On a small, shale beach not far from the guarded harbour at Mithlond, known as the Grey Havens, three elves waited sombrely, the chill wind tugging at their hair and clothing. The beach lay close to the point where departing ships turned away from the coastline into the channel that would take them out to sea on the first stage of the perilous journey into the uttermost West. They were watching just such a vessel now, moving out from the anchorage, her cream sails pale against a cloud-grey sky.
Even to a casual glance it was clear the three were siblings: male twins, mirror images each of the other, and a girl with the same dark hair and grey eyes. One of the boys looked to have been crying, but the girl stood straight and tall, her face set in lines of firm control. Had she known it, at that moment she bore a more than passing resemblance to her grandmother, the Lady of the Golden Wood, the last of the Noldor leadership still in exile on the eastern shore.
A watcher would have seen the bushes behind them rustle as they were joined by another elf, one who on this day wore age like a cloak over the eternal youth of the Eldar. He shared their colouring and moved with the same easy grace, but had about him a hint also of the exotic, being more solidly built, with a mouth more sensual, eyes less slanted, ears that were rounded at the tips, not elegantly pointed.
They made space for him in silence, and he put his arm around the girl’s shoulders and rested a hand lightly on the arm of the twin whose face bore the marks of tears.
“Did it all go – all right?” the twin with the too-bright dry eyes asked him as they watched the ship swing further away from land.
He nodded, his pewter eyes on the gulls that flew in the wake of the ship, hopeful for scraps or for its passage to send fish to the surface. He had seen these birds as the messengers of change all his life, but never more so than now. “She couldn’t manage the gangplank up to the boat,” he replied. “She was too weak. Glorfindel carried her aboard. I would have but – his touch is the only one from which she never shrinks. It was best.”
“Because he was born in the west and has tasted death,” his daughter explained quietly. She had said this or something like it before, several times. It was as though hearing the shape of the thought made it easier to accept that her mother drew back from her touch just as she did from all others save the quiet-spoken hero from beyond the sea.
“Was Grandfather all right?” Elladan asked, concerned. This morning at the house had been the first time he had ever seen his grandfather anything other than calm and at one with his surroundings.
Elrond nodded swiftly. “It was hard for him, having to say goodbye alone with your grandmother unable to leave Lorien. I wish for his sake she had been more aware of him.”
He spoke calmly, but inside he seethed helplessly. He would have liked her more aware of any number of things: her children’s pain at dealing with the shell of their once-vibrant mother, a pain that had driven them to watch her sail from the beach instead of the quay, Glorfindel’s tears, for she had been like a younger sister to this friend of her mother’s youth, and his own desperate longing for one last gleam of life from eyes that had been dead and inward looking for a year, for one more smile.
This last thought brought a familiar stab of guilt at his perceived selfishness. He had not owned the skill to heal her mind, and her mind had weakened her body in its turn until it became clear her only chance of survival was this desperate journey to Aman in the hope that healing would be possible for her there. It was outside of the sailing season, but she was royal, a great-granddaughter of Finwe, and there had been no need for Galadriel to speak twice. Spring would have been too late.
The ship was moving away from them now, and his son shook with suppressed tears. Elrond drew him closer, rested a cheek against his hair. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine it was Celebrían’s, the same smooth softness, just dark where hers was fair. Out the corner of his eye he saw Arwen take Elrohir’s hand, making him physically part of the circle. Their lives had changed irrevocably that day a year ago when the only surviving guard had staggered back to Imladris seeking help for his lady, taken by the servants of evil, and this was the result, a family of four where once there had been five.
Change and loss, he thought, watching the ship gain speed as it turned into the wind. In truth, his Celebrían had been lost to him for a year now, but while she had remained there had still been hope. Now she was leaving, as others had left him before, as instinct told him others would leave in the future. Elrond drew in a deep breath and held his children. Not these. His young he would keep close and safe. They at least would never be lost.