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Ripe for Change  by Bodkin

Meant to Be

The land was green and rolling, filled with the sound of rushing water and clothed with trees.  Deeper greens streaked the hills, while broad-branched trees with their early summer foliage spread out on the lower slopes – all highlighted by the blue of the sky and the silvered waters, with the flame of poppies licking across the grasses.  It was beautiful.

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow.

‘I can see Elrond and my daughter here,’ Celeborn granted. 

His wife admired the careful constructions of flint and mortar constructed in harmony with the trees that provided open rooms at ground level; rooms with arched windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, through which the fresh green-scented air blew.  Staircases, more outdoor than indoor, led into the trees, where broad platforms had been roofed and proofed against the rain.

‘Will it not be cold in winter?’ she asked.

‘Perhaps,’ Glorfindel conceded.  ‘But we will deal with that if the time comes – it should not be difficult.  Elrond did not want Imladris rebuilt, but a home that would fit here.’  He looked critically at the construction.  ‘And I would rather leave the finishing touches to Celebrían.  She knows what she wants.’  He turned his clear eyes to his lady’s adar.  ‘When will she and Elrond be able to break the chains that hold them across the mountains?’

Celeborn grinned.  ‘They might not find it easy to get away,’ he said.  ‘For all the High King of the Noldor has consented to this move, he is reluctant to bid farewell to his family.’

‘Elrond is of the mind that decisions made now could profit these lands – or damage them – for yeni to come,’ Galadriel said reprovingly.  ‘He has the patience to wait.’

The two elf lords shared a look. 

‘The twins will push him out the door soon,’ Celeborn shrugged.  ‘They seem to have decided to take charge.’

‘Good,’ Glorfindel said smugly.  ‘I hoped they would.’  He paused.  ‘Have you decided where you will go from here?’

‘West.’  Celeborn looked towards the lowering sun, as if drawn by some invisible cord.  ‘West.’

‘Is is not ironic,’ Glorfindel shook his head in mock disbelief, ‘that after whole ages of fighting the call to take ship, you should be pulled now to journey as far west as you can.’

Galadriel laughed.  ‘Not at all,’ she teased.  ‘For my lord is continuing to do exactly the opposite of what many would expect of him – and I would expect no different.’

‘You, Glorfindel, famed Balrog-slayer of Gondolin,’ declared Celeborn, ‘are in no position to criticise!  When all others were sailing west, you alone refused to follow the trend and returned to the lands east of the sea.  And now, when you could be sitting with your kin and basking in the glory due to you, you choose to hide yourself in these woods, seeking havens for the reluctant exiles of the forests.’

‘Well, who wants to do the everyday?’ Glorfindel asked.  ‘Better to stand firm and be true to yourself.’

‘Will you settle here with Elrond and Celebrían?’ Galadriel asked.  ‘Or seek out other adventures?’

Glorfindel shrugged expressively.  ‘I know not,’ he said.  ‘And I am reluctant to make commitments that might last until the end of days.  What will come, will come.’  He smiled.  ‘I get on well with Elrond – and missed your daughter’s presence in Imladris.  I expect I shall make their home mine, yet wander as the mood takes me.’

‘You are welcome to join us,’ Celeborn told him.  ‘Permanently, or for however long suits you.’  His eyes rested on Glorfindel’s face.  ‘I am sure Bórdain would be only too glad to have you on our quest.  He seems to think that all the kindreds need to share what we will find.’

‘And I am to provide the token quantity of Vanyar blood?’ Glorfindel shook his head.  ‘You will have to rely on the dash that flows through your lady’s veins.  Between you, the pair of you unites most factions.  That will have to be enough.’

***

Losgael had surprised herself by running into Goerfér’s arms and clinging to him with an enthusiasm she could not recall feeling in … a goodly number of years.  His scent – fresh and green and woody – filled her nostrils and she buried her fingers in his abundant dark hair.  He held her to him, rubbing his cheek against the top of her head, clearly a little taken-aback by her display.

‘I have missed you,’ she accused him, brushing her face against his tunic to rub away the tears. 

He leaned back enough to look at her face.  A little smile hovered round his mouth, as though he was uncertain whether it would be wise to show his pleasure in seeing her.   ‘I did not know whether you would come,’ he told her.  ‘I thought you might have taken to life in Tirion and not wish to exchange it for a simpler existence in the woods.’

She slapped him on the shoulder.  ‘Fool,’ she said fiercely.  ‘As if I would stay behind when my family is here!’  She placed her hand more gently on his cheek.  ‘You look well,’ she told him, her eyes searching his face.

‘I am well,’ he told her. ‘Pelthaes is well.  Nifredil is well.  Lómion is well.  Our grandchildren are well.’  He stroked his hand down her long braid, settling it in the small of her back. 

‘You found them!’ A flush of pleasure bloomed in Losgael’s face. 

‘We found them – settled and happy in this vast forest.’ Goerfér raised his chin to look at the broad canopy of the enormous oak and paused to draw a few breaths of the pure air before dropping his head to meet his wife’s eyes.  ‘Our granddaughter is to be wed,’ he informed her.  ‘Pelthaes approves of her choice – but has said that he has no desire to settle in one place yet.  Not with so much to see and so many places to explore.’

Losgael inspected him.  ‘So he is not here?’ she asked.

‘He should be back within a month or so,’ her husband reassured her.  ‘He is part of one of Lord Glorfindel’s expeditionary teams.’  He patted her hip.  ‘He has found a purpose, my love, just as you wanted.’

‘I am not about to blame you for his absence,’ she informed him.  ‘Stop looking as if you expect to be scolded!’

‘If you are sure,’ he said meekly, then burst into a joyful laugh.  ‘It is good to be with you again – and if I cannot provide Pelthaes, I can at least…’  He stopped speaking and turned her gently to the group behind her.

‘Nifredil!  Oh, Nifredil!’ Losgael flushed and paled and flushed again.  ‘Lómion!  I am so pleased to see you.  Brithilien, Golas.’ Goerfér was disconcerted as his wife burst into tears. 

‘Naneth,’ Nifredil said soothingly.  ‘Get her a drink, Lómion, and something to eat.  I told Adar he should let you rest – but he thought you would be so pleased…’

‘I am pleased,’ Losgael declared.  ‘It is just a surprise.  I will be fine.’  She stretched out her hand tentatively as if not until she touched her daughter would she believe in her presence.  ‘You will travel west with us?’

Nifredil exchanged a quick glance with her husband.  ‘It is possible,’ she said soothingly.  ‘It depends on what Brithilien’s betrothed decides – and that depends on his family.’

A slight tension tightened the skin round Losgael’s eyes.  ‘It is never easy, is it?’ she said sadly.  ‘There are always divisions, even here.  For every reunion, there is a farewell.’

‘But we have time – and we can return, my heart,’ Goerfér murmured comfortingly.  ‘We will seek this place that calls us, but we will not lose touch with those who choose to settle here.’

‘And we may decide to come.’  Lómion handed her a cup filled with a steaming tea.  ‘We need not be parted for long from our daughter – and I would see this place toward which you head.’  He offered a small bowl of dried fruit and nuts.  ‘I am afraid there is little prepared to eat – the cooks are making a feast to welcome the lord and lady and have little patience with those seeking something now.’

Losgael stared at the food without any appetite, taking comfort from the warmth of the cup.  ‘I must go,’ she said faintly.  ‘Whether you choose to or not.’  She glanced fleetingly at Goerfér.  ‘I thought it meant nothing to me – that it was just another place.  But it is more than that.   More than what drew you to cross the mountains.   It is like a bell calling.’

Goerfér looked pleased.  ‘You feel it, too?’  He glanced around him.  ‘Some – those whose blood has not been renewed – seem content to settle here, where the forest hums with life, but, for me, it is not enough.  I am drawn further west.’

A slender hand, fingers warmed by the cup she had been clasping, slipped into his.  ‘Then we will go together,’ she said, certain once again of the path before her, her mask of calm confidence once more in place.

***

Bórdain ran his fingers through the mare’s forelock.  Her beauty still surprised him at times and he relished the feeling of partnership they shared.  She had been an unexpected gift from the Lady and one that had meant a lot to him.  Although, he thought ruefully, even now he was aware that their link would not last indefinitely.  Long-lived as elven horses were, they were not immortal – and their parting had been implicit in the formation of the bond between them.

‘One of Bregedur’s?’ a soft voice asked.

Bórdain looked up as a pale hand stretched out to run down the mare’s neck.  ‘She is,’ he agreed.

‘Good conformation.’

‘She is special,’ Bórdain said firmly.

‘You get one like that now and then,’ Glorfindel said.  ‘One whose memory stays with you for ever.’

‘I have never had a horse before.  Not one that follows me.’

‘Yet you have come far, my friend – and have further still to go.’

Bórdain’s eyes met Glorfindel’s and held them easily.  ‘A different journey from yours,’ he said.  ‘But you, too, have trodden unexpected paths to come to where you are now.’

‘True.’

‘And you tread them still,’ Bórdain observed.

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow of dark gold, but the elf hidden in the shadows behind his mare did not expand on whatever thought was in his mind.

‘Do you know what draws you on?’ he asked.

Bórdain, like Celeborn earlier, looked towards the west.  ‘We will know when we get closer.’  He glanced at his companion.  ‘It gets clearer as we travel,’ he said.  ‘From Tirion, it was just a call – but as we passed over the mountains, it developed direction and purpose.’

Glorfindel frowned as he considered the information.  A brief gust of air tugged at his hair and stirred the leaves.  ‘Are you sure it is well-intentioned?’ he asked.  ‘It seems – odd – that so many yeni should pass with none feeling this draw to the west, only for it now to pull at those who are settled here.’  He gazed at Bórdain meditatively.  ‘It concerns me.  The decision to move west of the Pelori is sensible – and I am glad that Finarfin and Olwë and Ingwë have conceded that – but I am not comfortable with this … this mystical element.’

The starlight caught Bórdain’s unexpected smile and shone silver in his eyes.  ‘You are a practical elf,’ he commented.  ‘One who has dwelt in Valmar and lived with the presence of the Valar.  One who has learnt that, while power might be in the hands of the Powers, day-to-day decisions are the business of the quendi themselves.’

His golden hair gleamed.  ‘Are you suggesting that I do not take seriously matters that reach beyond the practical?’

‘Offer the Powers their due, but keep your sword sharp.’

‘The Valar help those who help themselves.’

‘The harder you strive, the more fortunate you become.’

‘We could exchange aphorisms all night.’  Glorfindel eyed the elf who seemed so much more solid a presence under Elbereth’s stars.   ‘This … attraction seems to have an element of sea-longing about it that makes it difficult to resist.  Amusing as it is to see Celeborn in the grip of something he always rejected, I do not wish him to come to any harm.’

‘I have never seen anyone in the grip of the sea-longing.’  Bórdain shrugged.  ‘Yet I do not believe, from what I have heard, that it endures once the sufferer has taken ship.  This feeling, too, I am sure will cease once we have found the place that calls us.  It is nothing to cause concern.’

His gaze remaining steady, Glorfindel nodded slightly.  ‘Some of those who have been working with us will join you on your journey.  Haldir, for one, would not willingly remain behind while Celeborn travels into the unknown – and there will be others to enlarge your party.’

‘All may come if they desire.’  Bórdain smiled brilliantly.  ‘The Great Journey excludes none – and this time there will be no enforced ending.  Our destination awaits us.’

***

‘He said no.’ Finrod inspected his niece’s husband.  ‘He cannot deny his daughter’s duty to follow her husband west – but he will not tolerate the loss of his sons.  Not again, he said.’

Celebrían offered him a glass of wine.  ‘I doubt whether Amarië would wish to move west of the Pelori, in any case.’

Finrod’s face took on the expression of gentle and wondering affection it always showed when he thought of his beautiful wife.  ‘She said that she would not mind – this venture is blessed by the Valar and undertaken with the goodwill of all the kindreds.’ He smiled.  ‘But I would not choose to take her from her home.’

Elrond looked thoughtful.  ‘Yet I see it as a necessary part of ensuring that the relationship between the kindreds remains positive.’  He accepted a glass and smiled at Celebrían. ‘I will admit any suitable candidates to dwell in my household,’ he said, ‘but that will be a limited number of those who have suitable skills – and there are many here who would relish the offer of a new life.  It seems short-sighted to confine the Noldor to their traditional lands while they see the Sindar and Silvan embracing the opportunities of the west.’

‘It is more than my uncles.’  Celebrían curled her feet beneath her on the sofa.  ‘There are those elves who see their chance of leading a better life here as limited by the number of older elves long established in their roles – jewelsmiths and weavers, potters and glassmakers, elves who have been working at their crafts since before Anor rose and are highly skilled, but who leave little room for those who are growing into equal talent.  Then, if you look to the countryside, our farmers have sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters, who crowd on small areas of land.  They are not all needed to till the soil – and many of them are pushed into moving to the towns to take up other livings.  They see land being given to those who have come from across the sea – and resent that such an offer is not made to them.’

‘Yet I see Finarfin’s point,’ Finrod objected.  ‘If he were to claim an equal role in the west for those he rules, the Sindar and Silvan would believe that his aim was to dominate them in their new realms just as many believe that he wishes to dominate them here.’

‘But if the Noldor come later,’ Elrond pointed out, ‘there are those who will see their arrival as comparable to that of the heirs of Finwë and their followers arriving in Beleriand.’

‘Why is nothing to do with elves ever simple?’ Finrod demanded with exasperation.

‘At least we live long enough to learn from our mistakes.’  Celebrían grinned at him impishly.  ‘The unfortunate Secondborn forget the lessons of the past – and errors of judgment are repeated time after time!’

Elrond sighed.  ‘You would be an ideal person to work with the elves of Ennor.’  He stopped for a moment and brooded over his wine.  ‘You are well-liked among them all – among those born here, of course, but also among those returned from Námo’s Halls and those who recall the Noldor from the First Age.  Your sacrifice on behalf of Beren and Lúthien endears you to the Sindar, just as your wanderings have given you a level of acceptance among the Silvan.  Taking earnest and industrious young Noldor west of the mountains to work with and learn from the wisdom of the Wood Elves would only enhance Finarfin’s reputation for statesmanship.  Not to mention offering a hope for a future of harmony among all kindreds.’

Slate-grey eyes that gleamed with the light of the Trees focused on Elrond’s serious face.  ‘We will speak to him again,’ Finrod declared.  ‘And again, if necessary.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘Far be it from me to allow my atar’s doubts to detract from his reputation from statesmanship.’

***

Thranduil had told them that, with every league they travelled further west, the trees grew in immensity until it was as if a city of elves could be supported by each one – but he had not believed it.  Oropher’s son had been just an elfling when Doriath fell: to him the Hírilorn was but a legend – he was used to the lesser trees of later ages.  But it was true – and Celeborn found himself absorbed in silent admiration of the forest around him.  And he was not the only one.  The Galadhrim among them expanded and their content was almost visible as an aura of cat-like pleasure.  They moved further apart, riding slowly and apparently aimlessly, each one listening to the song of the forest so intently that it was as well that that nothing seemed to bear them any ill-will.

‘Why did Laerwen not lead her followers further west?’ Galadriel mused as they stopped to rest and eat.  ‘Did this not draw her, too?’

Celeborn leaned back on his elbows and gazed at the canopy of sun-warmed green.  ‘Perhaps it is not her place,’ he said absently.

She inclined her head to watch him.  ‘Each has his own place here?’

‘Perhaps.’ 

Celeborn did not seem terribly interested, she thought with amusement.  The song was proving to be a much greater distraction than she would have thought possible – and he would not be much use until he got it under control.  It was probably just as well that not all of their party were so closely attuned to the forest – or niceties like food and rest would be completely overlooked in the compulsion to move ever onward.  She hoped their destination would not be too far distant.  She had spent enough years apart from her daughter’s family and her own and she would appreciate keeping them within reach – but she had become aware that there was little she could do about it.  They would end where they would end and they would build a new life – again – among the trees.  And she would be content.

Bórdain stood motionless, his arms folded in front of him and his eyes facing west.  He would not leave them, no matter how urgent the need he felt in his bones.  They were a party, and they would reach this destination together, see it together, recognise it together, claim it together.  Let it claim them.   And it would not be long now.  The music was so loud that it rang in his ears and made him want to hold his head against the pain – against the beauty – against the rightness of it.

He did not even realise that Losgael was standing in front of him until she lost patience and grasped his arm.  He jerked back, breathing shortly, like someone awakened from a dream.

She narrowed her eyes.  ‘Food,’ she said insistently.  ‘Sit down and eat – and talk to somebody.’

He took the bowl she thrust at him – it was easier to follow the line of least resistance, and at least that would mean that she went away – but her words did not penetrate his absorption.

‘I am worried.’  Losgael approached Galadriel with far more confidence than she had ever felt in the High King’s city.  Here, she was the one who was at home.  She looked sharply at the gleaming eyes, seeing their intelligent alertness rather than the echo of the Trees that brightened them.  ‘They are so certain that what draws them is the epitome of all their hopes and desires – but … but they are not with us!’  She picked up a small twig of crisp leaves that high winds had broken from the tree and began to brush the turf in front of her anxiously.  ‘If anything were to go wrong now…’ She turned her glance to Goerfér, sitting bonelessly relaxed against the massive trunk of an enormous tree.  ‘Anything could take us unawares.’

‘It seems to burn more strongly in the blood of ellyn,’ Galadriel observed.  ‘I had thought it was my Noldor ancestry – but it is not.  We ellyth are more aware of what surrounds us, while they are … almost existing in a vision of what will be.’

Losgael lifted her chin.  ‘What are we going to do about it?’

‘We cannot stop them,’ Galadriel reflected.  ‘It is as much as we can manage to get them to pause to eat and rest.’  She smiled.  ‘I sense no danger – there is that, at least.  We must keep watch and be wary for them.’

‘And keep guard?’

Galadriel inspected the remainder of their party.  ‘There are a few alert enough to be of use – we must ensure that we are rested enough to watch over the rest.  Haldir, for one, seems more accustomed to the intensity of this forest – I hope that as we grow accustomed to it, the rest will adjust.  For now, between us, we will ensure that we reach our destination safely.’

‘I hope it will not be long.’  Losgael’s anxiety was clear.

‘Tomorrow, I think, or the day after.  I sense that there is one thing that must happen before we find our goal – but I have no idea what it might be.’

Losgael smiled narrowly.  ‘Then I will hope that whatever it is will occur soon.  I have not rediscovered my husband only to want to lose him to this strange intoxication.’

***

Elladan stretched out on the chair and propped his feet up on the corner of the desk.  ‘Do we have to take this quite so seriously?’ he asked.

His brother cast him an amused glance.  ‘As if you do not know the answer to that,’ he said.

‘So much of this is unnecessary.’

‘It is, of course,’ Elrohir granted.  ‘But if you can show me a way of discriminating between the pointless and the vital without looking at both, I shall promise to discard the dross without a second thought.’

Elladan stretched, dislodging a report from his lap to scatter over the floor.  ‘I hope whoever wrote that had the sense to number the pages,’ he remarked calmly, ‘or it will make even less sense.  I cannot, I am afraid, provide any magic solution – and our choices will come back to bite us, whatever we do.’

‘I think Daeradar was trying to do too much himself.’  Elrohir put down his pen.  ‘I can see the value of keeping overall control – but this is ridiculous.  He has been steadily sending those who could deputise for him across the mountains and shouldering the burden of keeping Andaeradar happy.’

‘That cannot be done.’  Elladan clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back on them.  ‘Finarfin has too many bad memories of his children walking away from him – and not returning for far too long.  He is not about to part from any of them willingly.’

‘I want Adar to go,’ Elrohir admitted.  ‘He is too patient – and, the way things are going, the buildings Glorfindel is putting among the trees will have fallen back to the forest before he and Naneth get to see them.’ 

‘But then, he has something else on his mind.’  Elladan frowned at a spot on the ceiling.  ‘He and Finrod are working on something.’  He tipped his head forward to meet his brother’s eyes.  ‘I tried to get Naneth to tell me,’ he said, ‘but she just laughed and shook her head.’

‘Dangerous.’  Elrohir narrowed his eyes.

‘I think they sometimes forget that we have grown up.’

‘We will need people here indefinitely.’  Elrohir reverted to the previous subject.  ‘And we clearly need to set up an efficient team who can run this … this organisation.  In rotation, probably, so that all may spend as much time in the west as possible.’

‘Three teams?  Two?  Or one with the power to speak for us all?’

‘I hate to say it – triple the bureaucracy will be at least nine times the paperwork – but three.  Thranduil will want his own representatives to speak for him.  And, although our parents and grandparents would probably consent to working together, it will be far better to establish from the start that our lands are independent of each other.’  He grinned.  ‘I would not wish to drive Daernaneth and Adar into opposition.’

‘Relays of messengers, you think?’

‘It would seem logical.  Birds, perhaps, for urgent occasions – but you would never get a bird smaller than an Eagle to carry the likes of that.’  Elrohir indicated the fallen report.

‘And who do you think should be in charge?’

His brother shrugged.  ‘Erestor is an obvious choice.  He has not only the skill and experience, but he possesses a genuine liking for order – and negotiation.’

‘He will complain about being dragged away from his books,’ Elladan smiled.  ‘But there is no-one better.  And he would do it for Adar, even if his dislike of the idea was genuine.  Who else?’

Elrohir sighed.  ‘Us, my brother.  Not necessarily together – and not all the time, but we will have to do our share.’

‘Adar will insist on spending some time here, I am sure.  And Naneth is bound to want to visit her grandparents.  Daernaneth will bring Daeradar east of the mountains regularly to take over from whoever he feels should represent him.  Harthad, probably.  At first, at least.’  Elladan seemed unsurprised by Elrohir’s conclusion.  ‘There are plenty who can fill the lesser roles – and others who will grow into them in time.’  He considered for a few minutes.  ‘It will expand,’ he said ruefully.  ‘Like Estel’s paper-shufflers.  He started off with a couple of dozen, but within a century they numbered in their thousands.’

‘Oh well,’ Elrohir decided.  ‘At least it will give all those young elves seeking purpose something to do while they await inspiration.’

‘And keep them from under our feet.’  Elladan’s satisfaction made his brother grin. ‘We can always sentence any particularly irritating youths to working as assistants to those who become our voices in Valmar.  That will teach them.’

Elrohir’s laughter stirred the paper in front of him.  ‘A fate worse than facing orcs, my twin,’ he agreed.  ‘A prospect that will encourage the best of behaviour in all the young – including ours.’  He sat back.  ‘I am increasingly impressed with our forebears’ skills,’ he admitted.  ‘They have done this before – and knew how difficult it would be – and yet still they did not hesitate to start again.  We come of a long line of very courageous elves, my brother – elves who should be honoured for far more than sounds good in song.’

Elladan swung his feet to the floor and stood up.  ‘Come, my unsung hero,’ he yawned.  ‘Let us go and indulge in a glass or two of wine.’

‘That sounds a very good plan,’ Elrohir approved, ‘after you have picked up all that paper you tossed so carelessly on the floor and put it away tidily.’

‘Really, my twin!’ Elladan looked at the scattered report with disgust.  ‘You are becoming remarkably tedious in your old age.’

‘It is parenthood, my brother.  It does something to you.’

‘You, perhaps.’  Gathering the paper into an untidy stack, Elladan dumped the collection onto the seat of a chair.  ‘I, however, will remain as light-hearted and irresponsible as I have ever been – I am determined on it.’ 

***

The moonlight gleamed silver through the dappled leaves, dropping a pattern of light on the grass and low-growing shrubs beneath the canopy.  Bórdain did not know what roused him, but the world around him was at peace.  The tranquil night-song of the forest hummed and only the sounds of the night creatures played against the subdued murmur.

He disentangled himself from his preferred nest in the trees and dropped silently to the ground, keeping to the shadows between the shafts of moonlight.

Lumbren huffed gently, as if enquiring what her elf was doing at this unexpected hour, but he ignored her and slipped between the bushes that bordered their campsite.

Galadriel made no move to stop him.   There was something in his movements that spoke of purpose – and a will other than his own.  She grasped her long knife – there was, she thought, no harm in being cautious – and rose silently, stepping over other resting figures until she reached Losgael.  Her fingers curled over the elleth’s mouth.

‘Bórdain has left camp,’ she breathed.  ‘Come.’

Probably to answer a call of nature, Losgael thought crossly.  Then she grinned to think of the Lady Galadriel and herself spying on an ellon in such a situation.  Not since she had been an elfling on the edge of adolescence had she caught out an ellon in such circumstances – and her naneth’s furious embarrassment had made sure that she had avoided ever getting caught displaying such curiosity again.  

The elves resting behind them did not stir as Losgael crept behind Galadriel.  That was almost more unnerving, she thought, glancing back, than having a fully armed elven warrior hold his blade to her throat and ask her what she thought she was doing.

The shadows were deeper as they moved further into the trees and Bórdain was not anywhere to be seen.  Galadriel paused, casting her thought over the wood around them, seeking any disturbances in the pattern.  There was little evidence of anything unusual.  Bórdain was so much a part of the forest that his passage went almost unnoticed – but there was a hint of something strange to the south west.  She hesitated, considering the feel of the darkness.

‘That way?’ Losgael asked for confirmation.

‘Keep quiet,’ Galadriel murmured.  ‘I do not know what we will find.’

Finarfin’s daughter had claimed that she and her lord had spent time wandering the woods – but Losgael had not realised until now the truth of her statement.  Theirs had clearly not been a wandering that involved an attendant trail of servants to keep them in comfort.  She sidled through the shadows like one who knew that a false step could be dangerous and her step was as light as a true hunter.  Scarcely a leaf trembled to hint at the way they had gone.

This quest, however, did not demand any great skill.

By the time the trees thinned and the song of tumbling waters trembled in the air, Losgael could feel a presence ahead: a presence that was no elf.  Clouds had covered Ithil and the shadows around them deepened – but ahead a cool light shone that needed no external source.

Galadriel’s hand on her forearm stopped her from blundering into the open beside the wide stream and they drew back into the shelter of the trees.

The elf, who had been one of the First, who had awoken at Cuiviénen and embarked on the Great Journey only to turn aside and remain in the land of his birth, stood bemused before a huge horse that brightened the air around him and dimmed the night-time beauty of the waters.  The animal seemed more real than anything around him – while, at the same time, it was almost possible to see the waters through his powerful body.

And yet, impressive as the beast was, he was not one tenth as impressive as the figure that stood at his head.

The Huntsman was tall, with dark hair cascading over his shoulders and he bore a great horn.  He was clad in garments that seemed little different from those common among the elves of the forest, yet there was about him an aura of undiluted strength.

Bórdain moved slowly to drop to one knee before the Vala, but Oromë reached out and drew him forward.  ‘There is no need for obeisance, child,’ he said mildly.  His voice was like the song of the waters and the power of the storm, the wind in the trees and the roar of an avalanche.  It echoed in the elf’s bones and rang in his heart.  ‘You have come at last – and your home awaits you as it always has.  There was no limit set on the time you took to reach it.’

Even from the shelter of the trees, Losgael could see that Bórdain was shaking.  She was not surprised – she was shaking herself and she was not enduring the undivided attention of a Vala.

‘Child of Finwë’s House!’ Oromë had no need to raise his voice.  Losgael was not even sure if she was hearing him through her ears as it was.  ‘Daughter of Beleriand – come forth.’

She was certainly more reluctant to move than Galadriel – who, at least, had grown up at Finwë’s court and presumably had more experience of enduring the eyes of the Valar, Losgael thought resentfully.   She could no more have disobeyed the voice than she could have flown, however.  The two ellyth emerged from their shelter.

Oromë smiled, eyes bright as diamond-studded mithril taking in every element of their appearance and seeming to see into every thought.  ‘It is good to see you back in the lands of your birth, Artanis,’ he said.  ‘You have proved worthy.’  The intensity of his look stopped Losgael’s breath.  ‘And you are welcome among my forests,’ he told her.  ‘You will care for them well.’

‘My lord,’ Galadriel said with apparent composure.

Losgael licked her lips, but did not risk her voice, simply bowing her fair head.

The Vala raised one hand and clicked his fingers imperiously.  ‘I wish Bórdain to ride with me a while,’ he said.  The elf twitched, as if he was as enthusiastic about the suggestion as a fish would be to dangle on a line – and as powerless to resist.

The dark mare emerged from the trees behind them, dancing delicately on the turf, barely able to control her excitement at having been summoned to take part in one of the Huntsman’s wild rides.

Bórdain made a strangled sound, half protest, half gratitude – and wholly uncertain.

A large hand rested on his brow and stroked gently over his head to stop at the nape of the elf’s neck.  ‘You will come to no harm,’ the Vala reassured him.  ‘It has been a long time since my host rode out – we lead a sedate life now in the forests of Aman.’  He looked at Galadriel.  ‘He will return safely, Artanis.  Fear not for him.’

Bórdain threw one desperate glance in the direction of the two ellyth and leapt obediently to Lumbren’s back.  Oromë raised his horn and blew a blast that put in mind the power of lightning cleaving the sky, and between two breaths, Valar and elf were gone.

***

‘I have seen it.’  The sheer wonder in Bórdain’s voice was impressive.  ‘Lord Oromë rode like the wind flying above the land, as he did in the time before the Journey, his host in pursuit of nothing but the rays of Ithil as Tilion sailed the sky – and then he peeled away and sent them on, for Lumbren was too tired to run further.  He reached over from the blazing mithril of Nahar and touched her on the shoulder…’ he drew a deep breath, ‘and we were in a place where trees from the beginning reached out over mirror-bright waters.’  His eyes glowed like stars.  ‘He said, ‘This is the place that was made for you’ and gave me these.’  Bórdain reached into the pouch that he had made in the front of his tunic and stretched his closed hand out towards Galadriel.  ‘Here – ‘For Artanis,’ – he said.’

‘Mellyrn,’ Galadriel murmured, cupping the small silvery nuts in her hands.  She looked up to hold Celeborn’s eyes.  ‘Treasure, indeed.’

‘Is it far?’ Celeborn’s voice was calm and curious, but his gaze remained fixed on his wife’s face.

‘I do not think so,’ Bórdain said doubtfully.  ‘It took little time to ride back in the Huntsman’s company – but that might not be a good way to judge.’

‘I wish I had seen him.’ Goerfér’s voice was reverent.  ‘To have ridden with the Huntsman…  I can think of little that would be more…’

‘Terrifying,’ Losgael interrupted, glaring at him.

‘I wish you had been there.’  Galadriel told her husband.

‘No doubt he thought me undeserving of the honour.’  Celeborn sounded unconcerned.  ‘I daresay I shall survive.’

‘Perhaps he will come back,’ Goerfér said hopefully, ‘to see how we are getting on.’

‘We could invite him to dine with us,’ his wife snapped.

Galadriel opened her mouth to speak, then changed her mind.  ‘I will put these somewhere safe,’ she remarked, ‘and we can move on.’

‘Was it such a shattering experience?’ Celeborn followed her as she wrapped the nuts safely in her spare shift and tucked them away in her bag.  ‘Losgael seems somewhat disconcerted and Bórdain…’ he shot a quick look at the quiet elf, ‘looks different.  Somehow.’

‘He has ridden with the Hunt.’  Galadriel leaned closer to her husband’s ear.  ‘Have you noticed Lumbren’s shoulder?’

‘It is hard to miss.’  The brilliant white patch on the mare’s hide, precisely the shape of a large hand, gleamed in the daylight.  In the dark before dawn, when Bórdain had entered the camp, it had shone silver in the starlight.  Celeborn smiled.  ‘I am not altogether sure whether I am in charge of this party,’ he said, ‘or whether I am Bórdain’s to command.’

Galadriel turned her head enough to brush her lips against his jaw comfortingly.  ‘I do not think it matters,’ she told him.  ‘His is an authority he refuses to wield.’  

‘And does Oromë’s gift, Artanis, entitle us to plant mellyrn in his forest?’

‘That is for you to decide, my lord.’  Her hand came up to comb through his hair. ‘You do not mind when my atar calls me Artanis, my love.  Oromë is acquainted with the child I was – not the adult I have become.  And that adult is all Galadriel.’

‘Not all.’ Celeborn sounded guilty.  ‘You are still your parents’ daughter – I would not take you from them, or want you reject your youth.’

‘You make things too complicated, my lord.’  She smiled at him, her eyes meeting his openly.  ‘I am here with you.’

The fingers resting on her waist tightened and he moved to draw her closer to him.

‘We are ready to ride, cousin.’ Goerfér’s eyes gleamed with mischief.  ‘Although I suppose we could leave without you – should that be your will.’

Celeborn stiffened, but forced himself to speak amiably.  ‘I am surprised you survived as long as you did, cousin,’ he said.  ‘You have always enjoyed taking your life in your hands.’

A thinly veiled snort of amusement was the only thing left as Goerfér moved away.

‘Later, my love,’ Galadriel smiled.  ‘We will have time for each other – later.’

They rode side by side, close enough to touch each other, allowing the apparently tireless Lumbren to seek their path. 

‘I begin to think I have no choice in this.  Perhaps I have never had a choice,’ Celeborn murmured.

‘I do not believe in fate.’

‘That is rich, coming from someone who could read the world in that mirror.’

Galadriel shrugged. ‘Shadows and dreams.’  She glanced sideways at him.  ‘Warnings.  Read them, digest what they say – and make your own decisions.  Do you not feel the rightness of this?’

He considered.  ‘Yes,’ he admitted.  ‘But I have been deceived before.’

‘You are wiser now.’

‘Some would debate that.’

‘Not in my hearing.’

‘There is a faint possibility that some might say you were prejudiced,’ Celeborn observed.  He shifted his weight and looked ahead.  ‘We are nearly there.’

Galadriel drew a steadying breath.  ‘Are you ready, my lord?’ she asked.

‘As ready as I can be.’  He stretched out his hand to her and, as she took it, they urged their horses forward to join Bórdain at the head of the party.  Putting the momentary hesitation behind them, they rode into the place whose call had drawn them home.

 





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