1. So Beautiful, So New
Celegorm's first awareness was of the voices. Rising and falling in a song of abject lamentation as tears fell like a warm summer rain upon his nude body. The weeping held no bitterness or accusation but was steeped rather in unutterable loss and misery: the tears of countless mothers mourning their children, the tears of untold warriors weeping over their fallen comrades, the grief of an eternity of separation from lovers, friends, families.
Slowly the song and the weeping faded and from the voices a new song emerged, as joyous as the lamentation had been anguished. This song was of redemption and hope, as beautiful a paean as Celegorm had ever heard from Maglor's lips and harp, and within it was an echo of the divine. He hearkened to the voices, eyes closed, drifting in a half-dream state of limitless possibility.
At last this song faded too, the voices fell silent, and Celegorm's eyes fluttered open. He arose from his bier and stood alone in the circular stone room. For a long time he stood, making no movement, listening to the hushed softness of his breathing. Slowly his eyes traveled down the length of his body and he lifted trembling fingers to his breast. Not even a scar. From the corner of his eye he saw a strand of golden hair tumble over his shoulder, felt the ticklish sensation of it upon his skin. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, a silent grateful tear glancing off his cheek and splashing onto the floor.
He lifted his head and looked about the room. There were no windows, no doors, and a single shaft of light fell upon the stone platform in the room's center where he had recently lain. He rotated in place, watching his feet in fascination as they turned his body. When he again faced the platform he saw it now held a neatly folded cloak, tunic, pants, belt, and pair of boots in forest greens and browns.
He picked up the tunic and gazed upon it, reacquainting his fingers with the sensation of touch, his eyes devouring the close weave of the sturdy, smooth threads, his ears drinking in the sound of blood rushing in his ears in the palpable silence of the room.
It was real, all real. Not a dream. He was new; life coursed within him again, and with it came sensation -- and memory. He clutched the tunic tightly to his chest and breathed for a few moments, centering himself, before donning the clothing and cloak, pulling on the light boots.
Dressed, he stood alone within the room. He could not have told how he knew it, but he knew what was expected of him. He envisioned a wooded glade and cast himself into it, one word sighing from his lips: "Oromë".
The room dissolved around him and the sights and scents of the wood he had conjured in his thought were a sudden assault upon his senses. Even though the glade was quiet and peaceful, the shock of the sights, sounds, smells all crowding in at once was overwhelming. He shut his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears until his mind caught up to what his body was experiencing.
He inhaled deep and forced himself to calm, slowly opening his eyes and listening to the birdsong that lilted from the trees and the small, inconsequential conversations of the plants and animals. The foliage was green with spring vitality, the stream that ran past carried the clean, crisp scent of mountain snows, and life was in abundance everywhere. A fox trotted by scenting the air, paying him no notice, a squirrel ran along a tree branch overhead, stopping to chatter busily before moving on. Celegorm drank it all in with the delight of a child, turning this way and that as each new sight or sound caught his attention.
He had grown up in woods like this, preferring the solitude and beauty of forests to the tumult of city life and the banality of politics. He had only ever been truly happy in the woods, learning from Oromë, working with his hands to craft arrows and knives, applying his mind to finding food, shelter, and understanding the lore of nature. When forced to be at home amid the raucousness of his brothers and the scrutiny of Fëanor, he had always made time to be alone to journal his woodland adventures.
When he had left Aman on his doomed quest, he had left his journals behind with wistful melancholy for what he considered a youth misspent. He had wanted no reminders of his ties to Aman and the Valar who, in their arrogance, had driven them all into exile. Now he wondered if his journals still existed and wished to reread them. Perhaps they held the key to a past betrayed by circumstance and an oath of filial loyalty gone so horribly, irrevocably wrong.
As his memories turned to unpleasant musings he unconsciously clenched his fists, the gleam of Laurelin in his eyes hardening to the gimlet glint of steel in forge light. All he had been through, all he had suffered because of the heartlessness of the Valar. . .
Out of the forest strode Oromë in as formidable an incarnation as Celegorm had ever seen. Tall and agonizingly beautiful, his thick black hair flowed over broad shoulders, his radiant countenance a symphony of perfection with its high cheekbones, angular nose, sensuous lips, now set in a grim line, and tempestuous deep-set grey eyes. An elegant Mithril pin shaped like a bow and arrow fastened his cloak which, along with his tunic, were the green of the leaves surrounding them; his pants were the grey-brown of tree boles and, at his belt, Valaróma gleamed golden as the last glorious rays of a cloudless sunset.
His eyes seized and held Celegorm's pale blue ones with unsettling intensity such that Celegorm trembled before him. There was a brief hesitation in Celegorm's eyes, a vestige of the old defiance, and then he went to one knee and lowered his head in respect.
"Lord Oromë," he said, marveling at the velvet smoothness of his voice, a sound he had forgotten.
A large, rough hand rested upon his head, and Oromë spoke with surprising tenderness.
Celegorm lifted his head and met Oromë's eyes. "Nay, my lord, I am Tyelkormo no longer. Celegorm is the name I died with, and it is the one with which I have chosen to be reborn. My Quenya name suggests to me an innocence I no longer possess."
"Rise, Tyelkormo, for thus you shall always be to me. Your youth was marked by a kind of innocence, that is true, but you were always your father's son. To be a son of Fëanor is to possess a ferocity of spirit that no wide-eyed naïveté could ever forestall."
"Yet to what innocence I once possessed would I return. I swore if ever I was released from the Halls of Mandos that I would rule my passions and not fall again into rebellion and anger."
"And yet your thoughts turn to old wounds, and within your first moments in Aman."
Celegorm lowered his head. "Yes, my temper is still swift to the fore. I thought I had left it all behind, purged my impulses in the Halls, but the memories spurred me again to resentment. I thought in being reborn I would be free of the past."
"There can be no freedom from the choices we make," Oromë said. He touched Celegorm's shoulder and he looked up at him, holding his gaze. "The Halls do not purge your spirit nor remove who you are. What would be the purpose of being restored if you were utterly changed?"
"I do not know what I expected. I thought when I had accepted responsibility for my actions, when I understood them fully and received the forgiveness of those I had wronged, the pain would be gone. Yet when I saw this place, where you and I spent so many happy hours, I again felt as though something had been ripped from me. I felt the injustice of it as a physical torment and this misery turned my thoughts to darkness."
"Indeed. I could hear them ere I reached you."
"Is it why you came?" Celegorm felt a rush of disappointment to think that his mentor had appeared at his thought only to chastise him.
Oromë could have read the emotion on Celegorm's soul but there was no need. It was plain in his eyes.
"I came for you, dear Tyelkormo. I have missed you greatly these ages and longed that your stay in Mandos might be shortened. I did not know where your thoughts would turn upon your liberation but I cared not. Only to know you had paid for your deeds and been given life did I yearn, for always have I loved you."
"You do not know how long I have waited to hear those words again for I loved you also and thought you would never forsake me. And yet when my grandfather was slain and my father was stirred to wrath, you did not speak. When we faced hardship and privation, when we fought and were slain, you did not come to our aid. Did you ever intercede with your brethren on our behalf?"
"I did not, and for that silence I have paid. We all have paid. For the Valar were much grieved by the decision of the Noldor to leave Aman. Yet even if I had spoken, it would not have changed what was to be."
Celegorm trembled a little beneath Oromë's hand. "It might have." He fell silent for a moment. "I almost did not swear the oath."
"I know. You did it because I did not come to you and try to dissuade you."
"Why did you not?"
"It was not within my power, and the Valar also have their pride. Fëanor all but cursed the Valar with his curse upon Melkor. His wrath and grief were too great for words to have assuaged him."
"Yet your presence might have made a difference to me."
"Are you so certain?" Oromë asked. "Tempers were high and Fëanor's words were not entirely false. I was instrumental in bringing the Elves to Aman and there have been times when I regretted it, but never more so than that night. The Valar wanted to protect the Elves from the evil we failed to contain. The words Fëanor spoke that night have weighed heavily upon me, though the Elves do not know what it took for us to capture him that first time. The dark bitterness of his heart is unfathomable to us. We sought to protect the Elves without fully understanding our enemy, and in the process we became domineering and selfish. We thought only in Aman could we safeguard you, but we cannot protect those we love from a doom of their own choosing. Manwë understood this, though he hesitated when he should have acted. He knew that to remove your choice would truly have taken your freedom."
"Yet now, even were I to wish it, I cannot not return to Middle-earth. So am I truly free?"
"You wish to return?"
"No, but the choice is no longer mine."
"What does choice matter when there is no desire behind it?"
Celegorm chuckled. "Now you speak like a Vala."
Oromë smiled back. "And in that I have no choice."
Celegorm sobered. To him Oromë had always been a gallant friend and companion but ever would he remain an enigma as well. Celegorm had tried many times to imagine what it must be like to wield power such as that of the Valar. To have seen the making of the world, to have hunted the dark forests of primeval Endor when Morgoth's influence was supreme in those lands and only starlight illuminated its vast mountains and wide waters.
For a time he had been consumed by his desire for power of his own, enslaved by his single-minded devotion to the oath he and his brothers had sworn. He had allowed himself to be corrupted by his brothers and with them, beyond the point of redemption. But he had learned that power was only an illusory thing, imperfect, impermanent. He had decided while still in Mandos, before he had even been aware of his imminent release, that he must think of the future and not dwell upon a past that could not now be altered. He was sorry for his earlier reckless thoughts. He must accept that none of the actions or inactions of the Valar excused his own dire choices. All he wanted now was to be with Oromë like they had been before. To hunt with him, to visit his home, to reforge the broken bonds of affection they had once shared.
Again, Oromë had no need to read his thoughts to see that Celegorm wanted the same as he. This glade had not only been the place where they had come to camp during their hunts, it was also the place they had made love for the first time, and the many times after. It was to this place that Celegorm often returned when he was fed up with the city and his family, when he wanted to feel the soft breezes of Manwë on his face and live as the Elves of Cuiviénen had, beneath the trees, beside crystal waters.
The entirety of Celegorm's quick mind had always delighted Oromë, not simply his eager apprenticeship in matters of woodcraft. He had spoken to Námo many times about the possibility of Celegorm's release, only to receive rude rebuffs from the Doomsman. He understood that Námo worked in his own way and at his own pace. The particulars of his methods were a mystery, even to his fellow Valar. But, though he was not blind to the deeds of his protégé while in Middle-earth, the terrible and ignominious end of Celegorm the Fair, he knew Tyelkormo to be driven by passion, circumstance, and the oath he had sworn. He understood how these things had informed his deeds and they did not diminish nor define Tyelkormo in his eyes. Quite the opposite in fact, for it was Tyelkormo's passion and fierce intelligence that had drawn him to the son of Fëanor from the first.
Celegorm could not read Oromë's thoughts but he could feel the favor of the Vala shine upon him like the warmth of the newly made sun that day in Endor when the powerful rays of dawn illuminated all the world for the first time. In that hour his hope was lifted as never before or since, the hope that the Valar had not abandoned them. And though that hope was unfulfilled, the love of one Vala was proving to be as constant as the rising of the sun and moon. For the first time in longer than Celegorm could remember he felt true joy.
"Do you remember the first time we met here?" Celegorm asked.
"Yes. You were in this very glade when I first felt your presence. I had to come see for myself who would be so bold as to enter my private sanctuary. You were imitating the songs of the birds with such accuracy they were speaking to you as one of their own. Your fascination with the woods and your respect for all its creatures intrigued me, and though you were young you showed no dread at my approach. It was your beauty that led me to call you fair but it was your strength of spirit that led to my desire for you."
"Of the forgiveness I have received from those I harmed, and from the Valar, the possibility of your refusal to grant me your forgiveness was the only thing I truly feared about leaving Mandos. Now that I see your desire for me remains, I know I can begin to live again."
"I could not aid you in your doom, I would not support you in your folly, but I always have and always will forgive you, my lovely Tyelkormo, for you are dearest to me among Elves. Yet I confess my desire for you has not remained -- it has grown," Oromë said, his fingers playing through Celegorm's hair like one of Manwë's most benevolent breezes.
Oromë removed the pin from Celegorm's cloak, letting it fall to the ground, and Celegorm reached for the Mithril pin of Oromë's cloak, pulling the arrow from the bow to undo it. He paused for a moment and looked at the object in his hand, his face flushing with self-conscious pleasure.
"This is my old hunting bow," Celegorm said, awestruck.
"Aulë was kind enough to fashion it for me. A reminder until I could see you again."
Tears welled up in Celegorm's eyes. He embraced Oromë tightly and Oromë returned the embrace with vigorous passion. They undressed each other one piece of clothing at a time, pausing in between to enjoy each newly bared area of flesh. They lay at last beneath the trees and made love, savoring each moment, each touch, as the breeze sighed around them and the nearby stream sang a song within which was an echo of the divine.
They lingered thus within the woods for many days, hunting and talking, watching the stars wink at them through the branches above as they lay together upon the mossy forest floor, watching the sun rise each morn as they woke in each other's arms. At length the time for their parting drew nigh, for Celegorm felt he must return to the city and meet with Curufin, of whom he was especially fond, and who had been restored many years prior to his own release. He wanted to apologize and seek his brother's forgiveness for their rash and evil deeds while bound by the hated oath.
Oromë understood, but urged Celegorm to come to him again when he had made his peace. "I make you this promise, Tyelkormo, and to it I will hold until you yourself no longer wish it. I will set aside this part of the wood as your private sanctuary that none may enter into unless by your leave. Within this wood and in all of Aman you shall ever have my patronage, my protection, and my love."
"And to you I promise this," Celegorm replied, "that I shall never again turn from you or your counsel. Within this wood I will make my home and unto you shall I remain true until the breaking of the world."
With a final embrace they parted and Celegorm set off through the cool, golden dawn. As he walked his thoughts turned again and again to Oromë. He had made an oath again of sorts, a promise anyway, but this time it was one he would keep with joy. After walking most of the day he came upon a clear pool and stopped to refill his flask with water. As he looked into the limpid depths he saw his cloak was fastened with Oromë's Mithril pin, sealing the promise the Vala had made him. A radiant smile lit his face as he walked swiftly on. As soon as his business was finished with Curufin he would return to the woods and Oromë's waiting arms.