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Down Wary Paths of Memory
by Elwing

(based on the song "The Lowlands of Holland" - trad.)

Fandom: Silmarillion, LOTR
Pairings: Elrond/Celebrian, Gil-galad/Elrond implied
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. They all belong to the Professor, god bless him.
Author's Note: This piece is set in Aman as Celebrían thinks back on her earliest meetings with Elrond, and of their wedding night.
Feedback: Always appreciated.

 

~~~

On the night that I was married
And upon my marriage bed
There in came a bold sea captain
And stood at my bedhead

I want to say that thinking about him now is easier. I want to greet the images that come to me here - images of my husband and family - with the joy and tenderness that all such images should inspire, and to be sure, there is happiness in that reminiscence, tenderness to be found in following the lines of my children's faces and tracing their dark loveliness back to him, to my beloved, the dearest of my heart. Yet always, as my mind moves from them to him, I feel the sting of pain from a wound that cannot, will not, be healed. So I visit my thoughts of him tentatively, warily, waiting always for the ambush of desperate love and bitter jealousy to spring, unbidden, from a mind seeking only peace.

I have learned, in my time here, that peace is a relative state of being. There is more peace here than there could ever have been there, but it is in no way complete, and I mourn the loss of a blissful attitude I can now never know.

Perhaps, I sometimes tell myself, I should have known the joy would be incomplete, its brilliance colored with shady tones of doubt and, later, melancholy. I should have known on that night, when we were first joined together in marriage that he was already far beyond my simple reach.

But I wanted to believe. I wanted to be his bride, the most fortunate maiden in all Middle Earth, to enter fully into my pledge to him... to love him beyond anything else I had ever known.

I wanted it to be true, so, for a time, I *made* it true and he began to love me, in his way. But there was always the thought of that first night, that one slip that he couldn't hide, and instead of heeding it, I banished the thought and followed my doom down to loneliness.

 

Saying, "arise, arise, young wedded man
And come along with me
To the lowlands of Holland
To fight the enemy"

It was in the spring that I first met him, Master Elrond Peredhil of Imladris, the Vice Regent of King Gil-galad who ruled in Lindon to the West. Though I had never been to the valley that Men call Rivendell, my father had been there for many years, aiding Elrond in the fight against Sauron's forces. My mother and I had been living in Lórinand, but eventually the sea longing grew in her, and she determined that we should journey westward, to live on the coast. Our path took us naturally through Imladris and there we came upon my father and so settled into the Last Homely House for an extended family visit.

How I wish I could say it was love at first sight, at least on my part, when I first met Elrond Halfelven, but it wasn't really. I thought him handsome and noble as he met us on the far side of the narrow bridge leading to his house and grounds. He was similar in bearing to many of the Elves that frequented my parents' company - graceful, with a soft voice and gentle ways that put our little traveling party at instant ease. His color, though, seemed very foreign to me, almost exotic in its darkness, and although I felt no immediate flutter of the heart, as I have heard many maidens do at the site of their future spouses, I do recall wanting to reach a hand out and touch his hair, so silky, and dark as the spring night sky.

We were made to feel welcome everywhere we went in Imladris. Unlike in Lórinand, where the Elves were chiefly Silvan, there was such a mixture of kindreds in Rivendell that I marveled at the sight of them. This, perhaps, I found myself thinking, was what the Blessed Lands would be like, where all Eldalië would dwell, side by side in friendship. I was enchanted by the sheer energy of the place. There was always something intriguing to be found around the next turn in the corridor, or along the little paths that meandered through the gardens.

And yet there was peace here, as well. A profound calm that seemed an almost palpable thing - something carried on the very air of the place. It grew into my heart, season by season, year by year.

Now then, Holland is a lovely land
And upon it grows fine grain
Surely 'tis a place of residence
For a soldier to remain

The longer we dwelt in Imladris, the more I came to love it, and as my affection for the comfortable house and graceful surrounds grew, so did my feelings for Elrond.

I'm not sure why he visited me so often in the beginning - perhaps my parents encouraged him - but many were the times when I would be in the gardens walking, or enjoying the sound of the falls from a balcony, and suddenly he would be there, next to me, sometimes asking how I fared, other times simply enjoying the beauty of his home with me in companionable silence. Over the months our silences grew less and we spoke of all that he had seen of the world - I asking question after question, he answering with a patience and gentle wit that drew me closer to him.

Over time I found myself watching him as he spoke, coming to love the mobile expressions of his face, now proud, now self-deprecating, emotions as fleeting as moth wings against your skin on a summer's evening.

As our meetings grew more and more frequent, my desire returned, to touch that dark, silky river of hair that hung down his back like a cloak, and then for the first time I began to notice his body - his height and broad shoulders, how sweet it was to feel the very male presence of him next to me, solid and, potentially, protective.

My mother said nothing about Elrond to me, asked no questions, offered no advice, but when we had been several years at Imladris my father began to talk to me of him. His grey eyes were tender but questioning as he asked of my feelings for Elrond, of what I thought Elrond's were for me. He was my first confidante, my father was, and I told him everything that was in my heart, of how I now cherished my times with the Master of Rivendell, and how much I felt could come of the bud of feelings for him, growing secret but strong in my heart.

When my father asked if I could imagine Elrond as a husband, I answered swiftly and surely. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be the happiest of brides with him.

 

Where the sugar cane is plentiful
And the tea grows on each tree
Well, I never had but the one sweetheart
And now he's gone far away from me

What a sweet, confusing afternoon it was, when Elrond and I sat in a secluded glade of his garden and talked of the wedding celebrated the night before between two of his household. I told him how my heart had sung with a strange and lovely song as I watched them kiss each other, pledge their spirits to each other for eternity. He looked over at me, then, his head titled to the side causing that pretty dark hair to spill over his shoulder. "You wish to be married?" he asked me gently.

Maybe it was foolish, but he seemed so genuine at that moment, so close to being *mine* that I couldn't stop myself. I reached out, running the tips of my fingers through that river of black silk, softer than anything I had ever felt in all my life. Managing to stop myself from grasping at it, I looked him in the eyes and whispered, "Yes, Elrond. I would very much like to be married..."

For a moment my words simply hung between us in the warm air and I cursed myself for having flung them out so unguardedly. For a moment - and then I felt his hand on mine, and the look in his eyes was soft and sweet. He had just opened his mouth to reply - oh, how many times have I beaten myself with the question of what he might have said? - when there was a commotion from the front of the house and a voice called out, "Master Elrond! The King has come!"

How can I describe what happened then? One moment his eyes were on me, with me, his hand so warm and light on mine, and the next he was smiling as I'd never seen him smile. Surely his eyes held the stars of Varda, his face a bright gleam of joy, and wasn't that his heart I could hear beating, and all at the sound of those words. "The King has come."

Instantly he was on his feet and I thought for a moment he would run from me without a word. To his credit, though, he stopped and turned back to me, clasping my hand now like a brother. "Gil-galad has come to Imladris, Celebrían! He's *here*! You must come and meet him!" Then he was gone, his simple robes flying out behind him as he disappeared around the garden path towards his king.

If I had only been less in love with him I might have taken the chill he left me with to greater heart. I was far too gone in my adoration, though, and as I rose to walk the pathway towards the house, I told myself that it is a very different thing, the love of a Elven man for his maid and that of a herald for his king. Surely, I soothed my doubting mind, the first is but newly formed and gentle, the latter, born of blood and war and loyalty, a far fiercer thing. That had been the difference I had seen in Elrond's face. I was his love, Gil-galad was his king, and there was room in his warm heart for both of those affections.

Had I but known that both of those enviable places had already been fulfilled by a presence far beyond my skill to match.

That night, after I had been introduced to the king and as we dined all together, it was told how Gil-galad's army, with the aid of the Numenoreans, had routed an army of the enemy away to the southwest. There was to be a great feast in Lindon and Gil-galad had come to ride home, with Elrond at his side as an honored guest. Foolishly, I expected the Lord of Imladris to demur - respectfully of course - and beg to be released from the journey so that he might remain with his kin from Lórinand. I say foolishly, of course, because I really thought he would not want to be parted from me. Surely I loathed the thought of being parted from him, especially after such a significant and tender moment had passed between us.

How bitter it was to see the eagerness in his eyes at the King's request. I wanted to run from the hall. I wanted to hide, perhaps to die.

 

Said the mother to her daughter,
Leave off your sore lament
Is there ne'r a man in Ireland
That will be your heart's content

A week later the party was off toward Lindon, a swift grey steed carrying the very heart from my chest. Elrond rode at the head of the contingent, side by side with Gil-galad, and it shames me to this day to think of how unsentimental our farewell was. Or perhaps, it only seemed that way because my heart was so fevered with him, and his so clearly not that way towards me.

Just behind the two of them, and a little to the side, rode my father. He had decided that he wanted to visit his distant kinsman, Círdan the Shipwright, who would be in attendance at the feast. My heart, already heavy with the loss of my love, mourned twice for also having to be without my father's consoling words.

It was a testament to just how low I felt that, after only two weeks, I sought out my mother for comfort. Now my mother has many, many gifts, some natural born to her, some that she has learned, and she is justly revered among our people for her wisdom and foresight. Her mind is quick to perceive the subtlest of political motives, amazing in it's grasp of what any one person wants most, and how that can be used to best advantage. She does not, however, seem to have much patience for the tender but simple feelings a man and maid can have for each other.

In my desperate melancholy, I told her everything that had passed between Elrond and myself. I spoke of my feelings, now so intense and exquisite they were difficult to bear. I described that lovely afternoon when the two of us seemed to have been poised on something deep and profound, and how all of it had been torn to ribbons by the arrival of the king and Elrond's departure. Then, like the child I felt, I looked up to her for comfort.

Had I looked into my father's eyes at that moment, I would have seen softness and solace, a welcome understanding of the trials of love. In my mother's eyes, though, I saw none of that. She looked at me shrewdly, keenly even for several moments, and then waved a graceful hand and told me not to be maudlin. I remember her exact words, for they bit hard into my unprepared soul.

"Do not build your future on those shifting sands, for they belong now to the shore and then to the sea. But ultimately, dear daughter, the sea will win."

I suppose her words were wise, but it was only years and years later that I would even understand them, and whether I could ever have heeded them... to this day I still don't know.

 

There are men enough in Ireland
But alas there is none for me
Since those high winds and stormy seas
Have parted my love and me

Elrond did not return with my father. He had chosen to stay for a time in Lindon, and my parents decided that it was also time for us to leave Imladris. The journey, to a new home in the Belfalas, was bittersweet. While I lingered in Rivendell, I still had the sense of him around me. I saw his planning and his handiwork. I could read his books and listen to his minstrels. More important, I could imagine him riding over the bridge at any moment, eager to dismount, calling my name as he searched for me. I could feel him against me as he took me into his arms. I could taste his mouth on mine and give in to the sweet shiver between my legs that came unbidden even without him here. But it never happened, and my parents felt it would be better for me to be among my own people, among the familiar, if less longed for, delights of home.

Years and years passed, and I did not see Elrond again for a very long time. There were occasional letters from Imladris, warm and curious, his questions about my days almost painfully kind. But nowhere in his words, or between them, could I find what I thought I'd seen in that still, golden garden. It had been a chimera, a cruel and tender illusion to torment my days and make the nights a deep ache of desire.

Now and then my mother spoke of marriage. I cannot say I had no suitors, for there were many, all of them beautiful and accomplished Elf men.

I prayed to love one of them. I held out desperate hope that someone, anyone, would take the place of that distant Lord of the valley, but none ever did. When they took me walking, it was his hand I held. When they sang to me, it was his voice that mingled so sweetly with the harps. Their eyes were his, the blond and brown heads mere specters of his dark silk.

Outwardly, I learned to be as I ever was - a gift, I believe, from my mother's line. Inside, though, I merely drifted until a last, dreadful war brought death and ruin, and, strangely, my salvation.

Sauron was defeated, the glad tidings came, and with them the bitter, stinging song of death - Oropher, Elendil... Gil-galad.

Oh, the secret shame of finding the tiniest shred of hope in that evil news! I wanted to fly to Elrond's side, to comfort him and by doing so make him mine. I nurtured the selfish hope that with the death of the king, the light in his eyes might turn to me once more.

And in this vain fancy, I found my most powerfully ally - my mother. As I look back on it now, I can see the tracery of her plan, the patient web that required ages to build, but in the end proved more effective than all of my charms. When a sufficient time had passed, she suggested a visit to Imladris, and once there, she spoke with Elrond long into the night, a council of two that I was not allowed to join.

When they emerged from his study, the second morning of our stay, something in Elrond had changed. Upon meeting him again, I had thought his expression to be hollow, his beautiful face bearing witness to the ravages of grief he held for his fallen king. Now, after listening to my mother, in place of the hollowness there was a look of duty, of purpose. For one, fleeting moment, I mourned the presence of true love, and then I let the fantasy go and went to him and took his hand.

His proposal of marriage came a year later, and one year beyond that we stood together as the blessings were said and we exchanged our gifts, made our promises. Even today, when I think of that moment, I can't help but smile at the thought of us, husband and wife, belonging to each other for eternity. I thought myself blessed, and I suppose I was, for a time, if blessedness can be something so fleeting.

We went to our marriage bed hand in hand, both of us beginners, learning how to please the other, and I'm not ashamed to say that I was the more needy. I held him, caressed him as though he were the stuff of life itself. I took him deep inside of me, brought to tears by the thought of what we were doing, the sweetness of it, the profound sense of wholeness he gave me.

When I'd kissed him long enough, deeply enough, that my hunger was finally sated, he grew quiet and fell asleep, stroking my hair. My mind would not submit to slumber, though. I lay awake, breathing in the scent of him, watching his face - the most relaxed I could remember seeing him since we'd been reunited.

He was too beautiful, I suppose, for me to stay quiet, and I stroked a hand down his back, whispering a thousand little words of adoration into his sleeping ear.

And that's what let the truth come out - the bliss of sleep's oblivion and my foolish murmurs. As I watched, the slowest, most sensual smile came over Elrond's face and he whispered a tender name.

"Gil-galad..."

 

I will wear no staysail around my waist
Nor combs are in my hair
I will wear no scarf around my neck
for to save my beauty there

We went on, after that, as husband and wife together. No one in Imladris, except those very, very few, ever guessed that it's Lord and Lady were divided by the memory of vanquished king. Elrond was almost always loving and attentive to me, only drawing into himself every so often on what seemed to be days of special note to him. We made love often, in those early years, and from it came three children, blessed with their father's dark beauty.

Life went on and I buried that moment down deep, deep enough to convince myself that Gil-galad the King had not, *could* not have been in our bedchamber the night of our wedding. His name had not been whispered, provoked by my caress.

Perhaps it could have gone on indefinitely that way. After the children came and were well on their way to adulthood, Elrond and I slipped into a different set of roles, with less passion and fire, maybe, but warm and safe and comfortable nonetheless. When I saw the faraway look in his eyes, I could always go to my children and find my love again there.

But as I've said, our bliss was brief and there are no perfect worlds.

My cowardice keeps me from dwelling for any but the briefest moment on the day I was attacked. My parents had moved to Lothlórien after Amroth had been lost, and I was eager to see them again after so long a time. Perhaps I was hasty in my planning and did not think enough on my own safety, but it matters not now. The orcs overwhelmed my small party, killing my guards and abducting me. To this day I have no idea how I survived that ordeal. It was a week before Elrond and my sons found the mountain cave in which I was held prisoner and I only know of my rescue from them, for my mind was broken, along with my body.

I woke, back in Imladris, with Elrond beside me. I knew from the look on his face how he had struggled to heal me. My children hovered in the hallway outside my chambers, and I felt a stirring of life, to see them there, but mostly I felt a terrible pain - a sickness not of the body, but of the spirit, that even my husband's skill seemed too weak to vanquish.

I cannot and will not say whether I could have been fully healed had Elrond been the husband to me that I so desperately wanted. Every day, after I had been returned to Rivendell, I searched his face, his eyes, for that spark that would tell me he was utterly mine to depend on. Though I found peace there, a healing calm and even a deeply abiding love, I never did see what I sought for. Most of my beloved was here with me, in the horrible aftermath of what had happened, but a small part of him - the tenderest, innermost part - seemed to have died on the Dagorlad and fled to Mandos with his king.

When I finally accepted that, when I let go of my girlish fantasy of myself as Elrond's one and only true love, I knew I had to leave that place or die.

 

And never will I marry
Not until the day I die
Since these four winds and these stormy seas
Came between my love and I

So, I came west and dwelt in Aman. Like all those who live in these lands, I gradually lost my cravings for news of Middle Earth. I became patient, knowing that eventually I would see him again, here beyond the seas. I missed my children, and mourned the possibility of losing them to the tide of mortality, but one can bear only so many sorrows and some are, by necessity, put aside.

Then finally came the day that he set foot at last on these shores. I greeted the Ring-bearers as they came up from the harbor - my mother and my husband carried in the same ship, and then it was time to be brave and look into Elrond's eyes. I was afraid, of course, of what I would see, of the same tiny piece of him gone, a searing absence, like a tiny cut that burns like fire.

It was there, as I knew it would be, but only for a few moments. That was the time I had for him to take my hands and smile at me before I heard soft but steady foot falls behind me and Elrond looked up, over my shoulder, and came back to life.

They tried so hard to cover it up, but to me it was as though a company of swordsmen passed by Gil-galad, free from Mandos, and each of them pierced my heart, my soul howling with sorrow and loss. Those who say there is no sorrow in the Blessed Lands are telling falsehoods...

Over the years, I have come to accept my role in second place. The Valar themselves called the three of us, myself, Elrond, and Gil-galad, before them and questioned us as to how we wanted to proceed. As much as I wanted to hide from it all, I spoke first. I told them that I knew Elrond had not really been free to pledge himself to me, that he and his king had taken such an oath with each other long before he had ever met me, and that I would be willing to honor the precedent of that first pledge.

Elrond thinks that I am a goddess, almost impossibly self-sacrificing, worthy of nothing but praise and his utmost regard. I was even thanked profusely by the king, if you can imagine that.

Neither of them understands, though, that all I sought with that decision, all I still seek today, is peace of mind. It will not come with Elrond, for his heart has always belonged to another. It will not come with my daughter, for I understand that I will not be seeing her, bound as she is to her mortal love.

So from where will my peace and serenity come? Look there, on the eastern horizon. It comes now, on the last ship to take the Straight Road from Círdan's harbor. As it anchors, and the last lingering Elves of Middle Earth take their first steps on the shores of Elvenesse, so comes my reward in life, my peace in the form of two young men, each so much like the other, and both so much like their father.

My sons have come home to me, and I am determined that all will be well.

 

~ end ~


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