Yet Lothlorien was her refuge. She felt it from the first moment she crossed into the trees, and she always had. There was something in the air of that fair land – perhaps it was the scent of a slightly spicy snap from the lordly mallorn trees, perhaps it was the knowledge that she was encircled by her father’s watchful protection, perhaps it was her mother’s subtle influence.
Perhaps it was Nenya.
No, Celebrían decided, it can not be that.
But she knew it was.
The trip had been blessedly uneventful, though her internal turmoil made true peace an impossible fantasy. And if the burden of care seemed less heavy among the mallorn, the hushed woods could not make the weight less real. Still, ‘twas good to be back.
Though she was nearly surrounded by Glorfindel’s guards, ever watchful even in the borders of the Golden Wood, there was room for Celebrían to stretch out her hands and brush the trees as she passed, as her father had taught her in their earliest excursions together through Middle Earth.
“Let them know you are there, sell-nín, ask their blessing before you go like thunder into a deep forest,” Celeborn had often said. “Many trees are not fond of being disturbed, but most are less fond of being disregarded. And those at the edge of a grove are more curious, more open-minded, more friendly than many of their older and deeper brethren; ask their leave as you pass, and your paths shall be clearer.”
*Suilad, orn beleg* she said softly to each, never expecting an answer but always pleased when one would politely reply:
—suilad o Laurelindórenan Celebelanor, sell uin Celebrannon, gell uin Galadrîn.—
Their name for her made her smile and remember falling asleep to the cadence of debates between her father and Fangorn. The tree-herder had called her the “Hasty Silver Flower,” but had himself always been almost painfully eager to show her a delicate bird’s nest or the morning dew on a spider’s web. Celeborn had teased him incessantly about his love of such fleeting things, leaving Treebeard harummphing about “shortsighted-ignorant-overlooking-elf-lords who think children are forever, and hoom, just wait until some lordling catches her eye, the then we’ll talk about hasty.”
Celebrían chuckled at the memory from her very early childhood, earning a strange look from the nearest guard, a young man coiled tight from the responsibility laid upon his shoulders as well as the creeping apprehension that they were being watched. Thus distracted, the nervous warrior nearly tumbled from his horse when a staccato command burst from above him.
She threw the boy an encouraging look before glancing upward with a small smile tugging at her lips.
“Tolo dad, and we will talk, Haldir,” she cried back with a musical laugh.
“Lady Celebrían?” a surprised voice asked, just before its owner jumped deftly from branch to ground. “Forgive me – we were not expecting guests, much less ... are you … that is, do your parents expect your arrival?”
She looked again to the forest ceiling and the shimmering dance of leaves in the wind. Her father was well concealed, but visible to anyone who knew how to look – discerning silver shadows, her mother called it – then she blinked, and he was gone. “Your lord knows that I am here, mellon-nín. And my mother as well, I would think.”
“And do others follow? Is Lord Elrond with you?” he asked.
“No,” she answered smoothly.
“Ah … I see.” Haldir cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes, certainly seeing more than he would say. “You have come to us in strange times, m’lady. Lord Celeborn decides in one afternoon and without apparent reason to increase the border guard four-fold, the Lady quests again for answers to unnamed questions, and the jewel of Imladris rides unannounced into Lothlorien with an armed guard. Peculiar, would you not say?”
“Odd coincidences,” Celebrían answered, and imperceptibly urged her horse forward on the path to Caras Galadhon, leaving the border guard behind.
“Indeed,” he answered to himself, and swung back into the tree with resolve to redouble his vigilance.
The evening sun streamed through the leaves of the trees, weaving a pattern of light and silver on Celebrían’s hair as she faced the west, a resplendent silhouette against the evening sky. Celeborn stood at the threshold of the flet in reverence of her beauty and in mourning for a faded age when he could delight her by sweeping her to his shoulders for a better view of Ennor. Though she faced the sunset, he knew she did not see it; she looked west because the west called – not to her, but to a heart near to her own, which was somehow worse. Celeborn knew the feeling well, for it had darkened his life for half an age.
“Mae aduial, adar,” Celebrían said, turning toward him as she sensed his presence.
He shook himself from his reverie and summoned a smile as he stepped forward to embrace her. “Welcome, my daughter,” he said, and then moved to arm’s length to study her face. She gazed back, and could not stop the mildly amused expression she had inherited from her mother from flitting over her features.
“What do you see, father?” she asked, teasing him for his intensity.
He shook his head in longsuffering before meeting her eyes again. “Enough,” he answered simply. “Sit here with me,” he said, gesturing to a couch near the balcony. For a time they did not speak, but watched together as the evening melted into a canopy of stars. “No moon,” he said at last and with a sigh. “A mercy, at least; I do not think I could abide its sorrow tonight.” He sighed again and reached for is daughter’s hand, tucking it under his arm as she leaned into his shoulder.
“Tell me, my father, how do you bear it?” she asked at length. She could have been speaking of the moon, or of long years flown on the wind, or of battles lost, or of grown children, but she was not. No, she was speaking of a more circular problem that could be neither misunderstood nor ignored, even on a peaceful moonless night.
He grimaced and tilted his head up to the stars before turning to her again with a tale in his eyes.
“I knew of the rings,” he began, “I knew of them all, from the great rings to the lesser. How could I not? I was the lord of Eregion, and the elven smiths did their work under my protection, if not my blessing. While the Seven and the Nine made me merely uncomfortable, the Three filled my heart with deep foreboding. Had we not already suffered greatly for trinkets that purported to ensnare similar virtue? Celebrimbor tried to explain his reasoning to me many, many times: how they would ‘protect and preserve the works of the Eldar, shielding all things good and beautiful from the ravages of time and change.’” Celeborn paused and smiled without humor.
“Such Noldo explanations did nothing to ease my mind. ‘Tis our curse and our blessing to stand unchanged while the world shifts around our feet, as leaving the world is the curse and the blessing of men; to deny the gifts of Eru is to deny ourselves the melody meant to guide our lives. Truly, daughter, I feared to live in the world of rigid stagnation they desired.” Celeborn shook his head in frustration. “But the choices of others were not left to me, and the rings were made. And then we were betrayed, as I had feared and as Galadriel had seen.
“By that time, you were already here in Lorien with your mother, and I was hopeful that you both would be spared the touch of the rings. Alas for that hope, which I did not see was ended until the very moment when ‘twas too late!”
He stopped speaking, and Celebrían wondered if he had the strength to continue, for there were tears in his eyes. But she said nothing, and for a time there was no sound save the lazy dance of the wind in the leaves and the muted rustle of unseen creatures. He stood and faced away, his head bowed. When he began again, his voice was softer than the night.
“When she placed the ring on her finger, I knew. Ai, I knew!”
*Galadriel, melethril-nín, bereth-nín, gell o ind nín, vi i eneth aer o Eru, take it off!*
“I begged her, Celebrían, I begged her to destroy it,” he said, slowly facing her again. “While the Three are not evil – they have never been touched by it – so long as they exist, the elves are in peril of slavery. There is too much of our collective soul in them for it to be otherwise, and ultimately, freedom is the only difference between Eldar and Orc. But my plea to Galadriel was not born of concern for our people; rather the desire to keep our bond as our own, untouched by the agony of righteous power and ancient cares.
“In the end, my daughter, a ringbearer will be either a thrall of corruption or a sacrifice for virtue. Knowing this, they try to remain in places of deep loneliness, try to protect those they love from suffering the same fate, little seeing that they are not alone. And so we who are their lovers stand in the storm. We feel the rings, but cannot control them; we are assailed by the sea and the darkness and the isolation, but cannot fight it. We chose love, not rings, but suffer the doom as if we had. I knew all these things the moment Galadriel claimed Nenya as her own, and I begged her to heed me, but she would not.”
*You cannot ask this of me, husband.. ‘Tis my duty, my destiny, my doom – I have no power to turn away.”*
“I could not abide the ring, or perhaps it could not abide me. When it forced me back to myself, I lay stricken in the midst of a battlefield with healers and heralds at my side searching desperately for the wound that fell me. I told them ‘twas a blow to my heart, but that they would find no mark. My link to my wife was broken, without even a line between us to say that the other yet lived. By her choice, we were utterly sundered.”
“I did not know of that, adar-nín,” Celebrían whispered, standing to take his hand. “Now I understand why mother was so frantic to find you after Eregion fell – she did not know if you survived.”
Celeborn sighed heavily. “And I knew not whether she cared. Though I told myself that I remained in Imladris to help Elrond establish the haven, to wait for Gil-galad, to comfort the refugees, in truth I was fleeing her. I was too proud to face her again, and too fearful that I was unworthy of her glory. But she came to Rivendell, and found I loved her more than my pride. But it was not as it had been before; her mind was much changed, and so was mine. The consequence of the choice remains … it is merely deferred for a time. ” The muscles of his jaw rippled as he fought a black wave of regret; whether his own or his wife’s he could not discern.
Though he waited for it to recede, the pain of it lingered in his gaze as he gently pressed his daughter’s hand. “But what I do know is this: I love her. And if that means I must suffer the ring, then it shall be so. That is how I bear it.”
“Then you would have me choose Vilya, good my father?” she asked, her voice weary with resignation.
“No,” he answered regretfully, and tightened his grip on her fingers. “But you already have. You took his hand and promised in the name of the Valar and to Eru himself that you would give your life to Elrond, your heart, your love. You freely and joyfully made that choice long ago, so have no need to decide anew today.”
“I chose Elrond, not a ring,” she answered with some anger, pulling her hand away.
“They are the same,” he answered. “The ring, and its lord.”
“Nay! The ring, Eru mell! the ring’s aura encompasses Middle Earth. The ring knows the breadth and depth of all elven hearts. It is both hunter and hunted. It is … not Elrond.”
“What do you think a ring is? Even the very ring you are so absently and agitatedly twisting holds great power,” Celeborn answered. Celebrían looked reproachfully at her treacherous fingers, which had indeed been twisting her wedding band.
“A ring is a band of metal, a bit of stone, an empty repository for whatever its bearer choose to pour into it,” he continued. “You fill your ring with your love. Sauron filled his with all the hatred of his dark heart. Vilya holds Celebrimbor’s hope, Gil-Galad’s loyalty, and all of Elrond’s majesty. From least to greatest, a ring can not be anything but what its bearer has the power to convey and to wield.”
Celebrían shook her head in frustration. “Elrond is gentleness, wisdom, compassion …”
“ … Lord of Imladris, son of Eärendil, descendant of Melian,” Celeborn interrupted. “What you have seen of Vilya encompasses all the Elrond is. Perhaps, daughter, this is the source of your difficulty: not that you have been confronted with the ring, but rather by the bits of your husband you like least.” Celeborn’s eyes flashed with fire though his voice was as gentle as winter’s first snow.
“I know my husband. All of him, and better than you,” she answered bitterly. “No, father, my concern is this: we went toe to toe with evil, and we almost lost. I would not live that life! I would not spend my blood and tears on the long defeat. I would rather abide in the joy sung of with such sweet reverence – the life enjoyed by all but the mightiest of the Eldar! I would not suffer the toil of wrenching a world from under the claws of misery!”
Silence descended for a moment, heavy with unspoken emotion. Celebrían turned from her father and sat again on the couch. She let her head fall against the back and pressed her hands against her eyes. “Adar, please, just go. I am weary and can bear no more of this tonight.”
Celeborn bowed his head and rubbed his brow with the tips of his fingers before tightening those fingers into a fist and tapping his lips. Then, with a gesture strangely hesitant for the lordly elf, he placed his hand on his daughter’s shoulder.
“There are elves who stroll through the gardens of Middle Earth, singing to Elbereth under the stars and caring little for the problems of the world. ‘Tis an idyllic and carefree life. It would have driven you mad. For you, my daughter, are grace, kindness, charity, Lady of elven kingdoms, daughter of Galadriel, heir of Finarfin. There is a reason you fell in love with Elrond, and it was not because you thought he would give you a simple life.”
She said nothing.
Celeborn sighed. Logic had accomplished little, nor appeals in love’s name. Knowing the cost of speaking his own weakness, he nevertheless reached into his soul and whispered what he well knew was the crux of her anguish. “You are no less than he. Elrond holds a ring. You hold his heart. In the end, which do you think will be more enduring?”
At his words, a light dawned in her face at last, greater than the light of the stars, of the sun. Greater, even, than the light of a Silmaril, which Celeborn had seen with his own eyes. She stood, a lady, a queen, one who held the power of a great elven ring in her mind and love of its bearer in her heart. She kissed her father’s cheek, and he smiled as he touched hers with paternal care. With a regal bow he melted wordlessly into the night, leaving her in peace.
“She has every reason to be angry with him,” Galadriel said when she found her husband at last, sitting in a high branch with his back to the silver trunk of the tree.
“No, she doesn’t,” he answered. Galadriel gave an exasperated sigh as she accepted Celeborn’s proffered hand and joined him in repose on the branch. She leaned lightly against his chest as he pulled her close, little needing to see his face to know his heart. Once she was settled he pressed a single melancholy kiss to her neck. She found his hands and clasped them in her own.
“A wide branch in a lonely tree … was that not what first caused us such trouble all those years ago, hervenn?” she asked with gentle teasing, trying to break his mood.
He gave an amused snort. “As I recall, the only trouble was your enraged brother. Elu and Melian made a valiant effort at wrath, but could not stop smiling. And the tree was certainly delighted by the whole…”
“Affair?” she supplied helpfully. “And you certainly didn’t complain.”
“Nor you, melethril.”
They lapsed into silence, though she could hear both the throb of his heart and the slide of his thoughts back into gloom.
She closed her eyes and followed. *Is it so excruciating to be married to a ringbearer?*
*Yes* his mind whispered. “No,” he said aloud, his fingers briefly finding the hidden ring on her own.
She let it go. *And what of our daughter? How will she fare?*
*They will make it, our Celebrían and her Elrond. They will never be sundered, not truly, for they swore to one another that such a thing could not be.*
Galadriel reached blindly back and traced her husband’s face. “A vow that we, in our haste, never made.”
“Could we please talk of something else?” he asked wearily. Valinor or Ennor. ‘Twas an old argument, and one that even a promise would not have changed.
“What would you have me speak of? Pleasant things?” she asked with some sharpness. “Perhaps this? We have pinpointed the source of the darkness Elrond stumbled upon. It has fallen on Greenwood.”
Celeborn groaned. “Southern Greenwood too, I suppose? No; answer not. Of course it has,” he sighed. “I will increase the guard on our eastern border. What creature do you anticipate is behind our new torment?”
“If I were to hazard a guess, I would say Nazgûl. Elrond suspects worse.”
Celeborn dropped his head forward to his wife’s shoulder, his breath stirring her golden hair. “So close,” he murmured. “I know not whether to be grateful for the protection of the ring, or fearful that evil has sensed its nearness and taken a strategic position in opposition. I will ride out tomorrow and see what remedy I can coordinate with Thranduil. Ai, what did Celebrían just call this? ‘The toil of wrenching a whole world from under the claws of misery?’ Ha rhach.” He moved to rise and muster the preparations, but Galadriel stopped him with a gentle touch.
*A moment, hervenn, before you ride off and leave our daughter with her choice … I fear the possibilities we have seen swirling around her future have shifted to probabilities in recent days. Evil will recognize her better the next time. The cost to them, to us … are you at peace with this?*
*The choice, great lady, is not ours. And even if it were, I would choose love, even if only for a little while.*
Daro! – Halt!
Ennor – Middle Earth
Eru mell – Dear God
Ha rhach – Curse it
Mae aduial, adar – Good evening, father
melethril-nín, bereth-nín, gell o ind nín, vi i eneth aer o Eru – my lover, my queen, joy of my heart, in Eru’s holy name
mellon-nín – my friend
sell-nín – my daughter
Suilad, orn beleg – greetings, mighty tree
suilad o Laurelindórenan Celebelanor, sell uin Celebrannon, gell uin Galadrîn – greetings of Lothlorien, Silver Flower, daughter of Lord Silver, joy of Crowned Lady Radiance
Tolo dad - come down