Standard Bearer, The
27. Return to Rivendell
Now it was time to leave. To follow the rest of the warriors and take the long road homeward. Lord Sauron had been defeated, cut down by the arm of Man. His Tower had been levelled and his spirit fled, weak and broken, into the wilderness. But for how long?
He shook his head slowly. Their victory, bought at the greatest cost, had not been completed. Whether the Darkness could rise again or nay, he did not know.
Beside his grey, a red-gold horse nickered quietly, ears pricked. He was accoutred for riding, in the manner of Men, and strapped in its familiar place, well wrapped against the elements, was the Banner of Amarnon.
But the saddle was empty, there was no Standard Bearer to see it to its last resting place, with the heir of Gil-galad. No Gildinwen to accompany her lord home.
The horse called again, a forlorn and questioning sound. As though he understood.
Elrond reached out a gentle hand to stroke the strong neck. “I know.” He whispered. “She is not with us.” He breathed deeply, feeling himself torn. He was leaving the land of Mordor without her. Having searched and waited for months, while Farin and his dwarves pulled the Fortress of Barad-dûr to the ground, stone by filthy stone. Finding nothing. She was not there, and he could stay in that dark place no longer.
Imladris called to him. Home. The green, shaded valley, the quiet comfort. His soul, scarred and battered, longed for its soothing sounds, its gentle air. For the familiar rooms and friendly faces. To see again the stars above the rim, to hear the trees sighing in the night. To walk barefoot in the dew-laden grass of the morning. To rest, to recover, to heal.
They were about two miles from Rivendell when Elrond finally gave in. The journey had been many weeks, but since they had started out that morning he had felt it, growing stronger with each step, reinforced by every familiar landmark along the trail. Now the sun was low and warm in the West, and their shadows were long across the moorland. In the distance he could just discern the tops of the trees at the head of the valley, and he was overcome with longing for it, with the knowledge that he was finally here. No more did he need to make do with dreaming of his haven, it was once again within his reach. His mount, sensing his rider’s impatience, began fretting and fidgeting. Elrond turned briefly to Halmir, wordlessly tossing him Loreglin’s lead rope, then with a whisper set his horse to a gallop. The grey needed no encouragement to head down the oft-travelled path. Eager to run, he stretched his legs to cover the distance, his master low over his neck. The fresh wind, scented with trees, blew in their faces, drawing out hair and mane. The sound of the hooves drummed on the dry earth, and an great exhilaration filled them. Past well known boulders, round rocky outcrops, they raced for home, the smell of late summer flowers and warm pines filling their senses. The blue sky with its attendant white clouds harboured familiar birdsong, each contour of the land repainting itself in memory, evoking the past. Up rises and down dips, dodging through defiles and leaping over streams they galloped. The horse snorting and blowing his excitement, Elrond feeling his heart soaring with anticipation.
Home. Home. At last. At long, long last, they were here. The shapes of the mountains, the twists of the trail, the cry of the plovers, the smell of heather, the very shade of the sunlight, all proclaimed it loud and gloriously. And as they rounded the last bend, there it was, laid out in all its splendour.
Imladris. That great, green rift valley, shelter, haven, home. Welcoming, comforting, safe, familiar. This was why they had fought, this was the reason he had endured so much darkness. The only thing that could have kept him away for so long was the need to protect it.
The sentry at the head of the valley had seen the horse’s approach, and with a heart-leap of recognition had cried the word downward. The Lord of Imladris had returned.
Elrond slowed his mount to a prancing walk to negotiate the steep descent. From around him shouts and cries of welcome sounded forth, as sentries and workers alike raised hands and voices in greeting and welcome. Passing the word with cries of joy. He breathed deeply, savouring every breath, his eyes roaming left and right, feasting themselves on his homeland, drinking in every leaf, every stone, the sighing of the trees, the rushing of the waterfalls. All around him his people, shouting, singing, weeping - delight on every face, rejoicing in their hearts.
Dawn was streaking the sky before he finally took some rest in his own chamber. First there had been the greeting of his household and the taking of the evening meal. Then storytelling and songs late into the night. The joy of his homecoming was tempered with the knowledge of Gil-galad’s fall, and many were the laments sung to that great King. When he was finally able to excuse himself, he had spent the rest of the night walking the familiar paths, immersing himself in the peace and tranquility of his home. Reacquainting himself with every favourite place, visiting each special corner. Memories of his King pressed him closely, walks they had taken, remembered words echoing among the trees and rocks, and as the night grew darker he wept in silent sorrow, mourning the passing of his friend and lord. The loss immeasurable to himself, to the Elves and to all of Middle Earth.
As he closed the door behind him, he stood for a moment with eyes closed. Breathing, listening, feeling, as the familiar comfort of his chamber enveloped him. Then he looked about slowly, the room was exactly as he had left it, though he was very different. He walked around, touching everything, running his fingers lovingly along the books, stroking the soft hangings of the bed, pushing open the doors to the balcony and stepping out. The garden stretched in front of him, running down to the river, in the centre of it the foliage of the young oak was just starting to turn.
All these he had wanted to show her, to share with her. The silver sound of the water, the rustle of the leaves in the wind, the owl calling as he headed home. Many times he had imagined her here, so strongly had he seen it that he could not believe that she was not. He expected at any moment to hear her step behind him, her soft voice calling his name, her touch upon his shoulder.
“You cannot be gone from me, my little sleeper.” he whispered, “I have hardly had time to know you.” He looked about him at the dark shapes of the trees, then up at the fading stars, tears blurring their light. “There are so many things still to be shared. So many words I have yet to speak.” His heart felt like it was made of molten lead. “Oh, Gil, do not leave me alone again.” He bowed his head, weighted by the loneliness pressing on him. The barren vista of empty years opened before him, stretching unbroken into the future. “Find me. From wherever you are, come to me, however long the journey. For without you my soul is lost, and my heart bereft. Let me but hold you in my arms once more, and I swear that none shall take you from me again.”
* * * * * * * * *
Elrond breathed deeply, inhaling the sharp air blowing down from the Misty Mountains. Savouring the invigorating tang of heather and hint of snow. He was seated on a rock, at the very highest point of the valley. From here all of the beauty of Rivendell was laid out before him, even to the Ford at Bruinen, far to his right. The first green flush of spring covered the banks, and tinged the branches of the yet bare trees. On the left, the steep path led out of Imladris and made its way over the wild moor to the snow-covered mountain pass. Far below and still some distance off, he could see people and horses, guests who would arrive within the hour.
The wind sang about him, flapping his cloak and whipping his dark hair across his face. Above him the cries of the curlews yearned over the dark gorse, as they dipped and swooped in the clear sky.
For many years now he had come up to this place, watching and waiting, cherishing against all reason the spark of hope that she might, somehow, still be alive. Knowing that if she was, she would keep her promise to come. Many hours he had spent looking along the roads, both to East and to West. But now, the lifetime of a mortal had come and gone, and it was time to lay that last hope to rest, and by so doing keep a promise.
“I would have sought nothing more than to have lived alone with your memory.” he whispered. “But then you knew that, long before I ever did.” In his hand he cradled an Elrhîw, and as he looked down at the tiny white bloom, a tear dropped to glisten among the delicate petals. “Ah, Gil, it was not to be, a time for us, a place for us. No years of joy together, no sharing of home and hearth. Only a brief happiness snatched in the midst of dark days, before you were torn from me, between one breath and the next.” He looked up, his eyes distant. “And yet, painful though the wound is, I would not trade even a moment of our time together to lessen it.”
He stood, throwing back his cloak to the wind, his hair flying free. “Farewell, my love.” He lifted his hand, and opened it so that the wind caught the flower, bearing it away, the same wind drying the tear on his cheek. Then he turned and made his way down the path to greet the party from LÍ³rien.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“And so he kept his promise.” Arwen’s voice was very quiet, and her face was turned towards the dawnlit garden.
“Yes.” Galeria answered, “ He brought your mother here from LÍ³rien, and made a family. In time he found peace, and with his children he at last found joy.”
Galeria smiled sadly, “Your mother was wise, beautiful and gentle, but she had not the strength needed, and he did not share his sorrows with her. He gave her everything of honour and tenderness, but their hearts remained hidden from each other.”
“Why did he never say anything of this?”
“He would not have dishonoured your mother so. He shut that part of his life away, it was the past, it could not be changed, and the memory of it caused him only pain.”
Arwen became silent, lost in thought. Galeria rose noiselessly to her feet, quietly gathering the teacups, and crossed to the door. Just as she opened it to leave, she heard the other whisper. “Oh Father.”
Elrond was standing at the rail, looking out at the early morning sky. Arwen stood for a long moment in silence, watching him. Seeing him in a new light. This Elf, her father, closest to her of all beings in Middle Earth, save only one, harboured heavy secrets, bearing them alone and in silence, for thousands of years.
Once she had thought him incapable of love, mistaking his reserve and pursuit of duty for lack of feeling. Following her mother’s departure she had spent many years in LÍ³rien, soothing her sorrow in its golden woods, unable to comprehend her father’s quiet acceptance of her mother’s choice. How could he let her go? Why did he not fight to keep her with him? She had always believed it was because he could not truly love, but now she could see that a heart so often torn asunder by loss must be carefully guarded.
And she herself, his only and beloved daughter, had also made a choice to take the path away from him. It pained her greatly to know that she too, would hurt him, but she could not do otherwise, any more than he could not have loved his Gildinwen.
A sigh of sorrow escaped her, and with a rustle of silk he turned. A smile came to the darkened eyes, and he held out his hands to welcome her.
“Father.” She came forward to take them.
“Arwen. You are not resting?”
“No.” she smiled, “I am wakeful, like you.”
He smiled fondly and lifted a gentle hand to brush her face. “Yes, my daughter, of all my children, you are most like me.” He sighed, long and slow. “I should not have been surprised when you came to love Estel - for he is everything that is good in a Mortal. A true son of the Edain, as they were in times long past.” His eyes were bottomless with memories. “Brave and wise as a Firstborn, and yet with that strength and enduring love unique to the children of Man.”
Arwen smiled and squeezed his hands gently, touched beyond speech at his words. Never before had he spoken highly of Aragorn to her, always she had felt his silent disapproval.
“Oh my daughter.” He said, “Before us there are two paths, each leading to separate sorrows. For either the darkness shall fall again upon Middle Earth, and I shall have failed my King, and you shall have lost your love. Or you will take the mortal life, be crowned Queen of Arnor and Gondor, and I shall travel to the West alone.” He looked away, out into the darkness. “And even though the better of the choices will grant you some happiness, I fear it will be short, and at the end you will be in sorrow and without comfort.” His voice caught so that he could not continue.
She touched his arm. “I will have my memories, Father. A life lived in love and companionship. Is a short life so not better than a long one of loneliness and waiting?”
He turned his gaze upon her, searching her soft eyes, a hint of a tear in his.
“Yes.” His voice was quiet and heavy with unspoken words. “Yes, my daughter, it is indeed.”
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.