36. The Quiet Before The Storm.
Gwindor had taken a corner by himself. Composed to the point of being stony-faced; he propped himself up, arms outstretched, and let his head fall back on the pool’s tiled rim, eyes closed. Lórindol and Lindir glanced at each other and subtly moved the floating games across the pool away from the silent elf. They called on Boromir to join them, and he too found he could sink gracefully if he really put his mind to it. Rising to the surface he had a tendency to roll over, to find he was face down, buttocks bobbing in the water – which the others found hilariously funny! After the third attempt Boromir gave in gracefully and acknowledged his control was nowhere near as complete as theirs. Lórindol was about to offer help and advise when an attendant came to the doorway and struck the small bronze gong he carried; the sound rang sonorously over the water.
“Come - the evening meal is being prepared, time to get dried off,” said Lindir; he waded chest deep across to the steps at one side, slowly emerging from the water. He paused deliberately, just at the point where the lapping wavelets played across his groin, alternately revealing and concealing what hung below, then languorously reached up to wring out his hair, fully aware of the alluring view he presented.
Lórindol swam across the Boromir; he chuckled and spoke quietly in Westron, “He can be such… I believe the phrase you would use is – such a tart!”
Boromir laughed out loud, and glanced across at the quartet of elves looking on, at least one of whom showed distinct interest in what Lindir so carefully displayed.
“But you and he are partners… I thought.”
“Vanity. He wants them to see what they can’t have. And besides, we are ‘exotics’, or rather you are; that’s partly why they are here.”
“To see me?” Boromir looked startled.
They made their way towards the steps. Lindir grinned at Lórindol and winked, before turning to quickly splash up the last three steps. He strode to a bench to gather his sheet and wrap it around his hips before reaching for more towels to dry off with.
“Yes, they’ve all heard rumours about the way men are more substantially… endowed. I don’t think they were disappointed in you!”
The elf laughed at Boromir’s discomfited expression and ran up the steps in a surge of splashing water to accept a towel from Lindir’s waiting hands. Boromir had half a mind to turn and give the remaining bathers a blatant full-frontal to satisfy their curiosity, but decided dignity was better served by ignoring the matter. He waded out slowly, his back to them, and gathered his sheet firmly about him before following Lórindol and Lindir into the dressing-room.
Their gore-stained clothes and leathers had been removed; simple shirts, leggings and tunics were left out for them. The two elves took turns to plait each others hair, retaining their customary fashion of warrior braids, something which Boromir later realised was not a style so universally used among the elves here, when they joined their hosts up in the dining hall. It was Lórindol who spoke quietly to Gwindor and received a perfunctory nod of assent; he quickly and deftly plaited the more senior elf’s hair into several tight braids, pinning them at the back of his head to twist in an intricate pattern among the long fall of dark, glossy hair.
They were welcomed to mount rope ladders to the first level of flets; the lower part of the wooden staircases having been dismantled to make scaling the mighty oaks more difficult for any besiegers who managed to get that far. From there, they walked up stairs normally, though they passed guards and lookouts at each level. The broad stairs turned into balustrade-enclosed landings from which other narrower stairs and paths led off, and at the upper levels, the wide circle of huge Oak trees were inter-connected by high walkways constructed of ropes and planks. While any immediate danger seemed to have passed, the elves were wary enough to remain vigilant.
On one of the largest flets was a great hall for dining, main meals eaten communally on long tables with benches either side. Boromir and the elves were welcomed to their guest-place at the Garth council’s table; nearby was another square table, laid for eight. Each place was taken bar one; Gwindor was assigned that vacant seat. The elf stopped dead and a rush of emotions raced across his face before he composed his features, bowed graciously and took his place with the Garth’s elves.
Lórindol hissed through his teeth in disapproval, before getting an elbow in the ribs from Lindir. They sat and Boromir took a place opposite to them; he ‘knew’ what was happening, without quite knowing why… and that felt rather strange. He frowned at the alien memory he couldn’t quite recognise, but ‘knew’ that Gwindor was being formally entertained by some possible new partners-in-arms, selected by the garth’s council as suitable candidates. It was an old-fashioned tradition that some garths held to… and though he scarce knew why, the concept left him slightly irritated. He watched a broad-shouldered elf to Gwindor’s left who was obviously making introductions, though the table was far enough away for only a burble of sound to reach them over the conversational hubbub from the other diners in the hall.
“It is too soon!” hissed Lórindol.
“It is tradition here!” muttered Lindir.
Boromir accepted a knob of fresh bread and broke it open over his wooden trencher. Two waiting-elves served the three with large bowls of thick, vegetable soup, hot and savoury. He waited until they’d passed along the table before he spoke in Westron:
“Do they make Gwindor choose someone tonight?”
Lindir shook his head and replied in the same tongue, “An introduction only. Gwindor has renown as a warrior, and the high favour of the Marchwarden… For him to ally himself with one from Apple Garth… It would confer honour here.”
“It is still too soon for him.” Lórindol asserted sullenly.
“Hush… Everyone at that table is, or was, a warrior. The council will have the sense not try and foist some pretty balladeer on him.”
Lórindol snorted disdainfully.
“I hold my peace! But if any think they can take advantage - they’ll have me to deal with first!”
“Meleth… I think the illustrious Gwindor is well able to take his own advantage… if that is what he so desires.” Lindir cocked a laconic eyebrow at his partner… ‘as if the close friend and confident of Lord Haldir and his brothers would have head and heart stolen by some stripling looking to rise quickly among their ranks’.
The three surreptitiously looked across; Gwindor was solemnly nodding to the point somebody was making, before making an unheard remark that made the rest of his table smile and nod in appreciation. He appeared to be reasonably at ease, enough to make Lórindol relax somewhat.
The meat course was roasted pig and root vegetables, followed by baked apples glazed with honey. Two of the council came to join them as they finished eating, apologising for the plain fare. Lindir immediately praised the food as delicious and said they’d been out on patrol long enough that this was a feast fit for the Valar to them. The elves thanked them and, pleasantries over, suggested now would be a good time to confer as to the Garth’s standing and supplies, and what Lord Celeborn proposed with regard to defence.
Boromir sat back with a small goblet of well-aged apple brandy. The fierce, heady liquid evaporated to aromatic vapour on his tongue as he sipped appreciatively. He watched Gwindor; a jug of apple-wine was being passed around the table and toasts drunk… As he watched the cups being raised to absent friends, he saw that tears glittered in more than one pair of eyes at the table. Someone called for another jug – clearly, there was every intention of some serious drinking to come.
A second brandy began to make his own thoughts mellow… and Boromir relished the newly returned memory of a golden horselord, smiling to himself in answer to the other’s remembered smile. He was still Celebmir in part of his mind, but now he knew he was also someone else… someone at times he found hard to recognise… ‘…was he really so proud and stubborn?’ And a small mirthful chuckle from his other part in Caras Galdhon answered. ‘Yes! Both of you!’ It was a moment until Boromir realised that those other eyes were gazing at a head with a long, heavy fall of bright silver hair, now bent over a document so that the locks, released from their warrior braids, fell in a shining, molten pool on the dark tabletop. Their owner’s hand impatiently swept the silver hair aside from the document, and the tiny vision faded. With a small jolt Boromir found himself back in the Apple Garth’s hall; at Gwindor’s table somebody had begun to sing, his voice sweet and low.
“You rise like a wave in the ocean,
And you fall gently back to the sea…”
The song lilted around the Hall. Some stayed to listen, but many departed on their assigned tasks, to guard, or rest from guarding, and to prepare for the possible attacks. Boromir’s head nodded. Lindir touched his arm lightly, “They’ve made us beds to rest on. You should come away and take some sleep.”
Boromir was going to protest when he realised he was tired, very tired, and the thought of a bed and pillow began to sound appealing.
They ascended to another level and were led to a sleeping flet divided into small chambers by panelled walls of carved wood. Their weapons and leathers, newly cleaned, had been left for them, along with mattresses, pillows and wool-stuffed quilts.
“Shall I make a bed for Gwindor?” asked Boromir.
Lindir shrugged, “Yes, I dare say he’ll return before the night is over.”
Boromir spread some bedding for Gwindor in one corner, and then spread his own in another. Lórindol and Lindir shed their tunics, pushed two mattresses together, dumped a couple of pillows on them and slumped down side by side, hauling a quilt across them.
From the hall below, a deep, slightly husky voice sang a sonorous ballad that spoke of war and heroes. Boromir lay back, his eyelids drooping; as he drifted comfortably before sleep; he could hear the two elves murmuring and the soft sound of a kiss.
“Lindir…?” The man mumbled sleepily, trying to rouse himself to ask the question that troubled him.
“What is it?”
“What of Gwindor?”
Other voices had joined the distant singing, including Gwindor’s.
“What about him?”
“What will he do?”
“I do not know, but he will not walk with Mandos, not now.”
“And… do you think he will choose another… from among them?”
“You ask many questions, young one. Go to sleep.”
“I am no child!”
“No lord, you are a man – and men need sleep as much as we need to walk in reverie and find our dreams. Good night!”
The former melody began again; Gwindor’s voice could be heard on its own now, faltering at first but growing stronger.
“You shine like the moon over water
And you darken the day when you leave…”
Lórindol sighed, “He sings for him...”
“Hush, meleth, it’s a good song to grieve by… Pity him not”
"I am here, calling the wind
I am here, calling your name
I am here, calling you back
Return to me. Return to me..."
“I can not help it,” said Lórindol quietly.
Boromir heard the quilt rustle and skin slide against skin as one elf embraced the other. A final thought came to him as he drifted on the border of sleep.
“It is… that they think it is his duty to take another… isn’t it?” Boromir whispered.
“We are their defenders, and wardens fight in pairs… To fight alone… Would you wish to spend the long years of your life without a comrade at your side?”
“No…” murmured Boromir into his pillow, “No… I’d not…”
Much later, Gwindor came into the chamber quietly and alone. He undressed slowly with a certain studied deliberation that spoke of much wine, and then climbed under his quilt. The other two elves were aware of him, but there were no muffled tears to be heard; Gwindor sank into quiet reverie, his breathing slow and even - a gentle counterpoint to Boromir’s soft snores.
The following morning, they woke, dressed, and breakfasted well on fried, cured meat and bread before leaving the high oaks to find their horses. They waited while the pack animals were loaded with surplus sides of cured pork for the garrison of Caras Galadhon, and heavy bags of arrow-points, cast in the forges here. There’d been no time for them to be fletched - that the elves defending the City of Trees must do themselves. The elder elves of Apple Garth gave messages for Lord Celeborn, and farewelled them away.
Five of the elves from the previous evening lined up to wish Gwindor goodspeed and farewell. He embraced each of them formally, though Boromir did notice that one embrace with the broad-shouldered elf with the slightly gravely voice was perhaps a trifle more lingering than the others –. Now the man could see that the huskiness was probably caused by the great, fading scar that half encircled the elf’s neck to disappear both up into his hair behind the ear and down below his collar. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of the damage that axe-blow had obviously inflicted… and yet the elf survived, and now fought on.
Elves were out dragging away the black corpses of the orcs as they passed through the garth, pyres of broken trees being made ready to rid the orchards of the foul carrion – they would not bury the filth in their ground. They rode away swiftly; though when they reached the main path and had ridden along it for some while, Gwindor slowed, eventually coming to a halt.
“I… I do not think we need go to the Walnut Garth. I’m sure the others have made their way there successfully.” He went to turn his horse’s head eastward to Caras Galadhon.
“Perhaps… we should ride to the rise? Even if only to look?” said Lindir.
Gwindor paused, considered, but was clearly reluctant, “We will go and look, and if all seems well, return today to Caras Galadhon.”
He reined around his horse again, clicking his tongue for his mount to move forward, Lindir glanced at his partner before he followed the elder elf, moving to walk his horse alongside Gwindor’s. Lórindol walked his horse beside Boromir’s.
“Is anything amiss?” the man asked.
“I suspect he would rather not have to spend another night being ‘entertained’ – more like being set out on a market-stall!” replied Lórindol, clearly still irritated by the custom.
“Oh, they have match-makers were I come from too,” said Boromir, with a sudden clear memory of a long ago ball when he had had to partner each dance with a different girl, all the while under the eagle eyes of their avaricious mothers and every other high-bred matron of the court lest he favour one above another.
“Ah…” nodded Lórindol understandingly. “A lord of your status… They expect you to do your duty and sire an heir?”
“Aye. And a spare in case of accidents!” Boromir could still remember the discomfort of knowing he was being judged and quantified… like a price bull… as to how well he might perform that function and get a suitable girl ‘in calf’ – after the niceties of a formal wedding of course!
“But you chose the warrior’s way?”
Boromir frowned, he knew all those memories of his own were there… but many still slipped away before he could grasp them properly.
“I… have had women.” He considered how frank he might be, “…but after the deed was over, they never… inspired in me a passion not to leave them.”
“Which your horselord does.”
Boromir smiled slowly in happy recall, “…That is so.”
They rode on in silence, each momentarily lost within his thoughts. Lórindol smiled at the obvious pleasure in Boromir’s eyes as he remembered his love. A look he knew would be on his own face when he thought of Lindir… Impossible Lindir… flirtatious, vain, bold to the point of foolishness… strong, brave, loving… he shook his head, and at that moment Lindir turned in his saddle to look back at him, a quirk of question on his brow. Lórindol nodded ‘they were alright’. Lindir turned back and rode forward a few paces to catch Gwindor up again.
“We Elves,” Lórindol began, “Have no particular need for heirs, though family is important to us, and we cherish our children dearly… but…” He shrugged, “Not all of us have children. Our clan is as much carried on by nephews and nieces.”
“Don’t you want to see your own son fight beside you?” asked Boromir.
“I would as soon not see him have to fight… but it would be a great delight to know a child comes after me. Alas… I doubt that will happen, and I am content. I will take no maid to wife, and for certain neither will Lindir… When you count your life in long years… an heir is less important. But you men… you are as quick as mayflies to us. So bright and enticing, your fea is a beautiful flame that burns hot and consumes all, only to fade and turn to dust. Oh, I pity the elf that falls for the charms of men; he is doomed to swift sorrows!”
“What about the man who loves the elf and knows they must be parted? Knows he must wither to wrinkled dotage while his love stays fresh as a newly opened flower? Doesn’t he deserve some sympathy?”
“Think you not that might be the reason we can never live among you? There are too many sorrows and envies on both sides.”
They rode along in silence for a short while.
Boromir finally spoke, “Your pardon, I didn’t mean to offend.”
“None taken. So – will you get yourself a pretty girl to plant sons in?”
“I think she’ll have to have more than willing hips and a bright smile.”
“Ah – you want a queen to raise your children.”
“I have responsibilities, duty… but I think my brother more suited to seeing that our line continues.” A flash of serious eyes and a ready, trusting smile ran through his thoughts. “My brother…” He broke off – ‘so unlike our father, yet in matters of determination, just the same!’
“My brother,” Boromir continued after a thoughtful pause, “Will make a good father one day. I am probably too hasty, too impatient…”
Lórindol nodded, “Perhaps, but only experience will confirm that, and as yet you don’t know… or do you?”
“No lass has brought a bundle to my father’s door,” he grinned. ‘The thought of it…’
A glimpse of his father in a black rage brought a wry turn to his lips. His father reined his emotions back hard – his rage was ice rather than fire… Until he exploded into occasional violence that was generally directed at chairs and dishes – rages soon over, but devastating to his immediate surroundings. Not that he’d ever vented that destructive violence on his sons… but Boromir had a memory surface of a childhood punishment, when he was summoned and ordered to watch a close, family retainer beaten viciously with a heavy cane for allowing his misdemeanours to go un-checked.
“My father taught us to be responsible for our own errors,” he said sombrely.
“And what of your Horselord? He will be a king someday – does he not have to seek a queen?”
“He has daughters already, but not a wife. I think he will make an arrangement one day… I can but hope that I may be a small part of it.”
“Young adan, we all have to rely on hope in the end – without it we are lost.”
Lórindol inhaled a deep breath, then reached to clap Boromir on the shoulder.
“Come! Now we are young, we are free, we are warriors…! The air is bright, the woods are beautiful… the fight may not always be glorious, but we are born to live it!” He clipped Boromir’s horse across the shoulder to sting it into a trot, urging his own mount to hasten after Lindir and Gwindor, now so far ahead as to be almost out of sight.
The two leading elves pulled their horses in when they heard the clatter of hooves behind them. Lórindol and Boromir raced up, hair blown wild, grinning at each other. Gwindor clicked his tongue in mild irritation at their unrestrained high spirits and set off again. The long slope ahead took them to the rise overlooking the broad vale of the Walnut Garth; he reined in. Before them, the widely spaced walnut-tree rows lead the eye to the group of truly enormous trees that crowned a small hill at the centre of the shallow valley. All looked calm and well-ordered.
“We can return to the city; clearly we are not needed here. The others will bring back news of their depositions – Look! Here they come!”
Gwindor broke off, smiling with obvious relief. From their vantage point, they could see in the distance four elves, two leading pack-animals, threading their way through the trees and out onto the broad avenue that led towards the rise.
“We have but to wait for them, and we’ll ride back together.” Gwindor dismounted to stretch his legs, the others followed his example. Lindir searched out a water-bottle and passed it around. Soon the other mounted elves trotted up to join them.
“The garth fares are well enough,” said their leader, Erellont, after they’d greeted each other, “But they have glimpsed yrech slinking around the far edge of the woods.”
Gwindor nodded, “The garth is well-supplied?”
“Their provisions are plentiful – though they were pleased with what we’d bought to add to their store-houses. The council feels they can defend themselves well here – and they have long ago laid down spare arms and stores within the hidden tunnels that emerge in the foothills of the mountains. They offer sanctuary to any females or children who Lord Celeborn judges should leave Caras Galadhon, and their sworn protection should the garth fall and they have to flee to the fastnesses of the peaks.”
“It is good to know. I dare say that some with young ones should be encouraged to take up their offer – those and some of our injured, perhaps?”
“Any that can fire a bow will baulk at that,” said Erellont.
Gwindor shrugged, “Nevertheless, there are those that can’t, and sending them here accompanied by healers… They may have time to recover and yet still be able to fight eventually if…”
He did not finish, but each of them completed the phrase in their own thought ‘…if Lothlorien falls.’
The party remounted and spurred away through the woods. Even though it was shortly before noon, the skies above the trees were dull and thunderous. Distant flashes etched the dark clouds with cold silver above the south east, though the far off rumbles were but a distant sound, as of huge, loose-skinned drums. Lorien’s protective magic kept their air clean ‘neath the trees, but when they looked up through the branches… the sky was stained a sulphurous, yellowing grey. They shivered a little and kept their eyes ahead.
“We’ll ride on until the sun sets, then break to eat,” suggested Erellont.
Gwindor nodded assent, “We should rest the horses a while. I doubt we shall be back in the city before the morrow.”
Overhead the noxious clouds thickened, choking away the sun’s rays, and the pale starlight far beyond.
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.