In the days after Celebrían departed to Valinor, a pall of grief hung over Rivendell. When the hour-bells rang, the sound was an assault on the senses, an intrusion on the melancholy silence. Everyone walked as Men would on thin ice. Nobody knew what to say or do, though the household routines continued as usual.
The frustration of impotent rage carved deep lines in Elrond's face as he cast about for something to do, though everything he did, he found he could not do properly. The simplest documents for the household records were riddled with errors and inconsistencies. For the umpteenth time that day he heaved a heavy sigh. As Erestor had suggested earlier, it was best to leave such matters to him. The lord of the realm could read through and sign, if necessary, later.
He supposed he could go through the drawers of his heavy oak desk to see what could be archived elsewhere – or destroyed. The top one, on his left, contained scraps of parchment and paper made from pulped flax, wood and hemp fibres. He used those to test new quills on. Some had notes and doodles on, which he no longer needed. A hoarder by nature, Elrond did not understand why he held on to these things. A fire had been lit in the grate to provide warmth. As a peredhel, Elrond felt the cold much more than he was ever willing to admit. He threw the scraps onto the fire and watched the flames flare up and consume them.
Back at his desk, he found that the lower drawer on the left hand side contained old draft trade agreements. He had tossed them in there and forgotten them. A quick glance through them reminded him of the Men who had come here to make the agreements – and who they represented. Elrond had many fond memories of the Men he had welcomed into his home. Age had turned the parchment yellow and made it cracked, crumbly and delicate. He did not need any of these, so he added them to the fuel on the fire. The ribbons he kept. He had not acquired wealth and property by squandering those things most people considered unimportant. Thrift had done as much for his realm as canny trading.
There was a shallow drawer just above the arch of the leg space. Though he knew what was in there, he opened it anyway. He pulled the drawer right out and emptied it onto his desk, then replaced the drawer in its slot. Among the grubby old quills, newer quills, pencils, pieces of chalk, blotting paper and boxes of blotting powder, he found a key. He had been looking for that! It was the key to the strong box where his private papers were stored, and had gone missing one day when his beloved wife had ventured into the room on the pretext of bringing her husband refreshments. The truth was, she wanted to be with him. He remembered now. He had hurriedly swept the contents of his desk into the drawers and turned his attention to her. His habit of becoming engrossed in the trivial details of administration – work that could have been left to the scribes, if he was honest – had robbed him of time he could have spent walking in the garden with her. Ai! What his assumption of responsibility had cost him!
Pain creased his haggard face for a moment, then Elrond picked up the key and went to the strong box, which was in another room, to torture himself.
Inside the box was two piles of letters tied with red ribbon. These were from Celebrían; correspondence that covered over four thousand years. He had loved her for so long, and now she was gone. He reached in and pulled out the bigger pile: the letters from before they were wed. At the bottom of the pile was the first one.
From Celebrían of Lothlórien, daughter of Celeborn
To Elrond, lord of Rivendell.
Greetings. I write to thank you for your hospitality during the time I spent there, and for your kindness when you took the time to find my ring. You are most noble, and well deserve the regard in which you are held by your people.
With this letter, I have sent a pouch of sand from this realm, which my mother says you can use to increase the fertility of your land.
Please be sure to let me know if there is anything I can do for you, for I am deep in your debt.
A smile thinned his lips for a moment. She was such a thoughtful person, always on the lookout for the needs of the people she cared for. And she had cared for him. He picked up another from further up the pile.
To Elrond, lord of Rivendell.
My dear Elrond, it gave me great pleasure to read your last letter, full as it was of news of your domain. I am glad that the rose bushes I planted* still thrive, and that the harvest has been bountiful. I was grateful to receive the gloves you sent me. The workmanship was exquisite, and they do indeed protect my hands from chafing on my horse's reins.
Little changes here, but the pleasure of life with my family – and my people – is excitement enough for me. Recently, my parents had an extension added to their flet. It got tongues wagging, as is usual here, but my mother merely wanted to have a study of her own, rather than share my father's.
I look forward to hearing about the new stables and the new bridge you told me about in your last letter.
He remembered those days with great clarity. The bridge that spanned the chasm between the steep valley wall and the Last Homely House had been made of wood, and had been fitted with a lifting mechanism to draw it up if they should be besieged again. Not that an enemy had ever even laid eyes on his home, but still, it was best to be prepared. When it became clear that the enemy was defeated indeed, he had set about the construction of a stone bride, since the wooden one was beginning to rot. Dwarves had been called in, and the work had gone well, despite the mutterings of some of his people.
The way Elrond saw it, the more people they had on their side, the better. Though the history of the Silmarils concerned him closely, he could see no value in continuing an old feud. In any case, the Dwarves he had hired were from a different folk altogether. The bridge had endured for thousands of years, and looked set to last for many more. The stables had to be repaired and the wooden slats and boards replaced every year or so.
Another letter, closer to the top of the pile, stuck out a little. He picked it up and read it.
To Elrond, lord of my heart
Beloved, I think of you always. The letters you sent me are tied in a pile as high as my knee with some of the red ribbon you sent me. I cannot bear to cast them away, for in each of them is a piece of you, and I could not cast you away, could I?
My darling, when I think of how lonely you are there, with no one to care for you in those little ways that make you feel that you belong to someone, my eyes fill with tears. I long to rush to your side to chase away such feelings. My arms ache to hold you, and there is a hole in my heart that only you can fill. I cannot wait for you to come here to take me away as your bride. I have a very special gift for you, which I believe is fit for a great lord of a beautiful realm. Will you wear it on our wedding day? I will ask my father to give it to you before the feast.
The mithril circlet he wore on state occasions. His gift to her was a jewelled tiara, also of mithril. The emerald stones had glittered and sparkled in the sunlight of their wedding day. Pain stabbed his heart, which, at the same time, filled with the warmth of love. Happy memories flooded his mind, and his long slender legs twitched slightly as he remembered his how his hands had slid on the silk of her wedding gown as they danced in the grass after the joining ceremony.
The weight of a hand of his shoulder raised him from his reverie. It was dark in the room now, and his legs were numb from having been kept in the same position for hours.
He looked up. “Erestor,” he croaked.
Erestor passed his friend a rag, an impassive look on his face, as if he knew not what to say.
Elrond stared at the rag for a moment, then realised that his face was wet from weeping. He snuffled, then blew his nose in the rag. “I need to get some handkerchiefs,” he said.
“I shall attend to it, my friend,” said Erestor, his voice soft and gentle. “We missed you at dinner this eve, so I came to look for you. Why do you linger here in the dark with only sad memories to keep you company? Do not torture yourself thus, Elrond. It will do you no good, nor will it bring her back.”
“Ah, my friend,” explained Elrond, “but it does. She comes to me in happy memories of innocence and love. She told me herself that there is a part of us in the letters we sent to each other, and as long as I have these, I have her.”
“But it causes you such pain,” said Erestor. He pulled over a chair, sat beside Elrond and put a comforting arm around his shoulder.
“It also brings me joy,” replied Elrond. “And the pain is worth the pleasure I derive from reading these.”
“Even so,” insisted Erestor, “I would be happier if you would join myself and my wife for supper in our chambers. You have not eaten all day.”
Elrond looked away. “If I leave these, I leave her,” he said. “I could not bear that. We are far apart as it is.”
“You have the memory of the Eldar,” replied Erestor. “You will not forget her if you come to sup with us for a little while.”
Elrond folded the letter he was holding and put it in his pocket, along with the little brass key. He would not suffer Erestor to aid him in putting the letters back in the strong box. When he was ready, he followed his friend through the candle-lit hallway to his chambers. As Erestor had said, the bittersweet memories stayed with him.
*A fanon idea of Nilmandra's, from her History Lessons series.