A sense of excitement hit me as I saw the chest in the far corner of the room. “Gather the carpets and pull down the window coverings to bring to the laundry,” I ordered. As my ladies began their work, I pushed spider webs out of my way and made my way towards the coffer chest.
We were in the oldest wing of the house; one of the first built for the refugees from Ost-in-Edhil when Imladris was founded. Mother and I had come to the valley seeking safety and awaiting the arrival of Father after Sauron's armies had breached the city's defenses and destroyed all.
I sighed. Thinking about those terror-stricken times was not going to calm my mind. I pushed my thoughts away from war, from Sauron, and from his orcs.
Momentary panic struck me and I clenched my hands into fists with so much force that my fingernails pierced my palms, drawing blood. I fought to keep my composure.
I knelt before the chest. It was made from dark wood and featured elaborate brass fittings. I fumbled at the buckles holding the chest lid tightly bound. I'm sure that I stained them with a splash of my blood, but finally I got them unfastened, leaving the straps loosely clustered on the floor by my knees. Opening the chest I took a deep breath. The smell of lavender arose from it, as fresh as on the day we had packed it. I removed the coiled horsehair packing material and began pulling out the contents.
The first gown was red with golden panels. I remembered the look in Elrond’s eyes when he first saw me wearing it. It was the first ball we held here in the Hidden Valley and his eyes followed me all night.
Three more dresses were packed below the red one. I pulled each one out and piled it across a nearby chair. These were the colors of the waters and leaves of my homeland; colors I had worn until the Valley and its Master had claimed me for their own.
At the very bottom of the chest was the item I had been looking for. I pulled out the large shawl and threw it around my shoulders. Standing up, I took two quick steps, almost dancing, but then quickly my bright mood disappeared again, reburied by my memories of torment.
This old shawl had been one of my favorite items. I remembered when Mother gave the bleached fabric to me. I had carefully harvested and prepared the walnut husks for the dye and it had colored into a wondrous deep brown. My hands were brown for more than a week, dyed by those same husks. I embroidered scattered bright hints of flowers over it. Mother had actually complimented me.
“Celebrían, although the colors are not my choice, you did a beautiful job on the shawl and it will serve you well for many years to come.”
Wrapping it around myself I can almost feel my mother's arms enfolding me, giving me her strength. I shake my head and walk toward the window. I know better, it is just wishful thinking.
I look out the dirt-encrusted window at the brilliant autumn leaves on the slope behind the house. I allow myself to think clearly about my health and my future. I’ve been walking at the edge of sanity for months now. Many mornings Elrond and I are surprised that I am lucid when the sun rises. No, Mother wouldn't be able to take away my pain, even if she was here.
“Repack and close that chest please, Brialla. Then make sure that this room is cleaned properly. I must see to something.”
“I’ll accompany you, my Lady.” I know she offered her company because Elrond has left orders for me to never be left alone.
“NO! No, I only want to speak with Erestor. I promise I’ll walk directly to his office from here. I have given you my orders.” I turned and walked towards the doorway leading into the hall. I could hear her discuss my orders with the others but I didn't care. If she followed me surreptitiously, I wouldn't be able to stop her. But it wasn’t important.
I left the room behind me and walked down the cramped hallway, returning to the newer segments of the sprawling building. I quickly found the door to Erestor's office and knocked on the door.
I opened the door and walked towards Erestor. The dark-haired elf was seated studying a scattering of papers strewn over the top of his dark-grained wooden desk. His quill and some parchment were to his right. A color-coded map of Imladris was pinned to the wall behind him.
“Lady Celebrían,” he said, rising from his chair to bow. “Please come in. Have a seat. Could I offer you some tea or perhaps a glass of light wine?”
“No, my friend, none of that is necessary. I need your help with something.”
I walked past him to the windows facing a view of the mountain slopes. The colorful autumn leaves painted the mountainside with splashes of gold and russet. Their warmth belied the chill in my heart.
“I will do anything within my power, Lady. How may I assist you?”
I turned towards my old friend and huddled in my shawl. A shiver ran up my spine, but I pushed it away and focused on the face in front of me. “I need your help,” I repeated.
I could see his confusion and hesitation. I forged ahead. “I am fading, my friend.”
“Look at me! Admit it to yourself. I am not getting better, I am getting worse. My body is healed, at least as healed as it will get, but my fea is injured beyond repair.”
He glanced away from me, looking towards the door. “Look at me!”
He turned back and faced me once more as I choked out words I thought I would never say. “I am fading and I fear I will not live until the spring.”
“And what can I do, Lady? How can I help where the skills of your husband, the finest healer of the past two Ages cannot?”
“You must help Elrond to see clearly, Erestor. If I do not make the journey to the Havens and sail by Mettarë, I will waste away, falling into the nightmare of my memories and rotting under the snows of winter. I will be dead by spring.”
I took a step towards him, taking his hands into mine.
“Asking Elrond to take me to the Havens, to admit that his abilities and skills could not save me from myself, is a bitter thing. But he must see the truth. The only chance I have left to silence my torment and be healed is in the West. He must let me go.”
His anguished whisper cut through my self-pity. “Is there no other way, Lady?”
I dropped his hands and turned slightly away from him. I didn’t want him to see how tightly I was holding on to my sanity.
“I cannot close my mind, Erestor. During my waking hours, I see and hear my tormentors in the back of my mind. They are never gone, but I can push them back enough to allow them to the forefront only every hour or two. But at night - “
“Your nightmares -.”
“Yes. They do not leave, my friend. They ebb and flow but always return with renewed strength. I fear being awake and I am afraid to sleep. My children have become strangers to me, and my husband is frantic, dashing himself against my blackest memories, helpless in his battle.”
Erestor walked up next to me, head bowed. His hand covered mine as I clenched the shawl tightly around myself.
“I wish I was strong like my mother, Erestor. She would be able to return from the brink. But she is sturdier than I am. I have been pushed over the cliff by circumstance and can only commit to the fall.”
“I will speak with him tonight, Lady. If he permits, I would like to accompany you on your journey to Círdan’s realm.” He shook his head with sadness. “In the long years of our friendship, Lady, never did I think I would harvest such bitter tears at the end.”
I turned to face him. “Thank you, my friend. Thank you so very much.” Turning away, I walked towards the doorway and opened it. I looked back at him once more and walked through the door. He had taken my place at the windows, looking at the autumn colors without seeing them. His head was bowed in sorrow. He looked very much like I felt.
I turned towards my room. It was time to begin packing for my final journey.