Encounters in Imladris - A tale of Elrond's meeting with Celebrían
Author's Note/Warning: As those of you who have read my fanfic 'Counsels in Rivendell' will be aware, my original character, Nîndorien, is the wife of Gil-galad. I know that he was never mentioned as having a wife, so sorry to the purists!
This is set in the Second Age, shortly after the founding of Imladris
"Ai!" Nîndorien gasped at the icy touch which disturbed her sleep and forced her into consciousness. She sat bolt upright, holding the heavy bedclothes tight around her. She looked accusingly at Gil-galad who sat at the edge of the bed, an amused look on his face.
"Your lips are cold, my king," she said.
"I could say the same about your welcome to me on this winter's morn, my lady," he said. "As much as I would have preferred to let you sleep, for you looked so peaceful, it is high time you rose or you shall miss what few hours of sunlight there are!"
"Very well," she yawned. "Now, turn around so that I may find my gown."
He looked at her with frank astonishment. "But, my lady, we have been married for over one thousand years!"
"And that is no reason to ignore common courtesy," she said in a prim tone of voice, knowing that she would get ready far quicker without his attentions. Sighing, he obeyed and looked out of the window at the carpet of snow that lay around the refuge of Imladris. He was greatly impressed with Elrond's achievements in this place and was eager to see more of the grounds.
"It is well that we arrived before the blizzard worsened last night," he commented, gazing at the heavy snowclouds overhead. He started slightly as her arms stole around his waist and her chin came to rest on his shoulder.
"Indeed, my king," she murmured into his ear. "And remind me: why do we venture out in such cold weather today?"
He laughed. "You know as well as I do! Elrond wishes for us to see the grounds of Imladris, and today may be our last chance before spring. The weather is set to deteriorate further."
"I can understand the necessity of dragging the High King throughout the valley, but why is my presence considered important?" she asked as they walked together to the entrance hall. He looked at her reproachfully.
"I think that your approval is highly valued by the new Lord of Imladris. Of all our people, you have known him longest. He will always look to you for support and praise."
Nîndorien could not argue with that response, and somewhat chastened, stood still while Gil-galad cast her winter cloak over her shoulders. His deft fingers fastened the brooch at her throat and he kissed her briefly before putting on his own blue cloak. They walked out of the front entrance of Imladris, to where Elrond and the Lord Celeborn were waiting.
"I apologise for delaying you, dear one," said Nîndorien to Elrond as she took his arm. She bowed her head to Celeborn. "Good morning, my Lord."
He bowed in greeting and Elrond lead them from the steps of Imladris up the steep path on which they had entered the valley the previous night.
"Why do you insist on us retracing our steps, Peredhel?" grumbled Gil-galad. "We saw all this last night."
"But you arrived in darkness, your Majesty."
"We arrived in a blizzard," muttered the High King, stamping his feet against the cold.
"I wish you to view Imladris as though you were coming into it for the first time," insisted Elrond, before pointing out some site of strategic importance to Celeborn while Nîndorien turned around and looked down at the valley of Imladris.
"It is a beautiful sight, Elrond," she breathed, admiring the scene that lay before them. The buildings of Imladris lay nestled in the hillside, and soft golden light burned in all the windows.
"It is indeed a beautiful sight, my lady," said Gil-galad, putting his arms around her and looking at her face expressively. She laughed. "I meant the valley, my king! It's altogether most welcoming." Gil-galad murmured some placatory agreement but while the attention of the other two Elves was elsewhere, he used the opportunity to pull Nîndorien close and kiss her. She cried out as his ice-cold hand touched her cheek, which quickly reddened as Celeborn and Elrond looked towards her with surprised concern.
"I was saying to the High King that Imladris has a most homely atmosphere," she said smoothly, diverting everyone's attention back to the purpose of their wanderings.
"Come, let us walk down to the forest, "said Elrond, smiling. "The woodland here is rather extensive, surprising when you consider the apparently compact shape of the valley."
The four Elves made their way down the icy path, and Nîndorien started when a bird flew up suddenly in front of them. She slipped and grabbed Gil-galad's arm, which she had been holding loosely up to that point. He glanced at her and commented, "for one whose surefootedness had been compared to that of Nessa herself, that was rather ungraceful, my lady!" He struggled to conceal a smile. She glowered at him.
"Be wary, my king, for this is a slippery path, where even the High King may come to grief."
"I do hope that you are not threatening me, my lady?"
She smiled at him innocently. "I would be much too frightened of the High King's wrath for the merest thought of revenge to cross my mind."
"Perhaps it was a mistake for you to accompany us this morning, for you have the unnerving habit of distracting my attentions from the more pressing issues of the day," he teased.
"Unnerving habit, you say? Then I shall remain silent!"
"Hmmm, I may find that even more unsettling, my lady; for who knows what evil schemes are forming behind that fair face!"
"Make of it what you will, my king, but let us hasten! I do not wish for Elrond's impatience to be directed at me! He is already looking at you with a rather familiar expression of exasperation!"
Gil-galad smiled cheerily at the Half-Elf, who stood waiting at the bottom of the path, with a shadow of a scowl on his face. He wore the long-suffering look of a teacher dealing with an unruly pupil, rather than displaying the respectful awe usually engendered by the High King among his subjects. Gil-galad appeared unperturbed by the unspoken threat of regicide that hung in the air, and soon walked unconcernedly at Celeborn's side, while Nîndorien took Elrond's arm once more. She listened intently to his descriptions of the valley as he had found it, fleeing from Sauron's forces after the destruction of Eregion.
"You have done marvellous things here, dear one," she said. "I can see it becoming a most welcoming refuge. I may even remove here myself, if I ever weary of Lindon!" Gil-galad glanced back at her, in mock surprise, while she continued, "which may come about sooner rather than later!"
Elrond smiled, before saying gravely, "you will always be welcome here, Nîndorien."
They walked for a while among the bare trees which stood in wintry mourning, black branches touched with frost. Soon, they came to a stone bridge which spanned a small nameless stream. Nîndorien gazed down at the surface of the stream, looking at each ripple and eddy, frozen in time and shrouded with snow. It gleamed silver in places, where the sun had softened its snowy covering and, if she strained her ears, she could hear the faint sound of trickling water. Winter had failed to utterly halt the timeless progress of this little stream from mountain peak to the swift running waters of the Bruinen. She pondered over a suitable name for the stream; Astaldo, perhaps; The Valiant. She wondered what name Elrond had in mind for it, but she did not wish to interrupt the Elf-lords who were talking gravely about the valley's defences. Gil-galad was firing questions at his herald concerning entry points, visibility and weaknesses and Elrond answered every question with surety. Nîndorien saw Gil-galad's eyes shine with pride at the accomplishments of the Half-Elf.
"I tell you, Ereinion: No creature could enter this vale without my knowledge!" cried Elrond, as he swept his arm in an all-encompassing manner. He reeled off all the possible entrances, and named each guard he had personally positioned in strategic lookout points. Nîndorien listened with interest for a while, before her attention was drawn towards Celeborn. The tall, silver-haired Elf-lord had grown very still, his head cocked to one side as though he were listening to a silent voice. His eyes lit up and he peered into the distance, smiling. He sidled over to where Nîndorien stood with Gil-galad, and quietly muttered to them, "I think that the cold weather has addled the Half-Elf's mind and clouded his judgment." He nodded towards the path they had taken down into the valley earlier on. Elrond continued speaking, oblivious to the shift in his listeners' attention. Nîndorien looked towards the path, and stifled a gasp. Two Elf-ladies on horseback were making their way carefully and deliberately along the path. She could not understand how Elrond was failing to notice their arrival, for they were both clad in cloaks of such dazzling whiteness, that the snow around them seemed grey and unclean. Both were unhooded, and their hair shone out in the dull light of the day. As they drew closer, Nîndorien recognised the golden-haired Lady to be Galadriel, wife of Celeborn and kinswoman of Gil-galad. She did not know the other Lady, whose hair shone silver, like winter sun reflected on an icy surface, almost blinding in its brilliance. Glancing at Celeborn, however, she immediately made the connection; this was none other than his daughter, Celebrían, She looked down at the frozen stream again, a new idea occurring to her. Nen Celebrían. She smiled and resolved to speak to Elrond on the matter.
Gil-galad, Celeborn and Nîndorien made their way out into the open to greet the travellers. Elrond followed them, having come to the realisation that his words were falling on uninterested ears. Nîndorien watched the joyful reunion between Celeborn and his wife and daughter with delight. Gil-galad stepped forward to help the Lady Celebrían from her horse, but before he left Nîndorien's side he nodded in the direction of the Lord of Imladris. She choked back the urge to laugh, for Elrond was looking at Celebrían with an unmistakable expression on his face. It was the kind of stunned awe that usually only appeared on his face while listening to a particularly beautiful piece of music. In fact, his expression only just surpassed the look on Celeborn's face when he noticed where the Half-Elf's attention lay.
"Greetings Lady Galadriel, Lady Celebrían" began Gil-galad as he lifted Celebrían from her horse. As if out of nowhere, stable hands appeared to lead the Ladies' horses away. Gil-galad continued," As the Lord of Imladris appears to have been temporarily struck dumb, I shall take it upon myself to welcome you to Imladris."
Celebrían looked at Elrond with amused surprise before turning to Gil-galad enquiringly. Gil-galad laughed, "Do not worry about my young cousin, fair lady. I believe he is simply in shock that his unassailable defences have been breached. Alas, your arrival may prove to be his undoing, for he has spent the last half an hour emphasising to us the impregnability of this fortress of Imladris "
This last comment almost proved Nîndorien's undoing, and she suppress her laughter when Gil-galad reached out his hand to her. She gracefully moved to his side as he introduced her. "Lady Celebrían, allow me to present my wife, the Lady Nîndorien."
"And the source of my own undoing." Gil-galad's voice sounded clearly in Nîndorien;s head as she moved to take Celebrían's arm to bring her into the warmth of the buildings of Imladris. She looked up at the beloved face of her husband and smiled warmly at him. She could not resist chuckling at the sight of the High King gently pushing Elrond in the direction of the house, while she politely enquired about Celebrían's journey as they passed indoors, out of the cold.
Elrond walked through the corridors of Imladris, musing on the festivities planned for the coming evening. He had decided that a feast was a fitting way to welcome the Lady Galadriel and her fair daughter to Imladris. Having ensured the preparations were running smoothly, he proceeded to his chambers. A formal tunic had been laid out on the bed, and humming softly, his thoughts turned to producing a precise description of Celebrían's rare beauty. Shaking his head at the memory of his idiocy when he first saw her, he pulled on the deep green tunic and inwardly chastised himself for his foolish silence. He resolved to make up for that inauspicious introduction during the meal. It would not do for the daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn to think ill of him.
Still humming, he left his room and set off for the Feast Hall. As he began to descend the main staircase, a voice from behind him caused him to jump forward and lose his balance in a rather ungainly fashion.
"Are you humming, Peredhel?"
Had Elrond not been frantically attempting to regain his balance, the High King would have been on the receiving end of a particularly venomous glare. He grabbed hold of the blessedly secure banister and hauled himself into an upright position. Gil-galad watched in amusement, making no effort whatsoever to aid his herald.
"Yes, Ereinion, I was humming," Elrond replied, with as much dignity as he could muster, given his ungraceful pose. "Is it forbidden to hum when one is happy? Perhaps I did not receive the royal edict concerning the restrictions pertaining to the art of humming!" He scowled at the High King, who laughed at his cousin's discomfiture.
"Nay, Peredhel, it is not forbidden but I should sincerely like to know what event has triggered such an outpouring of melodious joy! It cannot be the weather, for it is indisputably foul. Perhaps it is the pleasure of being lord in one's own house, or perhaps," here Gil-galad paused slightly, savouring the moment as he fiddled with the hem of the blue sleeve of his dress tunic, "it is the happiness elicited by the sight of a fair young maiden."
Elrond coloured slightly but was fortunately rescued from the further embarrassment of having to respond. A guard approached deferentially and asked to speak with him concerning some matter of security. Laughing, Gil-galad departed. "You are lucky, Lord Elrond! But I shall uncover the truth of the matter. Now, excuse me, for I must go to escort my wife to the feast."
"Well, don't be late, your Majesty!" was the only comeback Elrond could think of and he turned to speak with the guard. Despite having emerged from the confrontation with the last word, the victory felt hollow, for he had no doubt that Gil-galad would be true to his word and never pass by an opportunity to bring up the subject of the silver-haired Elf-maiden.
Nîndorien gasped as the handmaiden pulled rather too sharply on a braid.
"I am sorry, my Lady!" cried the young Elf-maiden with fear in her voice.
"Nay, it matters not. It is the High King who should apologise, entering unannounced as he did," said Nîndorien reassuringly from her seat in front of the mirror. The Elf-maiden looked positively scandalised at the thought of laying any blame at the feet of the High King. Nîndorien caught Gil-galad's eye in the mirror, and raised her eyebrows.
"I should indeed apologise," he said smoothly, understanding the command in his wife's expression. "Pray, tell me what your name is." he said to the handmaiden kindly.
"Luinil, your Majesty" she replied, unable to refrain from trembling in the presence of the imposing figure of Ereinion Gil-galad, arrayed in formal tunic and with an ornate dress sword girt by his side.
"Luinil," he repeated. "It is a pleasure to meet you. You are an Elf of Eregion, are you not?"
"Ye-yes, your Majesty," she stuttered. "My family fled to Imladris following the attack on our lands."
Nîndorien could see that the young Elf was rather fraught by the strains of conversing with the High King. "Luinil, I think my hair is quite ready for the feast. You may depart if you wish."
"Thank you, my Lady," said Luinil and, casting a last terrified look at Gil-galad, she fled the room. He watched her departure with amusement
"Rather nervous, wasn't she?"
"Well, my king, you can appear rather... intimidating when you wish to," said Nîndorien.
He sighed. "This formal dress rather gives the impression of sternness and solemnity, does it not?" He tugged at the collar of his blue tunic, on the breast of which was emblazoned his royal crest; a multitude of silver stars.
"I think it may have been the sword that frightened her, my king," laughed Nîndorien. "You seem to forget the effect you can have on other Elves. I doubt that poor Luinil would have been more nervous had you walked in here in full battledress and brandishing Aiglos!"
"I do believe I would be more comfortable in my mail. Curse that Peredhel for insisting on formal dress for tonight's feast!"
"It is only courteous. After all, we do honour the arrival of the Lady Galadriel and her daughter into our midst."
"True, my lady." Gil-galad stood behind Nîndorien and surveyed the image in front of him. She wore a silver gown that shimmered in the candlelight. He smiled, before affecting an air of pompous sincerity "You look beautiful this evening."
"I am most flattered, my king. Perhaps in another one and a half thousand years, you will have learned how to compliment your wife without that tone of surprise in your voice!" teased Nîndorien.
Gil-galad laughed as he gently touched one of the flowers Luinil had so carefully woven around Nîndorien's brow like a crown. "If I am surprised, my lady, it is because I did not think you could grow any more beautiful."
"A most impressive recovery, my king! With such honeyed words, I can hardly believe that you disagree so frequently with your counsellors."
"What do you think of the Lady Celebrían?" asked Gil-galad, rapidly changing the subject, for he was known to be rather confrontational in the council room as Nîndorien delighted in reminding him.
"She seems kind and friendly, if a little shy. While I was showing her to her chambers, she hardly spoke above a whisper the whole time."
Gil-galad threw his hands in the air, in an exaggerated gesture of exasperation. "And thanks to Peredhel's spectacular lack of welcome this afternoon, together with his newly-acquired technique of conversing only in monosyllables, I daresay that it will take many centuries before they manage to greet each other without awkwardness."
"Do you imply, my king, that the Lord of Imladris admires the Lady Celebrían?"
"Any fool with eyes in his head can see it! Did you not mark his complete loss of speech when he first laid eyes on her?"
"Ay, I did, as did the Lord Celeborn. He did not quite display your enthusiasm at Elrond's reaction." Nîndorien turned around in her seat to look directly at Gil-galad who looked amused at the thought of Celeborn's disapproval.
"Quite. Still, I cannot see why Elrond does not speak. I have never known him to be struck dumb before. If he admires the lady, why does he not speak?"
"He can hardly be expected to speak within the first five minutes of laying eyes on Celebrían! I doubt that he is fully aware of his own feelings, much less those of the lady! Might I remind you, my king, that a full fortnight passed after my first sight of you, before you spoke of your feelings?" Nîndorien stood up and took her husband's arm. "Come, it is high time we made our way to the Feast Hall. They will all be waiting for us."
"My lady, you do not take me seriously! That was an entirely different situation," said Gil-galad airily before grinning. "Besides, I spoke to you often of my true feelings in the first fortnight of our acquaintance. It was just unfortunate that you were unconscious at the time!"
The two Elves laughed merrily together, and both came simultaneously to the happy realisation that not even the passage of years had diminished their joy in one another's company. Before either knew what was happening, they had begun to kiss each other with all the passion of their youth, and Gil-galad started to run his fingers through Nîndorien's hair, whispering in her ear. "Ah, mellamin, must we attend the feast? I would far rather remain here. We would not be missed."
Wishing that his words were true, Nîndorien nevertheless stepped back out of her husband's reach, carefully disentangling his fingers from her hair with a practised ease. She caught sight of herself in the mirror, and smoothed down her black tresses, relieved to observe that Luinil's painstaking handiwork was still relatively intact. "I'm afraid, dear king, that you at least would be missed."
He watched her rearrange her hair and said, with the merest hint of playful petulance in his voice. "I expect you are right, my love."
Nîndorien sighed slightly. "Luinil did a fine job with my hair, but I know that it will seem quite mundane in comparison with Celebrían's. I have never seen such a colour! It is as though the very light of Ithil has been woven into each strand."
Gil-galad smiled at her and said. "What beauty would the moon have, if it were not for the glorious shades of night? Come, my lady, we should not delay any longer. Peredhel will have my head if I am late!" And with one last lingering kiss, they made their way to the great Feast Hall of Imladris.
Elrond stood impatiently at the door of the Hall. The Elves of Imladris and their guests were seated inside, all awaiting the arrival of the High King and his wife. The seated Elves were happily talking amongst themselves, speculating on the significance of the seating arrangement at the high table and eager for a glimpse of the lady of the High King, who had never before visited Eriador. At last, Gil-galad and Nîndorien appeared at the top of the staircase at the far end of the corridor, laughing quietly together. To Elrond's chagrin, they made no discernible effort to speed up when they saw him waiting at the door. When they reached him, he stepped forward to embrace Nîndorien. He noted to himself that the Elves of Imladris would not be disappointed with her appearance, for she carried herself not as a grave and distant queen, but as a tranquil and gentle Elf-lady, whose smile alone betrayed her inner joy.
"My lady, you look truly radiant this evening. I begin to think that the name Gil-galad was bestowed upon the wrong Elf!"
"Perhaps you should focus your attempts of flattery on someone who is not my wife!" joked Gil-galad. "I may have someone in mind..."
"Gil-galad," said Nîndorien reprovingly, for she perceived Elrond's embarrassment. Much to the Half-Elf's surprise, the High King desisted, duly chastened by his wife's tone.
"Well, Peredhel, perhaps we had better enter the Feast Hall," he said. He kissed his wife's hand before placing it on his arm. He looked into her eyes. Am I forgiven? he seemed to ask. She smiled in reply and drew closer to his side.
"Very well, Ereinion, I will inform the heralds," said Elrond casually, oblivious to the wordless exchange.
"Heralds?" asked Gil-galad in shock before asking suspiciously, "what do you mean, heralds? Peredhel?"
"The heralds who will announce your arrival, of course," said Elrond, pleased to see a slightly uncomfortable look cross the High King's face. Gil-galad was not fond of ceremonial events, as the Half-Elf well knew, although he always seemed to carry them off with the required flamboyance.
"Very well, Peredhel," growled the High King. He gave the collar of his tunic a final tug and the doors swung open. The three Elves entered the Hall to a fanfare of Elven trumpets. Nîndorien appeared utterly composed and barely batted an eyelid. She could feel Gil-galad jump slightly and heard him mutter quietly under his breath, "Damned silly ceremony." He glanced at her, and she squeezed his arm in support. Elrond walked unconcernedly ahead of them, delighting in the atmosphere of the first feast in Imladris. Only Nîndorien and Elrond, and possibly Galadriel, could sense the High King's discomfort. To the Elves of Imladris, he was the very image of a noble and unassailable king, perfectly at ease with this display of pageantry.
When they approached the high table, Gil-galad pulled out Nîndorien's chair for her with an attentiveness that impressed many. He took his seat at the head of the table, with Nîndorien to his right and the Lady Galadriel to his left. Elrond sat beside Nîndorien and the Lord Celeborn sat between his wife and daughter. Many other Elves of noble birth, and a number of the High King's counsellors were also seated at the high table, and when Gil-galad had spoken a blessing over the meal, the feast began.
At first there was little by the way of speech, for the quality and quantity of the food occupied most of the Elves to the exclusion of conversation. Elrond ate little, preferring to observe the proceedings. His gaze frequently flickered to Celebrían who sat almost directly opposite him. She ate daintily, speaking with her father and occasionally with Erestor who was on her left hand side. Elrond repeatedly found himself admiring her hair, which was unbraided and flowed like a river of mithril to her waist. The dress she wore was dark in colour and he noted that it enhanced the colour of her eyes, which were an ever-shifting green, like the leaves of a tree. Occasionally, Lord Celeborn caught his eye and Elrond hastily looked elsewhere.
"You hardly touch your food, dear one," said Nîndorien softly beside him.
"I - I am not particularly hungry, my lady," he said lamely.
She smiled at him. "It is a wonderful feast and a wonderful home. As Lord of Imladris, you should be proud of your achievements in this place. Indeed, only one thing is missing."
He glanced at Nîndorien, and understood her meaning from the expression in her eyes. A Lady of Imladris. He could not help but return her smile, for her method of gentle suggestion was far more subtle than Gil-galad's less than tactful approach. He picked at his food and found his attention drawn to Gil-galad and Nîndorien. They spoke only a little to each other, but whenever Nîndorien's goblet required refilling, Gil-galad would see to it without being asked. He unobtrusively attended his wife's needs and from time to time, they would exchange a smile before returning to their own conversations. Elrond was suddenly aware of a twinge of envy at their obvious mutual affection and tenderness. He did not grudge them their happiness; far from it, but he began to experience a longing for a similar bond. Again, he looked upon Celebrían and his heart jumped when her eyes unexpectedly met his. Neither averted their gaze and, after a couple of heart-stopping minutes filled with a timorous hope, Elrond opened his mouth to speak. At that exact moment, he was cruelly interrupted by a servant who quietly informed him that the Hall of Fire had been prepared to receive guests. Elrond glanced back at Celebrían and was unsurprised to see her conversing with her father.
Sighing, Elrond nodded to Gil-galad, who had gleefully noticed the silent contact between the Half-Elf and the Elf-maiden. The High King understood the signal and arose. Instantly, the hall fell silent. Gil-galad reached out his hand for Nîndorien and she took his arm, and those who had been seated at the high table led the procession to the Hall of Fire. To Elrond's initial surprise, Celebrían took his arm but the Lord of Imladris reproached himself for failing to recall that it was customary for the lord of the household to escort an unattached female guest of honour.
"I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to Imladris," Elrond began quietly. He blushed as he continued. "I apologise for my earlier rudeness. I - I can't imagine what came over me."
"There is no need to apologise, my Lord," said Celebrían softly as she smiled at him. He paused briefly in his stride, entranced by her soft low voice and her beautiful smile which seemed to be infectious, for he felt his own mouth broadening into a heartfelt smile in return.
"Thank you, my Lady but it was improper of me not to welcome you to my home personally. However, I am sure that the High King adequately filled that role." Elrond privately thought that Gil-galad had made rather more of his unfortunate speechlessness than was strictly necessary.
"Indeed. He is most gracious."
"Certainly; he is the best of kings," agreed Elrond before fervently hoping that Gil-galad was not within earshot. He could not deny the truth of his own words but he did not wish for them to reach the ears of the High King. Gil-galad was compassionate, magnanimous and noble, but he also frequently infuriated his Half-Elven herald, despite his good nature, with his unwavering stubbornness and his confrontational tendencies in the council room. Elrond quickly added, "But please do not tell him I said that or I shall never hear the end of it." He was delighted to hear the enchanting sound of Celebrían's clear laughter in response to his last comment.
"Your secret is safe with me, Lord Elrond," she said as they entered the Hall of Fire to the sound of harp music. They moved to the top of the Hall, and Elrond showed her to her seat, basking in a warm glow that had come into existence at the precise moment she had said his name for the first time. She was looking around the Hall with pleasure, for it was beautifully decorated and filled with light and laughter. Elrond stood beside her chair, following the line of her gaze
"I hope that Imladris meets with your approval, my Lady." Elrond spoke softly, unaware that he cherished any such hope until the words left his mouth.
She looked up at him and that same captivating smile crept across her face. "Indeed it does, my Lord. It was delightful to be met with such an attractive sight after our long journey." She spoke so demurely that Elrond almost missed any possible hidden meaning in her words but before he could pursue the point, he was distracted by a sudden burst of laughter. He and Celebrían looked curiously towards the source of the merriment. Erestor and Gil-galad were laughing heartily and Elrond was filled with unease. He had no doubt that he was the cause of their hilarity, judging by the amused looks he appeared to be receiving, but he was baffled as to the specificities of the matter. He glanced down at Celebrían who raised her eyebrows inquisitively. Sighing, he spoke.
"If I know the High King and Lord Erestor, it is probably wiser not to enquire too deeply about the source of their amusement. I fear that they have observed our interest, but we may yet avoid their closer attentions if we appear to engross ourselves in conversation."
Celebrían laughed again. "I shall follow your lead, my Lord." She briefly laid her hand on his arm and he felt as if a bolt of lightning had passed through his body.
"Let us just hope, my Lady, that it is not too late. I have escaped more awkward situations, considerably more life-threatening, but the High King can be a tricky foe."
"You know him well, do you not?"
"I do." Elrond grew more serious. "He has supported and counselled me through the darkest hours of my life. He and the Lady Nîndorien have been my sole family these last thousand years. Since the departure of my parents, and the passing of my brother, I have come to depend on them greatly. The High King's sense of humour, however..." Here Elrond stopped short, for he had seen Celebrían's eyes widen suddenly. With a sinking feeling, he braced himself for the inevitable.
"Good evening Lady Celebrían." Gil-galad bowed his head and kissed the lady's hand before turning to Elrond. "Peredhel, why do you look so horrified? The Lord Erestor and I were simply speaking of your unbreachable defences here in Imladris. Weren't we, my Lord?"
"Indeed, your Majesty. Unassailable, I should say," smirked Erestor.
"Quite a remarkable achievement..."
"To be under siege for more than three years..."
"Successfully shutting out the forces of darkness..."
"Only to be invaded..."
"In the midst of boasting about the security of the valley, I might add..."
"Well observed, your Majesty..."
"Not by a marauding Orc horde..."
"Well, they wouldn't be intelligent enough..."
"Good point, Erestor..."
"Or by a great host of well-trained soldiers..."
"Indeed not; there were only two..."
Throughout the exchange, Elrond stood with his fists clenched. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that this was some sort of revenge for inflicting heralds on the High King earlier. He desperately tried to think of some way of putting a stop to their jesting but at that moment, all of his ideas involved administering a blunt object to the back of Gil-galad's head. Gritting his teeth, he tried to ignore the lure of immediate satisfaction that such a solution would certainly bring about. Suddenly, he was aware of Celebrían's eyes on his face. She had been listening to the light-hearted banter with rather more amusement than Elrond thought it deserved but now she seemed to be communicating something to him with her eyes. A slow smile crept across his face as he understood her meaning, and he nodded his head slightly in agreement. While Gil-galad and Erestor were still absorbed in their foolish jest, Celebrían rose silently from her seat. She began to make her way down through the hall, gracefully weaving between groups of talking and singing Elves. Elrond discreetly followed her, amazed that their departure had not been observed by the High King. As he reached the door, he heard a loud guffaw of laughter. He glanced back briefly, and saw Gil-galad and Erestor doubled up, laughing uncontrollably. Wiping a tear from his eye, Gil-galad happened to glance in Elrond's direction and smiled even more broadly. Elrond smiled back in return before passing through the door. He was almost convinced that he had received a small nod of approval from the High King. In any case, Gil-galad did not seem too upset at the half-Elf's abrupt departure, perhaps because his own beloved had moved to his side and the High King was utterly entranced by her presence..
As he stood outside the Hall, Elrond looked around for Celebrían. A flash of silver disappeared around a distant corner and once more, he set off in pursuit. He did not stop to wonder how she knew the twists and turns of Imladris so well, concentrating instead on keeping her in view. At last, their wild chase ended in the entrance hall, and Celebrían stood at the main doors. Elrond paused in the shadows and simply looked at her with admiration. Her cheeks were slightly flushed from the exertion of running along the passageways and, even from a distance, he could see that her eyes sparkled with joy. He stopped breathing when those eyes lighted upon him and she spoke.
"Do you mean to watch me from the shadows all evening, Lord Elrond, or will you accompany me for a turn around the grounds?"
Elrond almost spluttered when he heard her suggestion. "My Lady, it is freezing outside!" Nevertheless, he found himself stepping out into the light and as soon as she looked him in the eyes, he knew that he was powerless to resist. He bowed. "But if it is your desire..."
"It is," she said firmly. He obtained a couple of cloaks from a nearby anteroom. "I think that this is the Lady Nîndorien's. She is slightly taller than you but it will keep you warm nonetheless." He carefully threw the cloak over her shoulders and fumbled slightly with the brooch, distracted slightly by the sensation of her warm breath on his fingers. Having put on his own cloak, he opened the door and they stepped out into the cold clear night.
"The clouds have passed," he murmured, looking up into the sky. His heart leapt when he saw Eärendil glimmering in the West. Starting slightly, he glanced down at his hand and was pleasantly surprised to find that Celebrían had laid her small cold hand within his. Automatically, he raised her hand to his lips before leading her towards the small stone bridge from which he had first laid eyes on her. The world around them seemed to fade away, and it was as though they alone existed beneath the stars of Elbereth.
The festivities drew to a close a few hours later. Elrond and Celebrían's absence was only marked by a few Elves, Gil-galad, Celeborn and their wives among them. Gil-galad and Nîndorien walked slowly along the corridors towards their chambers, blissfully oblivious to the crowds of Elves who swarmed past, bound for their beds. As they began to ascend the main staircase in the deserted entrance hall, both High King and his wife heard the sound of the main doors being opened with care. They stopped and looked back curiously, and smiled when they realised who it was. It was obvious that their presence passed unnoticed.
"Isn't that your cloak, my lady?" whispered Gil-galad. Nîndorien nodded as she watched the two Elves, one black-haired, one crowned with silver, standing close to one another, breathless with exhilaration. They both trembled; perhaps with the cold, perhaps with the sheer power of their new unknown emotions. Suddenly, a familiar voice was heard from a distant corridor and Elrond and Celebrían separated quickly. Elrond positively fled from the entrance hall with a look of fear on his face, much to Gil-galad's amusement. The High King's shoulders shook with silent laughter as Celeborn appeared in the entrance hall, evidently seeking his daughter. Nîndorien was most impressed with the Elf-maiden's calm demeanour and when the two silver-haired Elves had departed, Gil-galad and Nîndorien continued up the staircase, holding each other closer than before. She laid her head against his shoulder as they walked through their private quarters, thinking about young love, first love and eternal love.