1. Backroom Dealings
T. A. 2662, Lothlorien
Yet another meeting of the White Council had concluded. As hosts, Celeborn and Galadriel stood while the other members filed out. The trailing two, however, exchanged a nod at the doorway of the Hall of Welcome, and turned back.
The elder spoke first. "Now would be a good time to discuss the other matter, would it not?"
Heads nodded and the four Elves retook their seats at the great table. Cirdan spoke slowly and carefully.
"The uses of a Great Ring, we are all familiar with, though from different viewpoints. Erestor will speak on this matter, but know that in this case, his council and mine are the same."
The counsellor of Imladris thought of his long-ago youth in Finwë's court, and of Finwë himself, before beginning.
"Do you remember the arguments in the King's court, shortly proceeding the destruction of the Trees, Lady?"
"How could I forget them? They come oft unbidden and unwelcome to my mind - a foreboding of what was to be."
"Yes, and so they come to me as well. But I also remember how Finwë held us together until the day he died. It was not an easy thing to give unwelcome council, especially when those to which the council was given were themselves mighty lords, and not always well-disposed towards him. Yet Finwë always managed to bring it off, and would have succeeded even if he were not our King."
Celeborn pointed out drily, "Elu was the same, until his last years. Proceed with your council, unwelcome though it may be. Though I would ask why you speak here before Cirdan." He then turned to his older kinsman.
Cirdan merely shook his head.
Erestor continued. "We speak of the Three, and I knew the mind of their maker better than any other here. Cirdan could say the things I will say - but he has already told you that our councils are alike." He looked to each of the three in turn; all far greater than himself, though only one like to his long-dead friend and heart-brother.
"Say on, then, friend." Galadriel interjected.
"The Three were made as tools of healing and preservation, but Celebrimbor reasoned that the greatest wounds to be healed were those dividing the Quendi amongst themselves and from the Atani. For this purpose he gave the Three to you, Lady, to Gil-galad, and to Cirdan. The mightiest Elf in Ennor, the greatest, and the wisest, in that order." Here Erestor paused.
Celeborn found this blunt summary of Celebrimbor's thoughts regarding his wife - both the good and bad of it - somewhere between amusing and insulting, but merely waited.
"That you, Lady, have shown your greatness, even over and above Gil-galad, in extending such welcome. But it needed no Ring to do so."
Galadriel now turned sharply. "And you will say next that I was given it for my might, and that I have ill-used."
Galadriel continued. "With swift arguments you would say that Celebrimbor intended the power of the Three to be used to heal all Ennor, not concentrated in a few sheltered strongholds. That we should not seek to recreate Valinor here. That a fair realm of Men springs up upon our south-border, that it is our choice to help them and teach them as my own brothers did long ago in Beleriand, or to let them fare as best they can on their own. That, clearly, the first choice is best."
Erestor nodded again. "And you would say that my own Lord has chosen a middle course, and helps Men less than he might. And would think, but not say, that that is putting things charitably. And I, I would agree with you fully. Yet Elrond sees things that I cannot. But, since we are now putting words one another's lips and thoughts in one another's minds, perhaps we should let others speak?"
Celeborn took up this offer instantly, speaking softly but in a manner that left no room for doubt. "The White Council does not rule Lothlorien."
Cirdan, too, broke his silence. "No one questions that, Celeborn. Nor do any here seek to usurp your authority. And I know your reasons, the whys and wherefores. Yet you two cannot be Thingol and Melian. I, the eldest here, say that your policies, Celeborn, do not fit our times."
"War will come, and who will win? Not the Elves, if we do not have as many Men as possible on our side. That many will be on the Enemy's side is inevitable. Thus our task is to keep our allies, and to win new ones, even if we like them not. This one truth has never changed, and never will. Distasteful though it is, it is. That is why I welcomed the Feanorians even though Ossë had told me of Alqualonde. A bitter pill it was, yet not so bitter as death or thralldom at the hands of Morgoth or his servants."
"Thingol did not or could not follow my council at that time, and I do not blame him. But here and now, you are presented with a fair people upon your South-border. I have been among them. Though they are not of the Edain, they have proven their worth as thoroughly as any of that people. The sons of Eorl could be mighty allies to us in the days to come. We need only reach out to them."
Celeborn shook his head. "They fear us. Several of the Galadhrim, journeying alone or in pairs outside our borders, they have shot dead. I do not know the source of their fear. They came from the North, and doubtless some shadow followed them here, either of the Enemy or simply of the past."
He allowed himself a sad smile. "Not knowing, I have restrained our people from any revenge. But how are we to make them our allies when they would sooner shoot us than speak to us? At present, we cannot even break bread together, much less make alliance. In any case, the role I think you envision us playing, Cirdan, is already being played by the Men of Gondor. We hope that Gondor will teach them to unlearn their fear. Until that day comes, we can do little to aid them."
Cirdan nodded. The Rohirrim had not feared him greatly, because seeing his beard, all had thought him one of the Istari. He had not troubled to correct this error, but now realized he should have.
So, with contrition he replied, "That is ill news. If Gondor teaches them thus, your restraint will be rewarded, but if it does not, nothing will change. Yet in Gondor, and particularly its coastlands, we can still ask boons of the lords and captains. I will go there myself, to ask the coastal princes to ask the Steward to send loremasters north to Rohan. Or better yet, minstrels - they are not a lettered people, and may not mix well with the learned among the Dunedain."
Cirdan paused, considering. "It is too long since I have visited the Falas of the South. Will you go with me, old friend?"
Celeborn's look of pain was rebuke enough. "The Falas hold dark memories for me, all too near. Amroth is at least held in esteem there, it is said, but as the son of Amdir, not of Celeborn and Galadriel. And I have heard that Mithrellas left the first Lord of Dol Amroth, the descendants of whom are the mightiest of the southern princes, alone to wither in old age. That was shameful. She was of my people - so, I cannot be sure the Men there would not hold me in scorn. Though it would not be without some justice, that would be too much for my patience, I am afraid."
"And we have other sorrows also," Galadriel reminded all present. "But truly, I do not think you need any Elf of this Wood in your company, Cirdan. We would be redundant, I deem. If the Dunedain have forgotten the Shipwright, it is already too late."
Erestor broke his silence. "I will go with you, if you wish it, Lord. It is not so long since I have been to Gondor. Ciryon I knew and admired. And the Falas of Gondor hold no shadows for me."
"Would Glorfindel not make a better messenger?" Celeborn interjected.
Erestor shook his head sadly. "He would, but he will not be given leave to go, and so he will not go. Elrond is Glorfindel's King as surely as Turgon was, and Elrond holds the Stewards in scorn. His stated reasons are strange. Perhaps he sees something that I cannot, but he does not say what it may be."
"He will give you leave to go, but not Glorfindel?" Celeborn again interrupted. "Or.."
The dark eyes flashed. "Elrond has my allegiance, but is not my liege, no more than Gil-galad was yours. I am foremost amongst his counsellors precisely because I need not and have never shied from privately or even openly disagreeing with him. I have shown enough loyalty to retain my position. Have you none such among your own people, Lord?"
Celeborn half-smiled, ruefully. "I had several, but they have all either fallen in battle or removed to Mirkwood. They would rather face Orcs and spiders than my wrath, it seems. So be it. But I guess, at the least, you will not go as a messenger of Imladris? Elrond has not spoken to me of his distrust of the Stewards. That is unfortunate, for I do not know what he may forsee."
He turned. "Do you, beloved?"
Galadriel stared intensely at nothing. Finally, "All in Gondor is dark to me, and I dare not concentrate too closely on Minas Tirith."
Erestor replied, "Indeed I would not be going as a messenger of Imladris, or even tell them whence I came. I shall go as - " he paused, turning his gaze from Celeborn to Cirdan - "one well known to the maker of the Palantiri. That shall be title enough for the Steward, I think."
Cirdan nodded, the meeting concluded, and the two visitors departed.
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