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Water and Stone: 28. Binding
Celinn had witnessed many others go through the waiting time between May and Midsummer, and when he parted from Gwirith after they had leapt the fire, he had thought himself prepared. But his body had only lately woken from its long cold sleep, and away from Gwirith he struggled to master its once-familiar energies. Aiglin and Luinil gave him what brotherly comfort they could, now that he could endure their closeness once again. But there was much else to occupy him, for the Lady had called him to her talan and told him that she would be going to Imladris later in the summer, to meet with Lord Elrond and others of the High Kindred of the Eldar and the Wise, and that his company was to escort her there; and that after she might send him to Mirkwood, for King Thranduil was like to be absent from the White Council, and yet its deliberations concerned him closely.
‘So you will go to him again as envoy, Celinn,’ said Galadriel. ‘And it may be that Aragorn will accompany you.’
‘I am not yet a full captain again, Lady,’ said Celinn quietly.
‘That is also why we called you,’ she said, turning to Haldir and Rumil, who stood at her shoulder.
‘Celinn, we think the time of the lutir is nearly over,’ said Haldir, ‘and we would name you full captain again at Midsummer Eve, if you wish it.’
Celinn gasped and an incredulous smile animated his face.
‘If I wish it? Of course I wish it, Haldir! I thought I would be known as the only captain in Lorien who had not been released from the lutir within six months,’ he said.
‘Then we will release you, and give you new braids,’ said Haldir.
Celinn’s hand went up to his hood. He had scarcely been seen without it since the day he woke after his capture.
‘Can you do this, Celinn?’ said Haldir gently, ‘or is it not yet the time?’
Celinn’s hand came down to his side and he looked Haldir in the eyes.
‘I will be ready,’ he said.
Gwirith had been spending long hours on a project of his own in his workshop and had got behind with his guardroom work, so one night about halfway to Midsummer, he stayed after his watch duty to make some bowstrings and mark up two or three bows. It was a hot night and his shirt stuck to his body as he covered his fingers in sweet-smelling wax and applied it to the string he had just made.
Outside he could hear the sound of many other guards on the lawn of the guardroom, and he thought longingly of his brother and his comrades, and of course of Celinn. He was so used to longing for him that this seemed scarcely different to what he had endured for the months before their promising, but it was more painful, since now he knew he was no longer denied what he desired.
The sweat was running into his eyes and yet his mouth was so dry he felt his lips must be beginning to crack, so he hooked the bowstring to a nail on the work table and got up to fetch a drink of water. The guardroom was empty. Even with its big open windows and airy construction, it was not a place anyone would choose on such a hot evening, and Gwirith could see the heat emanating from the sun-baked wood and shimmering in the air, filling his nostrils with a sharp resinous tang. The scent was somehow arousing, and Gwirith stifled a groan as he struggled with a sudden upsurge of bodily need.
He was crossing to the kitchen when the door to Haldir’s room opened and the Guardian came out, followed by Celinn. Gwirith stopped dead, his body lurching with immediate desire. Celinn had stopped too, so suddenly that Haldir had not noticed at first, and was still talking to him as he walked towards the main door. Then he turned and saw them, separated by a few feet of warm air, drowning in one another’s eyes.
Haldir seemed to come to a decision. ‘I will see you outside in two minutes, Celinn,’ he said, and the door closed quietly behind him.
Their time was so short, and yet they spent the first few seconds of it unable to move from where they stood, their longing so powerful that it seemed to make its own fulfilment impossible. Then Celinn closed the space between them and they were in each other’s arms, mouths meeting in a kiss so sweet and so unlooked for that they could scarcely bear the joy of it. Their hands were on each other’s faces, touching lips and cheeks and brows, tangling in each other’s hair. Celinn’s hood slipped off and lay on the wooden floor behind him, and Gwirith caressed the back of his head, pulling him closer still, gasping as Celinn’s teeth caught his lip and he tasted blood in his mouth.
Their time was too short for any speech except for incoherent words of love, and it seemed only a few seconds since Haldir had left them, but Celinn was pulling away from Gwirith already, mumbling that he must go, that he was sorry, that he loved him. Gwirith could not release him at first, but then his arms opened and Celinn stepped away from him, his turquoise-blue eyes piercing Gwirith with their look.
There was nothing to say, and too much; Celinn stood looking at him, hesitant, questioning.
‘I love you,’ said Gwirith hoarsely, and Celinn nodded once as if satisfied, then picking up his hood and quickly putting it on, he turned and immediately went out of the door. Gwirith caught a glimpse of Haldir’s long silver-fair hair and then the door closed and he was alone in the stifling heat. He was breathing hard and fast, and his breath sounded very loud in the empty room. Something ran down his chin and when he put his hand to it, he saw that his lip was bleeding. He felt the sore, salty place with his tongue, and then he could taste Celinn again, and a surge of longing hit him square in the gut, and he groaned and sat down heavily on the bench behind him, his head in his hands.
Then he remembered Galadriel’s lesson, and after a few minutes his heart began to slow and his eyes could see past the image of Celinn’s face to what was before him in this room. He got up slowly and went out of the back door into the yard and crossed to the pump, cranking it until the water began to pour out of the spout, and then he thrust his head under it, feeling the cold water soaking his head and neck and running down the inside of his shirt onto his chest.
At last he straightened up, rubbing his face with his hands, then stood looking out into the forest, suddenly minded of the day he had first come to this place, the day he had first met Celinn. How dark and lonely his life had been then, and how unbelievably full of joy it was now. The shadow had wounded him, and it had wounded Celinn, but they had survived it, because of the love of those who would not let them go, and because they would not give up hope for each other.
He counted on his fingers: twenty-one more days, and they would bind themselves until their lives’ end.
‘The lutir is over,’ said Haldir, ‘and Celinn is once more a full captain of the pellarim.’
Celinn’s company, together with Rumil’s and Orophin’s, stood in full ceremonial gear on the lawn of the fountain on Midsummer’s Eve, watching their re-instated captain as he stood quietly before Haldir and the Lord and Lady. Alfirin was there, and Siriel and Falariel also, and one or two of the Lady’s attendants. The late afternoon sun slanted down through the trees, and the breathing quiet of the forest was punctuated by a rich chorus of birdsong.
‘Celinn has agreed that we should bestow new captain’s braids on him, and we will do so now,’ said Haldir.
There was a long pause, and a sense of waiting for something to happen, and then Celinn reached up slowly and undid the laces of the hood he always wore and drew it off his head, tucking it away in his tunic. His shoulders hunched forward a little, as if he were protecting himself against something, and the lowering sun glanced off his blond hair and the single long braid on his shoulder.
Then Galadriel and Celeborn bowed to all assembled on the lawn, then walked hand in hand behind the same screen of many-coloured silk which had been used at Celinn’s first braiding, followed by Haldir and Celinn himself, and the nisi who would attend them.
This was not so formal an occasion as Celinn’s captaining, and the guards of the three companies drew together and talked quietly to one another as they waited for him to emerge. Gwirith left Rumil’s side and went over to Luinil, who hugged him briefly.
‘How fare you, Gwirith?’ he whispered, and Gwirith nodded curtly, his face serious and closed. ‘I hope the waiting has not been too arduous for you,’ said Luinil, but Gwirith simply shook his head, not minded to talk. He felt restless and tense and, leaving his brother, walked slowly several times from one end of the lawn to the other, glancing round at the other guards. Then a movement in the trees caught his eye, and he saw that someone was standing at the edge of the lawn, observing the ceremony. He took a step forward, wanting to know who it was, but then Haldir came out from behind the screen and called them back to attention.
When they were ranked in their companies again, Celeborn and Galadriel emerged holding Celinn’s hands as he walked between them, and led him back to his place beside the fountain. The assembled elves stared at him. The long lock of hair that had been spared had been rebraided and woven with threads of colour, and the rest of his hair, nearly long enough now to touch his shoulders, had been dressed in maybe fifty short neat braids, the ends finished and weighted down with small blue-green stone beads. His face had been painted with fine swirling patterns in the same blue-green.
Gwirith stood open-mouthed, transfixed by the rippling patterns made by the braids, and the tiny clicking noises of the beads as they collided gently with each other as Celinn moved. The delicate lines on his face emphasised the fineness of his features, and seemed to pick up the vivid turquoise-blue of his eyes.
Galadriel smiled at them. ‘Celinn has chosen this style of braiding since the old style can scarcely be used by him at present. Lord Celeborn and I are glad beyond words to welcome him back as full captain, and we thank you all without exception for your devotion to Lorien and to us in person.’
Then the ceremony was over, and the other guards gathered round Celinn and examined the neat braids more closely, asking him where he had got the idea of them.
‘It was Lord Elrond who suggested it,’ said Celinn. ‘He told me that in the far south, where the weather is always hot and long hair is thought too cumbersome, it is much favoured as a style.’
He glanced across the heads of the other guards at Gwirith, who was standing alone at the edge of the lawn. Their eyes met and for several moments Celinn was deaf and blind to those around him. Gwirith gazed at him solemnly, not smiling, then his lips moved, silently shaping some words. From this distance it was impossible for Celinn to read them, but he knew what they were nevertheless.
Then he was drawn back into conversation with Aiglin and the others, and Gwirith turned away. The figure was still standing at the edge of the lawn, and Gwirith walked over to him.
‘Aragorn, when did you arrive in Lorien?’ he said, looking at his face with its sharpened cheekbones and strong jaw. He looked much older than last time he had been at Lorien.
‘This morning,’ said Aragorn. His voice was different too: deeper and quieter, with a note of something like resignation in it. ‘I wanted to see you both. I have a gift for your binding.’
Gwirith smiled, a slight flush colouring his cheeks. ‘Thank you,’ he said gruffly.
Aragorn took his arm. ‘I am happy for you, Gwirith. You have your heart’s desire,’ he said gently.
‘And you?’ said Gwirith. ‘Have you spoken to her?’
Aragorn looked away for a moment. ‘I have been travelling a great deal,’ he said. They were silent for a while, then Gwirith said,
‘A year ago my heart was dead, and I thought it would always be so. Indeed I wished it so. Look at me, Aragorn.’
Aragorn turned slowly, his face closed and blank.
‘Look at me,’ repeated Gwirith, and Aragorn lifted his head a little and met his eyes. ‘I never dreamt of this happiness. I fought it with everything that was in me, until I could not fight it any more. But it found me nevertheless. Aragorn, why do we fight Mordor? So that when the Dark Lord has been defeated, we may live in peace together, and love one another with joy; so that the shadow of evil may be averted and beauty and tenderness may exist without fear of destruction.’
‘It is my doom to fight the shadow. Maybe joy is not a part of it for me,’ said Aragorn.
‘It is your doom,’ said Gwirith. ‘You are a warrior and a king, and you carry that doom for your people. But without their love and without the joy of your heart and your body, your burden is so much the heavier. Needlessly so, Aragorn.’
Aragorn nodded mutely.
‘When next you are in Imladris, Aragorn, speak to her. Open your heart a little, so that she may see you truly. Then maybe one day we may come to your binding, Isildur’s Heir, and know the hope of Aragorn’s heir, and his heirs after him.’
It was still dark when Celinn came to Celebrant on Midsummer Day. He knew he did not have long, so he dismounted and put down the pack he had brought with him and stripped off his clothes at once, speaking softly under his breath, then dived straight into the water, swimming strongly for some distance. The echo of what had happened last time he had come here jolted through him as he swam, but now all he could really remember was Gwirith’s arms round him, and his face as Celinn opened his eyes after Mandos had sent him back.
This time he enacted no ritual, gave no gift to the waters, but he opened himself and felt himself touched and cleansed and held, and when he stood dripping on the bank, he felt safe and clear in his own body, and ready for his binding.
An hour later he stood deep in the forest, dressed in white embroidered with patterns of blue-green, with Aiglin by his side. They were on the banks of the stream that fed the fountain in the centre of Caras Galadhon, and Celinn trailed his hand in the icy water. He did not know if it was the cold or the thought of what was about to happen, but he could feel himself trembling, little intermittent shudders that began in the muscles of his neck and rippled through his body and down to his feet. Aiglin was uncharacteristically subdued, staring down at his feet and chewing the ends of his fingers moodily.
Then others began to arrive, and in the space of a quarter of an hour, the small glade was full. All Celinn’s company was there, and Alfirin and her partner and their two elflings, and Haldir and his brothers, and then Aragorn came, carrying something large and cloth-wrapped.
Then Gwirith and Luinil arrived, and Gwirith was as pale as his white clothes. Celinn wanted desperately to go to him, but it would not be fitting, so he looked down at the water, noticing that he could just see the reflection of the trees in the water: it was nearly dawn.
The light brightened quickly, and Galadriel and Celeborn arrived just as the sun could be seen rising above peaks of the misty mountains to the west of them. Everyone fell silent, and Celinn and Gwirith walked from either side of the glade until they met in the empty space that had been left in the centre.
They stood facing each other, not touching, their faces emerging from the shadows as daylight grew around them.
Gwirith, the elder, spoke first.
‘Celinn, since first we met, we have known much trouble and suffering, and though it is not many seasons since then, what we have endured has made the time deeper, as if each moment had lasted ten times its length. So, although it is not the custom among us to bind on so short a knowing of each other, my heart is sure, and so I take you as my own, and offer myself to you in return, without reservation, fea and hroa, from this dawn until the day of my ending and after, if it be the will of the One.’
Celinn’s eyes had been fixed to Gwirith’s for the whole time he had been speaking, and he continued to shake with the little tremors that had begun when he was alone with Aiglin. They made it difficult for him to speak, and he sounded quite unlike himself as he said carefully,
‘Gwirith, I thought I would never see this day. Your love has brought me back from a darkness I could never have imagined. It held me when I had forgotten what love was, when I knew only pain and self-loathing. But my heart had begun to love you before that time, even if that love was only like a seed lately planted in the earth, too early to show green shoots. Now my love for you has grown, and grows still, and so I take you as my own, and offer myself to you in return, without reservation, fea and hroa, from this dawn until the day of my ending and after, if it be the will of the One.’
Celinn held out his hand then, and Gwirith took it. It was ice-cold and shaking, and Gwirith held it firmly, stroking him gently with his thumb. Galadriel stepped forward carrying a long narrow piece of blue embroidered silk.
‘Do you declare your intention to bind to one another,’ she said, ‘seeking to share both fea and hroa, knowing also that you are whole and complete in your own selves and will honour each other’s separateness as a good and necessary part of your union?’
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith, firm and calm.
‘Yes,’ said Celinn, trembling with cold. Galadriel reached out and laid her hand on his cheek, and after a moment or two the trembling eased a little.
Celinn and Gwirith looked at one another, and spoke together.
‘In the name of Manwe, lord of the airs, and of our breath; in the name of Varda, the beloved, the kindler of the fire of the stars; in the name of Ulmo of the waters; in the name of Yavanna who blesses the earth and its fruitfulness; and in the name of Eru, the One who created all things out of the music of his thought, we bind ourselves now until the last day.’
Galadriel stepped forward, hearing the end of the traditional words, but Celinn and Gwirith went on with words of their own making.
‘We mark the elements that have brought us to this day: water which flows like the life in which we move and which moves in us; and stone which our hearts were like before they were touched by love, and which marked our oaths. Water and stone have given us strength when we were far from help and we give thanks in the names of Ulmo and Aule.’
Galadriel smiled at them, pleased at the unusual interruption. Then she held the long piece of silk over their joined hands.
‘You have spoken the words of binding,’ she said, ‘and so you have bound yourselves together by your own wills, and your binding calls to mind the long union of Manwe and Varda, Elbereth the best-beloved, and I bind you together to show to the eyes of our hroa what has already taken place within you both.’
And she wrapped the cloth around the wrists of their joined hands, securing it tightly with a firm knot. Then Aiglin and Luinil came forward, each carrying a gold ring decorated with fair elvish designs, and Gwirith and Celinn took them up and bestowed them on one another, placing them on the index finger of each other’s right hands.
‘Uireb no meleth vin,’ said Gwirith, looking deep into Celinn’s eyes, and Celinn repeated the words to him.
‘It is done, my dears,’ said Galadriel, smiling at them. ‘You are bound.’
At last Celinn stopped trembling, and his face was as radiant as if it were lit from within.
‘Gwirith,’ he said, and he reached out and pulled him close, holding him one-handed against his body. Gwirith melted against him, whispering softly in his ear. The mood of solemnity dispersed at once, and all around them the others were laughing and speaking joyfully together.
But Celinn and Gwirith had forgotten them, and it was only when Galadriel touched them gently on the arm that they moved apart from one another, looking at her with dazed eyes.
‘It is time for the gifts,’ she said merrily, and Celeborn was beside her, holding out a little green velvet bag. It was then that Gwirith saw that she was wearing the necklace of tiny delicate wooden carvings he had made for her, and which Haldir had rescued after the raid.
‘Well, open it, then,’ said Celeborn, and Celinn took it in one hand and tipped its contents into Gwirith’s waiting palm. Inside were two enamelled pendants in the shape of small stars, one a vivid turquoise, the other a soft grey-blue.
‘Since neither of your mothers are here to make gifts to your chosen one, we thought we would take up the task in their stead,’ said Galadriel.
Their wrists still bound, neither Celinn nor Gwirith could put on the pendants, so Celeborn and Galadriel picked up the slender chains.
‘Which one will you choose?’ said Galadriel.
Celinn and Gwirith glanced at one another.
‘I will have the turquoise,’ said Gwirith.
‘But your eyes are…’ began Celeborn, then stopped suddenly, lips slightly parted. ‘Ah, I see now,’ he said, as if something had been explained to him. He fastened the turquoise star around Gwirith’s neck, while Galadriel hung the other round Celinn’s, pushing aside the clicking stone beads that swung from the tiny braids.
Then Galadriel undid the cloth that bound their wrists and Gwirith folded it and put it in the pocket of his shirt, but their hands immediately met and their fingers twined together again, and it seemed they could not release one another, so Aiglin and Luinil had to help with the gifts.
Their company presented them with a new cloaks and a quiverful of arrows each, and Alfirin gave them some new thick white linens, for bed and table. Aiglin had a present of his own, several bottles of fragrant oil.
‘You may use it as you wish,’ he said, smiling. ‘For sword or bow, or for anything else that might benefit from a little of it.’ Luinil laughed and slapped him lightly on the waist, and Aiglin glanced back at him knowingly. Luinil’s gifts were a new quill and some parchment for Celinn, and a set of knives for Gwirith to use in his craft.
Then Aragorn came forward and placed the long cloth-wrapped parcel in their extended hands, and inside were a pair of swords with red leather scabbards and belts, finely tempered and marked with flowing designs and elvish runes of power and protection.
‘I hope to fight again at your side,’ he said gruffly, ‘if you will allow me.’
Celinn laid his hand on Aragorn’s arm. ‘Hannon le, Aragorn. Your gift is kingly. I know the day will come when we will fight as comrades again, and I look forward to it,’ he said. ‘Wait, though, I have something of yours.’ He turned and gave a long piercing whistle, and a large furry shape reared up on to its feet and padded towards them.
‘Here is Bran,’ said Celinn. ‘You asked me to care for him until you returned. I suppose you want to take him with you.’ He sounded a little sad at the prospect.
Aragorn looked down at the hound, his long pink tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, his brown eyes bright and intelligent.
‘I could not take him from you now,’ said Aragorn quietly. ‘You are all he has known. He is yours.’ Something painful rang in his voice and they looked at him, but his face was calm.
Celinn knelt down and ruffled Bran’s thick fur, talking nonsensically to him. Gwirith and Aragorn exchanged a look over his head.
‘The hound helped him a great deal, so Aiglin tells me,’ said Gwirith quietly. ‘It was well thought of, Aragorn.’
Aragorn smiled suddenly, and for a moment Gwirith recognised below the serious exterior the youth who first came to Lorien a year before.
‘I am glad of it,’ said Aragorn. ‘It is the least I could do.’
‘It is good that you were able to come to us for Midsummer again,’ said Celinn.
‘Oh, I cannot stay,’ said Aragorn quickly. ‘I only came to see you both, then I will be on my way directly.
‘What, you will miss Midsummer Night?’ said Haldir’s voice beside them.
‘Yes, Guardian,’ said Aragorn, sighing. ‘I must go home to Imladris. There is…something I must do. And I have a long journey to make before the autumn when I hope to go to Mirkwood with Celinn’s company. I have never met King Thranduil before.’
‘Then you will find it a most interesting experience,’ said Haldir. There seemed to be a hint of irony in his tone, but Aragorn was not sure he wanted to know why. ‘With your leave, I will give these two their gift,’ went on Haldir, and he walked over to a tree against which two bows were leaning.
‘I hope you will approve of the craftsmanship, Gwirith,’ he said, handing them one each. They were beautifully made, unadorned but polished to a deep shine, the servings on the strings picked out in green. They thanked Haldir profusely, and showed him the swords with which Aragorn had presented them.
Then Aragorn made to leave, but Celinn and Gwirith took him aside.
‘There is something we wish to give you, Aragorn,’ said Celinn. ‘Haldir has approved it.’
‘What is it?’ said Aragorn, looking around him as if he might see some present waiting for him.
‘Oh, it is something we must bestow on you,’ said Celinn. ‘We wish to give you warrior braids, in honour of the help you have given the Galadhrim, fighting as our comrade, and avenging wrongs that were done to us.’
‘I may have warrior braids?’ said Aragorn, wide-eyed. ‘No-one at Imladris has ever thought of it.’
‘There you are known as Elrond’s foster-son; here we know you as Chief of the Dunedain and Isildur’s heir. You are worthy of your braids, Aragorn. Will you accept them from us?’
Aragorn nodded, speechless, and Galadriel and Celeborn who had been standing nearby came over to him, and each made a slender braid for him, and secured it with slender thongs of dark brown leather which Celeborn had brought with him.
When they had finished, Galadriel stood back and looked at Aragorn at arm’s length.
‘It is very fair, my dear,’ she said.
‘Thank you,’ said Aragorn gruffly. ‘Thank you, all of you.’
Then he hugged Celinn and Gwirith, and kissed Galadriel and Celeborn, and Haldir went to accompany him to the gate of Caras Galadhon so that he could begin his journey.
Then Celinn and Gwirith went a little apart, and gave one another their gifts. Celinn put a small linen bag in Gwirith’s hands.
‘It is not my own craftsmanship,’ he said, ‘but the lament which I have made for Midsummer Night is for you.’
Gwirith loosened the string at the neck of the bag and drew out a thick gold band, made of three strands of different-coloured gold twisted together, wide enough for his wrist. It was not a complete circle, but had a small space between the ends, which were rounded and decorated. Celinn took it from him and slipped it on to his left arm. It was heavy and gripped him firmly.
‘Thank you, beloved,’ he said, kissing him gently. ‘And this is your gift.’
He handed Celinn a leather bag of a size that he could only hold by opening his arms wide. Celinn undid the laces at the top and folded back the flap. Inside was a harp, carved in sweet-smelling wood and decorated with gilded and enamelled patterns of water and stars. The strings were made of sinew, but a spare set of new bright-gold strings were coiled up in the bottom of the bag.
‘I have never tried to make anything that was not used for hurting something,’ said Gwirith. ‘But since my hands have learnt healing, I have wished to make something new. I hope it will play truly, Celinn.’
For a while Celinn could not speak, but at last he said, ‘I have not had a harp to play since my naneth took hers when she went beyond Sea.’ Then he pulled the harp to him with one arm, and Gwirith with the other.
‘I did not know it was possible to be so happy,’ he whispered. Gwirith pressed his mouth against Celinn’s hair, feeling the pattern of tiny braids against his lips.
‘Must we unbraid ever single one of these tonight, sweeting?’ he asked softly, so that no-one else could hear.
‘I do not know,’ said Celinn, stepping back and looking in his eyes. ‘We will have to decide together.’ Desire flared between them then, and in the midst of their guests, they moved together discreetly so that their bodies touched, and Celinn’s hand was on Gwirith’s thigh, sliding gently down his back to rest a moment in the curve of his back, just where the swell of his buttocks began.
Then they sighed together and stepped back, and they saw that Aiglin and Luinil were gathering up the gifts, and that the others were beginning to drift down the track towards the lawn of the fountain for the Midsummer breakfast that awaited them all.
The day had been long and busy, and Celinn and Gwirith had not found any time to be alone, what with the celebrations for their binding and attendance at another binding later in the day. Now it was night, and Celinn stood beside Caranfir on the lawn of the fountain, preparing to sing the lament he had written at Elrond’s bidding. For a second time seemed to shift, and he was back in the same place a year before, looking out across the lawn at Gwirith standing alone in the shadows, and at Aragorn, white-faced and nervous, his hand in Falariel’s. A voice spoke in his ear, and he turned expecting to see Luinil waiting for him, but it was Gwirith who was speaking words of love and encouragement.
Celinn watched him walk away and seat himself beside Aiglin and Luinil, and then the music began and he opened his mouth and sang for the first time since he had been captured, about the weave of darkness and light in all that is made, and how the darkness can be so dark that the light seems to have been extinguished, but that it still burns, a small unwavering flame, even when the heart is a stone and cannot feel it. He song of the loneliness of suffering, and the desire to turn away from life, but also of the oneness of all who suffer, which binds them all at the deep heart of things. And finally he sang of love, and how it can heal the heart and the soul, hallowing their brokenness and gathering them back into a place of safety where they can open and grow again.
When the song came to an end there was a strange silence, for it was not the custom to sing laments on Midsummer Night, but many came up and thanked him, and some kissed him without speaking. But Caranfir immediately struck up a lively air, and Celinn sang again, finishing with two or three songs of love and pleasure, his eyes dark and deep as he looked at Gwirith and wondered what the night would bring them.
Then the music was over and he was with Gwirith and Aiglin and Luinil, and they went to find food and drink, talking merrily together. Gwirith’s fingers were twined in his and their hips collided as they walked close together, and he felt a flame of desire begin to burn in him. But it was not the same desire as he had felt last Midsummer with Luinil, and he did not yet know why it was different.
And then everyone had gone to their own trysts, and they were alone on the edge of the forest. Although they had already known bodily pleasure together, all at once they seemed strange to one another, and they stood a little apart, very aware of the little space of tingling air that separated them.
‘Shall we go further into the wood?’ said Celinn at last. Gwirith nodded, and they turned and walked, not touching. Celinn felt as if his whole body were alive in a way he had never felt before, because Gwirith was occupying the space beside him. For a moment he was fearful, thinking this joining would be too sweet, too unbearably sweet, asking of him something he had never had to give before. Then his hand collided with Gwirith’s and their fingertips touched, and in that instant of contact he took in and knew Gwirith and his reality, recognising him again like a voice long forgotten that had spoken suddenly beside him, and his fear left him.
Gwirith stopped walking. ‘Do you like it here?’ he said softly, and Celinn looked around at the sheltered little glade of mellryn and beech and at the willows that trailed their pale green fronds in the shallow stream. He stooped beneath the willow branches and went to the water’s edge, taking off his shoes and looking down through the clear water at the stones on the bed of the stream, glistening jet black, moss green and sandy brown, their colours dull in the clear moonlight, and he knelt down and trailed his hand in the water.
‘I like it very much,’ he said, sitting back on his heels, looking at Gwirith from within the green canopy, his eyes deep pools of shadow.
Gwirith put out his hand and parted the curtain of green fronds and came to kneel beside him, looking unspeaking into his face. Celinn smiled at him calmly, then reached out and caressed his cheek. Gwirith tilted his face so that it rested lightly in Celinn’s hand, and his lips brushed the soft cushion of flesh between his thumb and first finger, then moved with a shock of coldness to the band of decorated gold that he had placed there himself only a few hours ago.
‘Are you truly mine, Celinn?’ he whispered.
‘You know I am,’ said Celinn, and Gwirith nodded slowly, his mouth brushing against Celinn’s palm.
Gwirith got up then and, taking off his shoes, kissed Celinn lightly, without passion, then knelt behind him, pressing himself against his back, his arms crossed over Celinn’s chest.
‘Have you something in which I can put the beads?’ he asked, leaning his head down on Celinn’s shoulder.
Celinn took a small pale blue linen bag out of his pocket. Gwirith took it, loosening the string at its neck, and placed it in his lap, then ran both his hands through the little blond braids, setting them clicking together.
‘Do you like them?’ said Celinn anxiously.
Gwirith leaned forward and pressed his face into Celinn’s hair. ‘I love them,’ he said. ‘And I love you. Le vain, Celinn.’ He put up his hand to Celinn’s face and felt him smile and let out his breath in a little soft sigh.
Carefully Gwirith began to undo Celinn’s braids, releasing each little blue bead and then untwining the tiny woven strands. It took a long time, and Celinn looked at the moonlight glittering on the water, feeling Gwirith’s gentle hands on him, hearing the tiny sound made by each bead joining the others in the linen bag. An echo of tears came into him.
‘I am sorry I cannot give you more on the night of our binding, beloved,’ he said. ‘I dreamt of unbraiding my hair before my lover on this night, and never thought it would be so…so abbreviated.’
Gwirith laughed. ‘The day will come when we may both show ourselves fully to one another, once our hair has grown again. I might well say the same to you, since mine is even shorter than yours. There, it is done.’
Celinn put up his hands and felt his hair. ‘But it is all…crimped and rough: Bran’s coat is softer than this, Gwirith!’
‘It is neither crimped nor rough, Celinn. It is rich and vital, and I have just released it from fifty-three braids, so it is not surprising that there is a slight spring in it.’ He took Celinn’s hair in both hands and buried his face in it. ‘And it smells sweet,’ he said in a muffled voice.
Then he knelt beside him and laid his hands on the one long braid that remained from when he had first seen Celinn, and undid the silver lace which secured it. His hands worked to unweave it, but his attention was on Celinn’s face, and he saw his sea-green eyes become more and more open and defenceless, and halfway through he had to lean over and kiss him, his fingers still working in his soft gold hair. Celinn sighed and opened to him, and they tasted each other without haste, watching each other’s pleasure reflected in their eyes.
Then Gwirith’s hands lay still in his lap, and Celinn’s hair was unbraided, and he was open before his lover. Celinn felt a tremor of fear, but Gwirith had taken his hand and put it on his own long braid, and Celinn undid the black leather lace and placed it beside his own silver ones. Gwirith’s hair was as smooth and cool as black silk, and as Celinn released more and more of it from the tight disciplined braid Gwirith had made, it washed over his arm like a narrow stream of dark water. When he had finished, he spread his fingers like a comb and passed them through its whole length, smoothing out the ripples made by its long weaving.
Gwirith looked at him, and tears stood in his blue-grey eyes.
‘It is two centuries since I have shown myself unbraided to any except my own brother,’ he said in a shaking voice.
Celinn laid his hand on the crown of his head and stroked the long lock of hair slowly to its end almost at his waist. ‘Do not be afraid,’ he said softly. ‘You are safe with me. Open yourself, my dearest.’
Gwirith’s lips trembled and the tears overflowed and spilt down his cheeks, but Celinn took him tenderly in his arms and held him close while he wept softly, grieving for the long years of loneliness he had spent, cold in heart and body. But the sadness was soon past, for there was too much joy between them for it to prevail that night, and their bodies which touched in comfort began to yearn for a different touch, and their mouths met with growing heat, yet still tenderly, speaking to one another without words.
Then the kiss was over, and they looked at each other, seeing their flushed cheeks and tousled hair reflected in one another’s eyes. And at the same moment both knew they needed to be closer, even closer than they were now, and they stood up, their heads almost touching the trailing branches of the willow, and Celinn unlaced Gwirith’s white shirt and breeches and pushed them off him, and Gwirith did the same for him, and they stood naked together, still and quiet, in the warm air of Midsummer night.
Then they reached out for one another and were in each other’s arms, and although the touch of skin on skin was the most exquisite bliss, yet there was still no haste to join, and they breathed together, heads on one another’s shoulders, hearts beating hard, marking the movement of time that neither could at this moment feel.
‘Will you lay with me, beloved?’ said Celinn at last, and Gwirith kissed him gently and let Celinn draw him down to lie on the cool grass under the tree, their feet just touching the sandy margin of the river.
Then Celinn’s hands were tangled in his hair, holding him lightly but with such sureness that he felt rooted to him indissolubly. Gwirith felt himself sinking down deep into a place he had forgotten, a place he had known with Alcarion, and yet it was new and pristine, because Celinn was here, and he had never been to this place with him before. Celinn’s skin tingled against his like rich fire, warming and enlivening him, and Celinn’s hands touched his body, and it was as if everywhere he touched came newly to life, and he knew himself to be inhabiting this space, this curve, this angle, because Celinn had touched it. And it was as if he was beginning to know Celinn for the first time, now that Celinn could speak to him with his body, free from the fear that had haunted him before.
And Gwirith wanted to give to Celinn that same touch, and his strong speaking hands were on Celinn’s face, feeling again the beautiful bones beneath the skin, and the soft yielding curves of his lips, and the wide swing of his shoulders, and the little hollow between his collarbones, which he had to kiss, feeling Celinn gasp and tremble as he did so. And Celinn knew why this Midsummer night was different from all the others he had ever spent, because before he had only felt the pleasure of the body, glorious though that was; but now Gwirith’s touch went deeper than his skin, sinking down through muscle into breathing bone and sinew, and then further still, reaching down to a place he barely knew he inhabited, until he was saturated with him, drenched deep with the feel of his closeness, so that their feas twined and came together, at the completion of a dance that had begun long ago and grown through the deepest darkness, and was now fulfilled.
Their lovemaking was slow and tender, and they had waited so long to touch in wholeness and joy that the pleasure of it was beyond words. At last Gwirith was able to open himself to receive what he needed from Celinn without holding back for Celinn’s sake, and as he lay stretched out full length on his back, Celinn’s hands travelled down the tight hard muscles of his stomach and came to his cock. Then Celinn took him into his mouth, suckling him gently, adoring him, his hands flat on Gwirith’s thighs. Gwirith gasped with the pleasure of it, his hands resting on Celinn’s head, and he felt Celinn’s love touching him, entering him through his hands and mouth and tongue, and suffusing his whole body. And he was melted by it, and the last dark fearful part of him, of which he had been quite unaware, broke and fell into dust, and Celinn’s love entered and transfixed him, and his body opened in a rush of joy and he came, his eyes melting in tears, crying out his lover’s name.
Celinn laid his head against him, his arms around his waist, but Gwirith pulled him up to lay against him and caressed him tenderly, holding him close. His healer’s hands tingled with the love that Celinn had given him, and he touched Celinn’s face again, and their eyes met and spoke without words. Then Gwirith laid his hands on every part of him, feeling the echo in his body of every wound and hurt he had ever taken since Gwirith had known him and before, in all the years since he first became a warrior, following the path his hands had walked with kisses. And Celinn was strong and fearless, and his healing was complete, and he whispered,
‘Join with me, beloved,’ and Gwirith looked in his eyes and knew he wished this truly.
Celinn lay back trustfully and Gwirith prepared him, seeing his eyes darken and unfocus with pleasure as his fingers entered him, and when he was ready, Gwirith knelt in front of him and raised him up with an arm under his waist, and gently pierced him. Celinn gasped and shook and at first his lips were tight with the pain of it, but Gwirith was slow and careful, sheathing himself unmoving within him. And after a time the pain passed, and Celinn began to tremble with the nameless closeness of it, and Gwirith leaned forward and kissed his mouth, while Celinn wept with a sense of coming home.
Then Gwirith began to move against him with the utmost gentleness, his cheek resting on Celinn’s belly, and Celinn held on to him, rocked by the ancient rhythm, crying out softly with each thrust of Gwirith’s into his body. Celinn’s cock moved against Gwirith’s cheek, and as Gwirith’s arms tightened round him, Celinn felt something break deep in his heart, and he surrendered himself fully to his lover, breathing his name over and over again. Then Gwirith arched his back and suddenly opened his eyes wide, and Celinn saw the moment when he lost himself, and felt the strong hot shudder of his seed deep inside him. Trembling with release, Gwirith leaned forward and kissed Celinn hard and passionately, and Celinn’s arms fell back limply to his sides, and he came, abandoned and wide open, his seed pooling on his belly.
Gwirith fell against him, breathing hard, and Celinn’s seed sealed them together, skin to skin. Carefully Gwirith withdrew from Celinn’s body, and he pulled Celinn into his arms and held him tightly, lying limp and heavy across him, his single lock of dark hair fanned out over Celinn’s face. Celinn savoured the warm weight of Gwirith’s body pinning him down unmoving to the earth, and his gaze went up for a moment to the triangle of sky he could glimpse through the branches of the willow tree. There was Earendil with the Silmaril shining dazzlingly on his brow. Celinn gave a deep sigh of complete contentment and pressed a kiss to Gwirith’s dark head.
They lay quiet for a long time, sated with pleasure. Then Gwirith gave a long low groan which vibrated through Celinn’s body.
‘Celinn, never leave me,’ he whispered.
‘Never, beloved,’ said Celinn, feeling his eyes beginning to grow heavy.
‘I’m tired,’ said Gwirith.
‘Then sleep, sweeting,’ said Celinn, yawning.
‘You’re not cold, are you?’ said Gwirith, slurring his words a little.
‘Sleep,’ whispered Celinn, kissing him again. Gwirith groaned again softly, and Celinn felt his body grow heavy as he relaxed. There was a long peaceful silence and Celinn’s eyes were beginning to close when Gwirith’s arms suddenly tightened around him.
‘Celinn,’ he mumbled. ‘Did I tell you that I love you?’
‘I know it,’ whispered Celinn.
Then Gwirith’s head fell sideways on to Celinn’s shoulder and his breathing became slow and regular, and Celinn knew he was asleep.
‘Losto vaer, meleth nin,’ he whispered.
This time it was Celinn who stayed awake through the short Midsummer night, his hand caressing the smooth, lightly freckled skin of Gwirith’s strong shoulders and long straight back. Gwirith seemed too deep in sleep to sense his touch, but each time Celinn shifted slightly, Gwirith’s arms tightened round him, as if he could not bear the thought of being parted from him even in the oblivion of sleep.
In the hour before dawn a little wind rose and hushed through the trailing branches of the willows, riffling the surface of the water. Celinn felt Gwirith’s skin cool and pucker, and he wrapped his arms round him to keep him warm. Gwirith sighed and curled up in the shelter of Celinn’s body but he did not wake, and it was only when the first rays of sunlight pierced the green gloom of the willow canopy that he opened his eyes, and turned his unfocussed gaze on Celinn. At first he did not seem to know where he was, but then his eyes filled with tears and he breathed Celinn’s name. At once Celinn stopped his mouth with a kiss and they drew together, limbs twining until there was nowhere their bodies did not touch. They stayed so for a long time, unmoving, scarcely breathing, and then Gwirith curved round so that his head was resting on Celinn’s chest.
‘I want to hear your heart,’ he said softly, and Celinn lay still, feeling the steady rhythm within his own chest now that Gwirith had drawn attention to it. After a while he felt a slippery coolness against his skin, and looking down saw tears running silently down Gwirith’s face.
‘Sweetheart,’ Celinn said softly, but Gwirith looked up at him and smiled.
‘I had forgotten that I could be this happy, my beloved, beautiful Celinn,’ he said. He moved his head sideways a little. ‘Now I can hear your breath,’ he said, his fingers resting lightly on the muscles of Celinn’s ribs, feeling their rhythmic movement. Then his head was on Celinn’s belly, and he laughed. ‘Are you hungry, sweeting?’ he said. ‘You sound as hollow as a cave.’
Celinn stretched and yawned, smiling at him, and Gwirith’s hands travelled up his long body until his fingers rested lightly just under his jaw, feeling his blood pulsing strongly below the skin.
‘Now I may touch you here,’ he said, ‘or here…’ His fingers trailed across Celinn’s lips. ‘Or here…’ His nails grazed Celinn’s chest. ‘If only you knew how long I have wanted to touch you. Ah, how sweet you are, beloved.’ And he pressed his lips against Celinn’s throat.
Celinn sighed with pleasure. ‘How long have you wanted to?’ he asked lazily. ‘When was the moment when your heart first sought me?’
Gwirith looked at him, his eyes soft with the memory. ‘It was just after Luinil hit me,’ he said, ‘while I was lying on my back in the snow.’
‘What?’ said Celinn, pushing himself up on his elbow. ‘Luinil hit you?’
‘He said that I loved you, but I denied it, and so he hit me. Several times.’
‘You denied it?’
‘I did not know it then, but then he said he believed me, and that he was sorry; and when I heard him say out loud that I did not love you, that was when I knew.’
‘I seem to remember…didn’t I see you both in the healing house?’
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith. ‘It was then. But I loved you before then. I loved you the day I came to Caras Galadhon, and saw you walking from the guardroom with Haldir. Oh, I did not listen to my heart, but it knew you, Celinn, and would not let me rest. And I loved you on the day of your braiding, with your dazzling eyes and your hair shining like gold. And when you were so angry with me after we fought those orcs, I loved you then. And when you told me you would not fight with me any more, and when I stood at your shoulder on the long nights on watch at Cerin Amroth, I loved you then. And when you dragged me out of the battle that time Aragorn was with us, I loved you then. And when you came to my workshop, and would not go, even when I did my utmost to drive you away, I loved you then. And when I came to the place of Alcarion’s death…’ His voice shook a little, but he continued to speak. ‘When you held me while I grieved for him, I loved you then. And when you found me at the practice ground, and you reached out and touched my hair, I loved you then. And when…and when I saw you hanging from your bonds, wounded and bleeding, after…after…I loved you then, Celinn, and I wanted to take you into my arms and hold you close.’
Gwirith was weeping now, but he went on, and Celinn was listening to him in breathless silence. ‘And when I called back your fea, and laid my hands on you to heal your body, and when I held you in my arms by Celebrant, while you…you…I loved you then, Celinn. My heart was as cold as ice for two centuries, and then I looked on you, and it began to melt. And now it does not even remember what the ice felt like, because you are beside me, and we are…bound lovers.’
Celinn gazed at him with eyes as bright as stars, then in a single fluid movement sat up and pulled Gwirith into his arms.
‘Forgive me,’ he whispered, his mouth against Gwirith’s hair.
‘Forgive you?’ said Gwirith. ‘For what?’
‘For the pain you endured because of me. For pushing you away when all you wanted was to help me. For asking you to let me die…’ -his voice trembled on the word- ‘…and then to comfort me while I did so. For keeping you close while refusing to give myself to you, and then sending you away with words of the bitterest cruelty. Forgive me, Gwirith.’
‘My dearest love, there is nothing to forgive,’ said Gwirith, taking Celinn’s face into his hands and looking into his eyes. ‘Truly, there is not.’
‘There is, Gwirith.’
‘No.’ Gwirith laid his fingers lightly on Celinn’s lips. ‘Enough, now. It is finished. We have begun a new life.’ He gazed up suddenly at the sky. ‘Celinn, we have already been bound a whole day!’
Celinn’s dark mood slipped away like mist burnt away by the sun and he gave a dazzling smile. ‘You are right, beloved. And yet we have only made love once.’ His hand slid down Gwirith’s body and rested on his thigh for a moment before slipping down to rest between his legs. Gwirith groaned.
‘You are insatiable, Celinn,’ he said in a deep, husky voice.
‘And you are glad of it,’ said Celinn. Gwirith did not trouble to answer him, but instead leaned forward to kiss him, moving closer so that Celinn could reach him more easily.
‘Your skin here is cool,’ said Celinn, leaning down and rubbing his cheek on Gwirith’s belly, ‘But here it is rough, and warm.’ His face was on the dark curling hairs that pointed like an arrow towards Gwirith’s groin. ‘And here, it is even warmer.’ His fingers were on Gwirith’s shaft which was already hard and moist with sweet juices. Gwirith gasped and writhed under his hands, but Celinn held him still, one arm under Gwirith’s body. Celinn lay across him so that their erections clashed together in delicious friction while his tongue tasted the skin of Gwirith’s chest, sucking his smooth nipples until they hardened and peaked between his lips.
Gwirith groaned again and closed his eyes, his arms falling limply to his sides, and then Celinn was kneeling before him, seeking the tight entrance to his body. Gwirith’s legs were suddenly weak and trembling, and his knees fell apart so that he lay abandoned and vulnerable before his lover.
‘Come to me, Celinn,’ he said softly. ‘I have longed for you, beloved.’
And Celinn entered him, knowing for the first time how it felt to be held deep inside another’s body, to be so close that he no longer knew where Gwirith ended and he began, to be lost and far away, and yet at home and familiar and safe all at once.
Their coming together was swift and passionate, and when it was over they lay flushed and tangled, breathing hard as if they had run a long distance, and had just reached the end of the journey.
This time they did not sleep, but rose and bathed in the stream, splashing each other and pulling each other under the water like elflings, and when they were clean they dragged their clothes on to their damp bodies, helping one another with sleeves and laces for the sheer pleasure of touching, and stopping often because it seemed impossible for more than a few minutes to pass without kissing one another.
Then Gwirith knelt behind Celinn, holding his blond hair helplessly in his hands. ‘I cannot make fifty-three braids, Celinn. We will be here until dusk!’
‘Then make three, or twenty-three,’ said Celinn, laughing, ‘for I cannot walk unbound from here without shaming us both.’
So Gwirith’s craftsman’s fingers worked nimbly at the tiny braids, fixing the blue beads to their ends, and after half an hour had passed, he had made twenty-three braids, and had finished tying the silver lace at the end of the long braid on Celinn’s right shoulder. Celinn fastened Gwirith’s dark braid, but Gwirith made him undo it and remake it more tightly.
‘Why must it be so tight?’ said Celinn.
‘It is the way I have always done it,’ said Gwirith, a little irritably, and Celinn did as he asked, laying his lips on the nape of his neck and kissing him in apology.
Then they put on their shoes and emerged from the green coolness of the willow tree, surprised at the warmth of the sun on their faces. They turned towards the path to Gwirith’s talan, which they would both now share, and on the way Gwirith picked up two or three jay feathers, with a stripe of bright turquoise blue like Celinn’s eyes, and threaded them through the blond braids. And Celinn made a wreath of flowers, wild pink roses and white clematis and glossy dark green ivy, and crowned Gwirith’s dark head with it, pretending to bow before him and walk backwards out of respect, until he tripped over the root of a tree and ended up flat on his back on the forest floor, so that Gwirith had to stretch out beside him and kiss him thoroughly to make him cheerful again.
Aiglin and Luinil found them then, and it seemed they too had spent Midsummer night together, although both insisted it was no more than warrior’s comfort that was sought and given. They all four walked back to the lawn of the fountain, Celinn and Gwirith close and twined together, Luinil and Aiglin loose-limbed and distant, although Celinn thought he saw a smouldering look or two pass between them.
At the lawn of the fountain work was in hand to restore all things to order, and Celinn and Gwirith parted company a little sadly with their brothers and went to their own talan. Bran was waiting at the foot of the tree, and he thumped his tail on the ground to greet them when they were still far down the track, then stood up and came to them, his long pink tongue lolling out of his smiling mouth.
‘He is too big to take up the ladder any more,’ said Celinn.
‘He can sleep in my workshop,’ said Gwirith, and Celinn kissed him on the cheek.
They climbed up the ladder and stood on the threshold of the talan, needing somehow to mark this occasion of their first homecoming as bound lovers, so Celinn took up his harp which was waiting for him in its case by the door, and he sang a song of beginning and of journey’s end. After that they found some honey cakes and cheese had been left for them, and they ate hungrily and drank some of the cordial that Alfirin had made from elderflowers. Then they both felt their weariness, and they stripped off their clothes and fell together into bed, finding it already made with their new linen. The thick white sheets were cool and comfortable, and they clung together, their mouths already searching for each other and the echo of desire in their bodies, but their weariness was deep and wholesome, and before they could do more than taste each other they had drifted into sweet and profound slumber, and they slept through the long hot hours of Midsummer, only waking when the soft grey twilight was under the trees.
Uireb no meleth vin = may our love last forever
Hannon le = thank you
Losto vaer, meleth nin = sleep well, my love
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