3. That Attained and What Remains
The Last Alliance
It was newly dark, when I retired to rest that night. I had watched the sun set, though it never completely broke through the dense clouds that blackened the land of Mordor, not even at mid-day. But I had grown accustomed to telling time by the subtle lightening of denseness o'er head, and timed that last repose to wait atop a hill, and hope for a clear setting of the sun.
Verily fate was kind to my desire, for it was the only mentionable dusk I had witnessed in the last seven years. The sky turned a pink blush of gray against the blue of storm and remained thus for a while. It was beautiful, and I knew then that its memory would have to last a long time, lest I forget beauty's fair face and take it for lost.
I slept uneasily after that, if I slept at all. Foreboding was heavy upon my mind. I knew that I needed to rest, I knew there would be ceaseless fighting met on the morrow, and I knew, somehow, that it would be the last chance to sleep I would have, before the battle ended, one way or another. What I did not know was from where the dread in my heart came. I did not fear my own death; I would willingly sacrifice my life for any other. And I believed we would win, so considered no failure... Ah, but I knew. I did not allow myself to acknowledge it then, but I knew.
As such, it was met with no surprise, the silent figure standing over me in the dark emptiness of my tent. I blinked my eyes to indicate wakefulness, even as mirth found a way to twist my lips. I remember how he started suddenly, realizing only then where he stood. Our eyes locked, and no words were needed. If I were to have spoken, I would have made a fool of myself, trying to convince us both how we were wrong in our mutual knowledge. If he had spoke— ah, but he did.
Gil-galad always did things; kind things, explanatory things, precautionary things, even if they were unessential. It was his lot in life to be perpetually official, I once teased him.
"I meant not to wake you," he apologized.
"I meant not to wake," said I.
He smiled, comprehending the meaning of all that I did not say. We meant for little in life, but that alters even less; for there we were, where we did not necessarily mean to be. I could see everything in Gil-galad's eyes, nothing of him kept from me by the lightlessness of night. I believe he wished it were otherwise. He did not want me to see what he thought I did not already know. I would have tried to protect him as well, if our predicaments had been switched.
"Will you stay?" Again he started, barely wincing that time.
"I cannot," he said, another apology. Always so sorry for things that were never his fault. So like myself.
"We both need sleep, and neither of us wishes to be alone." He shifted physically from reservations within, and his eyes left mine."But do as you will." I watched him stand there, still wearing his armor, a great Elvenking on the outside and a lonely, fearful creature within. Soon he had made his decision, and considered only how to proceed.
"Ereinion," I extended my hand. "Just come."
He removed his outermost armor, probably more of it than was safe even within camp, as my hand remained, the invitation ever open. When he approached to grasp me, I drew it closer, just out of his reach; and he smiled. Only when he was lying beside me and sharing my blanket did I finally allow my hand to be had.
We lay thus for a while in silence, side by side in every way. It felt so natural to be that close to him. I was reminded of my childhood, when I would sleep along his side, Elros lying opposite me, our joined hands rested atop our King's heart as we counted the stars together. Ever beloved was Gil-galad, and my brother and I rejoiced to visit him on Balar... before Sirion fell, ere we were spirited away.
Years later, as two dignitaries in Lindon, the King and I would occasionally make escape from duty and obligation long enough to share a goblet, tales, laughter, and fall asleep someplace under the stars we loved. For the Elven-lord I called cousin, friend, and King, there could be none fonder in my heart. I imagine it was little different for his part. He regarded me as closest kin, dubbed me his herald, trusted me as his confidant. It was love of many kinds we shared, thus unique, and we knew well our time to honor it was ending.
After a duration of silence, Gil-galad spoke. "All that is mine, I offer to you, Elrond. I once named you the son of my heart, and I do now name you my heir, if such words need be spoken aloud."
"I want nothing more than I already have, lord. And nothing less."
"You must take what you deserve in life, Elrond."
"What else I deserve will come to me."
Gil-galad's jaw then set in tensions unspoken, and he said, "Would you have me personally place the crown upon your head then, ere I am dead?"
"Nay, lord. Place your love upon me now, and I shall be well content."
And I was, that night; we both were.
In kinship we were bonded by blood, by friendship we were bonded in trust; that bond withstood many trials, and none was more everlasting. That night was the last chance we would have to hold to our connection, and we held tight, even into sleep. It was the last time Gil-galad would walk in Elven-dreams, and I trod there beside him. The last time he walked upon Middle-earth, I was beside him as well. And the last word he said was heard to my ears alone, as fate would have it.
I remember when Cirdan was able to pull me away from the smoking corpse of our King – in my state of panic, I would not accept all hope was lost, and tried stubbornly to heal Gil-galad; the price I paid was a fair share of my own flesh and pride. As the Shipwright frantically tended my sustained burns, ignoring his own, his voice broke with grief when he asked, "What did he tell you?"
He so desperately needed to know. Gil-galad was as much a son to Cirdan as he was a father to me. I could not deny him such closure as knowing his child's last utterance for the sake of my own comfort; though how it hurt me to repeat! Shutting my eyes against it all, I answered, "El... he said 'El!'."
Gil-galad was not talking to me when he spoke, though Cirdan might have guessed otherwise. I will never forget the King's destroyed body, and the fragile light yet glittering in his lidless eyes, as they stared through a sudden break in the endless clouds above, at the stars beyond. And despite his scalded voice he cried with his last breath, 'El!'
Thus it was at the end as it was in the beginning: an Elvenking in his last second alive exclaiming at the stars, as the Firstborn named them millennia ago with their first word. Is that how I knew then our time was over; that the Elves had come full circle at last? I know not. All I could see when I thought back was Gil-galad's lidless eyes, and how I felt it meant something even more. Lidless eyes, seeing beyond mere vision...
It was relatively easy for me, after that, to move on. Eyes that looked to Gil-galad before fell upon me in his stead. Some of the King's responsibilities and commitments to matters of state were undertaken by Cirdan, but many still by me. There was much to do, simply in getting home, and then in other things. Plenty of other things... though I do not recall what exactly they were. But I do know if not for the saving grace that there was little time to think at all, I might have despaired. But I did not, I could not: I had things to do – supposedly.
The King's crown was smelted on the battlefield, just as his armor, and I never ordered for a replica to be crafted. In fact, I imposed the opposite. Gil-galad was the last High King of the Noldor in Exile, and I was the first to say so. Henceforth none dared called me King, though it would be a millennium until I was simply 'Master' again. Even Celeborn and Thranduil addressed me as Lord thereafter, although it's possible they had done so before, and I simply failed to notice. Many things I failed to notice, in those hectic years before Gil-galad's fall, and the muddled years following. Through a mournful fog I struggled during those dark days, and if I bumped into walls whilst I walked from time to time, none asked why.
An entire century passed, and what I remember best of that time, though still vaguely, is letters – many received and many sent. Seems I wrote everything down in letters, and knew where they needed to go. All of my sorrows, pains, and worries were printed by my hand, stamped by my insignia, and delivered by my most trusted messenger. As often as need be I would write, until everything made sense again, until I could think and eat and breathe again.
I must have written enough, for I did indeed function to the standards and requirements of my office. But without the clarity those letters provided, if not for the escape of reading the comforting replies and spelling out yet more thoughts that I could not speak, I would not have managed, not even with all of the assistance offered to me.
After one hundred years of ignoring whose place I had taken in role and authority, of ignoring my heart and my mind, I started suddenly, realizing only then where I stood. Before me was the creature I already knew I loved. I had not forgotten, as such; it merely seemed as though she was there all along. The only light in the darkest span of my life.
One early morning during the still-young season of spring, Celebrian walked towards me smiling, and stuffed a note into my hand.
"There!" she said decisively, a twinkle in her eye. "Now I am spared the dejected look of my father's message-rider, were I to give her yet another letter to deliver for me."
I remember not which words at first found their way to my tongue, but Celebrian replied kindly, "And hail, Elrond Peredhil! It is indeed long since we met, and 'twas a short tryst, last time."
I recall something about our letters that I broached, and she laughed, answering, "Yes, I agree. For a century it feels that I have spoken with you, in more ways than mere written words. But truly I have kept your expressions close to heart, and only wished that we too could be nearer." Then she blushed, having said more than she intended. Her next words set my heart free from doubt and loneliness. "Walk with me?"
And to that, I clearly remember my reply. "For as long as I can."
The next letter I wrote was sent to Celeborn and Galadriel. Could I have printed it whilst down upon my knees, I would have, for to attain permission to betroth their daughter, verily I was prepared to beg. A mere decade later, on a bright and joyous spring morning, Celebrian and I were wed, and my life started anew, in every way it could have.
Ereinion Gil-galad was the last High King of the Noldor in Exile. After he was destroyed my life ended as well, in most ways. That is to say, everything changed. I could no longer be the same person without him. The King defines his Herald, and without one, the other is null. Yet it was not my time to end, so I adapted, I endured.
The Last Alliance was over, the war won, and I scorned the pointless victory then, with all of my heart that remained. The Men returned to their dwellings, their foolishness and their pettiness. Thranduil and his sadly reduced forces returned to Greenwood, and he took his inheritance as King of that woodland realm; likewise Amroth returned to Lorien as King of the Golden Wood. Cirdan returned to the shore, as was his wont, and many Elves went with him, some to Sail, others to dwell in Middle-earth a while yet. Celeborn had his family awaiting in Edhellond, and with him went the rest of his kin. While I... I returned to Rivendell, as its Lord and Master, with much less of myself than I had when last I left.
Often I wonder, what might have become of me, had Celeborn not so graciously bestowed permission to write his beloved daughter, or if I had made less candid use of the privilege – for how surely those letters saved me! Aye, I wonder; and to this day, I know not. Yesterday, I ceased worrying about it, at least. Also yesterday, my third child was born. A daughter has come this time, surprising no one except her brothers. She is sleeping now, in her mother's arms, and I am content.
Arwen will be the last, I know, but this bothers me not. I have two sons, already grown, and a daughter newly born. I have Imladris, and my father's star shining brightest upon my House. And now I have joys to equalize my sorrows, thanks to Celebrian, who brought all of that which I had none, and gave me the will to acknowledge all of that which I had left.
Like a well-constructed building, I am sturdy. Celebrian is the foundation I stand upon as surely as I do this earth. And all other pieces of my life, some heavy and burdensome, now lean not upon me but against each other. While my troubles bother my other troubles I am left unmolested, out of the fight, out of the rain, and my eyes are dry enough to watch the world fade, and my mind is clear enough to laugh at cares which are not mine; for I have paid my dues. I have pierced the darkness and reached the light, I have shunned the mistakes of my forefathers and outlived their curse, and I did it without breaking.
I feel freed, and though this world and my people's place in it does fade, there is time yet to rejoice. There is a harmony in my life that I never knew could exist before. For once I do not think of the future, unless it is counted by when I might next hold my children or wife. I no longer see what will or might become of anything. I have lost none of my insight in this, the fates and destinies of Arda and its inhabitants. Only lately, my eyes have been focused on other, smaller, closer things.
Recently I wrote a poem about happiness, with music to accompany it, and tonight I will sing it for all to hear. It is time to make some new memories, I deem, while time there still is to be had, and gathered, and spent.
I believe I know at last how Iluvatar meant for his children to live, and it was not in tears or war or regret: rather just like this, in bliss.
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.