20. The Sweet and the Bitter
None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.
Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
Chapter 20 The Sweet and the Bitter
He recalled lifting her high up into the air, a little girl, so small, trusting him beyond all else.
Her chuckling voice telling him. 'Im mîl le, ada.'
And his own, returning.
'I love you too, my little one…'
Her small hands on his face, following the lines, as he pretended not to notice, always so curious, always so consoling.
Not so anymore… Not his little girl any longer…
Elrond Peredhil, more then ever father of Arwen Undómiel, contemplated the non-appearance of the stars as he listened to the merry voices of the Elves of Lórien below, celebrating his daughter's forthcoming nuptials.
He vowed not to be too gloomy, this evening, the last they were to spend in Lórien together.
He wondered how he knew that with such certainty…
It was Celeborn that placed a soothing hand on his shoulder, and Elrond nodded, as if he understood the silent sign of sympathy. Father are fathers… He considered.
'Were you ever so sad, when Celebrían chose to marry me?' He asked, taking a deep breath, and letting it escape in a long sigh. Celeborn smiled.
'Where you needed more then a millennium, Aragorn only took a mere three decennia to voice his feelings. And we go back such a long time, mellon-iaur… I had many years to get used to the idea… And Celebrían did not sacrifice her immortality… Your situation is unlike mine was, though I understand some parts of it…'
Elrond clasped the railing before him, though it was more an action to help steady himself, than of anything else.
'I am not angry with him anymore, Celeborn… I do not think I ever truly have been angry with either of them… Disappointed, maybe, but no, not angry…' Biting his lip, the Lord of Imladris did not seem very sure of the words he had just uttered. 'But I fear for her… I fear for the day when she wakes, and it will come, Celeborn, as sure as the sun rises and sets, it will, and then she will realise he is no longer with her… And she will want me there, and I shall not be…'
Bowing his head, chin on chest, Elrond seemed to experience his daughters feelings of that day already.
Celeborn cleared his throat a little.
'I recall feeling a certain anger towards you, when I discovered Celebrían had been summoned to Imladris, just before you and Gil-galad and the others were to depart for Mordor… A very ominous emotion, because, on the one hand, I suspected you would betroth yourselves, which in case of your death would surely break her… And on the other, I wanted the both of you to speak your love, to know it without reservation… Celebrían never told me what happened then, but whatever choice was made that day, it was made by two people, and they both knew very well what went on… And just as you did then, Arwen knows her fate now.'
A weak smile appeared on Elrond's lips, and he swallowed away some tears.
'Celebrían's coming before we left made me withstand all the hardships of those years that followed… And when she came to me again, when I so stubbornly refused to come to her, she saved me from years of loneliness that would have surely broken me in the end. I am someone else without her, Celeborn.'
'She strengthened you, much as Aragorn has been strengthened by Arwen's trust in him… Tis a powerful thing, love.'
There was a long moment of silence, and both the Elves listened to the voices below. Elrond's voice was soft.
'Is she so very much like her mother? For I feel I cannot tell…'
A proud grandfather smiled.
'Arwen has the impetuousness Celebrían had at times in her youth, but she uses it wisely… Still, of all your children, she is the one most like you… Perhaps that is why this pains you so, you know her heart too well.'
The voice that replied was a whisper, emotion painfully embedded within.
'Somehow I feel I am abandoning her…'
Celeborn firmly shook his head.
'She chose this, Elrond, with all her heart and soul… And though she will miss you every day of her existence here, the knowledge that you and Celebrían are reunited will bring her much joy. She understands how much the separation has pained you. And I am of the opinion that, for once, you should act for your own good, instead of someone else's.'
The Lord of Lórien watched his son in law, as much the son he never had, shake his head shortly.
'I shall never see my grandchildren… And while this pains me, the realisation that I shall not be able to watch their eyes and see whether they have Celebrían's blue or my own grey; some part of me rejoices in it, for I shall be spared the pain accompanying their death…'
Again there was silence. Celeborn was unsure as to whether there was a sufficient reply he could give. He finally decided there was not.
'Do you know if Elladan and Elrohir intend to accompany you into the West?' He asked instead, and watched Elrond give a short shake of the head.
'I do not.'
'I intend to stay… For a while longer.'
Turning towards him, Elrond looked at him for a long while. Celeborn nodded thoughtfully. 'Galadriel knows of it.'
Without speaking a word, or showing any kind of emotion, Elrond returned to his earlier position. He seemed detached when he finally did speak.
'I have come to realise that, during my entire existence here within the bounds of Middle-earth, I have participated in some sort of ever-continuing contest, and now find I do not know with what reason I did so, or where the end lies…'
'So finally it affects you too?' Celeborn enquired earnestly.
Elrond faintly smiled.
'It has been growing ever since Celebrían left… There have been moments, joyful ones, that have etched themselves into my mind, and to those moments I previously reached back, when it all became too much. But of late, those moment are being clouded over by less… carefree ones.'
Celeborn watched Elrond stare up to the night-sky, but it was too clouded to see that which might have brought him at least a little comfort. He felt a hand on his back, and found his granddaughter, her eyes on her father. Silently he retreated.
Arwen had never feared her father. They had been so close, always, that even the mere thought seemed ridiculous to her. More recently, she had begun to fear his reactions. Perhaps it was exactly because he had spoken little of his qualms to her, had never truly told her what he thought of it all.
If she had not stood here, listening to his words, words meant for her grandfather, she might have never comprehended.
Somehow I feel I am abandoning her…
With a careful movement, as not to startle him too abruptly out of his pondering, Arwen rested a hand on his arm.
She heard him breathe in deeply, but he did not turn as quickly as she knew he could have. Somehow this saddened her.
He saw it in her eyes, and understood at once. Without saying a word he pulled her into his arms, kissing her brow, and Arwen answered his embrace, resting her head against her father's shoulder.
'Are you not celebrating, my Evenstar?'
'I am not, ada… For I wondered why my father's voice was not among those hallowing my future happiness.'
She smiled at him, in the way he needed her to smile, and he returned it earnestly.
'Forgive me… I shall sing in a while, I promise.'
Arwen buried her face in the folds of his robes.
Resting his head on hers, Elrond managed a smile.
'Do not thank me, there is no need.'
Neither of them spoke much for the remnant of the evening, even though they stayed together upon the flet well into the night. It was an hour before dawn that they separated to change into their travel garments.
As he watched his daughter, her radiance, the look in her eyes as she gazed upon the Man she loved, now her husband, Elrond felt more alone then ever before.
How she had asked him about Elvish marriage blessings when she was small, the same blessings that had been spoken not long ago, followed by their Westron translations.
Yesterday, upon the eve of Midsummer, the sky had been as blue as the Ring he wore on a chain around his neck, somehow still not comfortable with it on his finger. Early stars of the East had bore witness to their arrival. He had marvelled much about the particular goldenness of the Western sky, and with a smile had thought of Celebrían. Perhaps that had been the point.
And he had surrendered the Sceptre of Annúminas, he had taken Arwen's hand, and he had placed it into Aragorn's. It had been the hardest thing in his life. And somehow, the easiest as well.
The High City of Minas Tirith was fair, and though it was much different from when he had last visited it, many centuries ago, when it had still been Minas Anor, there was an asset of it that had not changed, that never would. The steel and mithril gates had been wrought in the same fashion as they had been on Númenor, the marble streets as white as they had been on that great island in the western waters of Belegaer, the laughter of its people the same…
Looking at Aragorn, King Elessar, tall as the sea-kings of old, Elrond could not help remembering Isildur, and through him, Elros. He indeed resembled his ancestor much.
Estel had changed, the Lord of Imladris mused. Both experience and wisdom could be easily distinguished from his face now, with strength and healing in his hands, and a brightness everywhere about him.
Glorfindel silently joined his side, and Elrond was glad for his company.
'It has come to fulfilment.'
'It has indeed, mellon-iaur, it has indeed…'
'Are you well?'
Elrond smiled, looking at his daughter, their eyes meeting fleetingly, but long enough for her to tell him. All is well, I am joyful… Now it is you who must go and be content also.
Watching her say goodbye to first her grandparents, then her brothers, Elrond was jealous at all of them.
They could stand there and speak those words, could merely smile at her and take their leave. How was he supposed to do that?
Finally Arwen turned towards him. Their eyes met, and she looked down.
Elrond shook his head and took her hand.
Folding her arm underneath his, as he used to do with Celebrían he stared into the distance as they walked.
They spoke not, until they halted on the top of the second hill. Arwen looked at him, and he thought he could hear something in her tone that was somewhat defensive.
'I shall miss you, ada, but I do not regret making this choice… Even if I am given only a fraction of what you and mother had, what you have, I shall be more than content.'
Without speaking a word, Elrond pulled Arwen close and embraced her, not listening to the words she spoke, only her heart beating fast against his own.
What he felt was overwhelming, discouraging… And at the same time, he was glad… Finally, it was over. Done. He could go.
He wanted to say that he had heard her sing, on one of the first mornings following the days of rejoicing, that he had been sitting at the window, pondering, and that he had heard her, down in the courtyard, by the fountain, singing. Singing to her husband, her King. He wanted to tell her he had known she was happy at that moment, that he had known all was well.
But he couldn't.
'Sit with me awhile, Undómiel.'
'Are they not waiting for you, ada?'
'They will wait, I think.'
As they sat down together, Arwen waited for her father to extend an arm to her before huddling closer, feeling both his arms being placed around her. A thumb stroking her face, she caught his other hand and entwined his fingers with her own.
'What will mother say?'
Elrond gave a short shake of the head.
'She knows already, Undómiel… She has known for a long time.'
Arwen withdrew a little and watched her father's face.
'So it is true… You do speak with her…'
A smile could be clearly distinguished on the Lord of Imladris's face, and his daughter could do nothing but join in. Sweeping a stray strand of hair out of her face, Elrond placed a kiss on her forehead.
'From what I understood, she is content that you love him and that he loves you.'
Relieved, the Queen of Gondor rested her head against her father's shoulder.
'Tell me of her… The time you first saw her.'
Slowly nodding, resting his head on his daughter's, Elrond complied.
'I was in my study, with your grandfather, when we were informed that the Ladies of the Wood had arrived. I thought nothing of it, at first, because I was too tied up in my studies and books… I had heard your grandfather speak of his daughter, but I had merely thought them tales of a proud father, nothing more… But when I first saw her, I was caught by her beauty, and by her ways, even though she had only recently reached her maturity…'
'Did she share it?' Arwen asked dreamily, knowing the answer full well; she had asked it every time he had told the story, often, like now, upon her request.
'Almost from the very beginning, she once told me…' Elrond smiled. 'And I was a fool not to ask her to be mine then and there…'
'She dragged me through the entire library in Lindon, showing me all those documents you had written in your years there… I was jealous of her, then, because I wanted to love as she did, to be loved as she was…'
'You do now… You are now…' Elrond whispered, and he felt the emotion well up in his daughter, causing him to pull her closer still.
'Do you know what Elladan and Elrohir are planning?' She asked him, after some silence.
A thoughtful nod.
'Your brothers are afraid of telling me, but I expect they will decide to stay a while longer… I have great trust that their delay will be allowed.'
'They are fearful of what you will say.' Arwen paused. 'When will you go to the Grey Havens?'
Elrond sighed deeply.
'I shall occupy myself with bringing all in order for my departure from Imladris… No longer than two years… Then I will head off. I ask you not to come and see me.' He spoke the last words hesitantly, squeezing her hand a little.
'I expect I shall be too busy…' Arwen answered, abiding by the request, even though the disappointment lay heavy on her heart.
After sitting silent for a long time, exchanging memories from long ago, their way a so much better one to transmit than that of words and speech, Elrond carefully released his daughter and rose, though not before he kissed the Queen's brow one last time.
Arwen rose too.
'You must leave now… I understand…'
Bringing his hand to her face he smiled.
'Cuio mae, iell… Deri-band, aen le-cuil manadhpant, a pathra ah mîl a hennas…*'
Even if it will only be a little while…
Taking his hand and placing a kiss on his cheek, Arwen weakly returned the smile.
'Dortho mae, ada, ed-penia a tegi mîl an naneth-nîn… Le a anim…*'
Then she watched him turn, leaving her… And she shared in his tears, which, even though she could not distinguish them, she knew were there.
Im mîl le, ada…
A-im le*, Undómiel… A-im le.
The Lord of Imladris allowed his tears to run freely until he had reached that hill between where he had left his daughter, and where his travelling companions would be waiting. He stumbled upon Glorfindel, who sat patiently waiting. With some quick movements he was able to rid himself of the evidence of his sorrowfulness and walked over to where the other Elf was seated.
'So… We go home?' Was the question posed to him, as Glorfindel's eyes met his.
Elrond let a breath escape his lungs and nodded.
'Though Imladris ceased to be home a long time ago, I shall go home soon, Glorfindel. I shall…'
Joining his friend and Lord, Glorfindel placed his hands behind his back.
'And what say you of this day, Elrond?'
'Burials are a strange thing to me, Glorfindel. I've seen many in my time and I find myself amazed by them every time… For I shall never have one, with the Lady's leave… Or is this not of which you speak?'
Glorfindel laughed, somewhat relieved.
'Not what I meant, perhaps, but you answer my query well enough…'
Narrowing his eyes, Elrond looked back from where he had come, even though he knew he would not be able see his daughter.
'I know she is happy. I know all is well. And though it saddens me still and will always, I can now go… She sings to him now. And it is so…' Elrond turned and together they walked back, as Glorfindel listened and he spoke. Words that perhaps did not make as much sense as the ones the Lord of Imladris usually uttered, because feelings are difficult to verbalise, even for those who have been blessed with the gift of eloquence.
Riding gloves in hand, he stood pondering in the middle of his quarters, not certain what to do next.
He had packed his most treasured belongings already, personal items; a wooden carving of a horse and rider Elrohir had made him when younger, the account Elladan wrote concerning his first week away from Imladris, a pendant Arwen had designed and helped make for him when little… And many more such things; of trivial worth on first sight, but valuable to him, so very precious. But they were already in the saddlebags of his horse, and there was no need to worry about them.
He made his last round through the house, placed a hand on the top of his writing desk, let his fingers slip over the covers of some books in the library. He even silently remained in the doorway of his bedroom for a short time. Many happy memories here, but also some of which he was less fond. From there he made for the balcony, but decided this was not the place from where he wanted his last look of the valley.
With quick strides he climbed the many steps to the highest terrace, and with a sigh he watched the vale spread out before him. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine the tents and fires below, even, far away, Gil-galad's voice… Then Celebrían's touch, her lips on his skin, the smell of her hair…
Indeed many ghosts linger here, on this terrace. He contemplated. And soon, I too, shall be one of those…
As he descended the stairs, all the way down into the garden he could already see the others, waiting for him to join them. With a firm catching of arms he took his leave of Erestor and Glorfindel, his eyes asking what he had asked the both of them before.
Take care… Of both them and yourselves.
Together the Elves nodded in silent understanding.
With a touch to Elrohir's cheek he firmly embraced his son, and then moved to Elladan, who slapped him on the back with a broad smile.
'You go now, father…'
Elrond gave him a suspicious playful look as he rested a hand on his shoulder. But he said nothing as he looked to Celeborn.
'Keep an eye on them, will you?'
The Lord of Lórien, though he had made clear he would not go back there, and would instead stay here at Imladris, gave him a broad smile.
'I hope, for my sake, that they will rather keep an eye on me.'
When they embraced, Celeborn whispered a message only meant for his daughter's husband.
'Tell her I will follow with her sons… Say to her I promise.'
Elrond nodded solemnly and walked over to his horse, the last to mount. Galadriel raised a hand and turned her horse, as Elrond did as well.
I'm going now… He said, more to himself than to anyone, anything else.. For it is done… What was started has been finished… I can do no more…
He watched the old Hobbit, seated on a small grey pony, riding along and recalled what he had said to Frodo upon their departure.
Even then, it had seemed as if the words had been spoken by one other than himself, as if they had not been real, could not be true, would never be.
But he was leaving now…
For about this time of the year, when the leaves are gold before they fall, look for Bilbo in the woods of the Shire. I shall be with him.
Im mîl le, ada: I love you, father
mellon-iaur: old friend
Cuio mae, iell… Deri-band, aen le-cuil manadhpant, a pathra ah mîl a hennas…: Live well, daughter… Stay safe, may your life be blissful, and filled with love and wisdom…
Dortho mae, ada, ed-penia a tegi mîl an naneth-nîn… Le a anim…: Stay well, father, set out and bring love to my mother… Yours and mine…
A-im le: and I you
And on to Valinor we go…
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.