My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Water and Stone: 26. Joining
‘Everything is so bright,’ Celinn said breathlessly, his eyes shining. He had slept for some hours, while Gwirith and Elrond had watched over him. ‘The colours…I have never seen such green as these trees or this grass, or such deep blue as Nimrodel this morning. As if a veil has been lifted, and I can see what is normally hidden.’ He gave a quick little sigh. ‘I think I am a little drunk with it,’ he murmured, gazing blissfully around him. Elrond and Gwirith smiled at him, tired and relaxed now that the ritual was complete.
Celinn stood up suddenly and stretched his arms above his head, then swayed a little before recovering himself.
‘Gently, Celinn,’ said Elrond. ‘You will need time to regain your balance after the changes in your energy.’
Celinn threw him a dazzling smile. ‘I think I will swim,’ he said.
‘Very well,’ said Elrond, getting up.
‘No,’ said Celinn, lightly. ‘Don’t trouble yourself. I will go alone.’
He turned and walked away through the trees. Elrond and Gwirith watched him go with his loose-limbed graceful stride. When he was out of earshot, Elrond said,
‘He is beautiful. It does not surprise me that you desire him.’
Gwirith nodded, unspeaking. At that moment Celinn disappeared from sight, and Gwirith turned slightly so that Elrond could not see his face.
‘Do not fear,’ Elrond said gently. ‘He is full of light and power; his eyes are dazzled with it. He walks as if his feet no longer feel the ground beneath them. But soon he will descend from the rapturous height on which he presently dwells, and then he will see you truly and remember you. Then it will be up to you to help him wake his body again and heal the last memory of what was done to him.’
Gwirith’s shoulders shifted a little, as if he were defending himself against something.
‘Be patient just a little longer, Gwirith,’ said Elrond.
At last Gwirith turned and smiled at him. ‘Elrond, your heart is generous and kind.’
Elrond flapped his hand dismissively. ‘It is my calling and my duty,’ he said.
‘Even so, thank you,’ said Gwirith again, his voice warm and soft.
Elrond looked away. ‘I will go back to Imladris soon,’ he said.
‘But I thought you had much to discuss with Galadriel.’
‘It is done,’ he said. There was a long pause. ‘I will miss you,’ he said softly at last.
‘And I you,’ said Gwirith.
‘I doubt you will have time to miss me,’ said Elrond quietly.
Gwirith got to his feet and came to kneel in front of him. ‘I will never forget the time we have spent together,’ he said. ‘What you have given me is beyond price, beyond words.’ And he took hold of his face and kissed him gently.
Elrond sighed and rested against him for a moment, then pulled away, his eyes opaque and unreadable.
‘I think I too will bathe in the river,’ he said mildly, getting up. ‘I always smell like a stable full of horses after a difficult healing.’ He got to his feet and walked away, in the opposite direction from the one Celinn had taken.
Celinn was far more nervous than he appeared, and he wondered whether they had been taken in by his confident tone.
‘Two healers, who have reached inside me, mind and body. Of course they had no idea how scared I really am,’ he mocked himself.
When he had gone far enough to be out of sight of the camp he stopped and looked down into the clear water. Its voice struck joy into him, and the knot of fear inside him began to melt. Slowly, fearfully, he undid the lacings of his tunic and pulled it over his head. The wind rasped across his bare skin and he shivered, folding his arms across his chest. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he was too newborn for this, too lately out of the egg.
Taking off his shoes, he stepped forward and trailed one foot in the water. It was cold and fresh and sent a pang of memory through him. Long ago: it felt like years, although it was only months since the day he had dedicated himself to his company by Celebrant. Nimrodel was calling him now, offering her cool blessing. Celinn’s hand moved to the lacing of his breeches. He was shaking now, but he undid the tie and loosened the laces, then slowly pushed the breeches down and stepped out of them. His skin was so sensitive that the touch of the wind was like pain. Grief stirred deep in his gut, and he bent over, protecting himself against it. He felt desperately lonely and longed to go back, to find comfort in Gwirith’s arms, with Aiglin, with his comrades.
But first he must do this. He had been stone, so he needed to be water again, flowing and changing and alive.
He took another step down the bank, then all at once he was in the water up to his knees. It was so cold that his teeth knocked together, but he walked deeper. The water reached his thighs, then crept higher. His balls and cock tightened against his body and the secret entrance to his body closed as the cold entered them. Now the water had reached his waist, then his chest. It was so cold he could hardly draw breath, but he plunged below the surface and pulled himself through the water with strong clean strokes, his single braid floating out behind him. Around him the water laughed and danced, stroking his body, making it hum and sparkle at its brisk touch. Deep in Celinn’s chest an energy began to form.
At first he thought it was only the tightness of going without breath for a while, but it was more than that. Celinn swam, and under the water he felt his voice returning to him, surging into his loosened throat. Far away he heard the music of Ulmo, and he burst out of the water with a cry of joy, dragging air into his lungs and crying out again at the top of his voice.
He had forgotten this joy. How could he have forgotten it? Truly he had been dead, even though Mandos had refused him. Suddenly he was laughing, although his throat complained and tightened against the unfamiliar demands being made on it.
He turned then and swam back to where he had left his clothes. It did not seem so cold now as he dragged them on over his wet body, and his body glowed with heat as he walked unsteadily back to the camp. Everything had been cleared away. Bran loped over to him, and Celinn was grateful to be able to lean on his strong back.
‘An excellent captain’s ruse,’ said Elrond. ‘Arrive just when all the work has been completed.’
Celinn laughed, and Elrond and Gwirith stared at him.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked, smiling foolishly. ‘Have you never heard laughter before?’
‘Not from you,’ said Elrond. ‘Did you find a bottle of miruvor hidden behind a tree?’
‘No. This is pure joy,’ he said. ‘You were right, Elrond. I have swum naked, I have found my voice again…’ He sang a little. ‘When we reach home, I will embrace my comrades. And what else did you say I would do? There was something else.’
Gwirith turned away sharply. Celinn glanced over at him, then remembered Elrond’s words, and his face flushed a warm pink.
This time it was Elrond who laughed. ‘Well, my lads, time to go home, I think,’ he said.
The wardens at the gate of Caras Galadhon had sent word of their approach, and when Elrond, Celinn and Gwirith rode up at noon to the stables beside the guardroom, Haldir and Celinn’s company were waiting for them.
Celinn was languid with exhaustion but when he saw his brother and his comrades he seemed imbued with new energy and swung himself off his horse’s back and into Aiglin’s arms. Aiglin clung to him, weeping.
‘Valar be praised,’ he kept repeating, until Luinil disentangled him from Celinn and took his turn at embracing him. They spoke quietly for a few moments, then Luinil took hold of Celinn’s face and kissed him full on the mouth. Celinn laughed out loud and kissed him back, then turned to Sirion, whose was first gruff and then tearful. Celinn drew him close and ruffled his dark hair, then said something to him conspiratorially. Sirion broke into a smile, glancing sideways at Haldir, who pretended not to notice. Caranfir hugged Celinn so hard that he protested he must have broken his ribs, and hearing this, Aelindor and Silivren were more respectful with their captain’s person.
Finally Haldir stood before him. ‘Celinn,’ he said, ‘I must tell you that there were times when I thought I might never see this day, which only increases my joy now that it has finally arrived. There is only one thing greater than the love and esteem we feel for you, and that is your own stubborn determination.’
‘Was I stubborn, then?’ said Celinn, genuinely surprised.
‘I am glad you will be turning your strong will against the enemy again instead of using it against us,’ said Haldir wryly, and then his voice softened. ‘My dear Celinn, welcome home. We have missed you.’ He held him tightly for a moment, then kissed him gently on the cheek. ‘I am glad to have my youngest captain safe home again.’
‘Celinn, we have food and drink prepared,’ interrupted Aiglin. ‘Come with us, you must be hungry. And you too, my lord.’ This addressed to Elrond. ‘Gwirith, are you coming?’ He did not stop to wait for an answer, putting his arm round Celinn’s shoulders and guiding him down the path towards their talan, Luinil holding Celinn’s other hand. Haldir and the rest of the company followed, staying close to Celinn as they swept him away with them, as if fearful that he might suddenly leave them again.
Gwirith and Elrond stood by their horses, overwhelmed by the noise and energy that had just rolled over them.
‘Will you go with them?’ asked Elrond.
‘I am too weary,’ said Gwirith, dully. ‘I would not be good company.’
‘I must pack my things,’ said Elrond, glancing sideways, but Gwirith was gazing at the noisy group as it made its way down the path. Just then Celinn turned quickly and from some distance, threw Gwirith an intense scorching look. Gwirith drew in his breath and stepped back a pace, but Celinn had already turned away.
‘Go with them,’ urged Elrond. ‘He wants you there.’
But Gwirith was already leading his horse away.
‘I am tired,’ he said. ‘In any case, he owes me nothing. He knows he is free.’
‘Gwirith, I told you he might be like this after the healing. By the Valar, don’t act like a fool,’ said Elrond angrily.
‘I cannot help it,’ said Gwirith, and he turned his back on him and walked away.
Gwirith frowned as the stub of candle on his work table finally guttered and went out. The darkness was thick and velvety as he felt his way to the cupboard and took out another, fumbling for his flint and steel and lighting it. The flame flickered like a wind-tossed yellow leaf as he removed the old candle and placed the new one in the bronze holder. He had forgotten to trim the wick, and the candle flame leapt up, so that the bow that rested in the tiller stick cast fantastic leaping shadows on the wall and seemed to be drawing itself. Gwirith cut the wick in half, burning his fingers in the process and cursing volubly while sucking them to ease the smarting pain.
When he was calm again he returned to the bow. It was a new one, for Haldir as he had promised. Gwirith took it off the tillering stick and, resting the lower limb on the ground, held the upper limb and pushed the handgrip forward. The bow flexed well, but the upper limb curved a little more freely than the lower. He put the bow back on the table and worked down the lower limb, then tried again. This time both limbs drew true, and he put it back in the tillering stick and gently drew the string a few times before taking it up another notch.
He stood back, wiping wood dust off his hands, and looked at the bow, curved and well shaped, submitting to the pressure on it to bend more and more. It was then that Gwirith realised his shoulders were aching, and so were the wounds Celinn had given him when they had fought the day before. He stretched his arms above his head and went outside to get a drink from the stream. He had been working all night, unable to contemplate sleep while the whispers of fear and doubt played themselves over and over in his head.
Although it was still dark outside he could smell the dawn. The water was wonderfully cool and sweet, and he sat down with his back against a tree, feeling the buzzing energy of the sap rising deep in the trunk. It was a soothing vibration, and as he relaxed he began to feel the hum of the roots deep in the earth. He had been awake for two days, and the comfort of the tree lulled him into drowsiness. He struggled to stay awake but it was as if he were encircled by strong consoling arms, and after a very few minutes, his eyes closed and he slept.
Gwirith opened his eyes suddenly. A delicate grey dawn light was filtering through the trees, but that was not what had woken him. A sudden footfall sounded behind him and he struggled to his feet, startled.
Celinn stood there, watching him uncertainly. The sun was rising in the sky behind him, striking answering light from his hair, leaving his face in shadow. Gwirith felt his body contract and his face become tight and fixed. Seeing his expression, Celinn took a pace backwards.
‘Gwirith?’ he said softly. ‘I wondered where you were.’
Gwirith reached back and put his hands on the trunk of the tree. Something inside him was trembling, and he could not speak.
‘I thought you would have come with us,’ Celinn went on. ‘When you didn’t come, I supposed you were tired.’ He laughed, a tentative, faltering sound. ‘I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I only had one glass of miruvor, and then they had to carry me home. I’ve only just woken up.’
He took a step closer to Gwirith, his eyes widening as he saw black bruise on Gwirith’s temple from the wound he had inflicted on him the day before, and the stained bandage on his wrist. ‘You look so…forbidding, Gwirith. Would you…shall I go away? I must have startled you. I’ll come back later, when you’ve had time to rest.’ He began to turn away.
‘No!’ Gwirith cried out hoarsely. Celinn turned back to him slowly. ‘Don’t go,’ said Gwirith, low and urgent. They stood frozen into immobility, as the light strengthened around them.
‘Gwirith,’ said Celinn at last in a voice full of astonishment. ‘You’re afraid! You thought I wouldn’t come to you.’
‘I…I don’t know what I thought,’ stammered Gwirith. ‘You’re free, Celinn. I swore it to you. It is for you to choose.’
‘But I have already chosen,’ said Celinn. Gwirith went white. His eyes became so dark that Celinn felt like he was looking right into the deep heart of him, and what he saw there was the same desolation and loss that he was there when first Gwirith came to Caras Galadhon. For several moments Gwirith stood unmoving, then very slowly he fell back limply against the tree and slid down the trunk to sit heavily on the ground. In an instant Celinn was kneeling at his side.
‘Gwirith! What is the matter? Gwirith!’
Gwirith’s head fell sideways and his eyelids drooped, showing the dark half-moons of his lashes on his cheeks.
‘Gwirith, tell me what is wrong,’ persisted Celinn. ‘What ails you?’
‘There is no need to be kind to me, Celinn,’ said Gwirith, his voice trembling on the name. ‘You can go back to Luinil now. He will be wondering where you are.’
‘Luinil? Why should I go back to Luinil?’
Gwirith looked up at him then. ‘Please, Celinn,’ he whispered. ‘Spare me. I will go to Imladris with Elrond. Luinil said he would not hate me if you chose me, but my heart is not as generous as his, and I fear I hate you both.’
‘You hate us?’ gasped Celinn. ‘Gwirith, what are you saying? Why would you go to Imladris? Do you not love me as before?’
‘Of course I do,’ said Gwirith painfully. ‘But what good is that now?’
Celinn sat down slowly on the ground and stared at him, bewildered. ‘I…I don’t understand,’ he said softly. ‘You still love me, but you fear you hate me and would leave me. What has happened between us to bring about this terrible change? Tell me, Gwirith, because I cannot bear it.’ His voice shook suddenly and he stopped speaking and looked away. When he turned back his eyes were full of determination. ‘Gwirith, if only I can, I will do all in my power to put it right.’
‘There is nothing you can do, Celinn,’ said Gwirith, wearily. ‘You have chosen Luinil. You ask too much of me if you think I can see you with him each day while my heart longs for you. Do you think I am made of stone? That I can…look on your beauty and…hear your voice and…know you belong to another?’
He looked up, his eyes full of tears, and saw Celinn smiling fondly at him.
‘Do not mock me,’ he whispered. ‘Truly I am in pain.’
‘Needless pain,’ said Celinn, gently. ‘For it is not Luinil I have chosen, my sweeting, it is you.’
Silence fell between them. Gwirith stared at him in confusion and disbelief, drowning too deep in misery to find his way to the shore.
‘But…I saw you…he kissed you…and…you kissed him back.’
‘It was merely the joy of the moment. Gwirith, I swear it,’ said Celinn. ‘You are the one I choose.’
Something changed deep in Gwirith’s eyes then, and Celinn watched him intently as his face was transformed from its brooding darkness to tentative hope.
‘Am I not dreaming, Celinn?’ he said, in a voice that seemed to come from very far away.
‘No, my dearest, you are not dreaming.’
‘Do you…love me, then? Melach nin, Celinn?’
‘I do love you, Gwirith, very much.’
Gwirith smiled at him tenderly. ‘It is not possible,’ he said, but his voice trembled with incredulous joy.
‘It is more than possible, it is true,’ said Celinn.
Gwirith laughed suddenly, a light-hearted enchanting sound. ‘Elrond told me not to be a fool, and I wouldn’t listen to him.’
‘And you have spent the night here, brooding alone, breaking your heart when we might have been together...’ Celinn stopped abruptly, suddenly reticent. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said at last. ‘It is too soon to speak of that. Although I am healed, I…do not know how it will be with me…with…with my body.’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Gwirith…if I cannot…if I cannot be with you as you need, you must…leave me.’
‘Leave you? When we have barely managed to find one another? Which of us is being a fool now?’ cried Gwirith.
‘No, Gwirith, listen to me!’ insisted Celinn. ‘I would bind myself to you here and now if I were sure I could truly give myself to you. But…I am afraid. It is so long since I have known the pleasure of the body…no-one has…touched me in that way since…I…’ His voice faltered and fell silent.
‘You would…bind yourself to me?’ whispered Gwirith.
‘Yes, now, today!’ cried Celinn. ‘But I how can I offer myself to you if…if I am not yet sure that I can…love you as you deserve?’
‘Celinn, my dearest,’ said Gwirith gently. ‘We will…we will learn together. There is no need for haste, either for binding or for…the pleasure of the body. Please, my heart, do not worry any more. I promise you, all will be well.’
Celinn nodded slowly. ‘Gwirith,’ he said at last, in a voice Gwirith had never heard before, gentle, vulnerable. ‘If I do not…repel you, will you not…touch me?’
Gwirith felt as if a layer of skin had been stripped away from him, so sensitive had he suddenly become. He wanted to speak, but as the air between him and Celinn slowly became charged with a tingling energy, his voice seemed to have gone too far for him to reach it. Celinn watched him growing uncertainty.
‘Gwirith?’ he whispered, his eyes bright with unshed tears.
Gwirith stretched out his shaking hand until his fingertips hovered a hair’s breadth away from Celinn’s cheek, where the long silver scar showed faintly etched on his skin. Celinn looked straight at him, and his sea-green eyes were suddenly so defenceless that Gwirith was filled with almost unbearable tenderness. Even without touching him, he could feel the gentle warmth of Celinn’s cheek, and the vibration of his energy in the tiny space that still separated them.
With the utmost gentleness, Gwirith laid his fingers on the very top of the fine silver line. Immediately the tears spilt from Celinn’s eyes and his lips parted as he drew in a tiny ragged breath. Infinitely slowly, watching every changing shade of emotion in his eyes, Gwirith drew his fingers down Celinn’s cheek along the scar, feeling the tiny soft hairs on the smooth skin, and the way the whispered pulse of Celinn’s blood quickened and quivered at his touch. When he reached the end of the scar, his fingers ran just below the strong angled bones of Celinn’s jaw before tracing the soft curve of his lips and the cool skin of his straight nose. Celinn’s eyes fluttered and closed and he sighed softly as Gwirith’s fingers tentatively travelled across his long eyelashes and stroked the faint blue veins on each eyelid, then traced the arch of each dark gold eyebrow. Celinn turned his face into Gwirith’s palm then, pressing his lips to it in a kiss that burnt itself into Gwirith’s skin so that Gwirith gasped and withdrew his hand, looking down at it as if expecting it to be seared with the heat of it. Their eyes met again and locked and they gazed at one another, scarcely breathing, until the strong tow of their look began to draw them closer together, hand searching for hand, breath mingling with breath. Then Gwirith leaned forward and kissed Celinn gently, barely touching him. His mouth tasted of honey.
Celinn’s arms came round him at last and pulled him into an embrace. Their bodies fitted together perfectly, as though they had been moving towards this moment of joining since they were first made. Celinn buried his face against Gwirith’s neck, and Gwirith breathed in the scent of him, heady and potent and sweet, and it was if he had always known it.
At last his voice came back to him. ‘My beloved Celinn,’ he whispered. ‘My dearest love. Lin ind nin.’
Celinn made a sound against his neck, and the vibration of it hummed through Gwirith’s body.
Neither of them knew how long they stayed entwined together. For Gwirith time had stopped. Now he needed nothing, wanted nothing but to be where he was right at this moment. Everything he had longed for had come to him, and he breathed in the bliss of it. For Celinn time had begun. His heart was new, as new as on the day when he left behind his elfling life and knew himself full grown. And on this same day his heart had come to know love. Not a warrior’s comfort or the love of kin or comrade, but the love he had thought he would never have: the love of fea and hroa together; a binding love.
At last Celinn stirred and lifted his flushed face from Gwirith’s shoulder to find Gwirith looking at him with eyes full of love.
‘Your hair is no longer pale,’ said Gwirith, lacing his fingers through the soft rich gold. ‘The energy of the healing has restored it. Celinn…’
Celinn stroked his cheek gently. ‘What is it, sweeting?’
‘You are so beautiful,’ whispered Gwirith. ‘How can you have chosen me? I am so grave and ill-favoured…’
‘Gwirith, you do not know your own strong dark beauty,’ said Celinn softly, touching the purpling bruise on Gwirith’s temple with his fingertips. ‘Even after what my madness has done to you. And never have I seen eyes of such a blue before.’
‘Galadriel says that yours are the colour of the sea at Alqualonde,’ said Gwirith, smiling.
‘I have never been there,’ said Celinn, ‘so I could not say.’
‘Nor have I, but it matters not,’ said Gwirith. ‘All I know is the number of times you have pierced me with them and left me longing for another glance from you.’
‘Truly, it gives you pleasure to look on me?’ said Celinn.
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith quietly. ‘Since the first day I came to Caras Galadhon.’
‘But you were so cold and austere. My gut ached just to look at you.’
‘Was I so displeasing to you?’
‘No,’ said Celinn, gently. ‘It was your pain I felt. The pain of your loss. And later because I was near you, I saw the reason for your fear. I have a gift of sometimes feeling or seeing what others cannot speak. Although for these many months it has left me.’
‘Is it not a difficult gift to bear?’
‘The Lady has taught me how to master it,’ said Celinn. ‘But why did you say nothing of your love to me, Gwirith?’
‘Because I did not know it. Everyone else saw it: Haldir, Galadriel; the healers saw it when my hands learnt to heal through touching you. Even Luinil knew it before I did.’
‘Gwirith, without your touch, I would be in Mandos now,’ said Celinn in a haunted voice.
Gwirith pressed his hand to Celinn’s lips. ‘Do not speak of it,’ he whispered. ‘You are here with me. We belong to each other. The rest is past.’
‘You knew it before I did,’ said Celinn softly. ‘Although I remember…’ His eyes grew distant. ‘The first day you wore your hair loose. I saw you practising with the bow, and I did not recognise you.’ He looked down. ‘And I desired you,’ he said in a low voice.
Gwirith lifted Celinn’s face to his. ‘And now I am yours,’ he said hoarsely, and kissed him deeply. Celinn responded passionately and they tasted each other for the first time, Celinn’s hand resting on the back of Gwirith’s dark head. When at last they moved apart, Gwirith’s head sank down.
‘What is the matter, beloved?’ said Celinn, lifting his chin gently.
‘I am faint,’ said Gwirith, his eyes wide and unfocussed. ‘Faint with love, faint with the taste of you, the scent of you.’ He buried his face in Celinn’s hair and breathed deeply. ‘It is too much for me.’
Celinn pulled him close. ‘Then we will go slowly, Gwirith, as you have said. We have all of time before us to learn the song of our bodies together.’
Gwirith sighed deeply and muttered something.
‘What did you say?’ asked Celinn.
‘I love you,’ said Gwirith.
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