Elrond Half-Elven, moving slowly as if burdened with a great weight, ascended the last of the wide stone steps and stood for a moment looking around the great Observatory of Rivendell, dim in the light of a single yellow lamp. His blue silk gown, stiff with silver brocade, swept the inlaid floor as he crossed to the long map table. Semi-precious stones set into the marble pavement, agate and onyx and garnet, sparkled in the light as he passed and beyond the open balcony the spring sky was crowded with stars. Far below, luminous in the dark, the fountains of Rivendell made their ceaseless music but for the first time in many ages there was no-one in hall or terrace to hear it.
Elrond did not wish to study the constellations tonight and did not ascend the steps to look at the sky through the brazen seeing-glass. Instead he approached the long table and looked down with great sadness at the great Map of Rivendell. This, the intricate work of Elven cartographers, would soon be lost, along with all the wisdom of his race, when they left Imladris. Elrond raised a hand to touch the ancient vellum, varnished with a yellow, crackling glaze. It felt almost alive, the reds and blues and blacks of the inks moving in the flickering light of the lamps. He sighed, and to his mind came the memory of the hobbit Frodo standing in this very place, following his pointing finger as he showed him the Land of The Eye, Mordor. Elrond remembered how Frodo placed his hand over the map and they both saw how the red and black lines shone through his flesh, as if he was no longer an earthly being, but already belonged to the realm of the spirit.
How quickly Frodo had snatched his hand away! But Gandalf had seen it, and so had Elrond.
The lord of Rivendell looked again at the map and wondered where Frodo was now, and even if he was still alive…but then his gaze was drawn, as if by a silent summons, to the great green arc of Lothlórien. He heard a sound. It could have been the wind in the dark trees that mounted up the hillside behind Rivendell. Or perhaps the waterfalls themselves. But Elrond knew it was neither, and he closed his eyes and listened…
Far to the south the same stars glowed in the velvet sky over the tall mallorn trees of Lórien. The forest was wrapped in a deep silence; dawn was not far away. Unsleeping, now hardly ever resting from her watch against the ceaseless searching of The Eye, Lady Galadriel descended a flight of moss-covered stone steps to her glade and glancing carefully about walked to her fountain, and looked into her mirror.
Had anyone seen her they would hardly have known the great queen of the Galadhrim; she wore no circlet or crown on her bright head and was clad only in a plain robe of white. Beneath the hem her feet were bare and her long golden hair was arrayed loose on her shoulders. But in the depths of her sparkling grey eyes burned a fire of pride and determination.
The water of the basin was dark, even darker than the night sky, and unlit by any star. Galadriel whispered low, as if to herself;
At once the surface of the water grew troubled, and shapes appeared. It was the lights of Rivendell, strung out on the mountainside like a broken string of pearls. Galadriel smiled and stepped back, and closed her eyes.
In Rivendell Elrond breathed in sharply as the voice sounded in his head, then listened…
‘The power of the Enemy is growing’ Galadriel said. ‘None now can withstand him. Ceaselessly The Eye watches, searching for me in the darkness. As yet I am hidden from him. But Elrond, long this cannot be!’
The bright chamber dimmed around Elrond as he heard the Lady speak;
‘The power of the Ringbearer is fading. Frodo begins to understand that the Quest will claim his life…’
Elrond put a hand on the map as it to steady himself. Here, in Rivendell, he himself had healed Frodo of the wound of the Morghul knife as the hobbit lay between life and death, or worse than death. On Elrond’s finger glittered the greatest of the Elven Rings, Vilya, the Ring of Air. But it was not by the great gold and sapphire ring that he had healed Frodo, but by his own skill. Something of his own spirit had passed into the being of the little shire-dweller, and now even this great Elf-Lord could not contemplate Frodo’s destruction without grief afflicting his heart. He said curtly;
‘Why tell me what I already know? What I knew all along?’
‘What you foresaw’ Galadriel went on calmly. ‘It is the risk we all took…’
Elrond turned abruptly from the table and strode to the window, gazing out at the stars. Galadriel spoke again;
‘Do you still wish to do nothing to save the world of men?’
Elrond did not reply. Galadriel leaned over her basin and in the depths of the water a light sprang up. It grew and grew and soon a vision, like something seen in a troubled dream, spread across the surface. In Rivendell Elrond also saw, in his mind’s eye, the scene that Galadriel had summoned up…
A mist, thick and white and silvered, like a sea-fog, covered the land. Spears pointed out of the white cloak like the branches of a thicket beaded with dew on an autumn morning. Then a wind arose and the mist was torn away to reveal a long line of warriors, Elven soldiers with gilded armour and crested helms. They stretched away across a burned and dead land, to a distant banner under which the army of Men stood, ready to receive the onslaught of Mordor.
Elrond smiled in bitter remembrance; he saw the banner of Gil-galad, and himself standing under it, his head bare and his sword drawn, gazing at the great host that Sauron had assembled to defeat them and make Middle Earth his own. He felt again the cold hard touch of armour on his back, the smooth surface of steel. Beside him Gil-galad looked doubtfully at the Numenoreans. As if reading his mind Elrond said;
‘The ranks of men will hold, my lord….’
The vision disappeared suddenly, leaving Elrond staring into darkness, gripping the marble rail of the terrace. Galadriel spoke;
‘The time of the Elves is over, Elrond Half-Elven. The world of men is at hand. But though we pass over the sea even in Valinor we will keep the memory of the fountains of Imladris and the forests of Lórien. When we are gone, foxes and badgers will make my woods their lair, and wolves will roam the terraces of Rivendell. But do you wish your halls to be a haunt of worse? Of orcs? And what of men? Do we leave them to their fate, or depart as we came, in honour? If we let Sauron win now he will have dominion over all life on earth, unto the ending of the world.’
Elrond said nothing. He was thinking not of men but of Frodo, and his heart was heavy. Galadriel waited in silence. At last he said;
‘An alliance once existed between men and Elves, and I fought alongside Isildur and the sons of men. Bear this message now to their kings, Galadriel, in the midst of their struggle. And if you truly wish to aid the race of Men send with it your Galadhrim to hold back the dark tide, as once we held it back before…..’