35. Back in Lothlorien… Sworn duty, destiny, love and hope.
“So quick and busy… like brilliant fire-flies. Or is that forest fires?” Her lips quirked into a wry smile.
“Forgive us a moment,” said her husband.
Calmly, he pushed the chaotic thoughts away, and with them sent a wave of peaceful lassitude. Boromir, far below, seated at the table with Lórindol and Lindir, slumped a little, exhaling a long breath before taking in an equally slow, deep draught of air. Satisfied to have contained the disturbing upsurge of memories, Celeborn returned to the matter in hand – Tasarion.
Lady Galadriel felt finally able to voice some of what her mirror had told her years ago when the young elf-maid had first been presented to her on becoming an adult. The maid had a possible destiny that concerned her husband; one Galadriel knew involved a child, but not a relationship between them – now it had come to pass. Glorfindal was present because Tasarion was his great-grand daughter, and as head of her kin his agreement to what was expedient was politic.
“The babe will be born, she has decided that,” he said. “Afterwards, she will see it raised, but her mind is set on going into the West. She does not want to keep the child herself.”
Galadriel nodded, satisfied. Lord Celeborn sighed, torn between wanting the child she bore and feeling guilt because of the way the maid had been manoeuvred into bearing the babe – which was as much his as Boromir’s... and Haldir’s – that he could not forget either.
“It was her destiny.” Galadriel said flatly.
“She deserved to have a choice,” snapped her husband.
“She did. She choose the adan.”
“But only because she was thrust against him!”
The Lady shrugged elegant shoulders. “She had a purpose to fulfil – and she has.”
With a wordless explosive breath of ire, Celeborn threw himself back in his chair.
“I swore to do my duty – whatever the cost! This child had to be born!” declared his lady. “I did not make the choice – I saw that it existed, and that it was important. Do you think I want this child for myself? He is your son – a child for you and…!”
“A son?” Celeborn’s head jerked up.
Celeborn looked at Glorfindal, who nodded a brief assent.
Lady Galadriel continued: “Long ago, I glimpsed a peredhel in the stern of an elvish boat, sailing down the Anduin. I did not know who he was, but the dreaming strings of our future knotted around him. I… I had thought at one time it might have been a glimpse of Elrond as a child, but his tie to us… was different.”
Lady Galadriel raised her chin and her voice brooked no compromise. “I will see our lost daughter again - you will not. Do not protest. You will not join me… And as to our granddaughter…!” She paused, biting back the words.
“Did you think I could live all our life together without knowing you will not leave?” Her voice became gentler. “This son is for you. He is nothing of mine, save I saw a path, a possibility for… I knew there was a reason this adan must live… and… I saw that done.”
Celeborn was silent a moment. “But, this way…?”
Galadriel shrugged, “I did not see ‘how’, only that the threads came together for a reason. That it came about at this time, when all our fates rest on a knife-edge… that was not shown to me.”
Glorfindal sat forward, resting his elbows on the table they all three sat around, his chin balanced on his steepled fingers. He paused before speaking into the silence in measured tones.
“For the moment - we need set aside why and how, and concentrate on what is to be done with Tasarion. She must be kept safe – we agree that?” asked Glorfindal. At their nods he continued, “She is unwilling to don her skirts in time of war and become as she says ‘a useless seamstress’. Her training has been to the bow and that is how she wishes to remain, at present.”
“She should retreat to our fastnesses. I would not have her at risk.” said Celeborn.
“Naturally,” agreed Glorfindal. “But she will not have that. I suggest she joins my Lady’s guard and remains in the city. She can take the posts of look-out and messenger, and should the worst happen, still use her bow.”
“If the borders are overrun… and the yrech press into the forest, then it will be that courage and bows are needed more than babes.” remarked Galadriel. “The Darkness that will follow will be no place for elven children.”
“And do you see that?” demanded Celeborn.
“I see nothing, neither good nor bad – only I did see her with a babe with green eyes in her arms, a peredhel. And when the Fellowship arrived and I looked at him, they were the same eyes. I knew he was in danger. I knew his love would save him – his love was a golden-haired horse-lord, not an elf maid… the rest… was circumstance.”
Lady Galadriel had seen and commanded many deeds that lay upon her conscience; enough past sacrifices had been made that another scarce made any difference.
Lord Celeborn sighed, what was done was done – and they had many other pressing matters. If their defences did not hold… destinies would be a moot point. But… a son, his son… their son… a ghost of a smile curved his lips as he thought of his pale-haired lover… our son! He shook his head – there was other work here!
Lady Galadriel smiled quietly to herself, ‘…what chance there was for the future…’ She had played her pieces, now let the game fall where it will.
“We are agreed?” asked Glorfindal, “…then we should look to the scout’s reports…”
At the table in the common hall, Lindir refilled Boromir’s wine beaker and closed the man’s fingers around it.
Boromir did as he was bid. The flood of memories had retreated, and content with knowing they were there, at present he did not feel inclined to follow them. But he could see his face, the man… yes, Man… who had made a solemn vow to him at his bedside. The man who had nursed him when he’d been sorely injured, held him many, many times in a past that was still hazy, but now was real. The man… Théodred! His name was Théodred and he was Prince of Rohan!
Rohan, to the south, bordered by the Old Forest he’d often explored with the Ents… Boromir gulped his wine. He knew there was more to that thought he didn’t quite understand, but like a name on the tip of the tongue, it escaped him. ‘Théodred!’ – Boromir remembered – he had been asleep. Then somehow he knew - Théodred was lost, on the verge of leaving… and he had ridden out to find his rohir, his love; seen him standing outside the huge, carved doors of a great hall, spoken… But, when he’d tried to return, he couldn’t find his way. It was dark, muffled with heavy mists and there were no paths… and as he’d stumbled on into darkness edged with shapes and shufflings… a silvery light had gathered him up. And he’d woken as Celebmir… was he still Celebmir…?
Lórindol and Lindir watched him closely. Lindir whispered “Do you think we went too far?”
Lórindol shook his head, “You could see it was time – he needed to know.”
“But, perhaps… They wanted… I don’t know. That he stayed like it?”
Lórindol shrugged. “Guard duty in the back-end of the mountains for the next fifty years?”
“It was really boring last time.”
“I seem to remember we found a few diversions…”
But reminiscences were interrupted by Haldir’s arrival, with Gwindor at his elbow.
“Scouting parties need to be sent out to the garths to ascertain their strength and position. I realise you have not rested after riding hard, but we need every arm that can pull a bow…
“We can ride, Marchwarden” asserted Lórindol, “Just tell us where.”
Haldir nodded. “Two parties one to the Apple Garth, one to the Walnut. We need to know what their forces are, what damage, what supplies they need.”
“I will go as well,” announced Boromir.
Haldir looked at him sceptically.
“I will go. If we find matters of urgency, I can relay them quicker than any messenger… you know that.” The man said matter of factly.
Haldir considered for a moment. “As you will. Fresh horses are being prepared; by the time you walk to the stables they will be ready. I shall send each party with two pack-horses of emergency supplies for the garths; we must hope that is sufficient.”
He turned on his heel as another elf hurried up to him with messages. The two left and Gwindor sat down with them. Lindir pushed the jug of wine towards him and Gwindor helped himself.
“I suggest we take the Apple Garth,” he said, between sipping his wine.
Lórindol and Lindir glanced at each other.
“You will ride with us?” Lindir said.
“Yes. Why not?” said Gwindor.
“Nothing. I did not know if you would choose…” Lindir broke off in confusion.
“Now is not the time for laments. War comes too quickly. Those that survive can sing away their brothers later.” He rose, “Come – we have work to do.”
Whatever he and Haldir had spoken off, Gwindor now seemed calmness and reason itself. He stood with half a smile. “But it is good to be home.”
Gwindor walked ahead, Lórindol, Lindir and Boromir followed him towards the stables.
An hour later they were on horseback, threading their way through the trees and clearings, making for the two garths furthest from the city. The woods they road among where untouched by the incursions of the orcs. Here, deep inside Lorien’s borders, the ground was emerald moss over rocks above half-hidden springs, green uncurling ferns and new budded brambles. Tiny flowers bloomed in the greensward and above them stately trees of many sorts towered overhead. Saplings still grew of ash and willow, birch and oak, but no new golden Mallorns sprouted, young and whip-lash thin, among the forests of Lothlorien.
Their path rose in a long slow incline; until, topping a bluff, they caught sight of the group of huge oaks that formed the dwelling of the elves of the Apple Garth. They rose wide-branched, great of girth, in a clearing at the centre of the orchards of smaller, lighter branched apple-trees. While one half of the orchards held well-tended trees, just beginning to bear pink-tipped white blossoms… the other… was a partial ruin of hacked trunks and branches. Some blackened wrecks still smoked and stank from the fires of being doused with fish-oil. Corpses littered the ground, black as the greasy ash, ugly with metal helms and the studded hides of Iluvatar knows what, their notched, black iron weapons about them. More apple-trees flared abruptly into hissing flames, white-fletched arrows from the oaks fell short of the fires.
Boromir had to strain his eyes, but the elves saw clearly that a large group of orcs still sidled around the edge of the orchard, intent on doing what damage they could while staying beyond the reach of elvish arrows. Gwindor’s eyes narrowed, his knuckles whitened on his horse’s reins.
“Our numbers are few,” said Lindir quietly.
“Do you think me foolish enough to charge openly?” snapped Gwindor.
“We only mention it…” Lórindol let the rest of the sentence hang. They had seen what rashness Gwindor enraged was capable of.
“I’ll not throw my life away when I can live and kill more of that vileness!” Gwindor’s smile was mirthless. His eyes glittered with cold wrath at the sight of yrech inside Lorien’s borders. “Come, there are other ways to skin a beast than charging it down.”
He turned his horse’s head to a path that would take them around to the backs of the destructive orcs.
Their horses tethered well downwind of the marauding beasts, the small party of elves and Boromir approached them from behind. The orcs were confident, feasting on some slaughtered pigs that hadn’t been able to be gathered inside the protecting garth of oaks. The butchering made the woods stink of blood, but this also served to distract the orcs from their approach. Not ever given to ‘fair shares’ some small numbers of orcs squabbled over their kills in scattered groups among the taller woodland trees that edged the orchards. The first two such never knew what swung down from the trees to slash throats and stab at hearts before vanishing silently back into the branches. The third and fourth raised some noise but where barely heard above the quarrelling of the others. Only after that did one of the beasts notice the drop in sound; that nothing stirred under the trees to one side of him. His suspicions were too late when an arrow took him through the throat, but his gargled yelp finally alerted the others.
“There’s White Maggots in the trees!” yelled one self-styled leader.
Pig-flesh set aside, their still-confident thoughts turned to other rendings.
“Get ‘em! Look up and get’em!!”
But looking up meant a feathered shaft in the eye for the unwary, and nothing to see but swaying leaves and branches for the rest of the howling mob.
Gwindor sprinted lightly back along a branch before leaping to the next tree, deeper into the wood. He sprang again, pausing to whisper to Boromir safely ensconced in a wide crook of branches.
“Shoot what comes after me and don’t miss! Or I’ll have to come back and rescue you!”
“I won’t miss!” growled Boromir, but Gwindor was already scampering lightly along a branch, before swinging down to slit the throat of a single bold orc ahead and to one side of its fellow spawn. The black figure dropped in an untidy heap gushing black blood from a gapping throat wound.
The next was not so easy; Gwindor’s lethal knife clanged against a substantial metal gorget around the creature’s wide neck. A throaty cackle of laughter emerged as the orc fended off the blow and wrong-footed Gwindor in the process. Of a sudden, the wide-open mouth sprouted a white feathered tongue; the cackle cut short to a gargle of blood before it fell, face down, to the ground. Gwindor caught sight of Boromir and his bow and gave a curt nod of thanks before springing away, back into the trees.
Wood-craft was unknown to the yrech, they swarmed after their invisible attackers, but were cut down one by one. As their number dwindled, some thought to gather together for safety in numbers, each trying to cower behind the others as they sought to escape. The elves of the garth could see the disturbance and some made a sortie to aid the unseen relief. Attacked on two sides now the raid became a rout, and only a few especially fleet orcs survived to run away from the vengeful elves; doubling back through the unharmed orchards, to escape out onto the plains of Rohan beyond the forest.
Boromir clambered down from his perch with reasonable agility; he may not be as light-footed as the elves but his aim was as sure – he felt pleased with that. Lórindol jumped lightly down from a nearby Ash. Lindir trotted up to greet him; both were spattered and streaked with dark blood. Lindir grinned wolfishly as he brushed ineffectually at Lórindol’s gore spattered plaits. “That’s the trouble with throat-cutting – they do spout!”
“You’re making it worse!” protested Lórindol, but he was grinning too.
There was something fell and feral about their mirth, but Boromir could enjoy the harsh joke and laughed aloud with them, clapping them on the shoulder. Gwindor arrived with more elves, the denizens of the Apple Garth – which led to more relieved laughter, laughter that was dark with triumph and sated blood-lust.
“You are most welcome!” said one of the orchard-keepers.
Gwindor bowed, hand to heart, “We bring some supplies that we hope are not too few, and seek news of your disposition for Lord Celeborn.”
“Indeed – both questions shall be answered, but now you’ve cleared those yrech from our orchards, we can pause to let you avail yourselves of hospitality first – a good bath and a hot meal? “
Gwindor nodded, “I am sure I speak for all when I say both would be welcome.”
The elves came with them to retrieve their mounts and the pack-horses, though they eyed Boromir curiously, none questioned the presence of an adan among them. Though the younger elves whispered quietly among themselves, for this was the first man many had seen close to.
The stronghold of the Apple Garth was large enough and old enough to boast sophisticated bathing arrangements. Within the encircling oak trees’ protection were several substantial wood and stone buildings at ground level, one of which was a fine bathhouse, its large pools heated by wood-burning furnaces… which also served the smithies that made the excellent steel weapons the garth was known for. No smiths worked at present, but Boromir saw the anvils and racks of hammers inside the half-open workshops they walked past, and could still felt the armed air from the residual heat of the forges, stoked down under iron cover-plates until they needed to be roused by the great leather bellows at their sides.
Inside the bathhouse, they were shown to a series of small rooms were one could undress and leave weapons, racks of wooden shelves held towels and sheets to wrap around them before they went to the pools. The four shared a room lined with slatted wood benches, with hooks for clothing. A smiling attendant showed them the way and said he’d take their knives with him and have them cleaned and re-sharpened while they bathed.
Steam rose lazily above a pool easily large enough for a dozen or more, though the four of them were its only occupants. This was one among several, but the garth’s elves deemed it polite to allow visitors to bathe in privacy – though not a few were keen to catch a glimpse of this new curiosity – a naked man! Before they climbed into the water, there was a square room with soap and basins to remove the grime… and some strange arrangements Boromir became keen to try himself. Several deep, tiled alcoves lined the small room, at the back of each was a round pierced plate of steel, placed above head-height, and a handle set proud of the tiled wall. Gwindor was ahead of the man; he hung his bath-sheet on a peg and stepped over the raised rim of the cubicle. Turning the handle released a flood of steaming water from the pierced plate. Gwindor stood, head back, eyes shut, under the stream letting the warmed water wash over him, sluicing the gore from his plaited hair, the sweat from his body. Lindir smiled at Boromir’s amazement.
“Come, I don’t think you’ve visited our waterfalls before – it’s a good sensation.”
The arched white-tiled alcoves were large enough for two. Lórindol nodded to Lindir and walked over to Gwindor.
“Shall I loose you hair?” he asked.
Gwindor paused for a moment before nodding once, “You may.” He said gruffly turning his back. Lórindol hung up his sheet outside the cubicle and stepped into the stream of water. Steam began to fill the room.
“Will you do me the service of un-plaiting my hair?” asked Lindir, looking the man straight in the eye.
To Boromir’s own surprise, the blood rose to his cheeks at the thought of being so close to a naked elf. He swallowed, and nodded. Lindir hung up his sheet and stepped over the threshold reaching for the handle that released the water above them. Boromir paused for a second; closed his eyes to obscure the sight of Lindir’s naked back and buttocks, then released his own wrap that he now realised his was clinging tightly to… and stepped into the streaming water. He gasped. It felt wonderful! He tilted his head back and the water beat on his eyelids and filled his mouth. He wiped his lips with his hands pushing his drenched hair back from his face.
“You can put the pins and wraps there,” said Lindir, his back still to Boromir he nodded at a small lipped bowl inset into the tiles. Boromir brought himself back to the task in hand.
“There, spread that liquid on your hands and through my hair and it will come undone easier.”
He did as he was bid. The elf leaned forward slightly his hands high, braced against the tiles. Leaning his head back for Boromir to slide soapy hands through his hair, un-ravelling the tight warriors plaits into a heavy fall of drenched hair. Automatically Boromir’s fingers knew their task, he soaped his hands with the softly perfumed liquid and worked it into the elf’s scalp before working his way down to the knotted shoulder muscles. Lindir grunted appreciatively under his ministrations, rolling his neck and shoulders with relief. Boromir did not think, he concentrated on his task, enjoying the play of the elf’s muscles under his hands. He had worked his way down his back over his ribs to his waist before he woke to the fact of what he was doing.
“Do not stop.” Lindir’s voice was low and heavy with pleasure.
Boromir still hesitated. Lindir turned, “Then let me wash your hair.”
He turned the man around and filling his hands, soaped Boromir’s hair, his fingers gliding against the man’s scalp, along his shoulders, down his arms, with long sweeps of supple fingers. The elf reached around and lathered his chest, soaping his ribs, taking care to touch lightly over the healed pink skin of his wound, before snaking down his back… and keeping going to circle his buttocks with firm, lengthy strokes. Boromir gasped and his mouth filled with soapy water. He spluttered it out and felt as much as heard Lindir chuckle behind him, so close was the elf to his naked back.
“You are warmer than the water,” breathed Lindir close to his ear, “A release – is all. Surely a comrade’s hand has its uses even among men?”
Boromir realised his own excitement was evident at the same moment he felt a nudge of hot flesh at his back. He closed his eyes, ‘yes… he needed this.’ He reached a hand behind his and found the strangely slim, but stiffened column that pushed into his hand. Lindir groaned; he slid a slick hand around the man’s hip and caught Boromir’s swaying erection, ringing it with his fingers. Boromir gasped; this time he simply swallowed the mouthful of warm water. He released Lindir, pulled out of his grasp and turned to face him, grabbing the elf’s longer, more slender erection with one hand pulling Lindir to him with a hand about the elf’s waist. Lindir bared his teeth and exhaled a groan of pleasure. He dived with his own hands to cradle the man’s heavy sac and grasp Boromir, circling his fingers around his engorged flesh and rubbing their aching cocks together. Slick with soap, warm water and lust, it did not take long for each to reach a climax. Leaving them panting, leaning on each others shoulder… before Lindir reached for more soap to wash them both clean. Dazed, breathing hard, desire becoming tinged with guilt, Boromir stood and allowed himself to be laved before he caught the elf’s wrist and held him fast. Lindir looked him in the eye:
“It was what we both needed – nothing more than that.” He said softly.
“And what of…” Boromir jerked his head towards the other alcove across the steam-filled room.
Lindir cocked his head, there was but some tiny slippery sounds of slicked flesh and stifled heavy breathing: “We all do what we must do…” He said. “Come, rinse the soap from your hair and we’ll go and relax in the pool before we dine.”
He stretched upwards, reaching back to wring the water from his hair as he stepped out of the cubicle. Draping his bath sheet loosely over one shoulder, he turned an elegant water-slicked back and padded sinuously across the room, half-disappearing in the gathered steam.
“Turn the water off when you’re finished,” a disembodied voice called back.
Boromir stepped out and gathered his wrap. Lórindol walked by him, his bath-sheet precariously clinging onto slim hip-bones. His face was grave, though he winked at Boromir, and gripped his shoulder in brief comradeship as he passed.
“Come and have a soak, nothing like relaxing in a good hot pool to take injurious thoughts away,” Lórindol smiled a little bleakly.
Boromir nodded, choosing not to acknowledge the soft, stifled sobs that escaped from under the nearby still-running water, hidden by the steam.
“He will join us when he is ready,” said Lórindol quietly – before bounding forward throwing aside his sheet and jumping into the large pool with a huge splash… much to Lindir’s annoyed protests. Grinning, Boromir joined them.