, he could feel only distant echoes of kinship. They were Men, and he accepted their fates. Even Estel, whom he loved as much as the sons of his body, he had always known was a Man and under the Doom of Men. But Arwen… His fingers clenched and the tip of the quill cracked in his grip.
Inspecting the tip to see if it could be salvaged, he picked up a silver penknife that lay on the desk top. He carefully pared away the cracked edge and began to fashion a new tip. He could countenance this marriage, provide a haven for Arwen’s sons and watch them as they grew old and died, or died pitting themselves futilely against an evil that he knew could not be overcome by any strength now possessed by elves or men. He knew forbidding the match was folly. Both Aragorn and Arwen were grown, and their love was true and deep. It was far more likely that they would eventually defy him, and he would be estranged from them. Arwen’s children, then, would not have even the little protection he could give them. In either case, he would watch as Arwen – his beautiful, vibrant Arwen – wearied and passed beyond the circles of the world, forever lost to him. If he chose a third course, it was probable that the line of kings descended from his brother would die out. Aragorn had loved Arwen since he first came to manhood. Now that she returned his love, Elrond was certain he would take no other woman, not even to beget an heir for the Dúnedain.
He laid the newly mended pen carefully on the desk and turned to look out again at the terrace. The sun, now westering, laid a deep golden hue onto the vines that bloomed riotously. His hands shook and a lump rose in this throat as he stared out at the beauty he preserved. He swallowed, came to a decision and mastered himself.
He would listen to Aragorn’s plans, and support them where they seemed feasible. He feared that, giddy with Arwen’s love, Aragorn would have based them on dreams and not reality. A thousand years had passed since Arnor had been strong enough to be a kingdom. People, not land alone, made a realm; and the nearly fifty years since Arathorn had fallen had taken their toll on the Dúnedain. Elrond himself might have proclaimed himself High King of the Noldor after Gil-Galad fell, but he had known that such a claim would have been foolish. The Eldar left in Middle-earth were diminished, but Arwen’s lineage was still royal. His daughter would give up her life’s grace to no less than a doubly crowned king. If Aragorn could safely wear the crown of Gondor and hold the sceptre of Annúminas, then he would be worthy of her. If he could not do this in the span of years allotted to him, then Celebrían would see her daughter again.
Dipping his pen in the inkwell, he started to write once more.
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