Have I not lost enough in my life?
My mother and father…it was so long ago. All I can recall of Eärendil, of my own father, is the great, beautiful light of the Silmaril as it lay in his dark hair. That is all I hold in my memory: strong arms that lifted me up so that I could see the ocean, and that shimmering light against hair so much like mine. I was the first to find his star when he left, the first to claim it for him. I cannot even recall his voice.
Then came Maedhros and Maglor, and I lost Elwing. She cast herself into the sea, hoping to save us from the wrath of the sons of Fëanor. But when Ulmo raised her from the depths and gave her the form of a bird, did she come back to her children? Nay, she flew to our father, never to return to us. I hated her for a very long time. My father’s leaving I would understand one day: he sailed away that the Valar might know something of the sufferings of the children upon the Hither Shore. But my mother…what reason had she? How could she leave us, not even grown? Two little elf-children, Elros and me, the flesh of her flesh. I wondered oftentimes how she could love the elf who left her upon the shores of Middle-earth more than the sons who would have stayed with her until the end. I remember more of her than of Adar — her sweet, clear voice as she sang to us, her delicate fingers guiding ours as we learned to write our Tengwar. I remember she kissed us good-bye.
And then Elros. It has been so long that I cannot even count the years, but my breath still catches when I think of him. I did not understand — I have never understood — what could make one choose death over life. Why one would ever take the aging body and weakening mind of a mortal, why one would refuse the chance to live forever…I know not what made him do it. I visited him many times in his great city, and sometimes he did not even know that I was there. I watched as lines appeared at the corners of his eyes, as his dark hair became shot with gray, as his steps faltered and his eyesight faded. In but a few centuries, our pointed ears became the only resemblance between us.
He did not want me with him when he died, but I heard the bells tolling in the towers, and I knew. And his death was the hardest I have yet endured. My brother, my soul, was sundered from me forever. The only one who had always been with me, who had stayed by my side through centuries of joy and pain and life, was gone for all time. I would never see him again.
I spent many years mourning his smile, his bright eyes, his wry wit. I wept for all that he had sacrificed — and to what gain, in the end? A king’s tomb? Had he stayed with me, he would never have needed a tomb.
I built my sanctuary, my Imladris, with the hope of shutting out the world, of containing all of my misery in this one spot, that it might not escape and taint the rest of the blithe sunlit world beyond my door. I loved not the dappled sunshine, the spray of the falls, the coolness of my marble palace. I wanted nothing more than to be left to my great and overpowering grief.
Then, there came one person who roused me from my stupor: Ereinion Gil-galad, war-leader and High King, the most noble of all the Eldar on this shore. In my solitude, I had barely noticed that my brother’s Númenor had sunken in folly, that Annatar had revealed himself and was gathering strength in the East. Gil-galad forced me to see, to care, to love again the Middle-earth that I knew. I became his herald, and he my king and my closest friend. Some might have called him a brother to me, but never could I consider him equal to Elros. Gil-galad and I fought many battles side-by-side, and I knew well the sight of his great spear Aeglos, flashing in the sunlight.
But he was taken from me as well. Not by an orc’s blade or a dragon’s fire, but by Sauron himself. And I could only watch, and try to comfort him as he lay dying. It was then that he bequeathed to me that which is my ultimate burden and gift: Vilya, the Elven Ring of Air. And I have borne it to this day, ever hoping to be a worthy heir of him I loved as my comrade and king. I had not the time to grieve, for I had ascended in his place, and his subjects looked now to me for guidance.
For many years thereafter, I believed that my time of pain and grief had ended. I met a beautiful young maiden in the woods of Lothlorien: Celebrian was her name, daughter of the Lord and Lady of the Wood. I charmed her mother, appeased her father, and confessed to her that I loved her above all else in the world — above jewels or Rings or even my precious Rivendell. And we were wed, and all seemed right with the world. There were children playing in the halls of Imladris; there was sunlight and laughter and peace.
But now you are leaving me as well. I try to convince myself that I am lucky to have spent even one century with you, let alone the millennia we have passed together. I see now that those days were a gift, and their price is this most bitter parting. I know that in Valinor lies your only hope; if you remain here, you will die. And it is because of this knowledge that I stand here on the shore, as a cold wind whips at my hair and cloak, throwing salt spray into my face. You have been borne here on a litter that we have carried, your sons and Glorfindel and I. Your mother is here as well. She weeps, tall and bright and broken; your father only glances at me with bitterness in his eyes. They cannot find the words to bid you farewell. My sons…I can see the guilt in their eyes, the shame that they have carried for so long. It took a long time for me to believe that this was not their fault.
Glorfindel takes your hand and kisses your cheek. Don’t grow any more beautiful in Valinor, else Elbereth herself will be jealous, he jests, but as he turns away from you there are tears unshed in his eyes. Then the twins come to you, weeping as they hold your hands, each a mirror of the other. They speak the same apologies with the same voice, and their despairing tears fall upon your bed.
You do not weep. Your wounds are grievous, yet you show little of how they pain you. But I can see the tightness around your eyes, and I know that you are hurt beyond what you will let them see. So protective of them; that at least has not changed. I hear you telling them to be good, to keep their swords keen, to watch out for their baby sister.
Yes, Arwen. She has grown tall and dark and lovely, like Luthien come again. I mourn that you shall never see her wedded, never hold a grandchild in your arms as Galadriel has held Arwen and the twins. She kisses you, and you smile up at her. Be brave, my little one, you tell her. She nods, her dark hair flying in the sea-breeze. I love you, Naneth, she replies.
Their eyes are on me, now. I have not said my farewells to you yet. My feet drag in the sand as I approach you, lying upon the pallet so pale and thin…only your eyes and your silver hair are as they once were. Oh, how I love you! If I could take all of your pain for myself, I would do it in a heartbeat. I promised your father once that I would never see you hurt, that I would never let anything happen to you. Did I know then that I had made a fool’s promise?
You touch my cheek, and you tell me not to cry. I catch your hand, hold it there.
This is not farewell, you whisper. It is not forever.
But the tears come anyway, in harsh, shuddering sobs; I cannot stop them. I lean down to kiss you, and find there some of the fiery maiden I have always loved. You taste of niphredil and twilight, and your fingers trail delicately through my unbound hair. I wish that I had kissed you when you left that morning with Elladan and Elrohir, that I had made love to you the night before. Your eyes are the same as the stormy sea that lies before us, gray and green and fathomless. Stay with me, I beg, touching my forehead to yours. Please don’t go. But there is no choice.
I love you, you whisper, brushing my tears away. Your own eyes are shining now. Take care of the children…and of Adar. He will need you.
The pallet is lifted now, carried by four of Círdan’s folk. They are taking you into the ship, the great gray ship that will bear you away to Valinor, to the rest and healing that you deserve. The wind tears at the sails as they unfurl, filling them so that they seem like the wings of a great swan. Then the ship begins to move, to sail away and vanish into the mist. My heart is rent in two, and I am achingly aware that this is truly happening: you are leaving, and I will not have you to love, to counsel me, to stand beside me in the battles that we must one day fight. You are gone.
In a sudden madness, I reach out for you. Glorfindel takes me by the shoulder, trying to pull me back, and I see the mingled compassion and sorrow in his eyes. I shove him roughly aside. I race after you, crying your name as I run blindly into the heaving foam. My sodden robes tangle about my knees, weighing me down, and I stop when the sea reaches my chest. You are slipping away in the distance, far beyond my grasp. I understand Elwing now; I understand a love for which I would leave everything else behind. If I could weave an enchantment to make myself into a seabird and fly away with you, if I could look upon you for only one more moment, I would do it — elves and men and Vilya be ***ed. For I have forgotten to tell you that I love you.
I stand there, weeping amidst the crashing surf, as your ship fades away into the sea-mist. I recall your words to me: It is not forever.
No, it is not.
But for the pain in my heart, it may as well be.