21. The Edge of the Sword
‘I had looked to see him before now,’ said Elladan, looking down from the watch talan close to Anduin.
‘He will only have a day or two in Lorien before we go home with the Lady’s message,’ said Elrohir. ‘Do you think he will come with us? He has not been home since the autumn before last.’
Elladan shrugged. ‘I hope so. I did not know I would miss him so much.’
They fell silent and drifted into sleep, and it was only when they heard the jingle of metal below that they looked down and saw Aragorn standing at the foot of the tree. A moment later they were in each other’s arms, holding each other tightly.
‘Estel, you are broader than before!’ said Elladan, stepping back and looking at Aragorn’s strong shoulders and chest. ‘What have you been doing? Throwing the Dunlendings into submission?’
Aragorn laughed. ‘I would do so if I could,’ he said. ‘But I think it is the bow and the sword which have added to my girth.’
‘We have not changed at all,’ said Elrohir.
‘No, you have not,’ said Aragorn, smiling at their dear, familiar faces.
‘You know we leave for home the day after tomorrow,’ said Elladan, as they began to walk towards Caras Galadhon. ‘Will you come with us, brother?’
Aragorn looked away. ‘Maybe,’ he said quietly. ‘I have not decided.’
His brothers glanced curiously at each other, but said nothing. During the journey they told each other what they had done in the months since they had last met, and Aragorn’s story in particular was so lengthy that they had come to the gate before he had finished.
‘The Lady was right,’ he said as they walked through the green lanes. ‘Although the Dunlendings seem well able to make mischief all of their own, there is something else behind it. We do not yet know what it is, but we are searching.’ He sighed deeply. ‘Why is it always so easy to find trouble and difficulty, and so hard to find its opposite?’ he said.
They came to the guardroom then, and Gwirith and Luinil were coming out and greeted Aragorn warmly.
‘I hope my letter reached you,’ said Gwirith. Aragorn nodded.
‘Has anything changed with Celinn?’ he asked. A shadow of sadness crossed Gwirith’s face but then it was gone and he was tranquil and composed.
‘No,’ he said, quietly. ‘Nothing has changed. But he lives, and that is enough.’
Aragorn heard something in his voice that he had not noticed before, and wondered what it was. Then Celinn came out of the guardroom and Gwirith turned and looked at him, and Aragorn knew what it was he had heard.
‘Celinn,’ he said gently. ‘I am glad to see you so well.’
‘And I you,’ said Celinn courteously, smiling at him. ‘It was kind of you to write to me when you must have had so little time.’
‘I have thought of you often,’ said Aragorn, struggling with a sense of strangeness.
‘Thank you, Aragorn,’ said Celinn, then excused himself and left them.
Aragorn was taken aback by his sudden departure and stood speechless, staring after him. Elladan and Elrohir moved one to each side of him like bodyguards, scowling identically at Celinn’s departing back. Gwirith found himself smiling at them.
‘He means no discourtesy,’ he said. ‘He is more abrupt than he used to be, that is all.’
‘No,’ said Aragorn, trying to understand what he had felt talking to Celinn. ‘He wants us to stay away from him. He cannot bear us too close. When I was speaking to him…it was if he was far away, even though he stood right in front of me.’
He turned to Gwirith. ‘And now he is always so?’ said Aragorn.
‘Yes. He is healed, but he is solitary and wishes no companions.’
Aragorn took his arm. ‘Gwirith,’ he said gently, his voice full of compassion. ‘He has broken your heart.’
Gwirith drew in his breath sharply and turned away so that Aragorn could not see his face. Aragorn waited, his hand still on Gwirith’s arm. At last Gwirith turned back to him, his face pale and composed.
‘He has not broken my heart,’ he said quietly. ‘My heart is whole, but it is his, and it grieves for him and for myself.’
‘Does he know this?’ said Aragorn. Gwirith nodded.
‘After what happened to him, he says he will not love again,’ he whispered.
Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Maybe death would have been better than this,’ he said softly. His eyes met Gwirith’s, but there were no words to ease the moment, and they parted in silence.
‘No, Aragorn, the lutir is not a punishment,’ said Haldir, as they approached the training field. ‘It is a period of observation by one’s peers, to ensure that one is ready to take up command again after an injury or some other difficult event.’
‘And is it often used?’
‘We are rarely captured and usually heal quickly unless the wound is mortal, so we seldom need to have recourse to it.’
‘So what happened to Celinn was particularly terrible.’
Haldir glanced at him before answering. ‘Aragorn, five months have passed now since the day you were captured. Everyone suffered, especially you and Celinn’. He stopped and looked at him to give emphasis to his words. ‘You are very young, my lad, and there is still much for you to learn. Let your guilt go now, or it will blind you to what you need to do.’
Aragorn nodded, not looking at Haldir. ‘You are right, Guardian. I will try to think less of myself and more of what lies ahead of me.’
Haldir laughed suddenly and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, boy, but you look so serious and stern. Do you ever smile?’
Aragorn looked at him bleakly. ‘I used to. But what is there to smile about now?’
‘Oh, everything!’ said Haldir, beginning to walk again. ‘Look around you! It is full spring after a long winter. The mellryn are in new leaf, there is the smell of growing things in the air…’
Aragorn did as he was bid but his melancholy expression remained.
‘It is just…’
‘What is it, Aragorn?’
‘Is there truly nothing to be done to help Celinn? He is so changed that I scarcely know him any more. Maybe my fath…Lord Elrond knows what to do. He is skilled in healing lore.’
‘Aragorn, you have a gentle heart. But there is nothing you can do. You must leave Celinn to come to his own healing.’
Aragorn bowed his head. ‘I cannot bear to think that he is forever changed because of my lack of judgment.’
‘Aragorn, how many years have you lived in this world?’
‘Twenty-one; nearly twenty-two.’
‘I have lived many hundreds of years, and so has Celinn, and Gwirith, and your brothers, and most of those around you at this moment. To you what has happened seems unchangeable and permanent, and indeed Celinn is fixed in his determination to be as he is. But not a single one of us knows what will happen to him. Aragorn, everything changes, all the time. Nothing is ever still, and to think this is the end of Celinn’s story is to mistake the nature of things. Forever is not a word for elves, nor for men, particularly men of Numenor. Keep your heart open, because life flows like water, and it is only if you become stone that you interrupt the flow.’
‘But that is just what Celinn has become: he was water, and now he is stone.’
‘It appears to be so, but water wears away at stone, and we will wear away at him, hoping one day he will be stone no longer. Do not fear, Aragorn, we have not abandoned him.’
‘I know there are those who care very much about what happens to him,’ said Aragorn. Haldir looked at him shrewdly.
‘Indeed there are,’ said Haldir. ‘And you are one of them.’
‘Yes,’ said Aragorn. ‘When I first came here, he had just become a captain, and I was newly on my road. It felt like we walked together for a while. I have begun to learn what it means to be a leader of men by being with him, both through what he has taught me as a warrior, and because of the part I have played in his suffering.’
‘And you wish to help us wear away the stone that his heart has become?’
‘Yes, in any way I can.’
‘Then have hope that one day he will be himself again. Do not give in to despair, however things appear. Healing comes from where we least expect it. While he is surrounded by those who love him, and they are many, his healing continues, even if he does not know it.’
Haldir stopped on the edge of the practice field, watching Orophin’s company at work, then glancing over to where Celinn and Rumil stood at the far side of the field. ‘Will you come with me to see him, Aragorn?’
Aragorn looked away. ‘No, I do not think so. When I saw him last he spoke little; I do not think he wishes me near him.’
‘Aragorn, he is not as lively as he once was, that is all. I am sure your friendship still endures.’
But Aragorn shook his head.
‘Then will you have a bout of swordplay today?’ asked Haldir.
‘I will,’ said Aragorn. ‘My shoulder still stiffens up sometimes. I need the exercise.’
‘Well, go ahead, then,’ said Haldir. ‘And, Aragorn, don’t mention my good humour. I have a reputation for being rather difficult to please which has always served me well.’
Aragorn nodded seriously, then saw the twinkle in Haldir’s eye. His face broke suddenly into a smile.
‘At last!’ said Haldir. ‘Now go. I will see you later.’ Aragorn ran towards a group of elves who were sparring with swords while Haldir strode to where Rumil and Celinn were standing together, watching Rumil’s company practising their bowmanship at the targets.
‘How goes it with the finest captains in Lorien?’ said Haldir, coming up to them.
‘You’re in a good mood today, brother,’ said Rumil. ‘Make sure you keep it well hidden or there will be no discipline among the guards.’
‘How amusing you are when you choose to be, Rumil,’ said Haldir, dryly, planting a kiss on his brother’s cheek. ‘And how goes it with you, Celinn?’
‘Well, Haldir,’ said Celinn, courteously. In the last two turns of the moon he had grown a little less thin and a faint tan had replaced his earlier pallor.
‘You look well, my dear. Soon we will be able to end the lutir, I think.’
‘Yes, Guardian. My company will be glad to hear it. They are impatient to return to full duty.’
Haldir glanced at the company of elves who had just arrived at the ground. Every one of them had cropped hair.
‘Do you know, Celinn, your company have the advantage over the rest of us,’ he said, watching how quickly they threw off their cloaks and put down their weapons before beginning to warm up. ‘In battle they will never fail to identify each other.’
‘Indeed,’ said Rumil. ‘Their loyalty does them credit.’
Celinn smiled politely, but the smile did not reach his eyes.
Haldir observed him shrewdly.
‘But sometimes it is an unwanted reminder, is it not?’ he said softly. Celinn did not reply. ‘Well, Celinn,’ said Haldir, briskly, ‘We will discuss the lutir later. Now, Rumil, I want you to give me your opinion of Aragorn’s swordsmanship. We will have to see whether Imladris has anything to teach us.’
They nodded to Celinn and walked off, Haldir’s arm round his brother’s shoulders.
‘How is he today?’ he said quietly to Rumil.
‘Calm, as you can see.’
‘Is it time to end the lutir?’
‘I am not sure. There is still a brittleness about him, so that he seems sedate and composed but is suddenly enraged or scathing towards those he commands. They accept it because they love him, but sometimes they watch him a little too closely, not wanting to kindle his temper. They need to be sure of him, Haldir, or else the moment they hesitate might be the moment the enemy needs to prevail over them.’
Haldir’s heart sank. ‘I thought he was able to control his black moods,’ he said.
‘Oh, they are rare,’ said Rumil. ‘Another month or two may be all that he needs.’
They stopped where they could see Aragorn engaged in swordplay with Orophin.
‘He has improved greatly!’ said Rumil, with admiration. ‘Orophin is at full stretch.’
Haldir watched for a while in silence, then said, ‘When he first came to us, he was a boy, albeit a gifted and determined one. Look at him now. He is a man.’
‘Yes,’ said Rumil, ruefully.
‘Do you still harbour that old prejudice, Rumil?’ said Haldir.
‘Unfortunately I do,’ said Rumil, ‘but I will try to make an exception for Aragorn’s sake. He certainly seems to be something above the common run of men.’
‘Well, that is good,’ said Haldir, ‘because his doom will touch all of us.’
Celinn watched Haldir and Rumil walk away, then, removing his cloak and laying it on the grass, he loosened his sword in its scabbard and went over to his own company. They were warming up in pairs before taking up their swords; Aiglin and Luinil, Gwirith and Sirion and Aelindor and Caranfir. Silivren, who had twisted his ankle while trying to pluck some blossom from a tree for his beloved, was watching and giving encouragement from the sidelines.
Aiglin and Luinil were standing back to back, arms interlocked, while Aiglin bent forward and lifted Luinil onto his back. He did this several times, then it was Luinil’s turn to lift Aiglin. Aelindor and Caranfir were seated opposite each other with their legs spread, their hands joined as they leaned forward, stretching the muscles of their thighs.
Celinn felt a sense of creeping melancholy begin somewhere deep inside him. Maybe it was Haldir’s talk of the lutir, or the sight of his crop-headed comrades that had wakened the first stirrings of the black mood that sometimes overcame him. Or maybe it was the fact that his body felt nothing. Here at the practice field, where he could not avoid seeing the pleasure everyone else was taking in their physical strength and prowess, the emptiness of his life seemed to strike him more acutely than anywhere else. He put his hand in the pocket of his tunic and touched the blue stone which he carried with him everywhere. This was why he was here; he had made an oath, and that was his life. It was enough.
But as his eye fell on Gwirith and Sirion, the emptiness became like a dull ache in his fea. Gwirith was sitting on the ground with his back spear straight, one leg extended and the other bent inwards with the sole of his foot resting lightly on the inside of his thigh. Sirion knelt behind him with his hands resting on his shoulders. As Celinn watched, Gwirith reached out and took hold of his ankles, then slowly stretched forward as far as he could go, remaining still for several seconds. Celinn found himself counting silently in his head, and when he reached fifteen, Sirion leaned down on Gwirith’s back, making him extend his body even further. Celinn began to count again, watching the two of them pressed close together, relaxed and still as Gwirith worked the tendons at the back of his knees. There was something in the uncomplicated comradely warmth of their contact that pierced him, like a strong light throwing his loneliness into sharp relief.
He turned away abruptly and went over to where Luinil and Aiglin had begun a bout of swordplay. Both were accomplished and needed little guidance, but he forced himself to concentrate hard and to comment on each stroke, each guard, each step, until they began to look at him sidewise.
‘Celinn, we scarce have made the thrust before you have entered between us faster than the parry,’ said Aiglin, laughing. ‘Give us room, brother!’
‘I’m sorry, Aiglin. I meant only to help you.’
‘And you did, maybe just a little too well!’
‘Would you like a bout, Celinn?’ said Luinil. ‘I would like to try you: there is much I could still learn from you.’
Celinn hesitated for a moment, but Aiglin said, ‘Go ahead, Celinn. It is too long since we have seen you.’
So Celinn drew his sword and they took guard and began. Luinil was quick thinking and nimble, but Celinn had a grace and power that made him exceptional even among the elves. Luinil tried to find his weak point, but Celinn was always a step ahead of him, anticipating his moves and blocking them unhurriedly before using his own momentum against him to force him off balance and out of position.
The other elves did not stop their own practice, but watched their most elegant swordsman surreptitiously, finding themselves often in as much difficulty as Luinil through their lack of concentration on their own bout. At last Celinn found the breach in his opponent’s defences, and the point of his sword came to rest lightly at the base of Luinil’s throat. Luinil gave a shout of laughter and threw out his arms in surrender.
‘Even now I do not come near you,’ he gasped, breathing heavily. ‘You have mastered me yet again.’
Celinn saluted him with his sword and, curling his finger round the point, slid it back into its scabbard. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his brow but apart from that he gave no sign that he had exerted himself. As he took to walking amongst the guards of the three companies that were on the field, correcting a stance here and a parry there, he noticed the admiring looks that he received from the four quarters of the field. But even this could not shake the black mood which was sinking into his bones like a chill fog. His comments became more pointed and critical, and after a while he saw the other elves withdrawing a little from him, and checked himself.
He had made a full circuit of the field observing all those taking part in swordplay, and saw that his own company were engaged in a small tournament now that they had completed their exercises and drills. Aiglin called him over to where he was sitting on a grassy bank watching Luinil and Sirion competing.
‘Sit with me, Celinn. You can narrate their strengths and their weaknesses to me and help me to finish this.’
‘What, are you already defeated?’ said Celinn.
‘I was the first out,’ said Aiglin, sheepishly. ‘Here, there is plenty,’ and he handed Celinn some bread and a piece of crumbly white cheese. Celinn ate his bread absentmindedly, commenting from time to time on the technique of the two adversaries. A warm gentle wind was blowing, bringing with it the scent of blossom from the orchards nearby. Sitting beside his brother, Celinn began to relax, and to hope that for once the black mood would pass him by.
Then Sirion stepped forward and made Luinil give ground, then pressed him again. Luinil lost his balance, and in a moment was sprawled on the grass, Sirion’s sword at his throat.
‘By Elbereth, not again!’ he cried and gave his surrender. Sirion extended a hand and pulled him to his feet. Gwirith came over to him then and drew him close, and they spoke quietly for a few moments. Luinil’s shoulders hunched over and he nodded several times, then came over to them in chastened mood.
‘Gwirith had something to say about your swordsmanship, I venture,’ said Aiglin, handing Luinil a flask of water. Luinil took it with a smile and flung himself down beside him, draping his arm lazily across Aiglin’s legs.
‘A thundercloud would have been more gentle than his face,’ he said. ‘But he knows I am an archer, not a swordsman. Why does he scold me so? Only he and Sirion are left in the contest, so I have defeated everyone else.’
‘Because the enemy will kill you before asking for your choice of weapon, and he does not wish to lose his brother,’ said Celinn quietly from Aiglin’s other side. They both looked at him for a moment in silence.
‘Yes, Celinn, you are right,’ said Luinil at last. ‘I must strive to better my skills.’
The clang of metal made them all turn, and they saw that the next bout between Sirion and Gwirith had just begun. Gwirith fought very straight-backed, and his movements flowed like water. Celinn found himself remembering the shining flow of Gwirith’s long hair, the deep blue-black of a raven’s wing. He wondered how long it would be before it would grow long again. Gwirith and Sirion were well-matched, both strong and unyielding, each able to hide their thought from the other. As a result the bout seemed likely to be long and hard-fought. The two adversaries stepped neatly round each other, their guards unbreakable and their thrusts quickly parried. At last Sirion held up his hand to indicate his wish to pause. Gwirith stepped back and held up his sword to his face in a gesture of salute, then let his blade rest on the ground.
‘Do you wish to yield, Sirion?’ he said, with a burst of fierce laughter. Sirion gave him a dark smile and began to strip off his shirt.
‘I would give you a clearer sight of your target, to speed your sword. It will make better sport,’ he said. Gwirith rested the hilt of his sword against his thigh and, lifting his arms, peeled his own shirt off, revealing his chest still faintly tanned from the previous autumn.
‘I would not do you the discourtesy of wearing a different garb, Sirion,’ he said seriously, ‘although since you do most of the running around, I fear I need my shirt to keep me warm.’
A small crowd was forming around them now that the other elves had finished their practice, and his comment drew a burst of laughter. Aiglin turned to his brother to share the joke with him, but his heart grew cold within him as he saw the sudden brooding, withdrawn expression on Celinn’s face. Knowing there was nothing he could say to help him when this black mood took him, Aiglin nevertheless drew nearer to him and put his arm around his shoulders.
‘Brother, would you like to walk with me for a while? The practice time is over; we do not have to stay.’
But Celinn shrugged his arm off and said nothing. The bout had begun again, and he stared fixedly at Sirion and Gwirith as they circled each other, just out of range of each other’s blades. Then Sirion lunged forwards and the contest began in earnest. At first the other elves chatted and laughed and called out comments to the two protagonists, but soon the noise died down and the clang of blade against blade and the quick breathing of the two swordsmen was the only sound on the field. Despite the light wind, both Gwirith and Sirion were beginning to sweat but neither gave any sign of weakening. Sirion was shorter and more stocky than Gwirith and had a lesser reach, but he fought with an intensity and determination that was proving difficult to overcome, while in Gwirith was joined a dancer’s grace and a craftsman’s precision.
Aiglin was beginning to wonder whether Luinil, as acting captain, should declare the bout a draw when Celinn moved suddenly beside him. The movement caught Sirion’s eye and for an instant he lost his concentration and Gwirith’s sword got under his guard. A moment later a thin line of red had opened up on his chest over his heart. Gwirith stepped back at once and lowered his sword and the bout was over. Luinil got up hastily and he and Gwirith tended to the shallow cut on Sirion’s chest.
When it was done Gwirith and Sirion shook hands formally and saluted each other, and Gwirith was declared the winner of the contest. There was much cheering and calling, and then in pairs and small groups, the elves began to drift away. Gwirith picked up his shirt and flung it over his shoulder, then cleaned his sword before sheathing it and coming over to where Aiglin and Celinn were sitting.
‘You are the victor, Gwirith,’ said Aiglin. ‘You fought well.’
‘It was a lucky chance that gave me the victory.’ Suddenly he smiled. ‘But I am glad nevertheless. It was a difficult contest.’ He glanced over at Celinn, and the smile vanished instantly as he saw his tormented face.
‘Celinn, the darkness is on you,’ he said softly and knelt down beside him. Celinn stood up so suddenly that Gwirith had to save himself from sprawling on the grass. Looking up at Celinn he was met with a look of such profound desolation that for a moment he felt the ground tilt beneath him. Before he could recover himself, Celinn had turned and begun to walk away. Gwirith pushed himself to his feet and made to follow him, but Aiglin’s hand was on his arm, holding him back.
‘You know it is no use talking to him when he is like this, Gwirith. It is best to leave him alone until the mood passes.’
Gwirith stared at him. ‘I cannot leave him to suffer alone,’ he said. ‘At least let me try to help him.’ Aiglin shook his head but he released his grip on Gwirith’s arm.
Celinn was some distance away and Gwirith had to run to catch him up. He called his name several times but Celinn walked on as if he had not heard, so at last Gwirith ran ahead of him and taking him by the shoulder, forced him to stop.
‘Celinn, you cannot go away on your own with this black mood on you,’ he said breathlessly. ‘Let us go to the water; that always soothes you. We are not on duty for three days: we could go to Nimrodel or to Celebrant if you wish to go away from the city for a while. Aiglin and Luinil could come as well.’
Celinn wrenched himself violently out of Gwirith’s grasp, staring at him with eyes that were nearly black. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said through clenched teeth, and began to walk away again.
‘Celinn!’ cried Gwirith. ‘By Elbereth, what can I do to help you?’
Celinn stopped suddenly. Gwirith watched the long folds of his cloak swing from side to side and finally come to rest. Celinn turned round slowly, and his face was so full of anger that Gwirith scarcely recognised it.
‘You wish to help me, Gwirith? Then by Elbereth and by Ulmo, leave me alone!’ he shouted. ‘How much longer do you think I want to see you looking at me like a lovesick girl, watching my every move, fussing over me all the time? Do you think I am so desperate to look on your body that you have to strip half-naked before me to inflame me with passion? I have told you, Gwirith, there can never be anything between us. I am nothing but an empty shell, a wreck, a cripple! There is nothing here!’ he said, slapping himself on the chest over his heart, his voice breaking for a moment into a sob before falling an octave almost to a groan. ‘And there is nothing here either.’ He pressed his hand to his groin, his eyes piercingly bright, then fell silent, standing crooked and out of balance and staring ahead of him unseeingly.
Gwirith’s voice seemed to have gone so deep into his chest that he could not speak. Celinn’s words had struck him like a blow to the heart, and he felt as if a great weight was pushing him down into the earth. He stood helpless as Celinn turned to berate him again, his fingers pressed against his temples.
‘Your love is oppressing me, Gwirith,’ he gasped. ‘I cannot breathe any more. Why do you ask to take me to the river? To soothe my black mood? To please you I have to take every step in guilt and failure, because I am not healed. Can you not leave me in peace, to make a life without owing something that I can never repay?’ His eye fell on Gwirith’s bare chest, and he turned away in disgust. Gwirith caught the look and it was as if a sword had pierced his flesh. Suddenly he could speak.
‘I am sorry, Celinn,’ he said, amazed that any words could emerge from his constricted throat. ‘Of course I will leave you alone. I never meant to hurt you, but I can see that it would be best if I kept away from you. I will speak to Haldir at once.’ His voice gave out then, and the light wind which had felt sweet and warm was like ice from Helcaraxe, and he began to shiver uncontrollably. Celinn looked at him coldly, as if he were a stranger, then without another word he turned and walked away. Gwirith watched him through a sudden rushing sound in his ears and darkness at the edge of his vision. He had no idea what to do next: whether to stay where he was, or go somewhere… but where was there to go?
Aiglin’s hand on his elbow made him jump. ‘Gwirith, what did he say to you? Where has he gone?’
But Gwirith could not answer him. Carefully he knelt down on the ground and laying his hands in his lap, he bowed his head and waited for the darkness to disperse.
‘I thought it was Celinn who was in shadow,’ said Aiglin softly, ‘but it seems he has given his black mood to you.’ Soon Luinil came over and together they got Gwirith to his feet and tried to take him home. But he struggled out of their hands, saying he had to see Haldir at once; that he had promised to do so. Unable to divert him from his course, they walked with him to the guardroom and would have entered with him, but he told them to leave him at the door and went in alone.
Gwirith knocked on the door of Haldir’s room and heard the Guardian’s voice calling him to enter. He must have opened the door and gone in because he found himself standing by Haldir’s big desk, but he did not understand why Galadriel and Aragorn were here, or why Haldir was pushing him down into a chair by the fire and wrapping a woollen blanket around his shoulders. Something fiery was on his lips, burning a path down his throat, and all at once his mind was clear.
Frowning, he looked at the concerned faces around him, and he said,
‘I haven’t got my shirt on. I beg your pardon, Lady.’
‘It is no matter, Gwirith,’ she said very gently. ‘I hear you have been successful in a contest of swordsmanship.’
He opened his mouth to tell her about it, but then he remembered why he was here. Something must have showed in his face because Galadriel came at once to sit beside him and gave him more to drink. When he had emptied the small glass, she laid her hand lightly over his heart. He drew in his breath as sharply as if he had stepped into icy water, and tears of cold came to his eyes.
‘Haldir,’ he gasped. ‘Send me away from Lorien. There must be a message you need carried, or some news you wish to discover. Send me. Tonight if you can.’
‘Gwirith, what are you saying?’ said Haldir. ‘Something troubles you deeply, but surely this haste is foolish. Tell us what ails you, my lad, and we will try to help you.’
‘It is nothing; I am well,’ insisted Gwirith. ‘But I must go. Please, Haldir. I cannot tell you why, but send me away.’
‘What about Luinil? And Celinn?’
Gwirith’s face paled so dramatically that Haldir leaned over and seized his arm. Gwirith!’
‘Let me go, Haldir. I cannot stay here,’ he murmured.
‘He can come with us to Imladris,’ said Aragorn suddenly. ‘Elladan and Elrohir would be glad to travel with an elf of the Noldor. And my fath…Lord Elrond would be glad to meet him too. If you have messages, he can bring back the reply.’
Galadriel and Haldir both turned to him, then exchanged a look over Gwirith’s head. The Lady nodded almost imperceptibly.
‘Very well,’ said Haldir. ‘If you wish it so much, you may travel to Imladris as the envoy of Lorien.’
‘I have messages for my daughter’s husband which his sons will carry, but you may bring back his answer,’ said Galadriel.
Gwirith gave a deep sigh. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered. ‘I will prepare my belongings straight away.’ He pushed his chair back and made to stand up but his legs seemed too weak to support him and he had to sit down again.
‘Rest a moment,’ said Galadriel. ‘There is time enough. They will not leave before the dawn.’
Gwirith’s head suddenly felt very heavy and he leaned forward and rested his forehead on the polished wood of the table and closed his eyes. He must have dozed for a moment because when he opened his eyes Haldir and Aragorn had gone but Galadriel was still sitting beside him, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders. He felt warm at last, and the knotted feeling in his chest had gone.
Gwirith sat up and Galadriel moved round to look into his face. After a while she said,
‘He has hurt you very deeply, my dear. He must have been in terrible pain to treat you like that.’
‘He was,’ whispered Gwirith, ‘but there was nothing I could do for him.’
‘Maybe it is better if you go away for a while. There are questions which you must ask yourself, and you cannot ask them when he is so close.’
‘I do not want to leave him,’ said Gwirith, low voiced. Galadriel looked at him, and he saw in her eyes the decision he had to make. ‘I do not know if I can come back,’ he said, barely audible.
‘When the time comes, you will know what to do,’ she said gently. Suddenly she leaned forward and drew him into her arms. ‘My dear Gwirith, how I hate to see you suffer so,’ she said, and pressed her lips to his brow. Gwirith felt enfolded in her love, and rested for a moment against her. Then she released him and he stood up. Galadriel saw him straighten his shoulders in a movement which was now familiar to her and a shadow of courage came into his face.
‘I will prepare for the journey,’ he said, and his voice was steady.
‘Elbereth go with you,’ she said, and smiled into his eyes.
‘Gwirith, he did not mean it,’ said Luinil. ‘You know how he is when the black mood takes him.’
‘He meant it,’ said Gwirith quietly, as he finished loading his quiver with arrows. ‘And so do I. Pass me that string, Luinil and the pot of wax.’
‘Then let me go with you. You will be lonely riding back from Imladris.’
‘No, Luinil. You are captain until the lutir is completed. You cannot come with me.’
Sighing heavily, Luinil sat down on Gwirith’s bed and began to pull off his boots. ‘You’re not going at once, though, are you?’
‘No. They expect me at dawn. We will go by Dimrill Dale and pass close to Eregion.’
Luinil looked up at him and their eyes met as they both thought of the place of their birth. ‘Be careful, Gwirith, and come home safely. These are dangerous times.’ Gwirith did not answer but something in his face disturbed Luinil.
‘Gwirith, you are coming back to Lorien, aren’t you?’ he said.
‘I must, Luinil. I am to carry Elrond’s answer back to the Lady.’ But Luinil was not satisfied.
‘And then you will stay here, once you are reconciled with Celinn?’ he asked. Gwirith turned away and carefully began to pack his clothes into his travelling bag. After a long time he said,
‘I don’t know what I will do. For now I need to be away from him. That is what he wants. Beyond that I cannot say.’
He opened his wooden chest and took out the turquoise cloth containing his and Celinn’s hair, unwrapping it and laying it on the bed. He and Luinil looked at the long coils of gold and black twined together.
‘I had forgotten his hair was such a rich gold,’ said Luinil. ‘It is so much paler now.’
Gwirith touched the soft mass of hair with one finger, then wrapped it up and stowed it in his pack. ‘I will make strings when I am in Imladris. I am running short,’ he said abruptly. Then he straightened up and looked at Luinil. ‘There, I am ready,’ he said. ‘There is time for a few hours’ sleep before I go.’
‘Then come in with me, since it is your last night in Lorien,’ said Luinil, his eyes pleading.
Gwirith nodded, and they got undressed and lay down together in Luinil’s bed. Luinil blew out the candle and they lay in the dark. Gwirith was on his back, stiff and straight, while Luinil was curled round him, holding him tightly.
‘Gwirith,’ he whispered a long time later. ‘Please don’t leave me again.’ But the only answer he had was silence and his brother’s gentle breathing.
Aragorn stood at the foot of the talan, a very large wriggling cloth-covered bundle in his arms. He had obviously ridden a long way and a pungent odour of human sweat issued forth from his body. Aiglin wrinkled up his nose delicately.
‘Celinn is not here,’ he said. ‘I don’t know where he is.’
‘Well, give him this,’ he said, thrusting the bundle into Aiglin’s arms. It wriggled even more and Aiglin nearly dropped it.
‘By Elbereth, what is it?’ he cried.
‘Just tell him to look after it for me until I get back.’
‘And when will that be?’
‘I don’t know. A few weeks, a few months? It depends what happens on the way. Oh, and tell him to choose a name.’
‘Wait,’ began Aiglin, but Aragorn had already mounted his horse and was turning it back on to the path.
‘Farewell and thanks,’ he called out, and the thunder of his horse’s hooves vibrated through the earth as he rode away. Aiglin stood open mouthed wondering what to do, but then the bundle wriggled again. Holding it tightly with one arm, he lifted the edge of the cloth and found himself looking into two inquisitive dark brown eyes and a compact little body covered in thick pale gold fur.
‘By Orome, it is a hound!’ he whispered, and then gasped as a long pink tongue came out and washed his face thoroughly.
Many hours later Celinn came back to the talan and sat cross-legged on the floor looking out at the trees without a word. There came the sound of claws clicking on the wooden boards, and Aiglin, who had spent all afternoon fighting off the playful attentions of the strong young hound, came forward hastily to restrain him lest he disturbed Celinn. The hound capered across the room, whimpering with pleasure at the sight of a new friend, his tail wagging so hard that his hindquarters swung from side to side.
But when he came close to Celinn a change came over him, and he stopped quietly in front of him and gazed at him out of his large brown eyes. Celinn glanced at him, then at once looked away, scarcely seeming to register his presence. But the hound moved closer to him and calmly laid his head on Celinn’s knee, gazing up at him beseechingly. For a long time Celinn did not react, but then he rested his hand on the rough, creamy gold head. The hound sighed deeply and musically and sitting down on Celinn’s feet, leaned up against his legs.
Aiglin watched him anxiously, expecting him to leap up at any moment, wanting to play or to eat or to be taken down to the ground. But the hound did not move, except better to look up adoringly at Celinn.
‘Aragorn brought him,’ he said. ‘He wants you to look after him until he gets back.’
Celinn’s hand moved fitfully on the hound’s head. ‘What is he called?’ he said hoarsely.
‘Aragorn said you were to choose a name,’ said Aiglin, coming to his side. The hound turned to look at him, then opened his mouth in a wide smile. ‘He is surely no more than a few months old,’ he said. ‘Where could Aragorn have found him?’
Celinn began to play with the hound’s soft ears. ‘Branhu, I think, after his colour,’ he said. ‘What do you think, hound? Is that your name, Bran?’
The hound twisted round and looked upside down at Celinn. He gave a rumble of pleasure deep in his throat, and his long pink tongue came out and washed Celinn’s hand.
Celinn looked at his brother, and there was a tenderness in his face where before there had been only hopelessness.
‘I think he likes it,’ he said, smiling.
Lutir = a composite word made up by me, of ‘lu’ – time, and ‘tir’ – looking or watching, to mean a time of observation by one’s peers after an injury or an event which might be thought to affect one’s capacity to return to a commanding role. I thought six months maximum sounded reasonable.
Branhu = from baran or meaning golden-brown, and hu = hound
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.