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Ripe for Change
Galadriel sat in the soft air that swelled the fine white cloth by the balcony doors and enjoyed the fragrance of honeysuckle that sweetened the air as she carefully placed her stitches in her embroidery. The light caught her hair, brightening the subtle gold and making it gleam. She looked patient and virtuous, Celeborn thought, like a radiant queen captured in paint as she waited for her lord, and imprisoned in some gallery for her descendants to admire.
‘How is it,’ he asked, ‘that you can sit and stitch when there is so much you could be doing that is more interesting?’
She looked up and the illusion shattered as she captured him again with her smile. ‘Sewing enables me to look industrious while I scheme,’ she said.
‘What are you plotting?’ he enquired, responding with his own smile.
‘I was thinking that we need to increase the stores of flour,’ she said, eyes twinkling, ‘our supplies are dropping more quickly than we planned since the household has grown. I was wondering about setting up more hives – Celebrían and I were discussing where they should be sited. I think that they would settle in well where the meadow meets the orchard – there is plenty of blossom and it covers a long flowering season. And I was considering whether we should plant a grove of walnut trees – and perhaps some almonds. I believe the conditions would be suitable here.’ She set her needle in the fabric and stood, sliding her arms under his robe and looping them round his waist. ‘We will be losing Salabien soon – she is going home to her family for a while before she weds – and she will be difficult to replace in the household. It is not everyone who can deal with Almir.’
‘No more detail – please!’ Celeborn groaned, dropping his head to rest his forehead against hers.
‘You do not wish to know about the problems we are finding with the vintner?’ Galadriel asked, ‘or the shortage of yarn?’ She ran her hands over his back appreciatively.
Her husband sighed deeply. ‘I suppose that much of what you do is unchanged,’ he remarked disconsolately.
‘It is a matter of scale,’ she replied, looking searchingly into his face. ‘But there is always work to be done to keep a household running smoothly.’ She drew out a hand to touch her fingers gently to his cheek. ‘You are feeling better,’ she said softly, ‘and are beginning to feel a lack of purpose.’
‘I am,’ he admitted. He gave a wry smile. ‘Elrond has no real need of my assistance,’ he said. ‘He has been running things here very competently – my activities are just make-work.’
‘Mine, too,’ Galadriel confessed. ‘Our daughter and son-in-law decided to provide me with my own house simply to ensure that I had tasks to occupy me. They felt it was not good for me to spend all my time waiting for your arrival.’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘And I suspect that my presence was like a storm cloud looming over their reunion. But Celebrían, like Elrond, is more than capable of managing her own household without my interference – and she would probably,’ she added dispassionately, ‘much prefer to do so in my absence.’ Their eyes met almost hesitantly as each acknowledged that they were free, for the first time in many years, to choose the path they would follow. ‘So what shall we do now?’ she asked him.
Celeborn stilled, shielding his yearning for space and trees, away from the ordered antiquity of the gracious buildings.
‘Shall we run away?’ Galadriel asked, her voice soft and seductive. ‘Away from kings and courts? Away from paved streets and stone walls? There are places where there are sturdy oaks and elegant beeches, lithe birches and supple willows; where the water runs clear and cold and the only voices to be heard are those of the trees.’
He drew a breath that spoke of his yearning to escape. ‘But this is your home,’ he pointed out.
‘It will be here when we wish to come back,’ she told him.
‘They, too, are not going anywhere.’
‘Will probably be relieved to spend some time alone with her husband and sons.’ His wife leaned back to study his face. ‘We will not go if you do not wish it,’ she said tentatively. ‘I thought you might need to spend time in the forest.’
‘I do not want to take you away from the place where you are happy,’ he admitted. ‘I have kept you waiting long enough – why should I assume that I then have the right to drag you from your home to a shelter deep in the woods, away from all you desired through those last years in Lothlorien.’
‘If we both persist in being tactful and tolerant,’ she told him, ‘we will end up sitting here indefinitely, wishing to be elsewhere.’
Celeborn met her eyes ruefully, allowing a smile to spread across his face. ‘You know me well,’ he told her. ‘But, in the long run, I think I need work more than I need space.’
‘In the long run,’ she agreed, ‘we will find it. But first, I think, you need to learn to hear this land – to let it seep into your bones.’ She allowed a finger to trace his jaw and follow his ear up to its tip. ‘And that will not happen if we remain here.’
He shivered slightly at her touch and his gaze deepened in intensity. ‘It is a long time since my lady has run wild in the forest,’ he murmured. ‘Are you sure that you are prepared for the hardships of travel?’
She batted her eyelashes exaggeratedly. ‘Do you mean, my lord, that we will journey without several dozen escorts and a trail of pack horses?’
‘You,’ he said, bending his head to press a delicate kiss on her lips, ‘me, and two horses.’
‘Make it three,’ she recommended, returning his caress. ‘We will be able to carry more supplies.’
‘We will not need them,’ her husband said with certainty. ‘We will dance beneath the stars, seek the food the forest offers us and abandon all formality.’ His smile widened. ‘It will be like Neldoreth.’ He was delighted to see that Galadriel still flushed at the reminder of their earliest foray into the private glades of Doriath’s beech forest on the banks of the Esgalduin.
‘You are evil,’ she informed him. ‘You have not improved one iota over all these centuries. It will not be the same at all – I do not have to concern myself with what my brothers will think, and you will not be worrying about Elu’s reaction.’
‘And there is no Lúthien here to take delight in catching us,’ Celeborn sighed, and then grinned. ‘Or to torment us with suggestions that she might reveal our secret.’
Galadriel laughed. ‘She tormented you, my love,’ she confessed. ‘She told me at once that I could trust her – but said that she could not resist teasing you. It was very funny to watch.’
‘You conspired with my cousin to keep me in dread of Elu’s wrath!’ Celeborn raised a eyebrow and stared at his wife. ‘I shall be forced to make you pay a penalty for that,’ he said firmly. He tightened his arms round her. ‘I shall take my time,’ he mused, ‘and you will wait in nervous anticipation.’ He smiled. ‘My vengeance, when it comes,’ he threatened, ‘will be complete.’
‘I am in terror, my lord,’ Galadriel remarked tranquilly. He looked better already, she thought. Even the thought of planning their escape from this ordered civility had improved his mood. ‘When shall we depart on our travels?’
‘Soon, my lady,’ her answered her. ‘Soon.’
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ Celebrían asked doubtfully, as her naneth discarded yet more of a pile of goods. ‘If you must go off with Adar, do you not think it would, at least, be a good idea to take a couple of guards with you?’
‘Where,’ Galadriel enquired with amusement, ‘would be the fun in that? We are not planning a formal visit or exploring previously unknown lands. It is a simple expedition into the forests in the foothills of the mountains. Your adar and I are both fully experienced in such journeys – and, whether you believe it or not, we are quite capable of looking after ourselves.’
Her daughter glanced at her adar with exasperation.
‘It is not that Celebrían doubts that I will be fine,’ he remarked smugly. ‘She knows I am a capable warrior. She just finds it hard to believe that the Lady of the Golden Wood will be able to endure time spent without fine gowns, and jewels, and scented baths, and elves to cook for her and run round behind her. Is that not so, daughter?’
Celebrían drew a patient breath. Her parents seemed to have become light-headed in recent weeks, as if the joy of their reunion had spilt over into their attitude to life. ‘It is a very long time, Naneth,’ she said carefully, ‘since you spent weeks living a simple life in the forest. I am not sure you will find it to be what you seek.’
‘Then we will return, Celebrían,’ her naneth told her. She smiled at the slight silver-haired elf. ‘This is no quest, my dear one – nothing drives us to continue if we are not enjoying the journey. We will be elves spending time in the forest. We will be well.’
‘At least let us know where you will be going,’ her daughter requested. ‘I do not like to think that something might happen to you.’
‘Celebrían!’ Galadriel sat down and looked at her. ‘You will know if we encounter difficulties. I can still speak to Elrond over the distances we are likely to travel, even without Nenya and Vilya.’ She stretched out her hand and clasped her daughter’s hand. ‘Enjoy the time you can spend with Elrond and the twins – and let us have some time alone.’
In obedience to subtle signals shot at him by wife and daughter, Celeborn rose and wandered out, hiding his amusement to avoid offending both. He joined Elrond on the wide balcony beyond Galadriel’s sitting room.
‘Are you sure about this?’ his son-in-law asked.
‘Are you intending to start as well?’ Celeborn returned mildly.
Celeborn pictured the gracious white-clad lady, her hair cascading in a sunlit waterfall and her pale hands frail-looking. ‘I know what you mean,’ he agreed. ‘But do not underestimate her – you have not seen her in different times. Not all her strength is in her mind. She will be fine – although I had better hope we do not have extended periods of rain. She gets – fractious, shall I say – if there is too much water and mud.’ A reminiscent smile spread across his face. ‘It is most amusing,’ he added. ‘She is as fastidious as a cat and she picks her way through disdainfully, as if the ground is behaving badly on purpose to spite her.’ He turned to look through the fluttering curtains. ‘I hope the discussion does not get too heated,’ he remarked. ‘They are both as determined as each other – and I do not like to think who would be most hurt if it comes to a battle of wills.’
In the privacy of her chamber, Galadriel decided that there were disadvantages to having adult children. There was a time, she thought, when she would simply have put her foot down and made her daughter surrender her position without a battle, but Celebrían had long wielded her own authority – and she would not be deterred from saying what she thought was necessary.
‘Celebrían,’ she said finally, forestalling her daughter’s words and explaining her reasons simply, ‘when Elrond arrived in these lands he was weary, worn down and heartsore. You provided him with all he needed – and in your presence his wounds began to heal. When he needed more, there were the libraries, the healers – the details of establishing himself here as an heir of the Noldor and the descendant of Elwë. He had parents to meet, grandparents – your Adar has none of that. In his heart he hoped that Elu would be here to greet him: hoped it and feared it, too. But it was not so. He is a stranger,’ she added softly, ‘a stranger in a strange land. He needs to let the land into his being – only then will he begin to feel at home. He needs silence, save for tree-song and the sounds of the wild; he needs space. He needs time to allow a connection to this land to grow within him – and he cannot do that here, or surrounded by those who are looking to him for instruction.’
‘But. . .’ her daughter objected.
‘And he needs me beside him,’ Galadriel stated firmly, ‘just as Elrond needed you. He needs solitude – but not loneliness. That would only isolate him further. He needs to laugh. He needs to be able to,’ she hesitated, ‘indulge his inclinations for a time, without feeling that he must subdue his wishes for the good of all.’
‘You will not enjoy it,’ Celebrían warned.
‘Then I will endure it,’ Galadriel shrugged. ‘But it is not so – it will take me some time to accustom myself, but there are pleasures to be had in a simple life in the forest.’
Her daughter sighed, accepting that, although she still did not approve fully of this expedition, she had no hope of changing her parents’ minds. ‘How long will you be gone?’ she asked with resignation.
‘As long as we need, my daughter,’ Galadriel replied, her eyes twinkling. ‘And as long as we want.’
The trees towered above them. Wide trunks of silver-grey, bark smooth and gleaming in the angled light, stretched up to arching branches tipped with opening buds of fresh green. Beneath them, the leaf litter of last year’s fall was crisp beneath their horses’ hooves and each step released the fresh earthy scent of deciduous forest. The wood hummed with delight, she thought. Life surged through each tree, carrying the energy of the healthy land to each twig and bud. Discarded brush and leaves were busy with the business of decomposition, each returning their gifts to be shared with the earth and the other creatures of the forest.
She had begun to feel small, as the forest reminded her that elves were only part of creation – and not necessarily Eru’s greatest work. It was easy to forget, she admitted, when dwelling among the Noldor, that each wonder produced in workroom or forge had a counterpart of even greater remark that owed nothing to the skill of the elves. It was one of the things she had loved in Lothlorien – one of the things she had wished to preserve, as all around them had darkened and withered under the malice of Sauron.
‘Let us look for a suitable place to rest,’ Celeborn suggested, his eyes slightly unfocused as he strove to absorb the power of the song that surrounded him.
‘I can hear water,’ she replied.
‘We will head in that direction then,’ her husband agreed. ‘I am sure the horses will be able to find grass enough nearby.’
He seemed more relaxed already, she thought. That edge of tension that had made his composure brittle was disappearing. From the moment they had left the ordered fields and orchards and entered the forest he had breathed more deeply, as if he felt he was no longer sharing the air around him with uncounted others. Why, she asked herself with relieved exasperation, she had had to decide to love and share her life with a Sinda, to whom trees were quendi, she did not know, but – and her eyes softened as she watched him – she would not now choose to have him any other way. He had changed her, she knew, this silver blade of an elf. His patience had worn at her restlessness, his straightforwardness had confounded her guile, his obstinacy had taught her to bend – on occasion – and his enduring love had made it possible for her to bear burdens that could have broken her.
The spring bubbled out of a wall of moss-clad rock, falling through a series of small pools to join a clear stream where a cluster of sweet violets scented the air. ‘Oh, beautiful,’ Galadriel murmured, glancing round the glade.
Celeborn dismounted. ‘Come, my lady,’ he commanded. ‘We will remain here a while.’
‘Although not, I think, too long,’ she remarked, ‘not if we want to eat – there does not appear to be much available. Unless you are a horse, of course.’
‘I think my lady has become too spoilt,’ Celeborn teased. ‘Too accustomed to the elaborate preparations of her cooks.’ He dealt swiftly with his mount and then released it, requesting it to remain close enough to respond to his call. He took his bow in his hand. ‘I will see if I can find a delicacy to tempt my lady’s appetite.’
Galadriel scratched behind her horse’s ears as he nudged her and looked at her with soulful brown eyes. ‘I have no carrots,’ she told him, ‘and you can help yourself to the grass. Go now,’ she said, ‘but not too far.’ With a final pat, she sent him to join his friend.
Wrinkling her nose, she rubbed her hands on the seat of her breeches. There was no doubt about it – horses definitely smelt very – well, horsy. And, just as it had taken her behind some time to adjust to hours in the saddle, it was taking her nose even longer to adapt to smelling constantly of horse, damp wool, leather, and wood smoke. It seemed odd, too, to be armed again after all this time, she admitted, touching the long knife at her side and aware of the blade in her boot. She had not been able to bring herself to wear her sword, but neither had she felt she could ride into the wild, even in the woods of the Blessed Realm, with nothing sharper than her tongue to keep her safe. She sighed. She had best collect wood and line a fire pit, she thought. Celeborn was almost bound to return with rabbits, and if she had the fire burning, he would be pleased, even if he said nothing. She pushed her long braid back over her shoulder and set off to seek enough dead wood for their needs.
Celeborn paused at the edge of the clearing. His wife was sitting within reach of the crackling fire, her chin resting on one raised knee, humming contentedly in harmony with the song of the woods around her. A small pot was set up on the metal tripod she had insisted on bringing, ignoring his protest that it would be no difficult matter to use the forest’s bounty to construct one at need. The fragrance of the mix of dried vegetables and pulses as they bubbled gently in the water made him realise that he was hungry and he glanced at the rabbits he carried. Perhaps, he thought, if they cut one into small pieces, it would not take too long to become the kind of stew that he remembered from his campaigning days, when the boredom that stretched between periods of frantic action had led many of the elves to develop cooking skills that would have amazed their wives and parents.
She turned her head slightly to observe him and he thought again how remarkable an elf he had married. Sitting there, her braid tidied out the way, her face smudged with ash and looking, much as she would have hated to realise it, somewhat less than spotless, she seemed to him far more beautiful than she did when dressed in silk and jewels and adorned by her crown of gilded hair.
‘This reminds me of our first journey after we bonded,’ he said.
‘After all those decades of patient waiting, too,’ she said ruefully. ‘What we did was not wise.’
Celeborn smiled. ‘Lúthien was right, though,’ he admitted. ‘There would never have been a moment when all agreed that our marriage was to be approved. She said – from experience – that there were times when the only thing to do was to present the world with a fact and let it adjust.’
‘Had we not, in the end, bonded precipitately and without the consent of our Houses, we would have been in Menegroth when Elu was slain,’ Galadriel said thoughtfully. ‘And, perhaps, at Dior’s side when my cousins came, instead of wandering the forests of the east in a half-voluntary exile.’
Her husband said nothing, but carefully dropped a handful of cubed rabbit meat in the stew and watched it sink into the simmering vegetables.
‘It would not have changed the outcomes, had you been there,’ she told him. ‘Except that we, too, would probably have been counted among those lost.’
‘We will never know for sure, will we?’ The silence extended between them until he lifted his head to look at her. ‘I cannot regret our joining, however.’
She looked at him seriously. ‘Nor I. Despite the fact that you are the most maddening and obstinate elf I have ever met.’
‘And I have, on occasion,’ he allowed, ‘found you to be somewhat – difficult.’
‘Rather more than somewhat, I should say,’ Galadriel said dryly. ‘If you wish to uphold your reputation for truth.’
‘At times, perhaps,’ he agreed. ‘Although saying so would destroy my hard-earned name for tact.’
‘I believe you are reputed to be wise,’ she commented. ‘Tactful,’ she grinned suddenly, tilting her head and pursing her lips as if considering his words, ‘I am less sure of that.’ She stretched forward and stirred the stew with her peeled stick, releasing a fragrance that made Celeborn’s stomach growl, even as a haze of wood smoke swirled round her. She wrinkled her nose. ‘I smell,’ she said.
‘There is a pool,’ he suggested, ‘a few hundred yards downstream.’ He looked at her contemplatively. ‘We could bathe and dry off in the sun and – take our ease. We have no reason to ride hard as if we have to meet a timetable.’
‘Mmm,’ her eyes softened. ‘And I could soak my clothes and let them dry in the sun.’
Celeborn smiled. ‘That could be interesting,’ he said.
‘Yours, too,’ she insisted.
He laughed and leaned back to recline on one elbow. ‘What were you planning on wearing as they dry?’ he asked.
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow, but remained silent. His smile spread. ‘That might be enjoyable,’ he conceded. ‘Although I rather hope that no-one else turns up while we are – otherwise engaged.’
‘The trees will warn us,’ she told him, as she spooned some stew into one of the wooden bowls and handed to him. ‘Eat,’ she insisted. ‘We have a busy afternoon.’
‘One way or another,’ he added.
He watched her silhouette as she sat serenely on the rocks with Arien warming her back as she combed out her sunlit hair. He could not believe that his lady would face so calmly the prospect of a day clad in nothing but its abundance, so he suspected that she had disregarded his advice to bring no more than a single change of clothes, but he could not begrudge her something so unimportant when she seemed so content.
Would he ever feel so at home here, among these trees that sang with a different voice? He opened his fingers and allowed the satin of the cool water to slide between them. And yet . . . He remembered pools like these in the glades of his youth: pools where the water gathered on its journey from the mountains to the sea, offering of themselves to the thirsty willows, providing havens for silver fish, pools fringed with rustling grasses, visited by darting kingfishers and stately herons, where the deer approached cautiously, looking behind them for those who would make a meal of them. Was this so different?
He glanced again at his wife. Had she felt like this over three ages in a land not hers? How long had it taken before she felt part of its song? He closed his eyes and allowed the sun to warm his face as he listened to the melody of the wind and the water. Would he transplant as graciously to this new soil?
Young Thranduilion had managed it, he thought. He held Lasgalen in his heart, but he had built afresh among the trees of Valinor and he seemed happy.
But, of course, Thranduil’s son was little more than an elfling and change was part of growing. Arda had been his own home before Tilion’s light dimmed the stars and Arien’s brilliance had hidden them altogether. He had known the land since before Beleriand fell into the sea; since before the world was bent – was he too old a dog to learn new ways?
A spray of sparkling drops splashed his face, summoning him back to the moment.
‘Are you intending to soak for ever?’ Galadriel enquired plaintively. ‘The sun is considering bringing the afternoon to an end and still you rest in the water.’
He rolled over and raised his head, pushing his wet hair out of his face. ‘Your pardon, my lady,’ he said lazily. ‘I have been ignoring you.’
‘It is just that I am concerned that you will dissolve, should you remain there much longer,’ she told him. ‘I have waited long enough for you – I would not wish for you to fade away before my eyes.’
‘I think I can guarantee that I am here to stay,’ he replied.
She looked at him in silence as he pulled himself from the water and joined her on the heated rocks. ‘It is not a prison,’ she said eventually. ‘There are elves here in these forests who have never seen the ocean before Alqualondë or involved themselves in the politics of Tirion – who returned to themselves among ancient trees and resumed lives in tune with the natural world. There is space enough – and time – to build whatever life you desire, my lord.’
Moving to position herself behind him, she began to draw her comb through his bright hair, humming the song of the peaceful afternoon. He accepted her attentions, relishing the press of her warm knee on his cold back, the butterfly touches of her fingers on his shoulders as she untangled his locks, enjoyed the feel of her closeness. This, too, was part of what he sought. A prison of a different sort, perhaps, but one entered into willingly and one that bound both parties.
‘Listen,’ she said softly and paused in her task.
The sun was below the level of the trees now and the forest’s song was changing in tone, becoming languorous, like the breathing of lovers as they lay at rest in each other’s arms. The busyness of the day was unravelling into that moment of perfect stillness before the creatures of the night took up their affairs, the moment when the song expanded to include the high clear sound of the distant stars beyond the solidity of the everyday world. They were still there, he thought, unchanged and unchanging, above whatever patch of ground he inhabited.
He took Galadriel’s hand. ‘Look,’ he told her, as the first stars brightened the darkening sky.
They started singing softly, almost without volition, absorbing and reflecting the life of the ancient forest, remembering and echoing the song of the stars, taking joy from their own love and offering up their praise and gratitude for the works of Elbereth, of Yavanna and Aulë. It was the same, Celeborn realised suddenly, part of the same whole and to reject any element was to diminish the total. Then, even as his own voice stilled in surprise and before he could take the thought further, he became aware of a distant web of sound as, not very far away, other silvery voices raised in the evening hymn.
Galadriel stretched over to the blanket rolled up away from the water’s edge and pulled out a shift of fine white linen.
‘I suppose you did not bring anything I could wear?’ Celeborn asked hopefully.
‘After all those words on travelling light?’ Galadriel returned. ‘Surely one change of underwear should be enough for you, my lord.’ She grinned at him mischievously. ‘I am sure your clothing will be dry by tomorrow.’
He turned and trapped her hands as she attempted to shake out her simple garment. ‘Of course, I could simply drop this in the water,’ he threatened. ‘If I am to be discovered here without clothing, then it would be only fair for my wife to share my embarrassment.’
‘We have blankets, my lord,’ she laughed, ‘and the sun has been warm. I am sure we can cover you – and it is unlikely that we will be bothered tonight. I am sure that whoever lives nearby has realised that we are in no condition to be introduced to anyone at the moment.’
‘I thought you said the trees would warn us of the presence of others,’ he complained, releasing her to pull the shift over her head.
She gathered her hair and pulled it free from the neck before braiding it swiftly and tying the end with a thong of damp leather. ‘They did,’ she smirked, ‘but your head was underwater and you were too busy wallowing to listen.’
Before he could grab her, she sprang up and gathered their drying clothes to take them back to their camp. ‘I will leave you the blanket,’ she said, looking over her shoulder and grinning. ‘Do not be too long, my love. I am intending to risk your cooking talents tonight – I have only just washed the scent of the fire from my hair.’
‘So have I,’ he said plaintively, causing her to turn in surprise. ‘You would not want to get me smoky again, would you?’ He tossed his head and ran his fingers through his gleaming tresses teasingly.
‘There is always lembas,’ she told him, smiling at his performance.
He grinned as he watched her disappear between the trees. There was something different about his lady when she shed her formal gowns and her court manners – it reminded him of a moth breaking free of a pupa that was too confining to become instead a creature free to fly. He had almost forgotten what fun it could be to play in the forest, unburdened by any responsibilities. Stretching, he leaned his head back and allowed the light of the stars to caress his cheeks, as subtly as it had done in Doriath before ever the sun had risen.
It had not been perfect then, he reminded himself sternly. It was too easy to allow the past to take on a romantic gleam. They had endured their troubles, suffered their losses, defended themselves against a creeping shadow. Not all the woes of Arda had arrived in the stolen swan ships of the Teleri or announced their presence with the song of silver trumpets.
He bent to grab the blanket, gathering it and slinging it easily over his shoulder. Galadriel would not wish to be found naked in the woods, he knew, but it was a matter of indifference to him – if anyone chose to seek him out here, they would have to accept what they found. As he turned to follow his wife, he paused, caught by the beauty of starlight on water and the song of the trees. He could learn to live here, he acknowledged – if only he were left long enough for this tentative recognition to grow into familiarity.
The leaves stirred and a soft breeze caressed his skin like the silken touch of an approving hand as he moved beside the stream to the grove they had chosen for their temporary home. Galadriel was nowhere to be seen – and she had held to her refusal to perfume her hair with the scent of wood smoke. He looked up, his eyes inexorably drawn to the white of her shift and the glint of her hair in her chosen tree.
‘Join me,’ she suggested provocatively.
‘I have better things to do with my time,’ he sniffed as he turned towards their packs, sparing her, meanwhile, a sidelong glance. ‘Do not think you can tempt me with your hair of moon-kissed gold and your long bare legs. I am immune to your wiles.’
‘Alas,’ she teased him. ‘My naneth warned me about elves like you!’ A prickly case of last season’s beechmast struck him on the top of his head. ‘I have more,’ she told him smugly. ‘My resting place was clearly stocked by a squirrel that knew I would have need of ammunition.’
He grinned, extracting a package of lembas as he ducked another missile. ‘You are asking for trouble, my lady,’ he warned. ‘You are out of practice when it comes to a chase through the tree tops.’
‘No more than you are, my lord,’ she considered, ‘and you disregard the fact that I might not be intending to escape you altogether.’
‘How do you know that Thranduil and I did not spend the last centuries racing each other through the canopy?’ he asked seriously. ‘Or we might have passed endless nights of entertainment pursuing our errant grandsons through the trees.’
His response left her momentarily speechless, as the vision passed before her of the two powerful and dignified leaders of the last elven realms of Arda flinging themselves through the trees like over-excited elflings, before she collapsed against the tree trunk in helpless giggles. ‘You might, indeed,’ she agreed as soon as she could control her voice sufficiently. ‘I apologise for overlooking the likelihood of that.’
‘So you should.’ His voice came from behind her as he arrived, a wine skin bundled with the lembas in a pouch formed of the soft grey cloth. He handed them over and draped the blanket round them both as he sat and drew her close to him. He pressed his cheek briefly to her head before leaning back and releasing a sigh.
She allowed herself a very gentle probe to sense his mood. He was still trying too hard, she reflected, but he was better than he had been. She thought there were moments now – whole hours sometimes – when he forgot to mourn the trees of his youth in the pleasure he took in acquainting himself with this new forest – and, if only the elves of Aman would keep their distance, he might well begin to settle without even realising it.
‘Do you remember,’ she asked, ‘the first time you took me in your arms like this?’
‘M’mm.’ She could feel his amusement. ‘I was not entirely certain that you would not hit me – and then you rested your head on my shoulder and I realised that I would live to fight another day.’
‘I had no idea,’ she returned haughtily, ‘that you considered approaching me to be some test of your courage!’
‘Oh, it was, my lady,’ he assured her. ‘Most definitely. An elf of less boldness than I would never have dared it. He would have been far too worried about those rather large swords carried by all your kin – and the use to which they might be put.’ His hold tightened as Galadriel shifted, but she only rested her hand gently on his arm. ‘And the newly-arrived lords of the Noldor all seemed to be only too anxious to pick quarrels with us Sindar.’
Much as it pained him, he could recognise in himself now something of the challenge that had so offended him in those cocksure princes of the Noldor: the defiance that looked at the new world to which they were confined and pretended assurance even as it spoke of superiority. He would have to be careful, thought ruefully, not to cause similar offence to those who might see themselves condemned for their presence in the land to which they were born. He did not want those native to Aman to look on him as he had responded to Orodreth – only to find, years later, that he was actually an elf worth knowing and worthy of respect.
Ironic, he decided, that it had taken him more than three ages to realise that much of the behaviour that had so incensed him had been bluster – and that he was on the verge of returning the compliment.
Galadriel stroked his arm, emanating a feeling of calm and acceptance that soothed him despite his knowledge that she was attempting to affect his mood. ‘Do you want some wine?’ she asked.
‘No, not really.’ He relaxed and permitted the tranquillity of the forest to fill him. ‘I would prefer simply to sit here with you and watch the stars.’
‘Then let it be so, my love,’ his wife told him comfortably.
Morning came with shafts of golden light from a fire-bright sky. Galadriel remained motionless, reluctant to rouse Celeborn from his easy dreams, but she watched the sky with resignation. If it meant anything, she knew, a sky like that was a harbinger of rain and she would soon be doing her best to huddle in the shelter of the trees to avoid it. The only good thing she could see about it was that her lord would find her reluctance to get wet highly amusing. She grinned – she supposed that would, by itself, make the experience worthwhile. And at least she did not have to concern herself about possible damage to the fabric of her clothing – her simple exploring-the-forest tunics and breeches could not be spoiled by anything as simple as rain. In fact, she thought nothing short of immersion in orc blood would prove irreparable. And that was unlikely to be a problem. She shifted slightly. How long would he sleep? Pleasant as it was to recline in the treetops in his arms, she wanted to be moving. She glanced over her shoulder to see him as peaceful as she could remember him, cheek pressed against the smooth grey bark, eyes unfocused, his breathing steady with the rhythm pulsing through the tree. He looked as if he was listening to it, she smiled, and tuning himself to its song.
The soft whistle came unexpectedly. Galadriel’s eyes narrowed. It should not be possible for someone to approach their resting place so closely without her having been aware of him.
‘My lord!’ A quiet voice shivered the leaves about them.
Celeborn’s body tensed, moving instantly from repose to readiness with the wariness of a warrior.
‘My lord?’ The light tone became enquiring. ‘Are you here?’
‘Goerfér?’ Celeborn murmured incredulously. ‘Goerfér?’
He moved so swiftly that Galadriel was left rocking uncertainly on the branch as he leapt to the ground barely touching any footholds on the way. She leaned over in time to see her controlled husband grasp a tall russet-haired figure in his arms with the ferocious hug of old comrades, divided for centuries and unexpectedly reunited.
‘It is good to see you,’ the stranger said, his voice buoyant with laughter, ‘but do I really have to see quite so much of you?’ He looked round and grabbed the clothes from the bushes where they were drying. ‘Cover yourself, my friend.’
Celeborn grinned. ‘It is nothing that you have not seen before, you prude,’ he complained, swiftly sorting out the least damp garments and donning them. ‘I cannot believe I am seeing you! What are you doing here?’
‘What do you think I am doing?’ the other elf enquired. ‘Working as a dancing master? I am living my life, old friend – among trees that have never seen Morgoth’s abominations.’ He looked the silver-haired elf up and down. ‘You?’
‘Settling in,’ Celeborn told him briefly.
‘Alone?’ Goerfér raised an eyebrow and glanced up at the tree from which Celeborn had tumbled so precipitately.
Goerfér’s lips curled into a grin. ‘I am sorry to have intruded, then, my friend. Perhaps I should have waited for an invitation.’
‘No need.’ Galadriel descended with considerably more dignity. ‘I am delighted to meet my lord’s old friends.’
The steel-grey eyes looked her over appreciatively enough to bring a warning to her face. ‘My lady,’ he said politely.
‘And I think you must be a very old friend indeed,’ she continued, ‘for yours is a name I do not recognise.’
‘We were ellyn together,’ Celeborn interjected, ‘and danced beneath the stars.’
‘Until I took an arrow,’ Goerfér added amiably.
‘Have you been among these trees long?’ Galadriel asked hurriedly, as Celeborn’s eyes darkened.
‘I wander,’ he shrugged. ‘Long enough, I suppose. I found the light – unnatural – at first, but in time one grows accustomed. The trees enjoy it – their song is louder in its warmth and they grow strong and free.’
‘Are there many of us here?’ Celeborn sounded hopeful, but wary. He had placed too much hope in the possible presence of generations of those lost to the fight – hope that had been denied when he arrived on the white shores.
‘Here and there,’ his friend shrugged. ‘We do not feel the need to build cities or gather for protection. And the woods are wide, my friend.’
‘So not Elu, then,’ the silver-haired elf said softly.
Goerfér looked at him compassionately. ‘Not yet,’ he admitted. ‘Although I think that many of us wander in hope. Time runs differently in the Halls, Celeborn, and we return when we are healed. Elu needs longer than most to learn to bear his losses.’ He flicked a mischievous glance at Galadriel. ‘But you have not yet introduced me to your lady,’ he said. ‘And hers is a face I do not know.’
Both stiffened slightly. This was an explanation they had almost never had to make in all their long years together. They had been watched, disapproved of, envied and condemned by more elves than they could remember, but this was, Galadriel thought, perhaps the first time she had met a friend who had died before Arien rose and possibly the first time she had encountered one who knew nothing of her.
Celeborn drew a breath, then released it. To do any explanation justice would take weeks and he had no desire to go into that much detail. ‘Galadriel,’ he said simply, ‘this is Goerfér – a cousin and friend of my youth. Cousin, this is Galadriel – who has been my wife since the First Age.’ Then, thinking his description a little terse, he added, ‘She is granddaughter to both Olwë and Finwë.’ Let him make of that what he will, he thought.
‘You have children?’ Goerfér asked.
‘A daughter,’ Celeborn said briefly. ‘Wed to Elrond – who is Lúthien’s great-grandson.’
Goerfér digested that. ‘I am of the opinion that there is a lot more to know, my friend,’ he said amiably. ‘But I have come to invite you to share a meal with us. Will you join us?’
‘A fair number of things happen over the passage of some fifty yeni,’ Celeborn pointed out. ‘Too many to explain in the passage of a single hour.’
‘Who is meant by ‘us’?’ Galadriel enquired.
He shrugged. ‘One or two from the westward march. A few from Doriath. Some of those who chose not to follow Oromë’s lead.’ He smiled infectiously. ‘Some whose birth in these lands brought us joy.’
‘You have young ones?’ Celeborn was surprised. ‘However did you manage to find an elleth undiscriminating enough to choose you?’
Goerfér laughed. ‘I could ask you the same question, my friend, but clearly you convinced your lady not only to overlook your obvious flaws, but to remain with you over enough years to learn those you keep hidden.’
Seizing the opportunity offered by Goerfér’s light-hearted teasing of her husband, Galadriel dressed swiftly and rebraided her hair into a long tail. She had no objection to meeting new people, although she felt that Celeborn really needed to spend longer enjoying the silence of the forest, but she had no intention of meeting them half-dressed and dishevelled. And, in truth, Goerfér scarcely noticed her withdrawal. Why should he? He had found someone he had long since lost to time – he was bound to want to spend time in Celeborn’s company.
‘When did you realise it was me?’ her lord asked curiously. ‘We have spent a week or two heading south in the forest – have we been under observation all the time?’
His cousin smiled slightly. ‘Of course,’ he shrugged. ‘We prefer to avoid visitors where possible – but there are not many silver-haired princelings of Elu’s kin among them. ‘You have not changed so much that you are unrecognisable, so we thought to welcome you.’ His smile widened. ‘Wander with us for a while, my friend.’
It was less surprising, now she saw them, Galadriel thought, to find that these elves had been nearby and yet unobserved. They were – almost shadowy. They took her back – back beyond several thousand years of experience and life and change, to a time when the world had, perhaps, been different. It made her realise how few of these elves – those who had walked the forests in the beginning, to whom light was an intrusion, had been left dwelling in the remnants of the Great Forests of Arda. Darker and slighter than those who grouped round Celeborn, they watched cautiously from the shelter of the trees, clearly uncertain and reluctant to trust these strangers. She remained motionless, as one would who wished to encourage the approach of a wild creature, observing them from the corner of her eye. They had not yet unlearned their distrust: although their faces gleamed with the clarity of the reborn, their eyes were still wary. She sighed. It would seem that the Blessed Realm still contained work for those who would have elves see their similarities rather than their differences.
‘As far as I know,’ a voice like birdsong said behind her, ‘Finwë had no children when he followed Oromë west – and when Lord Olwë led his part of our people on, leaving us forsaken, he, too, was unwed.’ Galadriel turned to look at an elleth with the moon-bright hair of her naneth’s kin. ‘That would make you, would it not, one of the Exiles who brought their ruin to the shores of Arda?’
‘Losgael!’ Goerfér detached himself from his cousin and approached swiftly. ‘This is Celeborn’s lady.’ His tone said that awkward questions were not to be asked. Galadriel was to be accepted among them for her husband’s sake.
‘I am not unaccustomed to such reactions,’ Galadriel said mildly. ‘And the accusations are, after all, true.’ Her eyes met Losgael’s unflinchingly. ‘Although they stung considerably more before the first age wound to its end – by which time I felt I had earned a place in those lands.’
‘The Noldor did not bring the Shadow, Losgael,’ Goerfér said. ‘They followed it to that realm in their desire to defeat it.’
The silver-grey eyes remained challenging, but Losgael said nothing, waiting until he was drawn back to rejoin the laughter around Celeborn.
‘You speak as one who knew some, at least, of my cousins. You dwelt not in Doriath?’ Galadriel asked.
Losgael’s lips tightened. ‘You would not know the answer to that question?’ she challenged. ‘Were those of lesser rank too insignificant to notice?’
‘There were few I would not have been able to name,’ Galadriel told her, ‘then. More than two ages ago. Since those days – I have known many; known them and lost them and come to know others. But I do not think you were of Doriath.’
‘I was not,’ Losgael conceded grudgingly. ‘I dwelt in lands appropriated by your cousins.’ She met Galadriel’s eyes. ‘In Himlad. Where they swaggered like the lords they felt themselves to be, as the Sindar cared for the land.’ Her lip curled. ‘And they did not even realise that we disdained them.’
‘Curufin?’ Galadriel asked, unsurprised. ‘He was always arrogant. He thought he could take what he wanted in Valinor, just because he wanted it – and he did not change for the better after Fëanor’s death.’
‘His brother was no better.’ Losgael leaned back against a tree. She snorted. ‘He thought he could compel Lúthien to do his bidding.’
‘But he learned different,’ Galadriel observed, the quiet satisfaction in her voice making Losgael smile. ‘And everyone knew that she had beaten him in a game he forced her to play.’ She hesitated. ‘I felt sorry for my cousins in a way – it was never easy being the sons of Fëanor, and it grew more difficult as the number of them increased. But they did little to make themselves more endearing. I dwelt mostly in Doriath or with my brother, Finrod, in Nargothrond – I do not believe that his people made themselves so much disliked.’
‘No,’ Losgael admitted. ‘And he was much admired among the Edain.’
‘What kept you in Himlad?’ Galadriel asked curiously. ‘The lands were cold and much was barren.’
‘But the song of the waters was loud and their purity refreshed the spirit.’ Losgael sighed. ‘And we would not be driven away. Not by the Exiles, nor by Morgoth. And many of us paid with our lives.’
Galadriel looked at her thoughtfully. ‘You have wandered these forests for how long now?’ she enquired.
Losgael shrugged. ‘Twenty yeni? I do not know. Some time.’
‘And still you miss the home of your birth?’
‘How old were you when you crossed the Ice? How many yeni did you spend across the sea?’ Eyes of silver-grey focused on the daughter of Finarfin. ‘Did you ever stop wishing that you could come home?’
‘I hoped it would grow easier for him,’ Galadriel said softly. ‘This is Elvenhome, after all. I hoped that the passage of years and the love of his family would soften his yearning for forests he can no longer roam.’
She closed her eyes briefly. ‘Those of my kin who have returned from Mandos’s Halls have not found it easy,’ she admitted. ‘They look at those who remained and feel both guilt and anger – guilt for what they did in following Fëanor, but anger, too, that they and those with them suffered pain and loss and death, while their kin here in the Blessed Realm knew none of it. And those who remained often fail to see why they should be tolerant of others’ differences.’ She looked at Losgael. ‘Few things are as simple as they might seem at first glance,’ she observed. ‘One of the first things I learned on landing here was that the Blessed Realm might offer healing I needed, but that it was no longer my home – and that it had not been for a long time. But it will be again,’ she said indomitably, ‘in time, when we have found our place in these lands.’
Losgael inspected her as surreptitiously as she could. ‘Have you wandered with the Laiquendi before?’ she asked more mildly.
‘I have,’ Galadriel said, smiling slightly. ‘A long time ago. It was an enjoyable period.’
The fair hair hid Losgael’s face, but she sniffed doubtfully.
‘We had just bonded,’ Galadriel decided to open out a little more than she would normally have considered. ‘And our kin were less than pleased with us both, so we took the opportunity to learn more of the ways of the Laiquendi. They welcomed us whole-heartedly.’
‘I am worried,’ Celebrían announced.
‘About what?’ Elrond asked somewhat absently, knowing the answer he would receive.
His silver-haired wife tapped her toe impatiently at his denseness. ‘My parents,’ she told him. ‘They are not themselves. I am not sure that it is wise for them to disappear into the forest without anyone to keep an eye on them.’
Elrond looked up from his book and smiled. ‘It would be a brave elf who would follow where your parents told him not,’ he said. ‘Foolhardy, even.’
She returned his smile reluctantly. ‘True,’ she acknowledged, ‘but sometimes even my parents can be wrong.’
‘Who would you send?’ Elrond enquired. ‘Our sons? They have not yet recovered from their weariness enough for me to want to place any responsibility on their shoulders. Glorfindel would be brave enough to face them – he confronted a Balrog, after all.’
‘Are you saying that my parents are comparable to a Balrog?’ she asked haughtily, suppressing the twinkle in her eyes.
Elrond laughed softly. ‘Far worse, my beloved: far, far worse. There are, after all, two of them.’ He extended a hand to draw her closer to him. ‘But Glorfindel, too, is worn almost to the point that I can see through him. It would not be fair.’
Celebrían removed the book from her husband’s grasp and sat in his lap. ‘I thought perhaps that Naneth’s brother might be a suitable guardian for them.’
‘Finrod?’ Elrond slipped his arms round his wife’s waist. ‘He would be better than most,’ he admitted. ‘Harder for them to send away and harder for them to ignore – but truly they are best left alone, my love. They will come to no harm among the trees of the Blessed Realm.’
‘Then I shall continue to be troubled about them,’ she told him.
‘I doubt they will be alone for long,’ Elrond assured her.
She raised an eyebrow at him.
‘There have been uncounted thousands of elves from Arda slain since Cuiviénen,’ Elrond pointed out. ‘Many will have been rehoused and resumed lives in Aman – yet where are they? Some of the Sindar dwell contentedly here – a few among the Silvan have settled in groves of ancient oak and beech, but there are many who must live apart in the green depths of the forests. Your adar will draw them to him as bees to honey.’ He smiled. ‘They will be able to wallow in memories of the earliest days, when the stars lit the glades and the Noldor were noted only for their absence.’
‘I hope Naneth does not become too exasperated,’ Celebrían said anxiously.
‘And your Adar may well learn that the world changed – and that he changed with it,’ her husband said softly. ‘He will, I think, return happier and more settled, with a better understanding of what the Blessed Realm holds for him.’
Celebrían rested her head on Elrond’s shoulder and slid one pale hand beneath his hair to cup his neck. ‘Have you found content here?’ she asked cautiously.
‘Content and more than content,’ he murmured into her crown of hair. ‘And now our sons have joined us, I have all I can expect to receive.’
She stretched up to place a kiss on the point where his jaw met his ear. ‘You expect too little, Elrond Eärendilion, and you are worth far more.’
‘I have back my staunchest supporter,’ he breathed, seeking her mouth. ‘How could I deserve more than that?’
‘She is not what I expected,’ Goerfér told him.
Celeborn lifted an eyebrow with unmistakable hauteur.
‘Do not get on your high horse,’ his old friend shrugged. ‘You must have spent centuries dealing with those who could not abide the thought of a Prince of Elu’s house in the claws of a Noldor princess.’
‘Watch your choice of words,’ Celeborn warned. ‘I will not tolerate any disrespect – not even from you, cousin.’
‘So how many fights have you had over her?’
Celeborn grinned wolfishly.
Goerfér smiled reluctantly. ‘Enough to prove that only a fool would insult your wife in your hearing, I take it.’ He paused. ‘Of course, if I were not a fool, I would not have been in Mandos’s Halls in the first place. What in Arda made you choose her, Celeborn? You must have known it would outrage both your kindreds.’
‘How does choice come into it?’ Celeborn asked softly. ‘We belong together – we neither of us wished for it at first, but there are things that you cannot fight – and the recognition of one fëa for another is one of them.’
‘She will have taken on more than she realised,’ Goerfér conceded. ‘I suppose we should be grateful to her for that.’ He turned to watch Galadriel. ‘And she is not what I expected – she seems far easier here in the forest among us simple folk than I would have expected.’
‘Simple!’ Celeborn snorted. ‘Pretending artlessness is a form of arrogance as great as any other, cousin.’ He gave the other a hard stare. ‘You know a lot about us for one who went to the Halls of Mandos before ever Galadriel left Aman, Goerfér. For a naïve elf of the forest, you are remarkably well-informed.’
With a wave of his hand, Goerfér dismissed the comment. ‘Will you stay with us a while? We are going south and west, I think – there is a lake that is calling me. We could fish and swim and enjoy the trees.’
‘You lead this group, then?’
Goerfér shrugged. ‘No-one leads us, my friend. We roam as the mood takes us. Some will follow me – others will head in a different direction. As long as the forest provides food enough and space, we have no need of rulers or places of refuge.’ He shot a sidelong glance at his cousin. ‘It is a very restful way of life. No politics, no planning, no direction, no command structure – no enemies. Just elves in harmony with the song of the forest. It will not suit you at all.’
‘You think I cannot just sit in a tree and be an elf?’
His cousin laughed. ‘At times it bores me rigid, Celeborn, and I have never had a sense of responsibility or spent long yeni serving my people. But for a while – it will do you good to abandon your cares and just be.’
Galadriel watched the conversation with pleasure. She had been doubtful when these elves from the past had first arrived, feeling that their presence would disrupt her design for her husband’s healing time in the forest, but Goerfér’s familiarity had woken in Celeborn memories of his youth and he had become less guarded. And any opening in the shield that surrounded him would, she knew, allow the music of the Blessed Realm in to heal his spirit.
It was interesting, too, to be able to hold back and watch as these shy elves crept closer to her husband. She had almost forgotten over recent centuries how much mystique they had invested in the silver-haired scions of Elu’s kin – a power Celeborn endured rather than welcomed. Once she would have challenged him for the attention, but, she acknowledged wryly, there were advantages to added millennia. She found that she now agreed with her lord. The obligations of power outweighed the benefits: she had been obliged to make too many hard decisions to court authority – and she knew enough to know that it would find her without her volition.
‘Shall we go with them?’ Her husband’s voice penetrated her thoughts. ‘Or would my lady prefer to continue alone along the path we chose?’
She smiled at him, noting that his eyes seemed less shadowed. ‘A path through the woods should meander, my lord, to take in other views. I see no reason why we should not divert our footsteps if that is our desire.’
A pattering of raindrops on the leaves seemed almost like applause. Galadriel looked up and sighed. The rain presaged by the bright dawn had set in and the dullness that had crept over the sky made it look as if the rest of the day would be wet.
Celeborn laughed and raised a hand to brush a drop from her cheek. ‘The forest welcomes the water, my love,’ he said. ‘It has been dry for too long.’
She drew a sharp breath and her face softened. ‘Much too long,’ she agreed. ‘I hope it will be a long rain – a soft rain and a greening one.’
Despite the company, Celeborn drew her to him, ignoring the looks his unexpected informality earned him, and he held her close. ‘It will,’ he promised. ‘It will.’
Her horse nuzzled her neck, his dripping forelock sending a trickle of cool rain down her throat.
Galadriel sighed and scratched his cheek reflectively, feeling the shed hairs stick to her damp hand with the obstinacy that always seemed to affect items she would want to brush off. ‘I know,’ she muttered in his ear. ‘A dry stable with plenty of sweet hay – and a fond admirer to brush out your winter coat. It would be so much more pleasurable, would it not?’
A crack of uninhibited laughter from Celeborn and Goerfér made her sigh again. ‘On the other hand,’ she told her unresponsive audience, ‘there are some things for which it is worth enduring discomfort – and it is only rain.’
‘He is a beautiful animal, my lady.’ An uncertain voice ventured an opinion, apparently not sure how she would respond.
‘He is beautiful and he knows it,’ she agreed, smiling at the dark-haired elf who stood just far away enough to retreat safely if alarmed. ‘My brother gave me his dam some years ago – and these are both her sons.’
The mist-grey eyes inspected her horse again before turning to gaze at the animal following Celeborn. ‘They have different sires?’ he asked.
She nodded. ‘I used to ride this one’s sire – before he retired to the meadows to live out the rest of his life, and I was pleased that his son wished to continue the tradition.’
‘Why did you bring horses into the forest?’ The elf seemed interested in the reason behind such strange behaviour. ‘It is easier to travel in the trees – or to walk beneath them.’
‘But it is easier to reach the forest on horseback,’ Galadriel said mildly. ‘And it is pleasant to be in their company.’
The elf stepped a little closer, extending a hand to caress the rain-slicked coat.
‘His name is Bregedur,’ Galadriel told him as she stroked the horse’s nose.
The elf glanced at her shyly, then, with a look of alarm retreated far more quickly than he had approached. Galadriel looked over her shoulder with annoyance.
‘What did Bórdain want?’ Goerfér asked casually, as he and Celeborn came over. ‘I was surprised to see him talking to you. It usually takes him a long time before he is willing to draw near to strangers.’ He did not pause long enough for her to reply before continuing. ‘Your husband seems to think that you would not wish him to leave you to join me in a hunt.’
Galadriel raised an eyebrow at her husband. ‘Whatever might give you that idea?’ she asked with a wide-eyed wonder that had him suppressing a smile. ‘I doubt I will even notice your absence. Go. Enjoy yourself. Bregedur and I will be more than happy without you.’
‘See!’ Goerfér said. ‘I told you she would have no objection. I think Losgael heaves a sigh of relief when I offer to hunt in weather like this – it gives her a good excuse to find shelter from the rain.’ His lips curled in a knowing smile. ‘And there are some shallow caves not far from here – large enough to provide a resting place for us all and well stocked with dry wood.
‘Go away, cousin,’ Celeborn commanded. ‘I wish to speak to my wife in privacy.’
Goerfér laughed. ‘Cadge permission to go, you mean,’ he joked, before leaving to draw Losgael to one side.
‘I had forgotten how irritating I could find him,’ Celeborn murmured. ‘There is something about those with whom you were young – they know exactly how to annoy you most with the least possible effort.’
‘You like him really,’ Galadriel smiled. ‘And I do not mind in the slightest if you go off for a few days. There are plenty of people here for me to get to know.’
‘I cannot imagine that even Goerfér will take several days to find deer in a forest this well-endowed with game,’ her lord said thoughtfully. ‘Even in the rain. Even blindfolded and compelled to work by sense of smell. He was always reasonably competent – if a touch impetuous.’
‘He probably just wants some time alone with you to – talk over old times.’
‘H’mm.’ Celeborn sounded doubtful.
‘You do not have to go if you would prefer not to,’ she commented. ‘I could object – and throw a fit of Noldorin temper about being abandoned in the midst of so many inferior elves.’
He grinned. ‘No, I think we will save the temper to surprise them later – should we feel the need. At the moment we are all working towards an understanding.’ He glanced sideways. ‘I want to understand what Goerfér has in mind, that is.’ He raised one wet hand and trailed it down her cheek teasingly. ‘I think you have been out in the rain, my lady. You seem a little damp – but I am given to understand that mud is good for the complexion.’
‘I look forward to spending some more time alone with you, my lord,’ Galadriel told him firmly. ‘When I will feel able to respond to such remarks as you deserve.’
‘Such self-control,’ he nodded, ‘merits some recompense.’ His fingers lingered under her chin. ‘I am reluctant to leave you – even for so short a time,’ he added and the heat in his voice drove away the chill of the rain.
‘We have time, my lord,’ she said, her breath catching. ‘Enjoy yourself.’
He shifted slightly as if to move towards her, but eased himself back and sighed. ‘I will ask Danwedh to stay here with you and Bregedur. He will only be in the way on a hunt.’
‘And I have long wanted to extend my experience in the care of horses,’ she nodded, ‘in case I decide to take up the life of a stable-hand.’
‘It will do you good,’ he teased. ‘Enhance your practical side.’
‘Perhaps,’ she said thoughtfully, ‘Bórdain might be interested in helping. I would like to find a way to talk to those who still shy away like nervous rabbits when I glance at them.’
‘Stop looking like the fox, then,’ Celeborn recommended. ‘I will see you in a day or two,’ he smiled, ‘after the rain has stopped.’
The caves were wide and high – and little more than a couple of dozen feet deep, with shelves of damp ferns and trailing vines studding the limestone walls with green. They were clearly common resting places, with stone-built fireplaces and stacked logs, together with dry bracken from old bedding to act as tinder.
‘There is no room for horses inside,’ Losgael said firmly.
Galadriel raised her eyebrows. ‘They are horses,’ she said mildly. ‘Why would they wish to remain in a stone cave, when there is grass in plenty and leaves to nibble? They will find all the shelter they require among the trees.’
‘Will they not wander away?’ Bórdain followed Galadriel and the horses to the trees beyond the caves.
She smiled. ‘I will ask them not to go too far,’ she told him gently. ‘They will remain close enough to come when I call.’
‘Do they serve you of their own will?’
‘Partly,’ she admitted. ‘They are trained from foals to respond to the wishes of the elves who work with them – but they are not compelled. There are some that do not wish to give up their freedom, but often it is a case of matching the right elf to the horse.’
Bórdain reached tentatively to stroke Bregedur’s nose, and the horse nudged him to demand that he extend the attention. ‘There are no horses in the forest,’ he said.
‘Not here,’ Galadriel agreed. ‘I believe there were wild horses in some of the more spread-out forests of Arda – and it would not be impossible to persuade groups of horses to enjoy living among trees – but generally they prefer to live in grasslands where they can run.’
Celeborn’s black horse stepped closer, tossing his head slightly to demand why Bregedur was getting all the attention. The Silvan elf stiffened slightly as he realised that he was between two of the large creatures.
‘Enough, Danwedh,’ Galadriel commanded. She stepped forward and leaned on his shoulder, whereupon he dropped his head and pretended that he had merely been seeking a patch of sweet grass.
‘I saw Nahar,’ Bórdain confided. ‘Long ago. Gleaming like silver in the shadows of night. When first I saw the moon, it made me think of him riding across the sky with Oromë on his back. These horses are beautiful – but more real, as elves are more real than the Huntsman.’
Galadriel forgot the rain on her face and the mud on her boots. ‘You were one who followed the Huntsman west?’ she asked.
‘He took the lords to Valinor to see if they thought we should go,’ Bórdain told her conversationally, ‘and they came back with eyes like stars and said it would be our home, so we left Cuiviénen and followed them. But it did not seem right to abandon the place where we came to be – surely that was our home, the place where Ilúvatar meant us to dwell, rather than the distant realm of the Valar? And so, when the Huntsman went on and the lines of travellers straggled and our doubts grew, we listened to the song of our own land and we knew that for our home.’ He scratched Bregedur’s cheek, admiring the liquid brown eye. ‘And so we stayed. But I missed Nahar.’
‘My cousin, Celegorm, spent much time with Lord Oromë in his youth,’ Galadriel said thoughtfully. ‘He said that Nahar was white as new snow – that he never became dirty or mud-stained, as an elven horse will, but that the Huntsman had said that darkness brought out another side to him.’
‘His beauty lives with me still.’
‘Lord Oromë rides with him still in the forests of Aman,’ Galadriel remarked. ‘Perhaps, some night, you will see them among the trees.’
Bórdain looked stricken. ‘How could I show myself to him?’ he shook his head. ‘When we chose to abandon his path and go our own way?’
Galadriel drew a breath. ‘It was your choice to make,’ she said gently. ‘For good or ill, for right or wrong. The Valar made an offer of sanctuary, but it was not up to them to impose it on those who did not wish to take it. You had a perfect right to remain in the lands of your birth.’
‘Although I am not so sure that they would see it that way.’ Losgael’s gaze was slightly less challenging. ‘Have you finished out here? I would have thought you would be glad to find shelter from the weather.’
With a final pat, Galadriel released Bregedur and Danwedh to find their own shelter. ‘It is only rain,’ she said mildly, suppressing her amusement at her use of the words. ‘Will you come, Bórdain?’ she asked. ‘I would be very interested to have you tell me more.’
He looked alarmed. ‘Another time, perhaps,’ he said, retreating cautiously.
Galadriel smiled at him and allowed Losgael to draw her into the cave where a fire was now burning brightly against the gloom within. She uttered a faint sigh as she pushed the soaked hood of her cloak back from her face and moved numbed fingers to unfasten the brooch.
‘It is indeed only rain,’ Losgael agreed ironically, ‘but it becomes uncomfortable after a while. Do you have dry clothes?’
‘I would choose the term ‘less wet’, I think,’ Galadriel replied. ‘But they will do – and I will be able to dry my hair.’
‘I can never get Goerfér to understand,’ Losgael told her, ‘that I do not mind being wet during the day – provided that I have somewhere dry and warm to retreat to at night. He seems to feel that I am being unnecessarily demanding.’
‘Then I shall hope for the rain to continue,’ Galadriel said. ‘At least for as long as we can remain here.’
‘The prince will get wet, too.’
‘He is a warrior,’ Galadriel stated, straight-faced. ‘He is used to difficult conditions.’
The tree did its best to shelter Celeborn, but the leaves had not yet grown to their full size and the cover remained relatively sparse. He sighed as a large drip landed firmly on his head. ‘Why, Goerfér?’ he asked resignedly.
‘We need meat,’ his cousin said innocently.
‘Not that much,’ Celeborn insisted. ‘And hunting rabbits does not require a protracted side-trip into a remarkably wet forest. What made you insist on taking me off – just the two of us – when almost any other combination would make for a more successful hunt?’
The bedraggled rust-dark hair hid his cousin’s face. ‘Perhaps it just seemed a good idea to spend some time on our own. It is a long time since we have been able to talk.’
‘So long that I would not have thought a few more days would make much difference.’
The rain continued to tap its rhythm onto the dripping leaves. Goerfér hunched his shoulders somewhat petulantly. ‘I suppose you are right. After all, you have no reason to listen to me – just because I have spent an age or more in this realm, compared to your few months.’
Celeborn digested the words. ‘I accept that you have a greater knowledge of these forests, my friend,’ he said mildly. ‘I do not know what relevance that has.’
Goerfér looked down, then glanced at him before shaking his head. ‘You are right,’ he decided abruptly. ‘It is too soon. Better for you to see it before anything is said. Just watch, my friend. Watch and listen. I will talk to you in time – should it still be needed.’ He leaned back against the trunk and folded his arms. ‘I like your wife,’ he remarked with determined cheerfulness. ‘She does not seem much like the vain, manipulative, arrogant daughter of a cursed house to me.’
‘I imagine that you have a reason for using words that could earn you a lot of pain,’ Celeborn observed coldly.
The friend of his youth sighed. ‘There are many here with whom you will need to start again, cousin,’ he admitted. ‘For every elf returned to a new life who knows nothing of her background and cares less, there will be two for whom the suffering of the First Age is all their memories – to whom the last Ages mean nothing.’ He grinned wryly. ‘And then there are those who have returned from later times – the wars of the Second Age, the attrition of the Third.’
‘I thought that part of coming to terms with your previous life to be ready to return was learning to forgive and surrender resentments that have no relevance to the person you have become,’ Celeborn recited stiffly.
Goerfér shrugged. ‘I died in a meaningless skirmish long before the Noldor left Aman,’ he said. ‘Their actions mean nothing to me personally – yet I know of every one. I would not have it come as a surprise to you that your lady is met with – caution. She is not one of us – and some will find her hard to accept.’
Celeborn closed his eyes wearily. He had begun to feel more himself in these woods, but now he almost felt he would have been better remaining in Elrond’s house – where the biggest problem he had to face was a decision as to the colour of his robe.
‘I will not tolerate any lack of respect towards my lady,’ he said.
‘There will be none – not among my friends.’ Goerfér waved his hands dismissively. ‘But be prepared.’ He looked at the silver-haired elf warily. ‘Melian, too, came from outside,’ he said tentatively, ‘and her coming changed things – for the better, some think, but others look on her as one who betrayed us.’ He prodded the wet ground moodily. ‘And Elu has not returned to us – and all our wandering has not found a place where we feel we can be ourselves.’
‘Enough!’ Celeborn insisted. ‘We have come to hunt – let that be what we do.’
Life here, he thought, promised to be just as complicated as ever it had been east of the sea. He smiled narrowly as he followed Goerfér towards the shallow bank of a stream where clearly deer came down to drink. How had he ever thought that it would not be? A land that had produced an elleth of the complexity of his wife – not to mention elves such as Fëanor’s sons and those among the Noldor who had proved to be thorns in his flesh over ages of Arda – could never have been the serene abode of spiritless, harp-playing nonentities. It was heartening, he felt, to find that there were, among those content to sit at the feet of the Valar, others who were still seeking something more to do among these trees. It suggested that his work was not done and he had not abandoned his life to endure a tedious retirement among strangers, but to lead his people to a better existence in a land free from evil. He frowned. Well, as free from evil as you could be when you had a mass of people whose desires and ambitions conflicted. Free, perhaps it would be better to say, from external evil – what the elves made of their lives here they could, at least, blame on none other than themselves.
Rain trickled down between the rocks, dripping into a small fern-fringed pool at the base of the wall before spilling down between pale stones. Galadriel ignored the curious looks cast her way and focused on drawing the comb through her drying locks, humming softly in harmony with the song of the wet forest.
Dry wood crackled as it burned, scenting the air with a fine smoke, until the fragrance of cooking food took over. It was odd, she mused, to find that she rather regretted having others around her. Sleeping in a tree – cooking with minimal ingredients over her own fire – it had been rather fun. With luck, they would part ways with this group of barely connected elves soon and she and Celeborn could continue their wandering through a sunlit green forest – until their hearts were light and their spirits refreshed. She sighed. Not that it would happen, of course. She could already see her lord shouldering the interests of this group of itinerant refugees from the past. How long would it take, she wondered, before he found them looking to him to lead them? She smiled. Less time, she suspected, than it would for this rain to find the sea. Some people were born to lead – and, whatever he might claim, her husband was among them. And so, she acknowledged privately, was she. But, if there was one thing she had learned over three ages of dealing with the Sindar and their wilder kin, it was that honey was more attractive than vinegar and a carrot worked better than a stick.
Losgael offered her a plate of stew. ‘Are you intending to join us?’ she asked abruptly.
‘If I am welcome.’
A multitude of meanings revealed themselves in Losgael’s brief sigh. ‘You are welcome, Lady Galadriel,’ she said briefly.
Galadriel lifted a fine eyebrow. ‘Surely titles are meaningless here?’ she remarked.
‘Are they meaningless to you?’
Losgael, Galadriel decided, was annoyingly intelligent. And not prepared to pretend otherwise. ‘Here? Yes.’ The Lady of the Golden Wood turned to meet the ironic gaze head on. ‘Titles must be earned,’ she said. ‘And merited. Here and now, I am just a wanderer in the forest.’ Galadriel smiled. ‘Like you.’
The slight inclination of Losgael’s head expressed courteous agreement and disbelief in equal measure. A bubble of laughter began to rise from deep inside Galadriel. Not since Lúthien had she had a female companion who had appeared so completely unimpressed by anything she said – and who was so happy to let her cynicism be seen. It would appear that merely being her usual powerful self would be insufficient to impress this elleth. It was strangely heartening.
‘Introduce me to the rest of your party,’ she requested. ‘It would seem that our paths will be travelling together for a while. And tell me more about Goerfér. I would like to know more of my husband’s cousin.’
The young buck’s head hung limp. Celeborn sighed as he placed a hand on its shoulder. The forest provided, he thought somewhat sadly, but it always grieved him to see the brightness of life fade from the eyes of the creatures who gave their lives to feed the elves. Unlike many, he could never bring himself to hunt for the sheer joy of the pursuit, but took as little as he could and made sure that every part of the animal was used reverently.
‘Shall we return?’ he asked.
‘We may as well.’
Goerfér sounded moody, Celeborn realised. He was clearly missing something and failing to provide his cousin with the necessary opportunities to speak his mind. The trouble was he was not at all sure that he wanted to be on the receiving end of whatever was occupying Goerfér. Now he came to think of it, he could remember only too many occasions when attempting to deal with his cousin’s concerns had led to well-meant chaos. True, at the time they had been little more than elflings, but he had seen nothing to indicate that Goerfér had outgrown his tendency to leap in where wiser counsels would suggest caution.
‘Do you and Losgael have children?’ he asked instead, hoping to redirect his cousin’s thoughts. ‘I saw none among your party I would immediately say were yours.’
Goerfér’s face brightened. ‘Then you are less observant than I thought,’ he said. ‘Although our daughter is wed with grown elflings of her own now – she and her husband grew weary of the number of visitors to these woods and headed into the passes to look for a home that called to them – our son remains among our group.’ He looked at Celeborn thoughtfully. ‘They are different,’ he admitted, ‘the ones who are born here. There is harmony in them that sings with this land. I do not know if it will ever take root in me. I still have a hankering for starlight and the cool purity of a twilit world.’
Celeborn sighed. He, too, found that there were moonless nights when he longed for the silvered waters and shadowed silhouettes of the clean forests.
‘But Losgael likes Arien’s warmth.’ Goerfér bounced back to cheerfulness. ‘And the day’s colour – and she says the night is still there, simply hidden so that when the light is removed, we appreciate it more.’
‘A practical point of view.’
‘Losgael is practical.’ Goerfér eyed the friend of his youth. ‘Someone has to be, after all.’ He grinned. ‘She keeps my feet on the ground.’
‘What is it that you are seeking, Goerfér?’ Celeborn asked as he shouldered the result of their hunt. ‘You are not a wanderer born, like the green elves among you. What is it that keeps you searching the forests?’
‘Ahh.’ Goerfér’s face lost its lightness and he shook his head. ‘When you see that, my friend, you will perhaps in a better position to do something about it. Until then,’ his lips twisted in imitation of his usual smile, ‘you will just have to guess.’
‘You left him behind?’
Losgael tried to say the words in a way that did not sound like an accusation, Galadriel sighed. It was a shame though, that she had castigated herself with similar thoughts many times over countless sleepless nights as she watched the sea crawl like a living creature prowling the bounds designed to keep her away from her husband.
‘He sent me ahead.’
It gave the same appearance, while meaning something different, but it was not the way most people understood it. Fully half the supercilious Noldor had decided that she had had enough of the elf whose hand she had taken as an Exile under the Doom of Mandos – and that, once forgiven, she had been only too swift to shake the dust of Arda from her skirts, and Celeborn with it.
Galadriel looked at her slender hands, unusually grubby now and firmly grasping the cup of steaming tea. ‘You have seen him,’ she said. She met Losgael’s eyes. ‘He is – thin. Not in body, although he could do with a few hearty meals, but in spirit. Worn down by too long in a world that no longer has a place for our kind.’ She returned her gaze to the mug. ‘He looks ten times better than I did.’ She brooded for a few moments. ‘I had not realised, until I saw it in my parents’ eyes – read it in my daughter’s face. We were on the edge, Elrond and I. Even Olórin. We could not have endured any longer.’
‘Why then did he stay?’
‘For our granddaughter – so that Elrond and Celebrían and I would know that she would not be left alone. For our grandsons, who were not ready to choose. Because he was not yet willing to leave a world for which he had fought since before Tilion rose. For reasons of his own, that he did not wish to tell me – but I would not make him follow me, any more than he would make me follow him.’ She glanced at Losgael. ‘We are together because we choose to be – and apart when need drives us.’ She smiled. ‘What makes you stay with Goerfér?’
‘I sometimes wonder!’ Losgael laughed suddenly. ‘It is not because he provides me with the life I envisaged when I imagined my future back by the waters of Himlad.’
‘No,’ Galadriel reflected, looking at the cloaks steaming gently before the fire. ‘I think now that the life I anticipated living when I was a child would have been very dull. I am glad to have escaped it.’ She paused, watching the tranquil goings-on in their shelter as the elves settled down to the kinds of activity that suited a wet afternoon. ‘What does Goerfér have in mind for my lord?’ she asked. ‘And why did he pretend to know nothing of me, when he is so clearly familiar with my name?’
‘He is a fool at times,’ Losgael admitted. ‘And never more so than when he starts to scheme. Hopeless at keeping secrets. I rather like that in him.’ She drew up her knees and rested her chin on them. ‘You have wandered, you say?’
‘For a time.’
‘A short time, I would imagine – before some other responsibility called you back.’
Galadriel said nothing.
‘We have wandered in search of somewhere to belong – somewhere that is truly ours – for yeni.’ Losgael focused her attention on the wet forest beyond the entrance. ‘And we live on sufferance.’ She waved a hand to indicate their surroundings. ‘These are the Noldor’s forests. Further north are the lands of the Vanyar. Beyond Alqualondë, the pine forests provide timber for the Teleri’s ships. Nothing is ours. They know we are here – and are happy to leave the forests to us, until they decide that they want something that is here and then we must move again to seek other lands.’ She flicked a glance at Finarfin’s daughter. ‘We pretend we like it – that we do not wish to settle – but it is a pretence. We want our own lands, where we can wander or make homes as we choose and know that none can dispossess us.’
‘You think that we can help?’
Losgael raised an eyebrow and smiled. ‘The daughter of the Noldor’s High King together with Elu’s closest kin? If you cannot help us, none can.’
Celeborn stood, leaning on the slender top of the long trunk, gazing with absorption as the cool splendour of the starlit night faded to a clear steely grey, waiting until the sun kissed the drifts of high cloud with pink and the sky revealed its depth of endless blue.
He reminded himself too often, he admitted, how much he missed Elbereth’s stars under which he grew, but the day had its beauty too, and its clarity revealed in glorious detail the perfection of Yavanna’s creations. Before him the freshly-opened leaves gleamed with a sharp greenness that promised growth and strength, and the trees welcomed the energy provided by Arien’s bright light. And he, too, found that, deep within him, he expanded under its warmth, stretching like a cat relishing its touch on its fur.
Not just the different forest, then, he noted. He had needed to be needed. To be provided with a purpose that was greater than the mechanics of day-to-day living. A mission. He smiled narrowly. He hoped that the task he had found himself would be less selfish in nature than that the sons of Fëanor had brought with them as they imposed their patronising dominion on a land that needed them not. He stopped and reproved himself. It would. Seeking a home where those exiled from Arda could live independently, following the customs of their kin, was not selfish. He would step on no toes in his quest, but work with those to whom this Blessed Realm was home. And in finding what he sought, he would find himself.
The branch swayed gently beneath his feet and the broadening leaves rustled in the morning’s gentle breeze. He drew a deep breath – the air was lively with the energy of spring and he could almost feel it tingling in his blood. He had thought it foolish to talk of healing here for him, when being here was in itself a wound, but it would appear that he was learning better there too.
And she was coming: her fëa easy and warm, free of the scars that had marred it, relieved of the nails that had pulled at its fabric and misshapen it, released from the burden that had atrophied it. He smiled and turned to the agile elleth, bearing in one hand something wrapped in a white cloth, and raised an enquiring eyebrow.
‘You must eat,’ she observed and handed him a flatbread folded round some flaked fish and dressed with a few chopped stalks of wild garlic.
‘And that is another thing,’ he remarked quietly, easing himself down to sit comfortably on the supple branch. ‘There is no evidence of farming – yet there is flour in the stores; no evidence of spinning or weaving – yet cloth is used.’
‘It is not necessarily anything of which to be suspicious.’ Galadriel sounded amused as she relaxed into a cradle of thin branches that linked beneath her. ‘They trade – there are villages beyond the forest where they have these things in plenty.’
‘What is there here that would be desired beyond the forest’s bounds?’
‘Oh come, my lord,’ she closed her eyes and turned her face to the dappled sunlight. ‘You know what the forest produces in plenty. There are medicines concealed in its depths that are worth any weight of flour. Spices that will not grow in the open. Truffles worth a king’s ransom to those wealthy enough to buy them. And deerskin – and furs that are valued in exchange for wool or linen.’ She tilted her head and looked at her husband. ‘You are talking to the wrong people, Celeborn.’
He chewed on the food she had brought and considered. ‘Yet they complain of a lack of leadership.’
‘Goerfér complains of it,’ she corrected him. ‘He is right – in a way. The people here,’ he hesitated, ‘they live in small groups; they are nomadic; they travel a land that is owned by none – they are good candidates for exploitation. They look to no lord – have no-one to fight their case. But they do not seem unhappy on the whole.’ She thought about what she had seen over their few weeks wandering to the shore of this wide lake of sweet water. ‘Some – like Bórdain – want little. The forest provides for them: clothes, food, shelter – it is all here. Others, Goerfér among them, seem to me to be seeking more.’
‘Who is right?’ He smiled and paused in his eating.
‘Neither. Both.’ She shrugged. ‘It is a matter of opinion. What do you think?’
‘I think it will take me longer to decide what I think,’ he said.
‘Well, there is no rush,’ she told him comfortably.
‘How long, do you think, before our daughter sends out a search party?’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘She would not dare!’
Celeborn put back his head and laughed. ‘I will give her no more than another month,’ he wagered. ‘She will find someone prepared to risk our wrath, mark my words. She clearly thinks we are in no condition to care for ourselves.’
‘I have no desire to be supervised like a naughty elfling,’ Galadriel declared. ‘I will not have it.’
‘See if you can stop it, my love.’ Celeborn made no attempt to conceal his amusement. ‘There are some things you cannot fight, even if you would. She will send someone to seek us out because she loves us and is worried about us. Would you deter her?’
Galadriel frowned at him, before finally surrendering. ‘No,’ she sighed. ‘But I hope she refrains from persuading poor Elrond to follow us. He will be most reluctant to interfere.’
‘Not Elrond,’ Celeborn speculated. ‘Nor our grandsons. Neither Glorfindel nor Thranduil – they are all still in too much need of rest. Thranduil’s son, perhaps.’
‘No,’ Galadriel decided. ‘He is too young. He might find us, but Celebrían would know that he is too polite to influence two wily old foxes like us. Someone who could match us. My brother, perhaps.’
‘Which one do you think would be prepared to head off on such a quest?’
Galadriel smiled. ‘He is most likely, I think,’ she concluded. ‘Not that he will be any more successful – but I will not bite off his head.’
‘His wife will be grateful,’ Celeborn said dryly, ‘to know that you are marginally less dangerous than Morgoth.’
‘That,’ Galadriel said, ‘was unfair – and I am afraid I will have to make you pay for that comment.’
‘Promises,’ Celeborn murmured provocatively, meeting her eyes so they stared at each other like two cats.
She moved fractionally before him, but he was expecting it and leapt from his branch to a thicker one a good deal lower, pausing only to check that Galadriel was prepared to chase him before heading ever lower through the canopy until he reached a grassy bank studded with the tiny pink flowers of wild thyme, where he stopped and turned on his pursuer. He tackled her, pulling her to the ground and rolling her onto her back while pinning her arms above her head and allowing his silver hair to trail teasingly across her face.
Galadriel laughed up at him. ‘I could escape in a moment,’ she declared.
‘If you wanted to,’ he said, his voice intense.
‘If I wanted to,’ she agreed, suddenly breathless, raising her head to allow her lips to meet his. ‘But I do not. I never have.’
‘Good,’ he said with satisfaction and lowered his mouth to hers.
‘He is not listening to me,’ Goerfér followed Losgael as she methodically sought the small white bulbs she intended to add to the fish stew.
‘Give him time,’ she said patiently. ‘Let him see for himself what we lack here. He is an intelligent elf – and he will not respond well to being herded. Allow him to relax and learn to hear the forest.’
‘But I cannot guarantee that he will hear what we do.’ Goerfér obediently took the flat basket. ‘He is not used to these woods. Surely it is folly not to show him where to look.’
‘Did you send the boats out?’ His wife straightened up and looked at him wearily. ‘We need to dry more fish this year – last winter ate into our stores – and the catches have not been good so far.’
‘Colodcoe has taken two or three people to the stream – he seems to think it is more promising.’
‘What do you think?’ Losgael asked rather impatiently. ‘You have centuries of experience of this – take some decisions for yourself.’
Goerfér hunched his shoulders moodily. ‘It is as good as anywhere. And the trees promise well for the autumn.’
‘They promised well last year, too,’ Losgael said grimly. ‘But the nuts were small and bitter and many fell early.’
‘I do not understand it. We had a good summer.’
‘Some seasons are like that – and it was dry at the wrong time.’ Goerfér’s wife straightened up and stared into the green canopy. But this is more than a bad harvest: more than a reduction in the number of fish in the lake.’ She looked sharply at the disconsolate elf. ‘Is it not, my husband?’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘More are being released from Námo’s halls,’ Losgael said flatly. ‘It is putting more of a strain on the ability of the forest to give – and the forest creatures are withdrawing from us in their need to protect themselves. It used to be that we could wander whichever paths took us for weeks without seeing any others among the trees, but now the wood is full of voices. If nothing is done, we will soon be driven to seek other homes. The balance is upset.’
‘Yet Celeborn sees nothing,’ Goerfér complained.
‘Why should he?’ Losgael snapped. ‘He does not know these woods! How should he be able to tell on a fortnight’s acquaintance that they are – less than they used to be? It has taken several yeni of slow change for us to become concerned and still we do not know what to do – yet you expect him to understand in a moment?’
Goerfér drew a deep breath. ‘I will talk to him,’ he suggested. ‘Tell him what we see – perhaps he will have some ideas.’
‘We will both do it,’ Losgael said firmly. ‘In fact, we will choose a time when we can all speak at length – and share what we have seen. I was not sure at first, but I find I have some trust in your cousin and his lady to do what they must. They may not be able to help us – but they will do what they can, and they will tell us the truth.’
For a few minutes, Goerfér trailed his wife, wiping the small bulbs as she handed him her gleanings, until finally she decided that she had harvested enough from the glade’s abundance.
‘I wish Nifredil had not agreed to follow Lómin into the high hills,’ Goerfér said suddenly. ‘It is not the same without her.’
‘You know why they went,’ Losgael sighed. ‘And if we do not do something, Pelthaes will be next. That alone should be enough to make us determined to succeed.’
Elrond turned the page of his book and made an heroic effort to conceal his amusement as he pretended not to notice Celebrían’s foot-tapping impatience. He would have to go over the text again, he realised, for he could not remember a word he had read since she came into his study, but it was worth it just to see how long it would take for her to tire of waiting for him to surrender and ask her the nature of the problem. It would not, he thought, take long. As her parents’ absence extended from days to weeks, Celebrían’s anxiety had been increasing visibly. Why she had settled on this day for it to overflow, he knew not, but she clearly felt that some invisible boundary had been passed.
Even as he lowered his book to the table, his wife’s cool hands slipped over his eyes. ‘You are not reading,’ she accused him. ‘You have been gazing at the same page while the sun has made its way across your desk. You just do not want to listen to what I have to say.’
Laughing, Elrond raised his hands to pull hers down, kissing each palm as he released them. ‘You have found me out,’ he agreed, turning to look at her and drawing her down to sit on his lap. ‘You waited longer than I thought you would before challenging me,’ he admitted.
His beautiful silver-haired wife rested her head on his shoulder, twisting his narrow braids round her fingers in a way that made his throat tighten in recollection of the youngsters who had, in their time, sat in his arms doing the same thing.
‘I am worried,’ she said in a soft voice, as if she was almost afraid to voice the concern for fear of making it worse.
Elrond sighed. He could not see either Celeborn or Galadriel appreciating his interference in their affairs. ‘They will be fine, my love,’ he said. ‘They are old enough and wily enough to know their limitations – they will come back, refreshed, when they are ready.’
‘Not my parents!’ Celebrían raised her head in some surprise and her liquid grey eyes met his. ‘I think that Adar is taking on too much – he is worn as thin as a fine silk – but Naneth is right in saying that he needs time among forests as ancient as he is.’ She thoughtfully combed her husband’s hair back with her fingers and tucked it behind his ear. ‘Our sons.’
‘You have seen it, I know.’ Celebrían looked at him intently. ‘Adar and Glorfindel are among the most powerful elves the Third Age knew. Thranduil, too, in his own way. And they are bad enough. But our sons are – ragged.’ She smiled wryly. ‘To continue the image – their silk is brittle and crumbling, as if it has spent too many centuries being burned by sun and chilled by frost. They are so close to fading that I do not know if they will be able to come back to us.’
Elrond drew her head down again and began to caress her long tresses. ‘Do you remember when Legolas arrived?’ he asked meditatively. ‘He depended on Gimli to hold him together. I think that without the dwarf’s presence, even the Blessed Realm would not have been enough to keep him whole. He had stayed far beyond the time when the song of the sea drew him west – for love of Estel, and Arwen, and those others among mortals for whom he cared. But he survived those early difficult years and learned to live again among us, even when Gimli . . .’
‘You are sure that our sons will have enough of a reason to stay with us?’ Celebrían’s eyes filled with tears.
Elrond’s long fingers cupped her chin and lifted her face. ‘They have their naneth,’ he said simply. ‘They have yearned to be reunited with you – and now they are. Why should they not be happy to be here?’
‘What is there for them to do?’ Her voice shook slightly. ‘They look around them as if they are strangers in a strange land – a land where everything is in some way less to them than the land they have left. As if they have nothing in common with the elves around them and do not wish to develop any affinity with them.’
‘Do you remember how you felt when you first arrived?’ Elrond asked. ‘It is – disorienting. You have left a world you understood – and arrived in a place where many things you knew are no longer true. And yet it looks the same – at first glance the white towers could be seen in Minas Tirith, the arched walkways are reminiscent of Imladris, the groves of trees as dignified as any in Lothlórien. Elladan and Elrohir feel that they are the same, but all around them has changed – and what they have striven to protect has been forgotten.’ Celebrían began to relax as his skilled fingers eased her tension. ‘They will have all the time they need – and the company of those who understand them without words. What are they doing now?’
‘Sitting by the stream,’ she said. ‘Hunched in middle of a black cloud of their own making and refusing to let the sun in.’
‘Let us gather a picnic,’ Elrond suggested. ‘As we did when they were elflings and just go and sit with them among the trees until the stars dust the sky.’
Celebrían clutched at his arm. ‘They will be all right?’ she asked, desperate for reassurance.
Closing his eyes, Elrond kept his voice even. ‘They will be all right.’ After all, he sighed, nothing his sons were enduring now could be worse than their agony after they lost their naneth. They had survived on rage for so long that he had begun to despair, but – he reined in his memory of those terrible years – they had learned to live again then and they would now.
‘We will join them,’ he said, ‘and remind them that, for all they have lost their home, they have also regained their family. We can afford them the time they need, my love. And they are your sons – there is too much joy inside them for this mood to endure overlong.’
‘It hurts to see them shadows of themselves,’ the twins’ naneth told him. ‘I just wish it were as easy to heal their sorrows as it was when they were elflings, when all that was required was a magic kiss and a quick cuddle.’
Elrond laughed. ‘You could try it,’ he suggested. ‘You might be surprised at how effective their naneth’s touch could be.’ He ran his fingers through her hair. ‘I know it did wonders for me,’ he murmured, his voice warm with recollection.
The sparkle of mischief in her eyes almost persuaded him that there were other things he could be doing that would enhance the beauty of the day, but he restrained himself. His sons’ needs outweighed his desires. And spending a few sunny hours with the family he had feared lost had a joy of its own.
Bórdain’s work-hardened hand stroked the narrow nose somewhat tentatively as Bregedur pushed insistently against him. The horse seemed willing to move the acquaintance forward slowly, realising that the elf, for all his constant appearances in the small flower-filled meadow, was a little nervous.
‘You are a beautiful one,’ the elf murmured. ‘Not that Danwedh is any less so, mind. But you . . .’ he stretched up to smooth the forelock. ‘I know not why,’ he mused. ‘Maybe it is she who rides you – she is bright, with the gleam of Elwë’s Trees in her eyes – and she knows Oromë. Should I hope that she will lead us to another place?’ Bregedur nudged him. Bórdain sighed. ‘Perhaps it is too much to wish for that. We are those who would not follow: maybe it is more than we have a right to ask.’
Bregedur lipped the elf’s green tunic thoughtfully.
‘And he,’ Bórdain said, cupping the horse’s chin and easing the cloth free, ‘he shines like Olwë, like Elwë, strong and true. He will see what we need, will he not? It may be that it is he for whom we have been waiting here.’
‘But I am not Elu,’ Celeborn said softly. Danwedh whickered in greeting and came to welcome his elf. ‘I have not come out of Arda to inspire a people to follow me they know not where – I serve those who would look to me.’ He glanced from the horse whose nose he was scratching to the somewhat shadowy figure that had withdrawn behind Bregedur. ‘I will take none where they do not wish to go.’
‘We wish to go,’ Bórdain affirmed. ‘Not all among us, perhaps. But, somewhere in these lands, a place awaits us – but it is not here.’
‘This forest seems to me filled with beauty,’ Celeborn commented.
Bórdain looked around him. The freshly-dressed branches of the sturdy oaks overhung the cropped grass of the clearing, where small blossoms of gold and purple studded the green. A small stream trickled over slabs of water-worn rock towards the broad expanse of the lake and its song competed with the voices of the multitude of small birds hidden in the canopy. ‘There are too many here,’ he said simply, ‘in this place of waiting. It is time to move on and leave this land for those who follow us.’
‘As simple as that?’ Celeborn asked.
‘Goerfér would make it more complicated,’ Bórdain admitted. ‘But, in truth, that is all there is to know.’ He emerged from behind the horse to watch the elf-lord’s reaction. ‘I have been too long among these trees – I am called west,’ he said. ‘Beyond the mountains, whence none return. Long ago,’ he murmured, ‘when the world was young, I was not ready to heed the call to leave the beauty of Arda and cross the wide sea, but now the yearning fills me – and I must seek what none can guarantee. My bones ache with my need for it,’ he sighed, ‘and the song of a deep forest of ancient trees fills my ears. It waits for us, my lord,’ he said with certainty.
A surge of excitement tightened Celeborn’s belly. The words rang true in his heart, as moments of foresight sometimes did. Was this what he had been awaiting? The call – not to lead – he lacked the arrogance required to take upon himself the mantle of elvendom’s great leaders – but to enable an exodus? ‘What prevents those who wish to go from seeking this place?’ he asked simply.
‘Some go,’ Bórdain shrugged. ‘Goerfér’s daughter, last year, was among those who decided they would wait no longer.’ His fingers teased through Bregedur’s mane absently as he sought the words to explain something he had never attempted to put into words. ‘But there is more required than just inhabiting the land as we do here – it must be seen to be ours. We will not be dispossessed at the whim of Finwë’s people or displaced at the command of the Valar and move ever on. This place . . .’ He stopped, unable to describe what was no more than a feeling.
‘The place where we are meant to be. Where we were always meant to be,’ Celeborn suggested.
‘Home,’ Bórdain said.
Celebrían continued to gaze hopefully at her naneth’s brother, with the look that her sons had long decried as so irresistible it was unfair. It was a weapon that was getting plenty of work, she thought ruefully. She was bringing it into play to coax the twins into eating, to persuade them to join her under the trees, to meet again friends from whom they had been long sundered – and now she was employing it in an attempt to persuade Finrod Felagund, whose gallant loyalty had taken him into the heart of Morgoth’s power, to seek his sister and her husband and to ensure that they were well and happy in their quest for peace in the forests of the Blessed Realm.
‘It is unnecessary,’ Finrod told her. ‘Any hostile creature would steer well clear of Artanis when she is in one of her moods, believe me.’
Elrond turned away to admire the fall of water tumbling cleverly down the rocks between the budding roses. The garden was beautifully planned, he thought, and encouraged to flower with an artistry that was remarkably pleasing as each colour and leaf shape and fragrance showed off its neighbours. Nothing was out of place: nothing too tall, or too vivid, or too unkempt. If the manicured perfection of Valinor made him, on occasion, want to run wild and immerse himself in mud and rampant greenery, how must it feel to those – like Celeborn, like Thranduil, for Arda’s sake – who saw themselves as part of the natural world rather than its masters?
‘But she is not herself,’ Celebrían sighed.
‘And all the more dangerous for that,’ her uncle replied firmly.
‘Yet it is my adar about whom I am most worried.’ Celebrían lowered her silver head to inspect her tightly linked fingers, before glancing swiftly back at Finrod.
Amarië smiled. ‘She will win,’ she murmured for Elrond’s ears alone. ‘He will be unable to deny her much longer.’
‘I hope you do not mind.’ Elrond’s grey eyes met Amarië’s gentle gaze. ‘Celebrían’s concern has been concentrated on who would best influence her parents – I do not believe she has thought to ask if you object to her sending Finrod on such a quest.’
‘It will do him good.’ Amarië’s expression of affectionate amusement as she looked at her husband eased Elrond’s disquiet. ‘He has spent too long here with too little to do – he will enjoy a few weeks travelling with a purpose in mind. Even if, I think, his arrival will prove unwelcome to his sister.’
‘Galadriel asked me to hold Celebrían off for a month – two, if possible,’ Elrond confessed. ‘She was perfectly well aware that – despite the distraction of our sons – her daughter would be too anxious to let her adar be for too long. And she suggested Finrod as the best candidate to follow them – the Lady leaves little to chance.’ He tilted his head to watch the Vanya. ‘Why do you not go with him? If Galadriel is the greatest danger you are likely to face, it should be a pleasant journey.’
‘If I were to go, Finrod would not be free,’ Amarië pointed out. ‘No, I am happy for him to wander at his leisure – I will be here when he returns.’
Elrond appraised her with an understanding that made her flush. ‘You are very patient,’ he remarked. ‘Finrod is fortunate.’
The elf in question threw up his hands. ‘Right! Fine, I will go,’ he surrendered. ‘I do not see the need for it – your adar is as tough and resistant as bramble roots if he has coped with my sister for so long. The last thing he will appreciate is one of Artanis’s brothers turning up to spoil his idyll in the woods.’
‘He must be used to it,’ Celebrían smiled winningly. ‘It will not be the first time that one of my uncles has sought them out.’
‘Celebrían!’ Finrod exclaimed.
His niece laughed. ‘I have heard stories,’ she told him. ‘Rumour has it that you were not best pleased when my naneth chose to encourage my adar’s attentions.’
Finrod looked guilty. ‘Look at it from our side, Celebrían,’ he requested. ‘It did not appear an ideal match. Even now, I am surprised it turned out as well as it did.’
‘You under-estimated my adar,’ his niece said. ‘Many have done so – and just as many have found themselves to be wrong.’ She slipped her arm into his. ‘I am glad that you will seek them out,’ she sighed. ‘It is one less thing to worry about.’
The golden-haired elf patted her hand gently. ‘Your sons will be fine,’ he assured her. ‘Give them time.’
Losgael looked anxiously at the sky. Rain was not far away and the afternoon sunshine had a heavy feel to it. The fish on the drying lines would have to be taken in and yet again their efforts to prepare for winter would be thwarted.
‘They could be smoked,’ Galadriel suggested. ‘If you have enough chipped wood available.’
‘It rains when we need sun,’ Losgael complained, ‘and the sun shines incessantly when the forest needs rain to plump up its fruits.’
‘It often does,’ the Lady of the Golden Wood sighed ruefully. ‘And bad season follows bad with an infuriating inevitability. It is easy to forget that good seasons tend to come in series, too.’
‘This is the fifth bad year in succession,’ Losgael admitted distractedly. ‘I do not know how many more we can endure.’ She glanced at the fish. ‘How could we set up a smoking room now?’
‘We could improvise with canvas, I think,’ Galadriel considered. ‘I have seen it done.’ She smiled. ‘Fish was never more than an addition to our diet in Lothlórien – and it was always eaten fresh – but we lived for a time by the coast, where it was preserved in many ways. Smoking, drying – salting. Pickled in vinegar or soused in brine.’
‘We have neither vinegar nor salt enough,’ Losgael sounded dejected. ‘Smoke – we have wood in plenty. We could try that.’ She looked up as the patter of rain sounded on the leaves like applause. ‘We cannot waste the forest’s gifts.’
Galadriel sighed and pulled her cloak more closely round her.
A grin brightened Losgael’s face. ‘Your Noldor roots are showing, my lady,’ she remarked.
‘The rain falls on the Noldor just as it does on the Sindar and the Silvan,’ Galadriel retorted. ‘And I have endured far worse than this – but why invent roofs and then stand in the wet? There is work in plenty that needs to be carried out under shelter.’
‘Not as much here as in the enclaves of lords and ladies,’ Losgael pointed out. ‘We have no weaving rooms or libraries, potteries or smithies – those who dwell in the forest with us work with their hands to keep us in food and bring in enough that we can trade with the villages beyond the trees.’
‘What would you do, then, were you to move beyond reach of those who make what you do not?’ Galadriel asked apparently idly.
‘Bórdain can tell you of living in a world that had none of those things,’ Losgael retaliated. ‘Where elves lived as simply as the deer – using what was there.’
‘I have lived long and seen much.’ Galadriel tilted her head and watched rain gather on the leaves and drip to the forest floor. ‘Elves are not inclined to live as the creatures of the forest do – we are curious and inventive and we bring about change, whether we mean to or not.’ She looked mildly at Losgael. ‘Would you return to wandering naked among the trees? Grazing on nuts and berries? Would you eat your meat raw? Even those who advocate the simple life of the Silvan, I find, prefer to wear garments spun from plant fibres and woven into cloth – that is then cut and sewn to be comfortable. They eat from bowls carved from wood and drink from cups of horn. They use fire to cook their food and provide warmth. They ferment fruits to create wines – and preserve the summer’s bounty to feed them in lean times.’ She sighed. ‘And trade is part of that. Not all of us have the same skills – or access to the same things. To exchange what you have in plenty for what you want seems to me to be eminently sensible – and to remove the possibility is something that needs to be considered carefully.’
Losgael closed her eyes. ‘If we spent too much time thinking of the difficulties, we would never achieve anything,’ she said.
‘Yet planning increases the chance of success,’ Galadriel smiled. ‘The more aspects of a situation you work out, the fewer the chances that disaster will strike. Establishing a new home is difficult at best – but it is not impossible.’
‘We yearn to move west,’ Losgael admitted. ‘We creep across the mountains in small numbers – a few here, a few there – seeking the place that sings in our hearts. But many more linger here as Námo releases increasing numbers from his halls – some wait in the desperate hope of reunion with one lost to death, others are reluctant to leave a place that has given them sanctuary, others are not yet prepared to take the risk of facing the unknown. I fear trying to build a home from scratch, where none can offer help we need. You are right: it is not easy to be self-sufficient. We want no rulers to dominate us – no outsiders to take command and bid us come and go. We do not wish to approach the rulers of the elves of the Blessed Realm and ask them for their intervention – we are a proud people – but we need one who is willing to aid us – and I think that someone is your husband.’
‘You will do it?’ Galadriel relaxed on the gently swaying branch and watched the moon shine on the water. The rain had passed – lasting just long enough to make Losgael’s task impossible – and the evening gleamed with a pearlescent beauty.
She could feel Celeborn’s response in his stillness and the tightening of his muscles. He drew a deep breath. ‘Would you mind?’ he asked.
She turned to look at him. Alertness had replaced weary resignation in his bearing and she could almost see his relish for the task before him. He was still too thin, but his frightening pallor had been warmed by the sun and rain and he was encouragingly there, as he had not been in the months since his arrival. ‘Why should I mind?’ Her smile gleamed in the cool light. ‘It seems to me that – barring the sudden appearance of Elu – you are the best person to guide these people to the place they seek.’
‘And I have the connections necessary to smooth our path,’ her husband bragged. ‘I know someone who is quite closely related to the Noldor’s High King – that might prove helpful.’
‘It might,’ she allowed, suppressing a grin. ‘You should have little difficulty in finding an ear among the powerful. Maybe even two.’
‘It will take time.’
‘It always does.’
‘Perhaps,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘I will take Goerfér with us – he will never believe that the delays required for diplomacy are inevitable unless he sees it himself.’
‘I would rather take Bórdain,’ Galadriel sighed.
‘He would never agree to come.’ Celeborn buried his hands in her hair, enjoying the feeling of its living warmth. ‘He would be diminished away from the trees – the silence would be physically painful for him.’
She was scheming, he thought. He could see it in her as she leaned into his touch; feel it in her distraction. ‘Think twice,’ he murmured, ‘before you do something – is it right? Is it necessary? Or is it one of those things that is best left to itself? You are too inclined to meddle with matters that are better without interference.’
Galadriel turned indignantly. ‘You are a fine one to talk, my lord,’ she informed him. ‘Is your intervention not interference? If I should refrain from doing, should not you do the same?’
‘Different,’ he murmured. ‘From the general to the specific. Bórdain has lived long and seen much – on both sides of the sea. What you wish to do – would it improve his life?’
‘He longs to see Oromë,’ she said. ‘And Nahar. I do not see that it would be unreasonable to ask. The Lord of the Hunt would only agree if he thought it would be beneficial.’
‘Oromë would be flattered,’ Celeborn observed, ‘yet his attentions would be oppressive. It would be best to leave any such meeting to chance. Believe me.’
‘It may be so,’ Galadriel conceded. ‘I suspect Oromë will hear the longing in Bórdain’s heart. In his own time.’ She took her husband’s hand and linked her fingers with his. ‘Will you seek out new realms with these children of Arda?’ she asked softly.
The silver-haired elf hesitated. ‘The thought makes my bones sing,’ he said. ‘But I have made you wait long enough for my arrival as it is. Why should I feel I have the right to expect you to follow me?’ His grasp on her hand tightened. ‘You spent an age longing for your home. Should I take you from it?’
Her other hand came to cover his. ‘Folly,’ she said comfortably. ‘I yearned for the healing of the Blessed Realm. I am here: I am healed. You came beyond all expectation – I am fulfilled. I would follow you anywhere, my love. To leave the ancient realms of the elves and dwell in the forest – with you – would be a joy beyond my deserts.’
‘As you are beyond my deserts, my lady of light.’
‘That is not how you have phrased it at times,’ she teased him. ‘I seem to remember your having asked whatever had you done to deserve me – more than once or twice, too. Did you ever come up with an answer?’
‘This is not the moment to recall my cries of frustration,’ he reproved. ‘I am being sincere.’
Galadriel inspected him seriously. ‘This task you have taken is a necessary one, my lord. There are many – not just these few here – who need a place of their own. Can you imagine Thranduil settling happily among the white towers and dwelling among the Noldor? Elrond, too, needs to be his own elf – he is kind and tolerant and endures well the life of Finarfin’s grandson, but he should have his own lands. Although the requirements of elf lords are irrelevant, really – it is the need of their peoples that should be filled. The elves of Lasgalen; the elves of Lothlórien; those of Imladris – they must have their own place, a place where they can be free to grow as they wish.’
‘Then we will work to provide that, my lady. Together.’
Finrod’s voice rose joyfully as he wandered through the forest. He allowed his horse to choose his own path, while he raised his face to the dappled sunlight and relished the quiet serenity of the ancient trees. He felt no strong need to seek out his sister – she was, he felt, well able to care for herself – but the opportunity to meander aimlessly over fresh paths had, in the end, proved impossible to resist. And Amarië understood. With her usual gentle kindness she had sent him off, knowing that he would always return to the one whose love was at the core of his being.
His singing quietened to a contented hum as his love for his wife suffused his fëa, reaching out to share his warmth with the one who was always with him; who had brought him forth from Námo’s halls to an early reunion, because he could no longer endure to be separated from her. His golden hair gleamed and he shone as though lit from within as the wood faded around him, until he sighed and opened his eyes to admire again the elegant perfection of the stately beeches.
The elves observing him at a distance drew back further into the shadows. He was different, this one: touched with the fire of the Bright Ones. Yet he did not feel dangerous. There was a purity about him, as if any shadow had long since burned away, leaving only the light. He drew others to him, like moths to a candle flame, yet he would not sear and discard them, but cup them in his hand to admire and discover and set free.
‘What do you think he seeks?’ the younger elf asked, his dark hair hiding his face, as he leaned forward.
‘Or who?’ his companion mused.
The younger elf shrugged. ‘Should we make ourselves known to him?’
The other watched as Finrod slid easily from his horse, which nudged him until the golden elf laughed and rewarded him with a treat from his pocket. He rubbed the animal’s nose affectionately, combing the forelock through his fingers. The horse bent his head to prolong the contact, clearly enjoying the attention until his elf refused to play any longer, whereupon he began to nibble on the shoots of fresh grass.
Finrod shed his boots and stretched luxuriously before throwing himself down on a bank of soft moss and reclining with his hands behind his head.
‘No,’ he decided finally. ‘We will watch. There is plenty of time to speak to him later – if we decide to.’
‘He has the light in his eyes,’ the young one observed. ‘Like the silver one’s lady.’
‘They all had that,’ the quiet reply was bitter, ‘but it did not make them safe.’ He continued to watch Finrod. ‘The golden ones were different,’ he admitted. ‘Elu recognised their kinship – but still he did not trust them as family.’
‘Then should we not . . . ?’
His adar shrugged. ‘He is going in the right direction to meet the silver lord,’ he pointed out. ‘And he carries a bow and a blade – he does not need our aid.’
The ellon rested his chin on his hand as he lay hidden among the rustling leaves. ‘It seems a shame,’ he murmured, continuing to gaze on Finrod as he rested easily on the forest floor, an easy smile brightening his fair face.
The stars were hidden and the darkness of night like a cloak that muffled the sounds around him. Bórdain enjoyed the velvet feel of the shrouded dark here in this safe land, where he felt nestled in Yavanna’s care. It reminded him of the beginning, when night’s wings held them close, like a mother’s embrace. Not, of course, that he had ever had a mother – but he had seen the soft curve of an elleth’s arms and the trusting abandon of the elfling in her protective grasp.
He nested in the top of a tall oak, its cluster of narrow branches consenting to hold him in their springy framework, his cloak wrapped round him to cushion them and his feet dangling over the drop. He could not, it seemed, grow accustomed to the habit of sleeping on the ground – except, on occasion, when the rain made the trees anxious to stretch out their arms to welcome its kiss. He had not yet discarded his suspicion of that which came on heavy feet out of the shadows. And, anyway, his perch here presented him with the perfect view of each dawn’s promise.
Resting his head against the roughness of the bark, he allowed the tree’s song to flow through him; strong, slow, its pulse beating steadily in rhythm with the secret music of the night. He felt different, he mused. More alive. More alive, but less part of the world around him. He wondered, as he half-closed his eyes and permitted his consciousness to drift, whether this was how an infant felt when it emerged from its naneth’s womb. He was not sure whether he should blame the lady, or thank her – but he was not the same elf he had been before she and Elmo’s grandson had sought the shelter of the forest.
He smiled as an owl called and drifted through the forest on silent wings. Night’s hunters, the pair of them – but it seemed as if he, at least, was being drawn into daylight. Bórdain sighed. Life was change, he supposed. And the change that was to come would be worth it.
The song expanded and changed to accommodate the two who walked in the shade of the wood, and Bórdain shifted a fraction so he could watch them.
Goerfér blended into the shadows, but Losgael gleamed, pale as moonlight in the glade as they moved shoulder to shoulder. Bórdain lifted an eyebrow. It was not often that these two sought privacy in the forest away from the eyes of the group. He had thought that whatever had drawn this unlikely couple together had long since faded into no more than amity, strengthened only by their love for their children, but perhaps he was wrong. Although, considering the distance between them, maybe he was correct after all.
Bórdain had never found an elleth who completed him – who could be more to him than the song of the forest – and he doubted now that he ever would, but, had he done so, he would have wanted their music to harmonise as did that of the scion of Elwë’s house and his golden spouse. They challenged each other, true – but they countered one another with an inevitability that rang of their part in Ilúvatar’s song and gave them great strength.
As the couple passed beyond his sight, the forest settled back into its night-time rhythm and he relaxed into it, letting it soothe him finally along the path of dreams.
‘What is it?’ Losgael asked gently. Goerfér had not been himself for some while, but it was not always easy to get below the surface of this rather mercurial elf.
Apart from a slightly moody twitch of his head, her husband ignored her. She sighed. Coaxing confidences from Goerfér was not really how she wanted to spend this moonless night. Not after a long day considering the supplies they had stored in the dry caverns and balancing them against the harvest that promised.
He hunched a shoulder and continued to weave his way between the resting trees. Losing patience, Losgael grabbed his arm and turned him to face her. ‘Tell me,’ she demanded. ‘Has Pelthaes decided to follow his sister into the mountains?’ She could cope with most things, Losgael thought, but that fear had been growing in her heart for too long.
‘No!’ Goerfér denied.
He sounded surprised enough for her to believe him. ‘Well, what then? If our son does not intend to leave us – and we will survive another winter here – what worries you so?’
He hesitated so long that she thought she might have to goad him into speech, although she knew it would probably be a mistake to provoke one of their more acrid disputes at this time, when he seemed to be on the edge of some crisis of his own making.
Raising a diffident hand, he combed his fingers through her hair, an intimate gesture that disconcerted her, before meeting her gaze with eyes that shone still with an unexpected innocence. Losgael’s breath caught as she recalled the elfling-like enthusiasm that had enchanted her in this elf of many centuries, rehoused now and settled in the West. The same qualities that so frequently enraged her, she thought ruefully, were also those that made him her love and kept her beside him. He needed a naneth, she often felt, but she was disinclined to provide him with one. He was her husband, after all, not her son.
‘Celeborn will take control,’ he admitted. ‘He is – too much a commander – a prince – to see our difficulties and not do something about them. Part of me does not wish to be absorbed into a realm ruled by my cousin and his Noldor wife.’
Losgael inclined her head. She could not only see that, she agreed with it. She would follow Elwë, should he return, or wander the forests in Lenwë’s train – but she did not wish to be part of a Noldor court.
‘Part of me knows,’ Goerfér sighed, ‘that he is the best equipped to guide us – and the best suited to extract from the rulers of Aman that which we need – and that part is happy to let him shoulder the responsibility.’
‘What is the difficulty with that?’ Losgael asked. ‘He seems a competent elf and I like his lady better than I had thought possible – do you doubt that they will do their best for us?’
Goerfér chewed at his lip in the way he did when he knew he was about to reveal a decision he knew she would not like. ‘I want to go with them,’ he blurted out. ‘When they return to Tirion to see the High King – I want to be there, to be part of seeking the land that should be ours.’ He watched her as she stilled. ‘And I want you by my side,’ he added with a hopelessness that clearly expected rejection. ‘I need you.’
With the stars hidden, she thought in irritation, it was hard to see his face. Which was probably why he had chosen to confide in her here, beneath the shade of the trees. ‘Why?’ she asked.
‘Our people need this,’ he responded earnestly. ‘It is our best chance to be granted a home of our own here – and I want to be part of it.’
‘Not that!’ she snapped. ‘It is only too clear that we need to be granted the right to lands beyond the reach of the Amanyar – and even a fool can see that you are anxious to dip your toes in the quicksands of politics! What need have you of me to accompany you? I have few friendly memories of the Exiles – why should I not stay here, where we have lived so many years?’
He shifted uncomfortably. ‘You give me balance,’ he said, sounding shamefaced. ‘You are the steady heart around which I spin – and you stop me making too many mistakes.’ His fingers curled round her upper arm, warm and steady. ‘And they are not the Exiles here,’ he remarked. ‘It is we who are that.’
A swift curl of temper, like flame licking dry wood, was doused instantly as if by a downpour of cold rain. ‘I am tired of living on the outside,’ she said.
‘Come with me.’ His hand caressed her arm. ‘I am worthless without you.’
‘If Pelthaes will agree,’ she conceded. ‘I will give the matter some thought.’ She raised her hand to cover his. ‘And you are not worthless, Goerfér,’ she assured him. ‘Do not dismiss yourself so easily.’ She smiled. ‘I would never have chosen to bind my life with yours had I not seen in you an elf worth loving.’
‘Country cousins,’ he grinned, ‘in the big city – do you think we will cope?’
Some of the trees were beginning to turn, Finrod mused. It was early – summer was barely past its height – yet yellowed leaves drifted down to meet him on the lazy afternoon stirrings of warm air. They felt – well, tired was the best way he could put it. Stretched, perhaps. He was not entirely sure whether it was something over which he should worry or not. He would speak to Finarfin, he thought, and send foresters, once he had returned home. They could decide better than he could what might need to be done. For now, he could only join his voice to the forest in song.
He extended his hand to caress a spray of leaves as he passed. How much further could Artanis have dragged her unfortunate husband? The trees remembered their passing, but the wanderers seemed to have felt no need to abide in these glades and he was being led ever southward. Finrod grinned and wondered if he would run out of land, or whether he could trail endlessly beneath the shade of these ancient trees.
Much as he enjoyed his own company, he had begun to wish that some of those who watched him pass would emerge from their hiding places and speak to him. He had thought that it would just be a matter of time, but it seemed that he had over-estimated the confidence of these secretive elves.
A scuffling drew his attention to the undergrowth, but nothing more threatening than the white scut of a young rabbit was to be seen. Finrod patted his horse’s neck reassuringly and urged him on. There were fewer creatures than he expected, he noted. Little evidence of the sheer number of deer that should be present under these trees; fewer rabbits than in his garden; a scant number of silver fish darting across the many streams. Even the chattering birds seemed present in small numbers than he would have anticipated.
Perhaps, he considered, there was such a thing as too ancient. Not a thought that should cross the mind of an elf, but there it was. Perhaps what this forest needed was some space to let in the sun and enable some saplings to sprout. The enthusiasm of new life was one of the things he had enjoyed in the marred lands east of the sea. Growth and the anticipation of change could bring heartache – the Edain passed so quickly – but it was stimulating.
And then there were those he sensed around him. The rehoused – in far greater number than he had expected – dwelt here in this stately forest, living quiet lives close to the land’s song, watching and waiting. Not like those lost in the War of Wrath – now returned to families long bereft, riding home as if announced by trumpets, banners flying in celebration. No, these were quieter arrivals. Cleansed of their pain, rid of the shadow, housed in purity – but yearning for a home that was no longer theirs. He wondered if Artanis sensed them, or whether it was the time he had spent in Námo’s Halls that had opened his awareness to them. They watched him, he knew, but their presence was no threat, even if it was not exactly friendly. There was curiosity as well as caution in the occasional glimpses he caught among the foliage.
Finrod drifted into a quiet lilting song, not realising until after he had started that it was a chant intended for elflings, gentle and rhythmic and strangely haunting. He grinned. So he felt as if he were an adult trying to coax a group of shy children to approach him, did he? Folly. He knew only too well why this – this hidden people chose to keep away from him and his like. He only wondered if the presence of Elu’s cool-eyed kinsman had tempted them from their shelters. Artanis – no, Galadriel – would be seriously annoyed if she felt that people were avoiding her. He often wondered how she had managed to keep her temper long enough to win over those whom she had later ruled. Or perhaps she never had, he reflected. Perhaps she had only ever been tolerated – the wife of their prince rather than their princess. But then, she had grown wise over ages in the realms of Arda and was no longer the little elleth desperate to be the equal of her older brothers – perhaps she had learned to let the approach come from those seeking her out. Perhaps she had learned to accept that she had her limits. He enjoyed the thought for a moment before dismissing it. Not his little sister.
‘Shall we stop here?’ he asked his horse softly, just for the pleasure of hearing a voice, even if it was his own. ‘I am growing weary of wending my way through a maze of trees and would like to sit for a while with my feet in cool water and catch some fresh fish. I would invite you to join me for lunch, Megleredh, but I fear you would turn your nose up at the suggestion and insist on eating your usual diet of grass and leaves.’ He caressed the gleaming black pelt affectionately. ‘Come, let us take our ease for a while.’
‘It is time we thought of returning to our daughter’s house,’ Celeborn observed, lazily watching his line extend into the pewter water. ‘Before she has the Noldor invade these woods to seek us out – and sets off a train of disastrous events that would destroy for ever any hope of trust between these very different peoples.’
‘H’mm.’ Galadriel did not appear to be paying his words much heed, leaning on her elbow and gazing out across the reflections of scudding clouds and shivering trees. ‘I think we will avoid a storm, my lord.’ She smiled. ‘This will blow over.’ She sat up and turned her attention to her husband. ‘You are feeling more yourself,’ she remarked. ‘Here in more than body.’
‘I am,’ he conceded. ‘Although I think I am needed elsewhere – for now, at any rate.’ He glanced at her. ‘Perhaps by then I will feel that I have earned myself a place among the forests of Valinor.’
‘Your place is yours already, my love,’ she said seriously, ‘and if you choose not to see it, then there is little that I can do to open your eyes. You earned it first under the starlit skies of Doriath – and continued to strive towards it in your relentless battle against the forces of the dark over three ages and more.’ She reached out and touched him gently as if to reassure herself of his presence. ‘You have come home, my lord.’
He drew a pained breath, as if her words had jabbed a wound healed over but not yet entirely mended. ‘Not yet,’ he said, keeping his voice even, ‘but I begin to feel that there is a home for us somewhere here – and that it is my task to smooth our path towards it.’
‘Valar forbid that I should prevent your taking the difficult way,’ she said, a glimmer of amusement hidden deep in her voice.
‘You are a fine one to talk,’ he sniffed, ‘who could have sat in Tirion’s ivory towers accepting the adoration of the Noldor as your due.’
‘We are a pair of fools,’ his wife agreed amiably. ‘But I would not have you any other way.’
‘Given the chance to start again,’ he told her mendaciously, ‘I, of course, would have chosen an entirely different bride – a meek, conformable maiden, who would have kept her fingers out of other people’s business – and done exactly as she was bid.’
‘Of course, my brothers always said you were not up to the challenge,’ Galadriel mused. ‘I am sorry to see that they were right.’
They lapsed into silence as the wind pushed the water to lap at the shore, content simply to be in each other’s company.
‘Will you take Goerfér with us when we go?’ Galadriel enquired.
Celeborn raised his eyebrows. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Do you think he doubts us?’
His wife laughed. ‘Both doubts we can be entirely trusted and desires to be in the middle of things,’ she said frankly. ‘I cannot say I blame him on either count. The people here have been waiting long in the shadows for one to come and guide them onward to their home – why should they not be suspicious of aid that comes out of nowhere? And, given the chance, would you not wish to be among those who make change, rather than one who sits and lets it come upon him?’
‘I hope he brings his wife,’ the tall elf said with resignation. ‘She has twice his sense – and three times his strength of purpose.’
‘We will let Finrod find us,’ Galadriel decided. ‘I would not want to cut his expedition short – and then we will journey northwards. We should not put too much pressure on these folk to sustain us – they have little enough and they have shared it generously.’
‘I wish we had more we could gift them,’ her husband sighed. ‘But there is little we can leave – and they are proud. They would not take kindly to anything they saw as patronage.’
‘They already know far better than I how to avail themselves of the forest’s riches,’ Galadriel admitted. ‘But I fear it will be a hard winter for them. Perhaps a few more among them would like to join Goerfér and Losgael in coming with us – our storehouses should be full now and would not be strained by a dozen or more arrivals.’
‘I have asked Bórdain to see if he can track down your brother,’ Celeborn remarked, ‘whose sense of direction might have led him astray – I would not want to wait here indefinitely in the hope that he will eventually wander this way. I am glad to say that Bórdain seemed intrigued by the idea and consented willingly enough.’
‘Possibly more intrigued by the idea of Finrod’s horse than Finrod himself.’
‘It will do your brother no harm to find himself of less interest than a horse,’ Celeborn returned gravely. ‘He would relish the experience.’ He paused. ‘I think Bórdain might be tempted to wander with us back to Elrond’s house – purely to spend more time in the company of our steeds.’
Galadriel shook her hair back and inspected the subdued green of the trees providing her with dappled shade. ‘That should be interesting,’ she granted.
Megleredh whickered gently in the grassy glade beneath him. Finrod’s eyes focused as he took the warning, but the horse’s mind was only slightly curious. Not wolves then, the tall elf thought. Not that he had seen any evidence of predators in this ancient forest. It was as if they found it all rather too controlled here – and had chosen to move on.
Without moving, Finrod inspected the trees and undergrowth. They, too, seemed undisturbed, but – Megleredh was right, he decided. There was somebody nearby, taking rather more interest in them than any of the other drifting shadows he had glimpsed in the trees.
The light of the stars touched the world with a soft gleam against which his horse’s coat seemed a matt black. Finrod watched warily as another light-absorbing shadow slid silently from the shelter of the trees to stretch out a hand to offer a titbit the animal accepted graciously.
‘I hope,’ Finrod murmured, anxious not to scare off his unexpected guest, ‘that what he is eating so enthusiastically is not going to upset him.’
The figure stiffened, then spoke without turning his head. ‘It is only a few berries. I have given them to Bregedur and they have done him no harm.’
Finrod descended slowly from his perch. ‘If my sister has permitted you to feed them to her horse, then they are harmless,’ he conceded. ‘She is very protective of that animal.’ He remained at a reasonable distance from the stranger, allowing him to keep Megleredh between them. ‘She is well?’
The other inclined his head, as if giving the question rather more thought than Finrod felt it deserved. ‘She is at peace,’ he decided. ‘Her lord asked me to find you and take you to them.’
Finrod smiled. ‘And what of Celeborn?’
‘His light shines through him,’ the dark-haired elf said literally. ‘But the song is weaving around his being.’
‘He is recovering, then?’ Finrod mused.
Megleredh dropped his head to the night-dark grass, revealing more of the elf behind him. The forest leaned to him, Finrod realised, and, despite the shadows, there was a depth to him that was uncommon, as if he were the night made real. The elusive starlight caressed his features, marking him as one of the Star-Kindler’s own.
‘You are one of the first,’ the golden-haired elf blurted in surprise.
‘I am Bórdain,’ the other replied.
‘And my sister sends you on her errands?’ Finrod said with amused respect.
‘The Prince of Doriath asked me to seek you – if I would,’ Bórdain smiled shyly. ‘And I saw no reason not to do as he requested.’
‘I should offer you food and drink – as a token of welcome.’ Finrod spread his hands. ‘But I have little here – a spring, some lembas, a few berries.’
‘What better than Yavanna’s gifts?’ Bórdain remarked. ‘More is unnecessary.’
‘You are not acquainted with the display of the Noldor, then,’ Finarfin’s son commented.
‘But I will be, I think.’ Bórdain accepted the small mithril cup the elf-lord had filled at the bubbling spring and drank.
‘You intend to journey with us?’ Finrod was surprised.
‘Not only I,’ the dark elf told him. ‘I believe that the party returning with the Lady will be rather larger than the one that left.’
‘I think I would prefer to remain in ignorance while I can,’ her brother said with resignation. ‘And allow myself a period of peace. Getting involved in Artanis’s schemes is almost always more demanding than you would think possible.’
‘But she is no longer Artanis, is she?’ Bórdain followed the golden elf into his preferred tree. ‘She has grown beyond that and into another name.’
‘She is still trouble, though,’ her oldest brother said with conviction. ‘Although I would not dream of telling her to her face. If you let her rope you into her activities, you need to know that.’
‘Sometimes the trouble is worth it,’ Bórdain said with slow consideration.
Elladan’s head rested on his naneth’s lap, his eyes three-quarters closed as Celebrían ran soothing fingers through his hair. The look she threw at his twin was stricken.
‘He found it hard,’ Elrohir said unemotionally. ‘He would not stay – it was not his home any longer – but he felt guilty for abandoning Imladris, which was left in his care.’
‘And you did not?’ Elrond spoke gently.
His son closed his eyes. ‘I concentrated my thoughts on what awaited us,’ he said.
‘No-one expected you to sacrifice yourselves,’ his naneth whispered.
Elrohir smiled tightly. ‘You cannot tell me it was not a relief to all here that we and Daeradar stayed – for as long as we were needed.’
‘Ah, my son!’ Elrond strove to keep the anguish from his voice and succeeded fairly well. ‘None would have imagined necessity to go this far! You have gone far beyond the bounds of what my heart asked of you.’ He was surprised to observe that his hand was shaking as he slipped his arm round his son’s shoulders. ‘You drive yourselves harder than any would push you.’
Elrohir leaned into his adar’s embrace. ‘Arwen never doubted,’ he said. ‘Not even at the end, when Estel left her bereft. She bade us all farewell with a look – and although her body lived through the starvation of a bitter winter, she had already left us.’
His adar drew a ragged breath. ‘It was inevitable,’ he said with a healer’s calm. ‘Arwen gave herself freely – she would not hold back from Estel one jot of who she was.’ His free hand stroked his son’s. ‘There is no need to speak of it – until you are ready.’
‘Your adar kept his wounds to himself for decades,’ Celebrían murmured, unwilling to disturb Elladan’s rest. ‘Too stubborn to see that he could not always be the healer, but needed his own release. Speak now, Elrohir, rather than letting the pain fester within you. You have much to say – and I would hear it.’
Elrohir’s grey eyes met Elrond’s ruefully. ‘I am concerned about Daeradar,’ her son sighed, hoping to deflect her attention. ‘The weakening of his bond with Arda affected him profoundly. Ours was never as – strong – as intense as his, and we were bound up with those who dwelt there. Some, at least, of those we looked to rejoin in breaking our ties with those shores. And we have.’ He turned his hand to clasp his adar’s and smiled at Celebrían, a smile that lit him from within.
‘I will not press you.’ Celebrían recognised the technique from long experience. ‘But I am here when you are ready.’ The golden afternoon light sliced across the glade where the dust motes danced in the light breeze. The ripple of water as it gurgled round the small obstructions in its path sounded like distant laughter and the birds chirruped in the sheltering trees. Continuing to stroke Elladan’s hair, she began to hum a tune familiar from the twins’ earliest childhood, radiating, to the best of her ability, the security of home to the two ragged elves who were her sons.
As Elrohir, too, allowed himself to relax into sleep, Celebrían’s voice faded into silence.
‘They need work,’ Elrond remarked quietly. ‘A purpose here of greater moment than simply being.’
‘Elrohir is right,’ his naneth conceded. ‘They have always needed people – and people who need them.’ She smiled. ‘My naneth has taken Adar to come to know the land. Our sons – we will introduce them to the elves who dwell here.’
Elrond eyed her cynically. ‘They will not appreciate match-making,’ he said.
‘Then they will have the pleasure of evading my wiles,’ she laughed. ‘And that, in itself, will keep them busy as they heal.’
Finrod smiled broadly at his sister as he leaned forward to exchange kisses of greeting. She seemed, he thought, remarkably unsurprised by his arrival – and nowhere near as indignant as he had thought she would be.
‘You took your time,’ she commented.
He raised a fair eyebrow. ‘Anyone would think I was expected,’ he commented innocently. ‘I do not recall having been invited to join you.’
‘But you are here nonetheless,’ she told him dryly. ‘And later than I would have anticipated.’
‘Surrender, my friend,’ Celeborn advised. ‘It is not worth the effort of disputing the lady’s claims.’
‘You have learned wisdom, then, over the endless years.’
Galadriel cast up her eyes and sighed as Losgael came up beside them to offer cups of birch wine. The two ellyth exchanged resigned glances. It would seem, that look suggested, that it took more than an acquaintance stretching back over more than three ages to overcome male competition – and to put a stop to the teasing of older brothers.
‘Finrod, this is Losgael,’ Galadriel announced, ignoring protocol, ‘who is wed to Goerfér – who is, in some degree, cousin to my lord.’
The unspoken reproof made Finrod grin. His little sister was not about to let him forget that Celeborn was her husband, any more than she had over the long years while she had awaited his tardy arrival. Only once had his protectiveness towards his little sister made him criticise his brother-in-law’s choice to remain behind – and she had pointed out, sharply and in the minimum number of words, that one who had deserted his beloved to follow a path that had led him to torment and death in Angband was hardly in any position to censure another.
He allowed himself to be drawn away and introduced to the others of the group who hovered nearby, talking easily about his journey and leading them to speak of their lives in the forest.
‘He seems to be enjoying himself,’ Celeborn commented, sipping the fresh wine.
‘H’mm.’ Galadriel narrowed her eyes at her oldest brother. ‘I hope he is not going to interfere.’
‘Surely the interest of Finarfin’s son could only benefit our project,’ her husband said mildly. ‘I will not resent his involvement if it will help bring your adar to our way of thinking.’
His wife smiled. ‘My adar is no fool,’ she remarked. ‘I imagine he has already considered our problem – and, most likely, come to some conclusion on the matter. But he will let us develop our own ideas and put us through the tedium of petitioning him for his attention – and then spend years consulting with his advisors before consenting to an outcome not dissimilar to what he would grant us now.’
Celeborn cast up his eyes. ‘You came by your aggravating ways legitimately, then,’ he deplored.
‘Finarfin likes you to be certain that you want what you claim,’ she said. ‘And if you have to fight for it, you have a greater appreciation of the reward.’
Her husband replied with not more than the lift of an eyebrow and Galadriel blushed. ‘Yes,’ she admitted. ‘His provocative behaviour after the War of Wrath was doubtless a demonstration of the same technique. He had been told by my naneth to persuade me to return with him – and he was not about to let me remain without a fight – but he needed to be sure that I was sure.’ She smiled wryly. ‘And that you were as determined as I was.’
‘I have no objection to being forced to consider carefully what it is that we wish to do,’ Celeborn mused. ‘It is a good strategy. We have experienced establishing new homes in the wake of disaster and flight – and know only too well that it is wise to take our time to consider this move.’
Finrod came up behind them and placed an affectionate hand on a shoulder of each. ‘So,’ he said, ‘when to we start the journey back? I promised your daughter to have you home in time for the autumn festivals, so we have little time to waste.’
‘Oh,’ Celeborn smiled, ‘I think we are ready.’
His wife looked at him intently. Yes, she thought, he was ready. He was thinking more about a future in which he had a role to play than a past he had lost, and his grasp on life was growing stronger each day. He was ready.
Bórdain rested his dark head against the bark behind him. The trees were different here, he thought. They had spent too much time in the company of elves more ancient than the moon that gleamed between the leaves. They were calm and powerful, but – they best way he could put it, he decided, they scarcely remained just trees. Their awareness had intensified almost the point of alertness and they no longer simply were. In some ways it was exciting – this beech had observed him, approved him and become his friend in a way that no tree had before – but he found it disconcerting nonetheless. He would be sorry to leave – in some ways, at least.
He reached back to splay his fingers over the smooth grey trunk consolingly. It was only distance, he assured the tree, and time. And time, after all, meant nothing here. He would return – one day, when the call of these trees sang in his heart louder than the mystery of the unknown forest beyond the mountains. Closing his eyes to trap the soft gleam of present starlight inside his mind, he recalled in meticulous detail the wonder of the trees at Cuiviénen and the icy purity of the singing waters. So much seen, he reflected with a pang, so much lost – and yet his spirit was filled with sights and sounds that he would not choose to have missed. Change, after all, was a necessary part of growth.
A change in the song made him open his eyes.
‘I am sorry,’ Celeborn told him, ‘that it has taken so long.’
‘It takes the time it needs.’ Bórdain observed.
‘I am surprised that you have remained here with us.’ Celeborn hesitated. ‘Those to whom the deep forest is home rarely feel comfortable among the houses and forges of the Noldor.’
‘It is all part of Eru’s creation.’ Bórdain seemed unsurprised. ‘And it is the way of life to strive towards the light. We all do it in different ways. Why should I begrudge the Noldor their order if it offers them comfort?’ He smiled. ‘Finwë’s people have always wished for knowledge – just as Ingwë’s have craved understanding.’
‘And what have Elwë’s people sought?’ Celeborn asked.
‘Freedom.’ The response was immediate. ‘Freedom. It is why the Teleri love the restlessness of the sea.’ Bórdain smiled slightly. ‘And the Silvan the secrecy of uncharted forest. It makes us difficult to deal with at times, for we will not be told.’
‘It has not made the task any easier,’ Celeborn mused.
‘Finwë’s son has agreed, then?’
‘He has. And he has imposed his will on those who would wish to continue the debate.’
Bórdain smiled. ‘And all is as it should be.’ He paused. ‘The Lady will journey west with you?’
‘In time. Although we will need to remain here for some while yet.’ Celeborn ran a hand over his silver hair. ‘This exodus will need to be managed even more carefully than the negotiations if we are to make it work smoothly.’
Bórdain gave an absent nod. ‘She must come,’ he said. ‘If this is to become what we would hope – our Great Journey does not end until the descendants of our leaders have seen us to our intended home here in the west.’
Stilling, Celeborn fixed his gaze on the elf who had awoken at Cuiviénen. ‘Elrond, too?’ he asked. ‘And my daughter and grandsons?’
‘Of course.’ Bórdain seemed unaware that he had said anything remarkable. ‘And you, my lord. None should turn aside from the completion of this crossing.’
‘What does your adar make of Bórdain?’ Celeborn trailed his fingers in the small pond into which a pleasing splash of water trickled constantly.
Galadriel looked up from her embroidery. ‘He has said little,’ she said readily enough, ‘but I am not fool enough not to notice that he listens carefully to the few words that Bórdain speaks in his presence.’ She smiled wryly. ‘And Finrod trusts him – which some might say is meaningless, as Finrod makes friends easily.’
‘Your brother is no fool, my love.’ Celeborn rearranged some of the pebbles.
‘Why do you ask?’
He shook his head. ‘Something he said.’ He glanced at her. ‘At times I get glimpses of something beneath the surface – something deep and still and powerful – and then it disappears, and he is simply an elf, reserved and modest and intrigued by our horses.’
She considered his words.
Galadriel, he thought with amusement, had mastered control – control and silence and how to listen – and she performed with an aplomb that was enough to make most people think that it came naturally. He would have liked to have known her when she was young and reckless. From what her brothers said, it had been an exciting experience and one during which none knew quite where she would lead them next. By the time she had lived through Alqualondë and endured across the Helcaraxë she had learned that the world was a harsher place than it had seemed to the much-loved daughter of Finarfin and Eärwen. He thought, in a way, it had been the bruised look in her shadowed eyes that had first rung in his bones and made him want to protect her. Although it was probably as well that he had never voiced those desires – she would not have appreciated the thought.
‘He is more than he seems,’ she decided. She smiled wryly. ‘In which he is not alone, my lord.’
Celeborn raised an eyebrow, but she refused to elaborate. ‘I had expected Goerfér to linger with us – his curiosity, I would have thought, would have been sufficient to make him enjoy the politics of life here – but he could not wait to brush the dust from his feet and join the first parties heading into the mountains to seek the lands beyond. And Bórdain remains. There are times when I wonder if I have learnt anything.’
‘Goerfér, my lord, wished to seek word of his daughter – and he found that he did not like what his son was learning among these indulged sons of the Noldor. I believe,’ her smile became mischievous, ‘that Losgael gave him an ultimatum – and that he was wise enough to take her seriously.’ She set her needle in the cloth and put her work to one side. ‘Pelthaes had inherited enough of his adar’s impulsiveness to make his parents concerned and Losgael was sufficiently anxious to send him west that she was prepared to remain here without them until it is time for ellyth to venture forth.’
The long racemes of wisteria bobbed in the gentle breeze as if in agreement as they leaned over the ancient wall behind her. Galadriel’s stone bench had probably sat in that position since before the War of Wrath, he thought, and had been adorned over the yeni by beautiful and industrious ellyth as they rested to admire this elegantly conceived vista across the broad gardens. For a moment, he experienced a qualm. ‘Am I asking too much of you, my heart? Are you willing to leave this haven for which you yearned so long to follow me into the wild again?’
She dropped her hands into her lap. ‘You want me to say it plainly?’ she asked. ‘I made my choice, my lord, and I hold to it. I will follow you. I will journey willingly at your side and work with you to build a haven beyond the mountains.’ She smiled wryly. ‘Mind you,’ she added, ‘I am not saying that I will not return to spend many seasons here with my parents and brothers – or that they will not come west to visit us. You spent three ages without having to concern yourself with most of my kin – you will not be as fortunate in the future.’
‘I like your family,’ Celeborn said, hiding his grin. ‘Most of them, at any rate. I would welcome their desire to learn more of the Galadhrim.’
Galadriel gazed at her husband. It was hard to believe now that he had been so – so barely there. This was the elf who had led Lothlórien over a millennium, the leader who had guided Ost-in-Edhil through its darkest days, who had fought Morgoth and stood by Elu’s side. He was sure in his command, confident in his decisions – yet at the same time gentle in the way only the strong can be and considerate of the needs of others. ‘When do we go?’ she asked.
‘Not yet,’ he sighed. ‘There are still tasks that need to be completed here – and someone must remain in charge for some years yet. But soon.’ He smiled. ‘Soon enough to look forward to the day with joy.’
Elrond leaned his shoulder on the frame of the balcony door and gazed contentedly at the group beneath the immense beech that dominated the lawn. He had been more worried than he felt able to acknowledge, he admitted to himself, that the drain on their sons was more than they would be able to endure. He would remain eternally grateful to his daughters-in-law for giving the twins reasons to adjust to life in the Blessed Realm – as well, of course, as for the grandchildren they had provided and because they were simply delightful ellyth. And, he smiled as he watched Celebrían curl her arms around the bouncing Elrin, because they had restored to both of them the hope of a future with their family here beyond the sea.
‘You cannot wait to go.’ Finrod spoke soberly.
‘It is not that.’ Elrond turned away from the garden to meet the mild accusation. ‘I am content here – but the Sinda in me recognises that this is not the right place for all. My sons need a challenge – Celebrían’s adar needs trees … and work and responsibility.’ He smiled slightly. ‘And there are thousands upon thousands of the third kindred, by whatever name they choose to go, who seek a home far beyond the reach of these long-settled lands. It is not only I who would guide this exodus.’ He looked at his wife’s uncle. ‘You are more than welcome to join us – there are Noldor, too, who chafe at the restrictions of tradition.’
Finrod grinned. ‘There were few who welcomed our arrival on the shores of Beleriand. And many – such as Goerfér and his wife – who looked on us as usurpers.’
‘The more reason for you to be among the first to seek freedom in the west. To come later would be to impose a presence on those already settled. To explore with us now … It is why Glorfindel was prepared to take representatives of Finarfin’s people on his first explorations.’ He stepped away from the window. ‘We would have liked to have Olwë’s Teleri – and Círdan’s Falathrim – among them, too, but they cling to the sea and choose not to be enticed away from its shores.’
‘I think Finarfin is right to hold us back,’ Finrod shrugged. ‘The New Realms should be a place for the elves of Arda to settle and feel safe.’
Elrond shook his head. ‘Yet separation of the kindreds is not wise, Finrod. It reinforces the fears and prejudices each hold – better to learn to live together as elves with a single purpose than to use a mountain range to erect barriers between us. We need Noldor, Vanyar and Teleri to show these elves of the deep woods that the differences between us are much less important than they would think.’
‘You have a point.’ Finrod acknowledged.
‘Shall we join them outside?’ Elrond waved towards the door and they turned to walk shoulder to shoulder along the wide shady corridor towards the stairway. ‘There are those whose minds are set,’ he continued. ‘Changing their opinions will take more effort than setting up a new haven – I have tried both, Finrod, and I can assure you of that! But every elf whose heart is opened to understanding is a triumph – every child who grows up accepting all, of whatever kindred, as a friend is a promise to a harmonious future.’ They stepped into the warmth of the golden afternoon. ‘It is one of the things that I will miss as we dwell here less – I have tried to make my home a place where all can meet and learn together.’
‘You are a worthy heir to all the lines that have gone into making you, Elrond Eärendilion.’ Finrod glanced at him, smiling as a slight flush heightened his nephew-by-marriage’s colour. ‘And the product of many long years of service and hard experience. You deserve your own lands to rule where you can strive to bring a better understanding to the people in your care.’
‘You can describe a whale to one who has never seen the sea,’ Elrond shrugged, ‘but he will not understand the reality of your words. We need to work together on this. Goerfér learned a lot by working with Finarfin’s advisors – they became individuals to him. Tarannon – among others – has learned that the elves of Arda are as worthy of respect as those who have never left Aman. Unless our peoples continue to interact, they will again become strangers.’
Finrod turned over the words. They were probably right, he decided. To separate the ever increasing numbers of elves who had lived east of the sea from those who lived in the calmly ordered life of Aman was as likely to reconstruct divisions as it was to deliver peace. Like it or not, they were many groups of one people – and they would be together until the world was remade. Someone – many someones – needed to work towards an alliance that was more than a suspension of distrust.
‘This is not a thought that is likely to please Celeborn,’ he remarked. ‘And it is even less likely to delight Thranduil and his lady.’
‘I am not so sure.’ Elrond’s steps slowed. ‘They are both anxious to provide a home to those who feel displaced, but they are only too aware that isolation is not beneficial in the long run.’ He smiled wryly. ‘It is your sister who tried hardest to seal her home away from the outside.’
‘She has always been inclined towards adopting extreme solutions,’ Finrod agreed. ‘And to clinging on beyond the time when most would cut their losses and concede defeat.’
‘And then turning defeat to success.’ Elrond’s tone was affectionate. ‘In a way.’
‘I find I do not envy her husband.’
Elrond laughed. ‘They have long since learned to support each other, Finrod – in both good times and bad.’
‘You would see the Noldor journey among you?’ Finarfin’s son returned to more serious matters.
‘Some, yes. Young people, preferably, who are prepared to examine honestly another way of living. Those who have some healing talent are obvious candidates to come to my house and work to find a place among those who will follow me – but there will be others who are suited to a more adventurous life exploring in the far west – who will settle happily among the Galadhrim or the Silvan. I would not be averse to the establishment of a Noldor realm, either. Where the Pelori thrusts a spur westward and the rock is mineral rich, probably. I can see that being a place where many would feel at home. And I would send young elves of the forest east – to study, to learn to know other customs and peoples. It will not make for immediate understanding – but it will help.’
‘But we must make haste slowly, I fancy, my friend.’ Finrod concluded. ‘More seasons of long meetings talking over possibilities – discussing benefits and disadvantages. Judging how much to move and how swiftly.’ He grinned as Elrond rolled his eyes. ‘As the High King would remind you, cousin, there is nothing to be gained from precipitate action.’
‘I am no longer surprised it took the whole of the First Age for the Valar’s Host to find its way to Angband,’ Elrond observed. ‘Only that it reached the shores of Beleriand while there were still elves and men surviving east of the sea.’
Finrod laughed. ‘We will give the matter consideration,’ he promised, ‘and attempt to come to some conclusion before this age ends. We might be slow – but we get there in the end.’
‘Is Sirithiel happy for us to remove her children?’ Galadriel enquired, showing no desire to return the infant sleeping in her arms.
‘She needs to rest,’ Celebrían responded with a twinkle of mischief. ‘Elrohir promised he would guard them – but found himself unable to cope with having both of them crying simultaneously.’
Galadriel glanced at her daughter and shook her head. ‘You cannot relieve him of his daughters at every opportunity. He needs to learn to deal with them.’
‘You cannot talk!’ Celebrían laughed. ‘The twins were removed from Elrond’s care whenever you could persuade him to hand them over to you.’ She rocked gently to soothe the elleth in her arms. Two slate grey eyes looked at her as the baby tried ineffectively to grasp her gleaming silver hair. ‘They are small for so short a time.’
‘Which is why Elrohir should be encouraged to hold them whenever he can.’
‘He does,’ the babies’ daernaneth protested. ‘But, between them, these little rascals have kept their parents awake too long – Elrohir wished to attend to his wife and be sure that she was all right.’
‘I shall miss them.’ Galadriel ran her fingers gently through the baby’s tuft of fair hair. ‘Elrin, too.’
‘Do you have to leave so soon?’
‘It is only a visit.’ Her naneth glanced up. ‘Thranduil will find it easiest to settle – Laerwen has been living beyond the mountains long enough to have developed a working relationship with the forest and it is just a matter of enlarging her home slowly to maintain the balance. It is different for you. Glorfindel has recognised and begun to settle the site where he thinks Elrond and you would like to establish your centre of power, but there is little there yet – and will not be for some time to come. And your adar and I do not even know where we will be drawn. Further west, I think, but,’ she returned her eyes to Aewlin’s sleeping face, ‘we will not know until we get there.’
‘Bórdain?’ Celebrían asked.
Her naneth smiled. ‘He and your adar seem to share some vision that they cannot even begin to explain – I fancy we will wander until we find this – this dream of perfection that sings in their fëar.’
‘Then it is a visit that might last some time.’
‘It might,’ Galadriel admitted. ‘She reminds me of you, this one.’ She touched a finger to the soft cheek. ‘She will be difficult, I think, to manage – intelligent and questioning. Clear sighted.’ She lowered her head to press her lips to the little head. ‘Although not as difficult as Nimloth,’ she added cheerfully, ‘who seems to me an interesting combination of the qualities of her adar and her uncle.’
Celebrían looked up doubtfully from the baby who was still trying to bury her fingers into her daernaneth’s hair. ‘I was not difficult as a child,’ she protested.
‘Your sons came by their mischief legitimately.’ Galadriel managed to look down her nose at her daughter. ‘And not from their paternal line.’
‘I have heard enough stories from my uncles to know the truth of that!’ Celebrían declared.
‘They were taking advantage of my absence,’ Galadriel said haughtily, ‘to inform you of matters that were none of your business. I shall have to speak to them.’
‘Too late.’ Celebrían shook her head with mock sadness. ‘I already know enough to use against you, Naneth. Including some stories that I am assured never made it to your adar’s ears.’
‘Perhaps it is as well that I am about to head beyond the Pelori.’ Galadriel resumed her watching of the infant in her arms. ‘Distance has some advantages.’
Her daughter moved closer and rested her free hand on her naneth’s. ‘I shall miss you,’ she said. ‘If I learned one thing during my years here before you and Elrond arrived, it is that I am much happier in the presence of my family.’
‘But that you can live without it if you must, my dearest one.’ Galadriel met her eyes. ‘You are stronger than you know, Celeborniel.’
‘Come back soon to watch your great-grandchildren grow to adulthood, Naneth.’ Celebrían spoke soberly. ‘It is so few years, after all – and they cannot return.’
She enjoyed the markets. The brightness of the sun lit the awnings and tiny wisps of steam curled as the dampness of the early morning burned off. The scent of fresh fruit and vegetables was heady – while the noise of the poultry in their small pens was enough to make her want to cover her ears. And there was so much else to admire – elegantly crafted pottery, pans of gleaming copper, stalls of vivid ribbons, others with bolts of cloth dyed in a range of colours enough to challenge a rainbow, some stalls displaying inexpensive rings and brooches to tempt passing customers and make them inspect the works of art kept carefully behind glass. Such wealth, she always thought. Such a careless show that revealed how accustomed these elves were to having what they wanted. And yet – for every heedless lordling, there must be a dozen – a score – of careful housewives bargaining for the food their family needed. For every customer at the jewellers’ stalls, there were ten times as many looking wistfully at items they could not afford.
Losgael bought a poke of early cherries and ate one thoughtfully as she stood back and watched. Did the great lords even notice, she wondered, or were they so used to having what they wanted that they did not even realise that there were those in this wealthy city who were not wealthy at all? Those who worked the fields in the hot sun and slept, exhausted, through the brightening of the stars to rise before dawn and make their way to market, so that there might be strawberries on the breakfast tables of the mighty? At one time, she would have been certain of not only their ignorance, but also of their indifference – but an extended acquaintance with the High King’s daughter and granddaughter had broadened her understanding. The last years had been very – educational.
In fact, had it not been for her son’s tendency to embroil himself in pointless disputes over nothing in particular, she would have enjoyed herself here far more than she had ever expected. But Pelthaes had thrown himself into the business of learning to gamble and fight, until she had been forced to insist that he would be far better employed in exploring the western lands away from the temptations of city life. Not that he had been pleased to have his pleasures curtailed – but Goerfér’s letters suggested that he was beginning to come round, and she would far rather endure her son’s sulks than permit him to ruin himself.
‘And it is like this every day,’ Bórdain’s soft voice marvelled in her ear.
She extended her cherries to him and he accepted a pair, smelling them appreciatively before biting into one. ‘And yet it means more if there are only a few markets each year. Each one becomes a fair – with music and dancing and people come from far afield to spend a few days together.’
‘And traders share the information they gather as they journey – and bring goods from other parts of the world that seem exotic. Shells from the shore, strange fruits and seeds, bright fabrics, spices…’ Bórdain’s eyes looked into the past.
‘Life will be simpler when we move to our new home,’ Losgael decided.
‘Perhaps.’ Bórdain reflected. ‘But life has never been simple. Not really. Not since the very beginning. It is in our nature to complicate matters. We change and grow – and want more than enough to eat and the company of kin.’ His gesture encompassed not only the market, but the city beyond. ‘This is part of our experience now – and we will take it with us.’
‘That may be true,’ Losgael mused, ‘but there are things here I do not wish to make part of my new life.’
‘That, too, is a matter of choice.’
Losgael looked at him sharply. ‘What will go with you as you travel beyond the mountains?’
He shrugged, unwilling to commit himself to putting what he had learned into words. Then he smiled slyly. ‘Bregedur has had a daughter,’ he said. ‘The Lady says that, if she is willing to be mine, she may go with me.’
‘Horses!’ Losgael shook her head impatiently. ‘Do not allow yourself to be distracted from what really matters.’
Bórdain met her eyes. ‘And do not you be too direct, Lady Losgael,’ he said. ‘A winding path reaches the same end – and those who travel it see much along the way that is hidden from those who drive forward in blinkered haste.’ His smile widened. ‘This end is worth the journey.’
Celeborn inspected his paperwork with a jaded eye. How long had it been since he had been able to ride, not knowing where he would rest his head? Too long by far. This stage of the negotiations seemed to have taken longer than the whole of the First Age. And, if he was not careful, he would be so bogged down in meetings that another age would pass before he was free to seek out the trees that sang to him.
‘Enough, Daeradar!’ The door crashed open with the abandon that only his grandsons would display.
Elrohir removed the quill from his fingers firmly. ‘Finarfin would imprison you in paper if he felt it would keep his daughter here at his court,’ he announced. ‘There is no need for you to spend any longer trying to satisfy every tiny niggle that he brings to your attention. We will do it.’ He grinned and his grandfather held his breath at the sudden vision he had of the twins as they had been during their early adulthood, before pain and guilt and rage had marred their mithril-bright spirits.
‘Well,’ Elladan amended. ‘Elrohir will do it. I will act as his mouthpiece.’
‘Take yourselves off!’ Elrohir flapped his hands, almost as if he expected Celeborn to skitter out of sight like a deer shooed away from a field of young grain. ‘You and Daernaneth and whomsoever else you wish to take. Load up your packhorses and go – before Andaeradar thinks of any other reasons to delay your departure.’
‘Perhaps when he sees that you will come back, he will reconcile himself to Daernaneth’s absence,’ Elladan added. ‘It is not as if you will have the Sundering Seas to keep you apart.’
Celeborn leaned back in his chair. ‘You attribute our slow progress to an adar’s love for his daughter?’ he asked with amusement.
‘You attribute your inability even to find time to goand look to anything more complex?’ Elladan shook his head sadly.
‘It is one thing to talk about making sure that matters are properly thought through,’ Elrohir agreed, ‘and quite another to allow yourself to be moiled in webs of spider silk. Go – before Daernaneth loses patience!’
‘You would keep your adar here, yet free me to wander in the wild forests west of the mountains?’
‘Adar will go when Glorfindel tells him that the time is ripe.’ Elladan grinned. ‘And at least he is busy with his own plots! These piles of reports and enquiries will dry up just as soon as everyone sees that you are no longer prepared to be ruled by them.’
Elrohir lifted a heavy wad of paper bound together with pink tape. ‘What is this? ‘A Consideration of the Provision of Facilities for the Return of Silvan Elves’. That looks vital reading.’ He turned the next document to read its title. ‘This looks even better – ‘Population Increase and its Impact on the Forest Environment’. It is a wonder to me that you managed to run the Golden Wood successfully without ever reading this.’
‘Experienced and educated elves have expended a great deal of effort on considering these matters,’ Celeborn remarked mildly.
‘Not one of whom has ever spent more than a few month dwelling in the forest,’ Elrohir pointed out. ‘Do you not think it possible that they have little of value to say on the subject?’
‘Do not close your mind to the ideas of others, my grandsons.’ Celeborn rolled his shoulders. Elladan slipped behind him and began to massage the tight muscles. ‘That particular report has some very good thoughts in it.’
‘Anything you had not already understood?’ Elrohir looked remarkably like his adar as he raised a curious eyebrow.
‘Well – no,’ his grandfather conceded. ‘But the ideas are remarkably well expressed for someone who has spent most of his life working in Finarfin’s court.’
‘Take the author west with you.’ Elladan grinned. ‘Let him extend his knowledge on the ground. It would do him good to realise that in some areas he is a raw recruit – and that elves with no scholarly pretensions understand from experience everything that he has studied.’
‘But first,’ Elrohir looked up from the reports, ‘spend some time on the training field – and ensure that these place-seekers know just how dangerous it is to stand between the elf who felled Dol Guldur and his goal.’
His grandfather stretched as a feeling of well-being warmed him. ‘You could be right,’ he agreed. ‘And, even if you were to try your hardest, you cannot create that much chaos over a few seasons.’
‘If you think that…’ Elladan leaned confidentially close to his ear, ‘you do not know us very well.’
‘True,’ Elrohir added straight-faced. ‘Our best is much better than most will give us credit for achieving.’
‘But you can rest assured,’ Elladan’s grin lit the room, ‘that you will find little paperwork on your return. And that is a promise.’
He came up behind her as she stood at the wide open window, Ithil’s silver light brightening to gold in her braided hair, her silken nightgown shimmering as she breathed.
‘I dreamed of you,’ he said, his voice low, ‘when we were on different sides of an unforgiving sea. Many times. Standing in the light of the stars – cold and silent and alone. Yet I could not reach you.’
‘But you came.’ She turned and smiled. ‘In the end, you came.’
‘I could not stay away.’
‘And I think you have found it – less confining than you thought?’ She leaned back to meet his eyes even as her hands reached to touch him.
He grinned ruefully. ‘You wish to be proved right again, my heart?’ he asked. ‘I have found that, for all I miss the song of Arda, I can be happy where my family dwells – and that it is possible to build a new life here, where the song is clear and true.’ He drew her closer, pressing his forehead to hers and running one hand down her back to rest on her hip.
‘But you will be glad to seek out the forest,’ she said. ‘Glad to look for the place that shines in your mind. Far from the white towers of Tirion – and the confinements of court.’
‘I am not unaccustomed to court ritual,’ he smiled, ‘and the tedium of negotiation – but you are right. I will be glad to get away for a while. Even if the idea of leaving our grandsons to fill my role is rather alarming.’
Galadriel laughed. ‘They are perfectly capable,’ she said. ‘They just prefer not to show it.’ Her long fingers traced his cheekbone lingeringly. ‘We should rest – tomorrow will be a hard day.’
‘I have no intention of resting,’ he declared. ‘We will be spending weeks in the company of others. I can think of far better things to do on our last night alone.’
Her slow smile tightened his belly with an excitement that could still surprise him after all their centuries together. ‘So can I,’ she said, touching her lips to his with the lightness of a snowflake brushing a leaf. ‘And they will be all the more enjoyable for knowing that I will have you at my side again tomorrow – and for as many tomorrows as may come.’
(Tarannon is a very minor character from Far Horizons. He is son of Artamir and brother to Calion.)
Meant to Be
The land was green and rolling, filled with the sound of rushing water and clothed with trees. Deeper greens streaked the hills, while broad-branched trees with their early summer foliage spread out on the lower slopes – all highlighted by the blue of the sky and the silvered waters, with the flame of poppies licking across the grasses. It was beautiful.
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow.
‘I can see Elrond and my daughter here,’ Celeborn granted.
His wife admired the careful constructions of flint and mortar constructed in harmony with the trees that provided open rooms at ground level; rooms with arched windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, through which the fresh green-scented air blew. Staircases, more outdoor than indoor, led into the trees, where broad platforms had been roofed and proofed against the rain.
‘Will it not be cold in winter?’ she asked.
‘Perhaps,’ Glorfindel conceded. ‘But we will deal with that if the time comes – it should not be difficult. Elrond did not want Imladris rebuilt, but a home that would fit here.’ He looked critically at the construction. ‘And I would rather leave the finishing touches to Celebrían. She knows what she wants.’ He turned his clear eyes to his lady’s adar. ‘When will she and Elrond be able to break the chains that hold them across the mountains?’
Celeborn grinned. ‘They might not find it easy to get away,’ he said. ‘For all the High King of the Noldor has consented to this move, he is reluctant to bid farewell to his family.’
‘Elrond is of the mind that decisions made now could profit these lands – or damage them – for yeni to come,’ Galadriel said reprovingly. ‘He has the patience to wait.’
The two elf lords shared a look.
‘The twins will push him out the door soon,’ Celeborn shrugged. ‘They seem to have decided to take charge.’
‘Good,’ Glorfindel said smugly. ‘I hoped they would.’ He paused. ‘Have you decided where you will go from here?’
‘West.’ Celeborn looked towards the lowering sun, as if drawn by some invisible cord. ‘West.’
‘Is is not ironic,’ Glorfindel shook his head in mock disbelief, ‘that after whole ages of fighting the call to take ship, you should be pulled now to journey as far west as you can.’
Galadriel laughed. ‘Not at all,’ she teased. ‘For my lord is continuing to do exactly the opposite of what many would expect of him – and I would expect no different.’
‘You, Glorfindel, famed Balrog-slayer of Gondolin,’ declared Celeborn, ‘are in no position to criticise! When all others were sailing west, you alone refused to follow the trend and returned to the lands east of the sea. And now, when you could be sitting with your kin and basking in the glory due to you, you choose to hide yourself in these woods, seeking havens for the reluctant exiles of the forests.’
‘Well, who wants to do the everyday?’ Glorfindel asked. ‘Better to stand firm and be true to yourself.’
‘Will you settle here with Elrond and Celebrían?’ Galadriel asked. ‘Or seek out other adventures?’
Glorfindel shrugged expressively. ‘I know not,’ he said. ‘And I am reluctant to make commitments that might last until the end of days. What will come, will come.’ He smiled. ‘I get on well with Elrond – and missed your daughter’s presence in Imladris. I expect I shall make their home mine, yet wander as the mood takes me.’
‘You are welcome to join us,’ Celeborn told him. ‘Permanently, or for however long suits you.’ His eyes rested on Glorfindel’s face. ‘I am sure Bórdain would be only too glad to have you on our quest. He seems to think that all the kindreds need to share what we will find.’
‘And I am to provide the token quantity of Vanyar blood?’ Glorfindel shook his head. ‘You will have to rely on the dash that flows through your lady’s veins. Between you, the pair of you unites most factions. That will have to be enough.’
Losgael had surprised herself by running into Goerfér’s arms and clinging to him with an enthusiasm she could not recall feeling in … a goodly number of years. His scent – fresh and green and woody – filled her nostrils and she buried her fingers in his abundant dark hair. He held her to him, rubbing his cheek against the top of her head, clearly a little taken-aback by her display.
‘I have missed you,’ she accused him, brushing her face against his tunic to rub away the tears.
He leaned back enough to look at her face. A little smile hovered round his mouth, as though he was uncertain whether it would be wise to show his pleasure in seeing her. ‘I did not know whether you would come,’ he told her. ‘I thought you might have taken to life in Tirion and not wish to exchange it for a simpler existence in the woods.’
She slapped him on the shoulder. ‘Fool,’ she said fiercely. ‘As if I would stay behind when my family is here!’ She placed her hand more gently on his cheek. ‘You look well,’ she told him, her eyes searching his face.
‘I am well,’ he told her. ‘Pelthaes is well. Nifredil is well. Lómion is well. Our grandchildren are well.’ He stroked his hand down her long braid, settling it in the small of her back.
‘You found them!’ A flush of pleasure bloomed in Losgael’s face.
‘We found them – settled and happy in this vast forest.’ Goerfér raised his chin to look at the broad canopy of the enormous oak and paused to draw a few breaths of the pure air before dropping his head to meet his wife’s eyes. ‘Our granddaughter is to be wed,’ he informed her. ‘Pelthaes approves of her choice – but has said that he has no desire to settle in one place yet. Not with so much to see and so many places to explore.’
Losgael inspected him. ‘So he is not here?’ she asked.
‘He should be back within a month or so,’ her husband reassured her. ‘He is part of one of Lord Glorfindel’s expeditionary teams.’ He patted her hip. ‘He has found a purpose, my love, just as you wanted.’
‘I am not about to blame you for his absence,’ she informed him. ‘Stop looking as if you expect to be scolded!’
‘If you are sure,’ he said meekly, then burst into a joyful laugh. ‘It is good to be with you again – and if I cannot provide Pelthaes, I can at least…’ He stopped speaking and turned her gently to the group behind her.
‘Nifredil! Oh, Nifredil!’ Losgael flushed and paled and flushed again. ‘Lómion! I am so pleased to see you. Brithilien, Golas.’ Goerfér was disconcerted as his wife burst into tears.
‘Naneth,’ Nifredil said soothingly. ‘Get her a drink, Lómion, and something to eat. I told Adar he should let you rest – but he thought you would be so pleased…’
‘I am pleased,’ Losgael declared. ‘It is just a surprise. I will be fine.’ She stretched out her hand tentatively as if not until she touched her daughter would she believe in her presence. ‘You will travel west with us?’
Nifredil exchanged a quick glance with her husband. ‘It is possible,’ she said soothingly. ‘It depends on what Brithilien’s betrothed decides – and that depends on his family.’
A slight tension tightened the skin round Losgael’s eyes. ‘It is never easy, is it?’ she said sadly. ‘There are always divisions, even here. For every reunion, there is a farewell.’
‘But we have time – and we can return, my heart,’ Goerfér murmured comfortingly. ‘We will seek this place that calls us, but we will not lose touch with those who choose to settle here.’
‘And we may decide to come.’ Lómion handed her a cup filled with a steaming tea. ‘We need not be parted for long from our daughter – and I would see this place toward which you head.’ He offered a small bowl of dried fruit and nuts. ‘I am afraid there is little prepared to eat – the cooks are making a feast to welcome the lord and lady and have little patience with those seeking something now.’
Losgael stared at the food without any appetite, taking comfort from the warmth of the cup. ‘I must go,’ she said faintly. ‘Whether you choose to or not.’ She glanced fleetingly at Goerfér. ‘I thought it meant nothing to me – that it was just another place. But it is more than that. More than what drew you to cross the mountains. It is like a bell calling.’
Goerfér looked pleased. ‘You feel it, too?’ He glanced around him. ‘Some – those whose blood has not been renewed – seem content to settle here, where the forest hums with life, but, for me, it is not enough. I am drawn further west.’
A slender hand, fingers warmed by the cup she had been clasping, slipped into his. ‘Then we will go together,’ she said, certain once again of the path before her, her mask of calm confidence once more in place.
Bórdain ran his fingers through the mare’s forelock. Her beauty still surprised him at times and he relished the feeling of partnership they shared. She had been an unexpected gift from the Lady and one that had meant a lot to him. Although, he thought ruefully, even now he was aware that their link would not last indefinitely. Long-lived as elven horses were, they were not immortal – and their parting had been implicit in the formation of the bond between them.
‘One of Bregedur’s?’ a soft voice asked.
Bórdain looked up as a pale hand stretched out to run down the mare’s neck. ‘She is,’ he agreed.
‘She is special,’ Bórdain said firmly.
‘You get one like that now and then,’ Glorfindel said. ‘One whose memory stays with you for ever.’
‘I have never had a horse before. Not one that follows me.’
‘Yet you have come far, my friend – and have further still to go.’
Bórdain’s eyes met Glorfindel’s and held them easily. ‘A different journey from yours,’ he said. ‘But you, too, have trodden unexpected paths to come to where you are now.’
‘And you tread them still,’ Bórdain observed.
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow of dark gold, but the elf hidden in the shadows behind his mare did not expand on whatever thought was in his mind.
‘Do you know what draws you on?’ he asked.
Bórdain, like Celeborn earlier, looked towards the west. ‘We will know when we get closer.’ He glanced at his companion. ‘It gets clearer as we travel,’ he said. ‘From Tirion, it was just a call – but as we passed over the mountains, it developed direction and purpose.’
Glorfindel frowned as he considered the information. A brief gust of air tugged at his hair and stirred the leaves. ‘Are you sure it is well-intentioned?’ he asked. ‘It seems – odd – that so many yeni should pass with none feeling this draw to the west, only for it now to pull at those who are settled here.’ He gazed at Bórdain meditatively. ‘It concerns me. The decision to move west of the Pelori is sensible – and I am glad that Finarfin and Olwë and Ingwë have conceded that – but I am not comfortable with this … this mystical element.’
The starlight caught Bórdain’s unexpected smile and shone silver in his eyes. ‘You are a practical elf,’ he commented. ‘One who has dwelt in Valmar and lived with the presence of the Valar. One who has learnt that, while power might be in the hands of the Powers, day-to-day decisions are the business of the quendi themselves.’
His golden hair gleamed. ‘Are you suggesting that I do not take seriously matters that reach beyond the practical?’
‘Offer the Powers their due, but keep your sword sharp.’
‘The Valar help those who help themselves.’
‘The harder you strive, the more fortunate you become.’
‘We could exchange aphorisms all night.’ Glorfindel eyed the elf who seemed so much more solid a presence under Elbereth’s stars. ‘This … attraction seems to have an element of sea-longing about it that makes it difficult to resist. Amusing as it is to see Celeborn in the grip of something he always rejected, I do not wish him to come to any harm.’
‘I have never seen anyone in the grip of the sea-longing.’ Bórdain shrugged. ‘Yet I do not believe, from what I have heard, that it endures once the sufferer has taken ship. This feeling, too, I am sure will cease once we have found the place that calls us. It is nothing to cause concern.’
His gaze remaining steady, Glorfindel nodded slightly. ‘Some of those who have been working with us will join you on your journey. Haldir, for one, would not willingly remain behind while Celeborn travels into the unknown – and there will be others to enlarge your party.’
‘All may come if they desire.’ Bórdain smiled brilliantly. ‘The Great Journey excludes none – and this time there will be no enforced ending. Our destination awaits us.’
‘He said no.’ Finrod inspected his niece’s husband. ‘He cannot deny his daughter’s duty to follow her husband west – but he will not tolerate the loss of his sons. Not again, he said.’
Celebrían offered him a glass of wine. ‘I doubt whether Amarië would wish to move west of the Pelori, in any case.’
Finrod’s face took on the expression of gentle and wondering affection it always showed when he thought of his beautiful wife. ‘She said that she would not mind – this venture is blessed by the Valar and undertaken with the goodwill of all the kindreds.’ He smiled. ‘But I would not choose to take her from her home.’
Elrond looked thoughtful. ‘Yet I see it as a necessary part of ensuring that the relationship between the kindreds remains positive.’ He accepted a glass and smiled at Celebrían. ‘I will admit any suitable candidates to dwell in my household,’ he said, ‘but that will be a limited number of those who have suitable skills – and there are many here who would relish the offer of a new life. It seems short-sighted to confine the Noldor to their traditional lands while they see the Sindar and Silvan embracing the opportunities of the west.’
‘It is more than my uncles.’ Celebrían curled her feet beneath her on the sofa. ‘There are those elves who see their chance of leading a better life here as limited by the number of older elves long established in their roles – jewelsmiths and weavers, potters and glassmakers, elves who have been working at their crafts since before Anor rose and are highly skilled, but who leave little room for those who are growing into equal talent. Then, if you look to the countryside, our farmers have sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters, who crowd on small areas of land. They are not all needed to till the soil – and many of them are pushed into moving to the towns to take up other livings. They see land being given to those who have come from across the sea – and resent that such an offer is not made to them.’
‘Yet I see Finarfin’s point,’ Finrod objected. ‘If he were to claim an equal role in the west for those he rules, the Sindar and Silvan would believe that his aim was to dominate them in their new realms just as many believe that he wishes to dominate them here.’
‘But if the Noldor come later,’ Elrond pointed out, ‘there are those who will see their arrival as comparable to that of the heirs of Finwë and their followers arriving in Beleriand.’
‘Why is nothing to do with elves ever simple?’ Finrod demanded with exasperation.
‘At least we live long enough to learn from our mistakes.’ Celebrían grinned at him impishly. ‘The unfortunate Secondborn forget the lessons of the past – and errors of judgment are repeated time after time!’
Elrond sighed. ‘You would be an ideal person to work with the elves of Ennor.’ He stopped for a moment and brooded over his wine. ‘You are well-liked among them all – among those born here, of course, but also among those returned from Námo’s Halls and those who recall the Noldor from the First Age. Your sacrifice on behalf of Beren and Lúthien endears you to the Sindar, just as your wanderings have given you a level of acceptance among the Silvan. Taking earnest and industrious young Noldor west of the mountains to work with and learn from the wisdom of the Wood Elves would only enhance Finarfin’s reputation for statesmanship. Not to mention offering a hope for a future of harmony among all kindreds.’
Slate-grey eyes that gleamed with the light of the Trees focused on Elrond’s serious face. ‘We will speak to him again,’ Finrod declared. ‘And again, if necessary.’ He smiled wryly. ‘Far be it from me to allow my atar’s doubts to detract from his reputation from statesmanship.’
Thranduil had told them that, with every league they travelled further west, the trees grew in immensity until it was as if a city of elves could be supported by each one – but he had not believed it. Oropher’s son had been just an elfling when Doriath fell: to him the Hírilorn was but a legend – he was used to the lesser trees of later ages. But it was true – and Celeborn found himself absorbed in silent admiration of the forest around him. And he was not the only one. The Galadhrim among them expanded and their content was almost visible as an aura of cat-like pleasure. They moved further apart, riding slowly and apparently aimlessly, each one listening to the song of the forest so intently that it was as well that that nothing seemed to bear them any ill-will.
‘Why did Laerwen not lead her followers further west?’ Galadriel mused as they stopped to rest and eat. ‘Did this not draw her, too?’
Celeborn leaned back on his elbows and gazed at the canopy of sun-warmed green. ‘Perhaps it is not her place,’ he said absently.
She inclined her head to watch him. ‘Each has his own place here?’
Celeborn did not seem terribly interested, she thought with amusement. The song was proving to be a much greater distraction than she would have thought possible – and he would not be much use until he got it under control. It was probably just as well that not all of their party were so closely attuned to the forest – or niceties like food and rest would be completely overlooked in the compulsion to move ever onward. She hoped their destination would not be too far distant. She had spent enough years apart from her daughter’s family and her own and she would appreciate keeping them within reach – but she had become aware that there was little she could do about it. They would end where they would end and they would build a new life – again – among the trees. And she would be content.
Bórdain stood motionless, his arms folded in front of him and his eyes facing west. He would not leave them, no matter how urgent the need he felt in his bones. They were a party, and they would reach this destination together, see it together, recognise it together, claim it together. Let it claim them. And it would not be long now. The music was so loud that it rang in his ears and made him want to hold his head against the pain – against the beauty – against the rightness of it.
He did not even realise that Losgael was standing in front of him until she lost patience and grasped his arm. He jerked back, breathing shortly, like someone awakened from a dream.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Food,’ she said insistently. ‘Sit down and eat – and talk to somebody.’
He took the bowl she thrust at him – it was easier to follow the line of least resistance, and at least that would mean that she went away – but her words did not penetrate his absorption.
‘I am worried.’ Losgael approached Galadriel with far more confidence than she had ever felt in the High King’s city. Here, she was the one who was at home. She looked sharply at the gleaming eyes, seeing their intelligent alertness rather than the echo of the Trees that brightened them. ‘They are so certain that what draws them is the epitome of all their hopes and desires – but … but they are not with us!’ She picked up a small twig of crisp leaves that high winds had broken from the tree and began to brush the turf in front of her anxiously. ‘If anything were to go wrong now…’ She turned her glance to Goerfér, sitting bonelessly relaxed against the massive trunk of an enormous tree. ‘Anything could take us unawares.’
‘It seems to burn more strongly in the blood of ellyn,’ Galadriel observed. ‘I had thought it was my Noldor ancestry – but it is not. We ellyth are more aware of what surrounds us, while they are … almost existing in a vision of what will be.’
Losgael lifted her chin. ‘What are we going to do about it?’
‘We cannot stop them,’ Galadriel reflected. ‘It is as much as we can manage to get them to pause to eat and rest.’ She smiled. ‘I sense no danger – there is that, at least. We must keep watch and be wary for them.’
‘And keep guard?’
Galadriel inspected the remainder of their party. ‘There are a few alert enough to be of use – we must ensure that we are rested enough to watch over the rest. Haldir, for one, seems more accustomed to the intensity of this forest – I hope that as we grow accustomed to it, the rest will adjust. For now, between us, we will ensure that we reach our destination safely.’
‘I hope it will not be long.’ Losgael’s anxiety was clear.
‘Tomorrow, I think, or the day after. I sense that there is one thing that must happen before we find our goal – but I have no idea what it might be.’
Losgael smiled narrowly. ‘Then I will hope that whatever it is will occur soon. I have not rediscovered my husband only to want to lose him to this strange intoxication.’
Elladan stretched out on the chair and propped his feet up on the corner of the desk. ‘Do we have to take this quite so seriously?’ he asked.
His brother cast him an amused glance. ‘As if you do not know the answer to that,’ he said.
‘So much of this is unnecessary.’
‘It is, of course,’ Elrohir granted. ‘But if you can show me a way of discriminating between the pointless and the vital without looking at both, I shall promise to discard the dross without a second thought.’
Elladan stretched, dislodging a report from his lap to scatter over the floor. ‘I hope whoever wrote that had the sense to number the pages,’ he remarked calmly, ‘or it will make even less sense. I cannot, I am afraid, provide any magic solution – and our choices will come back to bite us, whatever we do.’
‘I think Daeradar was trying to do too much himself.’ Elrohir put down his pen. ‘I can see the value of keeping overall control – but this is ridiculous. He has been steadily sending those who could deputise for him across the mountains and shouldering the burden of keeping Andaeradar happy.’
‘That cannot be done.’ Elladan clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back on them. ‘Finarfin has too many bad memories of his children walking away from him – and not returning for far too long. He is not about to part from any of them willingly.’
‘I want Adar to go,’ Elrohir admitted. ‘He is too patient – and, the way things are going, the buildings Glorfindel is putting among the trees will have fallen back to the forest before he and Naneth get to see them.’
‘But then, he has something else on his mind.’ Elladan frowned at a spot on the ceiling. ‘He and Finrod are working on something.’ He tipped his head forward to meet his brother’s eyes. ‘I tried to get Naneth to tell me,’ he said, ‘but she just laughed and shook her head.’
‘Dangerous.’ Elrohir narrowed his eyes.
‘I think they sometimes forget that we have grown up.’
‘We will need people here indefinitely.’ Elrohir reverted to the previous subject. ‘And we clearly need to set up an efficient team who can run this … this organisation. In rotation, probably, so that all may spend as much time in the west as possible.’
‘Three teams? Two? Or one with the power to speak for us all?’
‘I hate to say it – triple the bureaucracy will be at least nine times the paperwork – but three. Thranduil will want his own representatives to speak for him. And, although our parents and grandparents would probably consent to working together, it will be far better to establish from the start that our lands are independent of each other.’ He grinned. ‘I would not wish to drive Daernaneth and Adar into opposition.’
‘Relays of messengers, you think?’
‘It would seem logical. Birds, perhaps, for urgent occasions – but you would never get a bird smaller than an Eagle to carry the likes of that.’ Elrohir indicated the fallen report.
‘And who do you think should be in charge?’
His brother shrugged. ‘Erestor is an obvious choice. He has not only the skill and experience, but he possesses a genuine liking for order – and negotiation.’
‘He will complain about being dragged away from his books,’ Elladan smiled. ‘But there is no-one better. And he would do it for Adar, even if his dislike of the idea was genuine. Who else?’
Elrohir sighed. ‘Us, my brother. Not necessarily together – and not all the time, but we will have to do our share.’
‘Adar will insist on spending some time here, I am sure. And Naneth is bound to want to visit her grandparents. Daernaneth will bring Daeradar east of the mountains regularly to take over from whoever he feels should represent him. Harthad, probably. At first, at least.’ Elladan seemed unsurprised by Elrohir’s conclusion. ‘There are plenty who can fill the lesser roles – and others who will grow into them in time.’ He considered for a few minutes. ‘It will expand,’ he said ruefully. ‘Like Estel’s paper-shufflers. He started off with a couple of dozen, but within a century they numbered in their thousands.’
‘Oh well,’ Elrohir decided. ‘At least it will give all those young elves seeking purpose something to do while they await inspiration.’
‘And keep them from under our feet.’ Elladan’s satisfaction made his brother grin. ‘We can always sentence any particularly irritating youths to working as assistants to those who become our voices in Valmar. That will teach them.’
Elrohir’s laughter stirred the paper in front of him. ‘A fate worse than facing orcs, my twin,’ he agreed. ‘A prospect that will encourage the best of behaviour in all the young – including ours.’ He sat back. ‘I am increasingly impressed with our forebears’ skills,’ he admitted. ‘They have done this before – and knew how difficult it would be – and yet still they did not hesitate to start again. We come of a long line of very courageous elves, my brother – elves who should be honoured for far more than sounds good in song.’
Elladan swung his feet to the floor and stood up. ‘Come, my unsung hero,’ he yawned. ‘Let us go and indulge in a glass or two of wine.’
‘That sounds a very good plan,’ Elrohir approved, ‘after you have picked up all that paper you tossed so carelessly on the floor and put it away tidily.’
‘Really, my twin!’ Elladan looked at the scattered report with disgust. ‘You are becoming remarkably tedious in your old age.’
‘It is parenthood, my brother. It does something to you.’
‘You, perhaps.’ Gathering the paper into an untidy stack, Elladan dumped the collection onto the seat of a chair. ‘I, however, will remain as light-hearted and irresponsible as I have ever been – I am determined on it.’
The moonlight gleamed silver through the dappled leaves, dropping a pattern of light on the grass and low-growing shrubs beneath the canopy. Bórdain did not know what roused him, but the world around him was at peace. The tranquil night-song of the forest hummed and only the sounds of the night creatures played against the subdued murmur.
He disentangled himself from his preferred nest in the trees and dropped silently to the ground, keeping to the shadows between the shafts of moonlight.
Lumbren huffed gently, as if enquiring what her elf was doing at this unexpected hour, but he ignored her and slipped between the bushes that bordered their campsite.
Galadriel made no move to stop him. There was something in his movements that spoke of purpose – and a will other than his own. She grasped her long knife – there was, she thought, no harm in being cautious – and rose silently, stepping over other resting figures until she reached Losgael. Her fingers curled over the elleth’s mouth.
‘Bórdain has left camp,’ she breathed. ‘Come.’
Probably to answer a call of nature, Losgael thought crossly. Then she grinned to think of the Lady Galadriel and herself spying on an ellon in such a situation. Not since she had been an elfling on the edge of adolescence had she caught out an ellon in such circumstances – and her naneth’s furious embarrassment had made sure that she had avoided ever getting caught displaying such curiosity again.
The elves resting behind them did not stir as Losgael crept behind Galadriel. That was almost more unnerving, she thought, glancing back, than having a fully armed elven warrior hold his blade to her throat and ask her what she thought she was doing.
The shadows were deeper as they moved further into the trees and Bórdain was not anywhere to be seen. Galadriel paused, casting her thought over the wood around them, seeking any disturbances in the pattern. There was little evidence of anything unusual. Bórdain was so much a part of the forest that his passage went almost unnoticed – but there was a hint of something strange to the south west. She hesitated, considering the feel of the darkness.
‘That way?’ Losgael asked for confirmation.
‘Keep quiet,’ Galadriel murmured. ‘I do not know what we will find.’
Finarfin’s daughter had claimed that she and her lord had spent time wandering the woods – but Losgael had not realised until now the truth of her statement. Theirs had clearly not been a wandering that involved an attendant trail of servants to keep them in comfort. She sidled through the shadows like one who knew that a false step could be dangerous and her step was as light as a true hunter. Scarcely a leaf trembled to hint at the way they had gone.
This quest, however, did not demand any great skill.
By the time the trees thinned and the song of tumbling waters trembled in the air, Losgael could feel a presence ahead: a presence that was no elf. Clouds had covered Ithil and the shadows around them deepened – but ahead a cool light shone that needed no external source.
Galadriel’s hand on her forearm stopped her from blundering into the open beside the wide stream and they drew back into the shelter of the trees.
The elf, who had been one of the First, who had awoken at Cuiviénen and embarked on the Great Journey only to turn aside and remain in the land of his birth, stood bemused before a huge horse that brightened the air around him and dimmed the night-time beauty of the waters. The animal seemed more real than anything around him – while, at the same time, it was almost possible to see the waters through his powerful body.
And yet, impressive as the beast was, he was not one tenth as impressive as the figure that stood at his head.
The Huntsman was tall, with dark hair cascading over his shoulders and he bore a great horn. He was clad in garments that seemed little different from those common among the elves of the forest, yet there was about him an aura of undiluted strength.
Bórdain moved slowly to drop to one knee before the Vala, but Oromë reached out and drew him forward. ‘There is no need for obeisance, child,’ he said mildly. His voice was like the song of the waters and the power of the storm, the wind in the trees and the roar of an avalanche. It echoed in the elf’s bones and rang in his heart. ‘You have come at last – and your home awaits you as it always has. There was no limit set on the time you took to reach it.’
Even from the shelter of the trees, Losgael could see that Bórdain was shaking. She was not surprised – she was shaking herself and she was not enduring the undivided attention of a Vala.
‘Child of Finwë’s House!’ Oromë had no need to raise his voice. Losgael was not even sure if she was hearing him through her ears as it was. ‘Daughter of Beleriand – come forth.’
She was certainly more reluctant to move than Galadriel – who, at least, had grown up at Finwë’s court and presumably had more experience of enduring the eyes of the Valar, Losgael thought resentfully. She could no more have disobeyed the voice than she could have flown, however. The two ellyth emerged from their shelter.
Oromë smiled, eyes bright as diamond-studded mithril taking in every element of their appearance and seeming to see into every thought. ‘It is good to see you back in the lands of your birth, Artanis,’ he said. ‘You have proved worthy.’ The intensity of his look stopped Losgael’s breath. ‘And you are welcome among my forests,’ he told her. ‘You will care for them well.’
‘My lord,’ Galadriel said with apparent composure.
Losgael licked her lips, but did not risk her voice, simply bowing her fair head.
The Vala raised one hand and clicked his fingers imperiously. ‘I wish Bórdain to ride with me a while,’ he said. The elf twitched, as if he was as enthusiastic about the suggestion as a fish would be to dangle on a line – and as powerless to resist.
The dark mare emerged from the trees behind them, dancing delicately on the turf, barely able to control her excitement at having been summoned to take part in one of the Huntsman’s wild rides.
Bórdain made a strangled sound, half protest, half gratitude – and wholly uncertain.
A large hand rested on his brow and stroked gently over his head to stop at the nape of the elf’s neck. ‘You will come to no harm,’ the Vala reassured him. ‘It has been a long time since my host rode out – we lead a sedate life now in the forests of Aman.’ He looked at Galadriel. ‘He will return safely, Artanis. Fear not for him.’
Bórdain threw one desperate glance in the direction of the two ellyth and leapt obediently to Lumbren’s back. Oromë raised his horn and blew a blast that put in mind the power of lightning cleaving the sky, and between two breaths, Valar and elf were gone.
‘I have seen it.’ The sheer wonder in Bórdain’s voice was impressive. ‘Lord Oromë rode like the wind flying above the land, as he did in the time before the Journey, his host in pursuit of nothing but the rays of Ithil as Tilion sailed the sky – and then he peeled away and sent them on, for Lumbren was too tired to run further. He reached over from the blazing mithril of Nahar and touched her on the shoulder…’ he drew a deep breath, ‘and we were in a place where trees from the beginning reached out over mirror-bright waters.’ His eyes glowed like stars. ‘He said, ‘This is the place that was made for you’ and gave me these.’ Bórdain reached into the pouch that he had made in the front of his tunic and stretched his closed hand out towards Galadriel. ‘Here – ‘For Artanis,’ – he said.’
‘Mellyrn,’ Galadriel murmured, cupping the small silvery nuts in her hands. She looked up to hold Celeborn’s eyes. ‘Treasure, indeed.’
‘Is it far?’ Celeborn’s voice was calm and curious, but his gaze remained fixed on his wife’s face.
‘I do not think so,’ Bórdain said doubtfully. ‘It took little time to ride back in the Huntsman’s company – but that might not be a good way to judge.’
‘I wish I had seen him.’ Goerfér’s voice was reverent. ‘To have ridden with the Huntsman… I can think of little that would be more…’
‘Terrifying,’ Losgael interrupted, glaring at him.
‘I wish you had been there.’ Galadriel told her husband.
‘No doubt he thought me undeserving of the honour.’ Celeborn sounded unconcerned. ‘I daresay I shall survive.’
‘Perhaps he will come back,’ Goerfér said hopefully, ‘to see how we are getting on.’
‘We could invite him to dine with us,’ his wife snapped.
Galadriel opened her mouth to speak, then changed her mind. ‘I will put these somewhere safe,’ she remarked, ‘and we can move on.’
‘Was it such a shattering experience?’ Celeborn followed her as she wrapped the nuts safely in her spare shift and tucked them away in her bag. ‘Losgael seems somewhat disconcerted and Bórdain…’ he shot a quick look at the quiet elf, ‘looks different. Somehow.’
‘He has ridden with the Hunt.’ Galadriel leaned closer to her husband’s ear. ‘Have you noticed Lumbren’s shoulder?’
‘It is hard to miss.’ The brilliant white patch on the mare’s hide, precisely the shape of a large hand, gleamed in the daylight. In the dark before dawn, when Bórdain had entered the camp, it had shone silver in the starlight. Celeborn smiled. ‘I am not altogether sure whether I am in charge of this party,’ he said, ‘or whether I am Bórdain’s to command.’
Galadriel turned her head enough to brush her lips against his jaw comfortingly. ‘I do not think it matters,’ she told him. ‘His is an authority he refuses to wield.’
‘And does Oromë’s gift, Artanis, entitle us to plant mellyrn in his forest?’
‘That is for you to decide, my lord.’ Her hand came up to comb through his hair. ‘You do not mind when my atar calls me Artanis, my love. Oromë is acquainted with the child I was – not the adult I have become. And that adult is all Galadriel.’
‘Not all.’ Celeborn sounded guilty. ‘You are still your parents’ daughter – I would not take you from them, or want you reject your youth.’
‘You make things too complicated, my lord.’ She smiled at him, her eyes meeting his openly. ‘I am here with you.’
The fingers resting on her waist tightened and he moved to draw her closer to him.
‘We are ready to ride, cousin.’ Goerfér’s eyes gleamed with mischief. ‘Although I suppose we could leave without you – should that be your will.’
Celeborn stiffened, but forced himself to speak amiably. ‘I am surprised you survived as long as you did, cousin,’ he said. ‘You have always enjoyed taking your life in your hands.’
A thinly veiled snort of amusement was the only thing left as Goerfér moved away.
‘Later, my love,’ Galadriel smiled. ‘We will have time for each other – later.’
They rode side by side, close enough to touch each other, allowing the apparently tireless Lumbren to seek their path.
‘I begin to think I have no choice in this. Perhaps I have never had a choice,’ Celeborn murmured.
‘I do not believe in fate.’
‘That is rich, coming from someone who could read the world in that mirror.’
Galadriel shrugged. ‘Shadows and dreams.’ She glanced sideways at him. ‘Warnings. Read them, digest what they say – and make your own decisions. Do you not feel the rightness of this?’
He considered. ‘Yes,’ he admitted. ‘But I have been deceived before.’
‘You are wiser now.’
‘Some would debate that.’
‘Not in my hearing.’
‘There is a faint possibility that some might say you were prejudiced,’ Celeborn observed. He shifted his weight and looked ahead. ‘We are nearly there.’
Galadriel drew a steadying breath. ‘Are you ready, my lord?’ she asked.
‘As ready as I can be.’ He stretched out his hand to her and, as she took it, they urged their horses forward to join Bórdain at the head of the party. Putting the momentary hesitation behind them, they rode into the place whose call had drawn them home.
A New Purpose
Galadriel watched him with satisfaction. Celeborn gleamed with power: an elf in harmony with the land, as she had not seen him in long centuries. There was a look of Elu about him, she realised, secure in the rightness of who he was and what he was doing.
He scowled at her. ‘You would be a lot less annoying company if you refrained from looking smug and made a point of being wrong occasionally,’ he informed her.
‘I have often been wrong,’ she admitted. ‘Spectacularly wrong at times,’ she added thoughtfully. ‘But you have usually been there to save me from the consequences of my folly.’
The look in his eyes melted her will as only he could do. ‘We could both say that.’ He admired the play of the starlight on her spring-bright hair. ‘We make a good team.’
‘So you would agree that there was some point to the flight of the Noldor,’ she said provocatively. ‘If only to bring me to Doriath so that we might meet.’
‘I would have waited for you throughout all the ages of Arda,’ he said. ‘For there could never have been another to fill my heart as you do.’ His grin was feral and intense. ‘You had no need to bear the Doom of the Valar for me.’
‘Foolishness, my lord.’ She raised her hand to brush the backs of her fingers along the line of his jaw. ‘I was needed – and you know it. Our daughter was needed – and our granddaughter. Without them…’ she drew a ragged breath as she realised the enormous number of threads that had twisted together to produce the fine mithril wire of hope that had seen the fall of Sauron and the elves’ surrender of their birthplace to the Secondborn.
His hand pressed comfortingly in the small of her back. ‘And all that happened has brought us here,’ he said.
Galadriel fixed her gaze on the sapling mallorn in front of her, already more than twice the height of an elf. ‘We have always been driven onwards,’ she mused. ‘Lothlórien was the closest we came to a home – and our rule there was by default after Amroth…’ She stopped. ‘Do you think this will last?’ she asked.
‘I think so,’ he told her. ‘This place is meant for us – can you not feel it?’
‘I thought I felt it before,’ she sighed. ‘In Harlindon, in Ost-in-Edhil. In Belfalas and Lothlórien. But nothing endured.’
He drew her closer and enclosed her in his embrace. ‘This is different,’ he insisted. He grinned ironically. ‘This home comes with the approval of the Valar. We have been granted sanctuary.’
‘And when Elu returns?’
‘Will he come back to us?’ Celeborn looked up at the starlit sky. ‘It has been a long time – I do not think we can count on it.’
‘Would you follow where he led?’ Galadriel’s voice was very quiet and even.
Her husband did not speak, watching instead as Ithil glided between the treetops. ‘No,’ he said finally. ‘Too many centuries have passed. He will have my love and loyalty always, but I am my own elf now.’ He dropped his chin to meet her eyes. ‘I would happily spend seasons visiting him – as we will visit your parents – but I could not be the ellon I was then.’
She leaned back so she could study his face, but she remained silent. He combed his fingers through her hair. ‘So much time passed,’ he murmured. ‘So many lost.’
Galadriel gathered herself again. ‘And so much gained,’ she insisted. ‘And we are here now.’
‘I cannot deny it.’
Enough time had been spent brooding on what could not be changed. ‘Shall we establish a home in these trees?’ she asked. ‘Or wait a few centuries until these mellyrn are mature enough to offer us shelter?’
Celeborn dropped a kiss on her hair and patted her on the back – rather, she thought, as if she were a dog – before looking at her speculatively. ‘I have always rather wanted to dwell in a beech,’ he said.
‘Well – they are big enough,’ she shrugged, refusing to react. ‘Have you any particular beech in mind? Perhaps we should seek out our tree of choice before the Galadhrim begin to crowd in and we are left to wait for the mellyrn.’
‘Oh no!’ His clasp tightened and he smiled. ‘You do not catch me out like that, my lady. This is a home we will share, where we will dwell until the world is remade – and we will make our decisions together.’
‘Your uncle is itching to pack his bags and venture west,’ Elrond murmured in Celebrían’s ear. ‘I think only Amarië’s fondness for her garden is holding him here.’
His wife grinned at him mischievously. ‘If he would only ask,’ she said. ‘Amarië is beginning to despair. She has given him every opening she can think of – and still he insists on suffering in noble silence.’
Elrond digested her words. ‘You mean she would be willing to seek a new place to dwell?’
‘It is only a place.’ Celebrían’s eyes sparked. ‘Remaining indefinitely in one situation – becomes stale, like bread left too long in the sun. I think Finrod fears that, because Amarië would not follow him before, she will refuse to go with him now – or perhaps worse, that she will allow him to draw her away from her home and be miserable.’
‘Will you let me take you from what you know?’ Elrond’s voice was heated and the brush of his fingers against her bare skin was a delicious torment.
‘I might,’ she said thoughtfully, collapsing into giggles as his teasing fingers found her most sensitive spots. ‘If you are very fortunate.’
‘I would not go either…’ He paused briefly, ignoring her inarticulate murmur of protest. ‘Not if I thought it might lose me you.’
‘We have already been parted too long.’ She twined her fingers in his hair to draw him closer. ‘I do not care where we live – as long as we are together.’
‘You exaggerate.’ His breath was warm in her ear.
‘But not by much.’ Elrond was inwardly serene, Celebrían thought, at peace with himself as he had not been since the days before the Redhorn… Since their family had been complete in the tranquil beauty of Imladris. Yet, even then, he had shielded, deep inside himself, long-buried scars of ancient hurts that could never be eased while Arda endured – hurts now increased by the loss of their beloved daughter.
‘Glorfindel is sending threats,’ he informed her, resting his cheek on her shoulder and drawing her back to hold her against his lean body. ‘If we do not travel soon, he will instruct our sons to swaddle us up in rolls of cloth and carry us west willy-nilly.’
‘He would do it, too,’ Celebrían laughed. ‘You had better heed him, my lord.’
‘It is not only I who have been threatened…’
‘I do not need to be told.’ She pressed her lips to his hair. ‘As soon as they had you incapacitated, I would have our sons fasten you across my saddle bows and ride off with you.’ She laughed as he lifted his head and looked at her in consternation. ‘You would not need to worry – I would free you as soon as we were well on our way,’ she added. ‘As long as you promised me you would not turn back.’
‘You would conspire against me!’
‘For your own good, my heart.’ She drew him to her. ‘For your own good.’ She hesitated. ‘You cannot control everything, Elrond. We have done all we can to ensure the success of this venture. Our sons have the wisdom needed to smooth any remaining hiccups – and Amarië will manage Finrod. It is time for us to seek our true home in these lands.’
Finrod laughed as Elladan clasped his hands behind his head and stretched until his joints cracked. ‘Too much mannish blood,’ he teased. ‘You would never hear that in a full-blooded elf.’
‘Well – you can blame yourself,’ Elrohir retorted. ‘If it had not been for you, we would never have been born.’
‘That is a disconcerting thought.’ Finrod inspected Elrond’s twin sons. ‘I suppose it should make me consider myself in some ways responsible for your line.’ They were elves, these heirs of Beren, he thought. For all their descent from Beren and Tuor, there was almost nothing of their human heritage to be seen in them – except, on occasion, more awareness than usual of the wearing of time. And that, he thought, was more to do with experience than ancestry.
‘You have convinced Finarfin?’ Elrohir enquired.
‘My wife deserves the credit,’ his uncle admitted. ‘It seems that she has only to express a desire to dwell west of the Pelori for my atar to decide that it is a good idea for us to establish a modest presence.’
‘Modest?’ Elladan raised a dark eyebrow in an expression very reminiscent of his adar.
‘Modest.’ Finrod grinned. ‘A few score people, totalling no more than a hundred or two, dwelling in harmony with the forest. No prospecting, no mining, no cutting healthy trees. Elves supporting themselves in a simple rural manner.’
‘That will last until the first nugget of gold is found,’ Elrohir predicted cynically. ‘Or a vein of mithril is spotted in the rock wall of some remote cavern.’
‘I am not sure Finarfin altogether understands the reasons Wood Elves live as they do,’ Elladan said doubtfully. ‘Or what the Noldor would need to do to make a settlement harmonise with the forest. It is not as if the farmers and foresters of his realm do not live in accord with the song of the land. It is just a different way of looking at who accommodates to what.’
‘Really?’ Finrod shrugged. ‘Well, it is up to you to see that I do understand the implications, my nephews. Since it is, I find, to be my task to build up this western extension to the High King’s realm.’
‘Take some Wood Elves with you to act as advisors,’ Elrohir suggested. ‘There are many who would relish the opportunity to tell the Noldor what to do.’
Elladan grinned. ‘But you would want to watch who you hired.’ He laughed. ‘I can picture some who would take enormous pleasure in making you live the simplest life possible – and then you would travel to visit Thranduil or seek out Daeradar and find them living a life of luxury among the trees.’
‘And choose your settlers with care.’ Elrohir leaned on the balustrade of the wide terrace. ‘When we first journeyed west, we took those we thought would work well together – but we were not altogether right.’
‘That is because we took an all-male party.’ Elladan shrugged. ‘I have said it before, I know. We looked on it as a reconnaissance mission – and those who dwelt west of the mountains took us as a threat and waited until we proved ourselves before they began to emerge from the trees. It was, in truth, not until Lady Laerwen expressed her approval of us that we began to be treated as friends.’ He looked speculatively at Finrod. ‘Send your people – male and female – west to learn from the elves who already call your paper realm home. Have them … educated in the ways of the forest. Learn to listen.’
Finrod tilted his head to one side as he inspected the younger elves. ‘You have a point,’ he agreed. ‘I found in Beleriand that it was only too easy to drive people into considering you to be an enemy. This…’ he waved an arm vaguely towards the west, ‘does not require us to protect ourselves against an external threat. There is no need for defences.’ He paused. ‘I am told that none dwell where we would settle.’
‘Do not count on that,’ Elrohir said dryly. ‘Wood Elves are very good at remaining unseen when they wish. If you want my advice, you will go to Thranduil’s wife and ask her for her aid. It might seem beneath the dignity of the High King’s son, but it will be better in the long run.’
‘The Lady has been consulted.’ Finrod smiled at the twins. ‘We are not stupid,’ he pointed out. ‘But you are right – to journey from her court to the lands allotted would be far wiser than to appear to take what is not ours. Best to cause as little offence as possible’
Elladan grinned at his brother and shook his head disbelievingly. ‘And to think we thought life in the Blessed Realm would be boring,’ he said.
Losgael watched as Galadriel worked at her loom. ‘I would never have expected to see the Noldor princess making cloth,’ she said, ‘like an ordinary elleth – not before I had a chance to come to know you better.’
‘I would not have expected to see an obstinately simple Sinda spend long hours in discussion with a Vala.’ Galadriel looked up and smiled. ‘We spend too much time fitting people into the moulds we expect them to fill.’
‘Perhaps.’ The Lady was very skilled, Losgael thought critically, and worked remarkably swiftly – but she received the credit for far more than could possibly be the work of her own hands. Some, at least, of the shimmering grey cloth folded in neat piles on the shelves, must be the work of those industrious maidens who passed their hours in the weaving rooms. But then, no-one expected all the medicines and salves that came from Elrond’s workrooms to be the work of his hands alone – and cooks, too – and engineers and builders and farmers – received the credit for many products that relied on the labour of others. It was just the way it was. It was not as if Galadriel believed in her own myth.
‘How is your great-grandson?’ Galadriel asked.
Losgael’s face softened. If there was one way guaranteed to reduce her to mindless adoration, it was mention of the elfling who brightened her existence. ‘Growing so fast it is almost impossible to keep track of him,’ she said. ‘Goerfér has taken him fishing – although both will doubtless return wet and muddy without any evidence of their attempts to catch fish to cook for supper.’
‘My grandsons are bringing their children to visit soon.’ Galadriel removed the pinafore she wore to keep her gown relatively fluff-free. ‘Ellanthir is about Haladion’s age – perhaps they should spend some time together.’ She indicated the open doorway and followed Losgael out into the quiet afternoon. ‘Why did you really want to see me?’
She needed to listen hard, Losgael thought, to hear the sounds of industry among the immense trees, but it was there. The forest was being harvested – discreetly, it was true – for the benefit of the elves who lived there and there were more and more talans of silvered wood among the branches of the welcoming trees. ‘I am feeling the need to… spread my wings,’ she admitted. ‘Goerfér finds his work with the patrols enough – he is learning to know the wider forest, but I am feeling confined.’ She felt almost guilty voicing the complaint. The forest had seemed all she could ever want when they had reached it – pure and prolific and, above all, theirs, to make of it what they would, but, as they established themselves, she had been reminded that she was not accustomed to remaining in one place for too long.
‘So what do you want to do?’ Galadriel sounded serene. ‘Are you called to spend time in Oromë’s Halls? Or do you merely wish to wander a while – and return here once your wanderlust is sated?’
‘Do you not mind?’ Losgael looked at her suspiciously.
Galadriel’s quick grin made her look a great deal less regal – and a great deal more understanding. ‘I envy you the opportunity,’ she said. ‘There are times when the demands of juggling family and other responsibilities are tiresome – times when I remember those quiet months before all this started and wish my lord and I could go back to them.’
A slow smile spread across her friend’s face. ‘Come with us,’ she suggested. ‘There are plenty to whom you can delegate the task of managing the Galadhrim. Come and let the starlight sing in your fëa and listen to the melody of new trees.’
The dappled sunlight danced on the fresh grass and the breeze stirred the leaves to whisper of distant places. ‘That sounds a very tempting idea,’ Galadriel said.
The night was a creation that always made him realise what the elves owed to the Star-Kindler. He wondered that Fëanor had never realised that, no matter how great his genius, he could never do anything that would begin to challenge the Vala’s achievement. But then perhaps he had never meant to do so. Occasionally – just occasionally – Celeborn wondered what the world would have been like had Finwë’s son not been perverted by Melkor, but instead remained pure of heart. So much would never have happened – the Trees would still light the Blessed Realm, while, east of the sea, elves would have dwelt through the ages in starlight. Would that have been better?
Yet evil had already crept into the world even then. From its very creation, the false note had been a part of the music. Something that had to be rejected – something against which all must strive. And, despite the chaining of Morgoth, despite the defeat of Sauron, its shadow still stained the lands of his birth. It had no longer been his battle, but, at times, he still felt guilty for abandoning the fight to the Secondborn. They were so vulnerable – so young. How could they defy evil without the hard-earned experience of the elves to support them? But this was their time – and the elves, despite their longing to remain, had proved redundant, permitted only to fade into myth or take ship to seek their own place.
‘Have we reached the end?’ he asked suddenly. ‘Achieved our goal, so that there is nothing left to do?’
Bórdain dangled his fingers into the narrow stream of water that meandered past the roots on which he sprawled, watching as the silver fish darted back and forth like living stars. ‘Nothing is ever finished,’ he said. ‘Everything that happens is the start of something more.’
‘A circle?’ Celeborn pondered. ‘Or an endless ribbon?’
‘Both?’ Bórdain lifted his head. ‘Or neither? Like a thousand thousand fractured streams coming together to make a river – that then flows to the sea, only to evaporate to cloud and fall as rain over the mountains to run again to the ocean.’
Celeborn smiled. ‘Unchanging, yet in constant flux,’ he suggested.
‘Yes.’ Bórdain looked doubtful. ‘I suppose.’ He sat up, folding his long legs under him. ‘But we do not repeat the same path – we take what we are and move on different trails.’
‘You spend too much time in conversation with Lord Oromë.’ Celeborn shook his head. ‘You are becoming a mystic.’
Bórdain’s eyes gleamed silver in the moonlight. ‘I do not think Lord Oromë is very introspective,’ he said. ‘He prefers the simplicity of the hunt.’
‘Prefers it, perhaps.’ Celeborn considered what he had seen of the Vala. ‘But simplicity in one of the Powers is not to be compared to the simplicity of … a forest breeze.’
‘He looks on the Wood Elves as his to protect, I think,’ Bórdain offered. ‘As Ulmo cares for the Teleri, and Aulë enjoys teaching the Noldor.’
Celeborn frowned. ‘I see little advantage in being taken under the wing of a Vala at this late date.’ He reflected. ‘Or, indeed, at any other time. It seems to me far wiser to offer them the courtesies due to them – and protect ourselves.’
‘Time is not the same to them,’ Bórdain remarked. ‘I do not think Oromë is aware of the ages that have passed since he led the elves westwards. Or,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘why there might be some who resent the Valar’s detachment. All is… is one great now.’
Celeborn relaxed in the tranquil song of the night. ‘I am glad I am an elf,’ he said.
Haladion slapped at the water with open palms and laughed as the clear droplets splashed his face.
‘Do not fall in the water and go swimming with the fish,’ Goerfér recommended. ‘Your naneth will be most irritated if I bring you home damaged – and will probably refuse to let me bring you out to play again.’
‘Fishes,’ Haladion said, ignoring the rest of the comment. ‘Fishes.’
Celeborn laughed. ‘You have your great grandfather’s listening skills,’ he said. ‘Not to mention his ability to focus on an unconsidered detail.’
‘Thank you, cousin.’ Goerfér looked down his nose at the elf lord. ‘I like you, too.’
Celeborn leaned on a low willow branch and watched the elfling play. ‘You are happy to leave him?’ he asked.
‘We will not be gone long,’ his cousin said optimistically. ‘What are a few seasons?’
‘I did not think I would ever want to leave this place when first we saw it.’ Celeborn looked around him at the great trees and rippling water. But I find I am restless.’
Goerfér laughed. ‘That is only natural,’ he declared. ‘What did you expect? To find a place where you would be happy to vegetate for ever? Curiosity is a natural state for elves, my friend! What lies over the next hill or beyond the next decision? If we were meant to sit in eternal contemplation, we would have been created with roots! There is always something more to see – and other things to do.’
‘And what do you think might come next?’
‘If I knew that, cousin, what would be the point of looking?’ Goerfér’s bright eyes turned westward. ‘I just know that there is more – more to find and to see. Maybe Elu is out there somewhere – or maybe Lenwë wanders in the forests.’
‘It does not occur to you that it is necessary to pause sometimes and build, so that we can offer a safe haven to those who do not wish to wander?’
‘Why should it?’ Goerfér grinned. ‘That is why we have lords like you, my friend. When it comes to meetings and paperwork and negotiating between people who cannot organise themselves, you earn your keep. But that does not mean you cannot be spared for a while. Just tell one of your very efficient aides to take over. You will not be missed.’
‘I am unsure whether I have been complimented or insulted.’ Celeborn raised an eyebrow.
‘Good.’ Goerfér paddled into the water with the elfling, a couple of sticks in his hand. ‘Let us keep it that way. Watch,’ he told his great grandson. ‘See which one goes furthest. You take one and we will release them at the same time and see the water carry them away.’
Celeborn watched as the two improvised vessels bobbed their way downstream. Much as it pained him to admit it, he thought, Goerfér was right. As was Bórdain. He felt a surge of relief wash over him. Not only had he found a home and a task that suited him. He was also part of a developing world – where new challenges and fresh interests would present themselves whether he wanted them or not. One of the stick boats swirled in a little eddy and was sucked below the surface before re-emerging undamaged. Different – but the same. Like him. He smiled. ‘I have no idea how it might have happened,’ he commented, ‘but I think that you might have developed an element of sense over the ages.’
Goerfér shook back his damp hair. ‘I might learn slowly,’ he said mildly, ‘but I am an elf – I do learn.’
The broad river that divided the valley flowed so easily in the tranquil afternoon that it appeared to be motionless, a still expanse of molten silver, fringed with the reflections of willow and alder.
Galadriel sat on the sun-warmed rock, her eyes unfocused as she combed through her long hair. She looked at peace, as Celeborn had rarely seen her. For all her superficial serenity, she had always been prepared, he thought, for the sting that came in the tail of all their experiences. He had been surprised, at times, that she had remained unbroken, but every challenge had only strengthened her obstinacy and made her more determined. It was only here that he had realised fully how much it had taken from her. It was one of the things that made him glad that he had finally made the decision to take ship. That and – he had to admit it – the realisation that this forest so far from his place of birth felt more like home than he had ever expected.
‘Bórdain would say that this is the completion of a journey started long ago.’ Galadriel smiled at him.
‘Would he?’ Her husband considered. ‘I think he would say that no journey is ever complete.’ He rose from his place in the shade and stretched languorously before joining her in her observation of the deceptively easy-tempered water.
‘It makes all we have been and done sound so straightforward. But are not the twists and turns an essential part of who we are?’ Celeborn drew his wife to him. ‘It has been a simple journey for some – a line between two points – but for others…’ He remembered the starlit peace of Doriath, Sirion overlooking the sea, Lindon and all the other places where they had dwelt for a time, only to be driven forth to build again and lose what they had built.
Galadriel turned slightly so that she could return his embrace. Not for her to receive without giving, he thought in amusement.
‘You are happy?’ she asked.
‘What would you do if I were not?’ His eyes met hers.
She blinked. ‘I would think of something.’ She lifted her chin determinedly.
He laughed. ‘There is no need. I am happy – as I never thought to be.’
‘Good,’ she said, returning her gaze to the water. ‘People have the wrong idea about life here,’ she added absently. ‘It seems like this,’ she indicated the water, ‘motionless. Constant and unchanging. But, beneath the surface, it moves irresistibly forward.’
‘But it can be persuaded to flow down other courses,’ Celeborn said. ‘There is no need to abandon ourselves to something we cannot control. We have choice.’
‘And you have chosen?’
‘I have chosen,’ he said gravely. ‘The future rather than the past.’
Galadriel looked at him meditatively. ‘Accepting the one does not obliterate the other. Everything that was is still part of us – everything that is no more lives still in our hearts.’
He squeezed her hand and raised it to press a gentle kiss to her wrist. ‘Tell me, my heart,’ he said, have you thought of the value of a planting a grove of walnut trees? And increasing the number of hives? The tree blossom is plentiful and more honey would be welcome in increasing the supplies of mead.’
‘If you think it would be a good idea,’ she agreed. He had healed, she thought. Against all his expectations, he had healed and found that life in the Blessed Realm was not a stagnant pool, reft from the flowing life of Arda to fester under an unfamiliar sun, but part of it still. She tilted her head to inspect his relaxed grace as he took his ease in this place where he belonged. At last, against all the odds, he was at home. They were both home.
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