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Comfort

Chapter 1: Comfort

by Aearwen2

Her dreams that night had taken her to a place unlike anything that Emma had ever seen; and yet it felt ever so slightly familiar, as if she had visited something similar to it before.

She could hear the sound of running water, and not the kind of domesticated trickling that one might hear from a fountain. This sounded natural - wild. She gazed about herself in the half-light and followed the sound to a slope that ended at the edge of a swift-moving stream. She followed the stream bed with her eyes and blinked at the sight of the waterfall – steep and tall – less than a hundred yards away.

Turning back the way she came, Emma noted the subtle evidence that she was in a garden, and not somewhere out in a wilderness. A mixed variety of unfamiliar flowers was strewn here and there in beds at the base of some trees, lending a sweet fragrance to the soft air. The green grass was thick and luxuriant against her bare feet, but long enough to demonstrate that no machine kept it trimmed. The soaring trees around her were huge and very old, with boughs that were nearly as big around as she was, but of a sort that she didn't recognize. And one of those trees had, at its base, a bench of stone, carved into the shapes of leaves and branches.

Emma sighed. Why did it have to be that she could find such a beautiful place only in her dreams? Why couldn't she have found a place like this for real even just a month ago – when having it to visit would have made staying near her father as he slowly succumbed to cancer just a touch more bearable? Slowly she sank down onto the bench, working hard not to give in to the temptation to dissolve into tears. She'd done little else for days now; even Randy, her brother, was starting to grow tired of her moodiness.

But then, she had always been closer to her father than he was. She was the one who loved to help her dad work with the artifacts in the museum, to help with the cataloging and storage of the fragile bits of history that were her parents' life work, whose interest in her parents' work had led her into the same field of research. Randy, on the other hand, was the athlete, the one playing football and tennis in high school and college, and staying home with school friends during the summers to attend his practices while she accompanied her parents to another excavation site.

No longer. Randy worked for the electrical company now, installing, maintaining and repairing power lines. Several years ago, her parents had retired from actively going out on expeditions of discovery; then her mother had died of a heart attack, suddenly and very unexpectedly. And now this.

Emma rubbed her fingers along the lines of carving on the stone bench and gazed around her. It was peaceful here, beyond anything she'd ever experienced. It amazed her that she could be aware that she was dreaming, and yet still feel the soft touch of breeze on her cheek, smell the fragrant flowers, hear the birds calling to each other from high above, and marvel at the skill of the artist who had created the masterpiece that she was sitting on. It was artistry and nature and utilitarianism all rolled into a harmonious whole that soothed the soul as well as the mind.

And despite never having seen anything like this before, the sense of déjà vu wouldn't leave her. She had felt something similar to this at some other time in her life – but when? She leaned back against the smooth bark of the venerable tree behind her and sifted through her memories of the many places she had visited, both as a child and as an adult following in her parents' footsteps. Where had it been?

Long moments of reflection and memory passed; and while she was no closer to figuring out her internal puzzle, the memories themselves had been good ones and had raised her spirits enough that Emma got to her feet once more. Without choosing a path, she wandered through what was now showing itself to be a cleverly designed garden; there were subtle hints that the abandon that surrounded her was a planned one. The mixture of flowers was too random to be completely natural.

But it was the statue that finally brought forth the memory she'd been seeking. Tall, slender, with carved hair and draperies that looked as if the next breeze would lift them, the stone woman stood in the shelter of a vine-covered gazebo with hands outstretched in either welcome or comfort. Emma stopped short and stared hard, unable to believe her eyes.

Yes, she remembered now. That had been the summer they had spent in the strange buildings at the bottom of a very isolated ravine, investigating a place that seemed completely out of place. In the middle of one of the gardens – gardens she now remembered which were sometimes in the middle of the building – had been a statue much like this one. She and Randy had made many afternoons fly playing at the feet of that stone woman with no face. The arms and hands had been portrayed close to the body, but what was left of the depiction of the clothing was just as graceful.

This statue had a face, with an ethereal beauty to it that was striking. Emma stroked the cold stone cheek and wondered if that faceless statue she'd seen so long ago had once had a countenance like this one. She even bent to check the pedestal at the base of the statue; and lo and behold, this one too had a very small knob that, when pulled, opened a drawer. This drawer, however, held the tools of a gardener: a hand rake, a small trowel for digging in the soil, a knife that looked quite sharp.

"Excuse me? May I help you?"

The male voice was deep and rich, and more musical than normal, yet sounded concerned and a little alarmed. Still, Emma hadn't been expecting interruption, so she flinched hard and spun on her toes in her crouch to see the one who had addressed her – and was so surprised at what she saw that she fell backwards to sit on the soft grass at the foot of the statue. She didn't know whether she should be frightened or delighted at seeing, for the first time since that long ago summer in the strange ruins, a very familiar face. "You!" she breathed.

Expressive eyebrows rose. "I beg your pardon?" He was very tall, just as she remembered, and his hair was like a curtain of waist-length black silk, trained away from his face in elaborate braids tipped by golden beads. His robes, draped in the manner of those worn by the statue he stood next to, shifted with his every movement, and looked to be made of a rich sapphire-blue brocade.

"You probably don't remember me – it was such a long time ago – but I met you once, in what used to be a garden like this…" A whispered word slipped through his lips as his face blanched suddenly, and he swayed as if hit. "Um… Are you all right?"

"You were much younger then," he said softly, in a tone that clearly communicated his surprise and wonder. "However, I can see signs of the child that was. Yes, I remember you as well, but…" His face folded into a frown of confusion. "What are you doing here? You belong in Ennor…"

Emma blinked. "I belong where?" She looked around at the garden. "Just where is this place?"

And now it was the tall man's turn to blink. "This is Barvedui, my home. Where we met the first time was once known as Imladris, which was also my home, only long ago."

"Barve… huh? Im-what? What language is that?"

"Sindarin, of course, which you speak very well, by the way…"

Again Emma blinked. "I'm not speaking whatever you just said, you're speaking very clearly in English!"

The man's mouth fell slack for a moment. "This time I know that I am not dreaming..."

"And I know that I am," Emma added quietly. "I was just wishing that such a place as this existed for real, and not just in dreams." She pushed herself up off the ground and up on her feet, brushing the seat of her pants out of habit. "So… When I saw you back… back in…"

"Imladris."

"Yeah. Back there… you were really asleep here?"

He nodded. "In my bed chamber, yes."

"Did you know that you were asleep at the time? That you were dreaming?" He nodded, and Emma frowned. "This is very strange. Are you… real?"

"Very real, my dear. But perhaps we should finally introduce ourselves, should we not? I am Elrond, son of Eärendil." His hand landed on his chest over his heart, and he bowed very gracefully.

She nodded at him. "I'm Emma – Emma Telcontar." She held out her hand.

The man – Elrond – began to smile. "Telcontar," he repeated, and put out his hand to her – only to have his hand flow through hers as if she weren't there. He jerked in surprise and stared at her. "What…"

Emma flinched back as well at the slight wave of cold that had penetrated her hand and then left it. She looked back and forth between her hand and Elrond's face in shock and dismay, then shook her head as the only possible explanation was a rather outlandish one. Thank heavens Randy wasn't here! He already told her she watched too many science fiction and fantasy shows and movies; she'd never hear the end of it if he heard her thoughts now! "Figures," she said ruefully, nonetheless.

"I beg your pardon? You understand what just happened?"

"I'm asleep, remember? Even if you are real, I'm not really with you. I'm back in my parents' house, asleep." She smiled softly in remembrance. "Here and I always thought you were a ghost – I guess this time it's my turn to haunt."

"Haunt? Ghost? I'm afraid I don't understand these words."

Maybe there really was a language barrier; those weren't uncommon words. "A ghost, as in the spirit of a person who is dead. When a ghost walks about, it's called 'haunting.'"

"No, I am definitely not dead," Elrond shook his head and carefully withdrew his hand. "And neither are you, for that matter, if you say you are asleep in your own world."

Emma tucked her hands behind her to resist the temptation to reach out and try to touch him again. "What I can't understand is how or why you and I keep running into each other." She gestured around her. "It's rather obvious that we live in very different worlds."

"Now that, I think, I may have somewhat of an answer for," Elrond replied, and then held out his hand in a universal gesture of a guide. "But allow me to show you into the house, where we can be more comfortable in our talk."

"And this is your garden," Emma said, her head twisting from side to side as she walked, in an effort to see everything.

"It is. My lady-wife knew that I would want such a place, and she planned it carefully so as to remind me of my home in Imladris when I finally arrived." His face grew thoughtful. "There are times that I sit on a bench not far from the waterfall and close my eyes, and I can almost imagine myself back there."

"I would love to have seen that place when it wasn't falling apart," she replied. "Even as a child, I could tell it must have been beautiful. Oh!" She stopped short and gaped at the building that had come into view. "Then again, this is…"

"It is very like, in many ways," Elrond smiled, and she was amazed that he seemed to be so in tune with her thoughts. "Which is not surprising; the same people who built my Last Homely House were involved in building Barvedui. Celebrían made certain of that."

Emma slowly turned to stare at him. "My father had those toys – the ones in the pedestal of the statue – dated. They were thousands of years old, older even than Egyptian artifacts in our museum!"

To her immense surprise, Elrond nodded very calmly. "I am certain they are, as I left Imladris behind a very long time ago and, when we met the first time, Imladris looked to be nearly reclaimed by the wilderness."

She frowned in confusion. "My father said that with the quality of the construction, it would take hundreds if not thousands of years for that place to become the ruin we saw."

"Yes," he nodded again, unperturbed, "I would imagine so as well."

"Then you are a ghost! Or a figment of my imagination… or…" Emma hummed her confusion. "This is wrongi!"

He pulled open a fragile glass door and escorted her into a room that looked as if an executive from a world long since vanished worked there. A massive desk, covered in what looked to be parchment and fine quills protruding from squat, black bottles of what must have been ink, sat before the wall of windows that looked out into the garden they had just left behind. Sconces on the wall bore candles that lit the room with a warm glow. A small but friendly fire burned in a huge hearth, and several very comfortable-looking chairs were arranged casually before it.

Two of the walls of the room were covered, from floor to soaring ceiling, with shelving that was filled with rolled scrolls and leather-bound volumes. On the wall over the hearth hung a massive sword, its blade engraved with writing that Emma thought might be runes, but was unable to decipher. Elrond led her to one of the comfortable chairs, and then indicated that she should sit.

"No, my dear. I assure you that I am neither one of these ghosts you mentioned nor a figment of your imagination; and that all is indeed as it should be." He seated himself nearby and arranged his robes for a moment. "I suspected the connection between us when I saw your father the first time we met." Elrond lifted his gaze. "And your lineage name – Telcontar – merely confirms my suspicions. We are related by blood."

"You're kidding me!"

He shook his head. "I give you my word, I jest not. The Telcontar line was established by my foster-son, who wed my daughter. When my sons came West, they told me of the lineage name Estel had chosen for himself. I am, therefore, a very distant relative of yours."

"A… relative?"

"Your grandfather, to be more precise, with quite a number of great-great's as prefix."

Emma studied his face defiantly. "You don't look ancient enough to have earned those prefixes," she challenged.

"I know," he nodded and relaxed into the cushions of the chair, "but looks can be deceiving. My people do not age, nor die of anything other than injury or melancholy."

"Impossible!"

"In your world as it is now, yes, it is impossible. But when the world was much younger, it held much that has since vanished – myself and my people included." He steepled his fingers in what looked like the habitual gesture of someone accustomed to instructing others. "What confuses me, however, is why your spirit – your 'ghost', if you will – has sought me out. When I visited Imladris in my dreams, I discovered the purpose was to show me that my progeny, my family, continued to prosper in your world. Your father looked very much like my daughter, and my foster-son. At a time when I had begun to wonder if any of my kin survived there, I was given that dream by the One. My question to you now is: what has happened in your world that your 'ghost' would have sought me out in your dreams and gone to the extent of searching for me here, where you have never been before?"

"If that's what I did, I didn't mean to," Emma answered softly, disciplining her eyes to stay focused on her fingers as they traced the carving at the very ends of the arm of her chair. "And as to what happened in my world, my father died just a week ago, and I…"

"Ah." The deep, musical voice sounded enlightened. "Perhaps without knowing it, you were seeking the comfort of family, no matter how removed from you. Have you none left in your world to help you?"

She shook her head, and then thought better of it. "Well, I still have Randy, my little brother – you remember him?" Elrond nodded. "But he thinks I'm being too emotional about everything."

"You were close to your father?"

"Yes." Tears she'd thought she'd controlled threatened anew.

"And your mother, she too has stepped beyond the circles of the world?"

Emma blinked through her sadness. "Say what?

"Your mother has perished too?"

Come to think of it, she liked the way he'd phrased it before. "Yes, not quite a year ago."

"And you have no other kin?"

She shook her head. "I'm the last, except for Randy."

"I see." Elrond frowned and steepled his fingers beneath his nose again for a long moment, and then rose. "I have something to show you, then, which may bring you some comfort." He wagged a finger at her and then headed for his desk. "While this side of your family is very far removed from you indeed, we do still exist. All I need to do is find…" She watched him rifle through the papers and parchments on his desk. "I never let it get far from me, so it should be here somewhe… Ah!" He lifted a slender, leather-bound volume into the air triumphantly and brought it back with him. "Can you touch this?" he asked more carefully, holding it out to her.

Emma tried, but once more her hand passed through without anything but a slight sensation of chill to give evidence to its passage. "I'm sorry," she said, meaning it.

"No matter. I will hold it for you. This is a gift more for your eyes and heart than for your hands anyway." Elrond opened the cover and turned the page to her, and she found herself looking down into a face that looked very much like that of her father.

"Who is that?" she asked, reaching out and wishing she could touch the page even more.

"This was Estel, my foster-son, as he appeared not long before he left on his Quest. I take it you can see the resemblance…"

"He looks so much like my father!"

"And now you understand how I knew, when I saw your father, that I had been sent in my dream to know that my family continued, even on the other side of the Sundering Sea." He glanced at her, and she knew the confusion in her eyes was understood. "Do not worry about it. Suffice to say that there is no way for either of us to travel to visit the other, except in dreams." He flipped the page. "And this was my daughter Arwen. These were your grandparents, with one less set of great-great's than apply to me."

Emma's mouth dropped a bit as she was again struck by the resemblance, even in a face that was unfamiliar. "I remember my Granny – my father's mother – and, except that her hair was silver and not dark, that could be her." She gazed long at the drawing. "She's beautiful."

"Thank you." Elrond glanced at the drawing and nodded. "I would think that there would be times when the line would breed true. Now, for those on this side of the sea, so that you might know..." Again he flipped the page. "These are my sons, Elladan and Elrohir. They are here, in this land, with me. They each have wives, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren."

The two gazing back at her had their father's long, dark hair, as well as his chin. "They look alike."

"They are twins. Not many outside family can tell one from the other." He grinned. "They used that to great advantage when they were much younger."

Emma grinned back, finding this trip through an obviously hand-drawn family album of people she'd never imagined belonged to her more interesting – and a comfort – than she'd thought it would be. "So they were troublemakers?"

"Still are, for that matter, much to their lady-wives' and children's dismay."

Emma tipped her head. "Do they live here, with you?"

"No," Elrond replied with a shake of the head. "Elrohir lives several days journey by sea from here, at a seaport called Caladeden. Elladan and his family live south of there and inland, at the foot of Hyarmentir. A very tall and famous mountain in these parts," he added in answer to yet another look of confusion.

"Do you see them often?"

He smiled gently. "We all travel to visit once every few years or so, which is often for us."

She sighed. "I wish I could come and visit this place every few years or so. Now that I've found you…"

"Little daughter, that would be my wish as well," Elrond replied, his voice soft and gentle. "I would not have you feel alone in the world, when a good part of your family flourishes and prospers just beyond your reach."

Emma gazed at him, working hard to memorize the way the expressions would float across his face, the kindness in those intense grey eyes, the intricate way in which his hair was braided and knotted. "I probably won't see you again, will I."

"We cannot know that," he said slowly. "Certainly I never expected to encounter, grown, the child I had last seen in a dream. Whatever has brought our spirits close evidently doesn't fall away easily. We might find ourselves speaking again someday…"

"But it might not be for another very long time – if ever."

He nodded reluctantly. "That, too, is possible." He closed the book of drawings and laid it aside. "But as to the reason for this visit…" He gazed at her expectantly.

"I do feel a little better," she admitted after thinking about it for a bit, "a little less alone in the world."

The smile that lit his face reminded Emma of the sun coming out from behind dark clouds; it warmed and refreshed and strengthened. "Then your visit was a successful one. That is well."

It began as a subtle itch, and then spread through her body. "Grandfather!" she called out in alarm, reaching for him instinctively.

"Farewell, little daughter. Remember, you are not alone." His words faded until they sounded very far away.

oOoOo

"Do we have a visitor?" Celebrían's voice carried from his office door.

Elrond studied the chair next to him, which now sat empty. "Not any longer," he said sadly. "But, for a short time, I did indeed have a most extraordinary visitor." He looked up at her as she crossed the room to stand beside him. "I have met and spoken with our many, many times over great-great granddaughter, who even now is awaking in her bed in Ennor."

Celebrían's eyes opened wide. "In Ennor?" she repeated.

He nodded. "And it is not the first time we have met." He rose and took his wife's hand. "Do you remember my telling you, back when Urovor was just born, that I had dreamed I was in Imladris again – only it was in ruins?"

"And you said you saw that young man that looked like your Estel?"

"Exactly! But before I saw him, there was this child – dark curls just like Estel's – and I showed her where we kept the garden tools in the foot of the statue, remember? Only I had taken the tools out and put some toys in there for Estel when he was tiny: a carved horse and six men and a ball to knock them over with." Elrond smiled at the memory. "She is all grown up now, a very lovely young lady."

"She saw you, in Imladris?" Celebrían's shock only grew at his nod. "And now, she came… here…"

"She dreamed herself here. Her father, the one who looked so much like Estel and Arwen, has just stepped past the circles of the world, and she was feeling very alone." He tugged gently on his wife's hand and pulled her into his arms. "I have no idea how or why, but I think Eru – or perhaps one of the Belain – decided to let our faer touch again so that I could show her that she was not entirely alone. The strange thing is, we understood each other, even though each of us was speaking in our own language."

Celebrían sighed and leaned into him. "I almost wish I had come sooner. I would like to have seen this distant daughter."

"I wish you had too," he murmured and buried his nose in her hair. "I wish you had too."

oOoOo

"Em?"

"Out here." She tipped her head and studied the portrait in front of her. Yes, that looked right. It was good to know her artistic skills were still in good working order.

Randy crossed the back yard to where she had her easel set up and gave her cheek a peck, then stopped and stared at the canvas. "Nice painting. Who is it?"

Emma smiled. "Someone I've met a couple of times."

"Looks familiar," he said, narrowing his eyes. "I've seen that face before."

She didn't respond, but touched her brush to the palette and added a slight gleam to the gold of the bead that held that wonderful, intricate braid.

"Did you see the realtor?"

Emma smiled to herself. That, of course, was Randy's real reason for coming by – besides picking her up for dinner out with his wife and daughters, as they'd arranged earlier in the day. "Yes. The signs go up tomorrow. Once my place sells, I'll give you your full share of the price of Mom and Dad's house. That was our agreement."

Randy shook his head and then rubbed his beard. "I still think you're being unreasonable. This house is far too big for you by yourself."

"I know." The brush touched the other gold bead, and it began to gleam too. "But I feel most at home here. That condominium was nice…"

"Nice!" Randy gaped. "You bought that place for a steal when prices were low, and you're going to be making beaucoup bucks on it, even in this poor economy!"

Leave it to him to miss the sentiment and only pay attention to the dollar signs. "Yeah. But this is my home." She gazed about the back yard, and wondered about maybe putting in some flowers – and maybe a bench near the old elm tree. It wouldn't take much effort to make it resemble just a little bit more another, distant, garden.

"As long as everything works out, all I can say is that I still think you're nuts, Big Sister. But I love you anyway." He put a heavy hand on her shoulder. "We still on for supper? I have Katie and the girls waiting in the car…"

Emma nodded. "Let me move this stuff into the house, and I'll be ready."

"I'll help…"

"You carry the paint box and palette," she directed. "I'll take care of El… I'll take care of my friend here."

Randy followed her instructions and placed the paint box, with the palette of colors, just inside the door of the sunroom. "I'll wait for you in the car," he said, watching her set up the easel for a little while, and then stalked away.

"I'll be there in a bit," Emma called out, and then smiled at the face that gazed back at her from the canvas. "See you in a little while, Grandfather," she said, and then covered the painting with a cloth to protect it until it was completely dry. She'd already decided to hang the portrait in her office, and had purchased a frame to fit the canvas days ago.

Randy would scoff, no doubt; although perhaps one day she'd remind him where he'd seen that face before. But as for her, she knew seeing the face of distant family would be a comfort.

And maybe, someday, she'd see him again. She hoped so.


FIN