The ground had been rough, had been sharp when she had been thrown there. Celebrían knew this. But now it was merely cold. The pricks against her face and her side receded into the deadly chill that had burrowed into her chest; it was in her bones, in her blood, in each breath. All world has been compressed into a grain of sand, she thought deliriously, and embedded in my mind. She commanded her body to stand, her joints to move. And so she stood, and she walked out into the light, where the sun would warm her and Elrond would find her . . . but no, she dreamed, and the ground was ice. Move, she told herself again. She remembered what it felt like to move, the sensation of blood flowing to muscles, the pull of tendons and the slide of bone. She felt herself move, hallucinated it, dreamed it, and saw herself from above, as still as stone. She wondered if she was truly breathing, or but dreamed of life. The world is in my mind, and so I can not move, which makes sense, of course, because I must wait for it to stop, which is reasonable, and then it will not be quite so cold in the morning.
*Celebrían, open your eyes.*
Which is a silly thing to say, Elrond, because my eyes are open. I can see them staring at me from the shadows, and they are the shadows, and they breathe their foul breath onto my face when they think I am not looking. With supreme effort, Celebrían opened her eyes, and with sight lucidity also returned, as did the pain. Bloodied, bound, and naked, she lay upon ground that was rough after all. And cold.
She shuddered as sensation and memory returned, and was grateful to be alone. She knew it would not last long.
"Open your eyes," a ruined voice demanded from the darkness. "Where is it?" She did not answer, and it snaked nearer. "Where is it?" it grated, and the darkness oiled through her mind unhindered. The invasion was, somehow, magnitudes worse than the earlier ravaging defilement of filth that had thrust into her body. "You reek of elven power," it continued disdainfully, "as you did when last we met. Yet now, as then, you are not the ringbearer. Who is he?" At the question, evil moved languidly inside her soul, taking its time.
"Who is he?" it asked again, pressing deeper, tearing, poisoning. "And where? I can hear him inside you, raging against the violation. Will you save her this time, ringbearer?" it mocked as it moved in the places that before had been Elrond's alone, grinding with brutality where Elrond had always caressed with care. "Would you want to? Or will you leave her here with me, as debased filth?"
It took pleasure in her agony, but greater pleasure in its own power. Celebrían's connection with Elrond had gone utterly still, and in the silence she could hear familiar, fury-laced voices raised in distant battle. "Nothing to say, ringbearer?" evil continued, and then violently withdrew as Celebrían gasped in psychic pain.
It looked down at her, its hatred pulsing, dripping on her body and soul. "They are coming for you," it said smugly. "Which serves my purposes. I only need his trinket for a moment, to find what is mine. Though I think I would enjoy having my way with him before I break his mind to my will." Her tormentor drew near, and spoke against her lips. "Take me to him."
"Celeborn," Galadriel said, searching desperately for calm, "you must not do this."
"She is our daughter," he answered simply, and continued to strap his ancient but well-kept armor to his body.
"I had not forgotten. She was targeted, husband; evil knew her from before, and sought her again. It is more lucid; it is growing in power; it is searching for Elrond."
Celeborn looked up pointedly. "It may well find him unless we reach her soon. How much longer can you reign in his mind and hide the knowledge in hers?"
She brushed aside his comment, valid though it was. "And evil knows you, perhaps better than it knows her. Annatar sat at our table during our days at Eregion. He knew of our love, and loathed it. He suspected I held one of the rings. He would not hesitate to use your agony to test his theory."
"I am willing to take that chance," he answered as he stood, the mithril rings of his mail shimmering in the light.
"I am not," she answered with tight desperation, and her panic slipped from her control and echoed through their bond.
*Precious Eru,* she continued, unwilling to trust her voice, *I have no control where you are concerned; I never have. Not over myself, and certainly not over you. He needs but one of the elven rings to find the master ring; it matters not which. Could you hide all you know from his flaming eye? Could Elrond stop me when he is thus weakened? Could Mithrandir move in time? Would you give him Middle Earth to save your daughter?*
Celeborn stopped, his back toward her. "Thus will duty take all the fruits of our love," he answered. "For duty's sake we fought the Balrog, and lost Amroth to the sea. For duty's sake we fight for rings, and leave Celebrían to the dens of orc. For duty we will fight the long defeat until we are lost, even to each other. So be it." He turned, and there was a measure of peace even in his agonized gaze. "We knew long ago the cost of our love, and accepted it. The reckoning comes due, and almost it is beyond what can be borne; yet for love's sake, and for yours, I will bear it."
Elladan cradled his mother in his arms as he leapt from his horse and sprinted across the courtyard. He held the strong woman who had rocked him so many times. He held Galadriel's daughter, with her gentle poise and iron strength. He held Celeborn's child, who had a deep understanding of all Middle Earth and all who called it home. He held Elrond's wife, the better half of a mystical pair who opened their haven to all in need. He held his mother. Yet in his gentle embrace, she was none of what she had been; she was diminished, faded, cold -- so very cold. Her blood had already soaked through his tunic, and he wondered fleetingly whether he would always feel it upon his skin.
Behind him Elladan could hear his brother screaming for their father, though his voice seemed miles removed. Elladan could not move fast enough; it felt as if some terrible force was tearing at each stride. He took the stairs two at a time; three at a time. Where was the top? There was no air to breathe; there was not enough air in all the world, and he could feel his heart raging inside his chest. In its violence, he could not tell if his mother's yet beat. He burst into his parents' chambers, placed his precious, broken burden onto the bed and knelt at her side, his breath coming in painful, sobbing bursts.
Then Elrond was there; his father placed an unsteady hand on his son's shoulder. "Are you hurt?" he asked roughly.
Elladan shook his head. "The blood is mother's," he answered dully, and looked into his father's face. It was as gray as Celebrían's, and he could see that the pain that crested in her unconscious body was inflicted upon Elrond as waking agony. Elladan took a single, shaking breath to focus himself. "Can you do this, father?"
Elrond did not answer, but displaced his son to kneel at his wife's side. For a moment he did not touch her, but merely looked upon her, and struggled replace the despair of a lover with the detachment of a healer.
"Celebrían," he murmured brokenly, and bowed his head. He clenched his right hand into a fist and looked up with desperate determination before he placed it on her breast. She came abruptly awake with a cough and a violent start; with speed and strength that Elrond could not expect she turned her hands to catch his wrist.
"Elrond," she hissed. "Don't. He seeks you through me. You know this."
"I care not," Elrond answered vehemently.
"I will not allow it."
"There is no other way."
"Elrond," she said with a desperate, pained whisper, and pulled at the collar of his cloak to bring his face nearer to her own. "I have been ravaged by evil . . . can feel it stalking us both . . . it lurks behind the ring, as it always . . . Elrond," she coughed, and there was blood on her lips. "I can not bear the touch of evil again. Please . . . " and oblivion took her again.
Elrond made no sound as he wretched the ring from his finger, though it seemed loath to release him, and hurled it furiously to the nightstand. It bounced once, twice, with a gentle, melodious chime, and came to rest, visible for the first time in centuries. From the doorway where he stood with medical supplies in his arms, Elrohir gave a strangled gasp. Elladan met his father's stony gaze with wide, betrayed eyes, and reached forward to touch the ring, disbelieving. His father roughly shoved him backward, and Imladris' lord and its eldest heir were briefly locked in a battle of wills before Elladan pulled away and fled the room.
"Elrohir," the lord commanded, "bring me those bandages."
Unseen in the doorway, Glorfindel sunk to the ground and leaned against the frame, his head in his hands.
Glorfindel found Elrond standing alone in the dark on a stone bridge. Far below the water hurried by, and the cool mists of Imladris' waterfalls carried the taste of autumn leaves in the air.
"How are you, my lord?" Glorfindel asked quietly.
Elrond sighed deeply. "Weary, Glorfindel."
Glorfindel nodded and stood beside his old friend. Elrond looking listlessly across his star-lit valley, and drew no comfort from it.
"It knew her, Glorfindel," Elrond said abruptly. "It remembered her, and hunted her to find me."
"I'm . . . I'm sorry, my lord, what remembered her? The orc horde?"
Elrond laughed darkly. "Worse than orc. The One Ring is stirring, Glorfindel. It may even now be found."
Glorfindel shook his head. "You are grieved, Elrond, deeply so. You have been battered by the evil inflicted upon Celebrían. Perhaps it is that which you are feeling."
"Nay, Glorfindel," Elrond answered heavily. "I can feel his power growing through my own ring. I did not recognize it until Celebrían begged me not to touch her with Vilya -- she detected the shadow of what she had known with such horrific intimacy." Elrond pressed his hands to his face and groaned. "How can I see all that I must see in the coming years without her to clarify my vision?"
"She will recover," Glorfindel supplied with hollow hope.
Elrond looked to the sky and gasped; he ruthlessly quashed his grief. "No, she will not," he answered when he had regained control. "I have lost her, and I very nearly lost myself. He tortured her, he defiled her, and in my fury I nearly threw myself into the teeth of his trap, as he intended. She stopped me. So close, Glorfindel. Next time he will have the ring, and he will succeed." He glanced into his friend's eyes, despairing. "I do not desire to survive that day."
Glorfindel wrapped his fists around the rail, and was reminded horribly of another age, another life, when the starlight had glistened off the tears of Elrond's ancestors -- when they had stood in the darkness with Glorfindel of Gondolin, and begged him to carry on when they fell. It was now as it had been then.
"Please, my lord, do not ask this of me," Glorfindel whispered. "You wielded Vilya in the Second Age and eluded Sauron's grasp."
"And this age I have wrought too much, I have allowed it too deeply in my mind," Elrond said with a humorless laugh. "Should Sauron regain the One Ring, he would immediately discern my heart and works. Even if I was prepared for the onslaught, I fear I could not long withstand him."
"Would I have time?" Glorfindel murmured, breaking a moment of silence.
Elrond breathed deeply, meditatively. "I doubt it, but I would ask you to try."
"Or die in the attempt?" Glorfindel asked with an ironic lilt.
Elrond turned suddenly. "Should Sauron retake his prize, death will be for one of us. Pray that it is mine. Pray that you send my soul to the mercy of Mandos' Halls. Elsewise I fear the horror unleashed on this world by a tenth úlairi."
"What of the eleventh?" Glorfindel wearily asked. "And the twelfth?"
"One would be Celeborn's problem," Elrond answered. "And the other I do not know. But one is yours. Please, Glorfindel."
Though the muscles of Glorfindel's jaw were knotted in grief, he placed his hand over his heart and nodded.
Elrond released a breath and turned to walk away.
"My lord," Glorfindel called softly after him. "Celebrían will sail?"
"She shall," Elrond answered.
It had been long since Celebrían had seen the sea. She remembered the cool touch of the waves upon her legs and the feel of the wet sand shifting beneath her feet as the tides teased the grains away. The mist upon her face, the salt in her hair, the cry of the gulls. She remembered being awed by its immensity, and had asked her mother if there was anything on the other side of the waves. She had been but a child then, unable to understand the tension in her parents' bodies and the strife in their voices as they spoke rapidly -- angrily -- in a tongue she did not know. Even the loveliest shells had not comforted them, and so she distrusted the sea.
She stood now beside it again, shrouded by the thick gray mist of the pre-dawn morning, and did not try to see what lay beyond the void. She could hear the mournful waves heaving themselves to the beach, clawing in fury at the shore before they slipped away into the troubled waters, unable to hold on.
She felt a gentle touch on her back, and quieted her mind enough to find one last moment of peace on the shores of Middle Earth. "They wait," Elrond whispered. Celebrían nodded and sought blindly for his hand. She ignored Vilya, as she ignored the knowledge that behind them her footsteps were swept by the waves into the sea, erasing the proof of her passing. She had no desire to know whether Elrond's remained, whether it would seem to others that but one elf had walked alone, or whether the sea had claimed him as well. Both were metaphors of equal agony.
They had arrived at their ending.
"Elrond," she said taking his face gently in her hands and guiding his eyes to her own. His eyes, as gray as the sea, and as deep. "Elrond," she said again, helpless and grieved. She traced his brow with her fingertips, memorizing, beseeching. *Come with me!*
He drew a shuttering breath, pressed her cold hands between his own, and kissed them, weeping. "I cannot," he whispered.
*Give the ring to Glorfindel. Give it to Elladan. Give it to my father. Throw it into the sea.*
For a moment she saw him consider it. For the briefest flash of time his eyes told her yes. Then he closed them in pain and pulled her into his embrace. *Please, meleth-nín, do not ask me to do what I cannot.*
"Then promise me that you will follow," she whispered against his lips, his tears mingling with her own.
He did not answer.
"Elrond," she begged. And for the first time in a year, he opened his mind to her. In the pain of the long days he had often been in her mind with the cool touch of a healer. He had soothed, he had calmed, but had refused her access to his thoughts, and though she had not admitted it to him, she had been grateful. She could not have borne his grief, much less the piercing knowledge that in his grief he leaned more heavily than before on Vilya.
Now, with infinite care he gently enfolded her mind in his own and guided her past his sorrow, outside Vilya's immediate attention, and to a memory where she could feel the cool mist of Imladris' waterfalls on Elrond's skin and taste the autumn leaves on the air.
*I cannot see the end of this,* he admitted to her. *All the paths I have wandered end, as they began, in the fires of Orodruin, and I see nothing beyond. If victory is yet a possibility, I see not how. * Through their bond, he allowed her to feel the swell of his grief, his only hope in death upon Glorfindel's sword.
"I cannot promise you that I will follow," Elrond continued in a low voice. "I cannot promise you anything."
Celebrían grasped the collar of his robe. "I will wait for you, Elrond Peredhil," she whispered fiercely. "On the shores of Valinor, or at the gates of Mandos, or at the end of the world, we shall meet again. Gerin estel uireb, meleth-nín. Estel far an men."
Celebrían, meleth, daro. Cuino, bereth nín. Cuino a no. Garo-lim - Celebrían, love, stay. Live, my queen. Live and be. Hold on.
Gerin estel uireb, meleth-nín. Estel far an men - I have eternal hope, my love. Hope enough for us.
Orodruin - Mount Doom
Úlairi - Nazgul, ring-wraith
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.