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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.
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