Encounters in Imladris, Chapter 2 - Reassuring a Lovelorn Half-Elf

Disclaimer It's all JRRT's!
A/N This is a very delayed continuation to 'Encounters in Imladris', which is a tale of Elrond's first meeting with Celebrian - it can be found at http://www.theonering.com/docs/9000.html

Two weeks had passed since the feast to welcome the Ladies Galadriel and Celebrían to Imladris. Erestor sat at an oaken desk in the Long Room, occasionally snorting quietly to himself. Ostensibly, he was cataloguing books that had arrived with the High King from the palace in Lindon, but he was frequently distracted by the sounds that carried through from the adjoining study. The High King and his Halfelven herald were supposed to be studying the reports of the siege of Imladris, but the snatches of conversation that reached Erestor did not seem strictly relevant to military matters.

"Perhaps it's in the eyes. What do you think, Ereinion?"

Erestor listened with bated breath, interpreting each sound that followed. He heard a sharp hiss; Gil-galad breathing deeply to avoid saying anything rash. His patience is wearing thin, I believe. There came a distinct cracking noise; Gil-galad snapping his quill. Yes, he is definitely approaching his tolerance threshold; that is the third quill he has broken since sunset.

"Ereinion?" Elrond's voice sounded again.

"I think, Peredhil, that the evening grows ever later, and there is no end in sight to all of this work. I also think that we will have to forego the pleasure of dining with the rest of the household for the fifth time this week. I further think that I would like to see my wife for longer than ten minutes at a time. And do you know what else I think, Peredhil?"

Oh, he has not only approached his tolerance threshold; he has cleared it with a single stride. Erestor bit down on his sleeve in an effort not to laugh aloud. He was safe for the time being, but if the High King had the merest inkling that his chief counsellor was deriving any sort of pleasure from the exchange, Erestor would find himself standing in front of Gil-galad explaining the source of hilarity. That prospect in itself simply fuelled Erestor's amusement, for he could recall the High King as a tiny Elfling, even before he had accompanied him to the havens, at the behest of Fingon. Young Ereinion had probably been the most lovable infant Erestor had ever known; but he seemed to have been born with a large amount of obstinacy. It was most difficult to look upon Gil-galad's stern visage now without seeing the image of a sullen Elfling, with his dark brows drawn close together in displeasure at some perceived slight or chastisement.

The High King appeared to have found his voice and was warming to the subject at hand.

"...I think that if you had not persisted with these infernal interruptions every five minutes, we would even now be sitting in the Hall of Fire, drinking wine. You would have the pleasure of looking upon the Lady Celebrían, and possibly even of talking to her, with due encouragement, of course. I would have the pleasure of conversing with my wife, whom I have not seen awake since last week. And that, Peredhil, is not because she had spent the past week asleep. It is, in fact, because I have risen before sunrise every day to spend every available hour preparing for the council. I have retired to bed long after the stars have fully waxed, to find my wife sleeping as soundly as if Lúthien's cloak were cast over her. And furthermore..."

"I am sorry, Ereinion." Elrond cut in quickly just as the High King was drawing breath to launch a fresh assault.

At least he sounds remorseful. He may yet leave that room unscathed, thought Erestor. For many minutes, silence descended on the Long Room. The smell of food wafted up from the kitchens and Erestor looked hopefully in the direction of the study, wondering if perhaps Gil-galad would show leniency and permit them attend the evening feast.

"It is definitely the eyes." Elrond spoke with certainty while, out in the Long Room, Erestor attempted to fit his hand into his mouth to prevent any explosions of mirth. Oh, you foolish Peredhel.

A few seconds of stunned silence followed, to be broken by Gil-galad's astounded tones.

"This is because you are part-Adan, isn't it?"

Another brief silence followed; Gil-galad is now rubbing his temples with his fingers, wondering if this is somehow his fault, something he failed to teach the young Peredhil when they were growing up.

"I have honestly never seen an Elf act this way before! This uncertainty, this insecurity, it must surely be a mortal trait!" The High King sighed heavily. "Yes, yes, it is the eyes. Are you happy now? You know you are in love when all you can think of is the light of her eyes. You yearn for no other source of light; even starlight seems less radiant unless it is reflected in her eyes!"

Elrond did not reply immediately and for a while, Erestor misguidedly thought that all was well.

"No, that can't be it."

Oh my word! What is that Half-Elf saying now? Surely years as Gil-galad's fosterling, student and herald have taught him something!

"Excuse me, Peredhil?" Gil-galad's voice rang out impatiently, each syllable sharp with acidity.

"The eyes. It can't be the eyes."

Perhaps he truly has learned nothing. He may be Elrond, Lord of Imladris, master of lore, skilled healer, esteemed warrior lord among the Eldalië and herald to the High King but he is sadly unschooled in love. At last, Erestor's curiosity got the better of him and he put down his quill and parchment, laid aside the collected works of the brief and troubled history of the havens of Sirion, and crept towards the open study door.

"And why, Peredhil," Gil-galad's voice sounded strangled, "can it not be the eyes?"

"Well, not in your case anyway."

Oh Elrond, do not walk down this path! Erestor scarcely dared to breathe while the Half-Elf continued. "When you fell in love with Nîndorien, you hadn't yet seen her eyes, so it must have been something else."

Too late. Erestor sighed before clamping his hands in front of his mouth, in an effort to recant the sound.

"I have not seen Nîndorien's eyes for the past week, Peredhil; that is not to say that I do not delight in looking into their depths." Gil-galad then raised his voice. "And Erestor, why don't you step inside and sit down? I do so wish to accommodate your desire for entertainment and it seems that, once again, we happy three must dine here, far removed from more pleasant company."

Looking somewhat embarrassed, Erestor entered the study. He shot a sympathetic glance at Elrond before standing in front of the High King, who sat behind a desk piled high with documents, scraps of parchment and a number of broken quills.

"Pray tell, Lord Erestor, what amuses you so?" asked Gil-galad, his forehead furrowing in a familiar expression of aggravation.

The corner of Erestor's mouth twitched slightly. "Nothing at all, your Majesty."

"Humph!" Gil-galad did not look impressed or convinced. He ran his hand through his long black hair, his eyes wide with anguish. "As you no doubt realise, Erestor, this Half-Elf has been tormenting me for most of the day. There have been questions about the relative merits of poetry as against song in the outpouring of love. Why, not an hour ago, I was attempting to discover what numbers were required to drive back Sauron's forces in the final attack." He pointed his forefinger accusingly at Elrond. "All of a sudden, this incorrigible Half-Elf piped up with some query about the exact shade of the Lady Celebrían's hair. Thus followed a soliloquy of fifteen minutes, Erestor, as you no doubt heard, about the aforementioned Lady's hair, which is, my friend, more lustrous than silver but not as garish as mithril. And, mark this: the light of Ithil seems pale and lifeless in comparison. These are most admirable compliments, worthy of note, but why he cannot speak of such things to the Lady in question is beyond me."

Elrond muttered, "Not all of us are blessed with same confident alacrity as you, Ereinion."

Erestor frantically looked around for some sort of shield, lest the High King choose to demonstrate his excellent spear-skills with the nearest unbroken quill. Much to his surprise, Gil-galad chuckled. Sweet, blessed relief swept over the dark-haired Elf as he witnessed the High King's foul mood evaporate. "Well, I was quite a bit younger than you are now when I met Nîndorien. I was unhindered by doubt or timidity."

"You are hardly hindered by timidity now, Ereinion," commented Erestor. "It was never one of your weaknesses." Gil-galad pretended to glower at Erestor but this, unfortunately, only served to encourage his life-long friend and counsellor, who then turned to the amused Half-Elf. "And you must remember, Lord Elrond, that the Lady Nîndorien was unconscious for the first two weeks of her acquaintance with our esteemed High King. I doubt she could have put up much resistance when she came round, for he had had a great deal of time to rehearse his words." Erestor's eyes glinted mischievously. "Indeed I should have considered it a most abominable failure on the part of our High King had she failed to tumble headlong in love with him."

Gil-galad responded smoothly. "Do not listen to him, Peredhil. His words are those of a cynical bachelor." Gil-galad fixed Erestor with an impressively intense glare before his eyes grew rather distant. He seemed to be thinking deeply... or perhaps listening? [It seems that the Half-Elf needs reassurance, loth-nín]

[Then you must reassure him, aran nín]

The High King stood up and stretched before walking over to the window to look down over the dark valley, shrouded with snow. He shrugged off his regal robes and settled himself on a couch by the window.

"Ring for a servant to fetch us some food," he ordered, before adding as an afterthought, "And some wine."

"Very good, your Majesty." Erestor smiled and summoned a servant. The food arrived quickly, steaming platters of winter vegetables and succulent venison, supplemented generously with a number of flagons of fine Elvish wine. Elrond joined Gil-galad on the couch while Erestor pulled up a comfortable armchair. Soon, the sound of contented chewing could be heard and when all had eaten their fill, Gil-galad filled up their wine glasses and began to speak.

As was his tendency, the High King began with a blunt statement of fact. "You wish to know about love, Peredhil." Elrond sipped his wine and nodded, colouring slightly, while Erestor made himself comfortable. Gil-galad sighed. "Well, if it is the only way in which I might persuade you to turn your attention back to the forthcoming council, I shall speak of it once, and then no more. Agreed?"

Elrond nodded fervently. "Yes, Ereinion."

Gil-galad couldn't help but smile; Elrond was looking at him with an Elfling-like expectancy, as though he was about to hear a bedtime tale. Memories of Balar surfaced in the High King's mind; the sight of a sleep-flushed child appearing at his chamber door, more often than not joined by a similarly drowsy twin, to demand a story or a song.

"Ai, Peredhil, would that you were an Elfling still. Then at least I might have had the ability to deflect your questions. Still, we must face the truth; I find myself speaking of love to a one and a half thousand-year old Half-Elf and a sceptical bachelor who saw me brought into this world."

Erestor smirked but could not hide his curiosity, sceptical bachelor or not.

Gil-galad ran his forefinger around the rim of his crystal goblet, eliciting a sharp pure ringing sound.

"You say that love is in the eyes, Peredhil" he said. "And yes, it is true. I do not speak of the colour of her eyes, though; I care not whether they are the green of shifting leaves in summer." Elrond winced slightly as he recognised his own words from earlier that day. "It does not matter if they so large and dark that you feel that you might plummet into their depths and never stop falling." Erestor and Elrond exchanged knowing looks at that particular description. "What matters, my friend, is that when you look into those eyes, you do not see their colour, or their shape; you see her heart's desire. And, my friend, when you see yourself and your own love reflected in their depths, you know that your love is returned. You know then that you are on the verge of a greatness beyond crowns or lordships.

"You say love is in the eyes, Peredhil," repeated the High King. "I say to you again, it is true. The beginnings of love are always in your own eyes, before any exploring of mind and spirit. It may seem most superficial, but it is the truth. How many times has your attention been drawn to a fair maiden?"

Elrond blushed to a brilliant shade of red and mumbled some inarticulate response. Gil-galad laughed. "It was a rhetorical question, my friend. And you need not snigger so, Lord Erestor. Enough tales of your considerable dealings with the fairer sex have reached my ears. There is a reason I am speaking of this matter and not you!" The High King smiled happily at the two matching scarlet faces in front of him before becoming slightly more serious.

"You must understand the difference between..." he thought for a moment, "an aesthetic appreciation and the beginnings of a rare and hallowed union. When I first beheld Nîndorien, I did not truly see her. I felt a spirit in pain, so I acted. You must believe that I did not intend to fall in love; indeed it seems ironic that my greatest joy should spring out of one of my greatest failings." He shook his head and his face grew dark at the memory of the sack of Sirion when he had arrived too late to save so many innocent lives. "I can remember laying her on the ground in a peaceful forest glade when we reached Balar, and for the first time I really looked at her. When you see beauty, it is not one clear image, but rather the blending of different qualities. I saw the blackness of her eyelashes against her pale skin; my eyes were drawn to the angle of her jaw, to the curve of her mouth, to the luxuriance of her hair." Gil-galad swallowed. "Yet, in that moment, as she lay on the grass beneath my bloodstained cloak, I wondered if I had lost her before I had even met her."

"Yet, you fell in love without a word passing between you," whispered Elrond, enthralled. He drew his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around his legs and Gil-galad recalled again the image of a young half-elven child sitting on his bed engrossed in a tale of the great deeds of his forebears.

"Yes, I suppose we did, Peredhil. I remember seeing her walking towards me along the cliff-tops of Balar and, ere a word had left either of our mouths, I knew." He spoke softly. "It was perhaps unfair of me to make so much of your unfortunate speechlessness on the day the Lady Celebrían arrived, for I, of all people, know how unimportant words are in the face of love." He half-smiled. "Now Nîndorien and I do not need to speak in order to share our thoughts, but then... we were as separate as two Elves could be. Love does not need words of mouth, or sublime poetry, or heavenly song in order to communicate, Peredhil; remember that. Often love speaks most clearly in moments of complete stillness."

A thoughtful silence fell on the small study before Gil-galad spoke again, barely aware that he was voicing his thoughts. "The day after we were wed, Nîndorien and I walked along a stony beach in Lindon. Every sensation, every thought on that day is preserved in my memory almost absolutely. The touch of her hand in mine, the salty sea breeze in my nostrils and on my tongue and the soft crunching sound of stones beneath my feet. I wanted that moment to last forever. We stopped for a while, and I remember skimming stones across the water surface. I asked her what an immortal love was, how we would know if our love transcended the limits of Arda.

"I shall always remember her answer. She took my hand and placed it over her heart before saying, `This. This moment between each heart beat, between each rippling wave. This silence between each breath of wind, between each note of clear bird song. Can you not feel it? It is this moment; it is now; when time stands still and we remain unchanged.'

"She laughed aloud and said, `Don't you see, aran nín? An immortal love is not limited by time, for it is contained within each eternal second we spend together.'

"Perhaps it is apt that I use my wife's words, Peredhil. An immortal love may span the ages of Arda, but its potency is not in its longevity; it is in each and every heartbeat, at once the same, yet also different."

"That sounds suitably enigmatic, Ereinion," remarked Elrond, before he sighed, "and therein lies the nature of love, I deem. One can describe it in all its facets, one can speak at great length on physical attributes and other qualities, but one cannot categorically define it."

"That, Peredhil, is the most sensible thing you have said all day," smiled Gil-galad. "Love is made up of so many qualities yet, in itself, it surpasses them all. Just as there are many aspects of love, there are also many forms of love. For example, the love between you and I; it began because you were dependent on me; it has continued because you are indispensable to me; at times infuriating, but indispensable nonetheless.

"There is even love between Erestor and I, though sometimes it is not all that evident," said Gil-galad, smiling warmly at the Elf-lord. "He was the one my father trusted enough to bring me safely to the havens. He has been something of a fixture in my life, and I do occasionally get the feeling that he does not see a High King in front of him; or, if he does, it is simply a shadow of my father." Gil-galad grinned. "Admit it, Erestor: just then, when you stood in front of my desk, you saw a mulish Elfling whom Círdan had banned from playing in the boats at the havens."

Erestor laughed aloud. "Mulish maybe, but horribly perceptive, even at that age!"

Chuckling at the thought of Ereinion as an Elfling, Elrond reached for the wine-flagon before realising, to his disappointment, that there was scarcely enough left to cover the bottom of the High King's goblet. He shook the flagon forlornly.

"Shall I ring for some more wine before we return to the reports, Ereinion?"

Gil-galad remained silent for a brief moment before smiling. "No, I believe the evening is lost with regards to productive work. Let us make our way to the Hall of Fire. It is late, but perhaps we may yet find some enjoyable company within its welcoming walls."

Elrond smiled broadly, and Erestor displayed his enthusiasm for the idea by standing up and stretching. "I believe the impertinent High King has hit upon a plan!"

Gil-galad also stood up and aimed a friendly cuff at Erestor's head. The three Elf-lords left the study and made their way through the Long Room. Elrond frowned.

"I thought that you were cataloguing books today, Erestor?"

"I was!" came the indignant reply.

"Well, you have not been setting Imladris alight with your speed in completing the task!" Elrond surveyed his library, with its shelves barely half-stacked with enormous volumes of lore and history.

"Well, Peredhil, if you were distracting him even half as much as you were distracting me with your endearingly absurd questions, it is a wonder that he has done this much!" Gil-galad observed.

Choosing to overlook the High King's gibe, Elrond sighed. "I wonder if the library of Imladris will ever compete with that of Lindon."

"Judging by the number of books you have liberated from the library at Lindon, I would not be at all surprised! Truly, Peredhil, I believe that Imladris will one day be known as a centre of learning and wisdom," said Gil-galad cheerfully.

They soon found themselves at the entrance to the Hall of Fire and paused outside the doorway to listen to a delightful strain of harp music. Elrond suddenly realised that he slightly on edge. "This is it, Elrond," murmured Gil-galad. "If ever you wonder why we fight, why we struggle against seemingly unconquerable forces in our lives, remember this moment of gentle music and anticipation. Such moments are more important than food or drink when ones courage hangs by a thread in war or in love..."

Elrond smiled at the High King and pushed the door open. They were about to step foot inside when a breathless voice came from behind them.

"Lord Elrond!"

The Half-Elven Lord of Imladris spun around, with a fire in his eyes that would have put an Orc to flight. A healer stood in front of him, quailing slightly under the force of the gaze. Gil-galad and Erestor exchanged amused glances, before looking away quickly, lest their glee become too apparent.

"Yes?" answered Elrond with admirable restraint.

"There is an Elf in the healing houses who requires immediate attention. He is a messenger of Círdan who arrived not half an hour ago."

At that, Gil-galad stepped forward, concern in his face. "A messenger from Círdan? In this weather?"

The healer nodded, still quivering slightly out of sheer nervousness, at being in the presence of both the Lord of the House and no lesser personage than the High King himself.

"Ai! How typical of the Shipwright! Unless a storm is at sea, he just will not take it seriously!" Gil-galad shook his head. "I am afraid, Lord Elrond, that we will have to forego the pleasure of relaxing in the Hall of Fire this evening."

Elrond nodded, unable to fully conceal his disappointment.

"Come, Lord Erestor, let us see what manner of message Círdan has sent. I suspect it is connected to the council which simply cannot take place until after the first thaw." Gil-galad strode off, closely followed by Erestor and the hapless healer.

Elrond remained in the doorway for a moment, and listened to the final clear notes of song. He looked inside and his gaze was immediately drawn to a slender figure sitting by the fireside. Her silver hair had taken on the shade of burnished copper in the light of the flickering flames. There was laughter in her face and she was utterly spellbound by the music. She glanced towards the door and Elrond's heart lifted as she looked directly at him. He smiled at her somewhat wistfully before turning to depart. A featherlike touch brushed over his mind, fleeting and indistinct, and he looked over his shoulder. Celebrían was looking at the fire, apparently absorbed by its smouldering dance, but a tiny smile crossed her face. Elrond laughed softly to himself as he strode away in the direction of the houses of healing.

****

Much later on, after Círdan's messenger had been made comfortable, and the messages deciphered, Elrond, Erestor and Gil-galad went their separate ways with plans to resume their tasks ere sunrise the following day.

Elrond strolled aimlessly through the corridors of his home, his mind dwelling on the joyful possibilities contained in a mere second of silent communication.

Erestor, mindful of Gil-galad's earlier comment, proceeded to his bedchamber in solitude. He chuckled to himself; perhaps it was not surprising that Gil-galad should know about such things, for he had always been a most observant Elfling and his long reign as High King had simply honed his intuitive qualities.

Gil-galad made his way to his quarters, silently bemoaning the fact that, yet again, his wife would be sound asleep. He supposed that Nîndorien would not object excessively if he were to wake her up but he could never quite bring himself to disturb her peaceful slumber. The bedchamber was dark as he pushed the door open. He stood for a while in the doorway, waiting until his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Stifling a yawn, he removed his tunic and breeches and crept over to the bed. He shivered slightly with the cold as he looked fondly down at his sleeping wife. Nîndorien lay on her side; almost completely covered by blankets, save for the tip of her nose and her thick black hair, which spread out over the pillow. Carefully, Gil-galad slid in between the covers and moved stealthily across the bed in search of the warmth of Nîndorien's body. He put his arms around her, gently drawing her close. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she instinctively nestled against him. Gil-galad was on the verge of sleep, when he heard her voice, heavy with drowsiness.

"Did you reassure him, aran nín?"

"Mmm. I think so, loth nín," he replied, burying his face in her hair. [Were we ever that insecure?]

[Aran nín, I don't think you have known a moment's insecurity in your whole life. Besides, in our case, you had plenty of time to practice your words. If I had not fallen in love with you, I should have considered it a most abominable failure on your part]

Gil-galad chuckled at the familiar-sounding phrase and placed a soft kiss on Nîndorien's neck. "Loth nín?"

"Mmm?"

"Have you been talking to Erestor?"

Nîndorien turned around to face him but steadfastly avoided the question. She kissed him before hiding her face within his strong embrace. He smiled in the darkness and tightened his hold on her.

Soon, he felt her slip into a deep slumber and, in the same breath, he followed her path and they walked together in a land of shared dreams.

****

Aran nín - my king

Loth nín - my flower

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