Dedication: This is for my grandmother. I miss you.
A mild stroke had taken most of Nihil’s ability to speak only a few days ago. Since she would not be reduced to mumbling and slobbering, she had been silent since then.
But her eyes still followed him as piercingly bright as on the day he first met her.
And whenever their eyes met a soft smile tugged at the right, still mobile side of her mouth.
It was spring in Imladris. A beautiful spring, with gentle rainfalls and starlit nights. Now, in the clear grey dusk the air of the valley held the crispness of the mountains and carried the sweet songs of blackbirds to the bedroom of the lord and the lady of Imladris.
He sat by her side, on the bed they had shared for so many years and held her hand. The hand felt small in his, the bones brittle and frail. The skin was dry and cool. Now and again the hand twitched in his grasp. She had not much control left over her failing body. Only now and again, usually in the darkest hours of the night, he felt sure that she truly tried to hold on to him. During the day she seemed to allow him to hold her hand more for his than for her own comfort, although her gaze never left him.
He smiled at her. It was a smile of many years of tenderness, of shared joy and shared pain. The uncountable, tiny lines in her face again screwed up in that lopsided grin that was all that was left of her brilliant smile. And yet he thought her beautiful. Her short silvery hair was fluffed around her small face almost like a cloud, so light and wispy had it become. The pale skin of her face was almost translucent, no more than a thin, lined wrapping of delicate bones. Bird-like she looked and wrinkled like an apple that had been dried for the long days and nights of winter.
“Are you sure that you don’t want to eat anything, melethril-nîn?”
A bowl of the thin gruel that had been all she could take in the last few weeks sat on the night-stand. But she closed her eyes. No. A shivery sigh that was almost a moan escaped her lips.
She did not want to eat. She was growing weary of the slow crumbling of her body and her mind. A spasm passed over her frail body. Carefully her reached over and pulled the covers up over her breasts. The high, firm breasts that he had found delight in during so many moonlit hours of shared desire, had withdrawn into small grey bags of wrinkled skin, sagging against by now prominent ribs. And yet he loved her body, every inch, just as it was; every wrinkle and every scar spoke to him of a shared life, of treasured moments.
Her eyes brightened. The voice of her soul had faded to a whisper to his inner ears. But now and again he felt sure that she still caught his thoughts. He felt his love for her and his pride in her courage swell inside his breast. The thought of farewell was an almost unbearable pain, but laced with happiness and gratitude.
A gargling moan alerted him to her need.
A little water. Then, to attend to her most intimate biological needs. Her legs, strangely white and smooth compared to her lined face thrashed slightly. Only in these moments of extreme humiliation and exposure – even if it was to the hands of a loved one – did she close her eyes and actively withdrew from his presence into the darkest corners of her soul.
Only when she was covered again and he offered her another swallow of water, did she open her eyes again. They were filled with tears.
It was time. It was time for her. After a life of ninety-seven long and rich years, it was time for her to go on, to move beyond the circles of this world. Seventy-six years of these ninety-seven he had been allowed to share with her. A mere blink of an eye in the thousands of years he had roamed the lands of Arda and Aman. And yet he counted them among his happiest years and his most precious.
Another painful breath, caught between a sigh and a moan. He could see in her eyes that she was indeed only waiting now.
The first weeks of being bedridden the expression of her eyes and face had told of a wretched, cruel fight against the inevitable. A fight she knew she would lose. A fight he knew she would lose. A fight they had fought nevertheless. Together, as they had fought all their battles during the last seventy-six years.
Now the fight was over and the waiting had begun.
There was no drop of Númenorean blood in Nihil’s veins. She was of the race of lesser men. The hour of her death rested in Eru’s hands alone. As Elrond held on to the hand of his wife, he prayed to Eru and all the Valar for mercy, and for the waiting to end.
It was time for her to go on.
It was time for him to let go.
To let go in gratitude and humbleness.
He sighed softly and a smile of pain and happiness both silvered his eyes. Lesser men!
He almost snorted at the thought. There was nothing to his Nihil that was less. And the lesser, humble blood that flowed in her veins had meant the gift of five children. Five children! When he had thought that all family was lost to him forever. For a moment he closed his eyes, overwhelmed with gratitude at the blessing he had been granted.
When he looked at Nihil again, her eyes were warm with understanding.
As the spring dusk faded quickly into a cool, dark night, Nihil grew calm and still. Candles were lit on the nightstand. From somewhere in the house the sound of music drifted up to them. A harp. Its sweet sounds rolled like soft waves against the closed door of their bedroom and drifted like a gentle mist into the room.
Elrond looked into Nihil’s eyes.
They were still clear, charcoal rings around almost silvery light-grey iris. A bright light had always burned in their depths. A fierce fire that was only now fading to a quiet flame. Her eyes were tired now, almost dull. He hated the pain that racked her failing body. A pain that was beyond his powers to alleviate. He carefully tightened his hold on her hand.
“Not long now, melethril-nîn. Soon you will be free. Your soul will soar from the confining bounds of Arda. You will fly with the stars and farther still.” He tried to blink away his tears.
A whisper, no more than sigh, he heard her answer deep inside of him. There was a hint of amusement to the whisper.
Beyond the tides of time and the circles of this earth…
Again that weird, lopsided smile appeared on her wrinkled face in an effort to comfort him.
Quickly he reached out to catch a drop of drool with a kerchief. She closed her eyes at that briefly; angry and impatient at the wreck her body had become. But when she looked at him again, the sense of quiet and acceptance was back in her eyes that had grown in her during the last days.
It was time to go on.
Time to fly beyond the tides of time and beyond the circles of this world.
In a shared sigh their hands tightened their hold on each other.
When the first rays of sunshine hit the snow that still covered the peaks of the Misty Mountains in a brilliant display of reds and golds, Elrond tenderly kissed the cold lips of his wife for a last time.
He wrapped a silken scarf around her chin and bound it tight, so that it would not droop and spoil the quiet dignity of her last and now peaceful slumber. He gently closed the lids of her eyes, their brightness finally lost to the darkness. He placed blue elvish jewels on them that had been shaped into ovals exactly for this sad purpose. Then he folded her arms over her breast. In death her body had shrunk even beyond the frail form of her old age. She looked tiny and lost in the big bed they had shared for so long.
“Sleep, melethril-nîn, and rest from all weariness of this world. And when you have rested, may your soul be free to fly beyond the tides of time and indeed beyond the circles of this world to the hallowed halls of Eru Himself, and may He keep you safely in the hollow of His hand,” Elrond whispered. For a long moment he stood without moving and gazed down at the silent shell that had been home to his Nihil.
Then he sighed deeply and turned around.
He felt the need to leave the house and be alone for a little while longer before he faced friends and family with the news. The glass doors of their bedroom opened onto a terrace and from the terrace a stair descended to another terrace from where he could reach the gardens. That was the way he went.
He went down to the river and the ancient weeping willow that was still his favourite tree in the valley of Imladris. Mist drifted on the river and here, at the lowest point of the valley, the blue shadows of the night still lingered. He leaned against the trunk of the tree. The bark was rough and cracked with age. A soft breeze sighed in the trailing limbs of the tree and rustled the leaves in a comforting whisper. As Elrond raised his head from the mists and the shadows at last, the sun was just high enough in the sky to hit the western slopes of the mountains. The fresh green of early spring gleamed verdant like scattered emeralds between the darker colours of firs and pines. The snowy peaks of the mountains blazed with the golden halos of bright spring morning. All around him the birds of woods and meadows rose from their sleep and filled the valley with their springtime jubilations.
Another year. Another cycle of seasons, each with its own charm and blessing had begun.
Life pulsed all around him, welcomed him, beckoned to him, uncaring for his loss and bereavement.
But someone else did care.
For when Elrond raised his eyes to the mountain peaks, he suddenly knew that he could turn away from it. He could turn away from this spring. He could turn away from sunshine, bird song and murmuring river. He could turn away from the soft voices of waiting friends and family.
He could turn away from this light.
He could turn to darkness.
He could turn away from Arda and travel beyond the tides of time and the circles of this world.
As the sun melted away the white mists and last blue shadows of the night and bathed the valley in the dawn of spring, Elrond knew that his choice had been renewed.
The Valar and perhaps Eru Himself had given the choice of love and life back to him.
He could turn from the light of this world, to travel into darkness and find his Nihil again in the light of another world.
His choice was renewed.
A choice of love and life.
He inhaled deeply. The bright eyes of his love, of his Nihil, were in his mind and in his heart.
A choice of love and life.
He drew another shuddering sigh. Slowly, carefully Elrond dried tears he had not even noticed he had been crying.
Then Elrond turned around and walked back to the house, where friends and family waited for him.
This story is my answer to the tragedy voiced in “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth”, “History of Middle-earth, Volume 10”. I quote from there. This account tells of the love a mortal woman (Andreth) felt for one of the Firstborn (Aegnor) and the ensuing events. I quote from there.
“For one year, one day, of the flame of love I would have given all: kin, youth, and hope itself: adaneth I am,” said Andreth.
“That he knew,” said Finrod; “and he withdrew and did not grasp what lay to his hand: elda he is. For such barters are paid for in anguish that cannot be guessed (…)”
My answer is Alternative Universe.
It features Elrond and an Original Character, Nihil, a mortal woman as Elrond’s second wife. Therefore it is not quite to the point of Andreth and Aegnor, because Elrond is peredhel.
Nevertheless I think that it is a valid counterpoint to Tolkien’s emphasis on anguish and the renouncement of love. In my opinion, love is a blessing bestowed upon us by God and in Middle-earth by Eru. To thwart this blessing, because with love there is bound to come pain, seems almost sacrilegious to me.
And even if love – as all mortal life – must come to an end, I have had the experience that indeed, love conquers all.
Therefore, following the contradiction I begin with opposing Tolkien’s reasoning in “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” I also question the irrevocability of the peredhil’s choice.
Tolkien says in Appendix A of “The Lord of the Rings”: “At the end of the First Age the Valar gave to the Half-elven an irrevocable choice to which kindred they would belong.”
I hold against that my interpretation of the Valar. As the thoughts of Eru Ilúvatar come alive and the former guardians of Arda, I believe that they could also be “abundant in their provision of grace” – as the Bible tells us of the Christian God (c.f. Holy Bible, Letter of Paul to the Church in Rome, chapter 5, verse 17).
adaneth – mortal woman (Sindarin)
elda – elf (Quenya, also used by the Sindar)
peredhel (pl. peredhil) – half-elven (Sindarin)
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