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Oak and Willow: 14. Some Nasty Revelations
"What..." predictably it was Angrod - with the shortest temper, and the most inclination to speak his mind - who began, in a hissed, furious whisper. "What do you think you are doing? Dishonouring our sister in front of your whole country!"
"I do not dishonour her," Celeborn could not quite find anger in return - so buoyant he still felt. "If I did, would she have allowed it? Nerwen knows her own mind, and does as she wants."
Angrod shook his head, speechless, and it was Aegnor who spoke for him. Fair and beautiful Aegnor, aflame in face and voice. "She meant it not. She was carried away by a madness of music, reflecting a zeal that was not her own." He rounded on Galadriel, his eyes haunted with a dread that seemed over-deep even for this public spectacle. Just so he had looked when he dropped out of the dance, and what Celeborn had thought of then as disapproval was shown to be more primal. It was fear.
"You should have learned by now to keep away from such forms of collective madness. Who, better than we, know what it is to be caught up in the fire of others' desires, and awake later with nothing to show for it but regrets?"
This outburst tightened the faces of all Finarfin's children. Alike they looked in their response; shocked, guilty, as though Aegnor had said something forbidden, and stirred awake a doom long sleeping. Celeborn might have wondered at it, but that he was overcome by his own doubts. Did Aegnor speak the truth? The dance was, after all, designed as a release - a way of letting go of all expectations and restraints. In it, anger could be purged and resentment alloyed, losses forgotten. The essence of the self was set free, expressed, and joined together with all Menegroth, with all Doriath, with all the Lindar of Middle-earth - a mighty water flowing together towards the sea. Suppose Galadriel had merely been swept away in its torrent, had not truly meant that mark of her favour. Suppose he had - knowingly or not - taken advantage of her?
His mood plummeted. O Araw! Tell me I did not! Shame threatened him, hot and dark. But as he slid towards its abyss, Galadriel reached out to take his hand, and he knew it was not so. At the touch, his mind cleared. He straightened, giving her a look of thanks. Her startled expression had faded, and to his delight he recognized the glint in her eye; the look of fell laughter she bore during swordplay. Standing shoulder to shoulder with her, he knew that the sons of Finarfin had better guard themselves, for they were well outmatched.
"We need to talk," said Orodreth at last, looking at the linked hands with some bemusement.
"But not in the middle of the clearing, with all the eyes of Menegroth on us." Finrod noted, quietly.
Celeborn took a deep breath, and thought again about battlefield tactics. One did not win a war by allowing the enemy to take command at the outset. There might be four of them, but they were in his country, on his territory. "Yes," he said, calmly, "We have much to discuss. And I know a good place to do it in. Follow me."
He brought them to a smaller glade, pillared with the straight, shining trunks of silver-birch and roofed with the delicate flutter of their small leaves. Some of Melian's roses had escaped her gardens and grew wild there, entwining the tree-boles. Their gold-centred white flowers swayed like the lanterns among the branches. The air - after the dancing circle - was cool and sweet with their scent.
At Celeborn's command, a servant laid cloths on the leaf-strewn ground, for the princes to sit on, and set out wine, bowls of apples and hazelnuts. They would find it much harder to be intimidating from a prone position, he thought, amused, and holding a cup would give their hands something better to do than hauling he and Galadriel physically apart. He gestured for them to be seated, and when they had reluctantly acceded he poured the best wine for them, and smiled. "Now we may talk like civilized people. And since Nerwen has not expressed any objection to my actions, you must first tell me what exactly I have done wrong in your eyes."
Angrod gaped and looked at his brothers for support. Finrod had reclined gracefully on the cushioned earth and was watching this with a look of interest, as an observer might pore over a game of 'Hawks and Swans'. Orodreth seemed troubled, his gaze inward, struggling with some problem of his own. Only Aegnor looked as indignant as Angrod seemed to hope. "You kissed my sister!" he cried, and seemed newly appalled at the thought.
Galadriel laughed at that. She had, through some months of practice, acquired the ability to sit on the forest floor as though it was a throne, and - having taken out the remainder of her hair pins - she looked composed once more, both elated and formidable. "He did not kiss me," she said, with deliberate emphasis. "I kissed him."
A second wave of dismay went through the Noldor at that. Celeborn tried very hard not to grin at their discomfiture, but he was, unexpectedly, finding this conversation as delightful as the dance - just as she trod lightly, a responsive, wholehearted partner in merriment, so too it was a pleasure to face trials beside her, and watch her strength and subtlety at work. With one stoke she had taken away any need for their righteous wrath, and protected him from the angry accusations, the insults, which might have obscured the true issue for hours.
"Do you know what you are saying?" Orodreth's fingers circled the lip of his cup thoughtfully.
"I am saying that Celeborn of Doriath is my lover." She squeezed his hand at the words, and the smile escaped him. He knew he must look foolish and smug, but could not find it in himself to care. "He has spoken to me of marriage, and I have given him the right to court me."
"Marriage!" Orodreth's fingers stilled, and Celeborn thought at once that he received this news not as a shock, but as a revelation, some deeper purpose of his own stirred by it. Marking Orodreth as one already, or at least soon won over, he turned his attention to the younger two. Aegnor was shaking his head, disbelieving.
"What of Glorfindel? What of Celebrimbor?" he said, and the names were ugly in Celeborn's ears. Guessing that these must be two of the 'many admirers' Galadriel had threatened him with, that night in Melian's garden, he found it hard not to hate them on this evidence alone. "There is an understanding that you will marry one of them. They will be insulted that you accept a..." He took a breath, and Celeborn could see him swallowing the words 'Dark Elf'. "A stranger in their place."
"That 'understanding'," Galadriel bared her teeth, "Was an understanding which lay between them and my father. He thought them suitable. I do not. I am full-grown and do not require his help or yours in deciding my future."
"Equally," Celeborn, drew their attention away from what seemed likely to degenerate into a mere family squabble, "I do not require your approval, and your disapproval will certainly not dissuade me." He allowed a certain irritation to colour his tone - it was tiring and false to be forever dancing around their convictions of superiority. Time, perhaps, to match their pride with his own, and let them know that theirs was not the only heritage of value in Ea. "But I do not see why you should be so appalled. This Middle-earth has long belonged to the Lindar. All its peoples have answered to Thingol, and the children of the royal line of Doriath are acknowledged as the rightful rulers of all Ennor. If the Golodhrim have been permitted to settle here, permitted to take lands, it has been by Sindar forbearance only. And if a prince of the Sindar wishes to marry into your family you should be glad for this chance to legitimize your rule. You arrived here with nothing, sons of Finarfin. Did you imagine that what you found here belonged to no-one, and was free for the taking?"
"It looked fair to belong to Morgoth when we arrived!" exclaimed Angrod, stung, and even Finrod looked at Celeborn with surprise, not having heard him speak in this vein before, "We won it by force of arms, and by our own blood."
"And a thing stolen from its owner, though bought at great price, does it become yours?"
"Something is owed, I think, for great sacrifice," Finrod said, mildly, though his eyes were thoughtful. "And it might be politic, and generous, to waive your right, in light of what has been suffered."
Celeborn smiled, liking the clear moral high ground of the point, "True. And thus it was politic and generous of Thingol to allow you to claim the lands that once were his, in honour of your valour in gaining them. Just as it was generous of him to overlook the fact that they were never actually offered back, but were taken as though you had a right to them."
"By 'you'," Finrod leaned forward, intent, "you mean 'you Noldor' in general - Fingolfin's claim and that of the sons of Feanor. For we Finarfians have our lands by direct gift from Thingol, and cannot be accused of theft or disrespect."
"No." It was a tendency of all speech with Felagund to stray into matters of ethics and metaphysics, until the original topic was lost. So Celeborn dragged the discussion back to the subject of marriage unsubtly, but with some force. "And that is because the children of Finarfin are our kinsmen. But as kinsmen you have, again, no reason to object to me as a suitable husband for your princess."
At that, Finrod burst out laughing. "You argue like a Teleri," he said. "Always changing course! My mother has that same knack, and my father despairs of it."
"I may change tack," Celeborn was thankful for the lightening of subject and mood. Finrod was a gracious man to debate with. "But I hold my course, which is that I love your sister, and I will wed her, if and when she says 'yes'."
Galadriel, who had sat in stiff self control through this discourse on Sindar pride, now softened and gave her brothers a smile of such happiness it was an argument in itself. "Is it not a sign of hope?" she said, "Middle earth is not so ill a place as we were told - for not only vengeance may we find here, but love. A new life. A future."
She grew brighter as she spoke, the flame of her spirit showing through, as though the sun had come out from behind a cloud, and Celeborn observed for the first time some measure of her power as it pressed, incandescent, against her brother's minds, less persuading than sweeping them away under her own ardour. "We were right to come. Not just for us, but for the sake of all those left here to fight Morgoth alone. Presumptuous seemed Fingolfin's claims to Thingol, and cold seemed Thingol's welcome to Fingolfin, but see - love can reconcile the two kindreds. Ere long we will no longer be Noldor and Sindar but one nation: Quendi, mingled in blood, united in loyalty. Then let Morgoth fear! For there will be nothing more he can do to divide us."
There was a moment of silence. In the distance could be heard the sound of Daeron's pipes, sweet and slow, as the dancers glided in stately pavanne, starlight on their sleek hair and a mist of light about their feet. Above all, the stars shone like silver flames, and the stems of the birch glistened in their grey twilight.
"That is all very well," said Angrod at last, shaking off both its enchantment and hers. "But it will not be as you say. You have been here too long, Nerwen, and do not know what it is like, trying to prove that your mother's blood does not make you disloyal, does not make you lesser. Marry him, and all it will achieve is to drive a wedge further between the children of Finarfin and the rest of our host, weakening us at a time when we need all our strength. They will say we are forgetting our father, forgetting that we are Noldor first. We are Calaquendi. With a high purpose, united in doom. Not fainthearted loiterers who have dwelled with evil thousands of yen without once assailing it. We came to destroy Morgoth, not to interbreed with those who did not even have the courage to complete the March."
A hiss of intaken breath stopped Angrod's speech. Like a ray of moonlight lancing into a dark pool, Luthien had alighted on the edge of their clearing, and her perfect lips were curled with contempt. "My father commands you to wait upon him," she said coldly, making Celeborn wonder for a moment if she had been sent to rescue him; if Elu had supposed he needed aid against four angry brothers. But there was no complicity or amusement in her. Indeed, he had never seen her look so chill - fair as a night of ice which glitters with killing cold.
"Luthien?" he asked, the small anger of pricked pride disappearing in the face of her great wrath. What was happening?
She shook her head, "I will not speak here." As she looked between him and Galadriel, he saw with a sudden opening of dread, dark as the caves of the Narog, that some of her fury was on his behalf, as though she knew him betrayed and dared not speak of it. "Come too, if you will. For this concerns you closely."
Thingol and Melian had departed from both feast and dancing, and sat in one of the smaller reception rooms. In state. The formality was a warning and rebuke in itself. Melian's gaze was impassive, but as heavy as her robes - she had donned the draped velvets of a Queen, and her storm-dark hair was crowned with silver and gems which gleamed like lightning. But it was at Elu that Celeborn looked, and seeing an anger he had not seen since Denethor's death, he knew the tempest was come. Elu was all steel, hard and sharp. Rage glinted from him like sunlight from a sword.
Brusquely, Thingol gestured for Celeborn to come and stand beside him, and he went to his place in silence. Nothing had ever been achieved by arguing with Elu in this mood. Luthien sat down in the throne at her mother's side, and as simply as that a line was drawn between Noldor and Sindar. A line which had not been there since the first day the children of Earwen had come to Doriath.
"My lord?" Finrod stood a little in front of his siblings, like the prow of a ship, which is the first to bear the onslaught of the sea. There was innocent puzzlement in his face, and, at the sight, Elu's weapon-hand clenched.
"Ill have you done me, kinsman," he said, "with your craven secrecy. Ill have you done us all! Yet you have not saved yourself. For I have learned now of all the evil deeds of the Noldor."
So it was come at last, thought Celeborn and his dread had some admixture of relief, knowing that finally he would know the worst, and there would be no more secrets. Watching, he saw that Galadriel had hung her head, and her loosened hair hung forward, casting shadows over her face. His heart twisted within him - he had never imagined that anything could make her look thus.
"What ill have I done to you, lord?" said Finrod, "What evil have any of the Noldor done to you, or in your realm? Nothing." It was, literally, the truth, Celeborn knew, and yet it came from the gentle, forthright heart of Finrod like a falsehood. And his nerve almost failed him, not wanting to know what fell thing could make this upright man circle about the truth like a clever liar.
The disingenuousness did not sit well with Thingol. He laughed, sharply, "I marvel at you, son of Earwen. How could you come and feast with us, while your hands were red with the blood of our slaughtered kin - and not say anything. How can you not have the decency even to explain it, or ask for forgiveness?"
Celeborn frowned. He had surely heard wrong. Or Elu had not meant what he seemed to imply. Elf did not slay elf - it was unthinkable. They must have fled perhaps, and left their kin to the mercy of orcs... Except that there were no orcs in Valinor. So... There must be another explanation of which he could not quite think...
But there was horror in the gaze of Melian, and tears in Elu's eyes, "You killed them," he said, "Not only fellow elves, but elves of your own family, your own kindred. Does Olwe live still? Would you murder your own grandfather? And what of Galadhon - my nephew, Celeborn's father - did you hack him down before you came here, claiming to be our friends? How could you do this? And how could you call it nothing?"
Celeborn's breath failed, and his chest ached as if he had plunged into a frozen sea. This must not be true. It must be a rumour put about by Morgoth to discredit the Noldor. Shadowed though they were, the taint could not be this dark. But then why did Finrod not speak? And Galadriel - why did she not look at him and tell him it was not so? An emotion began in him, like ice forming about a tree root, spreading, thickening, stopping the flow of his blood. The lanterned hall dimmed in his eyes, and the fountain's flow seemed to falter, its voice falling silent. He remembered asking her about his father, that first day they had spent together, and how easily she had turned the subject, falsely innocent. And this had been in her mind?
His body felt again the press of a sword-point against his stomach as her hand drove it inwards. He had killed enough orcs and werewolves to know the feel of muscle separating under steel. Had she done that in truth? And how did it feel? Did elven flesh part more easily, the blood well slower or with more speed? And what did she see, when she looked in the eyes of a fellow eldar, as she cut out their heart?
Nausea swept through him, and the slow hardening of his soul became suddenly recognizable as cold fury. And still, Finrod did not answer, chastened and silent as one falsely accused.
But Angrod had had enough. He stepped out of his brother's shadow, and if the Doriathrim were all ice, he was fire. "I have had enough of this," he said, "I know not what lies you have heard, Lord, but the children of Finarfin are guiltless, and I am sick of being caught in the middle of this quarrel. 'Tale tellers' we have been called by the Noldor, though as you know we have said nothing, and 'murderers' you call us now, and we are neither! For our loyalty we are punished by either side. Well, I will bear it no longer, and I see no further harm from telling you the truth."
Then, with great bitterness, he spoke of the words of Feanor against the Teleri. How the sons of Feanor - armoured in mail and helm, equipped with sword and shield - had fallen upon the mariners of the Teleri, whose peaceful folk had nothing but hunting bows and fishing spears with which to defend themselves. "And Fingolfin, finding them already at odds, not knowing who had begun it, joined the fray on the Noldor side. But we - Finarfin and his folk - we did nothing. Indeed, Nerwen armed herself and fought in defence of the Teleri. Then Feanor took the Swan Ships, and sailed away, abandoning us to deal with the consequence of his rapine, or to follow as we might across the Grinding Ice.
Then Mandos spoke, and told us that, should we depart, all that we sought to do here would end in ruin, and that we would not prevail over Morgoth. But how could we turn back then? After so many people had died? We could not."
He began to speak of the Helcaraxe, and the torment of cold with which that decision had been rewarded, but Celeborn had no mind to pity a punishment so self-inflicted. The fury had begun to flower in him, and it was all he could do to stand still and listen. This was Noldor wisdom, was it? This was the truth of the glory of the Calaquendi? They slew their own kind, betrayed their own families, and they dared - they dared still to look down on the Sindar? Ruinous, doomed, fell and bitter, they still thought themselves too good for Ennor? The arrogance was breathtaking.
"We have done nothing wrong, and been punished as though we had," cried Angrod, impassioned, "Why should we be called kinslayers and traitors, when we are not?"
"Yet the shadow of Mandos lies on you also," said Melian, and her voice was implacable, "And if you do not share in the Noldor's guilt, you share still in their curse. Did you not think that was something we had a right to know about?"
Yes, Celeborn thought, bitterly, Knowing their war is doomed from the start, they still come, they still seek to embroil us in their hopeless carnage - assuming that they will lead and we will follow, not troubling to ask. And then they have the gall to resent us when we will not come to their hand, like a dog. Yes, that hurt. But it was understandable, for of course all nations viewed events from their own halls first. It did not hurt so much as the merely personal. Looking down, at Finrod - whom he had grown to like very much - and Galadriel...no Nerwen - whom he loved, he did not know what to think of them now, or which betrayal hurt the most.
By Angrod's own word, Finrod and his brothers had done nothing. They had stood by while innocent people were slain; while their friends, their kinsmen were murdered, and they had done nothing. Might it not have stopped the fighting if they had at least stood between their mother's people and their father's? Feanor, perhaps, it would not have shamed, but it would have stopped Fingolfin, surely? They did nothing. Could they not have done something?
But was it better to draw sword against your own family, as Nerwen had? 'Disgusting', she had once said, at the thought of marrying him. Now his own thoughts revolted from touching her, as though the blood of slain eldar oozed still in invisible stain, unwashable, over her. And still he could hardly believe any of this. Elf did not slay elf. It did not happen. The world would not endure it - it would break and fall into the sea, it would return to the void, rather than bear so evil a thing. Surely?
"Go now," said Elu at last, and everything that Celeborn felt - the fury, the disbelief and the pain - was echoed in his voice, "At this moment I cannot bear the sight of you, and I am too... angry.. for debate." He took a deep breath, as a warrior might labour for air on the battlefield, trying to clear the haze of red from his eyes. "Later you may return, if you will. You are my family, and you did, at least, not aid this evil. With Fingolfin too I will keep friendship - he has been punished enough."
He breathed again, deliberately, preparing to give judgement. Authority settled on him as he stood. Tall and beautiful and terrible as a Lord of the Maia in wrath he seemed to Celeborn, but with a heart hot with love for his folk. He had not forgotten, nor would ever forget, that the Teleri of Aman were once his people too. "Hearken to my words," he said. "In all my realm I forbid the open use of Quenya. Never again will my people speak, or answer to, the tongue of those who slew our kin in Alqualondë. All who use it shall be held slayers of kin, and betrayers of kin, unrepentant. Let the Golodhrim learn to speak and think - aye, even to dream - in the language of the Lindar. Let them remember those they murdered every time they open their mouths. Now, go!"
The sons of Finarfin bowed their heads and left, silently. But Nerwen paused beneath the arch of the door and looked back, meeting Celeborn's eyes. Her gaze was, as it always had been, proud and clear, but as she looked in his face there was a new despair visible in its depths. Seeing her so, her feet bare beneath her white festival finery, her hair loose and tangled from dancing, he knew he should say something. But he had no idea what. It was too sharp a pain; wrenching control of both mind and body from the fea, leaving him helpless to act or think. He needed to hit something. Needed to consider, to understand. He needed to stop seeing - in his imagination - the dried brown blood that pointed the ends of her golden hair. Needed to find out if he still loved her, as he had said he always would. But he could do none of those things while she stood, all vulnerability, gazing at him. Just as Elu needed time and space to cool down, to accept this, so Celeborn needed Nerwen to be gone.
She opened her mouth to speak, and he turned his back on her, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. There was a silence, and then footfalls. The door closed behind her quietly, and only then did he sink to his knees on the dais, wrap his arms around himself, and join Luthien, Elu and Melian as they wept.
Notes: Celeborn's use of the Sindarin word 'Golodhrim' instead of the Quenya word 'Noldor' is somewhat less than polite. The connotation of Quenya 'Noldor' is 'The Wise Elves' or 'The Deep Elves', but 'Golodhrim' which is the direct equivalent, means 'The Sorcerous Elves', and is almost as disliked by the Noldor as 'Moriquendi' is by the Sindar.
Elu, of course, calls them 'Golodhrim' later in obedience to his own decree not to use Quenya.
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