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With a sigh, you turn away
And the trees are now
The song is from the Return of the King Soundtrack, Houses of Healing. I always found it hauntingly beautiful and it worked perfectly for Celebrían. Just to be clear, this is not a romance between Celebrían and Ecthelion. They admire each other greatly, but not romantically. This is more a meeting of two people who have both suffered, who bear scars and wounds that will not ever entirely heal, but who will not let that stop them. Frodo would fit right in this group! The references to Laure (Laurefindil is Glorfindel's Quenyan name) are from bits I've written and shared with EverleighBain, where Glorfindel meets Ecthelion on the dream paths and annoys talks to him about what is going on in Middle-earth. It's pure AU/fanon - elves do walk in memory while in reverie, but I'm pretty sure Tolkien never meant it as I've taken it.
It was an exhibit of tapestries, something he normally would not be caught dead attending, but when one had five older sisters and all of those sisters had children... Well, Ecthelion had never been an easy mark, unless it was a child doing the asking. There was something about big eyes and a smaller hand tugging against his that worked magic on his heart. Which is how he found himself wandering the exhibit hall looking at what seemed to be an endless number of tapestries and wall-hangings and ... "What is that?"
His niece grinned at him, gap-toothed and gamine with her braids askew and a smudge of what he thought was chocolate on the front of her gown. "It's a plant hanger!"
Oh. Of course. He had thought for a brief moment it was there for desperate souls (he wasn't yet desperate, but could see that it might come if this hall lead to another and then another) to hang themselves. Macabre, yes, but he wasn't so long out of Mandos, and death didn't really bother Ecthelion like it used to. It held little attraction and he feared it not at all, though Námo would undoubtedly be happier to not see him for at least a yeni. "Ah." He nodded in what he hoped was a confident manner, but saw soon enough as Lisse's grin grew that his pause had been too long.
"It's all right, Uncle 'Thelion."
The lisp, due to the loss of her front teeth, was charming and, he told himself quite firmly, not reminiscent of Fëanor's ridiculous way of speaking. There was nothing even remotely resembling a wind bag about his niece, thank Ilúvatar. Even if her father was a former Exile, and one of those Noldor who had followed Fëanor. Ecthelion supposed he could be counted amongst the fools himself if one was going to be technical, but at least he had walked across the grinding ice and not had a swift trip on a stolen boat as had Artano.
A tug on his hand brought him back to the present and he looked down into grey eyes fringed with black lashes. "You went away again."
"How remiss of me." Kneeling to bring himself to the child's eye level, Ecthelion clasped her hand in his (small hands with long, tapered fingers - she had musician's fingers) and smiled. "Forgive me?"
The look she gave him was disconcertingly knowing for one so young, but her father was one of the re-embodied as well. Lisse was the first-born in her family, and had arrived precisely a day and a sun-year after her parents had wed. She understood the sometimes peculiar ways of the re-embodied. "Do you want to rest a moment? I can go ahead myself. Ammë won't mind if you leave me alone for a bit. Well...she won't because I won't tell her." The grin again, with dimples this time. It just wasn't fair.
And really. Did he want to rest! He'd marched across the ice! He'd fought in the Nirnaeth and defeated several balrogs before...
This time there was real concern in her eyes, brows drawn together in a frown and a bit of her bottom lip caught between her teeth.
"Let's go ahead and see these tapestries." With a squeeze to her hands, Ecthelion stood. She kept a firm grip on his hand, he noted, and felt a bit abashed to realize the child felt he needed looking after. Perhaps he did. His mind was alarmingly prone to wander lately.
"They're a series based on events in Middle-earth." Lisse looked anxiously at him. "But a later time than when you were there," she assured him. "Ammë said the lady did them as a form of therapy."
Tapestry therapy. It sounded very 'Vaire'ish' to Ecthelion, but that particular Valier's tapestries were ... Alive. Almost breathing. They were far too realistic and he sincerely hoped this lady, whomever she was, lacked that particular talent.
"Here we are!" Lisse looked up at him again. "You're sure you're all right?"
Hand over his heart, Ecthelion solemnly pledged, "I promise not to keel over or make a scene."
"Just walk away," Lisse advised. "Atar has had to at times. There is no shame in it."
Such a wise child with a heart as large as Arda itself. Her mother name was spot-on. "I shall if I need to, Lisse." He squeezed her hand. "Thank you for understanding."
Grabbing his arm and slipping under it so she was leant against his side, Lisse towed her bemused uncle forward, his hand still firmly captured by her smaller grip.
"Imladris." Lisse pronounced it with a Quenyan accent that made Ecthelion smile. "Valley drop?"
"Cleft." He felt as if he knew the place thanks to Glorfindel and his nocturnal meanderings that never failed to pull Ecthelion out into the dream paths. "See how it is built at the bottom of the valley floor?"
"How very literal of them." Lisse grinned up at him. "Are all Sindarin names like that?"
She was growing up in a world where Amanian Elves who preferred Quenya mingled with the new-comers, most of whom spoke Sindarin. It produced, at times, an odd blend of the two. She didn't blink at using the Sindarin form of his name, which he presently far preferred to Ehtel, but was more comfortable in speaking Quenya. "At times." It was a weak answer and her look told him she knew that, but to his relief Lisse turned her attention back to the tapestries.
"Look at this one!" Lisse tugged him toward another tapestry, her attention fixed upon the image. "Isn't that your friend, Laurefindil?"
It certainly resembled him. Ecthelion arched an eyebrow. "How do you know Laure?"
"Ammë told me that story, of course, and she has several portraits of you when you were younger. He's in one of them." She leaned against him and looked up. "The story is how you and he used to climb to the top of the mast on great-grandfather's ship and dive off and how you broke your wrist because the water was not deep enough."
Oh. That story. Relief washed over Ecthelion that it hadn't been a Gondolin tale. He couldn't bear to hear those yet. Maybe he never would.
"I was fortunate it was merely a shallow cove and not a hidden boulder or I would have broken more than my wrist." He and Laure had both been fearless and foolish, and his grandfather had hauled him out of the water in a fishing net before lecturing him all the way back to shore. For all the good it had done. He had been fortunate there was no permanent damage. Such an injury had been the end of other musician's careers.
"He's very handsome." Lisse nodded. "Is his hair really that golden?"
"It is indeed."
Ecthelion and Lisse turned to see that they had been joined by a lady, and as she smiled at them, Lisse tugged hard on his hand. "She's the lady who made the tapestries!" The whisper was anything but quiet and Ecthelion couldn't help but smile as the lady tried to hide the smile tugging at her mouth.
"We were just admiring your work, milady." He hadn't read the information about the artist and didn't recognize her but there was an air about her that told him this was no fish-monger's daughter.
"My name is Celebrían," she said, and, stars help him, there were dimples with that smile as well as twinkling blue eyes.
Then he remembered where he knew the name and hid his surprise in a polite bow. Lisse saved him yet again by stepping forward with an eager smile. "You know my uncle's friend? He's the only elf to ever go back to Middle-earth, you know, but I think Uncle 'Thelion would have gone too only he was still in Mandos and -" Lisse clapped a hand over her mouth and turned to Ecthelion with a heart-broken look. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to remind you of ..."
"Lisse." Ecthelion knelt and quickly took hold of her shoulders, squeezing gently. "It's all right. I'm not upset." A wink brought forth a small smile but the worry didn't leave her brow. "Though I'm not sure I would have been up to accompanying Laure on yet another trip to Middle-earth." He glanced at Celebrían who was watching with clear curiosity in her eyes before meeting Lisse's gaze. "After all, I wouldn't be able to accompany you and your cousins and watch you grow up if I left again."
"You'd stay for us?"
As if it were a hardship. It was a blessing that he thanked Ilúvatar for every single day. He'd thought for certain his sisters would have long ago married and had children, but none had, not until more recent times, with the release of many who had died in those chaotic times. Ecthelion smiled and cupped Lisse's cheek, heart clenching again in that indescribable way that always surprised him. "Is there a better reason?"
Lisse grinned and grabbed his hand. "Atar says you have a silver tongue and could charm a dwarf into giving you his axe."
Hearing Celebrían stifle her own laughter, Ecthelion chuckled. "I'm not sure about that, Lisse. The dwarves I met were quite immune to being charmed by elves." He stood. "You've captured Laure quite well, milady. He looks as if he's about to say something outrageous."
"Did he do that here as well?" Celebrían cocked her head and looked at the tapestry. "I thought he did it just to annoy me." She slanted a look at Ecthelion. "He and my mother did not exactly see eye-to-eye."
It took a moment for Ecthelion to recall just who the lady's mother was, and then he burst into laughter. "Oh, no! Tell me he was not still trying to deliberately rile Lady Artanis!"
"He has quite a grudge against her." Celebrían sobered, and her eyes filled with sadness. "Alqualondë."
"Ah," Ecthelion huffed, annoyed all over again at his stubborn friend. "Artanis only took up the sword to defend her mother's people. Laure ever was an ass about that entire fiasco." He caught Lisse's eye and arched an eyebrow. "Not a word to your mother about my language, Lisse."
She giggled and leaned against his side, twining her arms around his. "Why was he an ass?"
Celebrían coughed and looked away quickly.
"I won't say it to Ammë or Atar," Lisse said as if they were both dense. "I'm just curious."
Ecthelion stroked a long strand of hair out of her face. Dark as a crow's wing, there were just enough strands of silver laced in the ebony to proclaim the Telerin blood that ran in her veins. "You know of the kinslaying at Alqualondë."
"Yes." Lisse sobered. "Ammë said Great-grandfather was killed in the fighting."
He was silent for a long moment, twirling that strand of black and silver around his finger and fighting to hold back the memories. "He was," Ecthelion finally said quietly. "Laure was with me when I reached your great-grandfather." He sighed and stroked a hand over Lisse's hair, grounding himself in the now. There was no blood. No gaping head wounds. No wailing. No weeping. Not here. Ecthelion looked down at Lisse, heart easing at the innocence in the light grey eyes. "I was ..." Upset? Unhinged? He'd fallen to his knees in the blood, sword clattering to the cobblestones as he'd gathered his grandfather's lifeless body in his arms. "I was very upset when I found him, Lisse. " Wailing. Keening mindlessly as the fighting, the slaughter had continued around him. Laure had kept guard over them, but the trauma had never left either of them, and Laure, brave, loyal, great-heart, had never forgiven the Noldor for that night. He had seen Artanis, her sword bright with blood, and Ecthelion supposed Laure had forgotten in the insanity that her own mother's people were sprawled dead in pools of their blood. "Laure made a wrong assumption about Lady Artanis, and no one was ever able to convince him otherwise."
Celebrían nodded. "Not even my father."
Ecthelion sighed. "Forgive him, lady. He has ever been unwaveringly loyal to those he loves."
"I know." Her voice was quiet.
Looking up, he met her gaze and saw the sadness lingering. Therapy, Lisse had said. The tapestries were therapy. He recalled what Laure had told him. The lady had been captured. Held and tortured by orcs. The look on Laure's face as he had told Ecthelion about it had been terrible to see. That such a thing should happen to a such a lovely soul...
"Glorfindel," Celebrían nodded to Lisse. "That is Laurefindil's Sindarin name. He came to Mithlond in the Second Age to help in the fight against Sauron. But Elrond told me that once Glorfindel met him, he swore to never leave Elrond's side so long as he was in Middle-earth." She blinked hard, eyes filming with tears. "There has been no better friend to Elrond, nor to my children."
"You have children?"
It was an innocent question but Ecthelion flinched, seeing the pain it caused. "Forgive us, milady." He shook his head at Lisse who cringed back against him, eyes wide as she watched Celebrían.
Celebrían shook her head, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand, chin raising even as she met their gazes. "There is naught to forgive, milord. I am relieved to find there are those who don't know my tale." Kneeling, Celebrían met and held Lisse's gaze. "I have twin sons and a daughter. They're grown now, but it was very...very hard to leave them behind."
"Twins?" Lisse held Ecthelion's hand against her chest and leaned into his body. "That's very rare."
"It is, yes." Celebrían smiled gently. "I miss them every day."
Lisse nodded. "I would miss my Ammë terribly if she left. You must be very brave, milady."
"Indeed," Ecthelion said, so very proud of his niece, and so grateful for her sweet, sweet soul. "I daresay your courage outshines even that of Laure."
Shaking her head, Celebrían stood, gaze once again steady. "I wouldn't go that far, milord."
She smiled and he saw dimples. Sweet stars, no wonder Elrond was longing to be with her. "The ladies in your family have never lacked for courage, Lady Celebrían." Ecthelion met Lisse's curious gaze. "Lady Eärwin and Lord Arafinwë are Lady Celebrían's grandparents, Lisse."
"Oh!" Lisse grinned, showing the gap in her teeth. "Lord Findaráto is your uncle?"
"Indeed, he is."
"And Lord Olwë is your great-grandfather!" Lisse's eyes widened. "Do you stay with them, milady? They live in a lovely palace. I've seen it when I visit my great-grandmother in Alqualondë!"
"Lisse." Ecthelion's tone was gentle and he smiled. "We must not take all of the lady's time."
"Oh no," Celebrían waved his protests away. "It's lovely to speak to people who don't tip-toe around me as if I'm going to shatter to pieces at any moment!" She saw the questions in Lisse's gaze and sighed. "I came to Aman to seek healing, Lisse."
"Oh." Lisse nodded, not at all surprised. "My Atar was killed in the War of Wrath, milady. It was fearful, that fight, and he still has nightmares that wake us all." She sighed. "But he is brave and never lets any of it keep him from being my Ata."
Ecthelion could almost forgive her father for siding with Fëanor and being such a fool just because he had helped bring this wonderful child into being. He looked up and met Celebrían's gaze and read the sorrow there. "Ah, no. Don't pity me, milady. My ending was my choice. To be here and see Idril and Tuor, to find that Eärendil lived and accomplished so much... I have no regrets. I would do it again if the circumstances were the same, though I hope to never again have to make such a choice." But his actions had been a choice. A deliberate sacrifice to save Tuor and gain the people of Gondolin more time. Celebrían had not been given a choice. The attack had come upon her and she had survived but been wounded terribly. Death had brought him to Mandos' Halls where he had found healing and peace. But oh, it had taken years upon years to release his fear and anger. How long had she been in Aman? And here she was, to appearance as if nothing had happened. Ecthelion knew better. Her scars were on the inside, deep where none could see. Impulse moved him to hold out a hand. "If there is ever ought I can do, even if you only need an understanding ear, please don't hesitate to contact me." He smiled gently at the clear surprise in her gaze. "Forgive my forwardness." But before his hand had dropped, Celebrían grasped it and held his gaze. Her grip was strong and if her hand trembled a bit who was he to tell?
"We survivors must stick together." Celebrían nodded and let go his hand.
Was there ever a braver woman? Idril, Aredhel, Artanis. Oh, he could see how this one would stand proud and tall amongst them. But healing was a long road, and there were treacherous switchbacks that seemed to lead one backwards before carrying them forward again. Ecthelion knew all too well how terrifying it could be to re-live those moments that never completely faded. Moments that brought one awake, screaming in the night, drenched in sweat.
To face them alone. No, that was unacceptable.
He smiled, and was rewarded with a dimpled smile in return. How was it Glorfindel had never mentioned how charming Elrond's wife was?
"Can I look at the rest of the tapestries?" Lisse tugged at his hand. "I promise to stay in your sight and not go to the next hall."
"Are you certain I won't fall to bits without you here to hold me up?" Ecthelion kept hold of her hand as she tugged against his hold.
"I'm not going that far!" Lisse pulled free and skipped off to the tapestries they had not yet seen.
"I thought she was your daughter at first," Celebrían said and nodded at his surprise. "She clearly dotes on you."
"Lisse," Ecthelion said with a put-upon air, "is convinced that I am about to fall apart without either herself or her mother around to see to me." He huffed in mock aggravation as Celebrían laughed and relented with a smile. "I cannot believe how much that child has insinuated herself into my life. I fear there is nothing in my reputation as a fierce warrior that daunts her the smallest bit."
Celebrían sighed. "Arwen is much the same with her father. He loves all of our children, but when Arwen was born ..."
"I've come to realize something." Ecthelion paused as if imparting some great tidbit of wisdom, but offered a wry smile. "Mighty elvish Lords melt into puddles of goo around babies." He shook his head. "Doesn't matter if you can take down fearsome and terrible foes or lead great armies." He snorted at that. "Hand us a baby and it's all we can do not to coo and steal them away for naps."
"It sounds as though your days as an unmarried man are numbered, milord."
Was the imp laughing at him? Ecthelion sighed. He was beset by females at every turn, and Laure, the traitor, had run off and left him to this fate! "Ah, no." Ecthelion nodded as Lisse waved to him. "Five sisters and their assorted offspring keep me quite busy." Not that he was adverse to the idea, but one had to keep up an image. Or something like that. "Thank the stars for that, for I tell you there are mothers at every turn who just cannot bear to see an unmarried man."
"You're safe with me." Celebrían's tone was a bit dry but she smiled.
"Thank you," Ecthelion said with real relief. "Forgive me if I sound conceited, but it is disconcerting to be pursued by people who have no idea what you're actually like. I cannot conceive why they think looks alone make for a fine match!"
"I dare say it's equally your reputation preceding you, milord."
And there she was, laughing at him again. Ecthelion huffed a sigh. "I fail to see how dying increases one's reputation. I should think it's surviving that would do the trick." He arched an eyebrow as Celebrían shook her head. "Well then, perhaps you can explain it to me one of these days. My sisters just laugh at me."
"Perhaps." Celebrían turned as another person entered the hall. "That's my cousin, here to check up on me." She nodded to the woman and turned back to Ecthelion. "I plan on taking you up on your offer. Perhaps you and Lisse could join me at the park one day?"
"It would be our pleasure." Ecthelion bowed and smiled. "Ask Findaráto where to find us. He's part of our group as well and very insightful about healing and such." He hoped she would take him up on the offer and her family wouldn't wrap her up in bunting as some attempted to do with their wounded or re-embodied family members. Isolation only made it all worse, and cycled upon itself like a snake eating its own tail. No, he doubted Findaráto would allow that. After all, he'd been one of the first First Age exiles to be re-embodied. There was little he wouldn't do to help others adjust to life in Aman.
"Ready to go, Lisse?" Ecthelion held out his hand and laughed as she hugged him, wrapping her arms as far as they would go around his waist.
"I love you, Uncle 'Thelion!"
"I love you too, dear heart."
Releasing him, she wrapped her arms around his arm as they walked. "Do you suppose your friend Laure will marry before he returns home?"
"If he met someone and fell in love, then I can't imagine why he would wait to return to Aman before marrying." Arching an eyebrow, he looked down at her. "Do you have plans for him?"
The grin was adorable, eyes sparkling as Lisse nodded. "Maybe, yes? He sounds like he's a lot like you and I know I can't marry you, Uncle 'Thelion, so maybe I can marry him?"
Oh, stars. No one had ever told him a heart could melt and continue to beat at the same time. "Well, I suppose then I had best tell you some more stories about Laure." Ecthelion winked. "So that you have an idea of what you're getting into, of course."
Lisse: Quenya - sweet
Findaráto - Finrod Fealagund
Artanis - Galadriel
I know what Tolkien said about Silver hair in the Teler, but choose to ignore it. It means nothing more in my stories than the character has Telerin/Falathrim genetics and exhibits the trait through silver strands in their hair. Hope you enjoyed. If not, let me know what bugged you. Thanks for reading!
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