by author Mistress Marilyn
FIC: "The White Tree"
Pulling his hood close around his face, he crept through Fen Hollen -- the Closed Door -- and made his way down the stairs that led westward toward Mount Mindolluin. His sharp eyesight allowed him to keep his footing, even in the murky dark. No sound of footfalls betrayed his passing, and his long cloak swept the stone steps as noiselessly as the gentle spring wind. Behind him and below reverberated the muted din of revelry finally starting to fade. Minas Tirith was still celebrating the crowning of a new king.
In a few minutes he found himself on the Silent Street that led through the Hallows, the home of the dead. He walked the path straight back toward the mountain to the last domed building. This was the House of the Kings, final resting place of the men whose names still echoed in the great White City. Holding his breath, he pushed through the heavy door.
The chamber was dimly lit by glowing lamps and scented by incense. All around him were tables of marble holding the sarcophagi of the lost kings of Gondor. He walked toward an illuminated alcove at the very back; there lay the remains of Elendil the Tall, first High King and ally of the great Gil-galad in the Last Alliance against Sauron. He stood for a moment and gazed with respect at the carved likeness of a man he had once known, fingering the Ring of Power he wore.
The ring was given to him by Gil-galad himself. He, Elrond Half-Elven, had served as the great elf's herald, had fought with him on the slopes of Mount Doom where he had seen both Gil-galad and Elendil fall.
He turned toward a marble table nearby. He stopped, lowered his hood, and let out the air he'd held trapped in his lungs all this time. Even in the darkness of the vault he could make out the carved likeness of the one he sought.
"Elrond? Can I help you, my friend?"
He stepped back, so surprised by the sudden sound of a living voice that he didn't immediately recognize the source. Then a white form materialized out of the shadows.
It was the wizard Gandalf.
He quickly regained his well-known composure. "I didn't sense you here," he said. "You caught me by surprise."
"I had a feeling you'd come."
He cocked his eyebrow in question at the ancient wizard. There was no reason in Middle-earth for Gandalf to expect him to visit the Hallows. He had never done so in all his years.
Gandalf moved toward him. "I knew something was wrong. I watched you this evening, and I could see you were troubled by more than just losing your daughter to Elessar."
"I have not lost Arwen," Elrond said. "She has made a choice, and I have left her to make it. It is no longer for me to say how she spends the rest of her years -- and those years will unfortunately be limited by that choice."
"She will be happy while she can," Gandalf said. "She will be loved."
He looked away. "I hope it's enough, for it will not last for long," he said, aware of the bitterness in his tone.
Gandalf's eyes were gentle. "It will not do for you to grieve, my friend," he said kindly. "It isn't good for an elf."
Elrond sighed. "It's too late for that, Gandalf. I have now come to realize that Arwen's future was not the fate I was dreading. It was my own."
The wizard stepped closer, daring to put out his hand toward the dignified elf.
"I am pining, Gandalf. I cannot stop it. I have ceased to control my own destiny. I will never sail to Valinor -- it will be enough to find my way home to Rivendell!"
Gandalf clasped the tall elf's shoulder. "No, Elrond. I cannot accept that."
Elrond's dark eyes flashed in the lamplight. "It's so! I can feel it in every part of my being now. I am dying."
He turned and hurried out of the chamber, suddenly choked by the cloying scent of the lamp oil and the burning incense. Once outside, standing in Rath Dinen -- the Silent Street -- he steadied himself and looked upward.
Overhead he saw the white outline of the moon, obscured by an overcast sky. He thought of him then, the one whose very name spoke of devotion to the moon -- Isildur, the man who cut the ring from Sauron's hand.
Isildur, the man who hadn't had the strength to destroy The One Ring, whose weakness had nearly led to the end of all good in Middle-earth.
Isildur, the man whose seed had ultimately flowered in the champion of the War of the Ring and the new King of the West, Elessar.
Isildur, the man who, for a brief time, he had loved.
He tore his eyes from the diffused luster of the moon and turned to face Gandalf, who again stood beside him.
"How can I help you?" said Gandalf. "There must be a way." Without asking, he seemed to know Elrond's heart, or how else would he have known where to find him this night?
Shaking his head, Elrond said, "You cannot. I'm afraid there is nothing that can be done about the weight I carry." He paused, looking up toward the White Tower of Ecthelion, starkly visible in the night sky. "I have always wondered about elves who pined, thinking them in some way less strong than I. And now-" he broke off and looked at the wizard.
"I blamed him for his weakness," he continued, controlling the level of his voice. "And we did not speak after he failed to cast The Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Then, shortly after, he died."
"Are you sorry?" Gandalf asked.
Sorry? Was he sorry for three thousand years of believing that men were weak, all because the one he had loved the most had failed him? "Yes, I'm sorry it ended as it did," he admitted. "I would have liked to have given him my forgiveness."
Again he was aware of Gandalf's hand on his arm. "My friend," Gandalf began, "did you forgive him then, or did this come later?"
Elrond spoke without hesitation. "I forgive him now," he said adamantly. "But I have no way to tell him."
Gandalf was silent. Suddenly the clouds covering the moon shifted, and the shining blue eyes of the wizard were revealed.
"Then we must find a way," he said. He turned and headed for the stairs leading to the sixth level of the tiered city, thrusting his staff before him.
Elrond stood for a moment, watching. Then he followed.
They climbed the stairs, then made their way through the tunnel to the citadel, the top level of Minas Tirith. They rounded Ecthelion and moved toward the King's House. Gandalf's flowing white robes and white beard blew out behind him, and Elrond found himself having to hurry to keep up with the aged wizard. "I need to see the King," Gandalf said to the guards, not stopping to needlessly identify himself. Elrond glanced at the startled Gondorians as he, too, passed by.
It took several minutes for Gandalf to rouse the sleeping king. Aragorn, along with his friends and followers, had celebrated long into the night. He looked up from his bed in surprise when he saw that Gandalf the White and the Lord of Rivendell -- soon to be his father-in-law -- were both in his chamber.
"Do you lie alone?" Gandalf asked. He swept his staff toward the wall, igniting the lamps.
Aragorn squinted, looking around. He gestured at the empty spot beside him. "Do you see another?"
Elrond stood aside, amused. He was glad, at least, not to have found his daughter in Elessar's bed. It would have been awkward, to say the least.
"Where is Legolas?"
Aragorn looked at Gandalf as though he didn't understand the question. "Legolas? I suppose he's in his room by now."
Gandalf walked to the door and spoke to one of the guards. "Send for Legolas of Mirkwood at once," he ordered. "Bring him here to the King's chamber."
Now Aragorn sat up and reached for a dark robe strewn on a stool near the bed. "Can you tell me what is the matter? I would know what's wrong, Gandalf."
Gandalf's features were fierce as he silently stared down the king, seemingly unready to answer. Elrond turned away from the standoff and walked to a window that overlooked the Pelennor Fields. He gazed out across the darkened plain, toward the place all Middle-earth had long dreaded -- the now-dead land of Mordor. Behind him, the wizard and the king were silent.
When he heard the soft approach of the elf Legolas, Elrond turned his attention back to the king's bedchamber, as curious as Aragorn to know the wizard's motives.
"What is it?" Legolas asked, looking anxiously toward the king. "Is there something wrong?"
Aragorn threw his friend an exasperated look. "We are waiting to find out," he said. "Gandalf is about to explain."
"How many years have you known me?" Gandalf asked the king.
"And do you trust me?"
Once again the eyes of Aragorn sought those of Legolas. The young elf seemed to be fighting a smile.
"Of course, Gandalf. I trust you above all others."
Looking satisfied with the answer, Gandalf approached the bed and motioned Legolas to do the same. "We must help Lord Elrond, who has revealed tonight that he is dying. Unless we can cure his pining, he will never journey to the Grey Havens and make his way to the Undying Lands. I need to know that both you and Legolas are willing to do as I say in order to save him."
Aragorn started to rise from the bed, but Gandalf's hand reached out and pushed him back. "Of course we'll help him!" Aragorn said. "But what can be done?"
Legolas looked over at Elrond, who avoided eye contact with both the elf and the king.
"We must summon the spirit of Isildur, and tonight is the best time to do it. The One Ring has been destroyed and now Gondor has a new king. I believe my powers will allow me to reach through the void, but we must create a portal of energy for that reach."
Elrond now looked up, curious. He folded his arms expectantly.
"I need you and Legolas to assume the roles of Isildur and Elrond. You must re-kindle the passion of their bond. As they were comrades, you are comrades. As they fought together, you fought together. As they loved one another, you love one another."
Legolas raised an eyebrow and looked toward Elrond. Keeping his face impassive, Elrond stood aside and watched.
"What are you asking?" Aragorn said.
"You know what I'm asking. And it's little enough to save the elf who raised you," Gandalf lectured. "Your physical passion will help me reach into the next realm."
"Legolas is my dear friend. But he is not my lover," Aragorn said in a quiet voice.
Gandalf smiled grimly. "Tonight he is."
"Gandalf, is this necessary?" Elrond stepped forward and spoke for the first time, still avoiding the eyes of the king and his elf companion.
"It is the only way I know," Gandalf said. "Were you and Isildur not lovers?"
Now it was impossible not to intercept the questioning glances of all three people. Elrond swept his gaze around the room, pausing at each set of eyes -- the vibrant blue of the wizard, the deep cobalt of the young elf, the liquid sea foam of the king. None of these held the intensity of those of Isildur, whose eyes were hypnotic in their sooty expressiveness, even before the One Ring turned them black with obsession.
His own eyes clouded over as he remembered. He nodded silently.
Elrond focused again in time to catch the surprised glance that passed between Aragorn and Legolas. It was only natural the two would not have suspected his relationship with the man who lost the Ring. He had never given away to anyone the deepness of their bond, and he had never again been as close to any man, save his fatherly affection for the young Estel, later to be known as Aragorn and now called Elessar.
"I want you to assume the role of Isildur," Gandalf said to Aragorn. "And Legolas will become Elrond. Keep these identities in mind as you come together. Elrond and I will work to use your energy to summon the spirit of the dead."
Now Aragorn got to his feet, pushing aside Gandalf's restraining hand. "I will speak to Legolas alone," he said. "Afterward, we will let you know if we are willing."
Gandalf backed away and stood looking annoyed as Aragorn drew Legolas into an antechamber. Elrond smiled over at him, attempting to convey some sympathy. "You have to understand their reluctance," he said. "They have told us they are not lovers. Now you ask them to portray lovers in a way that might be awkward for one or both. It's a difficult thing to decide."
Seeming to brew with impatience, Gandalf turned angrily. "The prospect of lying with one another is more desirable than they acknowledge, at least for one of them -- I can assure you of that! And in order to save your life, both should be willing to give this small favor. Can two friends find one another's touch so distasteful? I doubt it."
Aragorn and Legolas returned to the bedchamber.
"We agree," Aragorn announced. "But we would have Lord Elrond give us some instruction in how this is to be done."
Elrond raised his eyebrow at the new king. "Does the son of Arathorn mean to say he does not know how to make love to a member of his own sex? I believe I can guess this to be untrue."
Legolas looked over with amusement at his friend's reaction. Elessar sighed before he spoke.
"No, Lord Elrond, as you say, I am not a stranger to bedding with another male. But I have no way of knowing how Isildur would have done so, nor does Legolas know the same of you. Can you enlighten us?"
Elrond stepped forward, finally removing his long cape. He threw it aside, revealing the fine raiment he had worn to the coronation. All eyes in the room were on him.
"We were two warriors, just as you are," Elrond said, looking past the king. "It was 3,000 years ago, and I was as fierce and vibrant as Legolas is now. Isildur was a brave prince ready to prove his mettle to his father and the great soldiers who served him. We were united to defeat Sauron, but we were attracted to one another as much by the qualities that separated us as those we shared." He paused for a moment, breathing deeply. "We were curious, and we were competitive. Our coupling was like a fiery forge where metal meets flame."
He smiled, seeing in his mind's eye the passionate face of Isildur. "In loving one another, we were re-formed, much as Anduril was re-made from the shards of Narsil." His eyes scanned the room, looking for the sword called the Flame of the West hanging nearby Elessar's bed. Elrond reached for it and pulled it from its sheath. "There," he said, pointing to the blade. "The crescent moon -- the sign of Isildur."
Elrond's voice was hypnotic, and everyone in the room listened to his words with rapt attention.
"Lord Elrond," Legolas finally said. "This will not be easy to re-create. But we will try as best we can."
Elrond nodded and smiled, allowing the tense mood to be broken. "This favor is appreciated. I hope you will not find the effort too arduous," he added in an arch tone.
"Come Legolas," Aragorn said. "The night is nearly gone. If we are to complete this miracle before dawn, we had best be about it."
Gandalf stood back, raising his staff. A sudden wind whipped Elrond's hair forward, the lamps flared and went out, and Legolas and Aragorn were thrown on the large bed.
Legolas landed lightly against the flailing king. "Was that necessary?" Aragorn protested.
"Be about your business," Gandalf intoned dramatically. "Time is waning."
"So I said," Aragorn commented in an undertone, discarding his robe. He reached over to help Legolas, who was already beginning to undress. The only light in the room came from the embers in the fireplace and a muted glow from the window. Still, Elrond was able to clearly see the two comrades who were soon lying naked together in the king's bed.
Aragorn was the first to act, stroking the golden hair of the comely Legolas and pulling the naked elf to him. Legolas seemed to lie limp in his arms, allowing himself to be embraced.
Elrond stood as close by as he could, concentrating on Legolas, reaching out with his thoughts. If the young elf were the most inexperienced and perhaps reluctant of the two, he could help by communicating something of what he had felt centuries earlier when he had lain with Isildur. The great power of his mind moved toward Legolas, connecting and silently communicating.
Now Legolas reacted with more passion; he reached up and grasped Aragorn's hair, pulling the man's face to his. They kissed.
Elrond took a deep breath as he watched this kiss. How well he remembered the first kiss he had shared with Isildur, each of them fighting to be the initiate, both desiring the contact but each unwilling to acquiesce. That one act had been an example of all other acts between the two warriors. Their love was never easy, fraught with a competitive spark in all things physical, even this -- for one to be the first to please the other, for one to be the last to relinquish his seed, for one to be the first to commence lovemaking again.
As the king and his comrade held their kiss, breathing into one another's mouths, melting together, Elrond found himself longing to feel the same heat, the same tenderness, the same poignancy. It had been 3,000 years since he tasted the mouth of a man, but he had not forgotten.
"Isildur," Legolas gasped, as the long kiss finally ended. "I have waited for this."
In his mind Elrond felt the connection Legolas was making with the past, but he knew it was wrapped in feelings that lived in the present and a fervent longing for the king himself. Elrond now understood Gandalf's earlier comment.
"Come to me," Aragorn breathed, raising his body over the elf's. "Tell me what is in your heart."
Legolas' hands clasped Aragorn's neck and locked together behind it. As the king reared back, Legolas held on and was pulled upward, and the two kissed again in mid-air before Aragorn dove down and covered the elf. "I love you," Legolas said, his words muffled against the side of the king's face.
"You are beautiful," said Aragorn.
How quickly they found this passion, Elrond thought. How suddenly the flame was fanned between them. How long had it been banked in them both?
The ersatz Isildur and Elrond writhed against one another, shuddering with the heady contact, hands kneading fevered flesh, mouths tasting skin and sweat. They rolled over one another, each in turn taking his place on top, then relinquishing the position to drop back down and reach up. Their chests, hips and groins ground together, bridges of flesh formed by their nipples and sex organs.
Aragorn lay on his back, studying the fine form of his aroused friend as he pulled him into a sitting position on his stomach. With his large hands, Aragorn gripped Legolas' back and encouraged him to push forward and use his chest for friction. Elrond watched the muscles of Legolas' legs work as he stroked against Aragorn; taut thighs, as pale as the hair that now obscured the face of the king, trembled.
When Legolas had spilt his seed on Aragorn's chest and, breathing hard, sat up again over the man's body, Elrond moved closer and whispered to him in Sindarin.
"You are an elf. You must taste this man, Elessar the King," he said.
Not bothering to glance Elrond's way, the young elf complied, backing down the long body of the king and positioning himself between the strong legs where he could see both the man's sex and his face. He bent forward, flipping his hair aside, and kissed Aragorn's manhood gently, studying it, fingering it, holding it until he was ready to take it into his mouth.
The king's eyes automatically closed with pleasure when Legolas swallowed him; he seemed to force himself to look up to watch the elf's lovemaking. To Elrond it was clear that Legolas was experimenting, discovering this delectation for the first time; but being an elf, he had a natural gift with his mouth.
After a while at this activity, Aragorn pulled Legolas to him again. "Lie here beside me," he said hoarsely. "Use your hand."
Again Legolas experimented, learning more and more about his lover as the time passed.
"Be a Horse-lord and ride me," Aragorn finally said, and now he lifted Legolas up to seat him on his rearing steed. This deed was accomplished with some care in the beginning, but later whatever discomfort Legolas may have at first felt was forgotten.
In all this time, not once did the king give up his seed, remaining thick and rigid with unflagging passion. This indeed is Isildur's heir, Elrond thought, for I remember well this boundless appetite.
Finally Aragorn shouted with completion, fingers gripping the slim hips of the elf. Legolas fell over him and they embraced, whispering to one another in Elvish.
Elrond looked over at Gandalf, whose eyes stared into some unseen place in the dark room, seemingly oblivious to the two lovers. He looked away quickly, afraid to do anything to disturb the wizard, wondering if the passionate energy from the king's bed was resonating in another realm.
"Why do you weep?" Aragorn asked in the common tongue. "Have I hurt you?"
Elrond's attention returned to that bed now.
"No. Please. Don't think it. I only weep for what I may have missed had I not come here tonight."
"What we both would have missed," Aragorn said, sighing.
"So many times you were almost lost to me," Legolas said, "but I never imagined to find you in this way."
Aragorn glanced toward Elrond, his eyes wary. "We're supposed to be portraying Isildur and Elrond, remember," he warned. "I think we've forgotten them."
"I can only see you -- Aragorn," Legolas said. "I think I will never see another face."
"My brave friend," Aragorn crooned.
Legolas leaned up on his elbow, staring into the face of the king. "When we fought before the Black Gate, I thought to see you die. The torog had you on your back -- his sword raised to strike -- and I was surrounded by Orcs and felt as though my feet were stuck in a marsh! As hard as I tried, I could not reach you!"
"And then the Ring was destroyed," Aragorn said.
Legolas breathed deeply. "It must have been then. Just when death was so near."
Aragorn took the elf into his arms, cradling him there, their cheeks touching, their hair tangled together. "Why didn't you come to me that night?" he asked. "Why did you wait?"
Legolas pulled back. "I felt only joy that you had been saved. It was enough."
"It was not enough!" Aragorn said. "It has never been. We can thank Lord Elrond and Gandalf for making this plain."
They kissed again, and Elrond found himself leaning even closer to the bed, caught up in their newfound ardor and devotion.
Gandalf pulled him back. "I have done all I can," he announced. "It is now or never."
"But he is not here," Elrond protested. "It did not work!"
Gandalf shook his shaggy head. "No. He will not come here. But he must be close by."
Gandalf sagged against his staff, his vibrant face suddenly weary. He nodded at Elrond. "Go, my friend," he ordered. "Hurry."
Reaching for his long cloak, Elrond rushed from the bedchamber of the king. He ignored the yawning guards as he rushed out of the King's House to the plaza beyond, pulling his hood close around his ears. Before he reached the tunnel to the sixth level, he noted the slightly lighter hue of the sky. Morning was approaching.
He sped through the tunnel and then headed west on the wide cobblestone street that led past the stables and the Houses of Healing. Finally he made his way through the Closed Door and down the long stairs that led to the Hallows.
Within ten minutes of leaving the king's room, he was standing before the large, carved door that led to the House of the Kings. He was breathing harder than usual -- from anticipation as much as exertion -- and he paused to quiet his lungs and calm his thoughts before entering. What would he find at the tomb of Isildur?
The lamps had burned low inside the chamber. Even the incense seemed fainter than it had earlier that night. Elrond squinted in the darkness, trying to focus his sharp eyes toward the marble slab that held the sarcophagus of Isildur. He waited for a moment, expecting some supernatural aura to invade the area.
The vault was still and undisturbed.
Elrond approached the molded image of a resting Isildur, studying the gleaming patina of the rigid face. Nowhere in this image did he recognize the form of the man he had known and once touched. Nowhere in the chamber of the dead did he feel the spark of that man.
Isildur had not come.
Pressing his lips tightly together, Elrond turned and left the House of the Kings. He now walked slowly and deliberately past the House of the Stewards and the other domed structures of the Hallows, ignoring the echo of his heavy footsteps. His heart was heaviest of all, and he doubted he could carry its weight much longer through the world of men. He would return to Rivendell where he would live out the grim lassitude of his last days.
He slowly climbed the stairs, passed the stables, navigated the tunnel and stepped into the open air of the Citadel, the uppermost level of the city. The moon had disappeared to make room for the rising sun, and the night was at its darkest phase. Elrond's sharp eyes took in the stark grandeur of the White Tower and then swept over the empty plaza. There, standing alone in the center of the Court of the Fountain was the White Tree of Gondor, it's shape recognizable even in the gloom, a strange corona of light surrounding it.
This was the shape worn on the armor of the knights of Gondor and carried on their standards -- the tree whose progenitor was originally brought by Isildur to Middle-earth, the tree many times lost and most recently rediscovered on the slopes of Mindolluin by Aragorn.
Elrond blinked and re-focused. This offspring of the Eldest of Trees had already spent its white blossoms on the company who came to witness the coronation of the new King of the West. The remarkable light was not a reflection on the tree's silver leaves. It emanated from the tree itself.
Slowly Elrond approached the weirdly glowing tree. He dropped the hood of his cloak, and the cool night air ruffled his hair and caressed his ears. As he got close, he felt pinpricks of sensation on his face and hands, and gooseflesh rose on his neck.
What was this phenomenon?
As he stood just a few feet from the tree, Elrond witnessed the shifting of the light from a glowing halo into a cloud-like mass; finally the incandescent shape lowered and coalesced into a smaller, more recognizable form -- that of a man.
Isildur walked from the base of the tree, his swarthy face bathed in light.
Holding his breath, Elrond took two steps forward, close enough to touch the extraordinary apparition if he so chose.
"Elrond," said the glowing figure. "I have come, as you requested."
The tall elf swallowed, awed by the familiar sound of a voice he had not heard for more than 3,000 years. Was this being in front of him a wraith or a man -- or some magical composite of the two?
"Yes, Elrond, it is I. Long have I waited for your summons to return. You have kept your promise not to forget me."
Elrond looked away, an icy pang in his chest. "No, Isildur, I did not forget. That one promise I kept. But I have not kept your love in my heart. Until today, I could not forgive."
The right hand of the specter reached out and grasped Elrond's arm. This was no ghost! This was a corporeal entity with a firm grasp. Elrond could feel energy in his touch and smell wood smoke in the dark hair. The being smiled bitterly, white teeth flashing, and Elrond saw it was, indeed, Isildur.
"I was overcome by my lust for the Ring. It's power drove me with a strength I was unable to fight. I could not govern it, nor myself."
"It was not your fault," Elrond said. "The One Ring was too strong."
"Whatever the reason, standing here in this place, I long for it still. I curse the day I lost it, more than I regret my own loss of life at the Gladden Fields."
Elrond smiled sadly. "And so it is with this terrible thing. It infected far too many over the years."
"But it was finally destroyed?"
Nodding, Elrond said, "Yes, by a halfling."
"A halfling! And this creature did what I could not!"
"No," Elrond protested. "The hobbit Frodo Baggins was finally able to transport the Ring to Mount Doom, but even he hesitated when the time came. It was through madness itself that the Ring met its fate."
Isildur breathed deeply, as yet squeezing Elrond's arm. His dark eyes bore into Elrond's, his countenance still suffused with a radiant light. Confronted by his stark, manly beauty, Elrond felt himself drifting forward, both in form and spirit. For an instant he wished to take the pain from that haunted face, the beloved face that forever haunted his own memories.
"Isildur, son of Elendil, I forgive you," he said. "And I love you still."
The man moved forward to meet him, and the two embraced, embers of the old fire suddenly flaring. Their lips met, then opened, and they joined their mouths and tongues in an ardent kiss. Isildur's fingers cupped the tips of Elrond's sloping ears, and this audacious yet familiar action propelled the usually reserved elf -- reclaiming his warrior roots -- to wrap the man's thick hair in his hand and tug violently until a sound of protest vibrated against his teeth.
They came apart, both panting and then smiling.
"It was always like this with us," Isildur said. "Always good."
Elrond nodded, surprised to feel his eyes filling. Time had softened his ferocity and taught him the value of such moments -- moments that would never come again, at least in a world soon to be bereft of wizards. It was a profound thing to look on this man yet untouched by 3,000 years, after having lived the life he had, seen the things he had and learned the hard-taught lessons of so many years. How could Isildur really know him, he who now was held in esteem with the greatest elf-Lords of Middle-earth? "That circlet suits you. The years have treated you well, I see," Isildur said, as if reading his mind.
He nodded. "I have known both contentment and sorrow over the long years. I've tasted bitter defeats and known victories both great and small. My daughter will soon be the Queen of the West, joined with the man who carries both your seed and your sword."
Isildur smiled. "So this is our legacy."
"Yes, it seems so."
The air around the two began to vibrate with the coming dawn. Birdsong sounded from the mountain; the sun was creeping toward the sky.
The outline of Isildur began to fade. He pulled back from Elrond, shaking his long dark hair out of his face. "My time is up," he said. "I must go."
Elrond reached forward and stroked the beloved face, unashamed of the tears that now streaked his own cheeks. "This time I get to say goodbye," he said.
Isildur nodded. "Farewell, my brother," he said.
"Farewell, my love," Elrond answered.
As the first blush of day broke over the Mountains of Shadow, the form of Isildur glimmered and then faded slowly into a dewy fog. The shining face hovered in the vapor for an instant, the eyes the last features to disappear as the haze evaporated. Elrond reached out toward the spot reflexively, as though to assure himself the man was really gone. He felt as if he could still see those dark, expressive eyes, even when he realized the only thing standing before him now was the tall, lone shape of the White Tree.
"Have you found peace, my friend?"
Elrond turned to see Gandalf standing behind him, leaning on his long staff.
"You have given me a great gift," Elrond said. "And I thank you."
"I think we have also given a gift to our friends inside," Gandalf said, cocking his head back toward the King's House. "In serving you, they have discovered their passion for one another."
"I rejoice for them," Elrond said sincerely.
"And will your pining end?"
Elrond paused and looked down, as if listening for a long moment to his own heart. "That remains to be seen," he said finally. "I believe I will no longer be haunted by regret. And for now I have what you sought for me."