Eloquent Elvish Stories
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Seeds of Old Trees: 4. A Call to Arms
Working together with his son, he cleared the ground for a small orchard, and sang the young trees into sturdiness. Taking solace in the company and the simple, useful task, they laid a hedge of hornbeam to enclose and shelter the field where Nimrodel would tend the shining lembas corn. Amroth spoke little - such a change from his boyhood prattle - but his smile rarely faltered, and his contentment was a balm in itself. It was enough to labour side by side, to lie in the noon sun and watch clouds, eat and drink, in quiet companionship, and then return to work. By the time the hedge was putting forth crinkled, beech-green leaves, and the honeysuckle and dog-roses had twined its length in sweetness, Celeborn had begun to feel both happier and more restless, and Amroth's joy was increased at the knowledge that his father was beginning to heal.
At times Celeborn would take care of young Celebdir, while Nimrodel wove or baked. Then she would tell them both tales of her long wanderings in Middle-earth, when she journeyed - lost, seeking for Amroth - into the hot South. There she strayed, where the stars were strange and the Men scarlet-clad, proud, lovers of splendour and music. Many strange and wondrous things she had seen there, searching for her lover and unable to find him.
"But then they began to whisper against me," she said, "fearing that I was an uncanny creature, who remained ever young while they withered. I was come, they said, to suck the life out of their villages, out of their corn and cattle. And at the last, when I came to the edge of the great desert, the people there stoned me and drove me away."
She beat a line of glimmering hithlain into place with one hand, caught the shuttle with the other, and smiled at the memory of her own death. "I wept so, for the cruelty of life, for my bones were broken, and I dared not come back out of the barren sand to seek for water. It seemed to me then that I would never find my love, nor tell him how I regretted taking him away from everything he desired. It was my quest for safety which had brought me to that hard end, and I railed at fate, at the Valar, and at myself most of all."
"Bad Men!" said Celebdir in sympathy, his round, toothless face fierce. "Bad Men to hurt Nana!"
At the protest, Nimrodel laughed, as merrily as a brook tumbling, leaf flecked under sunshine. "It proved a blessing in the end, my little Celbeg. For your Ada had long waited in Mandos for me, refusing a new life until we could live it together. He was all my healing and my help in that place." She smiled warmly at her husband's father, "Then I knew that, though I deserved him not, I would be a fool to put further conditions on our union. We were married the same day we were returned to our hroa. And that is not long ago now, though it seems we have always been wed." Her dark hair had slithered out from beneath her cap of lace and hung among the threads of the loom. She wound it up once more and tucked it back, where it gleamed like crow's feathers against the stitched pearls.
"It is as though all our lives before were taken up into our union - as though it worked backwards, into the past, so that we had never been separate..." Laughing again, she turned back to her work, "Alas, I wax nonsensical, as all lovers do. No doubt the giddiness wears off in time?"
Celeborn peeled and cored an apple, and - fetching a mortar - let his little grandson help him to mash it to a paste that the elfling was supposed to eat, but would doubtless just rub into his mop of silken, silver hair. Nimrodel's words stirred a carefully warded ache and hollowness in him, making him think of his own wife - of how, once he had first seen her, his life before Galadriel seemed suddenly to have been merely a long preparation for her arrival. "It does not," he said, "Only it grows deeper and quieter, like a great lake, so that those longest married speak about it least - for they can no longer imagine what it would be like to be alone."
"Yet you are apart."
"But not severed. Her soul and mine are still united, for Iluvatar made it so, and it cannot be undone."
True to expectation, young Celbeg ate a spoonful of apple, and then painted the floor with the rest. Nimrodel laughed again and added a shuttle of dusk-green silk to the weave. Deep in thought, Celeborn helped the boy trace out the cirth for his name in the mess before cleaning it away.
With the weight and wriggling vitality of a child in his arms the simple knowledge of indivisible union no longer seemed quite enough. Marriage was unbreakable, true, but its joy was so enhanced by presence, by touch, that he was almost ready to take the risk of being together once more. Perhaps he and Galadriel would discover that there was no more between them but an oath - love having worn away in too much distance and time. Yet he was no longer quite tired enough, quite weak enough, not to take the chance that something salvageable remained. It was time, maybe, to take his life in hand, and - if he could not rule a country, at least to rule himself.
Evening lay steel and turquoise over the rustling canopy of the talan when Celeborn returned from a successful hunt, with a deer lying limply over his shoulders and a back that - had it not been under his conscious control - would have been aching from bearing too much weight. He dropped the prize onto the foot of Daerbronwe's round hill, and put his hands to his mouth, calling up to the talan's occupants to come down and help him with the meat. But Amroth answered his hail with one of his own, turned, silhouetted in grace against the sunset, to point into the darkening sky.
Looking up, following the gesture, Celeborn beheld a great eagle come soaring out of the glimmering clouds. The sinking sun outlined each feather in gold, and seemed to dwell, captured, in the wild, fierce eyes. Greater than Landroval or Thorondur, greater than Gwaihir the Windlord himself, the blast of its wings flattened the meadow grass, made, for one moment, even the hurrying stream stand smooth as glass. As it swept overhead - a shadow, dark as a dragon's scudding beneath it - he saw on its back two elves, clinging, wide eyed with speed and danger, their faces - though many years apart in wisdom and lordship - alight with identical grins.
It banked, the huge wings tensed, driving it back now as it slowed. Feet like a cage of scythes spread and grasped the ground, and with a silent rush, a disproportionate lightness, the enormous eagle landed next to him. It folded its wings, raised its gilded, fearsome beak to the sky and cried aloud in triumph. It was as tall as he at the shoulder, and had to bend and angle its proud, bronze-feathered head, to look him in the eye.
"I am Aglarhir, son of Gelluidur," said the harsh, metallic voice. "Friend of Elladan of Tol Aduial. You are the one my friend seeks?"
"I am Celeborn of Ennor. Be welcome here, Aglarhir, friend of my grandson." He did not look beyond the boiling orange eye to see the elves who now slid down from their airy seat - he knew the prickly temper of eagles better than that. "I know not whether Elladan seeks me, or Amroth, but he will find both of us here, and both equally delighted to see him."
"It is well." Aglarhir's head cocked, tilting from side to side so that he could fix first one eye, then the other, on the carcass of the deer. His beak snicked open, and he ruffed his feathers thoughtfully.
Celeborn smiled, "By happy chance I may at least repay you for your long journey with a meal - take it with our thanks."
The eagle's curved neck arched down, and Aglarhir blinked, thin eyelid white and snake-like over his mad gold eye. There was a cold, magnanimous laughter in the depths of its alien glare. "Your eyrie is a little flimsy for me, and elvish stomachs too weak to dine beside my table manners. I will return later. Await me."
He took the stag easily in both claws and gathering himself burst upwards, rising heavily into the sky and wheeling away. Then Elladan and Amdir embraced Celeborn one by one, and they laughed together over eagle-pride, and reunion, and new life.
This time, holding Amdir by the shoulders, looking into a face he had not seen since the Last Alliance, Celeborn barely recalled the watery grave in which his kinsman's last body lay. He could not help but wonder if Amdir's fair face and his shining, pewter-dark hair floated still in the Dead Marshes, twisted over by corpse light. But now the memory had less power than the reality, and he did not recoil from it. Indeed, it was a reminder of victory - for Sauron was fallen, but Amdir was returned. "Come in!" he said, "Come and have supper, though I cannot offer you venison."
"I will not apologize for him," Elladan chuckled, taking off the circlet that now perched precariously on wind-blown hair and neatening himself, "He was the youngest fledgeling of his clutch, and so always hungry. Indeed, that is how we became friends - I stumbled upon their nest while climbing in the Pelori, and as his parents were over stretched, finding meat for three, I hunted for him."
"One might consider the gift of flight cheaply bought at the price," said Amdir, his cheeks aglow from the wind, and his charcoal-grey eyes alight with enjoyment, "Though the price be a lifetime of loyalty and responsibility."
"He is my friend, not my steed," Elladan bristled for a moment before he relented and punched the King of Lorinand teasingly in the arm, "Though I admit we travel often far together, and he will take me where I wish to go, if he deems it interesting enough."
"And now the mountains of the Pelori are infested with young elves, hoping to make the same bargain?" Celeborn asked, amused and perhaps a little envious - such freedom must be a wondrous thing.
Elladan laughed, and hugged his grandfather once more, as if to be sure he was indeed solid. "Gelluidur complains that the youngsters these days are so taken up with their eldar friends they know not how to hunt for themselves," he said, and grinned, "But such are the sentiments of all fathers. I have heard my own say many a similar thing in his time."
Amdir led the way to the great talan with the familiarity of one who is at home, running lightly up the ladder and being received with the warmth and lack of ceremony of one of the family. As a close friend of Celeborn's he had always stood as something of a second father to Amroth. Being, it seemed, permanently unwed, it had not been a surprise when - as King of Lorien - he named Celeborn's son as his heir, and Amroth - who at that time had been called Galadon - took a new epessë to reflect the gift.
Now Amdir marvelled at young Celebdir as at his own grandson, and beamed on hearing the name so carefully chosen to honour them both. Leaving him space to meet the child, to question the eager parents on the minute details of infant achievements and glory, Elladan and Celeborn stood quietly together to one side, and basked in reflected happiness.
"How is Elrond?"
"He was well, when I left him," Elladan hooked a foot around a nearby stool and pulled it close to sit on. He had a wry look, and was leaner, more athletic than he had been when he left Ennor. "But that was some months ago now. Just before the day of your arrival, in fact. For it occurred to me then that Daeraneth might have regretted so summarily dismissing Thingol's escort, and changed her mind. She might, I thought, be now wishing that she could come to meet you after all. And so Aglarhir and I flew to Tirion to carry her to Alqualondë, if she so desired."
"She did not."
"No," Elladan took the glass of wine his grandfather offered and shook his head in disbelief. Anger and humour warred in his eyes, as though he could not decide whether his grandmother was truly serious in this, or merely jested in poor taste. Seeing that the news was bad, Celeborn folded himself to his knees on the hard deck and relaxed as best he could to take the blow.
"She felt that as you had left her to build a new life alone, and did not come to her in her need, it was only justice that you suffer the same. 'I have lost count,' she said, 'of the years I spent praying that this day would bring his ship; the nights of disappointment and the stubborn hope for the morrow. But at length my patience wore out, and my grief became anger, and my loneliness solace. He has made it clear that he wants no further part in my life, and I am now resigned to that. I will not go to him. Nor will I receive him now, even were he to lower himself to come to me.'"
Bitter words, and hurtful. Unlike Elladan, he had no doubt she meant every one. And yet some part of him was reassured, strengthened by her haughty tone, her implacable anger. This was not the weary, saddened woman who had left him, so long ago. No, judging from this statement, Galadriel too was healed, her pride and power restored. He was glad she had regained her self, even at such a cost.
"She sent you to tell me this?"
Elladan grimaced, "Not in so many words, but I did not conceal from her where I was next headed. It may be I am her messenger. I did not mean to bring you grief, additional to what you suffer at leaving your land. Forgive me?"
The expression of sympathy awoke once more a familiar pain in Celeborn's heart - it did not grow easier to open and hear, instead of the ancient, varied and troubled song of Ennor, this innocent symphony of the new world. But he turned his thoughts from it as he had learned to do of late, and faced a closer fear as he asked, heart pounding in his ears. "By what name is she known?"
"Her own," said Elladan, without understanding, his eyes downcast. "Galadriel, as always."
Celeborn sighed, relieved, and reached out to touch his grandson's shoulder reassuringly. "Then there is hope. Thank you, Daerion, for bringing me her words. It is good to hear more than silence from her. When I visit, I will be sure to mention it."
"She will not see you! Did you not hear me say so?"
The sound of platters being brought out of their bench, and the moving of furniture brought their attention back to the scene within. Preparations were being made for the evening meal, and though there were three kings and no servants in the room still the table was laid swiftly and with good humour. There was jugged hare, bullrush roots and hot chestnuts, white bread and butter, hazelnuts and honey, and a mound of small, intensely sweet, wild strawberries. There was wine, traded from the settlements upriver, and home-made perry to drink, though Nimrodel chose fresh, cold water from the stream.
"Nevertheless, I will visit," said Celeborn, and felt himself stir awake once more at the thought of this challenge, "And she will see me. I must just plan my tactics first."
"Ah," Amdir laughed, "Now I am minded of the Second Age. I had thought this was your strategy, as you did then in Imladris, to stay here and wait til she comes to you."
"This was but a pause in the game, ere the match began anew," Celeborn smiled in return and reached over to relieve Celbeg of a chestnut that looked dangerously large for his small throat. "Nor can I use the same manoeuvre a second time - she will have expected and planned for it."
"But if I know mother," Amroth buttered a piece of bread while he thought, "She may have issued this warning, intending that it will provoke you to go to her."
"Then, when you do go," Nimrodel put in, with some small enthusiasm, "She will send you away again, unseen and humiliated. That's what I would do - to pay you back for not following me in the first place."
Amroth looked rather startled at this, and then relaxed, taking his wife's hand and gazing at her fondly, as both remembered that he had indeed followed, giving up everything else to do so. She reached up and smoothed a lock of his golden hair, with such an expression of adoration that everyone else at the table looked away, fearful of intruding on so private a moment.
"Yes," Celeborn agreed, breaking the silence. "That is probably her plan, and I must counter it somehow. I will give it some thought, ere I act."
"I am glad you are here at last, my friend," Amdir laughed, "If only because watching this courtship will give our folk something better to talk about than the Troubles. The more I think on them, the more my heart begins to truly misgive me."
At Celeborn's sharp glance of curiosity, his face clouded in surprise and regret. "I had forgotten you would not already know. Forgive me, I did not wish to trouble the serenity of your retreat."
"Ah, do not treat me like a flower that will wilt under too much rain!" He could not help being annoyed, though doubtless Amdir had been justly warned of his fragility from those who had seen it at its worst. That time was past. "What goes forth?"
"It is nothing," said Amroth, dismissively, "Fools, who cannot let the past go."
"Father says," Elladan contradicted his great uncle with polite uncertainty, but no real doubt in his eyes, "That those born in Aman need more challenge than they find here. The making of Ardh-in-Eledhil kept us occupied for many Long years, but now that it nears completion we do not know what to do with ourselves."
"There has been fighting between Noldor and Sindar in Alqualondë, and in Cirdan's havens at Calenlond," Amdir summarized. "There were riots in Tirion - some of my folk and Oropher's, with some of Denweg's Nandor, making their displeasure known at being called 'moriquendi' to their faces. And in reprisal the young firebrands of the Golodhrim took out their anger on the boatyards."
Nimrodel broke in, her face full of Silvan ferocity; "Galathil did not tell you they tore up his new sail? The one he spent years working on, which he said could be filled by sunlight and drive a boat windless through the Void? He was so furious I think he would have gone and burnt down their workshops, and ruined their treasures that they work on in secret at dead of night, did Galadhon not hold him down til Ulmo had forbidden it."
Picking up his mother's mood, the baby let out a shriek of anger and threw his spoon on the floor, and all there - who had died violent deaths, or seen loved ones do the same - sobered at the sound. Picking Celbeg up, Amroth took him out of one of the windows, where they might sit together on a swaying branch in the quiet starlight and grow settled once more.
"No one has yet been killed," Amdir finished, more quietly, "But I fear that if there is no new task ahead of us, nothing to unite us in one purpose, we will come to warfare at last, if only for something to do."
Sipping his wine, Celeborn studied the dance of candle-flames above the tablecloth and thought of Doriath, and Sirion. It occurred to him that Elu had hinted of this, with his veiled talk of unpleasantness between the clans. He understood now why Celebrian had named her residence the Half-Way house, for she and her husband were in all things half way between the Amanyar and the Ennorim; living embodiments of all that was good about unity. And at the same time, the request that he come and live in Thingol's court bore now a more practical interpretation. Less of nostalgia than a move to have at least one warleader available in the centre of his realm, for Melian had proved she would not put his people first, and thus for his folk's sake Elu could no longer risk himself if it came to battle.
With the example of the kinslaying at Alqualondë before him, he could not blame Elu for discounting the Valar's control of events and preparing for the worst. "I have been idle too long," he said at last, bracing himself to set his back beneath the burdens of life once more, "If you will take me, Elladan, I will go to Dor-Eden and put myself at my lord's service. Then we will see what we will see."
Dor-Eden = 'Renewed Country' - the part of the continent personally ruled by Thingol.
Ardh-in-Eledhil = 'Realm of the Star Elves' - the name of the whole continent ('Star-elves' being a less offensive name the so called 'Dark-elves' have given themselves.)
Daerbronwe = 'Great faithfulness'
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