‘Guardian,’ said Gwirith urgently, drawing him aside. ‘He may have left some sign for you which might lead us to him.’
‘Or for you, Gwirith,’ said Haldir, but Gwirith shook his head silently.
‘Well, let us go and see while the others prepare what we need. Luinil, fetch horses. Aiglin, go to the healing house. Ask the healers for some necessaries to take with us. Arm yourselves, both. Then go to his talan and see if he is there and report back to me.’
‘Where are you going?’ asked Aiglin, but Haldir had seized his own weapons and was calling Rumil. ‘You are in charge here, brother,’ said Haldir. ‘Send out whoever you can spare to search for Celinn both within Caras Galadhon and outside, and post someone to my duty. I am on the same errand, but we will go outside the city. Aiglin, we will meet you and Luinil at the gate when you have carried out my orders.’
‘What has happened?’ demanded Rumil.
‘I know not, but I fear we have been blind this day,’ said Haldir grimly. ‘If you find him, bring him back to the healing house or at least to the city if you can.’
Rumil saluted sketchily and began to give orders to the elves around him.
Gwirith and Haldir ran lightly on top of the snow, the sounds of the guardroom fading quickly behind them. The forest slept in a deep silence, all noise muffled by the thick blanket of snow.
‘We may not find his trail after this last fall of snow,’ said Haldir a little breathlessly, as they passed between the black trunks of the trees.
Gwirith did not answer, but he speeded up his pace.
The moon was a week after full and cast purple-grey shadows on the snow. When they came near to Haldir’s talan, he said, ‘There is something there, on the ground,’ and indeed at the foot of the tree was a large bundle wrapped up in a thick green woollen cloth.
‘That is the coverlet Aiglin brought for him when he was at the healing house,’ said Gwirith, recognising the designs worked on it. Haldir knelt down and unrolled the cloth, and they looked at what was inside.
‘I made that bow before I knew him, and Luinil gave it him,’ said Gwirith. ‘And that one is his second best. And his quiver and all his new arrows.’
‘And all his other gear,’ said Haldir. ‘He truly means to leave us,’ said Haldir, hopelessly.
‘He gives you this in exchange for his oath to you,’ whispered Gwirith. For a moment both of them were overcome with despair. Then Haldir said,
‘Gwirith, if he has left a message for anyone, it will be you.’
They hastened then to Gwirith’s workshop. He pushed open the doors and stood looking about him, but everything was as it had been that morning.
‘Anything?’ asked Haldir, looking over his shoulder. Gwirith shook his head. He crossed the workshop and took two bows off their racks on the wall and buckled on a quiver full of arrows without a word.
‘What about your talan?’ said Haldir. Gwirith nodded and giving Haldir the bows, ran outside and looked all round the foot of the tree, but there was nothing to be found. No footprints but theirs marked the top of the snow.
‘His tracks may have been covered by the last snow,’ said Haldir. Gwirith climbed swiftly up to the talan and stood on the threshold. He could see some of Luinil’s wet clothes draped over a chair and his second pair of boots in the middle of the floor, but though he searched everywhere, he found nothing at all from Celinn. Aware though he was of the need for haste, he fell to his knees beside his bed and buried his head in his hands for a moment. Then, not knowing why he was doing it, he opened his wooden chest and took out the turquoise cloth containing Celinn’s hair. He unwrapped it and looked down at the coils of gold, then stooped down and reached for his hunting knife from under his bed.
Haldir counted the paces from Gwirith’s talan to his workshop and back again. Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five. Or was it thirty-six? Perhaps he had better do it again to be sure. That way he might be able to forget the sight of Celinn’s body hanging limply from its bonds in the forest and remember him instead on his braiding day. And if he kept counting, then he would not be able to think just yet about where Celinn might be on this cold night, and what news they might have of him when the sun rose in the morning. So he turned and counted again; to the workshop; turn around; come back.
Gwirith had not come down. Did that mean he had found something? ‘Gwirith!’ he shouted. ‘Make haste!’
Gwirith ran his fingers down the blade of his knife and slid it into its leather sheath on his belt. He wrapped up the turquoise cloth, tucking something dark into it next to Celinn’s hair, and thrust it into the inner pocket of his tunic. Then he pulled a fur hat down tightly over his head before putting on the hood of his cloak and climbed swiftly down to the ground. Haldir took one look at his face and said, ‘You found nothing.’ Gwirith turned away without a word and would have taken the path for the guardroom but Haldir said, ‘Let us seek the wisdom of the Lady before we go,’ and Gwirith followed him as he ran along the snowy paths to the lawn of the fountain.
The Lady was expecting them and they climbed the white ladders up to her talan to find her dressed for travel in a long cloak of white wool.
‘Celinn is gone,’ she said, before they could speak.
‘Lady, we go to seek him,’ said Haldir. ‘What counsel do you have for us?’
‘I can tell you nothing that you do not already know: trust the love you have for him, and remember the light of the One is always there, however deep the darkness. Remember also that he left without seeing you because he knew he could not deceive you, even though others might believe his open countenance. You would have felt his true purpose.’
‘His true purpose…’ repeated Gwirith painfully.
‘All is not yet lost, Gwirith,’ Galadriel said gently. ‘This is the time of testing, for him and for all of us. But the outcome is not yet determined. In a few hours we will know more of this difficult path on which we are travelling.’
‘Lady, do you know where he is?’ asked Haldir.
‘I do not, for he has barred himself against us: he does not want to be found. I will go now to the healing house and ask the healers to cast the circle with me. We will search for him and hold him if we can with what power we have. But in the end he must make his own choice, and you must find him soon if he is to be persuaded to stay in life.’
‘Lady, thank you,’ said Haldir, bowing and making to leave, but then Galadriel gently took Gwirith’s face between both hands and gazed deeply into his eyes. After a moment a look of understanding came into her face. Gwirith tried to look away from her but she shook his head, turning him back to her.
‘Trust your heart, my dear,’ she said quietly to him, ‘even if you do not understand it. It is your truest guide. Call on me when you need my help, and I will come to you.’ She let her fingers touch the single lock of dark hair that had escaped from his fur hood, then she passed her hands lightly over his head as if in benediction before stooping down and gently kissing his brow.
Aiglin and Luinil were waiting at the gate, already mounted and holding the bridles of two other horses. Aiglin’s face was streaked with dirt and tears.
‘He was not at his talan, Haldir. Everything had been packed into his travelling chest. Not a single thing was left out. And on top was a note that said, ‘For Aiglin.’ That’s all it said.’
Rumil came running up to them. ‘Celinn went through the gate at dusk on horseback, according to the gate warden,’ he said. Haldir nodded and flung himself into the saddle. ‘We will return as soon as we can, brother,’ he said. ‘Aiglin, if we cannot find his trail, think you on where he might go.’
When Gwirith was mounted, Haldir nodded to the gate warden and went down the long lanes until they reached the gate which opened silently before them. The horses were restless and excited in the moonlight but the elves gentled them and soon they were moving quickly through the forest. As Haldir had predicted, the recent snow had covered over all signs of movement in the forest, elvish and animal.
‘Even without the snow he would be better than all of us at covering his tracks,’ said Luinil, looking up at the sky. His face was smooth and clear, as though he would not let himself feel anything at all.
Most of the stars were hidden behind thick snow clouds, except for where the moon had found a window to shine through. Haldir called a halt. The horses snorted a little and tried to find some grass to chew through the snow. Their breath and the elves’ made little white clouds in the frosty air.
‘We will not find him by his tracks,’ he said. ‘Aiglin, is there somewhere he might go in the forest, if …’ he hesitated.
‘If he wanted to be truly alone?’ Gwirith finished for him. Haldir glanced at him gratefully, and for a moment saw Gwirith’s hooded profile stand out against the black and white landscape around him like the proud unyielding face of a falcon.
‘Oh, always near water,’ said Aiglin. ‘Since he was an elfling he has loved the sound of its voice. That is why he was named for it.’
‘Is there any special place he would have chosen?’ asked Haldir.
‘No, any water brought him joy, though of course our own Celebrant was closest to his heart.’
Gwirith’s hands began to tingle suddenly, and he heard Galadriel’s voice in his mind. ‘Remember the blue stone in the river,’ she said softly. ‘His oath and your oath.’
‘There is somewhere where he truly feels he is himself,’ he said, and they all looked at him. ‘Somewhere where he has known joy. Think, Aiglin!’
‘But I don’t know!’ said Aiglin, beginning to become distressed. ‘I cannot read his mind!’
Haldir turned to Gwirith, and they exchanged a look.
‘Have you tried to call to his fea?’ Haldir said.
‘He would not wish it,’ said Gwirith. ‘I dare not try.’
‘Try now,’ commanded Haldir.
Gwirith turned his horse and went a little way from the others. Closing his eyes, he tried to reach Celinn’s mind, but though he heard an echo in the far distance, when he came near a barrier slammed down before him so hard that he gasped and darkness overcame him. When he next opened his eyes he was lying on the ground beside his horse with the others looking down at him.
‘He shut himself against me,’ he whispered. Haldir helped him to sit up and gave him some water from his flask. Soon he was able to remount.
‘What now?’ asked Luinil.
‘There is one place we all used to go,’ said Aiglin uncertainly. ‘When we were elflings, with adar and naneth and Alfirin. It was a few miles west of the green lawn of the Tongue.’
‘Very well,’ said Haldir. ‘We will go there first.’
They turned to the south and began to ride towards Celebrant. The forest was bewitching in the moonlight, transformed by the snow into soft curves of dazzling white. But Gwirith’s eyes seemed to see everything through a veil of shadow, and his heart felt as if it were bleeding inside him. It was fortunate that his horse followed its fellows because he did very little to direct its course. After a while he felt a knee press against his and saw that Haldir rode beside him.
‘Gwirith, do not despair now. We are on the threshold.’
‘He may have crossed it already,’ said Gwirith, his eyes hidden by his dark brows.
‘Now is the time that he will need you most,’ said Haldir.
‘No!’ said Gwirith, furiously. ‘He does not want me. He has closed his fea to me. Of all those he knows, now I am the last who could call him.’
‘Gwirith, endure a little longer. It may not be as you think.’
‘My only hope is that I do not break as I did before,’ whispered Gwirith, and he wrenched his horse’s bridle and pulled him away from Haldir so that he could ride alone.
After about an hour they came near to Celebrant.
‘We had better leave the horses,’ said Aiglin. ‘The path is narrow and it is easier on foot.’
They tied them up to the lower branches of an oak tree and Luinil cleared a space in the snow so that the horses could eat the sparse grass. ‘They will wait for us,’ he said. ‘When we come back we can water them.’
The others looked at him, wondering what would come to pass between now and then. Then they picked up their packs and began to follow Luinil down the narrow track towards the river. The snow was criss-crossed with the footprints of many woodland creatures who must come down here to find water, but it looked as if no elven feet had come this way since the last snow.
‘If he is here, he has been here some hours,’ said Haldir worriedly.
Eventually the path opened out on to a wide clearing under a stand of beeches, and in the distance they could hear the rippling voice of Celebrant. Mist rose up from it and shrouded its banks, and they could not see far ahead of them.
‘I think it was near here,’ said Aiglin, looking around. They began to walk along the bank of Celebrant, calling Celinn’s name and looking for any sign that someone had passed this way before them, but they found nothing but untouched snow. Once Luinil thought he saw a shape in the mist, but when they came near, it was only a snowdrift piled up against a tree. After a while Haldir called them to him.
‘Is this truly the place, Aiglin?’ he asked.
‘I think so, but it is many years since I was last here and it is difficult to tell with so much mist and snow.’
‘I think he is near,’ said Gwirith suddenly and they all turned to him. ‘There is something, a vibration.’
‘Let us walk a little further,’ said Haldir, and they set off again, Aiglin searching for familiar landmarks in the enveloping mist. Then Gwirith stopped so suddenly that Haldir, who was looking down at the ground, ran straight into him.
Haldir opened his mouth to make a sharp remark but then he caught sight of Gwirith’s face.
‘What is it, Gwirith?’ he asked. Gwirith stared out into the darkness for a while, then he said, with difficulty,
‘Something. I don’t know what. Something. Not good.’
‘Do you know which way?’ said Haldir. Gwirith closed his eyes and moved his head slowly from side to side as if trying to sense something.
‘This way,’ he said at last. ‘It is darker.’
Aiglin was shivering with cold and shock and Luinil put an arm round his shoulders and walked with him.
‘Maybe it is not here,’ said Aiglin in agitation. ‘What if this is the wrong place, and we are wasting time while he is … he is …’
‘Aiglin,’ said Luinil, ‘what else do you remember about the place?’
‘I remember there were many large stones which used to get very hot in the sun. There was one on which he always used to stretch out. But they would look different in the snow, more like – more like that!’ he cried, and ran across to a small white mound, pushing the snow off with his hands. ‘Yes, here it is!’ He looked round him and his face became animated. ‘This is the place! It was just along here …’
They were much nearer the bank now, and in the shadows ahead there seemed to be a long hunched shape on the edge of the water. Aiglin saw it first and breaking away from the others, ran over to see what it was.
They saw him kneel down slowly by the water’s edge and the next moment he gave a piercing cry. Haldir was at his side by then and he looked down on to Celinn’s body, curled up on his side on the shore of Celebrant. His right arm was stretched out, hand trailing in the water, and a thread a crimson wound its way from his wrist and twisted away slowly into the current, snaking under the film of ice that had formed on the river’s edge. A dark stain was spreading into the snow under Celinn’s hand.
Haldir seized Celinn’s arm and pressed his fingers tightly against the open wound on his wrist but the blood continued to flow out over his fingers in time with each slow pulse of Celinn’s heart. Haldir pressed his other hand hard into the crook of Celinn’s elbow.
‘Give me something to bind the wound,’ he demanded, and Luinil opened the pack the healers had prepared and gave him a piece of white linen which he folded into a thick pad and then bound tightly with another strip of linen.
‘Turn him over,’ said Haldir curtly, but Aiglin just stared at Celinn’s motionless body.
Haldir pushed him out of the way.
‘Gwirith, come here and help me,’ he said. Gwirith hesitated a moment.
‘By all the Valar, never mind whether he wants you or not!’ he cried. Gwirith came to his side and together they turned Celinn on to his back, uncovering his knife hidden under the folds of his cloak, and moved him higher up the bank, away from the water. His face was so pale it was almost translucent and there was a smear of blood on his brow.
‘He has cut the other wrist too,’ said Haldir, kneeling beside him, and Luinil gave him more linen to bind it up.
‘Here,’ said Haldir when he had finished, and directed Luinil and Aiglin, still moving as if in a dream, to raise both Celinn’s arms and press hard against the crook of his elbows.
‘He bleeds still,’ whispered Gwirith, his eyes on the darkening bandages as he pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes, smearing his cheek with blood. He looked down on Celinn’s face and saw that it was utterly peaceful, and his heart gave a sickening jolt as he remembered his promise to him.
Haldir prepared two more pads of cloth and gave them to Luinil and Aiglin.
Then he leaned down and put his ear to Celinn’s chest.
‘Celinn, do not leave us; fight this!’ he murmured under his breath.
‘He does not want to fight,’ said Gwirith. ‘Look at his face. I have never seen him so peaceful.’
Haldir glanced at Celinn and Gwirith saw him close his eyes in pain for a moment.
‘He is deceived,’ said Haldir fiercely. ‘Death is not the destiny of the elves. His happiness is here with us, and we will not let him go.’ Gwirith looked away, his eyes full of tears.
‘The bleeding is slowing,’ said Luinil, lifting up the linen pad on Celinn’s wrist. ‘How is he, Haldir?’
‘His heart beats, but softly. His breath is not strong.’ Haldir glanced down at the blood darkening on the snow. ‘He has lost a quantity of blood, but not enough to die from it. What counts now is his own will.’
He put his arm under Celinn’s shoulders and raised his head.
‘Celinn, it is Haldir. Can you hear me, my dear? Celinn, here is my hand in yours. Press my fingers if you can hear me.’ But Celinn did not respond.
Haldir sat down and pulled Celinn into his arms.
‘Lay his arms down, gently,’ he told Luinil and Aiglin. ‘He is very cold. Where are those blankets that the healers gave us?’ he asked, beginning to feel as if he had brought three elflings with him rather than three experienced warriors. But Luinil had already prepared the blankets and helped Haldir cover Celinn with them. Although he was so cold that the skin under his eyes and mouth had a blueish tinge, he was not shivering.
‘He is fading,’ said Haldir. ‘His body no longer feels the cold.’
‘Shall we take him home?’ whispered Aiglin.
‘No, he is too weak to move. First we must do what we can for him here. Put your hands on him, Gwirith,’ commanded Haldir. ‘Call on the Lady and see what you can do for him together. Aiglin, come near and try to warm him. Luinil, kindle a fire nearby.’
Aiglin shielded Celinn as far as he could while Gwirith knelt down beside Haldir and took both Celinn’s wrists. Immediately he cried out but he did not remove his hands.
‘What do you feel, Gwirith?’ said Haldir.
‘Darkness … and cold beyond cold,’ gasped Gwirith, through gritted teeth. He let the energy in his fingers enter the wounds beneath the bandages, and tears spilt from his eyes as he felt the ragged flesh which the knife had torn and the life blood that still oozed sluggishly from the broken vessels. He felt Galadriel’s touch as if her hands were resting lightly on his, and together they worked to heal the violence Celinn had done to himself.
Soon the fire Luinil had built was burning fitfully. ‘Fetch the bottle of miruvor from my pack, Luinil,’ said Haldir. ‘And take the can and heat some water: we will make some tea to warm him.’
While the snow fell around him, sweat broke out on Gwirith’s forehead as he struggled against the terrible darkness he encountered in Celinn’s aura. With the eyes of his fea, he saw before him the path to Mandos and the shades who walked on it in silence. Gwirith called on every particle of strength he had within him, searching for anything he could use to counter the inexorable pull of death which had taken hold of Celinn. He began to talk incoherently to himself.
‘It is winter but it will be spring. Light comes in the morning; even in the darkness the One brings light. I remember the flowers growing around the trunk of the mallorn when I was an elfling. White flowers, the size of both my hands. With pink veins, delicate pink like … no that is like Celinn, he is bleeding. But we will close the veins for him, so that he does not lose any more blood. And the flowers had a sweet fragrance that I used to smell as I lay abed at night. Things grow and they are sweet. Not all is darkness, Celinn. You have forgotten the light. I remember your face on the day of your braiding. It was full of light then, and so were you. Where is the light now?’
In his mind he heard Galadriel begin to sing, a song of springtime when the blossom is on the tree and new life is all around. Her voice was so melodious that he could feel the warm breeze on his cheek and hear the birds singing in the trees. He began to sing with her, and the light in his hands grew stronger. He felt the wounds in Celinn’s wrists begin to knit together and the blood change its course. After a while Haldir said,
‘He has a little more colour in his face, Gwirith,’ and then Celinn’s lips parted and he gave a little sigh.
‘Celinn,’ said Aiglin in a trembling voice, and Celinn opened his eyes. The other elves watched him, hardly daring to breathe. At first he seemed to smile, and Gwirith’s heart trembled within him at the beauty of his face. But then a little frown creased his brow, just between his eyes, and his mouth twisted with pain. For a long time he gazed unseeingly ahead of him, then his eyes came into focus and he looked into Haldir’s face. His lips formed a word, but he did not have the breath to sound it. Haldir leaned closer to him and this time he heard it.
‘No,’ Celinn breathed.
Aiglin cried out with anguish. ‘Brother, don’t leave us! Please, Celinn. Put your will to it, and you will heal!’
‘No,’ repeated Celinn.
‘Celinn,’ said Haldir. ‘Take some miruvor to warm you.’
But Celinn slowly turned his head away.
‘Let him go,’ said Gwirith quietly.
‘What did you say?’ said Aiglin, in disbelief.
‘Let him go. We have done everything we can for him. He has chosen.’
Tears burst from Aiglin’s eyes. ‘You are mad, Gwirith! I will never let him go!’
‘Well, I will let him go,’ said Gwirith, his voice heavy with grief.
‘Keep your hands on him!’ cried Aiglin. ‘Help him!’
‘I am helping him,’ said Gwirith. ‘I cannot force him to stay in life if he cannot endure another moment.’ And he lifted his hands from Celinn’s body.
Haldir and Luinil both started to talk at once, arguing with Gwirith, but he was adamant. Then Celinn stirred a little in Haldir’s arms and they fell silent, ashamed to be quarrelling at this time.
‘If you … cannot … let me go,’ he said softly, ‘then leave me.’
Aiglin covered his face with his hands and wept heartbrokenly.
‘How can you ask this, Celinn?’ he said. ‘We cannot leave you now.’
‘He asks you to leave only if you cannot let him go,’ said Gwirith. ‘Can you do that, Aiglin?’
‘No,’ sobbed Aiglin. ‘I cannot stand idly by and watch him …’ There was a long silence.
‘Watch him die,’ said Gwirith gently. Aiglin struggled to his feet and walked away. Celinn sighed deeply and closed his eyes.
‘Celinn,’ said Haldir uneasily, but Celinn opened his eyes again and said, ‘I will not go yet.’
After that no one spoke for a while, and then they heard the soft sound of someone walking on snow, and Aiglin knelt down beside them.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, his eyes red with weeping. ‘Celinn, please, I beg you, if not for your sake, then for me, for Alfirin, even for Gwirith; do not leave us.’
But Celinn did not answer him.
‘I have brought you something, Celinn,’ said Gwirith suddenly. He picked up one of the bows which he had cast aside when they had arrived and knelt down beside him. ‘This is for you,’ he said, and showed it to him. It was made of a beautiful deep red wood and was polished to a high finish and decorated with swirls and spirals of silver. ‘The patterns are of water, because you love it so much,’ he said gently, running his bloodstained fingers over them. ‘And also this,’ he said, drawing something out of his tunic and uncoiling it. ‘It is a new bowstring,’ he said, and knotted it and slipped it on to the bow. ‘It is made from your own hair.’ Celinn gazed at the bow and the string.
‘My hair?’ he said softly.
‘I brought it back with me. I have made you five strings. There is more left. I was going to make something else with the rest, I don’t know what yet, but …’ He turned away for a moment so that they would not see his face. ‘I thought maybe if I made something, then some beauty could come out of the darkness that was done to you that day. Something new and fair.’
Celinn’s gaze seemed more intense than before. Gwirith sat back on his ankles and pushed his hood off his head with one hand, but as he did his fur hat slipped back and fell on to the ground.
The other elves stared at him. One long lock of blue-black hair fell onto his right shoulder, but apart from that all the rest of his hair was cropped short and reached no further than the nape of his neck. A little gust of wind blew round them and he shivered as he felt its unaccustomed touch on his skin. For a long time Gwirith looked down at the ground, his fingers repeatedly stroking the single unbraided lock he had spared. At last he said, his eyes on Celinn,
‘I did this so that I could remember you, and so that maybe you could believe you were not completely alone, even though I know you live in a darkness deeper than any I have ever known, and I have sworn not to keep you from your death. I did not mean for you to see it like this, unexpectedly.’
Celinn said nothing at all, but his lips parted in a sigh and tears slipped silently down his cheeks. He and Gwirith gazed at each other and something seemed to pass between them. Then Gwirith took a turquoise cloth out of his tunic and unwrapped it. Even in the moonlight Celinn’s hair glowed gold, and twined together with it were the long coils of Gwirith’s dark shining hair.
‘I will make bowstrings for myself,’ said Gwirith, ‘and maybe there are other uses to which I can put it. When you are gone…when you are gone, it will help me to remember you. Or else I will dispose of it if you wish, or Aiglin may have it. Maybe you wish for the river to take it.’ And he laid the cloth on the ground beside Celinn.
Celinn looked at him for a long time, his face streaked with his tears. Then he held out his hand.
Gwirith took it and held it in both of his, his fingers resting on the blood-soaked bandages on Celinn’s wrist. After a while Celinn reached out slowly and touched the long lock of dark hair that hung on his shoulder, and then he put his hand back in Gwirith’s.
A hush fell on the elves then. The snow had stopped and the wind had died down a little, and Celinn lay motionless in Haldir’s arms, sheltered by the others’ bodies. Gwirith held Celinn’s hand in his, and he told himself that if this was all he could have, then it was enough. He could still hear Galadriel’s voice singing softly, but now she sang a lament. Gwirith felt grief beginning to pool in him like water behind a dam, but for now he turned away from it and looked instead into Celinn’s face, seeing the dark shadows under his sea-green eyes. There would be time enough for grief later.
After a time Aiglin took out his knife and fetching a whetstone from his pack, began to sharpen the blade. Haldir glanced at him, but his face was calm. The sound was loud in the silence and Haldir was glad when it stopped. He turned just in time to see Aiglin take hold of a handful of long golden hair and slice it as short as Celinn’s. Gwirith and Luinil looked up then, and all three watched him lay the first handful of hair before him on the snow, then take another handful and another, until he too had one long lock on his right shoulder, and all the rest cropped short. A grimace of pain crossed his face as he picked up the hair and held it out to Gwirith.
‘You can make as many bowstrings as you like,’ he said, ‘now that I have cut my hair to mourn my brother’s passing.’ Then his face crumpled and he wept again silently, his shoulders shaking. ‘I curse this day,’ he said bitterly, ‘and all the days that have brought us to this one.’
Celinn looked at him calmly but said nothing.
The night wore on. Gwirith did not know how much time passed but when he came to himself the moon had set and it was very dark. Luinil got up and fetched a travelling light and its pale beam cast a soft circle of radiance on them in the midst of darkness. Celinn seemed more still than before. Haldir spoke his name softly and after a while he opened his eyes and looked up at him.
‘Haldir,’ he said softly. Haldir leaned closer.
‘It will be soon. Lay me down by the water,’ said Celinn.
‘No, brother,’ Aiglin cried out, but Haldir did as Celinn asked, making a dry place for him with some blankets and laying him on them gently. Celinn curled up on his side and stretched out his arm so that he could touch the water. Haldir tried to cover him with a blanket, but Celinn pushed him away.
Aiglin flung himself down beside him. ‘Why did you come here, Celinn? It is so cold and so dark. Why so far? Brother, let us go home!’ he pleaded.
‘To find something,’ breathed Celinn, ‘to make…my passing easier.’
Gwirith knelt down at the edge of the water. ‘The blue stone,’ he whispered. Celinn looked up at him.
‘I could not…do it,’ he said, his voice thick with self-disgust. ‘I could not …soil the water…with my body. I could not be…naked.’
Gwirith stood up and unhooked his cloak and lay it down on the snow, then started to unlace his tunic.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Aiglin, incredulous.
‘I am going to find the stone.’
‘You’ll never find it in the dark!’
‘I will find it,’ said Gwirith quietly. He pulled off his tunic and undershirt and sat down to remove his boots.
Celinn watched him in silence as he stood up and pulled off his breeches and stood naked on the bank of Celebrant, his skin faintly luminous in the darkness. Then he stepped into the water and was gone, swimming as silently as a fish. Haldir and Luinil stood on the bank, looking intently into the darkness. Once or twice they heard ripples and splashes nearby but then there was nothing but the voice of the river itself. Luinil gave a soft groan.
‘Haldir, surely we will not lose him too…’ he said fearfully, but then there was a movement just before them and Gwirith slid out of the river like a seal, his black hair slick and shining and rivulets of water running down his body. He crossed the short distance to Celinn and knelt down beside him.
‘Celinn,’ he gasped, breathing hard. ‘I have found the stone.’ He opened his hand and it lay there in his palm. The golden tengwar engraving glittered, still pristine. He placed the blue stone next to Celinn, who looked at it sidewise and, removing his hand from the water, tentatively touched it with his fingertips.
Gwirith stood up and quickly pulled on his breeches, then draped a blanket round his shoulders.
‘It is the same, is it not?’ he said. Celinn nodded mutely. He picked up the stone and held it in both hands, stroking it gently.
‘I came here to tell Elbereth and Ulmo that I could not fulfil my oath…and to ask for forgiveness before my death.’
‘Then ask it,’ said Gwirith gently.
Celinn frowned, continuing to stroke the stone. At last he said with difficulty,
‘Why not?’ said Gwirith.
‘Because I cannot…forgive…myself.’
‘Then I will ask it for you.’ Gwirith reached into the pocket of his breeches and took out the dun and gold stone that had marked his oath on Celinn’s behalf. Celinn looked at it in surprise.
‘I always carry it with me,’ said Gwirith. ‘Haldir, Luinil, Aiglin, witness my words.’
The others came close and bared their heads. Gwirith placed his hand on top of Celinn’s which still rested on the blue stone.
‘I call on Elbereth, the best beloved and Ulmo of the waters to hear me,’ said Gwirith, his voice clear and melodious in the silence. ‘Our dearest brother Celinn has done all he can to fulfil the oath he took here in this place and marked in your sight with this stone. He has been grievously hurt and broken, and his spirit cannot match the words his heart spoke to you on that day, though it longs to do so. Blessed Valar, you who see all that befalls us, forgive the breaking of this oath as you look on the desire and intention with which it was made. Mighty Ulmo, let us hear in your many waters the music which created us and keeps us in being, and know in the music of water and stone the mingling of darkness and light, of like and unlike, of living and dying.’
Gwirith fell silent. The voice of Celebrant rippled beside them, and in the midst of sorrow they heard laughter and joy in its song.
Celinn sighed and stretched out a little and they turned to look at him.
‘Thank you.’ he said softly. ‘Your oath…is fulfilled. Now…I can go.’ Aiglin made a sound of pain and turned away.
Gwirith did not remove his hand from Celinn’s. ‘The blue stone has a strong energy,’ he said. ‘Can you feel it?’
Celinn looked down at their hands, then back up at Gwirith. ‘It is…warm,’ he said. But then his gaze became unfocussed and his hand slipped from the stone.
‘Celinn!’ cried Aiglin, trying to throw his arms around his brother’s body, but Haldir held him back.
Gwirith leaned close and looked into Celinn’s face.
‘Soon,’ he whispered. Gwirith’s eyes filled with tears.
‘Even now…. you would … let me go…’ whispered Celinn.
‘Yes, my dearest Celinn,’ said Gwirith. ‘You are free.’
Then they all came as close as Celinn would allow them and sat in silence, waiting with him. Aiglin wept softly all the while, and at last he could bear it no longer.
‘Celinn, I cannot…do not leave me…’ he begged.
‘Must…’ whispered Celinn.
‘I cannot….be here…’
‘Go, Aiglin.’ Celinn took a slow breath. ‘Go.’
‘My heart is broken,’ Aiglin whispered. ‘I will be with you…in Mandos soon.’
‘No,’ breathed Celinn. ‘Live.’ Aiglin fumbled for Celinn’s hand and pressed his face against it, soaking it with his tears. Then he stood up quickly and ran into the darkness. When the sound of his footsteps had died away, Luinil leaned over slowly and took Celinn’s hand.
‘Goodbye, Celinn,’ he said in a low weary voice. ‘You know that I love you.’ Then he stood up and followed Luinil, giving the travelling light to Haldir. Celinn sighed deeply and his lips moved. Gwirith leaned closer to hear him.
‘Gwirith,’ he whispered.
‘Yes, my dear?’
Gwirith shuddered with cold and emotion. With the utmost tenderness he lifted Celinn into his arms. Leaning back against the willow that trailed its bare fronds in the water, he pulled Celinn against his body, his cheek resting against Gwirith’s bare chest, skin against skin. Celinn stretched out his arm and trailed his fingers in the icy water as Gwirith wrapped his arms tightly round him. Haldir brought some blankets and covered them both, then hung the travelling light on the willow and drew his sword. Pressing the point into the snowy bank, he leaned on the pommel, his back as straight as if he were standing on ceremony before Galadriel and Celeborn.
‘I am sorry I have no banner to reverse,’ he said with tears in his voice, ‘but I will honour your passing, Celinn, you who have been a true warrior.’
Celinn did not speak but he stirred a little in Gwirith’s arms.
After that they fell quiet, and it seemed that even the voice of the river became hushed. In the deep cold of the winter night the silence seemed that of another world, and Gwirith’s tears ran down his cheeks and fell on Celinn’s white face as he breathed more and more softly, his head pressed against Gwirith’s heart. After a long time his hand crept into Gwirith’s and their fingers twined together. Gwirith felt Celinn’s body becoming heavier, and the pulse in his wrist where Gwirith’s fingers rested began to slow.
Gwirith’s tears flowed without cease and he felt his heart opening and stretching so wide that he thought it must surely be torn apart with grief. He tried to call on Galadriel and Elbereth but the only reality was Celinn’s body next to his. He tightened his arms around him, but then he felt a change in Celinn’s energy as something began to loosen in him. Gwirith’s fea cried out in despair, but he let his heart open even further and released all desire he might have to hold Celinn back, instead sending all the love he had ever felt for him into his aura. Celinn gasped suddenly and arched his back, then his eyes widened and an expression of the deepest rapture lit his face. Gwirith felt something spiral away from him, and then Celinn sighed and his head fell back against Gwirith’s arm.
Haldir dropped his sword and the pommel rang as it fell on to the snowy ground. He and Gwirith looked down at Celinn’s face, and it was as fair and peaceful as on the day of his braiding. Haldir knelt down and put his arm round Gwirith and Celinn together, his white blond hair spread across them both like a fan, and he bowed his head and wept.
When his tears were spent he raised his head and looked again on Celinn’s face, and with great tenderness he removed a strand of hair from his eyes, then leaned down and pressed his lips to his brow. He looked up to speak to Gwirith but the words died on his lips at the sight of his ravaged face. Instead he laid his hand on Celinn’s breast for a long moment but he felt neither breath nor heartbeat.
‘He is gone, Gwirith. Let me take him,’ said Haldir, reaching out, but Gwirith held Celinn’s body even closer to him, burying his face against him. Then Gwirith’s consciousness began to slip, and he fell into a darkness so deep that there were no words for it. It was only by keeping his heart open and stretching it to encompass his pain that he was able to prevent his fea from breaking with grief. But he had sworn to let Celinn go, so he could not follow him to Mandos, however much he might desire to do so. It was a long time before the darkness faded. Then he knew he was back at Celebrant, with Celinn in his arms, and he knew also the pain of his loss.
‘Celinn,’ he whispered, pressing his lips to Celinn’s hair, ‘this time I will not let grief kill my heart, because it was you who brought it back to life. Even the pain I feel now is welcome to me, because it reminds me at every moment of my love for you.’ In that moment the shade of Alcarion came close to him, and Gwirith was comforted by his presence.
He looked up and saw Haldir kneeling by the water washing his face, his shoulders slumped in weariness and sorrow. Gwirith’s eye fell on the blood that stained the snow and his tears began to flow again as he looked down at Celinn’s wrists with their dark stained bindings. Gently he raised one and pressed his lips to it for a long moment, his eyes closed.
Suddenly his eyes snapped open and he stared at Celinn’s wrist, putting his lips to it again. Then he put it down and took hold of the other.
‘Haldir!’ he croaked in a ragged voice. Haldir jumped and turned quickly.
‘What’s the matter?’
Haldir was at his side in an instant.
‘Remove this,’ demanded Gwirith, pulling at the bandage on Celinn’s wrist. Haldir stared at him.
‘I am not demented, Guardian. Do as I ask!’
Still frowning, Haldir found the end of the bandage and untied it, then unrolled it quickly. Gwirith laid his fingertips gently on the bloody scar on Celinn’s wrist and closed his eyes. Haldir watched him in trepidation.
Gwirith’s eyes flew open and his lips moved silently.
‘What is it?’ demanded Haldir.
‘He lives!’ whispered Gwirith.
‘He lives?’ said Haldir in disbelief. ‘But we saw him … we watched him…his heart was still…’
Gwirith pressed his fingers gently to Celinn’s heart, then stroked the air above it.
‘Haldir, he is not dead,’ he said fiercely. ‘He is not dead!’
‘Well, what has happened?’ said Haldir, bewildered.
But Gwirith could only look at him in incredulous hope.
Haldir pushed aside Gwirith’s arm and pressed his ear to Celinn’s chest. Gwirith watched him, breathing as hard as if he had been running. Then Haldir lifted his head slowly.
‘I can hear his heart,’ he said bemusedly
He turned back to Celinn, and in the clear light he saw the unmistakable bloom of life warming his cheeks.
‘May the Valar be thrice blessed,’ breathed Haldir. ‘He sleeps.’
Suddenly Gwirith drew in his breath in a shuddering sob and started to shake uncontrollably.
‘Haldir, it cannot be, I am dreaming,’ he gasped, turning his face away from Celinn. ‘Do not torment me!’
Haldir put his arm round Gwirith’s shoulders and held him firmly. ‘Gwirith, it is true. Be still or you will wake him.’
Slowly Gwirith turned back and looked down in terror on Celinn’s face. Scarcely daring to breathe, his eyes scanned the high forehead framed in short blond curls, then the closed eyelids, so pale that he imagined he could see the strong turquoise of Celinn’s eyes burning through them. Then he gazed at the long dark gold lashes resting like shadowy half-moons on Celinn’s cheeks, and at the straight nose and the beautiful mouth.
‘Haldir…’ he whispered, his voice breaking with fear.
‘Look at him, Gwirith. There is colour in his face. Would he look like that if his fea were in Mandos?’
Gwirith looked, and this time it was as if something had shifted before his eyes, and he could see Celinn again, rather than the separate parts of his fair face. With infinite tenderness, he reached out and traced the line of his cheekbone, and felt the faint warmth of his living blood beneath the skin.
At his touch, light though it was, Celinn opened his eyes and looked straight at him. Gwirith gazed back in silence, too overwhelmed to speak. At last Celinn’s lips moved but no sound came out. Haldir took his flask from the pocket of his tunic and poured a few drops into his mouth. Celinn swallowed the icy water with difficulty but a little ran down his chin, and without thinking Gwirith gently wiped it away, brushing his lips with his fingertips. Celinn made a tiny sound and their eyes met again, Gwirith’s blazing with feeling, Celinn’s still dazed and dreamlike in the dawning light.
When he finally spoke his voice was light and faint.
‘I went… to Mandos.’ He paused, and his chest rose sharply as he pulled air into his lungs. ‘But he… refused me.’ Then he smiled beatifically and turned his head into Gwirith’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
‘Celinn!’ Gwirith cried, but Haldir said gently, ‘His journey has wearied him.’
Gwirith looked up at him, uncomprehending, so Haldir said,
‘It is a long way to Mandos and back again. It is natural that he should sleep.’
Gwirith looked down at Celinn again, and saw his chest rising and falling gently.
‘Are you sure he will not…’
‘Will not die again?’ said Haldir quietly. ‘Not unless we are attacked by orcs on the way home.’ He stood up. ‘Blessed day,’ he said, joyfully. ‘Let us take him home, Gwirith. I will fetch the others and bring the horses.’
Gwirith looked up at him, tears running down his cheeks.
‘Didn’t I tell you not to despair, my dear?’ said Haldir. Gwirith nodded wordlessly. Haldir leaned down and touched the one dark lock that rested on his shoulder.
‘Who knows, you may even start a fashion,’ he said lightly, and tucking the blankets round the two elves, he turned and ran lightly over the snow towards the path.
Haldir removed the stopper from the bottle of miruvor and raising Aiglin’s head, trickled a few drops on to his lips.
‘It was too much of a shock for him, Guardian,’ said Luinil.
‘Aiglin,’ said Haldir. ‘Breathe, my lad!’ Aiglin groaned but after a moment he raised his head.
‘I am dreaming,’ he mumbled, his eyes unfocussed.
‘Aiglin, you are awake! Quickly, come back to yourself. We must take Celinn home.’
Aiglin’s eyes cleared and he pushed Haldir away violently. ‘Do not jest, Guardian,’ he said in a trembling voice.
‘I do not,’ said Haldir gently, rubbing his shoulder. ‘I have seen him with my own eyes.’ He held out his hand. ‘Come, Aiglin, and I will show you.’
Gwirith was so intent on Celinn that it was only when Aiglin spoke his name that he looked up and saw him kneeling beside him, his face painfully gaunt as if it had been a year and not some hours since he had seen him.
‘Did he truly…was he…?’
‘His heart was still,’ said Gwirith. ‘But he told us that Mandos would not admit him, and so he returned.’
Aiglin looked down at his brother’s face. ‘I do not understand,’ he said in a bewildered voice.
‘Let us go home, before it begins to snow again,’ said Haldir, looking up at the sky. He leaned down and tried to lift Celinn from Gwirith’s arms but even drowned deep in sleep Celinn would not release his hold on Gwirith. So with the others’ help, Gwirith stood up with Celinn still in his arms and, after a whispered word from Haldir, his horse knelt down in the snow while Gwirith mounted.
It was full daylight when they rode in through the gate of Caras Galadhon and up through the lanes into the city. Outside the healing house Galadriel was waiting with Helevorn and Tathrenil, and Rumil and Orophin came running up from the guardroom. Both Aiglin and Gwirith were bareheaded and all except the Lady stared at their cropped hair in astonishment.
‘The Valar be thanked that you were able to find him,’ said Helevorn, forcing himself to look away and reaching up to take Celinn from Gwirith’s arms. ‘We will need to get him warm as soon as possible.’ But Aiglin urged his horse forward and cut in front of him.
‘Don’t take him back there again. Surely he would prefer to come home with me!’ he said fiercely.
‘Aiglin, fall back,’ said Haldir quietly. Aiglin’s back stiffened suddenly and his eyes blazed, but he knew better than to disobey a direct order from Haldir.
‘Yes, Guardian,’ he said through his teeth, and withdrew a little.
‘He has lost a good deal of blood, and he is very cold,’ said Haldir to Helevorn. ‘But more than that, he has known the path to Mandos, and the journey back.’
‘Mandos sent him back to us?’ said Tathrenil, incredulous.
‘He would not admit him,’ said Haldir.
Haldir brought his horse alongside Gwirith’s, then leaned over and gently lifted the corner of the blanket which had fallen over Celinn’s pale face. Everyone came close and gazed at him, as if they might see shining around him some strange light from that other world. But instead it was just Celinn, whom they thought they had lost so long ago, and whom Mandos would not allow to cross the dark bridge to his halls.
‘His face has changed,’ said Galadriel softly. ‘He is our Celinn again.’
Celinn stirred and woke then, blinking a little in the morning light and rubbing his eyes with his fists. He looked up calmly at Gwirith, as if there was nothing more natural to him than to wake in his arms.
‘Celinn,’ said Gwirith, gently, ‘We are home, my dear. We do not know where you would go. The healers are ready to take you to the healing house if you wish it, or you could stay with me, or…’
‘Let him come home with me!’ cried Aiglin. ‘I am his kin!’
Celinn sat up slowly and looked around him, his eyes resting on all those who stood waiting to hear his choice. Finally he turned to Gwirith, and when he spoke it was in the voice of the captain Gwirith remembered from the day they were captured by Adanwath.
‘I promised my brother we would come home, and now we are home,’ he said. ‘I will go with Aiglin.’
‘Let Helevorn or Tathrenil come with you, then, to see if there is any care you need,’ said Haldir, gently, but it was clear he did not intend to be disobeyed.
Aiglin’s face broke into a slow, relieved smile, and jumping off his horse’s back, he went to stand at Gwirith’s stirrup.
‘Yes, Guardian,’ he said, reaching up to help his brother dismount. Reluctantly Gwirith loosened his hold on Celinn and watched him swing his leg over his horse’s neck and slide down to the ground. Aiglin caught him and pulled him into his arms, holding him close and murmuring softly to him.
‘Aiglin, do not keep him standing there, can you not see he is at the end of his strength?’ said Tathrenil irritably. Even after this rebuke, Aiglin had to be forcibly separated from his brother. Gwirith dismounted and he and Tathrenil helped Celinn up in front of Aiglin.
In the last moment before Celinn settled himself in the saddle, his fingers twined for a brief instant with Gwirith’s and he glanced at him sideways with a look of such irrefutable farewell that Gwirith was pierced to the heart. Then Celinn’s hand slipped out of his and he was left standing alone.
‘I will accompany you,’ said Tathrenil, ‘if you are ready.’
‘Thank you, Tathrenil,’ said Aiglin. Farewell and thanks to all,’ he said, and, touching his heels to his horse’s sides, he wheeled round and set out on the path towards his talan. Tathrenil followed, and the other elves watched until they were out of sight. Haldir and Luinil dismounted then, and once they had unloaded their gear, Orophin took their horses and Gwirith’s and started to walk them back to the stables.
‘He has come back to us,’ said Galadriel, with deep satisfaction, and she rested her hand on Gwirith’s arm. ‘Once again you have given him an immeasurable gift.’ Haldir put his arm round Gwirith’s shoulders. ‘You must be weary, Gwirith. Go home and rest now.’
Gwirith nodded and saluted, then bowed to the Lady. Then he saw that Luinil was beside him, and in silence they turned on to the path to their talan. After they had walked in silence for some time Luinil said,
‘Did he really die?’
Gwirith started at the sound of his voice.
‘Did he, then?’ said Luinil again.
‘Oh yes,’ said Gwirith. ‘He died.’
‘But why are you so downcast, brother? If Mandos had not sent him back, you would be mourning him now.’
But Gwirith did not answer. Luinil found himself adjusting his pace to match Gwirith’s, who walked as if he found each step an effort. When they reached their talan, Luinil began to climb the ladder, but when he was halfway up he realised that Gwirith was still standing at the bottom, gazing out into the forest.
‘Gwirith, do you not want to rest?’ he asked.
Gwirith lifted his head and looked up at him. ‘I need to walk for a little while,’ he said. ‘I will see you later.’ And taking off his bow and quiver, he put down his pack and disappeared into the trees.
It was deep night when Luinil woke from a restless sleep and heard the sound of his brother’s soft tread crossing the floor of the talan.
‘Gwirith!’ he called, sitting up and watching him in the light of the candle beside his bed. ‘Where have you been all this time?’
‘I told you,’ said Gwirith hoarsely. ‘I needed to walk.’
Luinil got up then, and crossing the room, helped Gwirith out of his cloak.
‘Gwirith, you’re so cold!’ he cried. ‘And your hair is wet. Do you choose to bathe in the river while there is snow on the ground? Have you had anything to eat today?’
Gwirith shook him off and continued to undress in silence. When he had finished he poured some water in the basin and washed his face, then went over to his own bed.
‘No,’ said Luinil, taking his arm. ‘Even if you won’t talk to me, you’re coming in with me tonight.’
‘Luinil,’ protested Gwirith, but Luinil ignored him, leading him across the room.
‘Lie down and don’t argue,’ he said. Gwirith sighed deeply but he obeyed, and Luinil got in beside him and covered them up with the blankets.
‘You’re shaking, Gwirith. What possessed you to exhaust yourself walking about all day, after the night we’ve just had? I am sure Aiglin and Celinn have slept the day away!’
Gwirith shivered suddenly, and once he had started he could not stop. Luinil wrapped himself around his brother and held him tightly, but at last he had to get out of bed and fetch a stone from the cooking fire.
‘It’s got some heat left in it,’ he said as he wrapped it up in a piece of cloth. There was a clink of glass, and in a moment he was back at Gwirith’s side.
‘Brother, drink this,’ he said. Gwirith got up on his elbow and swallowed the fiery glass of miruvor. Luinil tucked the stone under the sheets at Gwirith’s feet and, throwing another blanket on the bed, got back in beside him.
‘Now sleep, Gwirith. You have seen both sun and moon run their courses and it is time to rest.’
He fell silent and it was not long before Gwirith heard his breathing become slow and regular. He lay on his side, feeling the miruvor burning away in his gut. When finally he drifted into sleep, he did not know whether the tears that had wet his pillow were tears or joy or tears of loss.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.