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Oak and Willow: 10. Some Things Become Clear
If Galadriel were to dance, he thought, it would be like the sunrise - all fiery colours and splendour and heat.
He sighed. It would have been nice to share this with her. His heart always beat faster in her presence, and joys were tripled. The very world adorned itself in extra beauty around her, and though it was fair to lie here alone under the mithril sky, it could no longer be perfect until she was beside him.
As if in answer to his thoughts she came striding through the starlit garden, the trailing sleeves of her gown catching on thorns, so that she left a trail of strewn petals and eddying perfume. He sat, and happiness blossomed within him; because she was here, because she was so beautiful, because she was so very angry, and he had always found her anger as delightful as the rest of her.
Rising, he bowed, "Hail, warrior Lady." he said, laughing, "Well met, oh terrifying one, under a storm of stars."
She stopped, planted her feet apart, and looked at him. There was not a flicker of amusement in her eyes, but she was tall with fury; her mouth closed tight on something like contempt.
Celeborn's merry mood fled, leaving him empty and unsettled. Anger he feared not, but distain? He had done nothing to deserve such a look as this.
Galadriel balled her fists and her lip curled as though she was about to speak the name of the Enemy. Her alto voice was dark with distaste. "Do you love me?"
The words hit him like a punch to the stomach - winding him. He had to breathe carefully to find voice to answer her. Curse it! Too early, in a soil unprepared, someone had told her. Daeron, he had no doubt - fool that he had been for ever confessing anything to that sounding reed. And now all was ruined, the seed uprooted, its delicate leaves withering. "I do," he said, pain making him reckless, "Why it should make you snarl at me so warg-like I know not."
"Oh, warg like am I?" her eyes flashed, "Then what are we to say of you, Deceiver! Pretending friendship where you sought alliance. Had I known your intent I would have kept you further off." She paced away, charged back. "Long and bitter experience I have of those who load me with praise, and see in truth only their own heads crowned with the diadem of Finwë's house. A more sneaking strategy than yours I have not yet seen. But that does not make it any more admirable!"
This he had not imagined, and would not bear. She thought him a fortune hunter? Why? "What care I of Finwë?" he exclaimed, angrily. "I am Prince of the greatest elven realm of Ennor. Elu's kin. Of royalty your equal. And even if I valued such trifles as crowns I would not buy one thus; by making false love to one of the Departed; self-dispossessed, self-darkened, self-doomed."
Looking at her face, eye to eye, gazes locked in hurt and fury, he heard what he had said. It was true, but it was probably not the right thing to say to the woman you loved. He forced himself to breathe again, tried to calm down. "If I offered friendship it was because it seemed to be all you would take from me," he said, "All that you wanted." A little flare of jealousy surfaced, at the thought of the many suitors she had claimed to have on Aman. Had any of them followed her here? "How many of your admirers spent nigh on a year in your company, knowing your mind and heart, and still loved you? You are not the easiest woman in the world to care for."
Evidently this too had been the wrong thing to say. If possible, Galadriel's back became more rigid. Her mouth compressed to a thin line, and light skittered over her skin in curls like the sun-tails on Finarfin's banner. Revealed as a being of power and light she looked down on him and sneered. "Self-darkened? This is an odd accusation from you, Moriquende. My equal? Dark elf, prince of a people of darkness. I do not blame you that you have never looked upon the Trees. Indeed, I pity you. But the fact remains that you have not their light in your bones, in your blood. You are lesser than I, and your pride deceives you if it tells you otherwise. Night does not marry day, nor does Light wed Dark. They are too far apart. And the mere notion is..." she grimaced as though she would be sick, "Disgusting. You will forgive me if ever I gave you cause to think differently."
She turned and stormed away, stiff as an injured man holding closed a mortal wound, and he stood as stunned as though the world had ceased to be, orphaned and afloat in the black sky.
There passed a time which seemed infinite, during which his heart beat twice, and he laboured under many emotions and thoughts, none of which made sense. He saw nothing, but he heard: a sly footfall, the sound of silk brushing rose-leaves, the falter of the air as a shape moved through it. Someone was there. Someone had been there all along. Had watched him be utterly destroyed, and now slid away while he stood maimed by pain. Fury lit him. He spun and seized the eavesdropper by the flick of his cloak, tugging sharply. The spy reeled back into the garden, sat down heavily in a flower-bed and rubbed his throat, where the brooch of his cloak had been pulled against his neck. It was Finrod - Finrod Felagund, as the dwarves now called him - with a face rueful, and red from embarrassment, and not unsympathetic.
"I did not overhear deliberately," he hastened to say, "I was sitting in the arbour watching the stars. I thought, if you did not see me, I could feign ignorance of the whole matter, and you would be spared at least that humiliation."
Humiliation, Celeborn thought, And how I make all worse by acting in rage. Shame replaced fury with drunken swiftness. He reached down and helped Finrod to his feet. "I am..." he said, suddenly weak. In the centre of the garden a queen among willows grew, and her trailing hair curtained a carved seat which encircled her lichen greened trunk. He sat there, lowered his head into his hands. "Forgive me. I am...not entirely master of myself at this moment."
Another endless period of misery passed in the time it took him to think Disgusting. I disgust her.
Finrod lowered himself tentatively onto the seat next to him. Celeborn felt the Noldo's presence like a wash of faint warmth against his shoulder, looked up to see Galadriel's brother turning his rings one by one and frowning at them. "Should I leave you?" Finrod said gently, "I can see that you might not be able to bear me."
"Will she not need you?" She had seemed distressed enough to need comfort, and though he knew he could not go to her - because I disgust her - surely someone should.
"No," Finrod laughed quietly, "Nerwen is invulnerable, and needs no one, as she would be sure to tell me at length did I dare try to aid her. I will let that furnace cool before I step into its glare. But you...?"
"I would speak to you a little, then. Because," an urge to weep stopped his mouth. He fought it off, "Because I do not understand what just happened, and you are the only one who can explain it to me."
"What is there to explain?" Finrod left off fiddling with the jewels about his fingers and looked out at the dim garden and the streaks of falling stars.
Celeborn drew his legs up, wrapped his arms around them and rested his cheek on his knee. "These past months we have been inseparable. We have talked and laughed and rejoiced at the ways our understandings fit together, and squabbled when they did not, and enjoyed the contest. And all this time I have disgusted her? Why would she befriend me if she bore me such contempt?"
Finrod frowned, and, distracted though he was, Celeborn could sense him chasing down words, trying to fit them to some concept as insubstantial and essential as air - as difficult to grasp, as hard to explain. At last the Noldo shrugged and said "Friendship is not marriage. Friendship is of the mind, but marriage of the body, and in body...you are moriquende."
"What of it?" said Celeborn, annoyed at the word, and thankful for annoyance; it suited him better than despair. "The Trees are dead and we will all be moerbin from now on, together. How does that make me worthless?"
"It is as Nerwen said," Finrod smiled apologetically, as though trying to absolve himself of blame for the way the universe was. "The light of the trees altered us - we are stronger and greater of mind and body than we were when our forefathers awoke by Cuivienen. Wiser, brighter, taller, fairer, more skilled than you are. We are become like...like oak trees among willow. We cannot help it, nor can you. It is in the blood."
He did not look down, but of themselves his hands began to move again, lacing together and pulling apart. "If you had children," he said, "You and Nerwen, they would be half Dark. She would look at them and know they were marred because of you; breakable as a willow twig, because of their father. You would not want that any more than she did, would you?"
It was a relief, Celeborn thought, to have this out in the open. Putting his feet down on the turf he noticed, with satisfaction, that Finrod was shorter than he - 'taller', indeed! It seemed the end of a long oppression to know why 'moriquendi' sounded like an insult on the lips of the Departed, even though they claimed it was not. They truly believed themselves to be a race apart from those they had left behind. He found it a needed distraction to wonder if they were, or if they merely deceived themselves in their arrogance.
"I have not seen much evidence of greater wisdom in the deeds of the Noldor thus far," he said. The thought gave some pleasure, under the circumstances. "Riding up to Morgoth's Balrogs and shouting 'kill me if you can' ? And then being surprised when they do?" He shook his head, "And that was by your own admission the greatest of you. I am not impressed."
Finrod shifted uncomfortably. "Now you leave the subject. Feanor cannot be said to be typical of anything. But you see why Nerwen could value you as a friend but not...could not entertain the thought of marriage. It is not personal, for personally I know she likes you well. She speaks of you often. But she could not...she could not wed you."
Celeborn's mind cleared a little, as though a sea-breeze stole through mist, eddying it, showing glimpses of shorelands under sunshine - 'I know she likes you well, - and his torn heart eased. There was room for the resurfacing of insult and understanding and bloodyminded stubbornness - the refusal to accept defeat - which had always stood him in good stead, before.
"In truth," Finrod said, "Is it not the best thing for you that she will not marry you?"
"So Elu has said, and Daeron. 'Is it not fortunate that she likes you not? You can find someone less ...difficult, less ...cursed.'" Celeborn laughed, harshly, "But no, it is not fortunate, for I love her, and I will not cease to love her just because she does not love me. I do not want someone else."
A wind blew and swayed the willow-stems. The long, narrow leaves hissed with peaceful melancholy, fluttering against darkness, white roses and sparkling sky. It was Finrod now who curled one leg beneath him and clasped the other, uncertain and, perhaps, regretful. "A marriage between you could not work," he said gently, "She is greater than you - you will not deny that?"
As well deny the sun's ability to drown the moon. "No. In power she is greater than I. I see it."
"But you are proud and self willed and have not the temperament to be ruled," said Finrod, "You would envy and resent her strength. It would soon come to chafe you that you could not be her equal, and the marriage would fail. It could not work."
Astonished, Celeborn looked at the Noldo carefully, but could not see any evidence of a jest. "The whole kingdom of Doriath is built on such a marriage," he said, puzzled, "And we have daily proof of how blessed it is. Have you not seen Melian and Elu together - how beautiful they are? I was raised in the aura of such a love. Why should I not want the same for myself? I do not understand you."
Streaming on the wind came faint banners of cloud, lit eerily by the fleeting stars. A pared moon rose over the trees. The nightingales greeted it in Melian's garden, and Celeborn and Finrod quietened together, listening. Once, Celeborn thought, We loathed Ithil, and his first coming was greeted with dismay, yet now we love him. Disgust can abate. He took up hope with both hands, defiantly. "Also," he said, "There are other things in this world with value besides power - or we would worship Morgoth."
Shaky gratitude for enduring friendship filled him for a moment with affection for Finrod. To stay and comfort a sister's spurned suitor was kind indeed. And Finrod spoke his hurtful 'facts' with sympathy. Still, good though he was, and wise in the lore of the Noldor, he did not know his trees. It was a weakness Celeborn fully intended to exploit. He would not let personal anguish get in the way of winning this argument - if only for the sake of the honour of the Sindar, thus insulted by the Noldor's 'truths'..
"It is not possible to build great cities or keel the ocean going ships without oak." he said, "But oak does not endure storms as the willow does." Standing, he cut a length of willow twig with his belt knife, and looked down into Finrod's shadowed face. "And willow is a healer - its bark takes away pain. Even self-inflicted pain."
He put the twig into Finrod's hands. "My children will be breakable as a willow twig. So you have said. Then break it."
The withy was green and flexible in Finrod's fingers. He bent it double and even the skin did not part. Twisting it fully in a circle several times around only produced a wooden spiral which sprang back - scarred indeed but not broken - as soon as he let go. After several more attempts Finrod laughed ruefully, tied it in an intricate knot in the shape of a flower and tucked it into his belt. "I should be more careful with my metaphors," he looked up with a brief grin as bright as the smiling moon. "Suppose I had said 'oak and alder'?"
"Alder is the only wood you can keep wet without splitting, and the trees keep stable every riverbank."
"Beech is the mother and father of the Green Folk, who eat no meat and thrive on beech mast."
"Ash?" said Finrod and then laughed again, holding up a hand, "No, do not tell me - I take your point. What we perceive as weakness may just be a different set of strengths. Next time I will take my examples from metallurgy, and then you will be confounded!"
They settled back against the tree and there was silence for a while. Celeborn's satisfaction in defending his people's reputation wore off as his mind replayed the look on Galadriel's face when she told him he disgusted her. In Elbereth's name! It hurt to think on it.
"Of course," said Finrod at last, cautiously, "I am not the one you have to convince."
Put like that, it was hard to keep his head above despair.
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