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Mother of Horsemen: 5. Chapter 5
Reviews, my friends! I live for them! If you know someone who enjoys this type of fic, do tell about it. I am no Dwimordene, or Isabeau, or Altariel, but I am trying.
I welcome constructive critique. If there are any passages you like, or hate, tell me. I welcome e-mail.
OK, I'm through with the begging. (Not really! Review! REVIEW!)
Some questions will be answered in this chapter. I feel I should restate that this story is following canon, as closely as my shockingly bad memory will allow, from LOTR and the Silmarillion, so yes, eventually some sad things are going to happen.
Mother of Horsemen - Chapter Five
Galadriel stood like a stone as they approached, effectively keeping the hysteria roiling inside her from reaching her severely perfect features. If she had not done so, she reasoned, Readfah would likely have attacked her. It was clear that any upbringing worthy of an elf was hardly to be expected in the daughter of a renegade.
As Gil-galad had said to Elrond, he had some mastery over the art of diplomacy. "My Lady Galadriel," he began, working very hard to keep his own face straight. "Allow me to present Readfah, my new horse-mistress." Just enough emphasis was laid on that last word to jolt Galadriel's eyes back to his, if only for a brief, annoyed flicker. Gil-galad would find something to amuse him if an orc were eating him alive, she thought. Is he truly blind?
Readfah confounded Galadriel's expectations by greeting her with a precise bow more regal than anything she had seen since she had left Valinor.
And so, he taught his whelp manners, Galadriel thought. Perhaps not so surprising after all. They all had breeding, once. She returned Readfah's formal courtesy with a cold nod.
She then addressed Gil-galad, carefully screening the emotion from her voice. "And where is milord Celeborn? I thought to greet him."
Gil-galad was about to plead ignorance, but Readfah spared him.
"I will fetch him, if you like. He is with new horse," she said. She bowed herself out of the group and was away with all speed.
Elrond found that he had been holding his breath for some reason, and made the effort to exhale slowly. Galadriel's face was stormy, and she was demanding a private audience with the king, and her demand seemed to include Elrond, too. Celebrían, who had not spoken a word, not even when her elders had omitted to include her in the introductions, seemed to sense that her presence would not be required, and quietly announced that she was very tired, and would like to rest a while and greet her father later. The ladies' tent had been erected and equipped before their arrival, and she had soon gone to sleep. Elrond wished, not for the last time, that they all could have done the same.
"At this late date I fail to see how it matters," Gil-galad swept his hand over his face, trying to keep his temper.
Galadriel turned on him, her gown rustling sharply. "Fëanor spelled all his sons! And Celebrimbor was ample proof that the curse of his reckless, foul temper followed even unto the next generation! How do we know it does not follow her as well?"
"She has done me a great service, and though I once had the same fears as you, they rest, now."
Galadriel paced away from him, then turned back, her face white. "Did 'they' ever rest? Did her father ever cease to hound and to slay his own?"
"And who was her father, lady? There were, after all, seven sons!" said Gil-galad sarcastically.
When Readfah returned and stood framed in the tent opening, with Celeborn beside her, Galadriel could contain herself no longer. She swung on Readfah, thrusting a finger accusingly at her.
"Can you indeed look at that face and deny whose seed sired it?" she cried, her pent-up fury breaking at last."Can you? Only one son of Fëanor had the fire of Nerdanel in his hair, and only one had eyes like those! Well I remember, too, escaping that crooked blade, as too many of my kinfolk did not!" She turned to Readfah, and added, cruelly and unnecessarily, "And well we all know, Maedhros took no wife!"
"Galadriel!" a sharp shout arrested them all.
It was Celeborn who spoke, and they turned to him in amazement, for he never raised his voice. Before he could say more, Readfah turned and ran from the tent. Elrond started to say something, thought better of it, and contented himself with a soft, deadly "Ai...!" before following her.
"There's a pretty sight," Galadriel's lip curved up scornfully. "T'is well! The misbegotten should comfort one another!"
"Have you, then, become a servant of Sauron?" Celeborn took a step toward her, and she looked up at him in renewed shock.
"Sauron? Are you mad, to speak thus to me?"
"Nay, lady, my only madness was in my silence! We have spent our lives at war with him. Is it inconceivable that we could become infected with his spite? For that was spite in your voice. You dealt with Celebrimbor son of Curufin readily enough, because he had something that suited your purposes, even though his works may yet turn to evil. Yet, you feel free to spew hatred for an innocent who has done more good than ill, and she is no more heir of Fëanor than Celebrimbor was! Could it be that you see no advantage to be gained by her friendship? Or that you despise her for no better reason than Maedhros stood unmoved by your beauty? Could it be simple envy, the kind one feels toward another when she perceives a strength in the other that she herself possesses not?
"Think you long, wife, on who your true enemies are! I speak as one who loves you, yet I have seldom seen as unworthy a display as I have witnessed of you this day!"
Celeborn strode out, leaving Gil-galad gaping like a fish. All those words! Galadriel did not bother to excuse herself, but followed Celeborn out with a queer look in her eyes, leaving the king to ponder what had just happened. Perhaps it was the first of many such long-overdue outbursts on the part of his most serious and hardworking officer.
And then again, he thought, perhaps it is best to speak but once in a thousand years, and speak to the purpose.
"I wish not to talk now!"
"Then I won't talk."
"I wish not to be squeezed either."
"I won't. I promise. Just don't leave, please?"
"And why you want me to stay? Now you know, you should hate me too."
"No! I knew your father. You remember how I told you about how I lost my parents, and about your birth-star. I was just a boy, but your father's brother, Maglor, raised my brother Elros and me. Maedhros came to see us sometimes," Elrond concluded desperately, when it looked as though she would break into a run to escape him.
Readfah stopped, and turned to him in wonder, and her voice was very small, "You knew my Ada?"
"Yes. Not very well - I was a little afraid of him. He was often in a foul mood and argued with Maglor a great deal. But sometimes, when he had been gone a long time, he would seem almost happy when he came in. But always, the bad feeling would come back and he would leave in anger." Elrond's heretofore dim memory of Maedhros' face was clearer now, and Readfah's was eerily like the handsome, fire-shadowed one that he remembered from boyhood. The sardonic arch of her right brow when she was puzzled or annoyed, the gently tapered ears, the dark, blood-colored hair, the sea green undercast to her eyes, the fine mouth and nose, all were her father's.
"He would do the same with us, but upside down. He would come sad and leave happy," Readfah said, a small smile shaping itself on her lips, but not in her eyes. Suddenly, it seemed, both of them had been handed new pieces to the puzzle of their respective pasts.
She and Elrond walked toward the small brook that bordered the woods. The afternoon shadows had grown longer, and they found a place to sit where the grass was smooth and cool and the water gurgled softly. She was quiet for a long time, but Elrond waited for her to speak, and prudently did not attempt to touch her as he longed to.
"It was no shame in mother's tribe that she and Ada were not wed," Readfah began slowly, not meeting Elrond's eyes. "She told me, when he stopped coming, that she had not wished it, even though she loved him and he very much loved her. But she say he frighten her. Sad, happy, sad, happy. Change too much. He was always good to me - teach me to ride like elf do, speak to horse without mouth, and to shoot bow. Sometimes, I was afraid too. I would hear him with mother, in the night, and I would cry, but then I grow up and understand sound of joy. And when I was very little, his hand missing would make me feel funny here," she pointed to her stomach, "until he told me story, how a friend had to cut hand to save him."
"That was Fingon," said Elrond gently. "Gil-galad's father."
Readfah finally looked at Elrond."I am happy to know so. I hope Ada was not bad to king as he must have been to lady," Readfah shuddered. "She hates me so! I do not wish for people to hate me! I hear many bad stories of father, even from Green elf people. They did not blame me, but even so, many were not friendly. So, I never tell who he was to anyone. And I never know what he did. He never told me what made him so sad. He said always that mother and I were like Sun to him, and he would not shadow us with his trouble."
"I will tell you something," Elrond said firmly, moving over to embrace her in spite of his promise. "Maedhros was no more evil at heart than you or me. His father swore his sons to an impossible oath, and one by one they all died for it, save Maglor. Your father loved you and your mother, and it is clear to me now that that was what kept him from losing his mind altogether for so long. He did many evil deeds, but I believe he was driven mad by the oath to do so. Many times, I remember, he would curse Maglor, shouting and railing as if he would gladly strike his head off, and end by weeping in his arms.
"As for Gil-galad, he saw your father once, but never spoke with him, and they ended enemies, though they never did battle one with the other. Maedhros...died...soon after, and I went into the king's service. Of Maglor, nothing is known. It is said he became a hermit, and ventures no longer among men or elves, yet it is but a rumor, and I fear he must have met his end as well."
"I hope not. Maybe some day he will be healed, and you will see him again. Maybe he has gone on ship to West."
Elrond did not speak of his doubt, but only smiled. "I hope all of us find healing someday, my dear Readfah." She nestled close to him, and did not notice his use of the word "us."
Celeborn's anger was the still, white-hot kind that took long to kindle and long to quench. Galadriel knew that, but she had never dreamed that he would set himself against her. He had been right, of course. She had let her fear master her, struck out in spite against one who had never harmed her, and made a fool of herself in the bargain. Her face burned with shame, recalling for the hundredth time that day her husband's words about Maedhros being unmoved by her beauty...she had boldly tried to use her womanhood to gain freedom for an imprisoned kinsman on one occasion, and it had only served to make him angrier. "Wench!" he had cried, and she felt the wind of the blade Readfah now carried whistle past her face. "Come near to me again and your head will part company with your neck!"
Galadriel shuddered, and rose from the silk-sheeted couch where she had been lying, open-eyed, since she left Gil-galad's tent. She looked over at her sleeping daughter. There had been a time when an elf-maid's beauty alone was all she needed to guarantee her suitors, but now it was no longer enough. Celebrían was stunningly beautiful. Though she had been born in mortal lands, she appeared to move in a soft glow of silver light as if the Moon shone in her hair. She was much like Galadriel to look at, but barely came up to her mother's shoulder, and there was the matter of her silence. Celebrían never uttered two words when one would do.
Galadriel had once been confident that Celebrían would win the king over. Their first meeting a year ago hadn't really counted; things had been rushed and unexpected trouble had arisen necessitating a hasty departure, but he had spoken to her, and all seemed well. Another good sign was that Celebrían had turned quite pink when asked how she had liked Gil-galad.
But with two short flashes of insight all of that seemed to teeter on the edge of oblivion. Galadriel had seen the easy, laughing way Gil-galad had with Readfah as they and Elrond walked up to meet her. She had almost sickened with fear, even before she had seen Readfah's face. Then, when Readfah had bolted from the tent, she had seen Gil-galad's eyes follow her with an unmistakeable look of yearning, and of envy for Elrond. Galadriel had felt her world desert her, and she had no haven but this tent to retreat and take counsel with herself.
If Gil-galad had no desire to wed Celebrían, then no incentive existed for him to yield any control of the rings. Besides, Galadriel suspected that the third ring was elsewhere. She had sensed the presence of Vilya, but Narya was not there. Fools! She was the only one who knew how to fully tap their power! She was the only one who had dared, even if it had only been for a moment, to wear hers and take within her the entire knowledge of the power she wielded. Only she knew how the rings worked together! She groaned as she remembered how Celebrimbor had been ready to give all three to her, and her own words, "Nay, sir! T'would be safer to separate them! Give me the Adamant, for I am come from over the Sea, but bestow the others elsewhere."
He had obeyed her, but now how she rued her own words. Ever had her hasty tongue been her enemy. She would never make that mistake again. She looked back at the sleeping Celebrían, and mused, 'Perhaps she was made so, to teach me prudence! I will take it so, and in time, no one will gainsay the wisdom of the Lady.'
Gil-galad and Celeborn rode together deep into the Southern end of the valley. Accustoming themselves to their new horses was as good a reason as any to disappear for a while. Celeborn's mount, a large, fire-colored mare, was of gentle disposition, until she was tested with the smell of orc blood, whereat she snapped and bit much as Readfah's mare did. Gil-galad's horse needed no such provocation to bite, and only when Gil-galad mentioned feeding horsemeat to the hounds did Raha, as he called him, stand dutifully to be mounted, the whites of his eyes showing.
"What will you call her?" began Gil-galad, nodding at the mare by way of starting a conversation, after they had ridden in silence for a while.
Celeborn sighed. He was always ill at ease with idle chat. "I haven't given it thought, yet, sir," he said in a clipped tone. Then, realizing his anger at Galadriel was spilling into his talk with the king, he immediately apologized and softened his voice. "Your pardon sir. I would also ask your pardon for the inexcusable behavior of my wife, earlier. She sometimes allows her feelings to override reason."
As you would do well to do, sometimes, thought Gil-galad. He waved the apology off, and took a deep breath. "Celeborn...I wish to wed with your daughter, if she is willing."
Celeborn had to grasp two handfuls of mane to keep his seat, even though the horses were walking slowly. He wanted to accuse the king of jesting, but realized that would be a slight to Celebrían. He swallowed hard, and his brows almost disappeared into his hairline.
"It...it would be an honor, sir. But I thought, that is, I thought..."
"You thought that it was mostly your wife's idea."
"Yes, sir," he relaxed a little.
"Maybe it was, at first. But I do see the wisdom of it, and she is lovely, and I have no other entanglements."
"But, do you -"
"Love her? No. Care for her? Yes. She is not only beautiful, but good natured and sensible. I am a king, milord. I was long ago prepared, that if I should wed, I would follow the inclination of my head rather than my heart. And surely you have seen that Celebrían herself desires no one. It is in the nature of most elves to wed, but there are a few who desire no spouse. If we were not of royal blood, we would both happily remain alone. Better then, that we should wed, we who cannot break each other's hearts, and serve the needs of our people if not ourselves. Besides, in time, a deeper affection may take root, and we may find contentment."
Celeborn digested this for a few moments. "If she is of the same mind, and willing, I will not withhold my consent."
"One stipulation only do I make. We will hold ourselves betrothed until the One Ring is wrested from Sauron, or unmade. Until then, no wedding will take place."
Celeborn struggled with a smile until he finally allowed it to break out. If he had ever had any doubts about Gil-galad's problem-solving abilities, they were buried now.
And so there was a truce. The sun set on Imladris that evening with music and merriment made by those blissfully unaware of the late friction. Galadriel was pleased that her husband had forgiven her foolishness so quickly, and sat beside him with a look of joy so genuine no one doubted that she had repented of her hasty words. Gil-galad devoted himself to Celebrían, who alternated between smiles and looks of utter consternation at his bold manners. They had feasted on well seasoned pheasants that Gil-galad's archers had brought down three days ago, oysterroot, and good wine.
After the meal, Elrond and Readfah wandered down to the brook again, this time barefoot, and they sat for a long time, dipping their feet in the water and talking about the happier times of their youth. Suddenly Elrond laughed.
"I just remembered, playing with Elros in a stream like this one - we were just boys - Maglor had been gone most of the day and when he came back he had a brace of birds he had gotten for our dinner, and a big sack full of peaches. Elros was the younger, but he knew when to stop. I didn't. They were delicious, and I ate until I almost burst. I was never such a glutton again, but do you know, Readfah, that was the best day of my life! We played in water, no one was chasing us, and we got to eat our fill!"
He looked around him and grinned. "The only thing that's missing now are the peaches."
Readfah pointed to a small tree behind him. "That is plum tree," she said mischievously. "But plums are green still. Make you sick faster, no?"
Elrond made a face at her and with a deft movement of her foot, she splashed a few drops of water in his face. Sputtering, he reached as if to tickle her, but stopped with a sharp breath, as if something had bitten him. One hand slid around her shoulders, and the other stroked her face as tenderly as he would have a petal of niphredil. His last thought before his mouth covered hers was that he didn't really miss the peaches after all.
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