1. A Far and Distant Star
Bilbo's song in the Hall of Fire stirred Elrond to seek quiet communion with the trees and stars. Upon the morrow his council would decide the fates of all the free peoples and, as he often did in his moments of pensive uncertainty, he looked to the constancy of the stars, to the example of his father, for wisdom. His visions had been dark since Frodo's arrival and he felt the shadow beyond the borders of Imladris shudder in anticipation like a living thing. Would the shadow that had pursued his people from the First Age to the Third claim this world at last?
Starlight rained down on him like a benediction and he looked up at Eärendil, his wise grey eyes reflecting his melancholy. Elrond's life had ever been haunted by loss - his mother taken by the sea, his father by the stars - and the burdens of the Firstborn whose path he had chosen.
Eärendil had always been a mythic figure, even to him. He often marveled at the courage it must have taken for his father, a mortal man, to sail the Great Sea in search of passage to Aman, to stand before the Valar and plead for aid, to fight and slay a dragon of Morgoth, to take on the mantle of immortality, and to know at last that he must put behind him all he had known and loved to ensure the survival of, not just his people, but all the peoples of Middle Earth. Elrond had thought on his father's loneliness whenever he felt the same bitter ache, the desire for the shelter of strong arms, for the guidance he so sorely needed in his hours of darkness and doubt.
With the faith and optimism of youth, he had tried as a child to farspeak him, but his efforts had come to naught for the distance was too great. Only Elros knew of his clandestine attempts, and many nights had he held him and spoken words of comfort when the grief of failure had worn heavily upon him. When Elros had chosen the Gift of Men, Elrond mourned his brother's loss long before he succumbed to the vagaries of time.
Then he had married Celebrian and a reckless hope grew in him and his loneliness eased. Three beautiful children followed and Elrond allowed himself to embrace this hope and the peace that followed so many years of war. Then Celebrian had been attacked, her spirit too wounded to survive outside Aman. She had sailed and the grief of her loss had nearly broken him. With a will too shattered to prevent it, he had seen his beloved sons, as wounded in their way as their mother, pulled into a life of battle and violence. In the hope of shielding Arwen he sent her to Lothlórien. It was not until she came again to Imladris and he watched her return Estel's affection had he considered the loneliness she must have felt, even as had he, and of the times she might have wished for the shelter of his arms, for his reassurance and strength.
Perhaps the bride price was too steep to ask of Aragorn, but he would not give his daughter, his own dear star, lightly. If she were to accept the Gift of Men it could be only for one worthy of her. Now that the ring had been found, Aragorn would seek his destiny, a destiny for which he himself had groomed him. Whether Estel succeeded or died in the attempt the outcome for Arwen would be the same, and Elrond's heart ached to be facing this final, most bitter, loss.
He looked up at Eärendil and thought on his life and the path that had led him to this moment. Had he been as good a husband, as good a father, as he could have been, as he wanted to be? When he had sailed and his children looked up at the stars and thought on him, what would they remember?
He bowed his head and his mind's eye beheld a vision of flame and shadow. The flame burned away the shadow and beyond he beheld a city of purest white. Arwen stood beside Aragorn, the Evenstar upon her brow, burning with the light of a Silmaril, a smile of joy upon her lips as the laughter of children rang in the background. His heart soared and the ring on his finger glowed with a cool intensity before the vision wavered and was lost in a grey mist.
Elrond opened his eyes and the darkness of the garden surrounded him once more. Alone, he must face the dawn and oversee the council. Only one solution did he see to the problem of the ring's disposition and a more slender thread of hope he had never trusted. If he had the power to petition the Valar for aid, as Eärendil had so many years ago, they might all be spared what was to come.
The night chill peaked and then waned as the first light of Anor edged the horizon. The sky was clear, the stars bright as gems, and Elrond felt the heavy dew seep into the hem of his robes. Eärendil's course would soon take him behind Anor and he would be lost to sight until the following eve. Elrond gazed upon Eärendil, and cast his mind into the heavens with all the longing of his truncated childhood. Never had he more desired his father's presence than he did at this moment in time, when all the world hovered on the brink of the abyss.
The word drifted up to the ocean of stars, a plea and prayer in one. A light flickered within Elrond's troubled heart and a voice, so close it might have been spoken into his ear, said, "Have courage, my son."
Elrond's eyes overflowed as Eärendil gave one last glimmer of brightness before fading in the pale sky of dawn.