The night was full of stars and songs.
The Elf walked into a large tent at the edge of the encampment. He seemed to be a little unsure on his feet. His face was smeared with dirt and blood. Once he was inside, out of sight of the cheerful crowd, his knees buckled and he fell more than walked the last three paces towards a cot at the far end of the tent. It was a simple, low cot, covered with a soft green blanket, giving away nothing about its former occupant.
There he collapsed.
For a long time he remained sitting where he was, the only sound his shuddering breath. He sounded like a man desperately trying not to sob like a child. But the Firstborn almost never cried. Their greater lifespans were opposed to the impulsive behaviour commonly found among the Secondborn. Thus, emotional upheaval and turmoil were usually no more than a flicker in the piercing gaze of the Eldar, like the ripples created by pebbles falling into still water. So instead of crying or screaming, the Elf knelt in silence, hunched over the edge of the cot, gasping for breath, his eyes burning from ashes and unshed tears, as the night and the first celebrations of victory slowly passed by.
Only when the darkness of the night waned, did the encampment grow almost quiet, save for soft paeans of joy still floating towards the sky here and there. The sky had turned from black into a deep inky blue and at the eastern horizon, above the sharp crags of high black mountains a faint hue of gold and orange promised a glorious sunrise. For the sun had finally returned after months of growing darkness.
Only then did the Elf trust himself enough to move.
He slowly brought his hands up from his lap.
He had been holding a belt pouch made of once cream-coloured leather. Now, however, it was mainly black and grey and the original light colour of the pouch shone through only around the drawstrings tying it shut. His hands were shaking as he gently laid the pouch upon the bed.
Afterwards he turned the palms of his hands around, so that he could look at them. They were beautiful hands, with long and slender fingers, hands that held the suppleness of the Eldar, but the muscular strength of the Edain. The white skin was blackened with soot and ashes. The tiny lines on his palms were deeper than usual due to his mixed blood. They shone in a criss-crossed labyrinth of fine white lines through the darkness that covered his hands.
He stared at his palms for a long time, his mind and heart recalling what his hands had held.
It was the hour before dawn and the birds started singing. It was the first birdsong to be heard here in many a year, and even now it was only the thin warble of marsh birds from the swamplands of the Nindalf a few miles away. But when the song of these birds finally reached the dim interior of the tent, he found the strength to look beyond his hands and to the cot.
At the centre of the cot lay a small, cream-coloured leather pouch, similar to the one he had held onto during his nightly vigil.
Only this pouch was clean; it had not seen darkness and ashes and blood.
It was obvious that the pouch had been put on the cot purposefully. The memory of the hands carefully putting it there for another to find still lingered in the air around its soft edges.
As the dawn blossomed into morning, a bright and golden morning after such a long and cold darkness, warmth was beginning to spread through the tent. He remembered that it was summer. But it had been so long since he had seen the sun that it had been almost easy to forget about the change of seasons in the end.
He inhaled deeply. Beyond the taste of ashes, sweat and blood there was a faint scent of a wind blowing in from the West, carrying a message from another land, a reminder that somewhere, there was still a land of growing, living things left in Middle-earth.
He pulled a silken kerchief out of his tunic and carefully cleaned his hands. Then, his arm, his hand trembling, he reached for the pouch.
The lingering touch that had still clung to the leather flew away, leaving only the little bag and its contents.
He slowly untied the fastenings, his fingers strangely awkward on the simple knots and ties.
At last the pouch was open.
There was not much in it.
Many Eldar grew beyond the need of owning and keeping after a few thousand years.
There was a small comb made of mother of pearl, inlaid with jewels depicting tiny birds. A children's comb, fashioned in Aman the Blessed, feeling almost liquid to the touch. A comb that would never hurt an Elfling's tender skin.
A small pebble picked up on a walk near Mithlond.
A whetstone, wrapped in blue velvet.
And a token of love – a curl of dark hair, tied together with a small bit of string.
The Elf's hand was trembling so hard now that he could barely lift the strands. But he pressed them to his lips nevertheless, silken, smelling spicy, feeling almost alive.
The hair was not taken from the long tresses of an Elleth on a moonlit night. It was a strand from the braid of the bag's owner, obviously cut only the other night, and then carefully placed into the pouch, just as the pouch had been carefully placed in the centre of the cot.
Just as carefully the Elf put comb, pebble, whetstone and the bit of braid back into the pouch, and the pouch back onto the cot.
Then he leaned back, drew another shuddering breath and looked at the two pouches lying on the cot before him.
One clean, carefully left behind.
The other black with ashes and blood, filled with ashes and blood, but left behind, too.
This was all that remained of Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor - the golden hope of Elves and men reduced to nothing but a heap of ashes and dust, swiftly blown away from between the feebly scratching fingers of his herald by a hot southern wind.
Black ashes and blood,
a few curls of black hair –
and the tears that Elrond Peredhel was crying now, his face buried in the green blanket, each of his hands curled around a pouch.
Two pouches made of leather.
One clean and cream-coloured, the other black with ashes and blood.
Eldar - people of the stars, the Elves
Edain - the second people, the human race
Elleth - an elf-woman
Peredhel - half-elven, a half-elf