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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.’
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