The waterfall fell over the mouth of the cave in a shimmering curtain, and Elrond backed against the damp rock. His hands slipped over it; he was loath to touch it. One of them was whimpering: who? His cold hand found his brother’s, which was warmer than the rock but not much. Elrond wanted to shush the whimpering, but his throat was tight with unshed tears.
I am not afraid.
Behind the curtain of water came a ripple of color, an apparition: red cloak, black hair. A water-bright sword washed clean in the pool.
I am not afraid.
So why did he quiver, why did his heart flutter, why did the tears race down his face? He imagined that he could hear the teardrops as he could hear the waterfall, the whisper of water caressing rock. A second apparition joined the first: same cloak but red hair and a sword still crimson from battle.
The whimpering grew louder, and Elrond realized: It is both of us.
The curtain parted, water pattered raven-dark hair and rang against armor. Elrond struggled to step in front of his brother even as Elros tried to step in front of him.
I am not afraid.
On the seashore, with Ada--not real Ada but Maglor-Ada--standing close enough to the icy water that when the waves rolled over, they sprayed Elrond’s face with dewdrop-diamonds of water that melted into big droplets and dripped from his face. That is our fate--to join. And then leave.
His face was numb and he was glad. He would put his toes in it too, but Maglor-Ada was near.
Elros kicked at the seagulls, screaming at them, mocking their strident, offended cries. “Get gone! Get gone, filthy birds!”
For rumors seeped like lichen between the stones of Maedhros’ fortress-home: And from the cliff she leapt and turned into a white seabird. And she flew into the West.
“Get gone!” screamed Elros. The birds scattered before his small, bruising feet that now wore practical Noldorin boots. “And tell her that we hate her! She left us and we hate her!”
Another roll of the sea and another spray of icy droplets joined the hot tears that made Elrond’s numb face burn with sudden feeling. Angry foam-fingers crawled up the beach, seeking to soak his little toes in their practical boots.
But from behind, Ada swept him away, just in time.
When Elros made his decision, Elrond thought of how many weeks they still had together—many moments, many heartbeats, many walks in the garden. The land will change before my brother dies, he thought, and even then, “dies” and “Elros” were not compatible; they were laughable, side by side like that.
But as the sea wore upon the shore, so Time wore upon Elros, lining his face and touching his hair with silver while Elrond remained youthful, an image they’d once shared. Suddenly, though, looking at Elros, he no longer saw himself; it was like looking into a mirror with a warped glass. Looking at Elros, Elrond felt a leap of fearful disconnect: That is not me!
No, it is him. He is dying.
The sea reshaped the shore, eroded the cliffs where the gulls built their nests, and Elros stood with his gnarled hands in Elrond’s and the ship behind him. The sky was swollen with portends of rain. Even his voice, when he spoke, was malformed by age: “I will see you next year.”
And Elrond let Elros’ hand slip from his without a word. The waves crashed upon the shore; each droplet making infinitesimal erosions--then collapse.
The rain falling from the poisoned clouds over Mordor scalded his flesh and hissed against his armor, but still, it washed clean many things.
It washed the filth from Elrond’s face and Gil-Galad’s blood from his hands. It took the place of tears on his wearied, upturned face.
He was too tired--tired by the endless battle, by the very thought of War--to grieve, with so many lost after too few years: They passed by him, brushing him with a ghostly whisper of memory, moving on a road opposite his own. Ada. Nana. Maedhros then Maglor. Elros. Now Gil-Galad. And what of my road? he wondered. For what am I destined?
The rain washed away many things, carrying away the filth of battle in tiny rivulets to the pit that was Mordor, washing the sweat-grimed skin of the battle-weary, anointing the faces of the dead. But there were many things that it could not wash away, and they seethed inside Elrond in a bitter maelstrom. Why is it so easy to let the rain carry away the last of my greatest friend--but it cannot carry away my grief for him?
As though in answer, the rain fell harder.
And then, like when the clouds crack and admit a slender sunbeam: Joy.
Yet it rained on his wedding day and, trickling among the attending crowd were the mutterings of bad omens, as tents were hastily stretched between the trees and Elrond laughed brashly in the face of the superstitions of his peers.
But now, by nightfall, the rain had subsided to the barest patter on the ceiling over their heads, easily forgotten, and Elrond placed his lips upon the pulse at his new wife’s throat, quivering in the rhythm of the rain, as he brought her to his bed for the first time.
Lace and finery slid aside to reveal the smooth perfection of her naked skin, and he gasped with her beauty, feeling his passion surge, a hot reminder of the Edain blood that rushed through his heart and settled in his groin, as she wrapped her legs around him and they sought consummation. Marriage.
She cried out with lips against his ear and bliss stabbed inside him—so keen that it might have been pain or grief—and her flushed skin received his tears. Or were they hers? Crumpled, spent in her arms, he no longer knew.
This was his memory, standing at the quay and watching Elrohir hold long to his mother, until Elladan took hold of his twin and embraced Elrohir to hide his tears.
Elrond hung back under the pretense of giving the children privacy to bid their mother farewell but, really, the thought came to him: If I don’t come forward, she will not leave. She will not leave without bidding me farewell.
He’d stand here forever--better than letting her go.
The gentle waves splashed against the sides of the waiting ship; in the most bitter irony, the day was bright and warm, fit for a wedding.
One by one, the children departed, until it was just him and Celebrian. Her face was parched and stiff; he hadn’t seen her cry since--
He refused to think of it.
So he stepped forward, to embrace her, but when he brushed her shoulder, she flinched and her hand rose to clutch the place of his touch, as though to bar some filth.
The waves clapped against the dock the whole day long, until the sea became bloodied by the sunset. At some point, she must have left. But, looking back, he could not remember.
Amid laughing fountains, Arwen told him of her choice.
He sat long in the haven of Imladris after she left, turning Vilya around his finger, pondering choices.
I could make a choice: To cast Vilya aside, to silence the horrid laughter of these fountains. To languish, imperishable, in a place of ice and death and blessed silence, where I need not be mocked by the joy of water in a place that has known something far warmer and less capricious.
But he would not cast it aside. He had made his choice, more than an age ago. That everyone whom he loved made a divergent choice …
About that, he would not be bitter.
He turned Vilya on his finger and listened to the chatter of the fountains, recalling times when they had been answered by the pattering footsteps of his children, giggling, as they hid from their mother. But she always found them and carried them to bed, and her lullabies meandered like ribbons on the wind while Elrond sat in his study, his stern hands flat upon endless parchments, quill forgotten, and a smile upon his lips.
Now, though, he was serenaded by the mocking, empty joy of fountains.
On the tenth night of the voyage to Valinor, Elrond did not go below deck. He stood with his arms folded upon the ship’s railings, watching the water rise, glistening, and slide away beneath the ship. He let his arm dangle over the side, then made the effort to stretch; as though to humor him, a wave leapt to lick his extended fingers, making him retract them with a gasp of surprise and cold.
Unlike a journey upon the road, there were no landmarks on the sea, only endless water, a bolt of cobalt silk unfurled between the Eastern and Western shores. The ship slipped across it, the momentum of wind and destiny carrying it to the unknown West.
Overhead, rolling, ponderous clouds drooped toward the sea, sending out spools of twisting fog that married that which rose from the face of the sea. Elond’s breath came in clouds that quickly became indistinguishable from the stuff of the sky and the steam rising from the water.
Until, like curtains parting, the haze split due west, revealing a single, piercingly bright light overhead.
My father, Elrond thought, his hands clenching the railing. The first to leave.
Now, he leads me home.
In Valinor, it did not often rain, and when it did, it was expected and so people left the fields and the streets and sought shelter in the comfort of their homes. Even the birds fell silent, as though they were unsure what to do in the “grief of the skies,” as Elrond had once heard a child call it in Tirion.
But he went outside, leaving Celebrian asleep in a tangle of sheets, wrapping an afghan around himself and closing the door softly. The rain was intimately warm and made the trees as bright as emeralds, displayed upon the smoky velvet sky.
Elrond stood in the garden and let the rain wash him. If he closed his eyes against the perfect beauty of Valinor, he might be back in the lands of his birth. Perhaps I am the only fool in this land who thinks it most beautiful when it rains. That beauty is all the more poignant against the imperfect, gray sky.
Then she caught him from behind, having approached silently but laughing now, pressing her face between his shoulder blades. Letting the afghan slip away, he turned to her, to see her displayed against the grieving sky.