17. Chapter 17
Some historical markers may be out of place in time, such as the "claiming" of the land called Calenardhon by the Gondorrim, but it did happen at some point.
Those of you who are familiar with the story of the Rohirrim will begin to see where this is going, I think!
As always, thanks for reading, enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
Mother of Horsemen - Chapter Seventeen
Readfah surveyed her new home with satisfaction. One of the outpost houses, a large mallorn with a many-leveled flet that looked out onto the plains on Lórien's Southern border, had been made over into a permanent abode. The horses had come out of the wood that first day, sniffed the virgin grass of the open field below, and began cropping it eagerly. It was perfect, she thought. It was the same kind of land so prized by the Éothéodias, but a touch warmer, protected by a curve of mountains and forests from the fierce winds that so often swept the Northern plains. Anduin lay to the East, and the ancient wood called Fangorn was thirty leagues to the South. Completing it's border was the river Limlight, flowing into the Undeeps of Anduin from Fangorn and separating this pocket of grassland from an endless uninhabited prairie, called, by the Gondorrim who claimed it, 'Calenardhon.'
The Field of Celebrant, where Readfah's horses now pastured, was so named for the small river that flowed East through the wood to Anduin, almost parallel to the Limlight. It was an ice-cold, mountain-fed stream, and only in the fordable shallows where it emerged from the wood, an arrow's flight below her house, did the Sun ever warm it. Deeper into the wood, it tumbled over a series of step-like falls that curled protectively about the mallorn in which Readfah now lived. Her first night there, she realized one of the things she had been missing during her stay in the North was the sound of the Bruinen beside Elrond's - and her - house. As the sadness of remembrance began to grip her, she had stood up, and faced North defiantly.
"No! I will no longer do this to myself! I am going to - live - here, not just sit and sorrow myself to a shadow as I did in the Mark! I will always love him, but my days of mourning are past!"
Her house had stairs grown into the tree's trunk, and the main flet had several smaller ones branched from it; some two steps up, some six, and one, a sleeping area for guests, was the highest of all, twelve steps up. There were many hollowed places in the branches and trunk, like great burls, where beds were made, and even in deepest winter were snug and dry. It became a popular place to visit, and she was very seldom alone. Haldir and Rúmil were usually nearby, and Dryarrin and Orophin lived just out of sight around a bend upriver. Two families whose children Readfah had played with in the Imlad Ris when she was herself a child, had homes near her own, but deeper into the wood than hers. Now, their littlest ones brought joy to Readfah's corner of the wood, for they were in and out of her house almost daily, shouting gleefully "More cakes, Readfaaaaaah!" and squeaking happily as they jumped into her lap.
Galadriel, true to her word, did not trouble her, though Celeborn was a frequent visitor. He was most often accompanied by several scouts, dressed like them, and to Readfah's delighted astonishment, now spoke a fluent if somewhat heavily accented Silvan tongue, complete with slang. For, though he had been a slave to protocol all his life, he had learned, after many years of sound (and frankly abusive) lectures from Gil-galad, to relax. Better than anything, he loved to sit at the edge of one of the lower platforms, long legs dangling over the edge, and eat apples while he watched Readfah teach the little ones how to ride.
He had been gone when Readfah first arrived, and when he returned to Caras Galadhon and heard what had happened he was shocked and yet strangely glad that she was there. He hesitated at first to visit, for somehow he felt personally responsible for her painful situation. When at last he did come, she embraced him with no word of blame, and thanked him for his welcome.
"'Readfah, it is good to see you again," he had said. "I only wish I had the words to tell you how sorry I am that it is not in Imladris, with you as Elrond's bride."
Deeply moved, for she knew Celeborn found it hard to be demonstrative, she could only nod. She willed herself not to cry as he took her hands.
"It is small comfort, I know, but I want to say that you have only to name it, and I shall make it my business to see that you have anything you need."
The unspoken words "except Elrond" hung between them and they both knew it.
"If it is within my power, of course," he gracefully amended.
He returned often after that, and Readfah began to look forward to his visits. Admittedly, she took a perverse joy in knowing that Galadriel must know where he was most of the time when he was away from home, but her true joy was of a better sort: Celeborn was quite simply her only link to the days when they were all together and happy, before war and rings and misapplied magic had destroyed it all. The years began to flow by again in peace, and for a time, Readfah was content.
Far to the North, in Imladris, Elrond had expanded his library into a second room, and worked, if not as contentedly as Readfah did in Lórien, then at least as productively. In addition to all his other tasks, he had taken upon himself the duty of guardian to the line of Isildur, opening his home to the heirs of that house. As the living brother of Elros, forefather to the Númenoreans, Elrond was the revered link between the Faithful and whatever Elven blood remained to them. He preserved and protected the relics of their houses as well as those of other fallen kingdoms that had only prophecies to keep hope alive. Elrond was in truth the only one who could recognize by sight the authenticity of certain articles, having in some cases seen their making with his own eyes. When old books and manuscripts grew brittle, it was Elrond who labored unceasingly; supervising the scribes who worked constantly to make new copies, inventing longer-lasting parchments and inks, and searching for still more works so that their histories might be preserved. During this time, Elrond worked on perfecting his healing skills as well. Elves were seldom if ever ill, and their few troubles were easily cured, but now that his house had been opened as a home to Mortals as well he had plenty of work to do.
As she had in Lothlórien, Celebrían spent much of her time in the gardens, planting, gathering, and studying herbs. She became friends with Arion and Leithel, the healers who had been Elrond's apprentices back in the days when tents lined the woods of Imladris and stones were still being gathered for the house. They had wed right after Sauron's defeat, and just recently Leithel had given birth to a daughter. Her pregnancy had been a source of great despair to Celebrían, who still spent her nights alone.
For a long time she had been too ashamed to confide in anyone, but at last she turned to Leithel and poured out her heart. Of course, there wasn't an Elf the entire length and breadth of the valley who didn't know that the Lord and Lady had not yet in nearly thirty years consummated their marriage. Debate had still not cooled over the subject of whether these two could be truly wed, vows or no vows. All were agreed on one thing, however, and that was they had better set about having children. The existence of the Rings of Power was known of by less than a dozen living Elves all told, but most others knew at the very least that Galadriel had done something to the aura of protection ( that most of them still believed Gil-galad had wrought) about the valley that only the begetting of children by the king's heir could set right. And many made so bold as to remind him of it, and often. Even Glorfindel's usual tact had been strained one night when he blurted out that the sooner Elrond did what he was supposed to do with Celebrían the sooner he could be quit of her.
Leithel had grieved sorely for Elrond and Readfah and at first had no wish to involve herself, but after a time took pity on her and told the sorrowing Celebrían that there were some roots that had been used with varying degrees of success on Mortals. "But they affect only the body, milady...there is as yet no cure for a heart unwilling." But Celebrían was so unhappy that Leithel agreed to show her how to prepare the infusion. Both women knew it was of no use to attempt secrecy, and sent the bottle of sweet, brownish liquid to Elrond by way of Glorfindel.
"Now you see the Lady is willing to meet you half way." Glorfindel pulled out the cork, which gave way with a gentle 'plop.' He sniffed at it and pronounced it "pleasant enough...t'is cerves* root, I think," he said, naming an herb whose leaves lovers often used as incense.
Elrond's first impulse was to throw the bottle out the window and Glorfindel right behind it, but he knew he had run out of excuses and time. His scouts had yesterday killed two orcs who had come dangerously close to the portals, and it would be only a matter of time before they were weakened enough to be found. Cerves root...he shrugged and poured a full goblet. He tasted it, and found it not at all bad. In silence he drained the glass and hoped it would work.
Elrond did not sleep for three days afterward. The encounter had been brief, painless if not completely pleasant, and the sky had not fallen nor had any other disaster struck. And, it was successful.
Celebrían grew big quickly. She looked less pale, as if pregnancy agreed with her, and indeed she felt better now that the hard part was over. She had taken no pleasure, save that of relief, in Elrond's embrace; though he had been gentle and considerate, and she had been grateful for that, her mind had rebelled at the last.
Afterwards, they had lain quietly while his breathing slowed - hers had not even quickened - and she wondered if he would fall asleep in her bed. She need not have worried, for he soon sat up, his lithe, hard-muscled shoulders shrugging his robes up over him, and the long, dusky silk of his hair falling back into place as if nothing had happened. Do not speak, she begged silently. Do not speak, and I can imagine for a moment he is back with me. Elrond seemed to understand, and only nodded his gratitude to her as he rose and went out of the room, knowing that that was what she desired more than anything life on this side of the Sea could give her.
Twins! Celebrían was carrying twins...there was no longer any doubt of it. Elrond had trained scores of midwives, and he knew every sign of that rare yet always fascinating phenomenon. Though she complained that he treated her like a specimen of some sort, Celebrían knew she was in the best of hands.
Elrond prayed hard that they would be son and daughter, so that he and Celebrían would be spared the embarrassment of having to lie together again. His Mortal blood made it less of a blow to his psyche than it was to hers, but he liked it no more. On a purely physical level as well, of course, it had been better for him, but the fleeting pleasure had been rapidly replaced by a sad emptiness. Oh, Valar not again, for I could scarcely do this a second time, and she has not my strength.
But it was not to be. A year** later, under a full Moon at the height of the Yuletide, Celebrían bore two healthy sons.
Though they were identical in size, shape, and coloring, Elladan, as the firstborn was named, had the wide eyed expression of his grandfather Celeborn while Elrohir, who had followed less than a minute later, looked out at the world from under his brows with a look of fearless merriment that was strikingly like Gil-galad's.
Perhaps she willed it so, mused Elrond as he gazed thoughtfully at his younger son, who looked up at him from the cradle while Elladan slept peacefully a handsbreadth away. Of course, the logical explanation was that his own father Eärendil's too-rare smiles had had the same bold character as Gil-galad's. But very few remained in Middle Earth who had ever seen the Mariner, let alone anyone in Imladris, and it was easier to believe that Celebrían had somehow imprinted them with the spirits of the two males she had loved best in her life.
There was now the delicate matter of the daughter he and Celebrían must have, but that might wait for a time. For now it was enough that the barriers were safe. The matter of preservation was not yet so urgent..."a son for invisibility, a daughter for immutability" Galadriel had said. Elrond looked into the cradle again. Both children now slept, their grey eyes open and immobile. That is so, he thought, they are more elf than I. He wondered suddenly what they would have been like if they had been his and Readfah's. Tears formed and fell, and he left the room quickly. Celebrían stirred but did not wake, and the Moon sank past the window into the West as dawn came.
The weather had been too bad to send messages, but news of the double birth soon reached the Golden Wood. Caras Galadhon celebrated wildly, and sent messengers from the city around to spread the word so that everyone might join the feasting. In all the city, only Celeborn thought of Readfah, and wondered how best to tell her. 'T'would be best if I were to go to her,' he decided at last, 'but my heart fails me...she has had so much taken from her. Yet she must know.'
He rode out at dawn, and reached her house when the Sun was high. As he approached the flet he heard voices. Good, she is not alone. Laughter rang out at some remark of Rúmil's, and he heard Readfah's tart retort and Haldir's dry one.
"Some one comes," he heard her say, and her head emerged from a window. "Celeborn! What brings you in this weather? Come up!"
He was grateful to do so, for despite the luxuriant grey fur cape wrapping him from chin to knee he was chilled. The treehouses were warmed by freestanding braziers of pottery, iron and stone instead of fireplaces, and Readfah's was particularly cheerful, for she had allowed the children to paint on it and it was covered with absurd but endearing portraits of horses.
He felt uncomfortable even accepting a chair, dreading to speak and knowing he must. Hardly knowing how to begin, he decided to be blunt. "Readfah, I have come with news. Celebrían has been delivered of twin sons."
She betrayed herself only by a sudden slight intake of breath, for her expression did not change. Haldir began to slide his arm about her shoulders but she shook her head. He clasped Celeborn's arms instead, murmuring congratulations, but he peered worriedly at Readfah, who seemed to be in a trance.
"All is well then?" she asked at last.
"The boys are vigorous as any children have a right to be, we are told," Celeborn smiled with grandfatherly pride in spite of himself. "They came at Yuletide and all is well. But, you..."
"I will send a gift when they are a twelvemonth, of course. Brittan and his family travel North almost every year, and I will send it by them."
Celeborn was silent, knowing she chattered to mask the storm of emotion in her mind. She rose and bustled about with food and tea things. Rúmil, uneasy as always when conversations grew serious, went outside for more wood. Mention of the Northmen was awkward, for they had grown wary of Elves for some reason, and Readfah's friends were accounted eccentric among their own people for associating too closely with her. Seldom had she gone so long without visiting the Mark, and now that they came no more to Imladris the estrangement was all the greater. It was said that some of them had begun trade with Dwarves for metal goods, and Elvish relations with the Naugrim had seldom been better than a truce. It was not hard to deduce that those of the Éothéod who no longer 'believed in' Readfah had been listening to Dwarvish rumors.
Yet the remnant, the proud descendants of Ux and his family, who disliked villages and made their homes all up and down the great river's banks, still bore the red tokens. They used a dialect that still incorporated a smattering of Elvish words, both Sindarin and Silvan, spoken with a throatiness that was quite Laiquendian. Readfah could say that she watched the dialect in it's birth, remembering when Gil-galad and Hulwyf toasted each other over the roasting carcass of the bull of Araw and traded bits of their languages and bawdy stories far into the night. Their faces lit by the glowing embers, Man and Elf swore a friendship that against all odds had remained true to this day, even if the numbers were fewer than they had ever been.
"It's kind of you to offer a gift, Readfah," Celeborn said at last. Rúmil had come back in, and changed the subject abruptly by saying it was snowing again.
"You must not try to ride home," Readfah insisted. Then there were voices calling from deep in the wood, and she smiled. "More company. Pity you didn't get a deer, while you were out, Rúmil! But there is plenty of rabbit if you haven't tired of it..."
Soon an iron pot full of braised rabbit simmered comfortingly on the fire, and a smaller one containing a biscuitlike bread was set beside it to bake. Three of Readfah's childhood friends - Ozinde, her cousin Férienn, and Férienn's husband Regeon - came up the stairs, their children dancing ahead. Little Thirion, Ozinde's older boy, solemnly offered Readfah a pair of grouse he had insisted on carrying himself. No elf of Lórien dared to visit late in the day without at least a token gift of food, a custom that had evolved from the time when they kept no gardens or flocks to sustain them. Even now, game was the gift of choice, though some of the Green Elves might yet bring dried berries and nuts in winter, or fresh fruit in summer. Opinion was divided over Readfah's introduction of cheese. Those who liked it chewed it boldly with dried fruit and pronounced it marvelous, where others nibbled a bit to be polite and did not take second helpings. All were agreed on one thing; it was easily available all year round, and as Rúmil, who was not fond of it, said, "T'would sustain one's strength even in battle, I think, if the smell didn't smite you down first!"
"Lovely, Thirion!" Readfah admired the full feathered birds from all angles before hanging them from a rafter-like branch, allowing their wings to spread gently apart."Come tomorrow and help us eat them."
The little boy grinned and nestled into his favorite hollow, lined with furs. Soon he and the other children were engrossed in a game than seemed to consist chiefly of giggling.
Meanwhile, Celeborn's news had been repeated, and Ozinde tactfully suggested to Readfah that they walk outside for a moment. They wrapped furs around them and went down the steps. The snow was not deep under the trees,
"Is Su' on patrol today?" Readfah began, but Ozinde shook her head.
"I did not bring you out into the snow to talk of my husband, Readfah, but of the one who should have been yours!"
"Oh, Oz', no, please. I have been reconciled to that for years..."
"No, you are not. I can see it in your face. Readfah, your mother, Weil, was the kindest of Mortal women, and my family knew many of the yellow haired folk. She was a great medicine woman and midwife, and many Elves respected her. She accorded me the honor of seeing you born, so you might say I have been your friend since you were born. Indeed before, for many times I saw her walking in the woods with the tall one who was your father. I have probably known you longer than anyone alive, though we have been parted for so many years. But I did watch you grow up. In this way you are more Elvenkind than Mortal, and you are Elrond's mate."
"All this is to say what? Shall I go back to Imladris and demand that ...demand what? They are wed and they now have children. He is lost to me."
"Words have been said setting a spell in motion," said Ozinde, bluntly. "But he is no more truly bonded to the Princess than I am. He is and forever will be yours. But I do not speak of that now. When you loved one another, you set another spell into being, on your body. What I am telling you is that some day, you should try to find another mate."
Readfah was speechless for a moment. When she found her tongue, she stammered "But you just said..."
"I know, it sounds odd. But you will not be at peace until you do so."
"But even if I were so inclined, who would have me? I cannot have children..."
"There are many of the Silvan tribe whose wives were killed***, and who desire no more children."
Readfah knew this was true. But the thought of actually wedding someone else...
"Elrond has sons now. Is his heart at rest, I wonder?" Readfah's tone was bitter.
"After a fashion, I daresay. But his wife was thrust upon him. You may choose whom you please."
This radical thought gave Readfah pause.
"Haldir is quite handsome," Ozinde smiled at last, teasing her.
Readfah's brows furrowed. "You know he is as a brother to me, Oz'! And..." she stopped, amazed at herself for even considering it. The possibility was too new, too overwhelming.
"I shall have to think about it more," she said at last. Red and frowning, she fumbled at her cape, which had blown back.
The flurries were coming thicker now, and the grey light of dusk stole swiftly over the winter landscape, only less dark than the silver boles of the trees. They turned back toward the house, whose window-niches now glowed with a soft golden light. Readfah permitted herself but one glance toward the North, and slowly a smile - half amused, half amazed - began to twitch at her lips as she mounted the stair.
* Smells like sassafras, behaves like Viagra. Fictional.
** I read somewhere that Elf-women carry for a year. Corrections welcomed.
***During the time of Morgoth. Silvan Elves sometimes will remarry at the death of a spouse.
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