She had been walking for as long as she could remember. Most of the time she walked. Sometimes she crawled and at other times she had stumbled. But most of the time she walked. Something within her told her it was important to keep moving but she couldn’t remember why it was important.
She was amongst trees now but she could not see them clearly. Once more she tried to brush the blood from her eyes. It was coming from somewhere on her head but it was not important. What was important was to keep moving.
The world was growing dim and at first she thought it was the setting of the sun but when she tried to bring it back in to focus other things came with it. Pain. There was pain in all of her body, but mainly in her head. When the pain crowded in she stopped moving and fell over so she had learned not to focus, and just keep moving.
Suddenly the ground gave way beneath her and she was tumbling down and down. She fetched up on a beach of hard grey shingle. She rolled over on to her back and found, above her, a steep clay bank. To her left was clatter of a river running over stones. She dragged herself to her feet and stood, swaying on the beach. The bank behind her was beyond her strength to climb. She must keep moving and there was only one choice.
The water was cold and swift running but it did not rise above her knees. At the far side there was no bank, only a gentle slope to the woods beyond. She dashed the blood from her eyes again and staggered off, once more, into the trees.
He had sensed her presence first. Confusion and pain. Then, as he stood by his horse among the trees at Bruinnan’s edge, he saw her.
For a moment his heart stopped and he was back in another day, many years ago. Celebrian. His wife, friend, mother of his children, lover. When his sons had brought her across the river at this same spot, she had that same look in her eyes. Not simply the look of physical pain but another hurt. A distance in her look that said “I dare not touch the world because it may hurt me again”. Although he had been able to heal her physical hurts their relationship had not been the same after her attack. The orcs had broken more than her body. He had never been able breach the walls she had raised around her soul and finally he had watched her sail from the Grey Havens. How many years ago was that now? And still his heart ached when he looked at their daughter. How like her mother Arwen grew with each passing year.
And here was another walled soul. The huge wound on her head was bleeding heavily, the front of her blue woollen dress a ruin of dried blood and mud, and it was clear that she would not go much further. His healers eye assessed the damage.
The way that she held her right arm across her chest and the raggedness of her breathing spoke of broken ribs. Her left arm hung at a strange angle, suggesting a dislocated shoulder. He had seen enough of battle wounds to recognise the work of an axe on her head. The stroke must have been deflected as it fell, for the skull looked undamaged but the cut ran from hairline to eyebrow and the jagged edges would never heal cleanly.
That she had staggered any distance was a miracle. If she kept on her present course she would pass within feet of him so he waited, quietly, in the scented darkness of the wood.
Time meant nothing to her. She could have been walking for five hours or five minutes, when suddenly she was stopped. Something was holding her right arm. Something was stopping her from moving, from walking, from getting away.
She turned, but her eyes would not focus on whatever the something was. She tried to shake herself loose but to no avail. At last she tried again to see what it was that held her captive. A strong, long fingered hand held her upper arm. She forced her eyes to obey; ignoring the pain it cost her, and traced the hand to an arm. The grey velvet clad arm lead to a shoulder and the shoulder to a face, framed in long dark hair. For some reason his ears caught her attention momentarily, their delicate, pointed tips peeping from between the raven black silk of his hair. The eyes in that face were dark grey, soft as summer sunlight and yet strong as forged steel. For a moment she felt that those eyes would hold her forever, then the eyes and the world slipped away.
For what seemed to her an eternity there was only the throbbing agony of her head and the elf and sleep.
When she awoke to pain he was at her side. Sometimes he would speak words she did not understand but their sound was soothing in her over sensitive ears. At other times he would gently lift her head and give her something to drink. Then she would sleep again.
Slowly, she became more aware of her surroundings. She was in a bed, in a large, airy room. Outside was the sound of rushing water and birdsong. There was a smell of flowers and green things. When she awoke at night she could hear an owl somewhere and scented candles burned in a sconce by her bed. And always, he was there.
Once she awoke in darkness and, for a moment, felt panic because he was not in his accustomed seat by her bed. Then she heard the tiniest rustle. He was standing at the window, outlined by a moonbeam. For a moment he seemed to shimmer and become a part of the moonlight himself – a bright and shining being. Then he turned to her and smiled and he was an elf again. His footfalls were silent as he crossed the room to her. The sound she had heard was a small, dried leaf, which had caught in the hem of his robe and was skimming the floor when he walked.
Elrond stood at the window and watched the moonbeams dance through the branches of trees in the garden. How many times had he kept vigil like this? He tried to recall all the faces, elven and mortal and gave up. Most elves shunned the company of mortals. They were like butterflies that caught the eye for a moment and were gone. But Elrond was not like other elves. Half-elven, he had chosen the immortal life of the Eldar, but his brother had chosen the mortal life and, because of his memory, Elrond felt still, some attachment to mortals. That was one of the reasons why, for many years, he had sheltered the heirs of Isildur. But each parting had left a small scar on his heart.
He was growing weary. And yet it was his role to hold one of the few islands of safety in this increasingly dangerous world. He laid his hand upon the casement and a stray moonbeam made the large sapphire of his ring glow. He felt it’s power, holding back the darkness from this hidden valley of Rivendell and yet he was aware, more and more strongly now, of the searching eye of his foe. The Dark Lord was putting forth his power, testing the borders of Elronds’ will. For a little while longer they were safe but the Enemy’s power was growing.
The girl was resting more peacefully now. He no longer needed to hold her to this world with his will. Without him, she would not have been strong enough. He had walked among her nightmares – endlessly stumbling through trees, a nameless terror at his heals. Once or twice he had tried to push against the walls about her memory but whatever terror lay behind them was too great. When he pressed too hard she struggled and he feared he would kill her. Perhaps, in time and with love and patience, she would eventually feel safe enough to lower the walls herself. For the moment he could discover nothing of her identity or the circumstances that had lead her to him.
A change in her breathing alerted him to her waking and he pulled himself out of his reverie and turned back to the bed.
Gradually, the pain subsided and the periods of wakefulness became longer. Finally, one bright morning, he spoke to her in her own language. His voice was quiet, like a still summer evening, the syllables soft as the velvet of his robe. She felt he should have spoken in high prose but he simply said, “Do you think you could talk, now?” It was almost a disappointment and yet even those simple words hung like music in the air.
“Yes”. Her voice was pitched somewhere between a cracked whisper and a croak but it was not that which surprised her. She suddenly realised that she had no memory of what her voice should sound like. She had no memory of anything. She would have screamed if he had not caught her hand, his grip her only anchor. She cried then and he caught her up and held her close, rocking her gently, as a father holding a child.
The moon was full, it’s light so strong that candles were not needed in the room that night. Elrond sat by her bed once more, gently folding Erwens’ frail hand in both of his.
It seemed only days since he had sat here last, and yet so much had happened in the intervening years. He searched her mind again and found, still, the walls around her soul. In sixty years they were as high and strong as they had always been. Still he could not breach them. And yet, about those walls he had helped her lay a new life.
Rivendell had been to Erwen a place of security and peace. At first she had shunned all contact, except with Elrond and Arwen. She had needed time to rebuild herself. The physical hurts were healed, although she always carried the long dark scar on her brow but Erwen would always be alone. She had no roots, no memory of mother or father, brother or sister. Even her name was new. Her life never seemed to quite fit, like a set of borrowed clothes. But she had built a life, of sorts, and had become a part of Elronds’ life. And now she was preparing to leave.
The body beneath the coverlet was still. He could see the pale light of her life fading. Erwens’ breathing could hardly be heard, even by his practiced, healers, ears. Her hair, once the colour of ripe chestnuts, was now white as the snow on the peaks around Rivendell. Her face was lined with age, and yet was smoothing now, with the approach of death. Elrond could see, once more, the young woman she had been and his heart stumbled.
As though she sensed his turmoil, Erwen opened her eyes and looked up at him. She had grown to know him better than many an elf knew him. Now she saw the pain in his face and gently squeezed his hand. “I am sorry. I am another scar upon your gentle heart, I fear.”
He shook his head. “A scar worth the earning. I would have it no other way.” Her eyes slid shut again and her slight grip upon his fingers eased.
Elrond lowered his head, feeling that he must hide his face from the prying light of the moon and found himself staring at their clasped hands upon the coverlet. His eyes fell upon his shirt cuff. Tiny, intricate scrolls of gold and silver embroidery interwove in a delicate pattern about his wrist. He had put the shirt on in her honour that morning. Erwen had made it for him some years ago, as a birthday present. It had taken her months to complete in secret and it was one of his favourites. Elrond was not sure that he could ever wear it again after today.
On his finger Vilya glowed softly in the moonlight. Already, he could feel its power dwindling. Winter was coming to Rivendell, now that the Other had been destroyed. Many of his people had already left for the Havens or were preparing to go but their Lord still hesitated.
A sudden gust of cold wind blew in from the window and Elrond became aware of a change. In panic he looked once more at Erwen, just in time to see the last flicker of life blow out. Her face was calm and still and suddenly his mind was flooded with the memory of all those other faces that had stilled before him through the long years.
The grief almost overwhelmed him and his thoughts turned to the little aged hobbit, sleeping in the room across the hall. He could not go through this again. His heart could take no more. He longed for peace and rest.
Beyond the window the sound of the Bruinen, thundering over the falls in the valley intruded on his pain. For a moment it sounded like waves crashing on a distant shore and, not for the first time in this past year, his thoughts returned to Celebrian. Had she found the healing she had sought in Eldemar? Could he find healing for his own heart there? Perhaps it was time for him to leave for the Havens.Yes. It was time, now, to leave Middle Earth.