My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Water and Stone: 14. The Patience of the Tree
On an afternoon of golden light, Celinn lay quiet and subdued as Gwirith prepared to work on the nearly healed knife wound on his side. Normally Celinn could only tolerate to be touched through his clothes, but today Gwirith’s hands suddenly wanted to touch Celinn’s skin, to shape themselves to the curve of Celinn’s ribcage and lay themselves tenderly on the wound, to draw out the poison and watch the skin become smooth and clean again.
‘Celinn,’ said Gwirith tentatively, ‘if I could touch the wound I think it might heal more quickly.’
Celinn turned sharply towards him. ‘No, Gwirith. You know it is not possible for me.’
‘At least let me try. If it is too much, I will stop at once.’ Gwirith watched him struggle with the decision. Then he let out his breath in a loud sigh.
‘If I will heal faster, you may try,’ said Celinn.
Gwirith’s hands tingled strongly as he pushed back Celinn’s shirt and examined the wound on the pale skin below his ribs. He called to Elbereth and Este, then with infinite gentleness laid his hands on the healing scar. Celinn drew in his breath sharply and twisted away from him, but Gwirith repositioned his hands as before. He watched as Celinn’s skin still almost visibly shrank away from his hands, but the iridescent light was flowing from his fingers now, and he concentrated on feeling the texture of the wound and listening to it speak to him. He closed his eyes to see better what his fea was showing him, and sent the light where it needed to go. Celinn was very tense under his hands, but at least he was no longer trying to move away from him. Gwirith was glad that Celinn had let him do this, and he sent into his hands the wish to somehow remind him of the comfort of skin against skin.
‘But the poison is in his fea,’ said a voice within him, suddenly. Gwirith’s eyes snapped open and for a moment he lost his concentration. Celinn stirred restlessly, then settled down again.
‘Have you finished?’ he said impatiently.
Gwirith listened to his hands. ‘Another few moments,’ he said, and they both fell silent again.
Then there was a quiet knock on the door, and Aiglin and Luinil came in with Tathrenil.
‘Celinn, we heard you were better,’ said Aiglin. He suddenly caught sight of Gwirith’s hands on Celinn’s side and his face lit up with joy. ‘My dear, you are better!’ he exclaimed. ‘I have waited so long,’ he said, and made to put his arms round Celinn. But Celinn quickly twisted away from him.
Aiglin’s utter dejection was written on his face. He sat down heavily in the chair next to the bed and looked down at the floor, barely able to contain his distress. Gwirith quickly closed the ritual and pulled down Celinn’s shirt.
‘He is better, Aiglin. His wounds are greatly improved,’ said Tathrenil.
‘Will you be able to come home to Aiglin soon?’ asked Luinil, looking from Celinn to Aiglin and back again.
‘I will leave the healing house soon,’ Celinn said quietly. They all looked at him, but he said no more.
‘Gwirith, you have made a good job of my bow,’ Luinil said. ‘I didn’t know you were working in the guardroom.’
‘Since Haldir has removed us from duty, I needed something to do,’ said Gwirith.
‘It looks like you’ve got plenty to do already,’ said Aiglin, accusingly. Gwirith turned to him, but Aiglin was already at the door.
‘Goodbye, Celinn,’ he said, and went out. Luinil stared at them, then followed him outside. Gwirith ran into the hallway.
‘He never speaks to me,’ Aiglin was saying to Luinil. ‘He never smiles any more, he won’t let me near him. It is as if I no longer have a brother, or I have one who hates me,’ he said bitterly.
‘Aiglin,’ Gwirith began, taking his arm to stop him leaving. But Aiglin was in no mood to listen to him.
‘Let me go,’ he said coldly, and seconds later the door of the healing house slammed behind him. Luinil and Gwirith stood in the hallway listening to the echo fade away.
‘Luinil, I am trying to help him,’ said Gwirith. ‘What would Aiglin have me do?’
‘I know, Gwirith,’ said Luinil sadly. ‘I had better go after him.’ He squeezed Gwirith’s hand and the great door closed after him also.
A few hours later Celinn woke suddenly, crying out in fear, but this time he was able to tolerate Gwirith’s hand resting on his back.
‘It was the knife,’ he said, his eyes still wide with terror, leaning back a little against Gwirith’s hand. ‘Gwirith, you touched me today, and now I have remembered the knife again. I remembered because of the touch.’
‘The touch has brought it back but it is also helping you to release it from your body,’ Tathrenil said, but Celinn had turned away from him, and was curled up on his side.
‘Please, Celinn, do not give up now,’ pleaded Gwirith, his hand still on Celinn’s back. ‘It is very hard but each day is a little easier. This is the path that will bring you home, my dear,’ he said, suddenly feeling that everything they had achieved was about to be lost.
‘Home,’ said Celinn, half to himself. ‘Where is that? I have forgotten.’
Gwirith was so moved by this that he had to hold back from pulling Celinn into his arms and holding him safe against him. He took a deep long breath and called to the earth to hold him, then said quietly,
‘You will remember again, Celinn, I promise you, by the oath I have made.’
Celinn half turned to look at his face, then turned away again.
‘I hope it will be so, Gwirith,’ he said in a muffled voice, ‘because otherwise I do not know what I will do.’
Aiglin sat white faced in front of Luinil and Gwirith in the garden of the healing house.
‘Tathrenil says that now he is stronger he wanders for hours in the forest, sometimes deep into the night. He should not be walking so far; his leg is not fully healed yet. Or else he sits, not speaking, not even looking at anything. Alfirin said she would trim his hair, but he will not let her touch it.’ He paused, and when he spoke again his voice was barely audible. ‘I only know this because of what I hear, because he no longer speaks to me. Something in him is breaking, and I am afraid.’ He bowed his head and they heard him take a shuddering breath.
‘He cannot forgive himself,’ said Gwirith quietly. ‘He punishes himself for the wrong he thinks he has done.’
‘What wrong?’ demanded Aiglin. ‘Look what he has suffered! We all came home safely, and he resisted the enemy. What more could he have done?
‘He cannot forgive himself for yielding,’ said Gwirith, barely audible. ‘And he was violated. His hroa endured, but within him the wounds do not close.’
‘So how can we help him?’ said Aiglin, tears running down his face. He brushed them away with the palms of his hands.
‘Stay close. Let him know we will not let him go.’
‘How do you know this?’ asked Luinil.
‘Because it is what he did for me.’
That night, the sixth after he had allowed Gwirith to help him, Celinn did not come back to the healing house and at last Tathrenil sent Aiglin, Luinil and Gwirith out to search for him.
It was an hour after dawn when they found him, in one of the half empty granaries near the cultivated fields outside Caras Galadhon. They did not see him at first because he was hidden in the shadows, but Aiglin heard a tiny sound and saw his brother, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head in its now familiar hood covered by his arms. They came to his side and he slowly raised his head. His hands were bloody and there were smears of blood on his cheeks.
‘How did you do this?’ demanded Aiglin, relief making him irascible.
‘I don’t know,’ Celinn said in an expressionless voice. Luinil followed a trail of blood to the door and out into the yard behind the granary, where there was a small broken down wall, then came back to the others.
‘Did you fall over the wall?’ he asked.
But Celinn looked up at him in confusion and did not answer.
‘What do you think you’re doing, just disappearing without telling anyone where you are?’ said Aiglin. ‘Do you think we don’t care about you at all?’ Luinil put his hand on Aiglin’s arm to calm him, but Aiglin pulled away.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Celinn, quietly, but Aiglin strode angrily out of the granary.
Luinil tried to help him to his feet but Celinn gently pulled away and got up by himself, then stood looking at the long grazes on his legs which were already blackening into bruises.
‘Let’s go home,’ said Gwirith, and Celinn followed them out of the granary and back towards Caras Galadhon. His limp became more pronounced the further they went, and when finally he stumbled Aiglin flung out his hand to help him. But even as he fell Celinn moved sideways so that he was just out of reach. Aiglin looked down for a moment at his brother stretched out on the ground, then crouched down beside him.
‘Celinn,’ he said softly, his eyes bright with pain, ‘is my touch no better to you than that of the one who violated you?’ Celinn flinched away as though Aiglin had hit him, then struggled to his feet and limped away from the path until he was out of sight behind some trees. They heard the sound of him retching and coughing, then silence. A little while later he emerged, white faced, and walked slowly back to them.
‘Celinn, forgive me,’ Aiglin said fiercely.
‘I already have,’ said Celinn, dully. There was an awkward silence, then Luinil said, ‘We’ve wasted enough time, let’s go now,’ and they set off again. Inevitably Celinn tired again, but this time he gradually moved closer to Gwirith, and this time when he stumbled Gwirith caught him and put an arm round his shoulders, and Celinn did not protest. Just before they reached Caras Galadhon Celinn could not walk any further, and Gwirith hoisted him into his arms and carried him the last quarter of a mile.
Soon they came in sight of the white gate and passed into Caras Galadhon.
‘We’re not taking him back to the healing house,’ Aiglin said fiercely. Celinn said nothing.
‘We can go to my workshop,’ said Gwirith at once. ‘It is very near here. He can rest there and I have some salves and bindings for his injuries. Then we can take him back to the healing house later.’ Aiglin nodded in silence, and soon they came in sight of Gwirith’s talan and the workshop nearby.
‘Do you know that I have never been here before, brother?’ said Luinil.
‘Well, you are here now,’ said Gwirith, and he led them in to the small wooden building. ‘I’m afraid it is rather untidy,’ he said, surprised at how disordered his usually immaculate workshop had become in the last weeks.
‘And you have a talan here too?’ said Luinil.
‘I was not sure I would get used to not being alone, Luinil,’ Gwirith said, a little uncomfortable.
‘There is a chair, or if you wish we can lay him on the work table,’ he said, as Luinil removed tools and boxes and brushed wood shavings off the table with both hands. He took off his cloak and placed it on the cleared surface, and Gwirith laid Celinn down.
His brother and his two comrades looked down at him sadly, and Celinn’s sea green eyes met theirs.
‘My dear brother, what can we do to restore you?’ said Aiglin, his bitter mood past. But Celinn had no answer to give him and turned to look out at the trees, his face calm and resigned.
Gwirith left quietly and climbed up to his talan, looking for cloth and salves. He opened his clothes chest, trying to find a piece of linen, and his hands touched the turquoise cloth containing Celinn’s hair, right at the bottom of the chest. He drew it out carefully and unwrapped it, and the bright gold shone like coils of sunshine. Gwirith rested his fingertips on it, and felt its strength, and all at once he knew what he would do with it.
He wrapped it up quickly and stowed it away in the chest, and amid the layers found the linen. The salves were in the cupboard, and he descended nimbly to his workshop. Luinil had fetched some water from the stream, but he and Aiglin stood back and left it to Gwirith to soak the linen and gently wipe the blood from Celinn’s face and hands. Celinn flinched a little as he touched the long cut on his cheek, still not fully healed. Gwirith cleaned the lacerations on his legs then opened the pot of salve, breathing in the pungent smell of herbs. Carefully he took some of the ointment and treated his injured legs, then, holding Celinn’s face steady with one hand, he gently dotted the damaged skin with tiny amounts of the salve with his little finger. Then he rubbed the ointment in with small circular movements.
Gwirith found himself willing that Celinn should heal, both hroa and fea. His fingers tingled as he touched him, and he felt a warm flow of energy move through him and pass into Celinn’s body. Celinn sighed deeply and turned his head so that his uninjured cheek rested in Gwirith’s palm, and Gwirith curved his fingers round the smooth unbroken skin, glad that he could comfort him.
At last the salve had been fully absorbed into Celinn’s skin, but Gwirith continued to massage his face, his strong craftsman’s fingers finding the shape of the bones beneath the skin, and smoothing out the tight muscle in his jaw and forehead. Aiglin and Luinil sat impassively beside the work table, watching his hands moving in rhythmic strokes, and Gwirith’s mind drifted as his hands worked the long forgotten shapes.
These last weeks when he had helped care for Celinn had overturned the habits of the uncounted years during which he had had no awareness at all of his body, and had not willingly touched anybody. For a single instant he remembered Alcarion’s touch; then it was gone. But then Celinn turned a little under his hands, and Gwirith remembered a more recent memory, that of being held tightly in Celinn’s arms, so tightly that he could not move, on the day when he went back to the place of Alcarion’s death.
And without any conscious volition on his part, his thumb moved from the planes of Celinn’s cheek and gently grazed his lips, from left to right and then back again. Celinn gave a little gasp of surprise and opened his eyes, but Gwirith lifted his hands away, his cheeks flaming.
‘I am sorry, I did not mean to do that,’ he said, gruffly.
Celinn looked at him without expression, then his eyelids fluttered and closed again. Aiglin stood up suddenly and looked down on his brother’s face anxiously, but soon they all heard his breathing become soft and regular.
‘He is asleep!’ said Aiglin in amazement. ‘Gwirith, you know he has hardly slept these last weeks. What have you done?’
‘I have done nothing,’ protested Gwirith. ‘I learnt the skill of body touch a long time ago in Eregion. I have not practised it for a long time.’
‘Then you must practise it again. There is skill in your hands.’ He looked around the workshop for the first time and saw the well crafted bows on their racks and the bundles of arrows and other equipment that lay on the long tables around the walls. ‘Indeed your hands are skilled, Gwirith.’
Aiglin came round the table to Gwirith’s side and took both his hands and held them up between them.
‘Look what your touch has done,’ he said softly, and they both turned to look at Celinn, his face relaxed in sleep. ‘You have helped him. There is something tender in your hands.’ He looked straight at Gwirith. ‘I understand why he allows you close to him, Gwirith, even though it breaks my heart that he rejects me.’
Luinil looked on at them, and then at Celinn, and a shadow passed across his face, but he said nothing.
‘I will sit with him while he sleeps,’ Aiglin said. ‘At least now I can be close to him without disturbing him.’
‘Aiglin, he will heal,’ said Gwirith, ‘Already he is better. He will be the brother you knew.’
Aiglin shook his head sadly. ‘Go out and get some air,’ he said.
Luinil and Gwirith sat at the foot of Gwirith’s talan.
‘It is a long time since you have touched anyone,’ said Luinil.
Gwirith looked round at him, hearing the many layers of his brother’s comment.
‘It is a long time that I have kept you at arm’s length, brother,’ he said to Luinil. ‘I had forgotten how to come close to another: I was afraid that closeness would break me, as it nearly did before.’
‘And now?’ said Luinil, his voice shaking a little as he hardly dared to hope he had understood what his brother meant.
‘And now the Lady has removed the protection from me, and I must learn to live without it.’
‘She has removed the charm? I thought it could not be done.’
‘Well, she has done it,’ said Gwirith. ‘And after many years, my heart is sad for the way I have treated you, without tenderness, without understanding, always trying to turn you away from closeness with others.’
Luinil closed the distance between them and looked at his brother.
‘I have missed you, Gwirith,’ he whispered, his eyes full of tears.
‘And I have missed you,’ smiled Gwirith. He opened his arms and his brother came into them, and he felt the touch of his Luinil’s strong body against his, and smelt his familiar smell. Luinil’s hand held the back of his head, and for a long time they stayed without speaking, joined as they had been before Alcarion’s death.
When finally they moved apart, Luinil said without preamble,
‘I think you love Celinn.’
‘I do not love him,’ protested Gwirith at once. ‘The Lady said the same to me. Why will no one believe me? He is my comrade. He was steadfast when I tried to make an enemy of him, and I have seen his courage with my own eyes. But my heart is not moved by him. Fear not, brother, I will not come between you.’
‘There is nothing to come between,’ said Luinil sadly. ‘You know he does not love me. You told me yourself that he would not.’
‘But my heart was cold then, and I thought I was protecting you from being hurt. I hope that he may come to love you in time.’ But as he spoke he suddenly remembered the way his thumb had traced the outline of Celinn’s mouth, and the way Celinn had opened his eyes and looked at him. Before he had time to wonder about it, Aiglin called out to them, and he and Luinil got up and went into the workshop.
Celinn had woken and was sitting calmly on a chair beside Gwirith’s work table, a dark bruise blooming around his eye.
‘Tathrenil will not be pleased about that,’ said Luinil.
Celinn looked at them all in turn. ‘Thank you for coming to find me,’ he said quietly. Then he stood up and went outside.
‘I am not going back to the healing house,’ he said, and when his brother and Luinil protested he said, ‘I cannot go back again. Why do you think I did not return there last night? I cannot live with walls and doors any more.’
‘So you will come home with me,’ said Aiglin, suddenly filled with hope. But Celinn looked down at the ground and did not speak. At last Aiglin said,
‘You’re not coming home, are you?’
‘Aiglin,’ began Celinn, but his brother said,
‘Do not say any more, Celinn,’ and covered his eyes with his hand for a moment. ‘You must do as you will. I know there is nothing I can say that will make any difference to you.’
‘I will use naneth’s old talan. I will come and fetch my things.’
‘But how will you climb the ladder?’ said Aiglin.
‘I will manage,’ said Celinn.
Aiglin looked long at his brother as if he were trying to memorize his face; then with a shaking breath he turned and walked away into the forest.
‘Do you know how you have hurt him, Celinn?’ said Luinil. ‘Is your heart made of stone?’
‘Yes, Luinil,’ said Celinn. ‘My heart is made of stone.’ They looked at each other for a long moment, then Celinn turned and limped over to where several staves were drying against a tree, and took hold of one of them.
‘May I have this?’ he asked Gwirith, and though it was a good piece of wood which would make a sturdy bow, Gwirith nodded and watched Celinn grasp it firmly in his hand.
‘You know it is too soon to go; the healing has barely started,’ Gwirith said quietly.
‘I am sorry,’ Celinn said gently, and his sea green eyes were bright as he gave him a piercing look. Then he turned and walked away, leaning on his staff, in the opposite direction from the one Aiglin had taken.
Gwirith closed the door of his workshop and followed Luinil into the forest. The sky above the mellryn was a flat grey, and a chill mist was rising as dusk approached.
‘It will snow soon,’ said Gwirith, running to catch up with his brother. But Luinil walked even faster, his shoulders hunched into his cloak.
‘Luinil? What’s the matter?’ called Gwirith, ‘Wait for me, will you?’ Luinil did not answer him. Finally Gwirith caught up with him, but only by running and seizing his arm.
‘Luinil! What is it? Tell me what’s the matter,’ he demanded.
Luinil stopped dead, his face hidden by the hood of his cloak. Gwirith waited, and for a long time Luinil did not speak. Droplets of water fell from the golden leaves of the mellryn and far away in the falling dusk, a night bird called with a soft echoing note.
‘You love him,’ said Luinil at last in an anguished voice. ‘Why do you torment me by denying it? Anyone can see that you love him.’ He turned then, and Gwirith saw that his eyes were full of tears.
‘I love him as a friend and comrade,’ he said, taking Luinil’s shoulders. ‘That is all.’
‘You deceive yourself!’ cried Luinil, and the tears spilt down his cheeks. ‘Look into your own heart, and ask your hands that have learnt to heal through touching him. Ask yourself: if he stood before you now, could you tell him you do not love him?’
Gwirith stared at him as the first flakes of snow began to fall silently in the forest.
‘You are the only one he allows to touch him,’ whispered Luinil. ‘Even his own brother cannot.’
‘It is because I helped him when he was in dire need. There is nothing more between us.’
‘And why did you help him? Why did he let you call him back, you above all others?’
‘I … don’t know,’ said Gwirith. ‘He was a friend to me. He helped me when I was grieving. Why should I not help him in return?’ He laid his hand gently on Luinil’s arm. ‘Please, Luinil, do not let this come between us.’
‘Oh, Gwirith, when will you see it?’ cried Luinil, turning away. But Gwirith did not release him, and all at once Luinil flew into a rage and flung himself at Gwirith with all his strength, pounding at him with his fists. Gwirith fell to the ground, covering his head with his arms, and waited for Luinil’s fury to abate.
Almost at once Luinil came to his senses. Gwirith opened his eyes and lay watching the snow fall dizzyingly from the sky. Luinil stared down at him, dark shadows like stains under his eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said in a weary voice. ‘I’m sorry, Gwirith. I believe you. You are friends, you do not desire him as a lover, your heart is not touched by him.’
Gwirith sighed, relieved, and in that same moment knew that the words Luinil had just spoken were not true. Luinil looked down into his face and saw the change in his eyes, and silent tears rolled down his cheeks and fell on to Gwirith’s face.
At last Luinil got up and pulled Gwirith to his feet. The snow had begun to settle on the ground and it crunched under their boots as they walked home in dazed silence. When they reached their talan, Luinil fetched a bowl of water and cleaned Gwirith’s cut and bruised face and the gash where he had hit his hand on a stone. Then he packed some things in a leather bag and went to fetch his weapons.
‘I cannot be with you, you understand, Gwirith. In time, when I can accept that I will never … that he will not …that he might choose …For now I need to be away from you.’
‘Luinil, do not go, when we have only just found each other after so long,’ pleaded Gwirith, but Luinil would not be persuaded. For a long moment he looked at Gwirith, his eyes very dark in his pale face, then hugged him roughly and climbed down the ladder to the ground. His footsteps quickly died away below.
Gwirith sat down on the edge of the talan and looked out into the darkness, his mind and heart in turmoil.
Although Gwirith had covered himself with Luinil’s blanket as well as his own, still he could not get warm. His body shuddered uncontrollably as he lay in the darkness, listening to the soft hiss of the snow settling on the forest floor, and wishing against all hope for the sound of his brother’s footsteps ascending the ladder to the talan. He wondered where Luinil had gone. Twice he had got up, meaning to search for him, but then his brother’s words had sounded in his head and he had stopped himself. He hoped Luinil was somewhere warm.
It was not only the cold that caused Gwirith to tremble. His heart shook within him with fear and tenderness in equal parts when he thought of Celinn, and his body shook in sympathy with it. He knew his love now; neither his fea nor his hroa would let him deny it. But he knew also its terror; the terror of loss and the terror of love unreturned. And he did not know if he could bear it.
The night wore on, and Gwirith could not find the path of dream. There came a moment when he reached despair, and he clenched his hands together tightly and pressed them against his heart, as he had when he had first mourned Alcarion, wishing for oblivion. Then, for the first time since his death, he felt Alcarion close to him, comforting him. Difficult tears leaked from his eyes.
‘My dearest, how I still long for you,’ he whispered into the darkness. ‘I wish I had followed you to Mandos.’ But Alcarion refused his sorrow, and Gwirith felt quite another touch on his fea, one that acknowledged and welcomed his love for Celinn.
‘I cannot love him, and risk the pain again,’ he said angrily. ‘Why do wish this?’
But Alcarion had no answer to give him except his own love for Gwirith. Gwirith flung himself out of bed.
‘Don’t ask this of me,’ he cried out. ‘Alcarion!’
But he was alone.
It was still dark when Gwirith stepped off the ladder of his talan on to the forest floor. His shoes squeaked and crunched on the new fallen snow, but apart from that the silence was so complete that he felt as if he might be the last person left in Arda. The air was so cold that he had to take quick short breaths, and he pulled the hood of his cloak more closely around his face.
Gwirith concentrated his energy on walking and soon his body was moving almost without his volition, in a rhythm of its own. He was glad of this, since thinking about anything at all seemed particularly impossible. He fixed his mind on the forest around him, looking at the trunks of the mellryn gleaming in the snow light, and the white mist which twined slowly around their roots. As the light of dawn began to filter under the trees, he noticed the colours of the moss that grew on their north side and the glimmer of gold from their leaves. But the more he gave his attention to the reality before his eyes, the more other insubstantial images seemed to impinge on his consciousness, images of Celinn on the day he first saw him, and on all the days since then, finishing with the look Celinn had given him before turning and walking alone into the forest the day before.
Gwirith stopped abruptly, seized with the desire to find Celinn and declare his love to him, to find some way to turn him from his ruinous path, to kiss his mouth … He shook his head violently to clear it of these thoughts and forced himself to walk on, looking neither to right not left, chastising himself for even wanting to do these things.
After a time, he did not know how long, he came to his workshop. The shutters had kept out a little of the cold and he lit some candles and looked around for the bowstave on which he was working, finding it on a shelf, wrapped in a piece of cloth. Gwirith laid it on his worktable and ran his hand along it, trying to feel the bow inside the wood. He had already removed the bark and the sapwood, so he took up his draw knife and began to shape the stave, shaving off curls of wood as he looked for the growth ring from one year alone which would make the back of his bow. Yes, the grain twisted like a snake: he would have to be careful to follow it.
At first his hands obeyed him, finding their usual rhythm, and he felt soothed by the familiar movements. The wood felt warm as he brushed off the shavings and he began to see the bow appearing out of the stave. But after a while his mind drifted, and instead of wood he felt the memory of Celinn’s skin under his hands, and though he drove it away it came to him next that only yesterday he had come into this workshop carrying Celinn and laid him on this same table, and that these hands that worked now on wood cut from a tree had yesterday worked on living flesh and blood.
He put down the stave and taking a flask, went to the stream and filled it with water. He drank deeply, then he poured the rest over his head and washed his face vigorously. Then he went back in and dried his hands and picked up the stave again, but his body would not let him work. His hands were suddenly damp again and could not grip the wood, or else they shook unexpectedly and spoilt his stroke. His craftsman’s eye had lost its acuity, and it began to appear that if he did not stop very soon, this particular stave would be good for nothing but firewood. Nevertheless he laboured on, fighting against the voice in his head that sounded very much like Alcarion’s, which had begun as a whisper but now was close to a shout.
At last Gwirith laid down the bow on the table and crashed out into the forest. He walked some way from his workshop, stamping his feet on the snowy ground and letting out his breath in angry gusts, then stopped and stood defiantly, his hands pressed on to the back of his head.
‘Yes, I love him. I love him. I’ve admitted it now,’ he shouted into the quiet morning. There was a rustle and clap of wings above him as a flock of rooks were disturbed and went to seek other accommodation.
‘What do you want me to do about it?’ cried Gwirith. ‘He cannot love me back. There is nothing to be done.’
But only silence answered him.
Suddenly weary, he sat down heavily on a tree stump and rested his head in his hands, his dark hair falling round his face.
‘Alcarion,’ he whispered. ‘His fea is wounded, and he longs to die. Love would be a burden to him. I cannot speak of it.’ He closed his eyes and exhausted as he was, fell into a half sleep.
Gwirith dreamed of a soft golden light and music which soothed every fear he had ever had. He stretched out his arms towards it and felt something soft as silk between his fingers. He wanted to stay drowned deep in this dream, but something was telling him to open his eyes. When he did, he saw that Galadriel was sitting beside him, and that his fingers were tangled in her long hair.
Gwirith sat up suddenly. ‘My Lord Celeborn is an understanding and generous husband, which is fortunate, because you present a most disreputable appearance,’ she said in her deep musical voice, examining the cuts and bruises on his face. She pushed back the hood from her long cloak of white wool and the sunlight glittered on the silver and gold threads woven into the borders.
‘My Lady,’ gasped Gwirith, ‘I didn’t mean to… I was dreaming… I didn’t know,’
Galadriel laughed, and it seemed as though the light in the forest brightened.
‘Peace, Gwirith, I was teasing you,’ she said, smiling. ‘Since you find it so difficult to visit me, I thought I would come to find you. You have obviously been too busy fighting to concern yourself with other matters.’
Gwirith pushed himself off the tree stump and knelt in the snow.
‘I am sorry, Lady,’ he began, but Galadriel laughed again.
‘Sit beside me,’ she said, pulling him to his feet. ‘Tell me what is in your heart.’
Gwirith sat down beside her and sighed deeply. ‘It is just as you said, Lady, the first day I came to you. And Helevorn and Tathrenil knew, and Haldir, and Luinil. But I did not.’
‘Celinn,’ she said softly.
‘Yes,’ he said, and against his will he smiled and his voice softened. ‘All this time I have been blind to what was right before my eyes.’ But then his face grew sad. ‘But I cannot tell him, Lady.’
‘Certainly love is not always easy to speak about,’ she agreed.
‘That is not the difficulty,’ said Gwirith. ‘It is not words that are lacking, but wisdom.’
‘How so?’ asked Galadriel.
‘There are moments when my heart sings with joy,’ he said, and his face lit up for a moment with his rare and beautiful smile, ‘but I am afraid. The wound of grief is still healing in me, and I don’t know if I could bear …’ he stopped abruptly and she saw him collect himself before going on. ‘He has not yet chosen life, Lady. The darkness in him is deep and he is drawn to it. If I open myself to him, and he … chooses darkness, I don’t think that I could bear it,’ he repeated. ‘I fear I might break apart as I did after … after Alcarion died.’
‘Gwirith,’ she said, ‘can you tell your heart not to love him?’
‘Tell it not to love him? No, Lady, that I cannot do.’
‘So you cannot choose to turn back from this path,’ she said.
‘I cannot turn back,’ he said, thinking it out, ‘but I can choose how much further to go, or whether to turn on to a different path.’
‘And would that be following your grain?’ she said gently. Gwirith smiled.
‘If I followed my grain I would go to him now and throw myself at his feet, but that would also be lacking in wisdom. He is hurt; he cannot love easily, if at all. What I bestow as a gift he may receive as a burden. And even if he were whole, it does not follow that he would love me. My brother loves him, but his love is not returned.’
‘So what is to be done?’ said Galadriel.
Gwirith laid his hands palm upwards in his lap. ‘May you and the Valar guide me, for I cannot see the path,’ he said.
‘It is not for me to tell you which path to choose,’ said Galadriel. ‘But the question seems to me not so much where you should go as where you are. And I believe you underestimate your own wisdom.’
‘Lady, I do not know where I am. This love is so new that I scarcely know it. I never thought to feel this again, however long the number of my days before the Valar call me. And as for wisdom, I have been blind to it for so long that I have forgotten its face. I am as twisted by my past as the bow stave that is waiting for me in my workshop: I do not know if I can love again.’
‘But you do love, Gwirith. You have said so. And as for your past, it comes to all of us to know evil. Sometimes we break, and sometimes we survive or we are restored. Is it not true that even a bow with a serpentine grain can shoot true?’
‘If it is well crafted,’ agreed Gwirith.
‘Love is a mystery, Gwirith. You may turn away from it or open your heart, but you cannot rule it or choose its course. There is no clear path before us. It is a journey we make with another, and we make the path together as we walk or not at all.’
‘But what if he does not love me?’ Gwirith said in a shaking voice. ‘Or if he chooses death? How can I bear it, Lady? How can I bear to see him, to be close to him and say nothing, knowing the moment when he can hear my words has not yet come? That it might never come?’
‘I don’t know, Gwirith,’ said Galadriel, and her voice was no longer gentle. ‘Love is perilous, whether we embrace it or spurn it. Can you truly turn away from this love? From Celinn?’
‘No,’ whispered Gwirith. ‘I cannot turn away from him. But nor do I know if I can love him without breaking.’ Galadriel said nothing, and they sat silently together surrounded by the breathing stillness of the forest. Gwirith was trembling; he told himself it was only the cold, but he knew it was not. For a long time, he stared ahead of him, seeing only darkness before his eyes. Although Galadriel was beside him, he felt completely alone, terrified of going on, unable to turn back.
Then Galadriel laid her hand against his back, and as the warmth of her touch flooded into him, his mind cleared.
‘There is a way,’ he said, softly.
‘What is the way?’ asked Galadriel.
‘I must let him go,’ said Gwirith. He looked into the distance, as if he had recognised something from very far away.
‘I long for him, even though my love is new,’ he said his voice low and deep. ‘I want to help him to heal, to restore him to how he was on the first day I saw him, brave and fair. I want him to desire me as I desire him. But if I truly love him, my heart must leave him free to choose his own path, even if it is the path to Mandos. Only in this way can I yoke together my desire to love him and my fear of losing him so soon after I have found him, and of being broken by the loss.’
‘You are wise and courageous, Gwirith,’ said Galadriel, and he thought her voice shook a little. ‘You give your love to Celinn freely, wishing for nothing more than his own good, whether he will love you or not. This love heals most deeply, and my heart hopes that it will find him in the wilderness in which he dwells. Whatever comes next, a part of your fea will be forever twined with Celinn’s.’
Gwirith nodded mutely and turned away so that she could not see his face.
‘Gwirith,’ she said quietly after a while. ‘You may have much to bear in the time ahead. There are ways I can teach you which will help you when the burden becomes too heavy.’
Gwirith turned to her, his eyes questioning.
‘You have learnt how the energy of the One can heal the body; now I will teach you how the energies of your body can be balanced, whether energies of fear, anger or desire.’
‘Lady,’ said Gwirith, ‘my body has not known the touch of another for many years.’
‘I know, Gwirith. You are chaste, and desire has not yet risen strongly in you. But it will, and when it does you will be ready. And there is something else. What I will teach you may help Celinn in the future, if the time comes when he wishes to heal the wounds that were inflicted on him when he was violated.’
A shadow of pain crossed Gwirith’s face, but he said, ‘Thank you, Lady, your kindness touches me.’
‘It honours me to be able to help you, Gwirith,’ Galadriel said. ‘Come to my talan, and Lord Celeborn and I will teach you what you will need to know.’ She stood up and raised the hood of her cloak over her golden hair. ‘And this time, do not forget, Gwirith!’ she said, laughing again.
‘I will not forget, Lady,’ he said. Galadriel rested her hands lightly on his shoulders and kissed his cheek. ‘Do not think of coming with me, I am looking forward to walking back alone,’ she said. Her white cloak soon blended into the whiteness of the landscape, but her hair flowed out from her hood and glimmered in the forest air until she was far away.
Gwirith watched until she was out of sight, then began to walk back to his workshop. He seemed to see everything around him with a greater clarity, as though colours and shapes had suddenly become more vivid. Even his own body seemed more solid to him, and his thoughts more coherent. He knew it was because he was following his own grain, and because he had let Celinn go. He did not know the exact moment when he had done so, but the terror he had felt had passed, and although he knew pain was close, he also knew that he could bear it now.
When he reached his workshop he took up his draw knife and began to work on the stave again, and this time his hands were steady, relaxing into the familiar movements, and his mind quieted a little. He loved the feel of the wood under his hands, the way it spoke of the winters and summers it had passed, the hot sun and the drenching rain, the sap laying down a new ring year after year, in its own patient time. The patience of the tree got under Gwirith’s skin, and he found peace.
He was so engrossed in his work that it was not until he put down his knife and turned round that he saw Luinil was standing there. Gwirith stepped back, startled, but then Luinil cried out,
‘Gwirith, what have I done to you? Your face…’
‘And yours,’ said Gwirith, suddenly aware of how grey and exhausted he looked. ‘Luinil, you have walked all night.’ Luinil nodded.
‘Gwirith,’ he said hesitantly, but Gwirith closed the distance between them and put his arms around him tightly.
‘Luinil, I left you a long time ago. Don’t you leave me now,’ he murmured, close to his brother’s ear.
‘I’m not going to, Gwirith,’ said Luinil, and pushed him back so that he could look into his face.
‘He will have to choose between us,’ he said sadly.
‘It may be that he will choose neither of us,’ said Gwirith. ‘It is as he told you, his heart is stone.’
‘But you healed, Gwirith,’ said Luinil desperately.
‘I did not suffer as he did, meeting evil in his heart and his body together in the space of a few hours. He hates himself, fea and hroa, and what little we have done for him may not be enough to keep him in life.’
‘Then all our love for him is wasted,’ whispered Luinil.
Gwirith gave a deep sigh. ‘How can it be wasted, Luinil? He is who he is, and we love him for it. That is the truth, whatever his fate and ours, whether he can return our love or not.’
‘You are right,’ said Luinil. ‘Your words comfort me.’
‘Why are you knocking?’ demanded Tathrenil in his usual abrupt way. ‘You know you can walk in, Gwirith. You too, Luinil.’
‘I have come to fetch my things,’ said Gwirith. He and Luinil came into the hall.
‘Oh, so you’re leaving too?’ said Tathrenil. ‘And what have you been doing? Brawling?’ He examined Gwirith’s face and bandaged hand with professional thoroughness. ‘It looks like you need some treatment yourself.’
‘It is nothing,’ said Gwirith. Luinil looked away awkwardly. ‘There is no more reason for me to stay now that Celinn is not coming back.’
‘Your healing gift is valuable to others besides Celinn,’ said Tathrenil.
‘I am a bowmaker, not a healer,’ said Gwirith. ‘I will help you if you need me, but for now I have finished here.’
‘As you wish,’ said Tathrenil. ‘You have done far more than we could have hoped for in any case.’
Gwirith went to the room he had been using and packed his belongings. Before leaving he looked round one last time. He too would be glad to go back to his talan. The walls and doors reminded him too much of Eregion.
He went out into the hallway and saw that it was a little more crowded than before. Luinil turned to him, and there was something unusual in his brother’s face. Then Tathrenil stepped back a little while talking to Helevorn, and Gwirith saw that Celinn was standing there, leaning on his staff and wearing a new hood embroidered with gold and silver threads. Gwirith felt his heart give a great beat of mingled fear and joy and the energy of his fea swung out towards him as if drawn by a magnet. His throat ached with a longing to speak to him but he mastered himself and stood quietly where he was until Tathrenil had finished.
‘Celinn, you are not ready to go,’ said Tathrenil, tetchily. ‘At least stay a few days longer.’
But Celinn did not seem to hear him. He leaned down and picked up a leather bag, and as he turned towards the door he saw Gwirith. He did not smile, but his face softened a little.
‘You are leaving too, Gwirith,’ he said, and then catching sight of his bandaged hand and the darkening bruises on his face, said, ‘You are hurt.’ Gwirith glanced involuntarily at his brother and Celinn, catching the look, turned slowly to Luinil, then back again to Gwirith.
‘Something is different about you, Gwirith. Something has happened, and you came to blows over it,’ he said, softly. Both brothers looked away from him. ‘I am right,’ said Celinn, looking at them more closely. ‘And Gwirith did not fight back.’
‘Celinn, what could they possibly have to fight about?’ said Tathrenil dismissively. Gwirith and Luinil glanced at each other and then away again. No one spoke, but somehow in the short silence that followed something emerged into the air between them all, and those who wished to could hear in its silent vibration the truth of the matter.
Celinn shivered suddenly and turned away so that they could not see his face.
‘Goodbye, Tathrenil,’ he said abruptly, walking towards the door. Luinil opened it for him, and Celinn nodded his thanks and started to go out; but just before stepping over the threshold, he half turned and his sea green eyes rested for a moment on Gwirith.
Gwirith said quietly, ‘Wherever you go, Celinn, I hope you will come back to us,’ and he let his heart reach out to him without seeking to hold him.
Celinn gazed at him for a moment longer, and his look seemed to deepen. Then he turned and the door closed quietly behind him.
Those he had left behind stood looking at the closed door for a surprisingly long time, as though they expected it might suddenly open to reveal Celinn still on the threshold, asking to be readmitted. Gwirith felt suddenly unreal and out of balance, as though a part of himself had been lost. He wanted to open the door and go after Celinn, and since he could not he did not know what to do instead. Tathrenil and Helevorn were talking about Celinn and Luinil was listening, so Gwirith put his bag down by the door and made his way into the garden.
The herb beds were under a blanket of snow and all the paths had disappeared. Gwirith looked around him at the featureless whiteness; at that moment his own life seemed equally bare of landmarks: everything had suddenly been wiped clean, and he did not know what to do with himself. Then he noticed a strange shape underneath one of the trees. He went over and brushed the snow off it. His hands felt some heavy oiled cloth, and pulling it aside he saw that it was covering the chair which Celinn had used when he sat outside.
The chair was quite dry. Gwirith sat down in it, and straight away he felt an echo of Celinn’s own energy lingering in it. He traced the carving on the armrests with his fingers, and then his hands remembered the bones of Celinn’s face and his lips and the long scar on his cheek; and he closed his eyes and did not know how he would bear his absence. He tried, as lovers do, to remember the first moment when he had loved Celinn, for he knew now that his love had begun long before he had recognised it while lying in the snow in yesterday’s dusk; but now that he could read his own heart, it seemed that he had loved him for a long time, maybe even from the first day he had seen him when he arrived from south Lorien – how fair he had been, but his eyes had not let him see it.
There was a movement in the distance, and he saw a tall figure emerging from the forest. A few moments later Haldir stopped beside him and looked long into his face.
‘So now you know your own heart,’ he said, smiling a little.
‘Am I so changed?’ asked Gwirith.
‘To those with eyes to see,’ said Haldir.
‘Then I hope not all have your piercing gaze, Guardian of Lorien.’
‘None shall hear it from me,’ said Haldir.
‘It is on my side only,’ said Gwirith in a low voice.
‘That remains to be seen.’
‘And even now he may not live,’ said Gwirith, unsteadily.
Haldir bowed his head in silence. At length he said,
‘After what he endured, it is a miracle he is in life at all.’ He laid his hand gently on Gwirith’s shoulder. ‘Come and speak to me if ever you are troubled.’
Later Gwirith got up and went back into the healing house. Tathrenil and Helevorn were in the still room, and they both turned and looked at him. They did not speak, but there was something in their silence that was more powerful than words could have been.
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith softly at last. ‘You were right. I understand now why I was able to heal him.’
The two healers were delighted and embraced him heartily, insisting on hearing it from his own lips.
‘I…I love him,’ said Gwirith, blushing a little. ‘But you must not speak of it to anyone.’
‘Of course we will not speak of it. I cannot understand why it has taken you so long to see it,’ said Tathrenil, tilting his head and looking at him as if he might see the answer by observing him from another angle. ‘We knew at once, on the day you said you had touched Celinn’s mind during his ordeal.’
‘I thought that was merely friendship,’ said Gwirith.
‘Friendship is never mere,’ said Helevorn, ‘even when the love of the body is not looked for.’
Gwirith became melancholy then. ‘You know he cannot return my love,’ he said. ‘It is hopeless.’
‘Another error on your part, Gwirith,’ said Tathrenil. ‘Love is never hopeless. By its very nature it is always full of hope, and your love has brought light to a very dark place.’
‘I look to the day of your binding,’ said Helevorn, quietly.
Gwirith gasped. ‘It can never be!’ he said. ‘You should not even speak of it.’
‘It can and I should,’ insisted Helevorn. ‘I will hope for it while you both live, and I will think of what gift I might give you. Maybe in this way I can add my own light to the darkness in which Celinn dwells, and bring his healing a little closer.’
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