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Oak and Willow: 13. And Demonstrated
Daeron put down his pipes and grimaced, looking out over the revellers to where Nerwen danced with her brother Orodreth. Orodreth was dark, his hair a twined length of shadow, his sombre claret tunic brown as a bloodstain under the stars. But Nerwen, who had begun to dress in the pale hues and silver greys of the Sindar, glimmered as she moved, and her coronet of aureate hair gleamed with a deep lustre in lamplight.
"Why do you never say these things to her, my lord?" Daeron asked, smiling, "Why practice your romantic repartee on me?"
Celeborn laughed, and watched her - her light step, the lithe swing of her body, the flutter of loose skirts against her legs, the tendrils of hair that had escaped her severity and now curled in wistful tenderness about the nape of her neck. "Because I need to say it to someone, yet when I am close to her, I forget all."
"I am," Daeron blew a line of notes which took flight like a bird wheeling and dipping in the joy of the breeze, "I am happy for you." But his eyes were less certain of that than his music, and his gaze strayed to Luthien, who laughed as Finrod lightly lifted her through the measures. "At least, I try to be." He hugged the pipes to himself, his long, agile fingers stroking them lightly, like a pet. The only thing he had to love. "But I cannot praise Nerwen as I am sure you desire. I...I will never know what you see in her. Beside Luthien there is no other beauty for me. Nerwen is a scorching light. Luthien is my breath and my song and my dreams. But I say that to you, knowing that I will never have the chance to say it to her. If I could, if ever she lifted one smile on me, I would tell her her perfections and not be silent until the end of the world. How the gagged envy the merely shy!"
"Shy?" Celeborn leaned back against the trunk of the linden tree beneath which he sat. Pale lanterns swayed on its branches among the honey-scented flowers. "Not that. Only clumsy. But you, are you truly gagged, or do you merely lack the nerve to speak?"
"I could not!"
"So you have said before. But it seems to me that if I - who so disgusted her only last month - can now be Nerwen's lover, then why should you not go from friend to sweetheart if you were only bold enough?"
The bard gave an unmusical squeak at the thought and, if possible, looked even sadder. "She is our princess. I am nothing."
"You are the greatest genius of our realm," said Celeborn sternly, "And she likes you."
"As a friend," Daeron gave a bitter smile, "A playmate, whose affections she thinks are still what they once were. Still the protective worship of a younger brother, nothing more. She is so great, and without some sign from her I dare not...I dare not say more. What would the King think, or Melian her mother?"
"Will you not brave that for her?"
"It is easy for you to say! You are their beloved kinsman. I am...only a minstrel. I could not stand before their wrath."
Not for the first time, Celeborn wondered what it was that had so convinced Daeron of his own worthlessness. If only it could be undone. On this festival night, bathed and upheld in the knowledge that Galadriel loved him, he had a strong desire to make miracles happen for his friends - to share the joy.
"Suppose I spoke for you? Told her how you felt?"
Daeron dropped the reeds and his face paled, becoming like snow beneath the shadow of his hair. From that whiteness his slate blue eyes stared in horror. "I beg you do not! She would send me away. Only the fact that she is oblivious to my desire allows me to stay close to her. Did she know...were we parted, I..." he wrung his hands, "It would break me. I beg you, my lord, keep my secret as you always have done. Speak no more of it!"
"She will not be unwed forever," Celeborn watched the amicable squabble as Aegnor contended with his older brother for Luthien's hand in the next dance. Both princes were fair, light and lithe as fire, and Luthien laughed at them both, equally, with huge and tolerant amusement. "And then your chance will be gone."
"In a way I will be glad," said Daeron, unplaiting the end of a braid to fiddle with it. "If he is good for her - worthy of her - if I see her in joy, perhaps I might be able to finally reconcile myself to the fact she does not love me. It is knowing that the chance still rests on me which makes the waiting so unbearable. Do you think it will be one of these?"
'These,' were Galadriel's four brothers, who had come to Doriath from their several realms in order to be together and to visit their little sister. 'Though,' as Angrod had said when he arrived last night, 'I know not why she could not have come to Nargothrond, rather than host our family reunion in a foreign kingdom.'
Some of Angrod's youthful sleekness had been pared away since Celeborn had last seen him, and his turn of phrase too had become sharper over the years. He wore much dwarf-worked gold, doubtless traded through the hands of Caranthir Feanorion, and had received Celeborn's present with a look of polite disdain, and the words 'A stone knife? How quaint.'
He irritates me precisely because he is too much like me, Celeborn reminded himself, to take the sting out of a little insult that annoyed him far out of proportion to its worth. Besides, it does not matter that he is blind to crafts other than his own. Galadriel understood.
"I doubt it." Celeborn said, watching Luthien accept one brother and send the other away, both happy. "See, she plays a fine diplomatic game with them all. And who can blame her - Finrod is the only one among them who could keep up with her. But Finrod's heart - so I've heard - is already taken, by a maid left behind in Valinor."
Now the dance shifted from a gentle-paced, graceful thing, inspired by the movement of meadow-flowers in a summer wind, to a leaping whirl - a revelry that came out of the deep places of time, ancient as Cuivienen. After the separation of the Nandor, the Sindar had taken this form and refined it into something almost polite, something which only hinted at primordial passion. But when the Green Folk had at last drifted into Beleriand they had reintroduced the more basic form - a spinning, leaping, pulse-quickening, endurance test of a dance, ideally performed drunk, with uproar and great merriment.
Luthien passed, swept along in the mad rade, her cloud grey dress hitched up to the knee, her bare arms and legs glimmering, springy as a hart in the chase, free and wild, her eyes like stars. Aegnor dropped out, not knowing the steps, slightly disapproving of the fey, unsafe spirit of the thing, but his place was taken by Calandil - chief of the warriors of Celeborn's personal guard - who ran with the swooping ease of an eagle flying. His shadowy hair was twined with silver thread, and flickered like a fall of white water in the starlight.
In the split second he had before he was drawn or driven past, Calandil caught Celeborn's eye, and his wicked smirk widened, "Too noble for this peasant dance, my lord?"
Thus challenged what else could he do but stand, slip his cloak gladly, and plunge in to the stamping, shouting, racing throng. At once swept up like a leaf in the storm wind of the joy of Doriath. The king too had cast aside dignity and position - his swift, strong form easily visible among the other dancers, tall as a Maia, his streaming hair the silver of a sword blade.
As the dance went on folk began to fall away, exhausted, their faces burning, but alight with life. The crowd flocking to the fountains, or the barrels of wine, grew as the dancing-circle shrank. Upborn by the collective energy of those who remained, Celeborn spread his arms and laughed in delight, leaping like a stag. He passed the small, disapproving knot of the sons of Finarfin, registering Finrod's hand upraised in a characteristic gesture as he explained and excused this cultural riot. Then Melian and Galadriel, a goddess and a princess, standing giggling together like little girls, their eyes shining as they watched. It was a sight so wondrous it made his spirit - already drunk on music and speed - exult. His fea was weightless as silver flame, and his hroa soared in response.
Galadriel's brothers stood coolly, untouched by Doriath's madness, trying to approve. Which made it all the better when he lengthened his step, swept out an arm, captured her hand and pulled her into the measure beside him.
Better than flying - if flying is but drifting on the wind - for this quickened the body with effort, flooded limbs with life and power. They ran and leaped together, and were matched in joy and abandon, in swiftness and grace. Though she began with a shadow of embarrassment in her bright eyes, Galadriel's gaze cleared and then glittered as the music soared . Her high-piled hair scattered diamond hairpins like the flash of sparks sent up by a fierce fire. The ground grew spiky with them - introducing a new element of delightful challenge to each footfall. As each pin slid to the ground, her mass of golden hair came further unravelled from its prim coronet. Her tolerant smile became a grin, fierce and sweet, and she stamped and jumped like any Sinda, letting Celeborn lift her, send her vaulting into the sky. Or taking his hands so they spun together around their linked grasp like children playing, like the sun and the moon circling about the earth.
Luthien dropped out, and her father too, and at last even the music faltered, and they were left together in the centre of the clearing, clinging together, unable to accept that it was over. Alone, though they stood in the sight of hundreds. He stopped, and felt as graceless and foolish in the act as a swan coming down from flight. But Galadriel retained the music within her, and something of the spirit of the dance hung about her, even at rest. He looked at her, and her face was flushed, her eyes were full of laughter, and the coils of her hair lay in disarray on her shoulders. She was as wondrous as sunrise, and as warm.
Her fingers tightened on his. Without thought, each stepped slightly closer. And they were touching, just barely, tentative as the first snowdrop of a new spring Her gaze softened as though - unbelievably - she saw something in him to cherish. His breath had stopped, and the world had stopped, and he did not care. This was all of Ea that mattered. He leaned in and brushed her lips with his.
It was as though he tasted the light of Aman. Molten radiance lanced through him, shockingly intense. The recoil of surprise warred with an instinct to pull her closer, to touch more, everywhere. With help from the small rags of his wisdom, surprise won, just. He stepped back, breath coming hard, and felt trembly, lightheaded. Almost as though he had taken a wound - except that if it was so, he wanted to be hurt again, soon, until he died from it. Gazing in wonder at Galadriel, he saw her eyes were wide and dark, astounded, just as he was. And he was further amazed that he had done that to her - that he had almost frightened her, as he was himself almost frightened, by the strength of that momentary bliss. A long time he had been waiting for this moment, and he had not thought himself unprepared. But he was.
How long they stood, bewildered by the wonder of each other, he knew not. But then Finrod took his elbow, and at the touch the world rushed in upon him once more, in all its noisy, confusing, unwelcome distraction. Angrod stood watching with a face like a thundercloud. Aegnor had dropped his cup and the wine ran out to stain the butter-yellow leather of his soft shoes. Orodreth was agape, a dark, undecided presence poised on the brink of righteous, brotherly wrath. "Hmn," said Finrod, chidingly, though his face softened at Celeborn's dazed look, "You could have picked a better way than this to announce your intentions toward our sister."
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