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Water and Stone: 15. A Time of Darkness
The return of Sauron meant extra vigilance and that meant extra work. He looked down at the open book before him, full of the wisdom of those who had defended Lorien and other elvish lands in past times, but the words blurred before his eyes. He shut the book and was about to hoist it up on to the shelf beside him when he heard a quiet knock on the door.
‘Enter,’ he called out, and Celinn limped in to the room and closed the door behind him, then stood looking at Haldir uncertainly, his face shadowed by the hood of his cloak.
‘Guardian,’ said Celinn, not meeting Haldir’s eyes. ‘I…cannot be captain of my company any longer. I have come to resign my post.’
Haldir, watching him carefully, saw the dejection in every line of his painfully thin body.
‘I did not know you had already left the healing house, Celinn. Are you sure you are ready to return to duty?’
Celinn said nothing, so Haldir said, ‘You know there is no need to resign your captaincy, Celinn,’ he said gently. ‘Once you are ready to come back, we will impose the lutir and support and observe you for half a year before you take up your post alone again. Your company want you as their captain, and I see no reason to disagree with them.’
‘Maybe so,’ said Celinn, ‘but I can no longer be what they want. However generous you might be, I failed them. I …’ He stopped suddenly and for a moment his eyes closed. With a visible effort he forced himself to go on. ‘I yielded to the enemy.’ His voice was no more than a whisper. His hand came out from under his cloak. ‘Here are the keys you gave me when I became captain.’ For the first time he looked Haldir in the eyes. ‘And of course there is no need to forbid me the captain’s braids.’
Haldir was shocked by the self-loathing in Celinn’s face. He crossed the room to his side and took the hand that held the keys, folding the fingers over them.
‘These are yours, Celinn; I do not want them back. I want you back, as captain. You judge yourself too harshly.’
‘No,’ said Celinn, ‘I do not,’ and he opened his hand again and held out the keys to Haldir.
‘And if I were to command you to do it?’ said Haldir, softly.
‘I beg of you not to,’ said Celinn, his eyes beseeching. ‘Send me to north Lorien. I will walk the border with you, or else alone.’
Haldir sighed deeply. ‘My dearest Celinn, how do you think it would be for your brother and for the others in your company if I were to send you away from them? How could we share this burden with you if you would not turn to us?’
‘I cannot share it. I cannot turn to you,’ Celinn said, stubbornly.
‘Is it that you wish to punish yourself?’ said Haldir. ‘To make yourself suffer for the wrong you think you have committed?’
Celinn did not reply for a long time. Finally he said. ‘I cannot see any life before me but this: to be alone, far from here.’
Haldir took Celinn by the shoulders. ‘Celinn, there is no shame in what has happened to you. It was not of your making.’ At once Celinn wrenched himself from Haldir’s grasp, flushing to the roots of his hair.
‘Of course there is shame!’ he shouted. ‘Do you not know what he did to me? And what I …’ He broke off with an inarticulate sound of pain and turned away. Then he flung off the hood of his cloak, revealing his shorn head with the single thin braid falling on to his right shoulder, his white blond hair very fair in the light. ‘Look at me!’ he demanded. ‘Is this not shame?’
Haldir forced himself not to look away from Celinn, forced himself to hold back the tears which threatened to spill from his eyes. ‘This is not your doing,’ he said gently. ‘In time it will pass.’ But Celinn shrugged contemptuously and dragged the hood back over his head.
At length he said in a voice kept severely under control, ‘Haldir, please, release me from my duty as captain. I am willing to serve on the northern border. I will go immediately if you will agree to send me.’
Haldir realised Celinn would not be persuaded by anything he said. But he still had one card to play.
‘I will send you to the northern border, but I will not revoke your captaincy. Your company will be waiting for you when you return. You may do one turn of duty, for one month.’
‘One month? But that is too short. A year would be better.’
‘One month,’ said Haldir, and it was clear that he could be as stubborn as Celinn. He watched the emotions pass across Celinn’s face: uncertainty, despair, and finally, resigned acceptance.
‘Yes,’ he said, hoarsely, and again held out the keys to Haldir.
‘Keep them,’ said the Guardian of Lorien, ‘You will be needing them.’
Celinn nodded briefly, and at once opened the door and left the guardroom.
Haldir stood looking at Celinn’s retreating figure, and for a moment he was full of rage at the evil that had been done to his youngest captain. But in his long life he had seen a great deal of evil, and had spent a great deal of his time holding it back.
‘By the Valar, we will make him whole again,’ he said softly to himself, before letting himself out into the freshness of the forest.
Celinn left Caras Galadhon without seeing anyone except Haldir. It was left to the Guardian to tell his company the news later that day and to promote Luinil to acting Captain until Celinn’s return. After their ordeal they would be posted only to light duties for the moment, or sent to help the other companies of the pellarim, so he did not assign anyone to take Celinn’s place.
‘But why?’ said Aiglin. ‘I don’t understand. And why go without even saying goodbye?’
Haldir sighed. ‘Because he is not well. His body has healed but his fea is still hurt.’
‘His body has not healed yet,’ said Gwirith quietly. ‘He is still limping, and his face…’ His voice drifted away. Haldir saw him turn to look out of the window as though he might see Celinn there.
There was an abstracted silence. Then Aiglin said,
‘But why must he leave? How will exiling himself help him to heal?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Haldir, ‘but he feels driven to do it. So we must be patient.’
No one spoke for a long while. Then Aiglin pushed his chair back so that it grated harshly on the stone floor.
‘With your permission?’ he said to Haldir. The Guardian saw his ashen face and nodded. The door closed behind Aiglin as he went out into the forest.
‘The Shadow brings discord wherever it goes,’ said Haldir sadly. ‘But we must sing the song of the One even when we are touched by darkness.’
It was the evening of the next day when Haldir reached the northern march of Lorien. An enquiry of the warden on duty led him to an isolated watch flet on the edge of the forest, and he climbed the ladder and stepped on to the platform.
Celinn was sitting cross legged, hooded and cloaked, looking out at the smoke that rose almost vertically from Dol Guldur in the southern edge of Mirkwood. He was so still that he scarcely seemed to be breathing, yet Haldir felt his presence was known. Haldir crossed the platform and sat down beside Celinn. As he did so, his shoulder gently came into contact with Celinn’s, and he flinched and moved away from Haldir, then settled himself again, like a cat which has been disturbed.
The deep silence fell again, and Haldir found himself resting in it. Celinn was so self contained that his whole energy seemed to be turned inward, and he asked nothing of Haldir, neither pity nor comfort, nor any other kind of sustenance. Haldir and Celinn sat unmoving as the dusk deepened into night. There was no cloud and the stars sparkled in the blue bowl of heaven as the soft sounds of the night birds made themselves heard. As they sat close together, Haldir felt himself become aware of the oneness of all things, and his heart was soothed by it.
‘The Starkindler is with us tonight,’ he said softly. In the darkness he could not see Celinn’s face but he sensed a slight movement beside him. At length Celinn said incongruously,
‘It is easier here, Haldir. I don’t need to pretend.’
‘Pretend?’ said Haldir.
‘Yes,’ said Celinn, and he finally turned to face Haldir. The moon was beginning to rise and in its pale light Celinn’s face was as bleached as bone. ‘I don’t have to pretend I’m not in hell,’ he said gently, as though he were explaining something to an intelligent child.
Haldir forced down the urge to speak or to comfort Celinn.
‘I had to go,’ Celinn continued. ‘They wanted me to be well again, and I’m not. Here it matters to no one.’
‘It matters to me,’ said Haldir. Celinn leaned forward a little and looked into his face. His lips parted as if he would speak again but then he turned away and his shoulders sagged. After a long time, he said with difficulty,
‘I came here to be alone. Can’t you leave me in peace?’
‘Tell me what you suffer,’ Haldir said.
Celinn turned on him in fury. ‘You’re not listening!’ he shouted. ‘I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to remember it. I came here to get away from the kindness and solicitude that wouldn’t let me forget what had happened.’
‘And have you got away from it?’ asked Haldir, gently, ‘Or is with you more than ever? Does it feel as if time has shifted and you are there again, and it’s so real that what is happening now feels like a dream?’
Celinn stared at Haldir, all his anger gone. He passed his hand distractedly over his pale face.
Finally he said hoarsely, ‘Please go away.’
‘Celinn,’ began Haldir, but Celinn turned away from him and Haldir could almost see him withdraw into himself. In a few moments he was as still and uncommunicative as he had been when Haldir had first found him. The Guardian made to rest his hand on Celinn’s shoulder, but he encountered such a strong resistance that he stepped back. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, before leaving Celinn to his watch, but there seemed nothing to say, so, defeated, he turned and descended to the forest floor.
He stood for a moment looking up at the flet, and it seemed to him as if it were more shadowed than the rest of the surrounding trees.
‘It is the shadow of your own sadness,’ he said to himself before turning and making his way back to the camp.
On the night of the new moon, when the snow had been on the ground for two weeks, Celinn climbed down from his watch talan at the end of his duty and found Haldir and Rumil waiting at the foot of the tree.
‘I’ve scarcely seen you these past days, Celinn. How fare you?’ said Haldir. Celinn looked at him as if he did not know how to answer the question.
‘I am…well,’ he said, watching him with mistrust.
‘Nothing to report from your watch?’
‘No. The smoke is a little darker at Dol Guldur. That is all.’
‘Celinn, one of my company had some good hunting today,’ said Rumil. ‘Come and eat with us.’
‘No,’ said Celinn, turning away, ‘I have … something that I must do.’ He walked away without a word.
When he was out of sight, Haldir said sadly, ‘He hides in the forest like a creature gone to ground.’
‘Will he mend, do you think? asked Rumil.
Haldir sighed deeply. ‘The forest may help him, and the solitude he craves. He is very much as Gwirith was when he first came to us: too hurt and too proud to let anyone near. Patience is all we can offer him.’
‘What do you think it was that he has to do?’
‘He keeps his own counsel: he is here at dawn each day ready for his watch, and he leaves at dusk. What he does for the hours in between I do not know,’ said Haldir.
Celinn sat hunched up in the shadows by a shallow stream which flowed down from Celebrant, not far from the elves’ northern camp. He had put out his travelling light. His mind was empty and cold, but for no reason that he could understand, his body brought him here to the water each night, and there seemed no point in resisting it.
The darkness somehow eased the constant sense of disquiet which he felt, and he let his eyes gaze at the broken pattern of starlight that glimmered faintly on the water until they went out of focus. He remained there unmoving for a long time, then came back to himself with a start. He leaned closer to the stream, then very slowly reached out his hand until his fingers were just above the surface of the water. He kept his hand there, shaking slightly, for a minute or two, then dipped the tips of his fingers into the water.
The cold made him gasp but he did not remove his hand straight away, watching the water blurring the outline of his fingers.
After a while he got to his feet and took off his cloak, then slowly unlaced his boots and drew them off, and undid the laces of his woollen shirt; but instead of pulling it over his head, he stood motionless, staring into the dark water. At length he tried to reach for the lacing of his breeches, but his hand did not want to obey him. Since the day that he dared not remember, he had found his own nakedness loathsome. His body which had been the instrument of his ease and pleasure was now foul and defiled and even the touch of his hand on his own skin was unbearable.
Something deep in him wanted to wash away the taint of that terrible day, and he had tried many times since he came to north Lorien to undress fully and cleanse himself in the stream, but he had been unable to endure it. It seemed to him that his body could never again be clean.
Yet he was here again, he scarcely knew why, in the merciful darkness. Gritting his teeth, he forced his trembling fingers to undo the laces of his breeches, but as soon as it was done he was overcome by a wave of nausea so powerful that he stumbled to his knees, retching and choking. He clamped his hand over his mouth and closed his eyes tightly and eventually the attack passed.
Celinn opened his eyes and looked up at the stars. ‘Elbereth,’ he whispered. ‘My body is full of corruption.’ His face became contorted with disgust. ‘But I want to be clean. I want to be true to my oath. I don’t know how to do it. Help me.’
He took a deep shuddering breath and ignoring the shrill scream that came from his fea, pulled his breeches down roughly and cast them aside.
This time the nausea was so strong that he barely had time to get to his feet before he was sick, over and over again until it seemed impossible that his body could have any more sickness left in it. At last it was finished. His legs were trembling too much to stand so he knelt down and crawled over to where he had flung his breeches and dragged them back on, doing up the lacings tightly.
His strength gave out then, and he lay where he was, staring up at the stars. His hand moved towards the water, then seemed to lose its purpose and came to rest on the frozen snowy grass beside him.
If anyone had looked at him in the hour that followed, they would not have recognised him as a living being, so inert and lifeless did he appear, huddled in unnatural stillness by the water’s edge. Finally he stirred and, moving as slowly and painfully as one of the oldest of the race of Men, he dragged himself fully clothed into the shallow water and lay on his back, letting it wash over him. His one slim blond braid floated on the surface of the water beside him.
After a long time he sat up and, listlessly filling his hands with water, he washed his face, then crawled out of the stream and lay still on the snowy bank. From time to time his body shuddered with cold, but he scarcely seemed to notice.
In the darkest hour of the night, snow began to fall again in the forest, and the bitter little wind that came with it penetrated even Celinn’s lassitude, and he dragged himself to his feet and pulled his cloak and boots back on. He gathered some wood and made a small inefficient fire and lay down beside it, staring sightlessly into the flames. From somewhere very deep inside him he thought he felt an echo of tears; but their vibration could not begin to fill the vast emptiness which he now was, and he endured the hours of the night, struggling as he always did now with the voice that told him that there was no way forward, and that Mandos awaited him.
Not long after sunrise, Haldir found him and shook his shoulder gently, thinking that he slept. His hood, pale green with silver threads, lay a little way away from him. After a long time, Celinn turned and looked up at him.
‘I am ready for duty, Guardian,’ he said in a voice hoarse from disuse. He stood up but then saw his hood on the ground and snatched it up, turning away from Haldir while he pulled it on hastily.
‘Celinn, you’re wet,’ said Haldir. ‘What happened to you?’
Celinn did not reply but instead pulled his cloak around him and began to walk quickly in the direction of the guard post.
Haldir called after him, and ran to catch up. ‘Last night’s watch saw a band of orcs just outside the eaves of the forest,’ he said. ‘I posted a company to track them and they have sent for help. Rumil is taking his company, with Sirion as his second.’
Celinn said nothing but something flickered deep in his eyes.
‘I would send you out but I think it is not yet time,’ Haldir said.
Celinn turned his shadowed gaze on him and Haldir waited for him to speak, but he looked away again.
Soon they reached the edge of the camp and could see just ahead of them Rumil’s company preparing to leave.
‘I will see you later, Celinn,’ said Haldir, and went over to talk to Sirion. Celinn stood watching them for a while before climbing the ladder to the talan. Haldir spent a few moments with the company, then walked away into the forest.
When he was out of sight, Celinn climbed slowly down from the talan and, making sure his head was covered, went over to Sirion.
‘I would like to join you,’ he said. ‘I have done enough watching.’
‘Are you sure, Celinn?’ said Sirion. ‘Haldir said nothing about it.’
‘He will not mind. Put one of your company on my duty and take me instead.’
Sirion glanced round at the elves waiting to leave, and called one to him. They spoke for a while, then the elf bowed and ran up the rope ladder to the watch talan.
‘I am glad you are back, Celinn,’ said Sirion, gruffly. ‘It has not been the same without you.’
Celinn turned away and searched for something in his pack.
Shortly after, Rumil gave the order to leave. As the company began to move, Celinn saw Rumil glance back at him while saying something to Sirion, but then Rumil nodded and looked away. Celinn picked up his pack and his weapons and tried to hide his limp as the company began the journey to the eaves of the forest.
Rumil had never seen Haldir so angry.
‘Tell me again,’ Haldir demanded, striding round the tent, his cloak flicking behind him like the tail of an irate cat.
‘Sirion told me one of the company had taken his watch so that he could come with us,’ Rumil said nervously.
‘Sirion?’ said Haldir, in a glacial voice, turning his deep blue eyes on Rumil’s second in command.
‘I … he …Guardian, it was …’
‘Just the truth, Sirion,’ said Haldir.
Sirion sighed. ‘Celinn asked to come with us, so I sent one of my company to take his watch.’
‘You lied to Rumil.’
‘I only told him what was true,’ protested Sirion, stubbornly.
‘Sirion,’ shouted Haldir, ‘Do you want me to send you back to Caras Galadhon in disgrace?’
‘No, Guardian,’ Sirion said nervously. Haldir raised an eyebrow and tilted his head.
‘I lied to Rumil,’ said Sirion quietly.
‘I couldn’t quite hear you,’ said Haldir, with terrifying politeness. ‘Would you kindly oblige me by repeating yourself?’
‘I lied to Rumil,’ Sirion said in a louder voice. ‘I made the decision to take Celinn without asking him.’
‘Good,’ said Haldir fiercely. ‘Now we are making some progress. Sirion, you are dismissed. I will notify you of your punishment later.’
Sirion left without a word, and Haldir turned to Celinn, who throughout this exchange had stood impassively by the door of the tent, the hood of his cloak pulled up over his head.
‘What explanation can you give me for inviting yourself on this duty directly against my orders, Celinn?’ he said quietly.
‘None, Guardian,’ said Celinn, looking at the ground.
Haldir’s back straightened suddenly and he took a few paces around the tent before coming back to Celinn.
‘That is not a sufficient answer, Celinn. I had told you only minutes earlier that I did not think you were ready to face action again, and yet you flagrantly disobeyed me and persuaded one of your own company to forget his duty so that you could do whatever you wanted.’
Celinn said nothing, and apart from the slight flush on his cheeks seemed unaffected by Haldir’s words.
Haldir suddenly put out his hand and touched the scar on Celinn’s cheek. Celinn flinched away from him, his eyes blazing.
‘This is not even healed yet, and you wanted to collect a few more,’ Haldir said, looking at the gash over Celinn’s eyebrow and the bandage on his sword arm.
‘What does it matter?’ cried Celinn. ‘We found the orcs, and now they’re dead.’
‘Yes and without half the company putting their lives in danger to get you out, so would you be,’ said Haldir loudly.
‘They should have left me where I was,’ said Celinn sullenly. ‘I didn’t need their help.’
‘I’m sorry, Celinn, I completely forgot,’ Haldir said, dangerously quiet. ‘Of course it has always been the custom of the Galadhrim to abandon their own.’
Celinn went so white that Haldir forgot his anger and moved closer to him, thinking he was about to pass out. But Celinn just stood before him, looking straight ahead with eyes suddenly full of desolation.
‘Give me any penalty you choose, Guardian,’ he said, barely audible. ‘It can never be enough to pay for what I have done.’
‘Celinn,’ said Haldir, angry again. ‘I was not referring to you. I wish you would believe me when I tell you again that you behaved with great courage in the hands of the enemy.’
Celinn flinched and closed his eyes. Haldir suppressed a desire to make him sit down by the brazier in the corner of the tent with a strong drink.
‘What am I going to do with you, Celinn?’ he said irritably. ‘Half Rumil’s company are out of action and you are in a worse state than when you arrived here.’
Celinn’s sea green eyes looked straight into Haldir’s.
‘Revoke my captaincy,’ he said hoarsely.
‘I will not!’ shouted Haldir. ‘If you think you can manipulate me with your reckless behaviour, I assure you that you are quite mistaken. Do you think the defence of Lorien revolves around your personal preferences, Celinn?’
They stared at each other. Rumil stirred uncomfortably in the corner.
‘I will never be the captain you want; not any more,’ whispered Celinn.
Haldir sighed with sorrow and exasperation in equal parts.
‘Sit down, Celinn,’ he said gently.
Celinn looked at him uncertainly, then crossed the tent to the camp stool by the brazier.
‘And don’t bother to pretend you’re not limping,’ said Haldir wearily.
Celinn sat down heavily and stared into the glowing fire. Haldir said a word to Rumil and he went over to a wooden chest and took out a bottle and some glasses, then poured out three measures.
‘Here,’ said Haldir, holding out a glass to Celinn, who looked as if he would refuse it, but then took it and drained it without a word.
Haldir pulled up another stool and sat down next to Celinn, who unconsciously moved his own further away.
‘Celinn,’ he said, ‘in my long years as Guardian of Lorien, I have seen many terrible things. One of the worst was the sight of you when we found you just a few weeks ago, close to death. It was only by the efforts of all the healers in Lorien, and especially the Lady and Gwirith who called back your fea, that you were persuaded to remain in life.’
Celinn stirred restlessly, turning away from Haldir, but he continued to speak.
‘Since then, for reasons of your own, you have taken very little care of yourself. You refused to stay in the healing house, despite the healers’ warnings; you would not see the Lady, who could help you greatly if only you would let her. You have returned to duty far sooner than I or any of those who love you would have wanted.’
Haldir paused, hoping Celinn would take in his words, but he had hunched himself over so tightly that Haldir could no longer see his face.
‘Why will you not let us help you, Celinn?’ said Haldir, gently. ‘The poison of your experience is still with you and you are letting the wound fester instead of lancing it. If you can do this, you will find yourself again.’
Celinn turned to him then, his eyes bright in his white face. ‘I will never find myself again. Why do you think I have left Caras Galadhon, and have asked you to let me stay here by the northern fences? Because no one will believe that the old Celinn is gone. He is dead, Haldir, and he will never return. I have broken my oath, and however I may long to seek forgiveness of the Holy Ones and dedicate myself again to them, I cannot do it. I am no longer the one who made the oath, and the one I am cannot keep it.’
Celinn stood up. ‘Let me go, Guardian. Release me now from your service. You know I am no use to you, nor ever can be.’
Haldir cast a desperate look at Rumil. ‘And what will you do, Celinn? Live alone in the forest, away from your own kind, with only the wild creatures for company? You who are known for your love for your friends, and for your courage and skill? You must fight this, Celinn!’
‘I can’t fight it,’ said Celinn dully. ‘It is a part of me now.’
Haldir looked at him standing there, leaning a little because of his unhealed wounds, all his old beauty and grace veiled behind the darkness of his broken fea, and he had to turn away so that Celinn would not see his tears.
‘No, Celinn,’ he said quietly, when he had regained his composure. ‘I will not let you go. I will not, and nor will Aiglin and Alfirin, and Gwirith and Luinil and all your company, and the Lady, and even Rumil here. We will not let you go. If that is the way you choose, you will not do it with my help. You will remain on watch duty here until the full moon and then you will return to Caras Galadhon with me as we agreed.’
‘Guardian, please,’ said Celinn desperately.
‘Celinn, I have no more to say on the matter,’ said Haldir, standing up and looking at him directly. ‘If you wish to disobey me, you will have to break the oath of loyalty you gave to me personally when you took up your service to Lorien.’
Celinn gasped. Haldir saw the shock and disbelief on his face and hardened his heart against the impulse to comfort him, which he knew he would in any case refuse.
Celinn turned suddenly to go and his hand was on the flap of the tent when Haldir said, ‘I have not heard your acknowledgement of my order, captain.’
He saw Celinn’s long back tighten as he arrested his intention to escape from his presence. Slowly Celinn turned, and it seemed for a moment as if he would defy Haldir, such was the misery in his eyes, but at last he said, ‘I understand your order, Guardian,’ with surprising gentleness.
Haldir let out a long sigh of relief. ‘I am glad we have found some common ground at last, Celinn. You had better go and get that wound cleaned now before it catches cold,’ he said, indicating Celinn’s bandaged arm.
When Celinn had gone Haldir sat down again beside the brazier. The tent felt surprisingly empty. Rumil sat down beside him.
‘With your permission, brother,’ he said. Haldir nodded absentmindedly.
‘What am I doing, Rumil?’ said Haldir anxiously. ‘I force him to do the one thing he does not want to do. But what choice do I have? If I let him go, he will do nothing to keep himself in life.’
‘You have done what was needed, Haldir,’ said Rumil. ‘There is no need to torment yourself.’ Rumil put his arm round his brother and pulled his head down on to his shoulder. Haldir gave a deep sigh and closed his eyes.
‘Rumil, you are a good brother,’ said Haldir.
‘Yes, I am,’ said Rumil. ‘And you are very frightening when you are angry.’
Haldir sat up suddenly. ‘I haven’t finished disciplining you,’ he said.
‘Do it later,’ said Rumil. ‘It will keep.’
Haldir sighed and leaned against him again. ‘Remind me, won’t you?’
‘Of course I will,’ said Rumil soothingly. Silence fell. The fire hissed in the brazier as the two brothers sat close together. Outside Celinn had forgotten about his wound. He had found his staff and was walking slowly into the forest, listening for the one thing that eased him, the voice of the water.
‘Where is he?’ asked Aragorn.
‘He asked to be posted to the northern fences, away from his company,’ said Gwirith. ‘He will be away for another ten-day.’
‘I am to leave Lorien today,’ said Aragorn. ‘I am to meet with Degil, and rejoin the Dunedain.’
‘You may see Celinn if you leave by the north of the forest,’ said Gwirith.
Aragorn shook his head. ‘I am going to Anduin,’ he said sadly. ‘How is he, Gwirith? I have not seen him since the day he woke from his fever.’
Gwirith’s face was shadowed with sadness. ‘His body is almost healed, but his fea is dark and he refuses all help from us.’
Aragorn sighed. ‘I have no time to leave any message for him, but I will send one if I can. Give him my greetings, Gwirith, if he will hear them.’
‘I will,’ said Gwirith, and looking at Aragorn he saw the new strength in his face and his body. ‘You have grown, Aragorn,’ he said fondly.
Suddenly Aragorn smiled, and Gwirith saw his youthful countenance hidden beneath that of a man shouldering a heavy burden.
‘Namarie,’ said Gwirith, and Aragorn held him close for a moment before picking up his pack and walking away.
‘No,’ said Haldir. ‘I told you, one month. You’re coming back to Caras Galadhon with me, today.’
Celinn’s eyes narrowed and his mouth became a thin line.
‘You need extra lookouts. You said so yourself.’
Haldir stood up and walked round the table. He opened his mouth to reason with Celinn, but he knew in his heart that any such approach would fail.
‘Are you being insubordinate, Captain?’ he said quietly. The two elves regarded each other. Haldir felt Celinn’s anger.
‘I hope not,’ said Celinn, equally quietly.
‘Then I take it you will obey my orders,’ said Haldir with finality.
Celinn saluted and stood waiting to be dismissed.
Walking behind Celinn on the forest path as they approached Caras Galadhon, Haldir recalled the expression on Celinn’s face: could it really have been hatred? Celinn had not spoken a word to him since that time but had walked a few paces ahead of Haldir and the other elves returning with them, so that he was just too far to be included in their conversation.
When they reached the city and were admitted by the gate wardens, Celinn saw that his company were standing outside the guardroom, talking together. Hurriedly he made to leave but Haldir called to him.
‘I would like you to come with me to see the Lady,’ said Haldir.
‘Why?’ said Celinn, coldly.
‘Because I have an idea she could help you.’
‘All the help I need is to be left alone,’ said Celinn, bitterly. ‘I will do the duty you require of me, if I am able. Aside from that, my time is my own.’
‘Celinn. You remind me of myself,’ said a voice beside him. Celinn turned and found himself looking into Gwirith’s blue grey eyes, filled with gentleness and laughter. Celinn frowned. Gwirith was different, what was it …?
‘Your hair,’ said Celinn, and absentmindedly his fingers reached out for an instant and touched the mass of thick blue-black hair which rested on Gwirith’s shoulders. ‘I had forgotten about it. I had remembered you with a single braid.’ Gwirith smiled.
Through the blistering cold in which Celinn dwelt now, he felt a gentle unintrusive warmth enfolding him as he stood next to Gwirith.
‘I am not who I was. Maybe I am like you,’ he said, half to himself.
‘You will be yourself again,’ said Gwirith, gently, but Celinn looked away. He leaned down to pick up his pack only to find Aiglin waiting beside him.
The two brothers looked at each other, Celinn withdrawing a little.
‘I am sorry I could not say goodbye,’ he said at last, looking at the ground. Aiglin’s eyes filled with tears. He put his arms round Celinn and held him tightly, but Celinn pulled away. ‘I cannot,’ he whispered. The tears spilled down Aiglin’s cheeks but he did not wipe them away. ‘I am sorry,’ Celinn said gruffly, and hoisting his pack on to his shoulder he turned and walked away.
‘I thought he might be better,’ said Aiglin, his eyes red with weeping.
‘It will take time, Aiglin,’ said Haldir, but Gwirith thought he sounded less certain of that than usual.
‘Things did not go well, then,’ Gwirith said gently to Haldir.
‘I am at my wits’ end,’ admitted Haldir. ‘I have tried everything I know and some other things besides. Nothing comes near him.’
‘I cannot bear it,’ said Aiglin quietly. ‘I would rather he goes to Mandos than lives as he does now. His face is like stone. Before it was alive and beautiful. I cannot bear it,’ he repeated.
No-one spoke for a while. Then Haldir said,
‘I for one will not let him go easily. Already it has cost me something to oppose his refusal to take the slightest amount of care of himself, and I am prepared to fight him until he gives up his last breath.’
‘We can walk beside him, as near as he will allow, but he must choose where the journey ends,’ said Gwirith.
The other three turned to him, and Gwirith returned their looks steadily.
‘There might be peace in that,’ said Aiglin, looking searchingly at Gwirith.
‘As for now,’ Haldir said, ‘he continues as captain of your company. I call on Elbereth to bring the day when he will return to the post in more than name. I have told Celinn that I will give him a new duty here at Caras Galadhon. However much he wishes it, I do not want him to be far from all of us.’
‘He didn’t want to come back?’ said Aiglin, the tears beginning to flow again.
‘My poor Aiglin,’ said Haldir. ‘Your heart breaks twice: once for your own pain, and once for his,’ and he pulled Aiglin into his arms and held him tightly.
When Aiglin’s tears had dried a second time, Haldir said to them, ‘Try to stay close to him, and I will do the same. The Lady has told me we may call on her at any time we need her.’
‘I am grateful to her,’ said Aiglin. ‘May her kindness and the blessings of the Valar help him, for I do not know what will become of him.’
‘I am sure the Lady and the Valar wish all blessings on him, but do not forget how powerful is your love and the love of his friends,’ said Haldir, and he glanced quickly at Gwirith.
Gwirith looked back at him unwaveringly, and for the first time in many weeks Haldir felt a moment of hope for Celinn.
‘Have you told him?’ asked Haldir, after the others had left the guardroom.
‘Told who?’ asked Gwirith. Haldir raised one eyebrow.
‘No, I haven’t told him,’ said Gwirith. ‘How could I? Do you think he’s in any state to hear it?’
‘Gwirith, you cannot wait,’ said Haldir. Gwirith stared at him, suddenly cold.
‘I have watched him,’ Haldir went on, ‘as often as I could over the course of the last month. He is turning away from us. It is only by the grace of the Valar that he was not killed when Rumil’s company went orc hunting at the new moon. He is looking for death. Soon he will find it, unless we can reach him.’
Gwirith looked down at the wooden floorboards, his eyes travelling over the tiles of many coloured woods that interlocked in a repeating pattern beneath his feet. If he could name the different woods even though his eyes were blurred with tears, everything would be all right. He forced himself to name the colours: ash, willow, elm, elder, holly; ash, willow, elm, elder, holly.
‘Gwirith,’ said Haldir gently. ‘Your love may touch Celinn in a way that nothing else has. This is not a conventional courtship. Tell him!’
‘Or it may be such a burden that it will push him even further away!’ shouted Gwirith. ‘Leave it, Haldir. If the moment comes, then I will speak. Be content with that.’
‘You are just as stubborn as he is!’ Haldir shouted back, and since there seemed no more to say, he turned and left, slamming the door of the guardroom behind him.
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