Counsels in Rivendell - Part Five - Loss
Their horses stepped in lively fashion along the path, and the ladies' long riding cloaks almost trailed along the ground. They did not speak until the silence was broken by the distant snapping of a twig. A look of shock, almost panic, crossed Arwen's face but Nîndorien calmly turned her horse and called into the woods.
"Lindir! Why do you follow us with so little care for silence? The Lord Glorfindel would be most unimpressed if he knew that his pupil was making enough racket to alert of a horde of Orcs to his presence!"
"Oh, speak not of Orcs, my Lady!" cried Arwen, trembling.
The abashed young Elf stepped into the clearing and bowed before them, "I am sent by Lord Elrond bearing a most urgent message. You are to return to the house immediately!"
Arwen gasped and instantly spurred her horse on. Nîndorien caught a glimpse of the fear in Undomiel's face and cried out to her horse, "noro lim!" The two riders raced back to the house, hoods and black hair streaming out behind them. Nîndorien reached the steps at the same time as Arwen, and when she looked upon Lord Elrond's strained face, her heart sank. She stood back as he reached out his arms for his daughter. He whispered into her ear, words that no one else could hear, and when Arwen broke free, Nîndorien saw tears in her eyes. She moved to comfort her friend and stopped suddenly when she saw that Arwen wept not with sorrow but with joy. Relief flooded through Nîndorien's veins and she sank to her knees. Arwen rushed to embrace her, and as she rested her head on Undomiel's shoulder, she saw Elrond's face, smiling sadly. She rose and held Arwen's hand as they made their way into the house. At last Undomiel's waiting was over, and the crownless again would be king.
That evening Elrond ordered that a feast be laid out to celebrate the final victory over darkness. All of the household were to attend. Arwen sat at the centre of the high table, in her usual position and Elrond sat at the head, flanked by Glorfindel and Erestor. Although Nîndorien usually sat with Arwen, she contrived it so that, on this occasion, she was sitting by Glorfindel, within speaking range of Lord Elrond. Although he was joyful that the Dark Lord was overthrown and that his foster-son had triumphantly reclaimed his throne, it was clear that a great sorrow hung over him. Whenever he look upon his daughter, however, he could only smile, for her joy was so great that it almost overshadowed his own sadness. He spoke little, allowing other conversations to drift over him.
After the feast, the Hall of Fire was filled with songs and light as never before. Nîndorien stood by the wall and watched as Bilbo repeatedly told all who would listen how proud he was of Frodo and how he had never doubted that he would succeed. Occasionally, the elderly hobbit would fall asleep, even in the middle of a sentence, but upon awakening, he would simply continue where he had left off. Nîndorien laughed, although she was sorry to see how much Bilbo had aged. She knew that he would not make the long journey to Minas Tirith. She glanced at Elrond and saw that he was sitting alone. She approached him cautiously, not wishing to disturb his reverie but she sensed that he did not want to sit alone in sorrow. He looked up as she stood before him, his movements slow and weary. He smiled at her, and beckoned to her to sit down alongside him.
"My Lady Nîndorien, why do you not join in the singing?" He nodded towards the small gathering of Elves in the centre of the room, who sang beautifully, their voices rising and falling together in joyful harmony. Arwen sat near them, her eyes dancing as she listened to the music. Lindir and Luinil were among the musicians, and their youthful enthusiasm brought a fresh energy to the songs which had been song many times in the past to celebrate ancient victories of Middle Earth.
"I do not believe I could improve on the singing of Lindir, my lord."
"Indeed. He has become truly accomplished," replied Elrond, his eyes straying to where his daughter sat.
Nîndorien responded, although she knew that Elrond did not want to speak solely on musical matters. "Yes, he has been well-taught by the Lord Glorfindel."
At last, Elrond turned to face her. "He is not the only pupil of Glorfindel to have leaned much for the service of others. Do not think that I am ignorant to the support you have given to my daughter in her darkest hours." He looked at her with concern. "I see that it has taken its toll on you, for you are tired and your spirit burns with less strength than before." He took her hand. "Ah, Nîndorien, you have always given so much of yourself to me and my family."
"Dear one, the support I gave to Arwen is no less than the aid I received from you after the Last Alliance. Were it not for your powers, I should not have tarried long on these shores. Now, my lord, I beseech you to let me aid you, for your sorrow is great, I perceive."
Elrond remained silent for a while, looking at Nîndorien while attempting to impose some order on his unruly thoughts. He was not used to having so little control over the direction of his thoughts, and it unnerved him. Nîndorien smiled encouragingly and he took a deep breath before speaking, like a swimmer before diving into the depths of a murky lake.
"I do not know how to describe my feelings of late. It seems that my heart has been torn in two. Part of me rejoices that at last Sauron has been overthrown and Middle Earth may again know peace. At last, Gil-galad's vision has been achieved, although he shall not witness it, nor shall many of the Eldar, for our time here draws to a close. Yet I look upon these happy faces and I know that there are celebrations taking place across Middle Earth, and it gladdens my heart.
"But part of my heart knows only darkness. I look upon Arwen and I know that soon I will behold her no more. Every time I see her face, unbearable sorrow wells within me. I am torn, my lady, and I am afraid." Elrond took a deep breath, once more ordering his thoughts. "I thought that I should never know this sorrow again."
Although Elrond did not speak aloud, Nîndorien could hear his voice in her head. Elros. The sound of that name filled her mind, stirring old memories and once more, Nîndorien found herself recalling the sack of Sirion. After Elrond and Elros had been seized, it had been greatly feared that the sons of Elwing would suffer the same fate as their uncles; Elured and Elurín, left in the depths of the forest to face any number of unknown terrors: starvation, inconsolable grief or death at the hands of rampaging Orc hordes. Nîndorien did not think that her joy at Gil-galad's safe return from the War of Wrath could be surpassed until she had laid eyes on Elrond and Elros riding tall, with youthful defiance and pride, at the side of the High King. They had suffered no ill-effects at Maglor's hands, and they had even loved their foster-father a little, and mourned the news of his end. She frowned as she remembered the cruel demand placed upon the two brothers; to irrevocably choose to be counted among Elves or among Men. Elrond's anguish when he learned of his brother's choice to be counted among the Atani lay like a cloud over the early days of Lindon. Nîndorien and Gil-galad had done all they could to carry him through his grief; Gil-galad was like a mentor to him while she herself almost took on the role of mother, for he was yet young. She recalled the numerous times he would come to her, angry tears in his eyes because he felt that Gil-galad was pushing him too hard in matters of warfare and lore. When news reached Lindon of Elros' death over four hundred years later, Elrond was so stricken with grief that he barely spoke for years on end. Gradually, with time and the gentle counsels of Gil-galad, he began to recover, although the shadow of bereavement never fully passed from his heart. Now, at the end of the Third Age, his heart was darkened again and Nîndorien found herself acting as chief counsellor and comforter, for she alone of the Elves of Rivendell had known him when he suffered that first grievous loss. She felt ill-qualified for this task however, because she knew that she could not possibly comprehend his pain. Only his forefather Thingol before him had ever experienced a similar woe. The Eldar were not accustomed to dealing with such a raw grief. It was one of the many things that they marvelled at in the Edain; that every passing generation experienced the pain of death afresh, yet their race did not dwindle. Nîndorien sighed as she thought of all the lifetimes of Men she had lived through; each one as fragile as a whisp of cloud being inexorably pulled apart by a breath of wind.
"Even in all this joy, death has come among us," whispered Elrond hoarsely. "Although it wears a fair face, it frightens me." He laughed suddenly and mirthlessly. "How can it be that I, who shall never know death, fear it so much?"
"Because, you alone of the Eldar in Middle Earth have already been scarred by its finality. Death has left its mark on you," replied Nîndorien. "But I do not believe that it is death that you fear; rather it is the pain of parting from a dearly beloved child. Is it not said that death is the Gift of Ilúvatar? It may be that even the Immortal shall long for its dark kiss. No, dear one, you fear separation."
"Perhaps," sighed Elrond, nodding almost lethargically.
"Do not grieve for Arwen so soon, my lord, for she is still full of life, and, by the will of the Valar, she will have a joyous future with Estel. It is better that she live and die as a mortal, and know an enduring love, than to linger on until the end of time, slowly sickening for her lost love."
"But what of a father's love? Does it not compare?"
"Dear one, you know full well that it is by your love that Arwen has flourished; without it she would surely have faded and passed into the twilight, the fading Evenstar of her people. Although her heart is given to Estel, it does not lessen your love for her, nor hers for you. Love does not compete for a foothold within one's heart. Arwen is blessed that she can treasure both her love for you, and her love for Estel. She believes, as I do, that love endures beyond death, beyond even the end of Arda. It does not diminish, just as your love for Arwen will never diminish. I know that your heart breaks at the thought of losing her, but for her sake you must not allow the fire of your love be quenched by the stinging tears of mourning."
Elrond smiled sadly at her. "Do not fear, gentle lady; not all the tears of Nienna could serve to extinguish the flame of my love for Arwen, but neither can all the stars of Varda banish the shadow that lies on my heart. Your words have greatly helped, my lady. They remind me of Gil-galad's words in Lindon when-" He stopped, and shook his head. "Nay, I shall not dwell on that dark time, but you have comforted me, and I confess that my thoughts have at last regained some semblance of order. Come, let us hearken to the Lord Glorfindel, for it seems that he has been persuaded to play." Nîndorien glanced down the Hall and saw Glorfindel holding a harp that had been pushed into his hands by Lindir. She smiled, for he seldom played for others, despite his great talent.
Glorfindel's long fingers moved skilfully over the strings of the harp, drawing forth an unknown melody, altogether new to the listeners. He sang no words, for there were no words in all the tongues of the Eldar that could convey the emotion carried in every pure note. The music began softly, soaring through the air before, weighted down by a melancholic weariness, each note fell as gently and relentlessly as a bitter teardrop. Soon, the music altered slightly, and a theme of despair-filled longing emerged, tearing at the heart of every listener with secret thoughts of hopeless desire. At last, when it seemed that none could bear the sorrow, a triumphant strain rose up out of the desolation. Its joyous sound banished every dark thought from the hall, and it was so uplifting that all other songs of celebration seemed flat and uninspiring by comparison. Almost imperceptibly, Glorfindel began to weave all the themes together; sorrow, desire and victory. The individual themes did not compete, but rather each complemented the other, thereby increasing its own potency. At last Glorfindel's fingers began to slow and the music gently gave way to peaceful silence. A few moments passed, while the music still echoed in the hearts of all, until the silence was broken by Lindir moving towards Glorfindel with awe in his eyes, followed by many other enthusiastic Elves. Some of them picked up the harp, wondering how it could have produced music of such surpassing beauty.
Nîndorien sat as one stricken, only moving when she became aware of Elrond stirring beside her. She watched through a mist of unwelcome tears as he walked over to his daughter and warmly embraced her. Glorfindel's music, it seemed, had succeeded where words failed, for Elrond looked at Arwen with such joyful love that it drove all thoughts of loss far away. Nîndorien looked down the hall to where Glorfindel sat surrounded by jubilant Elves who begged him to play again. His soft words of demurral carried to Nîndorien's ears. "No, my friends, I do not think I shall ever again produce such music, for it came from a weary heart with nothing left to give."
At this, Nîndorien stood up, and lifting her skirts, she ran from the room. Almost blinded by tears, she came to the balcony on which she had sat with Arwen on the night of the Company's departure from Rivendell. She threw herself down on the stone seat and cried bitterly, as she had never cried before in all her long years. Somehow, Glorfindel's music had unlocked memories and thoughts that she had long forgotten. It was as though he had held a mirror up to her life, and every emotion she had ever felt stood naked in front of her. Images rushed through her head, frantically vying for prominence. Joy, sadness, hope, love and fear all filled her head. Her earliest memories of her mother singing lullabies to her in Nan-tathren gave way to a clear memory of Gil-galad's face, his voice, his touch. Her fear during the attack on Sirion became entangled with recollections of the day she held Elladan and Elrohir in her arms for the first time. She was not aware that someone had taken a seat beside her until she heard Glorfindel's soft voice. "My lady, why do you cry?" She lifted her head and looked at him. His golden hair was barely visible in the dark, and it seemed that she looked at him through a veil.
"Your song," she whispered. "It felt as though you were playing the music of my whole life." Something like anger flashed in her eyes. "I did not know that all our conversations would be thus presented to the world." She looked at him accusingly and, much to her surprise, he laughed softly.
"My lady, that music came from my own heart but, by listening to it, you contributed to it, as did all who heard it. Did you not mark the effect it had on many of the Elves of Rivendell?"
"Ay, I did. They were all joyful and merry, all evil thoughts driven far away. Why, then, does my mind still dwell on sorrow and despair?"
"Because your song is not yet complete," he replied simply. "You do not have long to wait, though," he added after a moment's thoughtful contemplation. "You miss him, don't you?" His heart almost broke as he spoke the words.
"More than ever," she whispered as she reached out her hand and placed it on his arm. "I am sorry, I am sorry."
He shook his head. "Never be sorry, Nîndorien. Never." He covered her hand with his.
"I do not understand why I should feel like this," she said. "I thought that my time for mourning had passed but now... I am so tired, Glorfindel, so tired..."
"You have given much of yourself in the past months, with little heed for your own welfare. It is no wonder that your mind dwells on troubled memories. I think that you will pass West soon, when Elrond takes ship." She was too tired to question how he knew where her mind was drawn and slow silent tears began to trickle down her cheeks as she spoke slowly.
"I had always meant to wait until Arwen-"
"No," he said swiftly. "You must travel to the Undying Realm. Middle Earth cannot bring you healing."
"I shall remain here for a time."
He smiled at her sadly and placed his hands on her face, gently wiping away her tears. "Middle Earth has not lost its hold on me so I shall remain, perhaps for a few years, perhaps for a few centuries. Do not worry; I will depart before the power of the Eldar has utterly run its course. I think that the sons of Elrond will remain, at least at first, so I shall continue to dwell in Rivendell."
"I do not want to lose you."
"You will never lose me." He smiled at her and she did not put up any resistance when he enfolded her in his arms. As she leaned against him, she could hear his steady heartbeat and calm breathing. Soon, she slipped into darkness, dimly conscious of Glorfindel's voice lifting in a haunting melody.
There were very few hours of darkness left, and the sun would inevitably rise like an impostor, concealing darkness beneath its fair rays. They clung to each other in desperation.
"Sleep, my love," he whispered, although he himself could not sleep. He softly caressed her and under his light touch, she drifted into an uneasy slumber. She woke up frequently, crying out with fear each time but he was still there, to hold her and comfort her. Even while she slept, she could feel his eyes on her and his protective arms around her. Gradually, she became aware of his hand, gently pushing her hair back from her face and the sensation of tender kisses on her neck and face. Unwillingly she opened her eyes.
"No," she whispered, blinking back tears when she saw dawn's red rays piercing the sky. She frantically returned his kisses, knowing that each one came closer to being the last. When the sun finally showed its shameful face, the sound of trumpets rang out; the signal for imminent departure. Like the rising of the tide, the sound of activity began to build up around Imladris.
They lay still on the bed, and then he spoke the words she dreaded. "It is time."
In that moment, she had wanted to scream and cling on to him, to somehow prevent him from leaving her but she looked at his upright back as he sat on the edge of the bed and knew that she would say nothing. He held himself with such resolve and determination that she could not, she would not, stand in his way. She reached out for her gown, which lay crumpled on the floor, and slowly dressed. When she finished, she watched as he fastidiously put on his silver mail, which shone out like a star even in the sunlight. He cast his blue cloak around his shoulders and then turned to face her. He reached out for her, and wrapped her in his cloak, as he had in the first meeting on the cliffs of Balar. They stood still, looking into each other's eyes, understanding each other's thoughts without words. Then he bent his head down and kissed her, softly and tenderly as though they had all the time in the world.
Glorfindel reached the end of his song; an ancient lullaby of Gondolin, and could hear from the sound of Nîndorien's breathing that she was asleep. He carefully picked her up, and carried her from the balcony in his arms. Her gown trailed noiselessly along the ground as he carried her through the corridors of Rivendell to her chambers. He gently laid her down on the bed, covering her with a blanket. He pushed her black hair back from her face, and stood over her, concern visible on his face. It was clear that she was trapped in some dark dream or memory.
She watched from the raised porch as the enormous host organised itself into precise divisions. Her handmaidens stood around her, prepared to offer support. She watched Gil-galad, riding back and forth, inspecting the soldiers. All Elves and Men looked at him with awe and admiration, for he seemed to them to be fearless. His power was evident to all; a mighty king riding to war, unhindered by weakness or doubt. He rode forward to join Elendil at the head of the host. His esquire handed him his spear and his shining helm. He nodded to Elrond, and Nindorien's breath caught in her throat as Gil-galad's Half-Elven herald unfurled the royal banner, a multitude of stars set against a blue background. He raised Aiglos above his head, and the army began to march. As he neared the top of the path out of the valley, he glanced back once, for the briefest of moments. His eyes fixed on Nîndorien's for a heartbeat, before he turned away and faced into his destiny, and passed from view like a star passing into darkness.
Glorfindel leant over the sleeping Elf-lady and softly kissed her mouth. He stood back as her lips curled into a small smile. She sighed and stirred slightly before drifting into a dreamless sleep. Glorfindel silently departed from the room.
Days and weeks passed before Elrond finally announced that Arwen's wedding escort would be leaving for Minas Tirith. No one knew why he had delayed so long, but it seemed that now the time was right. Arwen claimed to Nîndorien that the past few weeks had seemed longer than all the previous years of her betrothal and Nîndorien laughed as she and Arwen stood at the entrance of Rivendell, watching final preparations being made for their journey.
"It is good to hear the sound of your laughter so often these days," said Glorfindel as he walked up the steps towards them. Nîndorien smiled at him. In recent days she had felt more lighthearted and her weariness seemed less. Perhaps it was due to the joyful atmosphere in Rivendell. She and Glorfindel had spoken once about what had passed between them on the night of the feast. She had tried to persuade him to travel West when the time came for rest of the household to depart. He had gently but firmly refused. Since then, however, they had spent a great deal of time together. It was as if an understanding lay between them; they could not change the past and they could not change where their hearts lay, but they would make the most of what time they had left in each other's company.
"Are we ready to depart?" asked Arwen. She seemed calm outwardly, the very image of an austere Elven lady, but she could not fully hide her impatience, much to Nîndorien's amusement.
"Indeed we are, my Lady Undomiel. Your father awaits you, " replied Glorfindel, before turning to Nîndorien as Arwen went to where her father waited. "I hope, my lady, that you will do me the honour of riding with me on this journey."
She bowed her head slightly. "Nothing would delight me more, my lord." She took his arm and he led her down to where her horse stood patiently waiting. She was struck by the excitement in the air, rather like an Elfling walking party. He easily lifted her up onto her horse's back, before springing gracefully onto Asfaloth.
"I do hope that the Lord Glorfindel is not showing off?" came an amused voice from behind them. Erestor rode towards them, with a smile on his face, He was another who seemed more lighthearted since the downfall of Sauron. He had always been so solemn and grave, but now the sound of his laughter was not uncommon in the corridors of Rivendell.
"Indeed not!" cried Glorfindel, laughing. "I wouldn't dare to engage in such antics in the presence of Lady Nîndorien."
"I wouldn't be so sure, " Nîndorien responded. "I believe there is a mischievous Elfling buried under that noble exterior. I, for one, would like to know how in Middle Earth Elrond's horse was found in the furthest pasture this morning, when it had been stabled with the others last night?"
Glorfindel became very silent and stared intently at a nonexistent speck of dirt on Asfoloth's ear. Laughing, Erestor turned to Nîndorien. "I hope that you would have no objections, my Lady, if I were to ride with you and the Lord Glorfindel?"
"Of course not!" said Nîndorien delightedly. "You and I have not talked together properly for a long time. Besides," she continued in a mock whisper, loud enough for Glorfindel to hear, "I fear that the Lord Glorfindel and I will not be on speaking terms by the time we reach the Misty Mountains if he continues on in this immature manner!"
Glorfindel raised his eyebrows, as if she had insulted him greatly. "I am wounded, my lady!"
She smiled at him sweetly, before she looked at both Elf-lords seriously. "And I must warn you, if the talk turns to politics, I shall find myself new travelling companions! I had quite enough of such matters in the Second Age."
"I believe, Lord Erestor, that this is going to be a long journey," commented Glorfindel dryly. All three Elves began to laugh, as the procession finally moved off at a stately pace.