12. Vulnerability Discovered
The smell of innocent beauty wantonly destroyed mingled with the stench of orc blood on Celeborn's hands. His sleeve was soaked and heavy where Galenros had bled to death in his arms, and it seemed he could not look anywhere without feeling that charred gash in the fair woods of the borderlands as though it were a brand in his own skin. Even within the wards leaves were scorched, and trunks burnt. Beneath the ground the voices of roots cried out to him for healing as they slowly shrivelled, blackened and died.
The elation of battle faded, to be replaced by too much pain.
"My Lord?" said Calandil, in concern.
"Though he will kill for the sake of it," Celeborn was glad to hear his voice sound calm, measured, "Still the Enemy has a plan in this." He gestured towards the smoking ruin. "Behold. The attack came where the wards run closest to the city and the width of forest is narrowest."
"You believe he could threaten Caras Galadhon?" Calandil sounded incredulous. To the core he was a son of the fence, building all his thoughts on the knowledge that the protective magic of a Sindar Queen was unassailable. "How? No matter what Khamul throws at our borders, still his forces cannot come within the wards."
"They will not need to." Measuring distances, Celeborn's heart sank still further at the knowledge of a real weakness. He pieced the plan together as he spoke. "With the machine beyond arrowshot they burn the borders, so we have no cover from which to attack them. Then they bring their engine across the river and set it up just outside the wards. From there, they have the range to hurl their firebolts into the very centre of Caras Galadhon."
"But the wards..."
"Will only keep out living creatures. Not missiles. With the borders burnt, to prevent them we will have to come out from the Lady's protection; fight them in open warfare. And there are a hundred of them to every one of us. Such a tactic would be suicide."
His thoughts turned to plans for evacuation; what needed to be taken and what might be left. Galadriel's orchard and the fields of lembas-corn were within the city walls. It would be ill to lose them, but the forest could provide all else the people needed - food, water, shelter. Perhaps - he told himself firmly - it would after all be a blow they could endure. Visions of the mellyrn screaming and twisting in flame like the beeches of the borderland were of use to no-one, and he set them aside to be grieved over later, if they came to pass. He would not waste anguish on a future which might never happen. He would laugh in the Enemy's face, and survive.
Silent beside him, Calandil had evidently had similar thoughts. He smiled now and shook his head. His ornamented hair rang like little bells, wound gold glinting. "Then it is as well we destroyed the machine before all this evil could come to pass."
"Others will come."
Stooping before one of the new canals Calandil washed his hands clean of the orc taint and splashed his face, "Then we will burst them apart also, like this one." His eyes narrowed, filling with wickedness as his grin became as lively and impudent as the flying water. "So," he said at last, "Are you going to tell your wife that your deed was not folly at all, but dire need?"
Celeborn forced a laugh, inspired by Calandil's resilience of mood. "Truly are you named, bright friend," he said in jest, "But if you would say 'I told you so' to Galadriel in her present mood, then you are a braver man than I."
"Nay, do you but smile at her and she will melt to a puddle of bliss at your feet."
This time the laughter had no element of defiance in it, but was genuine and heartfelt. Turning towards the city, he released the reins of Calandil's horse into his friend's hand, shaking his head, "Would that I lived in whatever happy world you inhabit, Calandil. Though it bears little resemblance to reality, it pleases me well."
Reality was the mirror glade, filled with strange shadows in the day's sallow dimness.
Galadriel stood there, white as a statue of alabaster, crowned with radiance. The drape of her elegant sleeves, her straight back, her flawless brow and the depths of her eyes, in which the light of the Two Trees still shone, made her seem a figure out of ancient legend, even in the centre of her own land. A Queen, an enchantress, strong and subtle in the heart of her power. It seemed the very trees curled about her, and the glade enfolded her as the hand of Iluvatar enfolds the Flame of Ea.
All was still. No breeze tossed the leaves above the mirror of Galadriel, and time seemed meaningless there, the still centre of the tempest that was history.
Celeborn tossed his gauntlets into his helm and set them down gently on the turf. Quietly - for the place demanded quiet - he descended into timelessness. A piece of Valinor on the soil of Middle Earth, it was, alien and disquieting to him. His heart struggled in brief panic, like a fly caught in scented resin, waiting to be locked forever into unchanging amber. And again he was disgusted with himself - why could he not grow used to it? - and angry. Why should she wish to return to a life like this - if life it could be called? Was not change and growth the only possible balm for immortality? How could it be borne if tomorrow promised nothing different from today, infinitely?
He stopped, facing his wife. Armour rippled at the movement and the mithril rings slid together with a sound like rain falling upon a stream, but at last it quieted. Silence fell, and he saw in his mind the two of them - the pure Lady and the armoured warrior facing each other across the poured, smoking water of the mirror - as though they stood in a tapestry. Bright, unmoving, barren.
She could not possibly want so lifeless a peace. Surely she could not. Had she not fled from Valinor for this very reason, because there was not room for her ambition there, and her greatness was pinched in that narrow space?
Eternity began to crystallize about him. He threw it off and moved, coming to her side and clasping her close. She breathed out, an 'oh' of relief and hopelessness mingled, and leaned back against him, closing her eyes. No longer a goddess, only his wife, who might not need his protection, but would have it whether or no.
A small time passed as they rested against each other, and though Celeborn was content merely to feel her breathe within the circle of his arms and to rest his cheek on her soft hair, he could not ignore the fact that she trembled against him. He could feel the weariness in her - in every bone, in the dimming of a spirit that had once outshone the stars. Briefly, nauseously, he felt as though she too was slowly bleeding to death in his embrace; a quiet and lingering death, protracted over a thousand years. A death he could only prevent by losing her.
Instinctively he tightened his grip, pulling her closer, breathing her in, as though he could force her to cleave to him. Hold on! Hold on to me. I will bear you up. I will be enough for you! But he knew that he was not enough, and that her dreams were full of the Sea. Unimaginable though it was to him, the changeless rest of Aman called to her, and his love merely extended her torment. Soon, quite soon, he would have to open his hands and let her go.
Galadriel turned in his embrace and pulled away slightly, examining him narrowly, her gaze caught by the red blood on his sleeve. "You are hurt!"
But not yet. Celeborn let the shadow of the future pass from him. Galadriel was still here. It was senseless to grieve while she was yet here. He shook his head. "Alas, it is not my blood. I am unharmed."
There was misery in her face, and it did not ease at his reassurance. He touched her cheek, and still it did not ease. A darkness lay on the Lady of Light. "But you, I think, are badly wounded. What has happened?"
"Oh, my Lord." Galadriel put her arms about him and laid her head on his shoulder, and though he knew he was privileged to be the only being in all Ennor whom she would allow to see her thus weak, it froze him with foreboding.
Tendrils of steam were rising into the cool, leaf-scented air from the surface of the mirror. Celeborn knew of only one influence that would make the water smoke so; the Eye of the Dark Lord. Fear for her, and frustration with her recklessness, and the very ends of too much pain prompted his words. "Why will you do this, Lady?" he burst out, "Why do you set yourself against the Enemy mind to mind? What do you accomplish by it? Other than to fill yourself with bitterness and pour away the wine of your pleasure in Middle Earth? It is folly...continuing folly. As vile a mistake as taking Nenya in the first place."
Galadriel did not take kindly to being rebuked. She stiffened and stepped away. Anger flashed like a drawn blade in her eyes. "I have heard your complaints too often on these subjects. You nag, husband." Gliding with swan-like grace to the lip of the dell, she came where white steps reached down from Lorien to this otherworldly hallow, and strode up them, turning her back on him.
Following, Celeborn felt like a diver, struggling out of deep water to a place where he could once more breathe - though the air be only the marred, mortal air of Arda. He caught her sleeve and stopped her halfway up the stairs, where a landing of smooth stone glimmered ghostly pale in the oppressive light. "I gave offence where I meant only to express sorrow," he said, "As seems to be my way. But pardon me, Lady, and do not bear this alone, whatever it is. Not when you have an ally so close."
She smiled at that, though it was a wan, strained smile, "Such news as I have is, perhaps, better not shared, lest the despair spread."
He took her hand, "I am not prone to despair. Tell me what you saw."
But still it struck him to the core when she turned and clung to him, eyes pinched tight as though she could thus wall out the reality of her vision. "I have seen Frodo in the dungeons of the Dark Lord," she said in a chill, small voice. "The Enemy has the Ringbearer! The Quest has failed, and doom will take us all."
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.