25. Chapter Twenty Four
The next weeks were full of darkness. First there was the laying of Cerveth in the earth and the mourning that followed. On that day, the one after they came back to Caras Galadhon, the sky was grey and heavy with snow and under the trees the light was dim. When it was over Haldir and those who had gone to Mirkwood with him stood aimless and grieving beside the freshly-turned mound of earth, trying not to notice the other thing that troubled them, which was the way the other Galadhrim looked at them askance, as if they were a little afraid of them. Haldir said quietly that it was only because the blight of Dol Guldur still hung round them like a grey pall, but it lowered their spirits even further. They stood huddled close together, all except a flint-eyed Gwirith who had hidden himself right at the back of the group of mourners.
And of course there was Gwirith himself, still unhealed of his affliction as the weeks passed despite every effort made by Galadriel to cleanse him of the dark energy of Dol Guldur. Solitary and uncommunicative, he had been transferred to another company at his own request, and Celinn and the others saw little of him.
They all felt the effects of the shadow, struggling against nightmares and a strange deep weariness of the body which nothing could shake. There was nothing for any of them to do but endure and wait for it to pass, while they laboured at the extra duties all the pellarim had taken on because Rumil and Orophin were away.
Haldir set himself to working every hour he could so that he wouldn't have a moment to think of Legolas; but of course he thought of him nevertheless, wondering whether he had got home safely to Mirkwood, and if he had, what kind of welcome his father had given him. Haldir always made sure he didn't go to bed until he was exhausted, so that he wouldn't have to lay awake in the darkness, aching for the touch of Legolas' hand on his body; but he ached for it nevertheless.
The season descended towards midwinter and outside Lorien the snow fell heavy and deep. Galadriel sent with her mind to Elrond for help in healing Gwirith, but he was still sick with the Sea-longing, and could do nothing.
At dusk on Midwinter night the Golden Wood was steeped in silence. The light wind that had lifted the leaves of the mellyrn earlier in the day had died down, and the creatures of the wood slept. Celinn stood with Aiglin and Luinil outside the guardroom at the end of their turn of duty, waiting for Haldir.
'Are you cold, brother?' said Aiglin, as Celinn shivered and drew his cloak more tightly round his slender body.
Celinn, who was always cold now that Gwirith had left him, shrugged his shoulders and looked away into the forest. As this night, the longest of the year, began he felt the last drop of hope that Gwirith would return draining away from him, and for the first time his grief could be seen in the sudden sinking of his shoulders. Aiglin cast an anxious look at Luinil but before he could speak the door to the guardroom opened and Haldir came out quickly, pulling it closed behind him.
'I see you received my message,' he said, coming towards them. 'I need to talk to you about the guard post near the Tongue: the one that looks towards Mordor. Heleghen says the light there has changed. Something's happening, and I would like you to take a look for yourselves and tell me what you think it is.'
'When shall we go?' said Luinil, glancing at Aiglin. 'Now? We could probably be back in time for the last of the midwinter fires.'
Haldir frowned. 'You would need to stay longer to make a proper judgment, but I wouldn't have you miss the festival.'
In the moment or two of silence that followed, they could hear someone's voice calling out something far away, incomprehensibly.
'It's no matter,' said Luinil. 'We'll stay. As long as we're back by the day after.'
'Why, what is happening then?' said Haldir.
'Well,' said Aiglin, 'we haven't made it generally known, but…'
'Who is that shouting?' interrupted Celinn sharply, turning in the direction of the sound.
'I don't know,' said Haldir, not really paying attention.
'What's he saying? It sounds like…Haldir…it's Gwirith! He's calling me!'
They all turned then, and not far away on the path, Gwirith stood, barefoot and wild-eyed.
'Celinn, where have you been?' he demanded. 'I've been looking for you for hours.'
'I was on duty, then I came here to see Haldir,' said Celinn, going to his side. 'Why, what's the matter?'
'Where's my binding-ring? I never take it off, yet it's gone! I don't understand it, Celinn.'
'I have it,' said Celinn, his hand shaking so much that he couldn't remove Gwirith's ring from beside his own.
'But why?' said Gwirith, bewildered. 'Why do you have it?'
Celinn stopped trying to remove the ring and stared at Gwirith. Beside him his companions stood transfixed. Then Haldir spoke.
'We'll leave you,' he said quietly. 'No doubt you have much to say to each other.'
And he led Aiglin and Luinil back into the guardroom with him.
Celinn's eyes had not left Gwirith's face.
'You gave it back to me,' he said, as if they hadn't been interrupted. 'At Dol Guldur. You said…you said…'
He stopped, his voice choked with tears.
'What did I say?' said Gwirith, horrified, taking hold of him by the elbows.
But Celinn couldn't answer him for he was bent over, shaken with dry wracking sobs, his hands over his face.
Immediately Gwirith seized hold of him, pulling him into his arms. But although this was the moment Celinn had waited for since Gwirith had rejected him, yet somehow he found himself sliding away from him in a way he didn't understand, so that they were standing a few feet apart again, and Celinn was struggling to regain his composure, pulling in great silent gasps of air.
Gwirith watched him, uncertain what to do. At last he said,
'Celinn, let's go home.'
Carefully he covered the three paces which separated them, as if any sudden movement would be dangerous or ill-advised. Celinn said nothing, but this time when Gwirith laid his arm gently across his shoulders and turned him in the direction of their talan, he didn't resist him.
Soon they were there, and they climbed the ladder and stepped on to the platform. While Gwirith lit a candle or two Celinn looked around him dazedly, and he saw that every sign that he had lived in this place with Gwirith had been cleared away, from the cups and plates he had contributed to their household to the sheets and table linens and even the red rug that his sister had given them. The quill and parchment he had used to make notes for his songs and the tuning key for his harp were gone from the table on his side of the bed, as was the blue stone he had used to mark his becoming captain of his company. Indeed the whole room was frugal and bleak, with nothing but the basic necessaries of life to be seen.
In the few minutes that it took Gwirith to kindle a fire in the fire-pail, Celinn felt a chill enter his body and sink so deep that by the time Gwirith came back to his side he was trembling.
'Sit down and rest,' said Gwirith. 'Celinn, your hands are so cold.'
'The rug,' said Celinn incongruously, drawing his hands out of Gwirith's. 'Where is it?'
'The rug? What rug?' said Gwirith, surprised, and then he looked around the room, seeing as if for the first time how ruthlessly he had excised Celinn's presence from his life.
'The one Alfirin gave us,' said Celinn. 'It was here, at the foot of the bed.'
Gwirith crossed slowly to the cupboard in the corner of the room and pulling open the door, dragged out the rug from one of the lowest shelves and brought it over to him. Celinn stared at it as if he had never seen it before, then he took it out of Gwirith's hands and unrolling it, laid it down carefully in its original position. When he was satisfied it was as he wanted it he stepped on to it, and at once he felt himself to be on an island, alone and separate from Gwirith, marooned within the only safety he could find in this place which had been his home. Slowly he knelt down on the floor, curling his legs under him and resting his body against the solid wooden end of the bed.
'Celinn, sit on the bed, you'll be more comfortable,' said Gwirith, doing so himself, but Celinn didn't move except to reach down and touch the strips of dyed cloth that made up the weave of the rug, as if to anchor himself to something familiar.
Silence fell between them again. Celinn gazed sightlessly at the floor. Despite the growing warmth of the fire, his hands were pale and his nails shadowed blue with cold.
'Celinn,' said Gwirith gruffly at last. 'You must tell me what I did.'
'You fought with Luinil and Haldir,' said Celinn dully, 'and you went into the tower. Cerveth followed you.'
'I remember that part,' said Gwirith quietly. 'If he hadn't, he might still be alive today, and I will always carry the guilt of it. But it's the part about you I can't remember. Celinn, I want you tell me everything. Leave nothing out.'
'No,' said Celinn sharply. 'It's past. Let's forget it ever happened.'
Gwirith sighed. 'Celinn, we're barely able to look one another in the eye,' he said gently. 'We can't forget it. You must tell me, or it will always be between us.'
He braced his shoulders and sat up, waiting. There was a long moment of silence, during which Celinn's ragged breathing was the only sound in the room. At last he started to speak, low-voiced and calm, beginning with the way Gwirith had changed after Luinil had been bitten by the spider.
Gwirith listened to the story unfold. At first his back was straight and his hands loose on the coverlet on either side of him, and he looked directly at Celinn, but as he heard more of what had taken place between them he dropped his eyes, becoming apparently engrossed in a jagged tear he hadn't noticed before in the fabric of his breeches. His back was no longer quite so straight. Celinn was finding it more and more difficult to speak, so that by the time he reached the part about Gwirith wanting to be released from their binding to go over Sea, he was weeping slow, silent tears, and dragging the words out of somewhere deep in himself, one or two at a time. And Gwirith was slumped forwards, his hands over his ears, eyes closed and lips pulled back in a grimace of pain.
At last Celinn came to the end of the story. They sat, only a few feet away from one another, but as far apart as if they had been separated by a hundred leagues of territory. Celinn had closed his eyes and was leaning his head against the end of the bed. He looked as if he were completely exhausted.
'By all the Holy Ones…' whispered Gwirith. 'Surely you know I couldn't have meant any of it truly, Celinn. The shadow stirred up my fear of losing you, after I had already known the loss of Alcarion. Why else would I say such things? Why else would I want to say them?'
Celinn shook his head sadly, but he said nothing. Slowly Gwirith slid off the bed to kneel in front of him. For a long time he watched him in silence, and then he said,
'There's something you haven't told me.'
'No,' said Celinn at once. 'There is nothing.'
'There is,' insisted Gwirith. 'Tell me, Celinn. You must, or you'll resent me for it, and in the end you'll hate me.'
'Please, Celinn, tell me what it is.'
For a long moment Celinn squeezed his eyes tightly shut and clenched his fists. Twice he began to speak and twice he stopped, but at last the words came in ragged, broken phrases as he told Gwirith the one thing he had been unable to say, and that was the way Gwirith had taunted him with breaking his captain's oath. When he had finished speaking he kept his face turned away from Gwirith, concentrating instead on the frayed threads on the cuff of his shirt and the way they made a little fringe against the skin of his wrist. The tears flowed down his cheeks and dripped off his jaw, wetting the front of his shirt, but he didn't wipe them away.
Hesitantly Gwirith reached out and rested one hand on the bed just beside Celinn's head, not touching him.
'I was mad, Celinn,' he said softly. 'I was as mad as I was when I said I wanted to be released from our binding. I must have been so desperate that I was prepared to use anything to get what I wanted. You mustn't take account of anything I said at that time, for there is no truth in it at all.'
'Is there not?' said Celinn, suddenly flaring up with anger. 'Gwirith, your fear of losing me I can understand. But this…this strikes at the heart of…of what we are to each other. How could you speak to me so unless these things were already in your mind? How else would the shadow of Dol Guldur have revealed them?'
'I swear that isn't true,' said Gwirith.
'How can you be so sure?' demanded Celinn. 'You must have despised me already in your heart to say such things to me. And then if that were not enough, you disobeyed Legolas' advice and Haldir's orders and went into the tower of Dol Guldur. And yet you called me reckless? Gwirith, it's a miracle you survived.'
Between them the fact of Cerveth's failure to survive fell heavy and final. Distraught, Gwirith reached out blindly for Celinn, but he said harshly, 'No, don't touch me!' and flinging out both arms to push Gwirith away, caught him a glancing blow on the cheek. Gwirith gave a grunt of pain and put up one hand to cover his face.
Again a heavy brooding silence fell between them. At last, his voice muffled by his hand, Gwirith said,
'Celinn, you must believe me: truly I didn't know what I was doing. I don't despise you. You showed impossible courage when you were in the hands of the enemy. You probably saved all our lives. How could I despise you?'
'I imagine it would be easy,' whispered Celinn, 'since I still despise myself.'
Gwirith gave a heavy sigh and let his hand drop from his face. There was a crescent-shaped cut over his cheekbone, and a trickle of blood ran down on to his jaw.
Celinn paled. 'Gwirith…' he said, 'what…?'
He looked down at his hands, and saw the vivid stripe of blood across the two binding rings. At once he got to his feet and went across to fetch the basin, pouring water into it from the jug and setting it down on the floor beside the bed. Swiftly he cleaned the cut on Gwirith's cheek with a piece of cloth, then put his right hand into the water. The blood began to rise in fine tendrils from the metal of the two binding rings, but although he swirled his hand around, some of it remained caught in the delicate engravings.
Without thinking he pulled them off and dropped them into the basin. Gwirith stared into the water, then across at Celinn's fingers, seeing the pattern left on his skin by the two rings.
'Why did you do that?' he said, horrified.
'To clean them,' said Celinn.
'But you didn't need to take them off. Now neither of us is…is…'
His voice faltered and died.
'The rings don't make the binding,' said Celinn wearily. 'It doesn't end because we remove them. If we're still bound, they're nothing more than a sign.'
'If…?' whispered Gwirith. 'Is there some doubt of it?'
'I don't know. It's for you to say.'
'Don't you…want me, Celinn?'
'Yes, I want you. But I don't know if you still want me. After the way it has been between us these last weeks…I'm no longer sure.'
At once Gwirith reached down and putting his hand into the water, took out the two rings. Hastily he dried them on his shirt then held them out on his open palm.
'Of course I want you. Take your ring, Celinn.'
'I don't know which is mine…'
'It's no matter. Take one, and I'll have the other.'
'No, it won't be right…'
'Then you shouldn't have removed them. Take it, Celinn!'
Celinn went white.
'Gwirith, stop,' he whispered. 'You sound just like you did when…you wanted me to release you…'
Gwirith stared at him, stunned into silence. His hand closed so tightly over the rings that his knuckles stood out clear white underneath the skin. Slowly he passed his other hand distractedly over his face.
'Then what are we to do?' he said, but Celinn couldn't tell him, because he was weeping silently again, and had no more words.
They looked at each other, unsure how to bridge the chasm that had opened up between them.
'We've lived through worse than this,' said Gwirith defiantly.
'But last time…neither of us had inflicted it on the other,' whispered Celinn.
Carefully Gwirith placed the two binding rings on the bed. They looked tiny and insignificant on the quilted white coverlet. Celinn looked down at his hand and already the patterns on his skin left by the rings were fading away. He felt a sense of disorientation, and his hand tightened on the red cloth of the rug.
'Is it…over between us, then?' he said.
Gwirith looked at him.
'I don't know,' he said.
Their eyes met, and it seemed as if they were moving apart very fast, so that in a moment or two they would be completely out of one another's reach. The knowledge hit them both at the same instant, and without a word they had seized one another's hands and were holding on tightly, bent over with the agony of the possibility of parting.
'Gwirith, don't leave me again,' pleaded Celinn.
'I don't want to leave you, Celinn,' said Gwirith fiercely. 'I thought you wanted me to.'
'No, I don't. That would be the greatest madness of all, madder than what happened at Dol Guldur.'
'But how are we to mend things between us?'
'I don't know,' whispered Celinn. 'I don't know.'
Gwirith looked into Celinn's white, desolate face, then pulled him into his arms and held him hard against his body.
'Forgive me, Celinn. Please, if you can forgive me, I'll do anything you want to put things right.'
Celinn didn't answer him, but instead turned his face against Gwirith's shoulder. He was shuddering with cold. Gwirith looked into his lover's shadowed, averted face.
'Celinn, come to bed,' he whispered.
'No,' said Celinn at once, sitting up and looking into his face. 'I can't, Gwirith, how could you ask me…?'
Gwirith let out a long breath.
'Please, you're so cold, I just want to warm you…' he said.
Celinn's face was still full of misery as Gwirith turned back the covers, and he wouldn't let Gwirith undress him but instead took off his tunic and boots and slid under the sheets in his shirt and loose breeches. He lay mute and still, looking up at the wooden roof of the talan as Gwirith got in beside him, similarly dressed, and opened his arms. Reluctantly Celinn went into them and was wrapped up in Gwirith's embrace. They lay in this way for a long time, Celinn tense and quiet, scarcely allowing himself to believe he was where he was. Gwirith asked him for nothing, holding him lightly against him, waiting for him to relax.
Time passed, and at last Celinn stopped shivering and fell into a restless sleep. Gwirith looked at him, seeing the deep frown between his brows, his own heart full of guilt for the pain he had unknowingly inflicted on him. The candles burnt low and went out, and the hour moved towards the depth of winter. And when it reached it Celinn woke suddenly and struggling to sit up, cried out Gwirith's name into the darkness. Gwirith soothed him then, stroking his face and pushing the damp hair out of his eyes before kissing him gently. And Celinn clung to him, and he whispered,
'Never again tell me that I don't know what it is to lose someone, because I lost you, Gwirith.'
Gwirith got up and lit some more candles, then came back to Celinn and pulled him back into his arms. He knew that now they were equal, and that Celinn understood in his own body the experience of loss that Gwirith had already known so many years before, and that had allowed the shadow to tear him away from Celinn. And Gwirith saw that the loss of his first lover, Alcarion, had been something he had held to himself with a strange destructive kind of pride, even after he had taken Celinn as his own. And now he regretted it, and did not want it to come between them again.
'Forgive me,' he whispered. 'Please, Celinn, forgive me.'
Celinn didn't speak; didn't move; and as the silence stretched itself out between them, Gwirith felt himself sliding towards despair.
'Celinn,' he said desperately. 'Please…I…I don't want to lose you…'
For a long time Celinn didn't respond at all. The silence became so deep that Gwirith couldn't even hear him breathing, and then one of the candles hissed and sputtered and went out, so that in the shadows he could barely see his face any more.
But at last Celinn stirred and reached out, and he brought one hand down to rest lightly on Gwirith's raven-black hair. It had grown below his shoulder in these last months when they had been apart, and after a time Celinn lifted the single long braid on the right side of Gwirith's head and carefully loosened the leather tie that secured the end. Knowing that among the elves, this was one of the most intimate things one person could do for another, deftly he unwove the braid, Gwirith's hair sliding like dark water against his arm.
Gwirith gave a shuddering gasp. Slowly he sat up and turned his face towards Celinn.
'You have opened me, Celinn,' he said hoarsely.
Celinn nodded mutely.
'So…you still…love me?' said Gwirith hesitantly.
In answer Celinn reached out for his own braid and, undoing the blue linen tie, placed it in Gwirith's hand and folded his fingers over it.
Gwirith let out his breath in a broken moan of relief, and getting up on his knees beside Celinn, slowly he reached out for his long corn-coloured braid. Celinn closed his eyes and he leaned over so that his forehead was touching Gwirith's. Carefully Gwirith undid the long braid, combing his fingers gently through Celinn's hair until it flowed light and loose through his hands.
Celinn gave a deep sigh.
'Tonight I believed I had truly lost you,' he whispered. 'Even when you came back to me, I thought we were gone too far away from one another to come back together…all my things were gone from this room…it was as if you had wiped all memory of me from your life…'
Gwirith turned away sharply, muttering something broken and incoherent but Celinn laid a hand on his cheek and turned him back so that they were looking directly at each other.
'But despite everything…I find you're rooted too deep in me for me to let you go, Gwirith…' he said in a shaking voice. 'I don't know how we will mend what has passed, but I know I can't leave you…'
He couldn't speak any more. Gwirith's arms came round him and held him, and their mouths met gently, without passion. Afterwards Gwirith reached for the two rings and looking at them in the light of the candle, turned them over in his hands.
'Mine had something different in the pattern,' he said. 'Here it is…the loop here, it's flatter than the one on yours…'
And Celinn smiled for the first time in many weeks, and took his ring from the palm of Gwirith's hand.
'Yes, I remember,' he said, and let Gwirith push it back on to his finger.
He took up Gwirith's ring but before he put it on him he took Gwirith's hands and turned them over, looking at the thick scars left on them from the strange burns he had taken at the dark tower. Slowly Celinn let his fingers trail across them, as if he were trying to read something from them.
'Gwirith, you'll have to wait until they're healed,' he said.
'No,' said Gwirith at once. 'I should never have removed it, and I never will again.' And seeing the determination in his face, Celinn gently slid the ring on to his finger.
'We must dedicate the rings again,' said Gwirith. 'The rings and ourselves, Celinn.'
'Yes,' said Celinn softly, and reaching out he laid his hand on Gwirith's shoulder, and by chance his fingers came to rest on the edge of one of the long, still-unhealed scars which Gwirith had got when Haldir had disciplined him. Blindly, scarcely realising what he was doing, Celinn let his fingers slide an inch or two under Gwirith's shirt, down the long track of raised skin, and then on to the one beside it, and the ones beside that. The first time Celinn touched him Gwirith drew in his breath with a hiss between his teeth, but afterwards he was silent, holding himself still and biting his lip against the pain of it.
For behind the pain there was something else; something kindling again between them, as Celinn's whole attention turned on Gwirith's back and the damage that had been done to it. And since Celinn was not a healer but a singer, unconsciously he began to sing to the wounds, a low lilting song which vibrated through his hands into Gwirith's body. Gwirith sighed raggedly and let himself relax and although it meant he felt the pain more, he also felt the distant echo of the love that entered him through Celinn's hands and through his voice.
Celinn sat down on the bed then, and Gwirith laid his head in his lap and wound his arms around his waist. And he did nothing to resist when Celinn drew his shirt carefully over his head, and when he felt Celinn's tears fall on the broken skin of his back, but he tightened his arms round Celinn's waist and held him.
'He shouldn't have done this to you,' said Celinn hoarsely.
'We were both under the shadow,' said Gwirith, his voice muffled in the bedclothes. 'I raised my sword against him. What else could he do?'
'Do you have any salve?' said Celinn.
'On the table beside the bed,' muttered Gwirith, but he wouldn't release his hold on Celinn, so he had to reach over and pick up the small glass pot while Gwirith held him tight around the waist.
Gently Celinn worked the ointment into Gwirith's back, humming soft and tuneless under his breath as he did so.
'I suppose you've taken so long to heal because of the influence of the shadow,' said Celinn. 'How have you managed to put this salve on by yourself these last weeks?'
Gwirith shrugged, sending the candlelight sliding in ripples over his oiled skin. The movement provoked a grunt of pain. Celinn worked on, the movement of his hands slow and rhythmical over Gwirith's back, so that after a while they were both half-hypnotised by it. When he had finished anointing the long weals, he rubbed some of the salve gently onto the cut on Gwirith's cheek.
'There, you may move now, if you wish,' said Celinn when he had finished. Slowly Gwirith stirred and at last he loosened his hold on Celinn and sat up. Gwirith looked into his face then and saw that he was exhausted. This time Celinn let Gwirith undress him, and when Gwirith had stripped off his own clothes they climbed into bed and got under the covers, and Celinn went willingly into Gwirith's arms. The longest night of the year wore on, and through the hours of darkness they clung together, letting their bodies remember each other's touch. Apart from a kiss or two they were chaste, and when dawn came they looked clear into each other's eyes and knew each other again, and knew also that the breach between them was healed.
And later when they met their fellows outside the guardroom at the beginning of their next turn of duty, there were a few ribald questions about the cut and the dark bruise under Gwirith's eye. But neither Celinn nor Gwirith spoke either then or later about that night during which they had swung above the abyss and come close to losing one another.
And they went blithely to Aiglin and Luinil's binding on the day after Midwinter, and after a long day of celebration, they stood alone in the forest in the falling dusk and rededicated themselves and their binding rings to one another. And then the fire rose in them again, and that night they came together with their passion renewed and heightened, all the stronger for having been tested.
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.