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Lady in Waiting
She was feather-light, as if all but the essence of her had burned away, leaving only wisps of the elleth she had been.
Finrod lifted her gently from the smooth sheets. ‘This is no good,’ he murmured chidingly. ‘You will not heal in a prison – there is too much of your adar in you for that.’
She barely heard him, but the touch of his hand on her bare skin was surprisingly … bearable.
Her nightgown dragged against the silvered scars, reminding her of why she could not endure the presence of another near her, but the panic refused to come. Instead, she rested her tangled hair against her uncle’s chest and allowed the scent of crisp leaves and wood-smoke, ripe berries and fallen nuts, cold nights and sun-warmed days to tease her with distant memories of childhood, of reaching up to grasp a strong hand and knowing she was safe.
‘Adar?’ she said, her voice no more than a sigh.
She was not to know how her carers froze behind her, and Finrod bore her outside before the whispers started and the word spread that Artanis’s daughter had spoken for the first time since being carried from the ship that bore her west. The healer to whom Elrond had, in desperation, committed his wife’s care dropped to her knees as her legs failed her and hid her face in her hands. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was a chance that Celebrían would not fade into the shadows that haunted her.
Finrod wished he had thought to bring a blanket as he settled on a grassy bank beneath an ancient tree. Thin as his niece was, she would chill easily, even on a soft day such as this – but then, he thought, if he was right, what she needed more than warmth was the brush of air on her skin and the scent of the forest in her nostrils – and, most of all, the touch of another who had been through the fire and come out renewed.
‘You are safe here,’ he told her. ‘Safe among your kin – nothing will harm you here.’ He repeated his words as a chant, anxious to reassure this shell of an elleth that she would recover if only she so chose.
‘Elrond said that,’ she breathed, her voice dry with lack of use. ‘It was untrue.’
A rumble in the chest that supported her made the fear flare and was almost enough to make her close out the world again, but the warmth held her long enough to remember … Laughter. She remembered laughter.
‘Well – as safe as you can be anywhere,’ he agreed.
‘It was my fault,’ she said. ‘Elrond – our sons – Adar … they blamed themselves, but they did all they could … I was too weak …’
‘You survived, Celebrían.’ Finrod’s touch was clean … pure … untainted by anger or vengeance or guilt or terror. Golden. Comforting. The touch of someone who had suffered and knew better than to condemn. ‘But only you can decide to live again.’
‘I do not know if I can,’ she whispered.
‘Would you abandon your husband, then, to believe he failed you? Leave your children?’
‘They are not here.’ Celebrían hissed bitterly. ‘They would not come.’
Finrod’s fingers eased through the tangles in her hair, just as her naneth’s had when she had been no more than an elfling. ‘Would you have expected them to do so?’ The former King of Nargothrond sounded no more than gravely curious.
‘Of course not!’ she snapped. ‘That would have been selfish.’ Her spurt of irritation subsided as he continued to stroke her hair, and she relaxed. It was some moments before she realised that the fog that damped down her spirit had thinned and a weak sun shone through to brighten her mood.
‘Then let us care for you, child, while you wait,’ Finrod offered.
She sat amid the nodding windflowers, straight-backed, her slender fingers linked in her lap – looking, her grandmother thought, like a good little elfling, waiting patiently for a promised treat. She was frail still, thinner than she should be, her fair skin translucent and her silver hair leached of its true brilliance, but at least there was colour in her eyes and a touch of pink in her lips. She was beginning to return – just as Eärwen had begun to give up hope of it and fear that, in refusing to release Celebrían to Námo’s care, her sons and husband had condemned her to a perpetual half-life.
This quiet lodge far from the intrigues of Tirion had been her granddaughter’s refuge since a highly-relieved contingent of protective elves had set foot on the white shores and surrendered the responsibility for Elrond’s wife to her grandparents. Here, the failing elleth had sunk herself into the song of the trees, the caress of the breeze, the resilience of the earth, the purity of the water. Here, she had allowed her fëa to drift with the rhythmic comfort of the waves. Here, she had permitted her wounds to mend and learned to accept her past enough to move on from it.
She was, after all, her mother’s daughter.
Aware of her grandmother’s inspection, Celebrían raised her eyes, chin jutting defiantly. On a face so … conventionally beautiful, Eärwen smiled, evidence of a determination that matched Nerwen’s was unexpected. Although it should not have been. Without a good dose of her mother’s more … tiring … characteristics, Celebrían would not have survived an attack that was vicious in the extreme. Great warriors had died of lesser injuries.
‘It is time to eat, my granddaughter,’ she said. ‘And you look as if you are not consuming enough to keep a bird alive.’
‘I am growing impatient,’ Celebrían sighed, disregarding the words and hearing only the affection in her grandmother's voice. ‘The slow passage of time does not reduce my longing to see him again.’
‘Hardly surprising.’ Without ever having met him, Eärwen had developed a considerable admiration for the child of Eärendil and Elwing. Of course, stories about him had been arriving in the Blessed Realm ever since the Host had returned – but the Elrond who had held his wife and woven the net to hold her fëa among the living was not the noble lord or the warrior, the healer or the diplomat. The Elrond for whom Celebrían yearned was lover and husband, a passionate elf who would risk himself for those he loved, but who could not abandon duty for personal gratification. ‘He will come when he can.’
‘I know that.’ Celebrían did not bother to be indignant. Her unquestioning belief in her husband had, at one point, been the only thread that had continued to hold. She had promised she would be waiting for him when he reached Elvenhome – and she would keep her word.
She rose lightly, a breath of mist on a dawn field, and drifted through the blossoms, her passage barely stirring them. The soft green fabric of her gown clung to her, outlining a body that was still too thin.
‘I expect we are having fish,’ she remarked.
‘Your grandfather is not too fond of it,’ Eärwen agreed. ‘I seize the chance to eat like a Teler whenever I can.’
‘And fish is good for you.’ Celebrían raised an eyebrow in an unwitting tribute to the husband who still worked for the good of Middle-earth on the other side of a sea she could not cross.
‘Nourishing,’ her grandmother agreed. ‘But not too heavy on the digestion.’
The soft breath escaping Celebrían was almost – not quite, but almost – a giggle. To Eärwen, it was an eminently satisfying sound. One that offered a reassurance she had not realised she needed.
Celebrían would be all right.
She was a haven of stillness in the busy room. As the dark-hair Noldor indulged their intrigues around her, she remained in the eye of the storm, unstirred by whatever passions urged them on.
Finarfin approached her, shedding his courtiers and sycophants with the ease of long practice – and the application of a spark of his half-brother’s temper. Long experience of kingship had taught him much – not least that it was impossible to please everyone, leading finally to the conclusion that he might as well make his own decisions.
‘Grandfather?’ Celebrían allowed him to envelop her in a gentle hug. It had been some considerable time before she had been truly comfortable with another’s touch, but she now enjoyed these simple demonstrations of affection from the family she had never known. She reached up to kiss his cheek without hesitation.
‘Would you care to walk with me beneath the stars?’ he asked. ‘You offer me a perfect excuse to escape this gathering.’
Celebrían kept her face straight, but her eyes sparkled with mischief. ‘There is much that I need to share with you,’ she said with mock-seriousness, ‘and it would be better if we could speak away from listening ears.’
‘Thank you, child,’ he sighed.
They paced easily across the short turf, heading for the moon-silvered lake. Her hand rested lightly on his arm and he matched his steps to hers. ‘You confuse them, my dear,’ he murmured. ‘They do not altogether know what to make of you. You refuse to play their games. More – you do not even appear to be aware that they are playing games.’
Celebrían batted her eyelids in apparent innocent confusion.
‘You are your mother’s daughter,’ he approved. ‘She was always devious. I was rather afraid that she would devour your father and spit out the bones – but he appears to have survived long yeni in her company.’
‘Not only survived, but flourished,’ she told him amiably. ‘And, from what I have heard, my naneth has adapted to accommodate him, too.’
‘I hope, one day, to see that for myself.’ The High King of the Noldor sounded wistful. His sons had, finally, been restored to him, but he had only ever had the one daughter and she … He caught himself and ruthlessly stuffed his sorrow back behind the barriers where he kept it locked away.
‘There is nothing wrong with missing people,’ Celebrían sighed. ‘I sometimes wonder if I will ever see my family again – it has been so long, and I am no longer quite who I was before ...’
‘I wish I could say that Idril’s grandson is a fool to make you wait.’ Finarfin brought up his other hand to rest warm fingers on hers. ‘But …’
‘I know – duty and all that.’ Celebrían flipped a dismissive hand. ‘Elrond would not build patiently for a score of yeni and then allow personal griefs to bring it all to ruin. He would not be Elrond if he did not sacrifice himself to complete his task. He will come when he can, when it is right to leave. And so will my naneth.’
In times of crisis ever more ships docked, unloading bewildered elves who had left their past on the other side of the sea in an effort to preserve the lives of those who remained. She could only imagine what it must have been like in former times, when whole communities had sailed together and the harbour had bristled with masts – but it was bad enough as it was.
She was finding it increasingly difficult to keep hoping.
If that creature won and defeated the ever-diminishing forces for good, her husband, her children, her parents … they would all be fed into the maw of evil. They would, undoubtedly, seek death – but she could not be sanguine enough to hope that it would be granted them.
For Finrod to have sought her out – to have come here into her private refuge … She swallowed. It would seem that the time for worrying was past.
‘I am here,’ she said, and silently complimented herself on her apparent serenity.
‘It is over.’
To look at him, no-one would ever have suspected the ferocious satisfaction behind the simple words. Celebrían inspected the uncle she had come to know. Even the thought of the events of which she had yet to hear shortened his breath and brightened the gleam that leaked from his every pore.
‘Sauron is defeated?’
A predatory smile lit his face. ‘And his tower has fallen, and his minions are in disarray.’
‘Safe. As is my sister and all our close kin.’
‘My daughter has wed Elros’s descendant and chosen mortality?’
She shocked him, she was pleased to see, and he stepped back cautiously. It was one thing, she supposed, to glory in the defeat of a fallen Maia, and quite another to tell a mother that she would never see her child again.
‘How did you know?’ he asked warily.
She was pleased that he chose not to pretend ignorance. ‘I have long suspected she would,’ she said. ‘Elrond was always afraid that Elladan would make that choice, but that particular decision always seemed to me to be Arwen’s.’
‘This ship sailed from the southern haven,’ he said, ‘and the story is garbled, but it would seem that you are correct.’ He inspected her. ‘Are you all right?’
Celebrían leaned against the tree behind her. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘No. I do not know. I wish I were there for them. Elrond will need me, I think, but I would not want him to leave Arwen without her family.’ She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘I only wish I could go home,’ she mused. ‘I am healed now and more than well enough …’ Finrod let the silence grow. There was, after all, nothing to say. Celebrían sighed. ‘He will come soon, I think.’
‘You will need to be strong for him.’
‘He will blame himself.’
‘Even more need for strength.’ Finrod’s tone was dry. ‘Nothing is more exasperating than dealing with someone who is wallowing in guilt.’
‘Your point?’ she enquired, pretending ignorance. ‘He will need care. It is not easy to rise again from a ruined life.’
‘Not easy – but … worth it, I think?’
‘Yes,’ she said softly. ‘Definitely worth it.’ Her clear eyes met her uncle’s. ‘I should thank you,’ she acknowledged. ‘I doubt I would have managed it without your support.’
Finrod flicked his fingers. ‘Nor I without my parents'. We need to pass on the care, we survivors. It will not be easy to heal your husband’s hurts.’
She smiled. ‘I have been waiting for this long enough,’ she said. ‘I am ready.’
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