2. Horses and Hounds pt. 2
And always, there was Galadriel. They rode out together more often than not, and it was during these times, with not even a lady in waiting hovering about, that their spirits seemed to touch more and more easily. There was little awkwardness or shyness anymore, and they were beginning to understand each other with merely a glance, a skill only intimates tended to acquire after long acquaintance.
One night, a month from the day he had arrived, they were watering their horses at the river and watching the moon rise over the hills to the east. Galadriel had been so introspective and quiet that Celeborn had been loathe to break her mood. Finally, she turned and took a bundle that he had mistaken as blankets from the back of her horse and unwrapped the fabric to reveal a soft length of midnight black material that, as it fell open in her hands, revealed a blossoming of silver vines and jewels. He peered at it in awe, not certain what to make of such a fine thing, until she spread her hands and showed him the full, inimitable pattern. There, finely and painstakingly embroidered, was the White Tree of Eressëa, from which his name was devised. She lifted it and he raised his hands to receive it, but all the while his mind was amazed.
"Surely, this…" he murmured, at a loss. He had not been so dumbfounded since the day he had learned that she loved him. "…by your hand?"
"Yes," she said with a smile. "Would you not put it on?"
He swung it about and brought it up over his shoulders, amazed that such a light material could feel so solid and warm against him. There was some craft in her weaving, he surmised. On the edge at his throat he found the pin to secure it, silver and in the shape of a leaf. Finally, he pulled his hair through and settled the cloak across his shoulders, letting her see the outcome of her labor.
"I am all amazed," he said, "that you should give me this wondrous thing…"
She smoothed the edges of it with her hands, her eye momentarily critical of her work, before she looked up and smiled. "Beauty to beauty," she said. "You are most fair, My Lord."
There was such fire in her eyes that he could only flush as he took her hand. "We have sayings about the benefits of beauty."
"Ah, so do we. We say: "beauty wins no wars" and "merit before beauty." What do you say?"
"We say: "beauty gives no warmth"."
She stared into his eyes and slid a hand about his waist, under the protection of the cloak. "Ah, now, I cannot agree with that. Is this not a beauteous thing, and isn't it warm? Aren't thou most beauteous, and do I not bear thy warmth in my very soul?"
The heat climbed higher in his face. "I do not think that was the literal meaning…" he managed, and brought his arm about her, bringing her within the protection of the cloak and close against him. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and was still for a long moment.
Finally, she said: "I have deceived you."
"How so?" he asked, although he suspected he already knew.
"Ah. Then my visit is at an end."
She did not reply. At length she said: "I imagined bringing you here and convincing you to stay with me, by any means in my power. Coercion, if I had to. Pleading."
"Tears?" he guessed, seeing them glint upon her cheek.
"I had not planned that," she sighed as he brushed the moist trails with his fingers. "I am too proud."
He knew that to be a truth, but not the truth of the moment. She was too honorable to use underhanded tactics, and he wondered if seduction was something she had contemplated.
"I cannot stay," he reminded her gently.
He kissed her then, because it seemed the natural outcome of all that had come before, but he could not have predicted how very good it felt to be so close to her and how, once learning the way of it, how hard it would be to stop. The whole sky was ablaze with the blessings of starlight above them, but all he could feel was the warmth of her arms about him, the weight of her against him under the cloak, and her mouth taking and giving in equal parts until all there was in the whole night was Galadriel.
It was not unanticipated, Melian's letter and his summons. He spent the last evening with Galadriel alone, with words and in silence, the press of a hand more eloquent than any declaration.
“Do you still think we shall have many meetings and partings?” he asked, recalling that day in Menegroth when she had seemed to see so much of their future.
“I think it still,” she affirmed. “I am determined not to be distressed by fate. We will have what happiness we can take for ourselves. Perhaps it will force us to appreciate the times we do have in each other’s company.” Gray eyes looked at him thoughtfully. “I do not see much future for the Noldor, if I must admit to the truth. What happened in Alqualondë, and the oaths said before…they can only spell doom. I do not want your fate entwined with ours.”
“It is too late for that,” he told her. “And who is to say? Perhaps your fate will instead entwine with mine, melthiliel.”
Much of that conversation was on his mind as he left his escort, and headed due east to the Falls of Sirion, intending to follow the river north to Doriath, as was conventional. Quesse already knew the route, which allowed his mind to wander until finally they were at the great Falls.
Celeborn dismounted, and led Quesse to the water’s edge in a peaceful area so that she could drink. It had turned into a warm day. As she bent to the water, he filled his own flash and splashed water over his face. He had long ago carefully packed away the cloak for safekeeping, and even the thin tunic he wore was moist. Lifting his head, he saw that he was not alone.
Not far north of where he sat by the river’s edge stood a horse and rider. The horse was Noldor, and he supposed the rider was, too, although no Noldor he had ever seen. Bright reddish copper hair fell straight and shining down the stranger’s back and over his wide shoulders. He sat with his head forward, leaning against his horse’s neck, with his hands crossed in a curious way, one favoring the other. Even at the distance, Celeborn could see his eyes were gray.
Celeborn nodded to the red-haired Noldor, and received a hesitant nod back. Then the stranger turned his horse’s head and came south along the edge of the water, finally appearing within a few yards before the rider dismounted one-handed. Quesse’s head was already up and she was eying this new situation with alert ears.
“I thought you were a water spirit,” the Noldor said, with a wry smile. “Else I might have hailed you earlier.” Those gray eyes were examining him rather more finely than even Celeborn was used to. “Maedhros of Lothlann at your service. I am making my way to Nargothrond by way of Dor-Lómin.”
Of course Celeborn knew the name. There was not a single Elf who did not know the names of the sons of Fëanor. He bowed politely. “Celeborn of Doriath. I am returning from Nargothrond.”
“Ah. Then you must have been guesting with Cousin Finrod?”
“Yes. And you with Lord Fingon?”
“Indeed. ‘Tis the season for travel, apparently.” He was still staring. “I had not heard the name before.”
“I am distant kinsman to King Thingol, and also related to the wife of Finarfin.”
“Ah, so you’re kin, are you? Yes, the Teleri hair gives it away.”
Celeborn knew he should smile in response, but Maedhros’s peculiar emphasis on ‘Teleri’ made him uneasy. After all, under all of this politeness was an Elf who had killed Teleri, perhaps even some of Celeborn’s distant kin.
“But I suppose I shouldn’t be talking about distinctive hair color.” Maedhros tugged at a lock of blazing hair. It was an amazingly vivid hue, Celeborn admitted. Almost like a smoldering fire.
“Would you drink?” he said after a moment, startled at his own absent-mindedness. He had been blocking Maedhros’s route to the water’s edge.
“My thanks.” The son of Fëanor led his horse through, and Celeborn signaled Quesse back to make room, in case either were skittish. He checked the saddlebags, securing the water flask. When he turned, he found the tall Elf watching him avidly. It was the sort of intense regard Celeborn knew of old, although it was rarely so focused, even in Nargothrond.
“Did Lord Finrod know of your arrival?” he asked. “He did not mention the possibility of meeting you upon the road.”
“I do not often plan such things,” the man replied dismissively.
No, a son of Fëanor would not have to, Celeborn mused.
“Are you great friends, then, you and Finrod?” Maedhros asked, patting his horse absently while he regarded the other steadily.
“Not great friends. I was invited by Lady Galadriel…you would know her as Artanis, I believe?”
Maedhros’s eyebrows went up. “Ah, yes, I would at that. She lived in Doriath until recently, did she not?” A sharp smile and a laugh let Celeborn know Maedhros did not particularly care for Galadriel. “You must get along very well, to have her invite you into Nargothrond.” There was a question there that was rather impolitely forward, so Celeborn chose not to respond to it.
But there was more disrespect to follow.
Finrod had, by way of Fingon, received a missive that had agitated him enough to ride out quickly on his fastest horse.
At the turning at the Falls of Sirion, he stopped. There was Maedhros, as he feared, with Celeborn; Quesse was between them, and her rider had a hold on her mane. Celeborn’s expression was agitated; Maedhros’s was amused. They both turned to look at Finrod.
He was happy to see Maedhros’s smile die and turn sour, and equally happy to see Celeborn mount Quesse, and without a backward glance, ride to meet him.
“Is everything…?” Finrod began.
“I do not like your cousin,” the Sindar noble said flatly.
It was a startlingly pronouncement, both in content and tone, that said that Maedhros had managed to be his typical overbearing self. Finrod opened his mouth to reply, but Celeborn abruptly shook his head, turned Quesse, and trotted off, following the road north.
Maedhros strolled over, half an eye on his departure. “Exquisite piece,” he drawled. “Didn’t seem to care for me, though.”
“He is intended for Artanis,” Finrod said coldly.
The redheaded warrior smiled. “Is that so? I wonder then, that she isn’t here to defend him from me, as you obviously are.”
“I know how you are.”
“Now, now. No harm done. Artanis may have him with my blessing.”
“She will hardly be cheered by such a statement.”
“Then I suppose you shouldn’t tell her…” Maedhros smiled. “…should you?”
*Rough translation of Finrod’s song (my Elvish sucks):
Ah the golden light (of) Valinor!
I dwell in this place
I will abide alone.
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