The Return of the Shadow: 22. Mortal and Immortal Courage

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22. Mortal and Immortal Courage

"Celebrían?!" Mina gasped, her reaction quicker than Elentar's, who stood frozen, his hand still wrapped around the thin arm of his grandmother.

"I just said so. Is something wrong with your ears?" was the woman's terse reply. Relayed instantly to her mind by Elentar, Mina felt she was understanding the woman's Sindarin as if it were English, another language, but one she was fluent in. While her Sindarin was probably better than her French, it was certainly not as good as that.

"And who are you?" the Elf went on. "I thought there was a treaty between us that no mortals would sail to Aman anymore? Apart from the fact that you couldn't have chosen a worse time to sail west. I thought your king was such an honourable man?"

Her gaze dropped to Mina's mid-section. There was no mistaking her derisive sneer. She turned to Elentar. "Did you come to implore the Valar to grant your bastards the choice of the Peredhil?" She snorted and shook her head. "Again, you couldn't have chosen a worse time for such a venture."

Celebrían swallowed hard, and Mina noticed that the Elf was shaking. "Elentar, I think she's about to collapse. Let her go! Lie down, my lady."

She had never addressed someone with 'my lady' before, but although Celebrían was thin, grimy and looked every bit like what she said she was, like a runaway slave, she was also, without doubt, a lady.

Celebrían shook her head. "Answer my questions first."

Elentar's gaze flickered to Mina. He did not even have to think his question at her. Mina shrugged. It was not her place to decide what he wanted to tell his grandmother.

"I am Elentar."

Delicate silver eyebrows rose a little. "I gathered as much."

Black eyebrows mimicked the expression. Grey eyes turned yet a shade colder.

"I am Elentar Elrohirion. And this is my wife Mina Elbenstern."

Silence.

Slowly, he let go of her arm, his eyes wary, his posture tense. He was ready to lunge for her, should she try to get away.

She blinked, stared, turned a little, her attention now completely on him. She was shivering so hard now that she could barely stand. Her lips moved slightly, but no sound emerged.

Celebrían stared at her grandson.

When she reached out, her hand was shaking. She had to reach up. She was tall, but Elentar was taller. Her fingertips touched his high forehead, trailed along his hairline, down to his ear, that pointy ear that still fascinated Mina so much. That ear, that was almost round, compared to the sharp points of Celebrían's ears, which somehow reminded Mina of ficus leaves.

"He married a mortal?"

Elentar's eyes sparked. Celebrían had better say nothing wrong now, Mina thought.

"Obviously."

"No... I... That isn't what I..." Celebrían's face fell. "Then he's dead, isn't he?"

The skin stretched tight across Elentar's high cheekbones. A nuance of expression Mina had come to recognize. Elentar, she thought.

A small sigh.

"Yes," Elentar said. "He is dead. And so is my mother."

Celebrían dropped her hand as if she had been burned.

"I - I -" For a moment she seemed to contemplate saying she was sorry, then the Elf decided against it. Pulling back, a haughty mask forming on her face once more, she regarded her grandson coolly.

"But you are not mortal" she said. "You are..."

"Peredhel," Elentar snapped. "Thanks to the Valar."

He reached for Mina, pulled her against him possessively. "And so will be our daughter."

Celebrían stared at them. "But if you already know, why did you sail here?"

"You need to get away from here," she added, casting a wild look around, panic audible in voice and movements again. "However did you make it so far inland?"

Mina frowned. "I thought the Straight Way was barred to mortals?"

Celebrían looked at her as if she was seeing Mina for the first time, or at least taking in her appearance for the first time. Jeans, trekking shoes, the backpack - for all their subdued colours still modern materials and very obviously not of Middle-earth origin.

"Where do you come from?" Celebrían repeated.

Mina squeezed Elentar's hand briefly. Tell her. We need to know what's going on.

Elentar cleared his throat. "From... across the Void. Another world. A world of mortals."

Mina suppressed a snort. Mostly mortals, I'd say.

Don't distract me.

But he squeezed her hand back.

Celebrían swayed slightly. "Across the Void?"

Elentar let go of Mina, quickly putting his arm around Celebrían. "You're exhausted, daer-naneth. Can we rest here? Is it safe here?"

The Elf gave a short snort of laughter. "It isn't safe anywhere, Elentar. But I suppose those bushes will have to do. Your wife is right: I am exhausted."

They made camp in the shelter of the bushes. The dead flowers and grass whispered under their feet like tissue paper. Mina tried not to imagine what had caused this meadow to be that way, so perfect, so soft, so dead. Had Sauron come back?

Their dinner was sandwiches and chocolate bars, bananas and coke. Celebrían's eyebrows quirked again, at the outlandish wrappings, garish colours and strange tastes, but she didn't comment, simply stuffed herself with the hunger of someone who hadn't eaten enough in weeks.

Somehow, maybe because of the movies, Mina had assumed that Elentar got his expressive eyebrows from his grandfather. Now, with his grandmother kneeling next to her, she wasn't so sure about that anymore.

"I don't think they will come here tonight," Celebrían said suddenly. "I don't think He really cares at the moment. There are too few of us and not enough of them yet."

"Them?" Elentar asked.

"New orcs. I think He knows that we are no real danger to him. And his minions do not hate. I doubt they feel anything. Orcs, however, do hate. They will search for a runaway slave. The minions will only take me or destroy me when they happen to... scent me."

"What... something... ever is going on here?" Mina asked. Speaking was more difficult than listening. She needed to think what she wanted to say before Elentar could subtly provide the correct version in her mind. "Is it Sauron? Is he back?"

Another thought occurred to her. "And which year is it?"

Celebrían leaned back tiredly. "I can see there is much that needs telling. But it will have to wait for the morning. I am too weary to even know where to begin."

She looked at Elentar. Now that she had eaten and was relaxing just a little, her exhaustion was beginning to cloud her proud gaze. "Maybe just one thing... When did you leave Middle-earth, daer-iôn?"

Elentar hesitated. "In the year 397 of the Fourth Age," he said at last.

"Ahhh," Celebrían sighed. "Today is the seventh day of the fifth month of the five-hundredth and twenty-seventh year what Men call the Fourth Age."

For a while everything was silent.

Too silent, Mina thought. No nightly noises, not even a breeze to stir the dead leaves. When a mere mortal feels she can hear the heartbeat of two Elves loud as drumbeats, it's definitely too quiet.

"But I was in the other world more than three hundred fifty years," Elentar said softly.

"Let us talk again tomorrow. I haven't truly rested for many weeks," his grandmother replied.

Elentar offered her his sleeping bag, but she wouldn't take it. She only accepted his camping pad and his cloak as a blanket. Celebrían lay down at once, hiding her head so it was impossible to tell if she closed her eyes for sleeping or not.

"I think it is better if I stay awake nevertheless," Elentar said.

"I don't think I'll be able to sleep," Mina replied.

"Cuddle up next to me in your sleeping bag and try to sleep anyway," he suggested, reaching for her, a quick loving caress.

"Okay."

Elentar sat down with his back towards a thorny bush, his eyes on the back of his grandmother and on the moonlit meadow. Mina obediently lay down next to him between the thicket and the sleeping form of the Elven woman. It was fairly comfortable. The sleeping bag was warm; the camping pad evened out the ground. The spicy scent of Elentar's body surrounded her.

"I wish I had a weapon," Elentar said quietly.

"You don't?"

"Just a dagger. I couldn't possibly bring a pistol. And you know I don't own a sword. And besides -" He brushed his hand over the soft tissue of dead flowers and grass next to him. "Against someone - something - that can do such as this... I doubt that a sword would be much use."

"Maybe we should have brought a basket with hand grenades?"

Elentar chuckled softly. "I'm glad you're not too scared."

"Scared? Me?" She had to be careful that her voice didn't rise, shrill with fear. "I'm frightened out of my wits. But that won't help now."

"I'm so sorry, Mina." All warmth bled from his voice. "That I brought you here, into danger, you and our daughter."

"You know exactly what I am going to say next, so I won't."

"Stubborn woman." He sounded shaky.

"Says who?"

He quickly bent down and kissed her. "The stubborn elf. And now try to sleep."

She wanted to repeat about how she was certain she wouldn't be able to sleep, but that seemed a little childish. And no matter in what kind of horror they had landed, of one thing she was already sure: she would need her strength.

She closed her eyes, snuggled a little closer to Elentar, and before she could think more about the details of some movie quotes concerning dirty big roots jabbing her back, she had fallen asleep.

oooOooo

A hand on her shoulder woke her. Her back and her legs ached, stiff and sore from the exertions of the previous days and the unaccustomed way of sleeping.

"Time to get up," Elentar said. "I don't think we can stay here, and we still need to talk about a couple of things."

Mina propped herself up on her elbows and nodded, wincing slightly as the muscles in her shoulders and neck protested. The previous day felt like a dream, her memory distorted by a mist of fear and exhaustion. But a glance at the crushed blades of grass next to her sleeping bag brought everything back: the golden, sunlit glade, the meadow with its many flowers, all dead. And no sound, no sound at all.

She exhaled softly, trying to listen. But there was only Elentar's breath and the barely discernible rustle of fabric. She looked up. Celebrían was stretching uncomfortably, her bony fingers stroking down her hips, down the faded fabric of Mina's spare pair of jeans. Fairly tight on Mina's already slender figure, they were baggy on Celebrían's rail thin body. The black t-shirt however, long on Mina, was too short for the Elf. The washed out flannel-shirt Elentar had donated fit better but was wide like a cloak.

Mina wriggled out of the sleeping bag. Before she could even consider asking Elentar if there was water nearby, he handed her their largest camping pot.
"Don't drink it, it's tepid. But I think it should be okay for washing."

"Thanks." Carefully balancing the pot and her pack, Mina ducked behind a bush.

It was barely enough water to deserve the phrase "a lick and a promise" as a description, but Mina felt better for it.

Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, cereal bars and cold tea. And for Mina, vitamin pills. She tried not to think about her baby, safe within her, but how safe could that be, when all of them were in danger here?

"We need to talk some more," Mina said.

"Indeed." Celebrían hitched the jeans higher.

Elentar simply narrowed his eyes at Celebrían. "What happened here? And why did you say 'formerly wife to Elrond Peredhel' when you introduced yourself yesterday?"

"I have some questions of my own yet," said the Elf. For a moment she cocked her head as if she was listening intently to things not audible, nor visible on this plane of existence. At last she relaxed a little and inclined her head.

"Very well. I shall start."

She raised her head, staring across the meadow. What she was looking at Mina couldn't discern. But she had the definite, uncomfortable feeling that Celebrían was seeing something. Mina was not perfectly sure where Elves were concerned, of course, but if humans started seeing things that were not really there, that was usually not a good sign.

"He came through the Ekkaia, the Door of Night. Some... three months ago, according to mortal reckoning. He came... a maelstrom of darkness, a wave of... Void. I think... a third of us died right then and there, there was a howling of disembodied fëar in the wind all around me."

"And the Valar?" Elentar asked.

"Who? Who came?" Mina whispered. "Was it... is it... Sauron?"

Celebrían came back into the present with a visible start. For a short moment she did not seem to remember who her companions were. Then she laughed.

"Sauron? I wish! He was evil; I still have the scars to prove it. But when all is said and done," she whispered. "When all is accounted for, then he was only a minion, and a stupid minion at that. All that was needed to destroy Sauron was to destroy that ring. Now... not even the destruction of Eä may be enough."

Mina shuddered. Celebrían turned her fey, silvery gaze on her, and there was a mad light to her eyes. "Yes, mortal, be frightened, be very frightened, for the Black Foe of the World has returned and none are left who can fight Him."

The sun did not darken at her words, but the silence echoed around them, a silence, where there should have been a myriad small noises of birds and bees and butterflies, but there was none, none at all, save for Celebrían's rasping breath.

"Morgoth," Mina said in an almost inaudible voice. She had to say it. Her ears had to hear that name, or she would not believe it.

"Yes," Celebrían replied. "He is back. Back from the Void. And He is stronger than ever before."

"And the Valar?" Elentar repeated his question, his hand at the pendant he always wore around his neck, an old luck-charm, probably, a crusty old oyster shell.

"The Valar, the Valar, the Valar, our protectors, our guardians!" Crazy laughter echoed in Celebrían's voice. "They are gone, daer-iôn. Gone! It is said the Valar cannot be killed. But I have seen too many beings killed in my time that were impossible to kill. I do not know if they are dead. What I do know is that the Valar are gone. Námo is gone. Houseless fëar have fled the empty caves where he guarded them against a better future of new bodily raiments and new lives. Now they will never see either."

She hunched over, shuddering, swaying back and forth, her eyes dark now, distant, on scenes she would never be able to unsee again.

"I've seen fëar sucked into the Void. I've seen Elves die and their fëar had nowhere to go. I have seen hröar broken into bloody pieces no bigger then my hands." She cupped her hands in front of her, so small, so slender that they would have held a grapefruit maybe, or two apples. "I've seen - felt - fëar being annihilated. No Halls of Waiting for them, no new raiment, no new hope. Tell me, would the Valar allow this, were they still here?"

She ducked as if under the lash of a whip, swivelling her head in panic as if she expected her pursuers to break through the bushes any moment. And the sun above was still warm and golden, the flowers on the meadow beautiful and bright, almost alive to behold. Almost...

"He dresses his minions in the hröar of the dead. Most of the Elves that he did not kill he has captured. Those he can break, he turns into orcs. Those who are too strong are put to work in the mines at Formenos. Elven slaves, in our own country, in the Blessed -" she choked, flinched under the memory of more lashes.

"In Aman, the Damned Realm."

"Scheiße," whispered Mina.

"Is there a way to get away from here? You expected us to have sailed here, didn't you?" Elentar was very pale, almost white. "If the Valar are gone, the Straight Way should be open."

Celebrían came out of her daze, shaking. She waved at Elentar in an irritable way. "The Straight Way was already open." Then she hesitated, and continued in a much softer tone. "You wouldn't know that, though, if you left already in 397." She sighed.

"Apparently... the magic used to make those evil rings, the power employed in the War of the Ring... It destabilized Middle-earth. A young seer, a Hobbit and the heir to the throne of Gondor came to seek our help to save Middle-earth. Even our powers wouldn't have been enough to save Middle-earth, but the Emairth, the Fates - powerful Ainur - and probably Eru Himself intervened. They were given astelellion, magical power strong enough to save Middle-earth, but power that could be wielded only by immortals. They were brought to Aman, and asked for the help of the Elves."

Celebrían fell silent, her thoughts obviously far away, the lines of her face harsh and bitter. Suddenly she went on. "I was against it. Hadn't Middle-earth taken enough from us already? My sons, my daughter? My life? My husband!" This word she spat out as if it was poison on her tongue.

"Then Elrond is dead?" Mina couldn't quite keep a hint of anguish out of her voice. If she had hoped to meet one Elf, then it would have been Elentar's grandfather.

"What is it with Elrond and Men?" Celebrían asked. Her eyes narrowed, glaring at Mina. Elentar put a protective arm around Mina.

"Is... my grandfather dead then?"

Celebrían snorted as if she wanted to say she wished he were dead. "Nay, as far as I know he's alive. I invoked the Doom of Manwë concerning the severance of marriage upon Elrond's return to Valinor. My fëa and my hröa had been separated. It was my right. I would not be his ever again, in name or body. Not after all he and his beloved Middle-earth had taken from me. He agreed to stay in the Halls of Mandos forever, so the Doom could be upheld. But Námo refused him."

She laughed again, a bitter laugh that wasn't quite sane. "Not even Námo wanted him!"

"What happened then?" Elentar drew Mina closer, his voice carefully devoid of expression.

Celebrían shrugged. "What could Lord Manwë have done under the circumstances? Forced us to keep vows we never made? He declared our marriage severed. I was free at last. And Elrond... mewling piss-pot that he always was, removed to that shiny white villa near Alqualondë."

"Is that all? If you say he is not dead, is he a slave now, too?"

Celebrían glared at Elentar. "You should know better than to interrupt your elders, hên. That is not all. Elrond was searching for a way to free his fëa from his hröa when that little band of heroes arrived here. That little lyg of a girl went to him, and he fell for her. A mortal girl! Calling an Elf from his chosen path. And of course he had to go and play the hero again. He convinced the Council to help Middle-earth again. And it gets better. They actually managed to save Middle-earth."

She broke off, overcome with wheezing bouts of laughter. "They saved Middle-earth for this. For this! So He could come back! Soon He will be strong enough to cross the Straight Way, and then woe upon the world."

Elentar ignored his grandmother's hysterics. "Does that mean for all you know he is alive? Elrond is alive? And there are others, other elves, with him? There is a way from here to Middle-earth? And He - " Instinctively Elentar lowered his voice, "He is not yet strong enough to attempt it?"

"You're a smart one." Celebrían's voice was like ice, then suddenly softened. "Like your father, like your uncle. Like your aunt. All of them, they were such smart children."

She shuddered again, then shook herself. When she looked at Elentar and Mina again, she was calm. "Yes," she said. "I do not think He is strong enough to take the Straight Way and subdue Middle-earth. Not yet. But He will be. Soon."

"Then we need to go the Straight Way before He does. We need to warn Middle-earth. If we get there in time, we might form an army - we might have a chance -"

"A chance? Against the Black Foe of the World?" Celebrían closed her eyes, her lips quivering in painful mirth.

"Alternatively we can simply lie down and die right now, right here." Mina was getting angry. "If that's what elves do when faced with danger and destruction, then have fun. I am only a human, mere Man, and I'll be damned if I don't try and stop Him, Black Foe of the World, Black Enemy, Bauglir or whatever. My -" She hesitated. "The world where I come from, has seen two world wars and we - they - are still going strong. Melkor."

Elentar shrank away at that name, Celebrían shivered. But Mina would not - did not want to - be scared of a name. She was scared of that name, of course she was, but she wouldn't allow it. She couldn't allow it.

"Melkor," she repeated firmly. "He was defeated twice, wasn't he? Chained in dungeons here in Valinor, and then cast out into the Void? That means, he can be defeated. And if he could be defeated then, he can be defeated now."

Except of course, if he can't be, a small voice whispered at the back of her mind. But she put her hand on her stomach, where, somewhere beneath flesh and muscles, her daughter rested. A daughter, a peredhel, who would be born here, in this world.

Celebrían looked at her with something like surprise in her eyes. "What passion your kind has! What foolish passion. You sound like that little lyg who is now with my former husband. So sure that the world can be saved, that the world should be saved."

"If you are so sure that the only solution is giving up, pardon my question: why aren't you dead yet? Or an orc? Or still a slave? That," Mina said, pointing at Celebrían's cheek. "Must have hurt."

"It still hurts," Celebrían replied, her voice tinged with a tone that sounded almost like satisfaction. The Elf inhaled deeply, the too small t-shirt revealing an almost hollow stomach and prominent ribs. A fey fire gleamed in her eyes, yet she appeared more normal to Mina, or at least not quite as mad as moments before. "I will not die. I had the choice once, put before me by the creatures of the servant. And I returned to life. At the very least I shall not make that choice for the master."

Celebrían smiled suddenly, as if she had made a decision - the decision to trust them, Mina wondered? Having escaped servants of Morgoth that wore the bodies of the dead, she would have had to be suspicious of a grandson and his wife seemingly appearing out of nowhere.

Hunching down, the Elf whispered, "The last warriors of the armies of the Eldar in Aman are hiding in the caves that were once the Halls of Mandos. I was on my way there. But now I think that is too dangerous. If you truly want to reach Middle-earth, we need to make for Alqualondë at once." She broke off, tilting her head, listening. A look of alarm swept over her face.

"Someone's coming," she gasped. "Hide! And if they have dark eyes, darker than the night, then run, run like the wind, for if they are killed, everything that is alive within a circle of five hundred yards is destroyed!"

oooOooo

Translations of the Sindarin expressions used in this chapter:

astellelion - power of the stars

daer-iôn - grandson

daer-naneth - grandmother

emairth (plural of amarth) - the fates

fëa, fëar - soul, souls

hên - child

hröa, hröar - body, bodies

lyg - snake

morgoth - black foe of the world


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.

Story Information

Author: JunoMagic

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/08/07

Original Post: 03/05/06

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