1. A Simple Wish
"Ithilbor." Celeborn let the name hang on his tongue, drawing out each syllable as if it were syrup. The councillor who bore that name sat across from him, some feet away, sipping wine from a small silver cup. The two were in Celeborn's bedroom. They had been there only a short time, though already the fire burned low in the grate.
"Is that your true name, or one given you?" Celeborn asked.
"It was given me by my parents," the councillor Ithilbor said with a hint of a smile. "Or so I have been led to believe."
"Of course," Celeborn said quietly. He stared down at his hands to mask the inexplicable blush rising in his cheeks. Ithilbor, he had found, had ways of making him sound foolish even as he made his best effort at carefully choosing each word he spoke.
Ithilbor shifted forward in his seat and tilted his head to let the last trickle of wine slide down his throat. "If you're trying to judge my age by my name," he said as he set his cup on the table at his side, "I can aid you insofar as admitting that I am younger than you, as you suspect. But perhaps not less wise?"
"Perhaps," muttered Celeborn. He quickly switched the subject. "I hear you plan to leave again tomorrow."
Shrugging, Ithilbor leaned back into his chair. "Yes, alas. If it were up to me I would choose to stay indefinitely, but you know my wife hates this forest and would go back east as soon as possible."
Celeborn had met Ithilbor's wife once, years earlier. He struggled to remember her face, which he pictured in his mind as thin and angular with large eyes and a small, unsmiling mouth. The memory lit a pang of jealousy in his heart, an uncomfortable pinprick of dislike for the lady, though he was loath to admit to himself why. More than once he had wished she would simply stay in the east on her own, and leave Ithilbor to his councils in peace.
But he pushed the soreness aside as he called up a shadow of a smile, and looking up at his companion once more he asked, "And how is Edenhil?"
"She is well, thank you," Ithilbor answered. A smile crept up over his lips as well, though it was more curious, and deviously knowing. His eyes sparked with secrets.
"I am glad," said Celeborn. His words came out unintentionally flat and hard.
"And your fine lady?"
"Away," Celeborn said, and gave no elaboration.
Ithilbor pursed his lips to stifle a growing grin. "I am sorry to hear that," he said in a voice that gave no hint of disappointment. "I had very much looked forward to finally meeting her. It is strange, is it not, that my visits always coincide with your lady's absences?"
Celeborn nodded. "Mm. Very strange."
"Tell me about her, Celeborn. I would like to at the least have a clue. Are we not friends?"
Ithilbor's question, unquestioning as it seemed, stuck like a pin. Were the two of them friends? He never knew. They were acquaintances, surely, and they called each other on familiar terms. But true friendship had always remained elusive.
"Of course we are friends," said Celeborn.
"I have known you for..." He paused, trying to recall the exact number. He could not. "Years," he finished.
"We have never spoken like this, have we?" Ithilbor asked. "I mean, one on one, in a private space. I don't recall ever having spoken to you outside of court. Or if I have, it was briefly, in a corridor. This is much nicer, is it not?"
"Yes," Celeborn answered obediently, though his answer was hardly the truth. He wondered if Ithilbor could sense his discomfort or his lie. He recalled their past conversations, one by one, each of which had taken place around the schedules of councils and had lasted mere blessed moments. Those meetings, short and impersonal as they were, had always been awkward enough, as if something dreaded and unspoken hid beneath the frail shells of their bodies. A secret yearned to be set free. The longer they spoke, and the closer they came to abandoning formality, the harder it was to contain. Now each passing second chipped away at Celeborn's defensive wall.
"Ithilbor..." he said. Further words formed at his throat, though he choked them back.
There were a thousand things to say. A hundred phrases that could easily slide through a thin crack in a melting façade. He could word it elegantly or say it outright, that nagging want in his mind and heart that made his body tingle and shiver as if chilled while his palms sweated with an inner burning heat. The idea frightened him, but what was fear to an Elven lord? He could speak if he wished. It was his right.
He stood, and stared at the smugly grinning face of his companion. "I am..."
"You are...?" Ithilbor stood as well, taking an expectant step forward as he licked his lips.
"I'm sorry, but I am tired and it is late," said Celeborn. The words came out quickly, more reflex than will, and as soon as they were spoken the crack in the wall snapped shut. He was encased again. "I hate to rush you out," he added, "but I would sleep now."
"Of course." Ithilbor's smile faltered and fell, so little that the change was hardly noticeable, but still it fell.
"I don't mean to be rude, you know, and I hope you understand..."
Ithilbor held up his hand. "No, I am the thoughtless one, imposing on you at such a time. Of course I understand. I understand entirely." With his arrogant grin, he turned and walked slowly to the door. "Sleep well," he said, and glanced briefly back to Celeborn's stony face.
"I will," said Celeborn, and he looked to his shoes.
And then, with only a few effective words, Ithilbor was gone. Celeborn exhaled a long breath as the door clicked shut.
"I am safe," he told himself. "I have done no wrong, not now, and I will not. Not even if he returns, years from now. I have strength to overcome him. But will he return? His visits are as difficult to predict as his thoughts, and just as dangerous. He would seek to do me harm, I think, should I see him again. He would try to cheat me. I can see it in his eyes. He is like a serpent, smooth and sleek and poisonous, and do I have the power to fight him? What would he do, should he return? What would I?"
He lay back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling that glittered in patterns like the night sky, and voiced a simple wish.
"Oh stars," he whispered, "let him return one day."
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.