1. Crossing towards Sunrise
The Straight Way lay opened before us; Aman beckoned.
I tasted salt on my lips and felt the wind whip through my hair and beard as I ascended the stairs to the raised platform where the helmsman stood, the spokes of the steering wheel safe in his grasp, his profile limned by the last rays of sunset.
I sent a brief prayer of thanks to Ulmo and Manwë for granting us such fine sailing weather on this last stretch of our voyage. My heart was full of joy at hearing the song of the waves, echoes of the Great Music from before the beginning of Time.
But my elation faded as my eyes caught sight of the painfully erect figure in the bow, outlined against the twilight. Railing gripped with white-knuckled hands, Elrond was gazing westward, as he often had on this, his first journey westward across the Sundering Seas. His first, and his last.
The blue stone of Vilya seemed to be the only spot of colour on his person, clothed as he was in robes of grey, and with pallid features speaking of utter exhaustion and a deep well of sorrow.
He seemed brittle. As if too strong a gust of wind could shatter him.
I doubted that anyone but a close friend could see it, though. And I highly doubted that it was simply the draining effect of Vilya that was to blame for his condition. After the Three Elven Rings were robbed of their power with the destruction of the One Ring, repercussions from the violent backlash had been expected and indeed came to pass, but even Galadriel, who had wielded Nenya far more often, far more extensively, and whose sea-longing had burned so much the fiercer for it, seemed not as drained as Elrond did.
As for myself, I had experienced the loss of Power mainly as a release from a heavy burden, carried for a long time, but not consumed by it. And as we were nearing my home in Aman, I felt the burden of my mortal body lighten as well, my fëa once more free from constraints.
But of Elrond's feelings, the real source of his weariness and tension, nothing showed through the mask he so tightly held in place. A mask of peace and serenity, sustained by force of will and long habit. Lending him the strength to even be a source of encouragement and comfort for our unusual fellow passengers.
Bilbo, in the short spans of time he roused enough to exhibit any curiosity for the outside world and for our destination, seemed to regard this voyage as yet another great adventure, and would pepper all of us, even the mariners, with all kinds of questions about our journey and its destination.
When the Bent World had fallen away beneath us and we saw the stars wheel on their path in Ilmen, he had stood on tip-toe at the railing, gazing wide-eyed and open-mouthed out from the ship on its strange course, this bridge to the Ancient West (1).
Elrond and I had had to fend off a barrage of questions about it, but all wisdom and teachings, all experience and lore could only yield speculation and theories: The will and power of Eru Ilúvatar remains unfathomable, impenetrable, unknowable.
Frodo, in stark contrast to his kinsman, was reticent and reserved, and clearly had doubts, scarcely reacting to the wonders of the voyage.
I knew he felt torn in two, even as he had begged of his loyal Sam not to be (2). Torn in two, because all he had ever wanted on the Quest had been to return home, to the Shire. Torn in two, because he knew there was no returning for him. No release, no reprieve, no healing.
A feeling Elrond seemed to share, judging from his frequent gaze westward and his noticeable avoidance to look back, towards what - and whom - he had left behind in Middle-earth.
The leave-taking from his beloved daughter had been devastating for him. No matter that he respected her choice. No matter that he loved Aragorn as a foster-son and a true son of his heart.
I wondered whether the uncertainty about Arwen's fate after her eventual mortal death was harder for him to endure than the uncertainty about the fates of his sons.
Perhaps he was able to draw a small measure of hope and comfort from our belief that Men's fate goes on after death, beyond the Circles of the World. As he would have had to do before, when his way parted from that of his brother.
But as to his sons, he could not be sure of their choice. Until - unless - they finally sailed west as well.
If they chose to do so. If not...
How long would he wait for them in Aman, thoughts and gaze bent ever towards Middle-earth?
I was sure they would use the granted delay of their final choice to at least stay as long as their sister lived. How long would he wait after that? Would there be a message, bringing Elrond confirmation of his sons' decision to remain and experience the Gift of Men? Would one come, bringing the news that the other had chosen to stay behind, sundering twin from twin?
Snatches of music drifted up from one of the cabins, and a low whinny came from the hold below where Shadowfax was stabled, and where frequently I, and from time to time others, kept him company. He bore the voyage patiently, but I knew he would be glad to have firm land once more under his hoofs. He would be delighted by Aman and its fresh, sweet grass, I was certain.
The music was harp-music. I recognised the clear tones of Elrond's harp, made for him by Maglor so long ago; one of only a few things Elrond had brought with him from Imladris (3). So far, he had never taken it up to play on the ship, but had readily lent it to Gildor when asked.
The latter was playing a tune I had not heard before. I wondered if the song had been learned from one of the embassies coming to Gondor after Aragorn's coronation and his wedding to Arwen, or if he had learned it on one of his travels with the Wandering Companies.
The song ended and a new one began, this one an ancient praise of Varda Elentári I knew very well, made in the Days of Bliss by Telerin Elves from Tol Eressëa. I softly joined in the melody while looking up at Elbereth's handiwork, the stars, shining bright to light and guide our way now that it was fully night.
Gazing at the brightest star of all, I wondered if Eärendil looked down from up high upon our ship and beheld his son. Or if Elrond thought about the parents who had been lost to him so soon in his life, and whom he might meet one day in Valinor.
Nodding a silent farewell to the helmsman, I slowly approached my friend, stopping far enough away not to intrude, but offering silent company and support, if it was desired.
Surreptitiously, I looked at him again out of the corner of my eye.
He stared unseeing across the expanse of the Shadowy Seas, now truly dark; seeming not to notice the rise and fall of the ship, nor the occasional gusts of spindrift reaching the deck. His only movements were an unconscious, instinctive swaying motion to adjust to the rocking ship, the slow blinking of his eyes, and his fists clenching and unclenching on the railing. I did not think he was aware even of my presence.
Did he think about those he had left behind?
Or of what awaited him at our destination? Of who would - possibly - wait for him? How he would find her, and how he would be received in his turn?
It seemed to me as if waves of mingled hope and anxiety were coursing close under the surface of his skin, so passionate, so overwhelming, that they seemed as waves of heat I might be able to feel if only I came very close to him. More intense for the rigorous manner in which they were suppressed by his rigid control.
I could understand that Elrond was loath to allow his hopes to rise too high. That he feared to believe what he had wished to believe with all his heart for over five hundred years, now that the hour drew near when this belief would be put to the test.
Perhaps he told himself that he was, after all, quite used to loss by now. That, in a long life full of sorrow, it would merely be one more heart-grief to accept, to bear, to endure:
His father, hardly known as a child, often gone over the seas, and then forever after unreachably far away, a star in the sky.
His mother, the only childhood memories those of being abandoned among slain Elves, left to the mercy of the ones who slew them, who had already abandoned her two brothers - his uncles - in the forest; the last sight of her leaping into the sea, a blazing white light upon her breast.
His foster-father, after he had learned to love him at long last, as little might be thought (4), gone to wander along the shores of the sea, longing for a lost Silmaril and lost brothers, for release and redemption, never to be seen again among Elvenkind.
His brother, separated by the differing choices of the Half-Elven. Whose final resting place we must have passed over sometime during our journey, traversing the empty ocean where once had been Númenor. I had seen a flicker, quickly suppressed, in Elrond's eyes when we had caught sight of the top of Meneltarma. Meneltarma, once a hallowed place for the worship of Eru Ilúvatar. Now a lonely, desolate island; and all that was left of the Land of the Star, the Land of Gift: Truly Akallabêth now, the Downfallen.
His king, who had made him herald, confidant and friend in the long years of the Second Age. Destroyed by the heat of Sauron's hand.
His wife, unable to find healing at his hands, the hands of the foremost healer of Middle-earth; taken from him by cruel and merciless foes and the Sundering Seas.
His daughter, following in the footsteps of Elros, for a love a father could not, would not deny.
His sons, separated by distance, by time and, maybe, by fate as well.
I suppressed a sigh, and felt my heart constrict at the evidence of so much pain and loss my friend had experienced so close to him.
Would he find his hope for healing here, in an unknown land, an unknown future?
Would he be able to find Celebrían, find his wife, again, healed and happy? Be able to continue what had been interrupted so violently?
Would he be able to make her understand why he did bring none of their children with him? That he could not give her the chance to see her daughter ever again until the ending of the world? And that she might not see her sons either?
Would he be able to forgive himself for this perceived failure?
I thought back on a talk I had had with Galadriel a few days back. She, too, had ambiguous feelings towards our destination. She left behind her grandchildren. And she left behind her heart, not knowing when Celeborn would leave his cherished trees and his home in Middle-earth to venture to unknown Aman.
She left behind triumphs and tragedies, pride and defiance, humility and victory. And before her lay memories of dark deeds, of blood shed and kin slain, of burning ships and grinding ice. But also a hope of healing, reunion with loved ones, and final forgiveness.
She felt confident about Celebrían's recovery. I could not determine if it was her foresight that gave her this reassurance, or belief in the healing powers of the Blessed Realm.
She had tried to instil that same confidence in Elrond. She had told me, a combination of exasperation and compassion in her voice, that he had listened to her with all signs of attentiveness and receptiveness, thanked her very politely and graciously, and went away as soon as decency allowed to return to his vantage point in the bow.
I myself, with my heart full of pity and understanding, had never, during the whole course of our crossing, attempted to speak with Elrond about those issues, neither to offer comfort, nor encouragement; keeping my talks with him to everyday things.
The wind freshened up now, and I could smell a change of weather coming. Watching the clouds obscure parts of the night sky in the West, I could not suppress a small smile.
I spoke my thoughts aloud, leaving it to Elrond to decide if I was addressing my words to him or to wind and waves. "It will not be long now."
Again I wondered if Elrond thought about his parents, who had made this voyage so long ago, in an age before the Seas were bent.
Elrond did look up at me then. He did not say anything, and I could not read his face. After a long moment, when I already began to regret intruding upon his meditation, he merely nodded. In acknowledgement of my words; but I had the feeling it was also, maybe, a silent thanks for the intention behind them, which he must have guessed.
I put my forearms on the railing, entwined my fingers in front of me, and bending my shoulders, looked down into the ocean. I could just see the white-capped waves shimmering softly in the dark, slapping against the ship's hull in a never-ending, ever-changing rhythm.
A gentle rain began to drift down, hardly more than a thickening of mist, but neither of us moved away from our place at the bow, letting it caress our faces and adorn hair and clothing with shimmering sparks, quickly absorbed, or blown away again by the breeze. We stood a long time in silence; the creaking of timber, the snapping of sails, the thrum of the wind in the rigging, the sound of rain and sea our only companions. And if Elrond had once more retreated from the outside world, his mood seemed to have lightened somewhat.
A noise from the companionway broke the stillness at long last. The aromatic whiff of pipe-weed heralded the identity of the person now coming towards us even before we heard the shuffling footsteps approaching.
I turned to smile down. "Good evening, Bilbo. I see this rain does not deter you from venturing outside."
"Hullo Gandalf, Elrond. No, it does not; in fact I find it positively refreshing." As if in demonstration, he lowered his pipe and took a deep breath with upturned face.
Elrond gazed at the Perian with the long-ingrained habit of the healer. "Nevertheless I would advise you not to stay here for too long, Bilbo. The sea breeze is fresh, and the rain, light as it is, will make it colder still."
Bilbo tugged at the knitted wrap around his shoulders. "Fear not, Elrond. I merely came to catch some fresh air and," with this he turned to me with twinkling eyes, "I came to ask if you would be so kind as to lend me a helping hand with my maps. I fear I did not remember all you have told me about the southern shores of Valinor: I may have misplaced Hyarmentir, for example. And if you would just take a quick look at my rendering of the Enchanted Isles, just to make sure I have not omitted any landmarks..." He trailed off, making smoke figures in the air with the pipe in his hand, as if in demonstration of his self-appointed task as cartographer.
I had to grin at this newest demonstration of his irrepressible spirit. Turning to Elrond, I saw him smiling as well, and my heart went out to the old Hobbit. I did not doubt that this had been part of his intention. He knew Elrond well enough to guess what went on beneath his composed demeanour, and had determined to "cheer him up" in his usual blithe but perceptive way.
Bilbo puffed at his pipe. His attempts at making smoke rings were quickly blown away by the breeze before they had a chance to form, but this did not deter him. He offered me his pouch full of Longbottom Leaf, but I declined politely, saying that in my opinion, sea air and pipe-weed did not go together too well. Bilbo disagreed, and soon we were engaged in a friendly argument about the subject, looked on by Elrond, who kept shaking his head in amusement at our squabble.
Finally agreeing to disagree, Bilbo's cheerful face sobered. "Elrond, I have also come to beg you to take another look at Frodo. I really do not like how the lad looks tonight, and he has barely touched his food all day."
Although this was patently true, and I knew that Bilbo was genuinely concerned about the wan look of his kinsman despite the wholesome sea air, I rather suspected that this was further manifestation of his plan to distract Elrond from his melancholy.
Elrond threw a wry glance at the Hobbit, leading me to the conclusion that he knew perfectly well what Bilbo was up to, but going along with it nevertheless; his look was tempered with sympathy for his concern about Frodo, which we all shared.
"I will come, Bilbo. Would you be so kind as to ask in the galley to prepare something light that may tempt his appetite? I will go prepare a draught in my cabin and join you shortly in yours."
I added, "And I will soon come to take a look at your maps, but I want to visit Shadowfax for a moment beforehand."
Bilbo nodded in acquiescence. He knocked out his pipe on the railing, and with a last deep breath and a smile at us both he hurried away again in the direction of the galley, where the cook would be only too delighted to fulfil his every wish.
I looked after him and remarked dryly, "I wager Bilbo will coax enough food out of the cook for more than Frodo would ever be able to eat at two meals."
Elrond smiled slightly. "He will defend it by suggesting that he keep Frodo company..."
"...claiming that good Hobbit tradition has it that eating in company is more wholesome than eating all alone anyway, I know."
"Well, considering that Frodo does eat more if others join in, Bilbo has a point. I will go now to prepare something for Frodo - I will see you in his cabin."
With a smile at me, which faded as he cast a last lingering glance at the dark western horizon, he went inside.
I stayed at the railing for a few moments longer, gazing at the night sky and the stars, welcoming the droplets falling on my upturned face. Then a quick detour to the galley, before I made my way to the hold to bring Shadowfax the carrots I had begged from the cook for just this purpose. Afterwards I, too, went to join Elrond and the Hobbits.
A peaceful night went by. Bilbo quickly succumbed to sleep again, in the middle of my description of Valinor's mountain ranges, and Frodo was able to sleep as well with Elrond's help. Bestowing a last affectionate smile at the sleeping Hobbits, Elrond and I quietly left again, I to join Gildor and the others for some time before retiring, and Elrond to go to his own cabin. I hoped he, too, would sleep at least for a while, but did not really think he would.
When I finally came up on deck again, false dawn had turned the still gently falling rain into a grey curtain, behind which the slowly brightening horizon was seen as a pale light.
A breeze brought a sweet fragrance to us, first harbinger of our destination.
I was not surprised when all passengers came up one by one to stand at the railing, sleep curtailed by the knowledge of our voyage coming to an end and by the expectations, so different for each, of what would wait at its end.
Bilbo and I took Frodo in our midst. I was very glad to see Frodo looking with the same wide-eyed, eager expression at what lay before us as his kinsman. It was as if with the scent from the approaching but as yet still unseen shore, the Blessed Realm already began to have a healing effect on the brave Hobbit.
I also acted as a pillar in another protective pair, as Galadriel and I flanked Elrond, who stood at his accustomed place, the serenity of the previous night lost again, his features seemingly set in marble, his hand once again gripping the railing as if it was his only hold.
Now singing was heard over the water ahead of us, coming together with the ever-brightening morning. When the Hobbits with their less sensitive ears were also able to hear it, Frodo exclaimed in wonder and looked back up to me with shining eyes. I returned his smile and nodded - yes, there were wonders to behold in the Undying Lands, wonders also for weary, suffering Mortals.
Suddenly, the light of the sky brightened: The sun climbed swiftly over the horizon behind us, sending her warming rays of light over and past us to the West, turning the grey rain-curtain all to silver glass. The next moment, it seemed to roll back as the rain stopped, revealing to our eyes the white shores of Tol Eressëa, with the country beyond it sparkling in manifold shades of green. (5)
At the sight, a glad cry went up, from sailors, busy with furling the sails, and passengers alike, and I sighed as I saw even Elrond relax for a moment at the vista before him, a beauty full of promise and hope.
The quays of the havens were thronged with people: friends and relatives mostly, come to welcome the new arrivals.
In front of the milling crowd, I could discern Finarfin and Eärwen, come to welcome their wayward daughter, home at long last, Finrod and Amarië beside them. Galadriel's pale face lit up and she waved, which stopped the pacing of her clearly edgy father, who waved frantically back, forgetting for the moment his dignity as King of the Noldor in Aman.
A figure, previously hidden by Finarfin, became suddenly visible beside Eärwen. She was graceful, with silver hair long down her back, clad in a gown the colours of dawn.
I could hear a soft shuddering sigh from Elrond - it was indeed Celebrían.
He had tensed even more, grasping the railing still harder than before, so that the last blood seemed to drain from his fingers.
Celebrían was quickly let through the crowd to the very front at Finarfin's side. He pointed our way, but her head had already swivelled around in our direction, as if drawn by an invisible bond.
Then she waved, and we could see her smiling.
A faint tremor passed through Elrond's frame and the mask cracked for the tiniest of moments, before with an effort that was ever more obvious he put it back together.
He still did not dare to hope, I saw, my heart full of compassion.
But it was clear to my eyes that she was not the same woman we had last seen more than five-hundred years ago on the quays of Mithlond: a pale, withdrawn figure of suffering and despair, barely aware of her surroundings, her husband hardly daring to touch her even to help her aboard the ship.
This was Celebrían as she must have been when Elrond fell in love with her, long before he revealed his feelings to anyone, even to himself (6).
Now she had noticed her mother as well, who was laughing, tears of joy in her eyes.
Celebrían kept waving at us all, but her eyes had returned to her husband, and the sound of her own glad, silvery laughter was carried over the narrowing expanse of water between ship and shore.
Mooring ropes were thrown from the ship, caught by helpers to wrap around the boulders lining the jetty. I gently pressed Elrond's shoulder, then went down to the hold below to prepare Shadowfax for his disembarking.
Slowly and carefully I led him up the steep ramp. He snorted a few times in discomfort, his ears flicking. But he trusted me and he knew an end had finally come to this for him so disagreeable way of journeying.
On deck, we had to wait: The gangway which now joined ship and quay was too narrow for the mearh. A helpful mariner was already making explaining gestures in our direction, whereupon a group of Teleri nodded and departed with a friendly wave to me, apparently in search of a more suitable ramp. I stood patiently, scratching Shadowfax' cheek and between his ears, and looked upon the joyful scenes of welcome playing out before us.
Galadriel was nearly invisible in the tight embrace of her father; her mother's and brother's arms around her, Amarië laughingly trying to get into the group as well.
The Hobbits were surrounded by a growing group of Elves, curious, amazed, welcoming. I hoped they would not feel too overwhelmed by it all, especially Frodo, but trusted that they would quickly be led somewhere to rest and recoup in peace and quiet.
But my gaze was quickly drawn to two people: Elrond and Celebrían.
Despite the press of the throng around them, they seemed to be in their own world, having eyes only for each other.
She had his hands in hers and was just guiding them up to her shoulders, her eyes blazing, looking deeply into his, a warm, infinitely tender smile on her face.
For a moment longer, he held back. He spoke, his face a mixture of indescribable joy and anguished guilt. I deduced that he was telling Celebrían that he came alone, without their children.
She stopped him with a hand on his mouth, shaking her head slowly. I could read her lips. She said, "I know. There is nothing to forgive. It is their choice."
The last tension drained out of him.
Now it was he who received comfort, he who was given the strength he needed, the understanding he had half feared was denied him. It was he, the healer, who was being healed.
His face slowly lit up. Then his hands slid into her hair, and he bent his head to her lips.
And the sun of the new day shone on Elrond's joyful face.
(1) Silm, Akallabêth & Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
(2, 3) RotK, The Grey Havens
(4) Silm, On the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath
(5) This section obviously borrows heavily from the corresponding passage in RotK, The Grey Havens
(6) UT, Part Two, IV The History of Galadriel and Celeborn
I wrote two companion drabbles to this story, elaborating on two different details of it; if you are interested, please check out:
The Parting Gift
A Long-expected Reunion
My special thanks go to Lisa Williams on HA: She provided me with relevant quotes from HoMe and valuable comments, so that I could help myself out of a corner into which I had written myself.
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.