1. Go Not From Me!
Outside, the stars shone clear as they always did, shedding pale light upon the pine-clad slopes. Crickets sang softly in the flower beds, and a light breeze dragged ragged bits of cloud across the sky. Yet Elrond, standing before the window, stared sightlessly out its glass panes, heedless for once of the beauty of the world. Six days it has been, he thought wearily, and closed his eyes. Six days! In that time, he had not slept, had barely eaten, and if there were still a world beyond the threshold of his door, he knew it not. Elrohir and Elladan by turns saw to the governance of his house, and in that task they had all the aid that Erestor could give, while Arwen quietly assumed her mother's duties. For his part, Elrond was profoundly grateful for the steadiness that his children evinced, for it was more than he had in him to offer at the moment.
Of their own volition, his eyes strayed to the doorway beyond which lay his sleeping quarters, and to the shrouded bed upon which his wife, Celebrían, lay. He would have been at her side even now, but that in his exhaustion he had not the strength to look again upon the tortured creature she had become. Not yet. At least she dreamt not tonight, and that might be a good sign. It was, at any rate, a blessing and a relief, for when the feverish hallucinations took her, he suffered them at her side, fighting his own horrorified revulsion in order to pierce the darkness that lay upon her mind and send her into a deeper sleep. The twins had done their best on that terrible journey home to soothe her, but Celebrían could scarcely recognize them in her madness. Elrohir, indeed, bore still the marks of her nails upon one cheek, having leaned too close as he had tried vainly to restrain her convulsions. Only her husband's voice and touch had the power to calm her, and Elrond was at the limits of his not inconsiderable endurance. If she does not soon wake, if the poison remains within her, then I know not how we shall continue! he thought, feeling himself on the very edge of despair. For it was in his heart now that Celebrían would die, and the thought could scarce be borne without threatening to overwhelm him.
From the moment that Elladan and Elrohir, bearing their mother with them, had crossed the Bruinen Elrond had been aware of them. Celebrían's tortured dreaming had touched his thoughts across the distance, and her husband had abandoned his chores to ride at the gallop to meet her and their sons. "We tried, Father," Elrohir had said immediately, his voice breaking under the strain of the last several days. "The orcs were too many at first, and they… they took her. Two days we searched, but by then…."
"We tried to help her," Elladan had broken in when his brother had fallen silent, succumbing to tears at last. "Alas that we could not!" Neither of them had come unscathed from that battle, and the small household escort they had led had been grievously reduced. But Elrond had had eyes only for his wife, lying pale and bloodied upon a bier. Some of the marks would never heal, yet that was the least of his concerns. What poison the orcs had used, he knew not with certainty, yet he had seen warriors–Man and Elf alike, and too many of them friends–with like symptoms, and he feared the worst: that if Celebrían did not die, she would live in a shadow-world, alive but not truly aware, a pale and tormented echo of herself. Could I bear it, if I healed her body only enough to save a ghost? Elrond wondered.
Silently, he drifted to the doorway of the sickroom again and stood there, arms braced against the doorframe, as he gazed in at his wife. The fire was built high, and Celebrian's hair–a white-gold that harkened to her lineage through Galadriel of the House of Finarfin–gleamed as gossamer strands of spider-silk, dazzling to behold, and yet it served only to further leech her of color. Chalk-white was her skin, save where cuts and bruises marred it, and her face was drawn even in sleep, eyes sunken above hollowed cheeks. Elrond felt a terrible rage building within him at the sight of such desecration, and his hands balled into tightly clenched fists as he fought to calm himself. For even as Celebrían's dreams troubled his spirit, so his anger would reach her and perhaps rouse her to fear. And if she should die…. The severing of ties woven and strengthened over thousands of years would tear his mind, leaving a vast and irreparable wound that he would have no choice but to live with… or perish of grief.
"Father?" Arwen's voice, low and sympathetic, sounded behind him suddenly. "Father, will you not rest now, while she sleeps peacefully at least? I will stay at her side, but go now to bed! For her sake, I beg you!"
"I will rest, dear one, in a little while," Elrond replied without turning.
"You have said that for the past three days!" Arwen protested, coming to his side and laying a hand upon each shoulder as she cocked her head to peer up at his downcast face. "Would you leave her to the mercy of her dreams because you are too weary to help see her through them?"
"You know I would not, Aralindë," said her father, and Arwen blinked at the use of that childhood name, for Elrond had never given any sign that he knew of it ere now. "But I cannot rest just yet. She may wake, or she may… not," he ended, unable to finish the disjunction. Arwen understood, of course, and he felt her hands grip hard ere she released him.
"Then go to her. I will wait for you here," his daughter replied, and this time there was no gainsaying her decision. Elrond managed a slight smile for her stubbornness and, girding himself, obediently went inside, drawing the heavy curtains behind him. Gliding silently over the carpetted floor, he approached the bed and stood silently over the supine figure. So still she lay that even elvish eyes could scarce discern the rise and fall of her breast as she breathed, and Elrond was reminded irresistably of the Houses of the Dead, in the cities of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath ere its fall. Except that for Celebrían, there was no peace in this ghastly, twilit repose. With a sigh, the Lord of Rivendell folded himself into the chair pulled close to the bedside and he took one of his wife's hands in his. Her skin, hot to the touch, seemed paper dry, and Elrond fancied that by touch alone he could count all the bones in that slender hand. Celebrían, my beloved, I know that we are bound still by our love, and that thou canst hear me yet, though in the nether realms where thou wanderest, my cries come but faintly! I know not now what to say to thee, save 'Come home.' Come home, Miren*, for thy silence is more painful to me than any nightmare! Wilt thou not wake?
How long he sat thus, clasping her hand and entreating in silence, he knew not. But for the low crackle of the fire in the hearth, naught marked the passing hours of darkness, yet Elrond felt the weight of them keenly in his wife's absence. Two millenia had they dwelt together, and he had little heeded the passing of centuries, having an Elvish disdain for the short measures of Men. Now though…. Now do I know indeed the weariness of Elros at the end, after the passing of his beloved Nirië! It struck him forcibly how very far removed seemed his brother's life, separated as it was now by the Doom of Men and lives lived according to different bounds. He had never quite understood his brother's choice, for the strangeness of the final fate of Men had repelled him. But perhaps now I glimpse dimly what a blessing is Eru's gift to them! For without Celebrían, shall even Eressëa be any refuge for me? Middle-earth, for all its swift waning, was yet beloved of him, for upon its soil Celebrían had walked. Beneath the golden eaves of Lórien they had first met, when the Third Age was still young, and Sauron newly defeated. Later, they had married upon the banks of the river Nimrodel, and Imladris' vales had seen the birth of their children. There was no part of Rivendell not hallowed by her presence: he recalled a certain way that Celebrían tossed her head when the light slanted over the western ridges, and the laughter in her grey-green eyes as she turned to him in the evening. The slopes and sheer walls that rose up had carried her voice far as she sang strange songs out of the depths of time beneath the pine forests. And vivid in his mind were the many nights he had wakened to her touch, to the brush of her lips against his skin and the feather light caress of her thoughts…. If only I had Celebrían at my side, I would endure the fading of Middle-earth if that were her wish! But if the Halls of Mandos lie between us, then what worth has even fairest Valinor for me if I must be ever alone 'til the End?
Elrond opened his eyes then, and saw that the fire had burned low indeed, and that the twilight had grown deep. It was the darkest hour of the night, and as he gazed wearily down upon Celebrían, he knew he could last no longer without rest. And so, quietly, with such stealth as only an Elf could manage so as not to disturb her, he laid him down beside her, still holding her hand with one of his. With his other arm he cradled her head, nestling close. And though she was oblivious to his presence, there was something comforting in the mere fact that he could hold her thus, as he had so many times before. Elrond's eyes drifted shut, and elvish memory unfolded like a rose, opening layers of time and remembrance, mixing the living night with fair thoughts, all bound with the love that he bore for her, and which he hoped might yet be returned.
They came again: vague forms in the darkness that swirled about him, and soft, cruel laughter trailed after them, echoing in the gloom. One of the shadows suddenly rushed him, and as Elrond recoiled, it passed through him like a ghost, piercing him like a shard of ice. Other ghostly shapes followed their fellow, and Elrond cried out, collapsing to his knees as the pain mounted and he sought once more the means to resist these shades. Celebrían! For she was here, in all of this horror, he could feel it, but where? Her fear pulsed in his mind, threatening to overwhelm his reason, and he felt her hatred of this darkness, her longing to be free of it. Yet however she writhed, there was no escaping the prison of her own terrible memories, and the poison kept her from waking.
Elrond reached for her in spirit, stretching to the limits of the tethers that bound body and soul in this boundary between worlds. He could touch her thus, if only barely–enough, perhaps, to calm her even if not to draw her with him out of this dreamscape. Celebrían's suffering wounded him even as he found her once more, but he cared not. Better this than nothing at all, and in the midst of her terror, he felt her rage as well: the anger of one born to freedom and who seeks it ever, though her efforts mired her deeper into the night. Hear me, beloved, and do not fight me! he implored. No shade am I, nor enemy, but thy husband! Trust me, please Miren! But Celebrían withdrew once more, retreating a little further from life, and Elrond knew a moment of despair. She will flee too far, and there will be nothing holding her to the form that I know! Has anyone in this world the power to soothe a nightmare that will not end?
Of a sudden, a stray bit of memory drifted to him, perhaps stirred by his earlier use of Arwen's childhood name and his own reminiscence: of Celebrían, singing a lullaby to the twins when they had woken in tears from their joint dreams. The melody was no sooner in his mind than it entered into this dream, seeming to arise from nothingness, emmanating from nowhere and everywhere. There arose a sense of hesitation, and then spark that was Celebrían paused in its flight. Elrond waited, afraid that if he approached her now, she would retreat again, but a cautious hope filled him nonetheless. For a tendril of thought, just the barest whisper of intention snaked its way through the chaos, seeking… seeking…. Elrond held his breath as it encountered him, feeling the startled, almost fearful query, and he responded lovingly: Here am I, my love! Then he waited, hardly daring to hope. For a time, Celebrían remained poised on the edge of flight. But then, with a timidity entirely unlike her, she touched on his thoughts again, and this time there was a wondering, tearful hope that matched his own. Elrond? The thought emerged from the darkness, weary, aching, but still his wife's well-loved essence. I am here, Celebrían! I am here!
Elrond woke suddenly to find himself clinging to his wife with painful fervor even in sleep. "Father!" Arwen stood by the bedside, and grave fear stared out of her eyes as she caught his arm. "Father, are you well?"
"Celebrían!" Elrond muttered dazedly, shaking his head sharply as he sat up, gathering his wife in his arms. "Arwen, go! Find your brothers!"
"Of course, but–" she began to protest.
"Go! Now!" Elrond snapped, fierce and unable to voice either hope or fear yet, and Arwen, perceiving his almost desperate anticipation, fairly fled the room in search of the twins. "Celebrían!" he murmured into her ear, his voice the barest whisper. If she comes not now, then she never will again! That he knew, and he bent all his thought on his wife's faint presence, entreating, begging her to hold fast to him, to trust him as she once had. All the formidable power of one of the last Elf-lords of Middle-earth focused on the pale, wasted figure he held in his arms, and Elrond felt her own labored heart-beats and too-shallow breathing as his own. Fever raced in his blood as well, and he felt himself struck dumb, unable to speak, unable to weep, unable even to see beyond the pale gold of her hair. Stay with me! In the midnight of his despair, which was equally hope too heavy to be borne, he began to sing softly, wordlessly, in a last effort to entice her to return. It was the same lullaby that had entered into the dream, beautiful in its simplicity, soothing, a bulwark against the darkness.
The power of the Eldar race runs deep, and at need it does not fail; not since Fingon sought Maedhros on the peaks of Thangorodrim, or Luthíen cast down Morgoth himself from his dark throne has any song voiced upon Middle-earth had such power in it, and since the passing of the Third Age none has ever heard its like. But to Elrond, its author, what he wrought seemed so very little, for he felt Celebrían's stillness as that of death, and he fell silent at last. Within those walls not a sound issued forth, save his own anguished breathing. But even as he sat, head bowed, already mourning the loss of his wife, he felt suddenly a tremor run through Celebrían's body. With a soft gasp, her eyes fluttered open, and her fingers clutched weakly at Elrond's hand as he held hers.
"Celebrían?" Elrond breathed, hardly daring to hope as he tightened his own grip, and shifted slightly so he could look into her face, into the exhausted grey-green eyes that reminded him so of shade beneath the pines. Eyes that held all the world for him, and that he had never thought to see opened again.
"Elrond?" she managed, voice quavering, and she lifted a trembling hand to his face. "Is it… is it thou indeed? I was alone…alone for so long!"
"I am here, Miren! I am here and shall always remain with thee!" Elrond said swiftly, closing his eyes against the terrible, elated relief that coursed through him like water through a flood channel.
"I thought it would never end…." Celebrían whispered hoarsely, tears leaking from those gorgeous eyes against her will.
"Do not think on it, beloved!" Elrond murmured comfortingly. "Only rest now, and stay with me!"
"Rest." Celebrían exhaled the word, giving it a prayerful sound. "Yes," she murmured softly, "I shall rest. But stay…." Her voice faltered, and there was an infinite grief in it when she continued, "I know not yet, my husband. I am so weary.…"
"Then sleep," Elrond replied, stilling the fear that leapt up in him at her words. "Sleep, and know that I am with thee." He lay back, cradling her in his arms, and Celebrían buried her face against his chest, at ease at last in her husband's arms. Alive! Alive! Even if she departs, I will see her again ere the End! Elrond thought, drawing a deep breath. Such a separation would be hard, but not unbearable–not after he had looked his darkest dread in the face and survived it. My beautiful Celebrían, he thought tenderly, gazing down drowsily at her. Bide with me even a little while more, and I shall be well-content!
When Arwen returned with Elrohir and Elladan in tow, she drew back the curtain and then held up a hand for her brothers to stop. Halt they did, peering over her shoulder, and Arwen felt a radiant smile spread slowly across her face as she beheld her father and mother peacefully asleep in each other's arms.
"Elbereth be thanked!" Elrohir breathed softly, and she felt his hand upon her shoulder. Elladan gave a soft sigh of relief as well, and Arwen let fall the curtain back into place.
"Come," she murmured softly, "Let us leave them 'til the morning!" She slid an arm through each of her brothers', drawing them along with her. Mother has returned, and even if she seeks the Havens, we shall meet again, when at last we forsake Middle-earth! So Arwen thought, and smiled as Elrohir hugged her tight, while Elladan laid a gentle hand upon the back of her neck. Thus entwined, they made their way out, content to leave 'til the morrow the hard choices–whether foreseen or unexpected–that must follow.
* "Miren"= my treasure.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.