Epilogue

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'Even Quicker Than Doubt'

 

Epilogue

Armenelos, Númenor. S.A. 442

Four hundred years had passed since Eärendil’s son had set foot upon the soil of his new home, and the years had been kind to him, more so than to any Man of fully mortal birth. His carriage was still erect and, although his face was deeply lined, his sea-grey eyes were steady and alert. His shoulder-length hair, although now white with age, still hung thick and straight – Elven hair, as his queen had been wont to tease him. Tar-Minyatur they called him now, king of Elenna the land of the Star, the Gift of the Valar to Men. In his heart, though, he would always be Elros of Sirion, cousin to the High King.

He wandered slowly about his sleeping chamber, dousing lamps as he went, picking up and examining items that were close to his heart before returning them carefully to their allotted places. There was a little filigree box containing locks of hair belonging to his queen and a beloved daughter, both dead long since; a small, exquisitely-carved quartz dragon, delicately coloured, every scale correct; a woven lap-rug, a gift from a grand daughter for his two hundredth birthday; the painting Gil-galad had given him the night before he sailed, the door to home still open to the morning…

Sighing, he replaced the painting and then slowly removed the ring that Elrond had given him from his finger - the first time it had left him since that day Círdan had pressed it into his hand. Almost on a whim, he placed it in front of the picture. Vardamir, his son, might not find it, but young Aranel, his several-times great-granddaughter with her love for the small treasures with which he had surrounded himself in these last years, certainly would. She loved the ring’s story almost as much as he had as a child.

He smiled now, remembering how she and her brothers, like the generations of children before them, had sat at his feet listening in open-mouthed wonder to the tale of how the Ring of Barahir had come into their family, and of Beren and Lúthien and their quest for the Silmaril. There had been other favourite stories, especially the rise and fall of hidden Gondolin, and of the great hero Glorfindel, who had bought their forefather’s life with his own - and who Elros had actually met after his rebirth many years later. And they had all loved to hear about Gil-galad and his court, and the creatures of the forests of Middle-earth…

So many memories in one room. So much of the past that still spoke to him, cried out to him, especially in the long lonely years since Faengil’s passing. He felt tired beyond weariness and had felt this way for months now. His work was long since done, and he knew, as he knew his birth name, that it was time to move on, to allow the responsibility to pass to the next in his line.

He had originally intended to seek out the small, windowless mausoleum set into the foot of the Meneltarna with the idea of joining Faengil there, but the thought of going alone into that cool darkness was too much for him; his heart quailed. Instead he had chosen his bedchamber, surrounded by memories, as the place where he felt best able to accept the Gift of the One, the end to labour, the time of rest.

Still wearing his simple grey house-robe, and leaving only the small alabaster lamp beside the bed lit, he went to lie beneath the formal coverlet, gold silk embroidered with scarlet leaves, that he normally removed in the evening and replaced with something warmer and more homely. Not tonight, though. When morning came, he wanted them to find everything neat and right and proper, an example for those who would follow.

He folded his hands on his chest and closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. He had no idea how to do what came next - but then again, this had been the tale of his life. Somehow he had always managed, through instinct and common sense and, surprisingly often, by drawing upon the lessons in kingship learned from Gil-galad hundreds of years ago.

He had done his best for the new kingdom, for his people, for the future they had begun to build. He had often felt inadequate to the task, but over time he had developed confidence in his abilities and his people in their turn had developed confidence in him. It had not all been work and duty, either. Not long after their arrival he had wed Faengil, his support and refuge from the beginning, and she had determinedly carved out a home for her family, a place where he could put aside the crown and be himself. When the children arrived, things had finally begun to feel ‘right’. He had missed his previous life, but as time passed it had begun to seem more and more dreamlike, another world.

There was no exchange of letters between him and Elrond; his brother was lost to him forever, a pain long accepted but never quite forgotten. There was news, however. Three, sometimes four times a year, letters came to him from Tirion, forwarded from somewhere within the household of the High King, delivered there, he guessed, by Elves returning home from the Land of Exile. These unsigned missives contained stories about his brother and cousins, court gossip, political developments in Lindon, events in the lives of people he had once known. They opened a window onto a world forever closed to him and, certain of their origin, he regularly blessed Galadriel for her thoughtfulness.

His body was beginning to relax, his breath flowing in and out, slowing perceptibly. He could hear the rushing of blood, the beating of his heart. There seemed to be nothing else in the world, only him, only these sounds. He had planned to lie and think back over his long, full life, but even thought seemed tiring and he realised the time for such things was past. He felt a warm darkness drawing closer, not frightening as he had imagined it would be, but welcoming. A time to rest.

“At the last you will lie down and sleep and, sleeping, your faer will pass to the place where the inner selves of the Second born go. No pain, just a sense of rightness.”

Who had said that? Ah yes, of course, Galadriel on his last day at the palace. Galadriel who had made him a promise at that time.

“When that time comes at the last, remember today and think of Galadriel,” he whispered, remembering as though it had been that morning. “I will be waiting in the shadowplace between worlds...”

And she was there; power, strength and compassion, a light within the approaching dark, surrounding him with love and approval. They exchanged no words: none were required. As time slowed around him, as he felt the ties that bound him to the physical loosening, she remained; calm, steady, her presence a promise that there was nothing to fear, nothing to question.

And then finally he was aware of a change, a sensation of freedom and movement as he was drawn at last towards the place he had chosen when he picked eternity for his brother and the unknown for himself. The last thing he knew as his heart faltered and his breathing stilled, was a sensation akin to a kiss between minds.

And then the next stage of his soul’s journey began.

~*~*~*~*~

Lake Nenuial, Eriador, S.A. 442
Galadriel straightened up, wincing at the twinges of pain in the small of her back. Her vigil, begun the previous evening, had seemed to last no more than a few short hours, yet she had returned to dawn light and the sounds of birdsong and morning voices. She looked down at the hollow in the rock which, when filled with clear lake water, was proving a useful tool for expanding and directing her gift of Sight. The Emyn Uial were reflected back at her, snow-capped the year round; the silent bedchamber half a world away was no more.

It was not until she raised a cold hand to tidy back her hair that she discovered her cheeks were wet and realised she was crying. She sat for a few minutes, her face in her hands, and allowed herself the rare luxury of tears. She had kept the promise made four hundred years ago. She had watched with Elros at the end, and the soul whose passing she had witnessed had more than earned this farewell offering. Finally, the time for crying past, she wiped her face with the hem of her gown and prepared to return to the everyday world. As she was about to rise, the water rippled of its own accord and she waited, disciplining herself to stillness, as a new vision slowly appeared.

In place of the bedchamber in Númenor, she now saw a man, his hair and beard frosted with age, lying upon a stone bier. His hands were clasped across his chest, his eyes were closed. Beside him stood a woman, Elven fair, a golden circlet on her dark hair. For a moment Galadriel thought she was looking back through time at Lúthien, but the resemblance, though strong, was not absolute. And Lúthien, child of the starlight that she had been, would never have worn gold. The woman was weeping, pleading with the man who appeared to be in the act of giving back the Gift of Life, even as Elros had…

A crash and a shriek followed by laughter drew her back with a start to the world around her, and when she had gathered herself again the image had vanished. She waited for a few minutes to be certain there was no more, then rose carefully, her legs unsteady after so many hours of kneeling on the cold ground. Slowly and with quite un-Elven stiffness she made her way down from her glade, the one place where she was never disturbed.

The path she followed brought her out near the cluster of houses on the shore of Lake Nenuial where she and Celeborn with their unlikely community now dwelt. They were an eclectic crowd - followers of her late brothers, refugees from Doriath, a few Nandor and a number of Silvan Elves. There was even a small settlement of Men further along the shore, who looked to the strange though unarguably royal couple for leadership. What they all had in common was a spirit of adventure and a yearning for some place where they could feel they belonged.

The noise that had startled her seemed to have been caused by a runaway calf, one of a small herd of cattle kept primarily for milk. Its capture was being overseen by Celebrían, the sweet, dutiful, though lamentably ungifted girl child who should have been a son and upon whom Celeborn doted. The dog at her heels barked a greeting – there was always a dog, ever since the day several hundred years ago when Elrond had given a puppy from his pet’s first litter to his toddler cousin as a begetting day gift.

Alerted by the barking, Celebrían turned, offering the habitually uncertain, ever-hopeful smile she kept solely for her intimidating mother. She spoke, but the veil between time and space was still fragile after the all-night vigil and, without warning, the Sight returned and Galadriel, caught up in a wave of inner visions, felt as thought the world had fallen away beneath her feet.

Unbidden, the future crept up beside her to whisper softly in her ear, sending a shiver of ice down her spine. For a moment she saw her daughter sailing out from Mithlond under leaden skies, small, sad and broken, alone at the railing, followed by a whirling kaleidoscope of blood and horror and fire and war. She saw once again the woman of Lúthien’s line and the king of Men and heard the sound of her own voice whispering an apparently meaningless sentence over and over again.

And then it was gone, leaving her breathless and shaking.

Taking a deep breath, Galadriel forced herself to stop staring at Celebrían, who was moving towards her in concern. Managing a smile, she drew her daughter into a rare hug, resting her cheek against fine, silver-blonde hair. Every ounce of maternal instinct in her was screaming at her to do something, but, although frustrated by her impotence, she knew that whatever threatened Celebrían would only be made clear in its own time. For now, all she could do was try to keep her child safe for as long as possible. A good first step, she wryly acknowledged, would probably be to accept that fate had seen fit to send her a daughter instead of the politically desirable son and begin to treasure her accordingly for who she was.

Stepping back, she put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders and looked about, seeking someone reliable to entrust with a letter to the High King, bearing news of the passing of the first king of Númenor. The words in her vision came back and lodged in her mind, where they would remain, returning periodically to tease her until the day finally arrived when all things were at last made clear.

“And so the end begins.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

Alu

~*~*~*~*~


Beta - Enismirdal, Ilye Elf
A.N. : This story owes a huge debt to Enismirdel, Fimbrethiel, Ilye_elf, Red Lasbelin (the calm voice of sanity) and Tricia, as well as to all those who have encouraged me with their comments. Love and thanks ~ Kei.