My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Water and Stone: 4. First Blood
Celeborn’s eyes flashed fiercely, and it was all Aragorn could do not to look away from him.
‘I swear it,’ he said, surprised that hear his voice was so steady. ‘By this ring which my foster father gave me when he told me my true name, the ring of my forefather Barahir.’ He placed his hand over the ring.
Celeborn nodded, satisfied.
‘It is well,’ he said. ‘You have spoken honourably. Now you may go with Haldir.’
‘So you do build on the earth,’ said Aragorn as they approached the guardroom and the healing house. ‘I did not notice these when we arrived the other night. I thought all your dwellings were in the trees.’
‘Lord Celeborn taught us the craft when he and the lady were first our rulers,’ said Haldir. ‘There was much resistance, especially since so many trees were cut down to build them, but now we see the usefulness of such structures.’
‘Those of us from Eregion took some time to become accustomed to the Sindar and their ways,’ said Luinil, teasing them.
‘As we did to the strange customs of the Noldor,’ said Celinn. ‘But now we understand they cannot help it.’
Luinil put his arm round Celinn’s shoulders, then pinched his shoulder.
‘Ai!’ cried Celinn. ‘Unfair! It was you who cast the first aspersion. I was simply responding in defence of my kin!’
Luinil laughed. ‘There, I have proved your point about the strangeness of the Noldor,’ he said, looking round and catching Gwirith’s eye. But his brother was frowning at him, and he looked away quickly.
The company waited outside while Haldir and Celinn showed Aragorn the guardroom with its kitchen and workshops and weapons store and deep stone fireplace, big enough for Aragorn to stand upright within it, where they warmed themselves when there was snow on the ground.
‘The Noldor have taught us many skills,’ said Celinn as they looked at the beautifully crafted swords in their racks and the handsome bows and quivers full of arrows, ‘although I am too young to remember their coming after Eregion fell.’
Helevorn, the master of the healers, took them round the healing house, showing them the large airy rooms which fortunately at present housed only a few injured elves, and the still room where medicines were made and stored.
‘Things have been busier since the dark one has returned,’ Helevorn said sombrely, ‘but we have much knowledge, thanks to the Lady and to your foster father, Elrond.’ He indicated the shelves filled with bottles and pots, and the cupboards containing medical instruments. ‘Many of our most useful remedies came from him, after he established Imladris.’
Aragorn looked around at the beautiful restful lines of the building, the richly coloured stained glass and the fine carving.
‘It must be a pleasure to be cared for here,’ he said, smiling wistfully. ‘It reminds me a little of home.’
After that Haldir showed Aragorn the green wall of Caras Galadhon and its great gates. The elves on watch duty were clad in green and grey and were scarcely visible in the dappled light as they walked silently along the tree-shaded parapet.
‘This is the heart of our defences,’ said Haldir quietly. ‘If our patrols outside the walls do their job well, no enemy should ever come this close to us. And indeed none has ever done so.’
‘Apart from the pellarim, do any go outside Caras Galadhon?’ said Aragorn.
‘Of course, if there is need,’ said Haldir. ‘We were at Dagorlad and at Barad-Dur with your foster-father. And when Durin’s Bane rose in Moria and Amroth and Nimrodel were lost, we sent many companies to search for them. But in time of peace, albeit a troubled peace, we have eight companies including the pellarim who patrol the wood outside the city. Each company does three weeks of duty every month, one month within Caras Galadhon and the next outside the walls, with the last week as a holiday, or on watch if it is necessary. The three companies of the pellarim are on a different rotation, each going outside Lorien for one month in every three, or more often if the need is pressing. Since the Shadow has returned, I have to send out the pellarim more often than I would like.’
‘Only the pellarim go outside Lothlorien now?’
‘Yes. They are under my special charge, and are the most skilled of our warriors.’
Aragorn was silent a moment, then he said, ‘Forgive me, but have you not taken some risk in appointing Gwirith to the pellarim? He seems most reluctant to be here.’
Haldir glanced at him sharply, but his voice was mild as he said, ‘I have known Gwirith for many years. He has his reasons for his sombre countenance, but they do not detract from his courage and his skills.’
‘Haldir, I would not presume to criticise him as a warrior,’ said Aragorn. ‘It is just that I remember someone at Imladris who was solitary and defended like him, and one day he came out with me and my brothers hunting for orcs. He did not lack courage either, but on that day he had argued with my fath… with my foster-father, and when we came upon the orcs he became suddenly reckless and lost all judgment. If Elladan had not dragged him out of the fray, I believe he might have lost his life.’
‘There is wisdom in what you say, Aragorn,’ said Haldir. ‘Our hearts are as important as our weapons and our wind when we engage with an enemy. It will take time for Gwirith to become accustomed to the ways of Caras Galadhon, but as a warrior he is sound. As Guardian the disposition of our warriors is my responsibility, and I have learnt to take the measure of those in my charge.’ He leaned closer to Aragorn, giving his words greater import. ‘You too have now taken up a like burden. It takes time to learn to gauge the competence of those you lead, but just as important is the ability to know your own mind, and those deep currents that sway you in ways you barely understand. Only in stillness and patience can we come to know ourselves, and others also.’
Aragorn looked into his clear grey eyes and saw in them the wisdom of many centuries of experience, and he felt as young and ignorant as a child.
‘Of course you are right, Guardian,’ he stammered. ‘I have never yet chosen men to fight under me, much less led them into battle. I should not have presumed to speak.’
Haldir put his arm round Aragorn’s shoulders. ‘How will you learn to grow fully into your manhood if you berate yourself in this way?’ he said gently. ‘I am glad you spoke to me. It is possible your eyes saw something I had missed, and I will remember your words. That is another lesson for you: always listen to what your fellows have to tell you. Everyone’s eyes see differently, and a good commander must be surrounded with those who do not fear to speak honestly to him.’
Aragorn nodded mutely, Haldir’s kindness suddenly reviving his homesickness again.
‘Well, that is enough wisdom for one day,’ said Haldir, seeing his sudden pallor. ‘The Lady will not thank me for exhausting you when you were so lately in her care. Celinn’s company will be eating in the guardroom by now: let us go and join them.’
Celinn’s company stood outside the guardroom in the dawn light, fully armed and ready to go outside the walls of Caras Galadhon on patrol.
‘I have just had word from Orophin from the western border of a nest of orcs under the shadow of the mountains,’ said Haldir. ‘Find out what you can about them, and engage them if you can. The other tasks I leave to your own judgment, Celinn.’
Celinn nodded and saluted, and Haldir turned to Aragorn, who stood beside him.
‘Aragorn, I am sending you out on patrol with Rumil. He will show you our outer defences, and then you can search for these outlaws together. Once we have gathered some intelligence, I will consider sending greater numbers with you.’
‘Thank you, Guardian,’ said Aragorn, wincing. He had spent the afternoon of the previous day watching the guards at their training, but then Haldir had asked him to teach some skills of swordsmanship to the young elflings who had not yet joined a company, and he had bruises all over him. If the swords had not been made of wood, the Heir to Isildur might have found himself unable to propagate his line.
‘Farewell, then Aragorn,’ said Haldir, pulling him into an embrace. Managing to stifle a gasp, Aragorn leaned against Haldir’s strong body, thinking of his foster-father.
Then Celinn and all his company embraced him, and soon he was walking down the green lanes towards the great gate of Caras Galadhon, watching Rumil’s straight back. It was only then that he remembered that he had forgotten his begetting day, or his birthday as Elrond had taught him to call it, since for Men begetting and birth are less than a year apart. He had come of age on the day he had entered Lorien, but no celebrations had marked that auspicious day, and instead he had met the Lord and the Lady, and she had tended his wounds while he lay in a fever. He wondered if his father and brothers had thought of him, or whether Arwen had known he was now full-grown.
‘If you are not back in time for the fire festival in May, you must return for Midsummer, Aragorn,’ said Rumil in front of him, as though he had heard his thoughts. ‘We have not feasted you yet, and Midsummer is our greatest feast.’
‘I hope very much to be back in Lorien for Midsummer,’ said Aragorn, and remembering Celinn’s words about partners, he found himself blushing.
‘Here is the gate,’ said Rumil, turning to him, but in the soft dawn light he could not see Aragorn’s face clearly, and he simply smiled and turned his eyes back to the path.
They could smell the orcs before they could see them. The ground was trampled on the edge of the wood, and there were signs of a fire, badly hidden, with scraps of bone and flesh on the ground beside it. Celinn tried not to think about what creature’s remains they might be. The stench, salt, bitter and nauseating, was on the wind, and they followed it. Celinn pulled up his shirt to cover his mouth and nose.
Gwirith led the company, striding out ahead, his back straight and determined. He seemed unaffected by the smell. Sirion was at the back, and the others spread out looking for tracks. They were not difficult to find. They stayed on the edge of Lorien as long as they could but at last had to move out into the plain between the forest and the mountains. They ran then, silent and swift. The trail was still clear, but there were no orcs in sight. After a time they came to the foothills of the mountains and began to skirt along the edge. The sun was high in the sky when Celinn called a halt.
‘Let us rest awhile. They are not far, we can afford to regain our strength.’
‘We will lose the trail,’ said Gwirith, a statement that was almost but not quite a challenge. Celinn looked at him, saw the dark eyes looking back without emotion.
‘We must be alert: we are far from help here. A rest is worth the delay it will cost us.’ He spoke calmly, not rebuking Gwirith.
Gwirith turned and walked a little distance from the others, then sat with his back to them, facing away towards the mountains. Sirion and Caranfir glanced at Celinn meaningfully, then went and sat beside Gwirith, taking out their flasks of water and drinking.
Aiglin was at Celinn’s side, an arm round his shoulders.
‘What do you find most aggravating, Celinn? The fact that we came upon the orcs just before our patrol was over and had to come out on to the plain instead of going home to our well-earned rest, or the fact that Gwirith disapproves of nearly everything you do and say?’
Celinn let out his breath in a gusty sigh and smiled ruefully at his brother in silence.
‘Luinil’s brother obviously does not lack courage,’ said Aiglin, laughing a little, ‘but it might be easier if he were to vent his spleen on our enemies rather than on you,’ ‘I do not envy you, brother.’
Celinn sat and took out his own flask and drank.
‘The river flows as it wills, Aiglin, and we must swim in it or drown,’ he said, ruefully.
It was dusk. The orcs streamed out of the mouth of the cave. Celinn glanced round at the other elves who were all well hidden. Maybe they would not be seen. Time passed, and the orcs stood around, purposeless, fighting, eating, some fondling each other. Celinn forced himself to watch them, to find out all he could about them.
He noticed Gwirith, still motionless in exactly the same position as when they had first hidden themselves. Even now he could scarcely see him breathing. His long back was stiff, and there was a strange stillness about him: a stillness of waiting, not of relaxation. His bow was ready, his arrow in his hand. So were all the others, but there was something about Gwirith, some extra tension, as though he were like a bow, overstrung, just waiting the final pull on the string to shatter, sending lethal splinters of wood in every direction.
Celinn stored away the insight for later consideration and turned back to the orcs. Still no sign of them moving on. Luinil appeared noiselessly at his side.
‘What think you?’ he said quietly. ‘Are we too few?’
‘We are few,’ said Celinn, ‘but they are leaderless and unprepared. If we could clean out this filthy nest, Lorien would be safer.’
But then another orc was coming out of the side of the mountain, larger than the others. He called out in a harsh growling voice, and the other orcs turned, growling back, waving their arms in the air. They lounged on the ground while he harangued them for a long while, interrupted by grunts, cheers and howls as well as the beating of swords on makeshift shields. At last they got up and seemed to be preparing to move.
‘I fear you spoke too soon,’ said Luinil. ‘The large one has some authority. The odds no longer seem so attractive.’
Celinn sighed. ‘Maybe it would be best to increase our strength before engaging them. Nevertheless, let us watch a little longer.’
They observed in silence as the orcs formed up in ragged lines. Celinn was about to give the command to begin to withdraw when he felt something on his cheek: the wind was turning. Suddenly he was fully alert; now their scent would carry to the orcs, and indeed, some were already sniffing the air and looking about them, angry and agitated. Celinn saw each elf turn to him, aware of what was happening. He made a sign with his hand, indicating a retreat back towards Lorien, and at once they began to move, silent and almost invisible in the shadows of the rocks. They had gone some distance before the orcs saw them. The elves were vastly outnumbered. All they could hope to do was to cause enough chaos to have time to escape.
Celinn used the familiar signs to move the other elves into a defensive formation in the shelter of the rocks, bows at the ready. Then they waited, crouched on one knee, arrows nocked, for the orcs to be in ideal range. Celinn said quietly, ‘Leithio i phillin,’ and the first volley was loosed. Many orcs fell, howling. They never seemed to learn anything. The second volley flew at Celinn’s sign and again hit many targets. Some orcs were trying to retreat already, and were being beaten forward by the large commander. Aiglin was at his side.
‘We will have to fight them hand to hand,’ he whispered urgently.
‘Take Sirion and Caranfir and Aelindor and keep shooting. The others will stay with me.’
Aiglin hesitated an instant.
‘Go!’ Celinn shouted. ‘I am in command.’
Aiglin turned and did as he was told. Checking that Luinil was beside him, Celinn signed to Gwirith and Silivren.
‘We will fight while the others cover us,’ he said shortly. The other three nodded. Gwirith stood and made to advance but Celinn seized his arm and dragged him down.
Gwirith turned, his eyes black with anger. Celinn was burned by his gaze, but did not look away.
‘Let the enemy come to you,’ he said quietly.
Gwirith wrenched his arm away and knelt down in the grass a few feet away, drawing his sword. The others did the same, and then the orcs were upon them. Celinn whispered the name of Elbereth as he ran forward, using the weight of his body to engage with the enemy. Elvish arrows hissed through the air, cutting the numbers of orcs coming towards them, but their situation was nevertheless nearly hopeless. He tried to concentrate on this stroke, this feint, this step to the side, to slow down his mind. He found himself advancing, and his company were with him. His hand was bloody but he could not stop to wipe it. The noise and stench of the orcs fogged his mind, but he kept a place of silence within him and felt the energy of the earth beneath his feet.
Then he stumbled on something and an ugly Orcish sword was swinging towards his unprotected shoulder. He wrenched his body aside but it clipped his arm and he fell, unbalanced. His sword slipped from his grasp and the breath was knocked out of him as he hit the ground.
Everything slowed down. The orc stared into his face, a vicious snarl of satisfaction on its lips, and Celinn saw the ugly black jagged blade begin to come down towards his unprotected head. He made to roll sideways, but the orc stepped on his chest, pinning him to the ground. Celinn kept his eyes open, watching the blade come down. He sighed. So this was the way death came. There was no fear, only disbelief. The blade was so close that he could feel his hair lift in the wind of it.
Then the orc fell sideways, shoved out of the way. The sword grazed his cheek as it passed. A tall figure grabbed his arm and hoisted him to his feet. Celinn reached for his sword and at once was fighting again. His arm was weakened by the wound he had received but he had enough strength to be of some use. Luinil was by his side, shielding him with his body.
Celinn lost track of time. Retreat was impossible: they would be pursued and cut down. Their only hope was to force the enemy to give up the fight as too costly. So far the orcs had not broken the elves’ ranks, but soon Celinn knew they would run out of arrows, even with those gleaned, and they would be fighting back to back for their lives. Again he forced thoughts of strategy from his mind and concentrated on each encounter. He was tired now, and his arm was losing its strength.
Suddenly from beside him, Gwirith broke rank and charged forward alone into the Orcish line. Almost at once he disappeared from view, surrounded by the enemy. Celinn shouted at him to come back, but there was no chance he could have heard the command.
‘Bloody fool!’ he yelled, furious at Gwirith. Luinil’s sword rested on the ground and he stared in disbelief at the space where his brother had been.
‘Luinil, fight!’ shouted Celinn, shaking him by the shoulder. Luinil turned to look at him, dazed. Celinn shook him again, and Luinil raised his sword and deflected a blow that would have caused him serious damage.
Celinn caught himself thinking, ‘So we’ll need another recruit already,’ before thinking that none of them might see Lorien again.
But the orcs were not pushing them so hard. In fact, they seemed to be retreating, and from within their ranks, he could hear an elvish voice, singing a battle song in a harsh triumphant voice. The Orcish commander was shouting, and the orcs were peeling off the field, making for the cave from which they had originally emerged. Soon only a small knot of fighters was left, and the elves moved forward in a body and engaged them. A few died and the rest fled, a pile of bodies behind them, some still moving.
Luinil was turning over the Orcish bodies, oblivious of blood, gore and severed limbs. Under two dead orcs, he found Gwirith, face down, still holding his sword. Luinil pulled him on to his back and raised his head. Celinn knelt beside him. Gwirith’s white face was covered in blood, his lips parted.
Luinil had tears in his eyes. ‘What were you thinking of, by Elbereth?’ he said in a shaking voice.
Gwirith’s eyes opened. He coughed once or twice, then struggled to sit up.
‘I’m all right,’ he said, putting down his sword and feeling his body for wounds. ‘I don’t think any of the blood is mine.’ He found a cut on his thigh, deep and oozing. ‘Except this,’ he said, the colour coming back to his face.
Celinn was furious. ‘If we were in Lorien now I would send you to Haldir to be disciplined,’ he said, his voice cold and stern. ‘You put yourself needlessly at risk.’
‘I created a distraction which led to the enemy’s retreat,’ he said calmly. ‘If they hadn’t we would probably all have died here.’
‘Even if it was your action which led to the enemy’s retreat, of which none of us can be sure, you need to know that we fight together. I do not wish my life to be saved at the cost of yours, and nor do the rest of the company.’
Gwirith looked up at him in silence, and again his eyes were veiled.
Celinn turned away with a sigh of irritation, exhausted by his burst of anger, and began to walk towards the forest.
‘We have done enough here. Let us get back to safety before they send others with more of a mind to fight. We will treat our wounds when we reach the trees.’
The company made their way back quickly along the side of the mountains until they reached the eaves of Lorien. Once under the trees, they stopped and took out what they needed to treat their wounds. No one was seriously hurt. Luinil was helping Gwirith to clean and bind the wound on his thigh. Celinn put a hand on Luinil’s shoulder.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
‘For what?’ asked Luinil
‘That orc. He would have killed me.’
Luinil frowned. ‘That wasn’t me,’ he said.
‘But you were beside me, I saw you,’ protested Celinn.
‘I saw you were hurt, so I came to help,’ Luinil said.
‘But I saw you, your hair,’ insisted Celinn, then fell silent. He turned to Gwirith, who was looking away. His dark hair, some of which had come loose from its single braid, tangled and matted with blood, was almost as black as Luinil’s.
‘It was you,’ said Celinn, and he didn’t sound pleased about it.
Gwirith looked at the ground. ‘I’m sorry if I have displeased you,’ he said, without irony. ‘I thought you needed help.’
Celinn had a vision of the Orcish sword coming down towards his head. The point between his eyes ached suddenly, and there was a bitter taste in his mouth. He sat down, weary and empty of anger.
‘I did need help,’ he said quietly. ‘Thank you.’ The trees around him began to spin gently, and he lay back, closing his eyes and sighing.
‘I am tired,’ he said half to himself. His wound ached. Perhaps he had lost more blood than he thought. He felt hands on him, attending to the wound, and cleaning the graze on his cheek. He lay still, letting himself be cared for. After a while he opened his eyes and saw that it was Gwirith who was binding a dressing to his arm. Gwirith turned and looked down at him, and his grave sad face was the one Celinn had seen in his dream. For an instant before Gwirith remembered to veil his expression, Celinn saw a deep haunted desolation in his eyes. Then something closed, and there was only cool detachment in his face.
They were deep into Lorien now but would not reach Caras Galadhon until tomorrow. The small fire they had made hissed and cracked. Celinn lay on his back and looked at the stars through the canopy of trees. Nearby came the murmur of voices: Luinil and Gwirith were speaking together.
‘Why did you do that, Gwirith? Do you not care that there are those who love you? It is a miracle you survived.’
‘Not a miracle,’ the quiet flat voice replied. ‘Orcs are fierce and strong but they have no sense of loyalty. Their own skins are all that matter to them, unless they are forced to do something for the good of the whole group.’
‘And you, Gwirith? Do you care about this company?’
Celinn heard Gwirith draw in his breath harshly.
‘Do you think I risked my neck for my own glory?’
‘Brother, you know that was not my meaning,’ Luinil began. ‘Gwirith, you promised me you would not be so reckless.’
‘I couldn’t help it,’ said Gwirith sullenly. ‘The darkness came upon me. I had to fight it, so I let the fire burn it out.’
‘I thought it had passed.’
‘It will never pass.’ Gwirith’s voice was hard and cold. ‘I must carry this. I am sorry if it troubles you, but it troubles me more.’
‘Celinn does not know you, he thinks you are insubordinate.’
‘Let him think that if he chooses. I cannot concern myself with what everyone thinks, Luinil. I need my strength for my own purposes. You know this is true.’
‘Yes.’ Luinil’s voice was a whisper. ‘Is there nothing that can help you? Can not Galadriel…’
‘No, Luinil, you know there is not. You know it.’ Gwirith pleaded with his brother. ‘Let it go. If I can accept this, than can not you also?’
Celinn heard Luinil move, and when he spoke his voice was muffled.
‘I grieve for you, brother, I grieve,’ and indeed, he seemed to be weeping.
‘Grieve not.’ Gwirith’s voice seemed to come from the icy peak of Caradhras. ‘Grieving does not help. It will not bring him back.’
There was a long silence, broken only by soft weeping. Celinn moved silently, and saw Gwirith was comforting his brother, his dark profile thrown into strong relief by the firelight. His expression was bleak and forbidding, and his eyes were so dark there seemed no light in them at all.
‘When we reach Caras Galadhon,’ said Celinn, walking beside Gwirith, ‘I must report what we have found to Haldir.’
Gwirith said nothing, his calm profile unmoved by Celinn’s words.
‘Do you not wish to know what I will tell him of your conduct in battle?’ asked Celinn.
‘That is for your discretion, captain,’ he said formally. Celinn frowned at him, frustrated.
‘Gwirith, I wish to understand you better,’ he said, ‘but you will not allow me to know you. I do not wish to offend you, only to be a comrade in arms, so that we may know each other’s minds in times of peril.’
‘You find me lacking as a warrior?’ asked Gwirith, and though he spoke softly, Celinn sensed the danger in his words.
‘No, Gwirith, you know that is not what I am saying.’ Celinn took a deep breath. He walked beside Gwirith in silence for several paces, wondering why it was so difficult to breach Gwirith’s complicated defences. Finally he said,
‘If we fight shoulder to shoulder, we must trust one another. I believe you do not trust me, Gwirith.’
Gwirith turned to him, and he was frowning.
‘I have forgotten what trust means,’ he said, almost to himself. ‘I will take your orders and I will fight with all my strength. Is that not enough for you?
Celinn did not know why this was not enough, but his gut ached again as it had when he first looked on Gwirith two days before. He put out his hand to touch Gwirith’s arm, but as if Gwirith had heard his thought, he stepped sideways so that Celinn’s hand grazed the air just out of reach of his skin.
‘If you have finished with me, I would like to walk with my brother,’ Gwirith said, avoiding Celinn’s eyes.
Celinn nodded, defeated by his stubbornness. He turned to say something but Gwirith was already gone.
Although it was only a few weeks before midsummer, the skies above Lorien were grey and a little wind brought swirls of white mist curling round the trunks of the tall trees. Celinn was glad, because the dull weather echoed with his mood. The fruitless search for the outlaws and the thought of Adanwath himself had left him feeling tense and edgy.
His company was on duty tonight but for now he was free, so he walked in the forest, trying to ease his mind. He let his feet lead him where they would, and he had walked some way from his talan when he heard the sound of someone at work. Looking about him, he saw that he was in the part of the forest where many elves kept workshops for making weapons or other necessary objects as well as things of beauty. These were lightly made, more shelters from the weather than anything else, and had large openings so that Celinn could easily see into them.
Celinn’s skill was rather in teaching the use of weapons rather than the making of them, and in crafting and teaching to make songs and stories, as his name suggested. So it was seldom that he came to this part of Lorien.
Many of the workshops were unoccupied since many elves were out with the extra patrols that were on duty throughout Lorien. But one workshop stood by itself, some distance from the others, and through the open front Celinn could see a slender, dark-haired form bending over a task. Curious, he approached, wanting to distract himself with something new and unexpected. Then with his foot almost on the threshold he recognised the single dark braid that hung down the elf’s back: very few elves in Lorien wore their hair in that way. His gut ached, confirming who it was, and he was aware of a desire to turn and leave silently before the craftsman within should notice his presence, but he forced his feet to stay where they were.
‘You brought me here, now we shall see what may come of it,’ he said to them in his mind, and the thought of him talking to his feet was so absurd that he laughed out loud. He saw the long back of the craftsman straighten and tense at the sound. He did not turn round, and Celinn felt the momentary lifting of his heart fade as he waited, disturbed again by Gwirith’s strangeness.
At last Gwirith turned. His face was watchful, and he reminded Celinn suddenly of a hunted hart, alert to any scent of danger. And indeed his words were full of mistrust.
‘Why do you seek me here? Did Luinil tell you where to find me? My duty is not until tonight.’
Celinn took a step into the workshop but Gwirith moved away from him, so he moved back to the threshold.
‘I was not seeking you, Gwirith, I came here by chance. I was walking through the forest and did not notice where my feet were taking me.’ He paused. ‘It is many years since I came to this part of Lorien.’
Gwirith relaxed a little at his words, but continued to watch him in silence. It was evident he wished that Celinn would simply disappear so that Gwirith would be spared any conversation at all with him. His resistance was so strong that Celinn could feel his feet twitching to take him back in the direction he had come. But he was not the youngest captain in Lorien for nothing. He accepted the challenge.
‘You would prefer it if I left you alone, would you not?’ he said, and stepped into the workshop.
Gwirith scowled at him, his dark eyes angry.
‘Yes, I would,’ he said. ‘I am not yours to command when I am not on duty, and so I am not obliged to attend to your needs.’
‘Indeed you are not,’ said Celinn, succeeding in controlling his temper. ‘But it might be friendly to pass the time together for a while, might it not?’
Gwirith looked at him with disdain, then turned back to his work. He took up a hammer and began to bang small nails into a flat plank of wood at measured intervals.
‘The captain of my previous company did not require me to pass the time with him when I was not on duty,’ he said, each word as hard as a blow of the hammer on the nails. Celinn winced a little, but nevertheless came round the work table so that he could face Gwirith. The dark-haired elf paused in the middle of a stroke, the hammer held up between them. His anger was so palpable that Celinn could feel waves of it washing against him. He smiled.
‘So you are not made of ice after all, Gwirith.’
The anger left Gwirith’s face, to be replaced by bewilderment.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, shaking his head.
Celinn put his palms down on the surface of the table and leaned towards Gwirith.
‘When I was made captain, and you embraced me, I felt nothing from you, only emptiness. But now I see there is fire in you as well as ice.’ He watched Gwirith’s face, and saw the dark elf’s composure crack a little.
‘Of course there is fire in me,’ he said, but his voice was hesitant. ‘You have come without invitation to my workshop, my private place, and you take no notice of my courteous request that you should leave …’
Celinn could not hold back a shout of laughter. ‘Courteous? As courteous as your hammer to those nails!’ he exclaimed. ‘Indeed, I wondered for a second whether you might be using that hammer to demonstrate your courteous desire that I should leave you in peace.’
Gwirith looked at the hammer that he still held in his hand, then slowly put it down on the table.
‘I have told you. I prefer to be alone,’ he said, not looking at Celinn. ‘I am a warrior, I do my duty. Then I choose my own company.’
‘What about the company of friends?’ asked Celinn, gently.
‘I do not need friends,’ said Gwirith. ‘I have my brother.’
Gwirith’s anger had died down into a smouldering sullenness which was difficult to tolerate. Celinn felt suddenly tired, and his own troubles which he had been trying to escape came back into his mind with renewed force. He did not want to fight Gwirith any more.
‘What are you making?’ he asked, without thinking.
‘A jig for making bowstrings,’ said Gwirith in a normal voice. They looked at each other, surprised to find themselves suddenly in a neutral place.
‘Is that what you do here?’ asked Celinn, looking round the workshop.
‘Yes, I make everything I need: bows, strings, arrows, and all the other things that go with them: quivers, bracers, handgrips …’
Celinn saw two unstrung bows resting on racks on the wall. Both were made of beautiful polished wood, with designs painted on them in gold.
‘Your work is very fine,’ he said, running his finger along the smooth wood. ‘Maybe you could make me a bow; mine is a noble weapon but is beginning to sing false notes after so much use.’
‘Your bow is one of mine,’ said Gwirith. ‘The one that Luinil gave you. I made it.’
Celinn turned to him and their eyes met. An energy passed between them.
‘Thank you,’ said Celinn. ‘Your bow has been loyal and true since the day Luinil gave it to me.’
Gwirith said nothing, but his eyes held a different expression, as if some of the mistrust had faded from them.
‘Perhaps you could tell me more about your work another time,’ Celinn said, tentatively.
Gwirith’s face closed again, and Celinn noticed to clear strong planes of his face framed in hair nearly as black as Luinil’s. Maybe he had said enough for one day.
‘I will leave you to your work,’ he said, and held out his hand. Gwirith did not take it, but he moved his head in something halfway between a nod and a bow.
Celinn stepped over the threshold and felt the forest floor beneath his feet. Gwirith watched him for a moment, then took up his hammer and continued his work without a word. Celinn started to walk back to Caras Galadhon, and he felt some of Gwirith’s energy flow towards him as he went.
Many weeks later Celinn was no closer to understanding Gwirith. He was efficient, punctual, tireless and always the first to volunteer for a difficult duty. Most of the time he was quiet and serious, but when he spoke his words were blunt and he wasted no time in pleasantries. It was clear to Celinn that there was a quarrel between them, but he did not know what provoked Gwirith to subtly challenge whatever order he gave or follow his head whenever he knew it would irk Celinn. The rest of the company had accepted him and respected his skill, but he had allowed no one to know him by a hair’s breadth more than was necessary for his duty. He rarely smiled and Celinn had never heard him laugh, but he was neither angry nor sullen: he contained himself within a boundary of his own making, allowing only Luinil to venture some way within.
Luinil still refused to speak of what it was which had led Gwirith to be so defended, and Celinn knew that the more he sought to discover it, the less Gwirith would tell him. So he knew he must resign himself to knowing Gwirith as he chose to be known, even if that was scarcely to be known at all. But his gut continued to ache whenever he saw him, proud and silent at the gathering of the company at the beginning of their duty.
Celinn spoke about him to Aiglin, one afternoon when they were taking their ease in the forest.
‘It is as if he defies me to know him: he challenges and provokes me, but when I seek to understand why, he withdraws as if I sought him out against his will,’ Celinn said.
‘Let him be,’ said Aiglin, his eyes closed, stretched out on the forest floor, sucking the sweet sap out of a blade of grass. ‘Just let him be.’
‘That is what Haldir said on the day he arrived. But he suffers, Aiglin, and he will let no one help him.’
‘Then that is because he prefers to suffer, and you must let him do so. Your heart is too tender, Celinn, you cannot heal all hurts.’
Celinn threw himself down beside Aiglin and closed his eyes, and for a long time they lay in silence, the sun warm on their faces, their long hair spread out around them on the grass. When Celinn finally spoke, Aiglin could hear the sadness in his voice.
‘I will heed your words, Aiglin. But I will not give up hope that one day Gwirith will wish to open his heart again.’ Aiglin felt him tremble suddenly beside him.
‘I suddenly imagined how it might be to have a heart that did not dare to reveal itself. How lonely he must be. I could not bear it, Aiglin.’
‘You do not have to,’ said Aiglin, pulling his brother close to him. ‘I cannot imagine you closing your heart or choosing to be without those who love you.’
Celinn gave a deep sigh of satisfaction, and the two brothers fell silent, and after a few minutes their steady breathing showed that they were both asleep.
Celinn’s resolution to accept Gwirith as he was changed the energy of his fea, and at the next duty he found himself walking calmly beside him, untroubled either by Gwirith’s strong cold defence or the brooding darkness behind it. Gwirith seemed to sense something different about him, because he said,
‘Does nothing about me displease you today, captain, or are you saving up your complaints until the end of our duty?’
Celinn turned to him, and sea green eyes met blue grey ones. ‘I will not fight with you today, Gwirith. Nor tomorrow. From now on, let there be peace between us.’
He saw the astonishment in Gwirith’s eyes, but then he thought he saw a moment of relief as well. The dark haired elf looked down in silence at the track beneath his feet.
‘You do not wish us to be friends, Gwirith, that I know,’ Celinn said. ‘But at least let us not be enemies.’
The words hung in the air between them, and for an instant Celinn’s mind was filled with an image of battle and death. He stumbled and felt Gwirith’s hand under his elbow, steadying him.
‘Thank you,’ he said, but Gwirith had already stepped away from him, and he wondered if he had imagined the touch, but as he glanced at him he saw his face was a shade paler than it had been a moment before. Celinn forced himself to keep silent. After a long while, Gwirith said,
‘I was thinking about the past. There have been so many enemies, my own and those of all the elves. I do not need any more.’
Celinn felt the texture of the moment: something was new. He smiled at Gwirith.
‘Then we are agreed. Not friends, but not enemies either.’
That day seemed to change something between them, and in the weeks after that day they rarely spoke but occasionally Gwirith would come and sit by Celinn whilst they looked out at Dol Guldur from the talan on Cerin Amroth. Through the long hours of the night they sat in silence, watching a wisp of black smoke rising from the dark tower, and listening to the wind stirring the leaves in the high canopy of mallorn trees, and a sort of unspoken companionship grew up between them. Celinn’s gut still sang to him of the dissonance in Gwirith’s fea, and he never became accustomed to the sudden visions which flashed into his mind when they were together, but there was peace of a sort, and Celinn welcomed it.
In the months that followed, the tension lessened even further, and it became a common sight to see the silent, frowning Gwirith squatting on his haunches near to where Celinn stood on watch, or a few paces behind when they walked through Lorien to the guard post at Cerin Amroth.
A whisper began that there was love between them, or at least on Gwirith’s side, but at length it died down, because it could clearly be seen that Gwirith found something safe in Celinn’s nearness, but that love was not part of the matter.
Celinn also grew accustomed to feeling a silent presence by his shoulder, and the peace he had spoken of grew deeply between them.
‘You are a good captain,’ said Luinil, looking up from waxing his bowstring.
‘The job should have been yours,’ said Celinn.
‘No, you are a better leader than I would have been,’ Luinil said, and he put an arm round Celinn’s shoulders and pulled him into an embrace. ‘I am proud to follow you.’
Celinn rested his head on Luinil’s shoulder for a moment.
‘You, follow someone? On the day your brother smiles, that will be the day you will follow me,’ he said.
Luinil put his bowstring down and turned Celinn to face him. ‘I will smile for you,’ he said, doing so, ‘and that will have to do for both of us.’ They laughed together, their faces close, and Luinil said suddenly,
‘Why have you no lover, Celinn? You are most desirable.’
Celinn blushed and turned away from him. ‘My heart has not yet been taken by another,’ he said.
‘But it is not only your heart that need be engaged. There are other parts which might speak to you of pleasure, ‘ he said, and his hand slid down Celinn’s back in a light caress, ‘and you are free to give your body even if you do not choose to bind yourself to another.’
Celinn looked at him. ‘I know the pleasures of the body, but many who I have desired have wished me to bind myself to them, and have disliked my refusal. So I am careful in my choices.’
‘Well, soon it will be midsummer, and that is not a time for carefulness, and how will you know if you wish to give your heart if you do not taste the pleasures of the body?’ said Luinil, and his hand moved down further until it rested on Celinn’s thigh. Celinn’s sea green eyes looked into his, watchful and appraising, but deep in them Luinil thought he saw an answering spark. He leaned forward, parting his lips, but Celinn slipped out of his hands.
‘It is not midsummer yet, Luinil,’ he said, laughing. ‘And maybe there is a maiden who awaits me beneath the mellryn.’
‘And maybe there is not,’ said Luinil, also laughing. ‘You are too young to wish for elflings yet, unlike those of us who dwelt in Eregion, in the long years before your birth.’
‘So a nis waits for you beneath the mellryn, Luinil?’ teased Celinn.
‘Ah, I will make you pay for that,’ said Luinil, and he seized Celinn’s elbows and pushed him against the wall. Their mouths were so close that they could taste each other’s breath, and then Luinil leaned forward and put his lips to Celinn’s. The sea green eyes looked into his, but after a moment the lids drooped and he felt Celinn shift slightly and lean a little into the kiss. Luinil closed his eyes and sought to part Celinn’s lips, but he found he was refused. Tantalised and aroused, he released Celinn’s elbows and took his face in his hands, pulling him close. Still he was resisted, although Celinn’s hands now rested gently on his waist and one of them was travelling slowly down to the swell of his buttocks.
The sound of a step made Luinil open his eyes, and he saw Gwirith standing at the entrance of the talan. His brother’s face was impassive as usual, but Luinil pulled his mouth away from Celinn’s. The blonde elf opened his eyes lazily.
‘Luinil?’ he began, and then his eye fell on Gwirith, who had his back to them and was looking for something on the table.
Celinn’s hands slowly released Luinil, and they stepped away from each other.
‘I don’t wish to disturb you,’ said Gwirith without looking round.
‘There is nothing to disturb,’ said Luinil, ‘It was just a moment of pleasure,’ and he smiled at Celinn.
‘Nevertheless, I will leave you. I have found what I came for,’ he said, and then he was gone. Luinil’s face was suddenly filled with sadness. Celinn watched him, waiting for him to speak. At last Luinil said, ‘He does not look for joy any more,’ he said. ‘I do not think he trusts it.’
‘But why not?’ asked Celinn.
‘It is not for me to say,’ he said quietly.
He came close to Celinn again, and brushed his lips gently against his cheek.
‘Maybe we will meet again at midsummer, my captain?’ he said softly.
Celinn smiled but did not reply. He traced the line of Luinil’s cheek with his finger, then followed the path of a lock of dark hair across his shoulder and down his back. They looked a long moment into each other’s eyes, sea green into deep soft brown, then Celinn said,
‘I will see you at our next duty,’ and went out into the forest.
Luinil watched him out of sight, then picked up his bowstring and slowly began to work the beeswax into it.
Leithio i phillin = loose the arrows
This is what Aragorn says to the elvish archers at Helm’s Deep.
I am assuming in this chapter that the Noldor who settled in Lorien after the fall of Eregion brought new skills to the silvan elves who led a more agrarian, pastoral life and didn’t have the love of craft which had come to Eregion with Celebrimbor, the descendant of Feanor who made the Silmarils.
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