The first breath he could remember was slow, hesitant, its sound a whisper upon still waters. His body shifted in place, the gradual embrace of the warm bed beneath him a balm against the darkness. How long had it been? His first thought had arrived before he could even open his eyes. Before long he felt a gentle hand upon his own, along with the presence of another standing close by. Their light radiated like the sun before the swarming cloud of unconsciousness that gripped him. After another beat, the voice of an old friend cut through the rain of confusion.
It was Harthalin.
Eldriun clawed his way through the fog, his every sense reaching out to free himself of the prison wrought by the Witch King’s steel. Yet it was to not avail. The darkness was not so easily swayed. The other presence in the room quickly revealed itself to be Lord Elrond.
“Rest easy, my friend, you are safe from harm in Imladris.”
Eldriun could feel them, they were so close…yet their distance might as well have been a chasm. Words coalesced in his mind, swirling, hammering themselves against unseen walls. None of it mattered. His soul churned around the edge of a drain, the last words of the Witch King tearing away at his every attempt to resist. In a heartbeat the presence of his friends began to fade, his thoughts vanishing down a tunnel from which he could not escape.
How long it might have been from that moment was impossible for him to imagine. His thoughts would return here, a glimpse of the waking world would arise there. But he could never hold tight enough. Time drifted until it became a thing unknowable, a trigger of his own fragile emotions. Yet one day, seemingly without provocation or incident, the strangest of occurrences came to pass.
Eldriun finally opened his eyes.
The room was quiet, the decadent trapping of Imladris a calming influence. Warmth was a thing he had once taken for granted. But now it enveloped him like a blanket that in this moment, seemed more welcome than anything he could ever remember. With slow, cautious effort, he rose from the bed and placed his feet upon floor. At first he thought his muscles would somehow forget their purpose, yet he brought himself to his feet with relative ease. It was then, that Elrond’s voice could be heard.
“It brings me great joy to see you upon your feet once more, my friend.”
Eldriun managed a careful smile.
“Thank you, I…how long has it been? The war…did we…”
Elrond raised his arms in comfort.
“You shall have all the answers in short time, Eldriun. After you fell, we attempted to heal you upon the battle plain, but the Witch King of Angmar had dealt you a grievous injury – one unlike any dealt to our peoples before. The decision was made to return you to Imladris, far from the lands of the Enemy. You suffered in restless agony for some time as my healers worked to free you from the evils that lingered in your wound.”
Elrond’s mouth turned, his eyes casting themselves downward.
“The foul cut of Morgul-steel is unlike anything I have ever seen before. When the War was ended, I returned to aid you and then learned much of how to heal its malice. But despite my best efforts, your strength diminished greatly. It may take some time before you know again the power that once burned within you.”
Eldriun’s hand had involuntarily move to his stomach, where the blade had first pierced him. He could still feel it, the touch of death upon the blade…the deep, entwining cold that had splintered into his heart until he scarcely knew anything else. That he was standing in Imladris seemed an impossibility.
“The War was ended, you said. We won surely, or you would not be standing here.”
“We did…at great cost.”
“What about Thelaron? Did you find him?
“No. Even after Bara-dur itself was brought to ruin, he was never seen or heard from again. But you did not fall in vain. It wounded Gil-galad to lose you both in the War, and it is said that his light dimmed through all the battles that followed. Even so, he did not falter before the Enemy!”
“How was Sauron cast down?”
Lord Elrond motioned for El to follow him.
“Let us walk the room. It will do your legs some good.”
Eldriun followed into line as they began slowly. The steps were not difficult, despite the mere thought of them being so. But as it had always been, one motion flowed effortlessly into the next, and before long the process of movement became a thing that proceeded without attention. Lord Elrond continued his tale as the soft chandelier fires danced against the sides of his face.
“The Dark Lord resisted our assaults for seven years in the Dark Tower. But in the end he was cast down by Gil-gilad and Elendil. Elendil’s son, Isildur, cut the Ring from Sauron’s finger, destroying the Dark Lord and banishing him from this realm.”
“Remarkable.” It was the only thing El could think to say.
“You are one of the few that remain in this realm that can recall those days as I do, my friend.”
Eldriun moved to respond but held his tongue, waiting for the right moment.
“Indeed, Gil-gilad and Elendil defeated the Dark Lord, but they did so at the cost of their own lives. The realms of Elves and Men were thus forever changed, and the world passed into the Third Age.”
“A new age…” El’s voice trailed off before regaining its strength. “Lord Elrond, what year is it?
Elrond did not respond immediately. They walked a pace more before coming to a stop at a table covered in maps and dusty writings from days gone by.
“I do not wish to alarm you, Eldriun, but it is now the three thousand and eighteenth year of that age.”
“I’ve…been asleep for three thousand years?” The words did not seem real. Suddenly none of it did. El half expected to wake up at any moment.
“Yes. Harthalin sat by your side for some time. Though in the end her purpose drew her elsewhere. Though the bond of her friendship remained with you, I think. Even if much else has changed, Imladris is as you remember it. I hoped that would be of some comfort.”
Eldriud grappled with the right words, his soul a tempest upon the ocean of this new reality. He knew he had hear Harthalin, her voice unmistakable. Yet where had her travels taken her? What of others…friends of old and love once lost…could any of it ever be known again after so much time?
“It has been, and I’m grateful. The moment I saw the Witch King I never expected to see anything else. I just…I don’t even know where to begin now. Three thousand years.”
“Your road may spring anew. But you have borne many burdens in your time, my friend, and so I give you leave to depart to the Havens if you wish it.”
“It seems now an Age of Men, and I sense that the time of the Elves in Middle-earth draws near its end. Many have departed this ream for the Uttermost West by the ships of Cirdan, our friend of old. He is now called the Shipwright by those who know his works, and he dwells in Mithlond with the few that still remain in his service as skilled crafters. Much of the wood used by Cirdan is ferried to Mithlond by way of the port of Celondim along the Ered Luin, and it is there you must journey to reach the Havens.”
Elrond pointed to a chest in the corner of the room.
“I have gathered your belongs and a few supplies for your journey. Your armor is there as well, still marked from battle, but time has not worn it elsewise. Indeed, the passing of an age has dimmed only our light…and given rise to a shadow in the East. Concerning such matters, I have also prepared a tome of writings on the history of the Third Age thus far.”
El nodded slowly, his thoughts drifting without being able to latch on to any singular feeling at once. It was almost too much to take in during such a brief time. Brief, El thought. It has been anything but.
“In time your strength will return, and I hope my writings prove to be of some use. I recounted much of the time that passed while your wound healed, but even I cannot be aware of all that has transpired since the end of the Second Age. As for your journey, my sons shall see you to Celondim. Elladan and Elrohir are to follow an expedition to the ruins of Edhelion on my behalf.”
Lord Elrond took his arm suddenly, and whatever haze El had been trapped beneath quickly broke.
“Speak not of this to any outside their company. I had a strange premonition…and in it, admist a field of blurred visions, a voice rose saying:
“Blood-red footsteps upon snow-coloured black, where the Dour King walks to take back his throne, and finish what was begun.”
“Its meaning is not clear to me now, but I do find it troubling. Yet it is just as well that you not think too much on it. Such troubles are best left to this expedition. My sons await you by the door to the central courtyard, and when you have collected your things and are ready to depart, they shall guide you to Celondim. Ere your path from the Ered Luin is yours alone.
Eldriun wanted to say so much more. His emotions were wound tighter than a snare. Yet before it all he could only manage an expression of gratitude. His eyes wandered for a moment before focusing. He leaned forward and took Elrond’s hand.
“Thank you again, Lord Elrond…for my life.”
“May your journey be swift and free of hardship, my friend. Namárië.”