Little in the Undying Lands was as Elrond had expected when the White Ship sailed from Middle-earth, bringing him to the home of his people. He had approached the experience with something like hopeful trepidation, which had swiftly given way to unexpected loneliness. Former friends and kinsmen were either still awaiting possible rebirth or else had made new lives for themselves and, while pleased to see him, had other interests and responsibilities.
His Celebrían, as he had long suspected, was no more. She had slid through the veil into the Halls of Silence shortly after her arrival in Valinor and, although now reborn, she retained no memory of her past. This, it was explained to the bemused Elf-lord, had been Lord Námo’s gift to her: a second chance at happiness. The young maid living her quiet life in Tirion was neither wife nor mother and had no recollection of either the joys or the horror of a previous life in Arda. Elrond missed her companionship more than he had expected after so much time, but he knew better than any other what she had suffered, and he honoured Lord Námo’s kindness to the mother of his children.
His long-lost parents were fully absorbed in one another and almost completely disconnected from their past. His father rested during the daylight hours, while his mother spent her time amongst the flocking birds that swooped continually around their home and to whom she bore an uncanny likeness. Elrond was told she had learned the gift of flight from her feathered companions. There was mention of wings of silver and grey, but he never saw them and was quietly grateful for this.
His father also seemed very different to the Elf he remembered from long ago. The quick laughter was gone, replaced by the mark of cares that he was not disposed to share with a stranger. Elrond soon realised there was little place in either of their lives for a son left behind over two Ages past. His visit had been brief, and he made no plans to return.
On a warm afternoon, when the breeze played lightly off the sea and even the cries of the gulls sounded lethargic, Elrond lazed on a rock high above the water enjoying the sun’s warmth. He had been musing on all that had passed since his arrival, but in time his thoughts were drawn instead to wander down the road of the distant past.
Beaches always brought to mind the centuries he had spent beside the shore in Lindon. Something about this one, perhaps the shape, perhaps his current perch, reminded him of a day on the narrow strip of sand below the rose granite palace. It had been in the early weeks after his arrival there. In his mind’s eye he could see the young Half-elf he had been sitting on the rocks at the end of the beach, chin resting on drawn-up knees as he gazed out over the ocean with thoughtful grey eyes.
Seagulls always reminded him of his mother, although not necessarily in a good way, and he was watching them out beyond the breakers where they were conducting their eternal, raucous search for food. He could even recall his clothing; sober grey leggings and tunic and a blue cloak, all somewhat the worse for age. His too-soft hair had once again come loose from its simple braids to wave around him – like tendrils of dark smoke as someone described it to him much later.
Life changes and with change comes loss, whether great or small, Elrond thought, with sympathy for that younger self. For some, change is an adventure. For others, it speaks of loss and pain and fear, new faces, new ways of doing things. But always there is loss. His eyes closed slowly against the glare of the sun dancing on the sea and for a little while he walked in memory, feeling once more the tension and uncertainty of two Ages ago almost as though it were yesterday.
On that long-distant day, Elrond had been contemplating loss and its companion, change. In so short a life, the list was already impressively long. His father’s life and first love had been the sea, and his ever-lengthening absences had been the regular pattern of childhood. At this distance it hurt somewhat less than the departure of the sad-eyed Elf with the glorious voice who had taken them – himself and his twin – out of a night of fire and death and kept them safe. The life before that night of horror had been lost forever, along with their strange, distant mother, leaping to her death before the threat of sharp swords. She had been turned into a swan, people said, and carried on the currents of the air to her mate, but this brought little solace to her sons.
He had grown from child to young adult in the care of Maglor the Singer, sheltered with him while the world changed in the time of terror, when mountains rose and seas swallowed many lands including his childhood home as the Mighty came out of the West to fight the Enemy. He had even seen the brilliant light in the sky that Maedhros said was his father, swooping low in pursuit of fire and darkness, but something so unlikely had seemed very far away and unrelated to him.
Elros his twin, like yet unlike him in appearance and fully unlike in nature, remained outside on that day of fury in the skies, watching. Elrond gave the mystery far above them a long, jaundiced look and went inside to reread one of the few books Maglor had managed to acquire for him. He loved reading. Sink deep enough into a book and he had found the world, the harsh, hurting, frightening reality, faded away.
It had been several weeks since Maglor had told them to pack what little they owned and come with him. He gave no explanation, but that was his way, and they obeyed. The journey had been a strange, quiet one lasting several days until they finally arrived at a fork in the trail, close to a small grove of trees which surrounded a clear pool fed by a tiny waterfall that came tumbling down the mountain.
There they had paused for a day, during which time Maglor had said little, sitting beside the water and making a song of lost Tirion. The brothers had been raised by the great musician and understood when to leave him alone. They passed the time swimming in the icy pool and waiting. Finally they all heard a solitary horse approaching, and Maglor rose, gestured them back and stood hand on sword.
The stranger turned out to be a tall, silver-haired Elf, bearded as was the case with only the very eldest of their kind. The twins covertly watched him with interest, having only once before seen an Elf so aged. He and Maglor spoke long and quietly, and then their guardian and protector came and placed a hand on each brother’s shoulder and explained that they would be travelling with Lord Círdan to their new home with the High King, their distant cousin Ereinion Gil-galad.
There had been little time for farewell…there is never enough time for farewell. They were urged onto their horses, their protests and questions and fears overridden. Then Maglor mounted his great grey horse, old now by the time span of its kind, but willing still to carry a friend for yet a while longer, and he turned to the trail and rode off without a backward glance, leaving Elrond with a cold, empty certainty. Lúthien’s great-grandson in more than blood, he knew instinctively that they would never meet again.
The twins only heard the end of the tale some time later, but less than a week after they were handed over to their new guardian, Maedhros and Maglor made their final, despairing attempt to retrieve the two remaining Silmarils, an act for which Maedhros paid with his life. Maglor, whose greatest crime was loyalty, took council with his heart and exiled himself for all time from Elven affairs and vanished with his memories and his songs from the pages of history.
Elrond was gazing at the water with unseeing eyes, lost in thought, when a sense of movement close at hand warned him that he was no longer alone. He looked up sharply to discover a tall, strongly-built Elf had crossed the sand with the silence of a cat and was almost upon him. Elrond knew a warrior when he saw one and rose instantly, concerned that he had misunderstood and that he had no business on this beach so close to the barracks. The Elf smiled at him, a smile of breathtaking charm and clambered up beside him on the rocks, throwing a glance at the gulls still shrieking and diving above the waves.
“Come on, sit down, it’s all right. I saw you watching the birds. Greedy lot, aren’t they?”
Elrond sat carefully, looking sidelong at his new companion. There was nothing in his appearance to give a clue to his rank or position; in fact he was dressed in similar style to Elrond himself, although his clothes fitted a little better and appeared far less shabby. His hair was thick and dark with red undertones, and he wore it braided in an old-fashioned style that somehow suited him. His face was rather broad and not strictly beautiful, but was nonetheless compellingly attractive.
Warrior, Elrond decided. Captain’s rank at the least. He had an aura about him, the self-confident air of someone who was accustomed to exercising authority. On a more personal level, his appearance was also inducing quite intense stirrings within the Half-elf of a kind that had become frequent now he had finally reached adult years. All previous recipients of this awakening interest had been uniformly unsuitable, and he was practical enough to know there was no reason for this one to be any different.
“I never asked if I could come down here,” he offered carefully.
The warrior surveyed him from under a lowered eyebrow, amused. “You hardly resemble one of the lost servants of the Enemy. You like watching the sea? Not surprising, I suppose. I’ve spend most of my life beside it as well.”
The Half-elf shrugged. “I remember it from when I was small. We’ve been inland most of the time.” The sea had claimed both father and mother from him.
The Elf nodded, his face thoughtful. “Your memories of it are probably mixed,” he acknowledged. “Are you content with the rooms you were given? I like the garden view, but if you want rooms that face the sea it can be arranged.”
Elrond shook his head, hiding the surprise he felt that someone should be concerned as to his likes or dislikes in a matter so basic as where he should sleep. The rooms he and his twin had been given were comfortable. They had separate bedrooms for the first time in their lives, a living room, a little patio outside their own private entrance… “Elros likes it,” he said, as though this explained everything. Elros would not live forever. Therefore, it was important to Elrond that he be happy.
The statement was received with another nod, almost as though his companion understood this. “We felt you might like your own entrance, which is why that suite seemed best for you,” he explained. “We thought you’d want to be independent. When I was your age – and if I’m right there are less than a hundred years between us – I had to pass my foster father’s bedchamber in order to reach my own.” He stretched, arms above head, fingers linked, his large, muscular body tensing, and then flashed a grin as he relaxed again. “I learnt to move very quietly, as you might have noticed.”
Despite himself, Elrond felt his lips twitch. His companion’s smile was well-nigh irresistible. “A private entrance is nice, but I don’t think I have anywhere to go,” he pointed out reasonably. After a few minutes’ silence he realised that conversation was called for, and asked, “Did you live here during the war?”
The warrior gave him an unreadable look, then shook his head. “No, I was on the move a lot of the time. Those that came out of the West fought their war, we fought ours.”
It was Elrond’s turn to nod. The rocks were becoming a less than comfortable seat, the air was turning chill and he wondered aloud what time dinner would be ready. The twins had eaten in their rooms since their arrival, food being served to them as though they were important guests. He mentioned this, and the big Elf chuckled softly, the sound a warm rumble in his chest.
“Of course you’re important. You’re twice royal and blood kin to the High King. If anyone should treat you in a way that suggests you are less than that, I hope you’ll mention it to me. This is your home now, and I want you to feel at ease.”
Elrond turned and for the first time considered the Elf beside him as a whole, where before he had seen only the hair, the blue eyes, the smile, the clothes. After a moment, the instinct that was more knowledge than conjecture spoke quietly to him, giving him the name and title he knew he must have sensed from the start.
And his earlier guess had been quite correct, he realised. This attraction would be vastly unsuitable.
“Your Majesty is most generous,” he said evenly, unsure if it was necessary to stand when addressing a King in so casual a setting. His formal words, however, were met with twinkling eyes and an amused grin.
“Titles are for public use. In private and amongst family, Ereinion will do very well.”
“What are you thinking that brings such a wistful little smile to your lips?”
Elrond stretched and his smile deepened. “Ahh, I was just remembering,” he said, settling his head more comfortably on the strong shoulder that pillowed it. “A beach, sitting on the rocks, seagulls screaming their heads off… What does it put you in mind of?”
“Balar, mainly,” his companion answered, chuckling softly. “Balar, and me, a young, probably lovelorn, truly miserable Elf…”
“You, lovelorn?” Elrond laughed, offering a gentle nudge of elbow to ribs. “That’s almost unimaginable. Anyway, no, not Balar. Obviously. I wasn’t there. Try again.”
Light blue eyes looked down at him, considering, then crinkled at the edges in the beginnings of mirth. “Lindon, then. Some memory we’re meant to share. We weren’t in the habit of making love on the beach, were we? That’s not something I’m likely to have forgotten…”
Elrond snorted. “You rather liked the idea. I always refused on the grounds that it would take me days to get all the sand out of my hair…”
“…And I always teased you about how you came by that knowledge. Yes, I remember. And now I know what you were thinking about, too,” he added, then stopped to watch as the gulls jostling one another for food in a nearby tidal pool erupted into a short-lived but vehement argument.
“A beach, rocks, seabirds? Though I think these might be a bit more polite than their cousins in Lindon.” Ereinion indicated the flock with a tilt of his head. ”First time I saw you was on the beach, watching the birds. You were all dark hair and huge eyes…I think I was in love with you before you even opened your mouth…”
Smiling at the memory, Elrond turned his head to rest his forehead lightly against the reborn King’s cheek. He spared a final glance through half-closed eyes at the beach, which really bore little resemblance beyond shape to any found on the Hither Shore, The sand’s pristine white was tinged with traces of amethyst and palest jasper, the result, Círdan had told him, of millennia of weathering on the semi-precious stones the residents used to enhance their perfect surroundings.
Perhaps the birds’ cries had sounded different on that long-ago beach, he thought, feeling rather than hearing the soft, familiar rumble of laughter as Ereinion turned to him and drew him closer. Perhaps the beach had been less pure and clean to look upon, perhaps the sun had been warmer or possibly cooler, the wind less gentle. Or perhaps just his memories had changed.
He slid an arm around his love’s neck as warm lips traced a casual path along his jaw, intent upon reclaiming his mouth. In an altered world there was one thing that remained untouched by time or distance, he realised. All else changed or was lost, but the Elf at his side, despite death and rebirth, remained the same. In the end there was only one reality – love, the only constant. Always.