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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.
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