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A/N: Before I begin this story, I must note that the nature of this tale made it necessary for me to settle on one of the many conflicting histories of Galadriel and Celeborn. I've done something with their family rarely explored within the fandom, but I decided that six pages of pre-story author's notes explaining myself was insane. If you are interested in canonical justification, please see my essay "A Wandering History," kindly hosted by Marnie at:
Summary: From the second age of Middle Earth to the third, few of the elders of the elves remain to guide the young. Still, relics of an ancient world exist, for good and ill. Divine banes return in a blaze of revolution, betrayal, war, balrog, death, and the cruel indifference of the Valar. Yet there may be tempering strength in a refiner's fire. Featuring Galadriel, Celeborn, and Amroth -- their son.
"[A]t length [Sauron] persuaded them to revolt against Galadriel and Celeborn and to seize power in Eregion . . . Galadriel thereupon left Eregion and passed through Khazad-dûm to Lórinand, taking with her Amroth and Celebrían; but Celeborn . . . remained behind in Eregion, disregarded by Celebrimbor."
--The Unfinished Tales
Chapter 1: Eregion
A hooded elf pushed his way into the crowded pavilion, in from the pouring rain that had forced the crowd behind closed doors. There were too many people for the space, and they filled the room with steam that misted off their wet bodies, billowing in the torchlight before disappearing, adding to the sheen of sweat and fear and passion that glittered upon upraised brows. It condensed on collars and hems, pooled damply on backs and chests, and did nothing to cool the heat of the Eldar inflamed. Men and mortals would not have recognized them, but would have crept away fearing, thinking that some howling force had possessed their gentle souls. They would have been right.
Despite the humid heat, the newcomer did not lower his hood, but murmured soft apologies until he had flattened himself against the back wall. The elf he stopped beside turned his eyes fractionally toward him. "It goes ill," he murmured to his cloaked friend. "Be prepared for anything this night."
At the front of the room, a tall elf paced back and forth, his face flushed with the effort of persuasion. His voice rasped; he had been speaking too long, but had no power to stop. Fervent, proud, gifted -- he did not know that in voice and gesture he much resembled his grandfather, Fëanor the Great, Fëanor the Cursed. It might have given him pause, had he stopped to think on it, but Celebrimbor would not have been swayed from his cause. He raised one hand, calming the uproar.
"Friends!" he called out. "Friends! Friends! Hear me! We must ask them to step aside!"
"Treason!" a heckler called from the crowd.
"No!" Celebrimbor answered, and before he could continue, "Kinslaying!" another called.
"No!" Celebrimbor roared. "No! Not kinslaying! We will convince them, if they will hear us, or we will force them, if we must, but no one shall be hurt! Yet Celeborn and Galadriel must step aside!" He plowed through the murmur that swept the crowd.
"It is our duty to do this; are we not free? Do they not rule by our consent? We have suffered their burdens on our freedom. We have borne with patience their unreasonableness. We have allowed them to be the puppets of a distant king, to dangle us upon the whims of Lindon. They are relics of a time long past, foisting their fear and paranoid upon our bright futures! It is a new age, and we no longer consent! It is our right, our duty to throw off these chains, and to provide a new order for our reborn world! Such has been our patience, but no more!"
Shouts echoed from the walls, of yea, and nay, of grievances, of anger, and few people entirely agreed with one another. For a moment, pandemonium ruled, and some few pockets of younger elves scuffled, dodging gesturing hands and stabbing fingers.
"Friends!" Celebrimbor cried again, and raised his voice, the veins in his neck and face straining in his effort. "Do you need proof? You have seen it, but I will give it to you! They put burdens on our friends, the dwarves, tariffs on trade, infringe passage between our realms. They demand, in these times of peace, that our sons and our daughters learn the ways of war. They breathe lies about Annatar, our dear ally, who has ever sought nothing but knowledge and friendship! They mock our craft! This morning I received this edict from Celeborn: we are not to finish the rings! He has said that he will withhold the wood for our forges and the tools of our craft. We uphold this realm by our sweat and toil, and they DARE to constrain us! It is beyond our tolerance!"
"Yes!" someone cried, and Celebrimbor smiled faintly.
"It is beyond our patience!"
"Yes!" more joined.
"My friends, we do not have to bear this!" he thundered, finding his cadence. "Must we bear this?"
"Must we bow?"
"We NEED NOT submit! We NEED NOT surrender! We NEED NOT bow to their tyranny!"
From the back of the room, a powerful voice cried out over the din. "Fools!" The speaker was an ancient elf, his fair face marred by the scars of battle and suffering. He was a Sindar of Doriath, one of few remaining, and one who had walked the world before the sun, one of few in the room.
Many of the faces that turned to him in surprise were terribly young. They were the world of elves rebuilt, the children of the survivors of wrath, the progeny of the few who had refused the call of the Valar. The elves prospered again in Middle Earth, but there were too few elders -- fearful indeed that Gil-galad and Elrond, who lived only after Doriath had died -- were now called aged.
"There are none yet living who fought evil in the depths of time as they have fought!" the ancient one continued. Ancient, though he himself was much younger than the rulers of the realm. "Celeborn is the last of the generals before the moon, the very fist of Elu Thingol. He stood against orc and dragon and flame, and yet stands! And Galadriel is the student of Melian; where she decrees the way is shut, none can pass but by her will! We shall wish they were our friends when the darkness descends again."
Celebrimbor began to answer, but Annatar, who had thus far been sitting placidly behind Celebrimbor, leapt to his feet, his eyes blazing in the amber violence of the first sunrise. "Have you so little faith?" he cried, his fair, godly face drawn in righteous grief. He looked about him, and there were tears on his cheeks. "What need have you for war-lords and kings? The Valar, aye, the very Valar themselves condescended to this world and cleansed it! Did not they destroy evil? Did not they come? And why? For the love of Iluvatar's children, ungrateful though you are! Have you so little faith?"
He fell silent, and no one dared to stir, to murmur, so great was Annatar's sorrow. He sat suddenly and passed his hands before his eyes. "You have heard Celeborn speak against the Valar," he whispered into the silence, not looking up from behind his hand. "You have heard his disdain. 'Where were the Valar when the Sindar were dying?' he has asked, and 'little good they did us, sinking our world to the sea,' he has said. And Galadriel! Galadriel! The Valar have long wept for her. Heresy falls from both their lips." He looked up and caught many eyes; it seemed he opened himself to the roots of his soul.
"You have heard them speak against me," he continued, more quietly still, and all in the room were caught in his whispered breaths. "The very servant of our gods. I have allowed it; I am not greater than the Valar, and it is my joy to suffer injustices in their name. But I can stand by no longer."
He stood again, shakily, as one who rises from his deathbed for some desperate purpose. Celebrimbor reached out to steady him, and murmured in his ear.
"Nay, Celebrimbor, I am fine," he said weakly, and brushed him off with a frail gesture. Then he straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin, his eyes agonized. "I cannot stand by because of what they take from you. They rob you of the gift of the Valar. The Valar desire you balm your hearts and live in peace; Galadriel and Celeborn tear your hearts open with words of war. The Valar gave you the freedom to choose your destiny; at every turn Galadriel and Celeborn impose their will. The Valar instilled the poetic joy of creation in your hands! Galadriel and Celeborn . . ." Annatar bowed his head mournfully. "What do they know of the beauty of creation? For they have never made anything beautiful; all they touch turns to ash."
From the front row, one elf shook his head, dazed. " . . . children," he said hoarsely, and cleared his throat. Then the elf narrowed his eyes and summoned the strength to overcome the spell of Annatar's performance. "Their children are the fruits of their love. The value and beauty of what they have created together has rarely been matched in all of Arda."
Annatar pinned the elf with a disdainful stare, then shook his head in disbelief. "Mark me well," he said slowly, as one invoking the weight of foresight. "Fair the children might be, but flawed. Their hearts will fail them both before the end. I have declared it, and it will be."
At the back of the room, the cloaked stranger stiffened. "Steady on, lad," his friend said, catching his wrist. "You've heard enough. Come." And they pushed out of the room as Celebrimbor began pacing and calling again. There were no naysayers now to interrupt him.
Once outside, the cloaked elf swept back his hood and lifted his face to the heavens. The rain cascaded across his brow, washing away his sweat, but not his tension.
Amroth he would be called in later days. The Up-climber, the Tree-dweller, King of Lórien of the East, a lover, a dreamer -- but ultimately a shadowy legend preserved with sorrow in elven hymn. As yet, however, he was none of these. Rather, he bore the name given him at his birth: Galadaran, to honor his mother and shape the destiny his parents hoped for him.
He was a young lord, not yet into his first millennium, fair and valiant and fey. In form he took more after his mother, the gold of the Vanyar rather than the silver of the Teleri. But though his eyes reflected her coloring, they did not burn with the same light. In that he was like his father, for, though not lit with divinity, they were both possessed by the intractable, discordant spirit of the land. That howling force was older, far older than a reflection of departed light, and on some days, more difficult to control.
"You were right, Calandil," he said, his voice shaking. "What do we do?"
But before his companion could answer, the din in the pavilion behind them crested, unhinged, and broke free. Elves poured from the cramped room, a roaring wave of anger, swords drawn and glittering in the night. Heading toward the great hall at Ost-in-Edhil, where the lord and lady presided.
"Run, Galadaran!" Calandil cried, before himself dashing into the darkness.
He crashed into the room, soaked from the rain, his chest heaving. "Stay here, Celebrían!" he roared, his hands unsteady as he threw back the lid of his trunk and fumbled for the weapons inside. He ignored the armor; there was no time. A sword, a knife. Bow? No, for any blood drawn this night would be from within an arm's reach of death. He strapped his sword to his side and clenched his fists, unsuccessfully questing for calm. He released a breath and pulled Gal-narthan from its sheath. Light's Beacon it was, firm and strong in his palm, and he breathed a prayer over it that they would not need to spill elven blood this day. Then he prayed again that if need was dire, that it -- that he -- would hold true.
"Galadaran!" his sister cried, fearing now as she sprang to her feet. "What has happened?"
"The inevitable," he answered shortly. "Celebrimbor is leading a revolt."
Her eyes widened as her face paled. Then she straightened her shoulders and reached for her own blade.
"Nay, tithen thêl," her brother said, catching her hand. "Stay here, do you understand? Yes? Tell me that you do."
She grimaced and looked at him, beseeching. He was unmoved, and she nodded. "I understand." He held her gaze a moment longer, his grim countenance reflecting their collective fear. Then he nodded firmly and disappeared into the night.
After a moment of hesitation, Celebrían collected her sword and followed. She was, after all, also the child of Celeborn and Galadriel.
A commotion at the back of the room started Celebrimbor, and he turned as the ornate door splintered inward into the crowd of armed smiths.
"Back traitors!" a voice cried. "Back, in the name of your oaths!" Before Celebrimbor could call out, one of his supporters heaved forward, sword glittering in the light of torch and flame. The cry of blade on blade startled the unruly crowd into silence, and in some eyes he saw indecision, for the sound of warring swords in their peaceful land is not what they wanted. They were not above menace and threats, but they wished no death this night. While few had participated in the kinslaying atrocities of the last age, many remembered the haunted lives of their fathers.
Some stepped back from the intruder for that reason, and others upon seeing a second blade at the door-- Calandil of Doriath. And a third -- the Lady Celebrían.
"I will not do this in front of the children," one of the smiths murmured. But others stepped forward, intent, menacing.
"Hold!" Celebrimbor cried out.
"Nay," said a musical voice beside him. "Let them see this. They should see this."
"Annatar," Celebrimbor chastised, his voice low and surprised. "No!" he said, raising his voice. "Keep the Lady Celebrían out. She is not to see this; she is not to be harmed." He was grateful to see two elves step forward and take her bodily in hand. They escorted her out of the room with as much care as they could, despite her vigorous protests.
But with a growl of anger Galadaran shoved forward through the crowd, and it reluctantly gave way to him until his broke free of it at the base of a dais where his parents stood, Annatar and Celebrimbor before them.
"Celebrimbor," he said, voice ugly with anger, "what in all of Arda are you doing?"
Celebrimbor coolly drew his sword and took a step -- not forward toward the boy who had once worshipped him, but back, toward the dais.
"Drop your sword, Galadaran," he said mildly. But Galadaran grasped it more tightly and moved to step forward. Celebrimbor swiftly brought his blade to bear against the Lord of Eregion, the point even with Celeborn's heart.
"Drop it," he said sharply. "Forgive me, lady," he continued quietly, shifting his attention to the fair being at Celeborn's side, "but I will do it." And he raised his eyes to meet Galadriel's. Betrayal he had expected. Disgust, even fear. But though her hands were clenched and every line of her body vibrated in rage, in her eyes held only resigned weariness, as if he had done at last what she always had expected him to do. It unsettled him, and his sword-hand trembled for a moment, unsure. But beside him Annatar nodded in almost imperceptible approval, and Celebrimbor snapped his eyes to the lord at the end of his sword. "I will do it," he said again, firmly.
"Peace, Celebrimbor," Celeborn said, and raised his hands, placating, diplomatic. Coldly in control, as if a glittering blade had not already drawn a thin line of blood where it pressed against his chest. "Galadaran, I thank you, but lower your sword."
Galadaran grimaced, his face reflecting the pride of his youth and his heritage. But he was the son of the Wise and bowed to his father, the last who would do so in Eregion. "As you wish," he said, and, after slipping the weapon back into its scabbard with a crisp hiss, folded his hands behind his back, his fair face as still as stone.
Celeborn inhaled deeply, invoking the calm wrought by uncounted hours of meditation. It was his only sign of internal turmoil, but in the quite corners of his mind, Celebrimbor regretted the necessity of what he had inflicted. For the ever-unflappable Celeborn to show even this smallest sign of agitation was significant indeed. The source of his dread only served to deepen Celebrimbor's dismay, for he knew that Celeborn did not fear for himself, but for Galadriel, for Galadaran, for Celebrían.
"There is no need to do this," Celeborn continued quietly, and, though he did not so much as glance at it wife or his son, it was clear that his words were not entirely for his enemies. The anger suddenly went out of Galadriel, and she stepped forward to place her hand on Celebrimbor's.
"We will step aside," she said, her voice low and humiliated as she held his gaze. Celebrimbor lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes, searching for the truth, for this was not a Galadriel he had expected. If not for the rightness of his cause, he would have wept for what he had done. He dropped his eyes first, his face lined with sudden sorrow.
"Thank you," he said, and abruptly lowered the sword. Galadriel closed her eyes and breathed out a silent note of relief -- a prayer of gratitude to Elbereth. There was more love for Celeborn in that soft sigh than the fondest gaze she had ever gifted Celebrimbor, and he felt as if a sword's thrust could not have pierced him deeper.
"Well," Annatar intoned smoothly, "I am so glad we were able to avoid any … unpleasantness."
Celebrimbor glanced at his friend. "Indeed," he said, recovering himself, but not swiftly enough to drown out the echo of insincerity that rolled through Annatar's pronouncement. He shook his head once, dismissing what he had heard as a figment of the tension in the room, for surely Annatar had not wished the Lord and Lady dead.
Annatar delicately threaded his fingers and brought them to his lips. "Well, then …" he began, but Galadriel turned away. The would-be rebels who had backed Celebrimbor parted in guilty respect has she passed through. If any had hoped to catch her eye, he was disappointed, for she walked as if the wide room was empty. Galadaran passed likewise, but Celeborn held each gaze until it dropped.
continuing . . .
Next chapter: Galadaran gets a new name, Eregion falls, Elrond isn't very helpful, the refugees are trapped, and, much to his dismay, the dwarves come to Celeborn's rescue.
"Sauron's host were already approaching when Celeborn made a sortie and drove them back; but though he was able to join his force to that of Elrond they could not return to Eregion, for Sauron's host was far greater than theirs . . . [they] would indeed have been overwhelmed had not Sauron host been attacked in the rear; for Durin sent out a force of Dwarves . . . and with them came Elves of Lórinand led by Amroth."
- The Unfinished Tales
Chapter 2: Din-horde
"Lord Amdír, may I have a word?"
"Of course, my friend," the King of Lórinand answered and slowed his pace so the younger lord could catch up. He studied the boy as he approached, and noted with a stir of distress how easily his young face settled into heavy lines of care. The weight of his heritage, Amdír thought with a sigh.
He had welcomed the dispossessed family into his realm nearly four centuries before, but out of duty, not love, even if he did remember with fondness Galadaran's young, sweet chatter in the tranquil air of Nenuial. Though he could not help but respect her, Galadriel's presence had given him pause, but long years and old debts compelled him to embrace Celeborn's children despite his concerns. Thus he had been pleasantly surprised at the joy both Galadaran and Celebrían had given him. Though neither were children anymore, they had given him the chance to be a father for the first time in his life.
They had embraced his friendship, for they had been deeply shaken by the revolt at Eregion. Word of it had reached Amdír's ears, but in the skewed, muddied way of scandal and rumor, and for a time the rumors had slayed the entire family. When they arrived, mercifully safe, Celeborn had not been with them. He would not come through Khazad-dûm, Galadriel had said curtly, and for a time Amdír let the matter be, not wishing to become embroiled in the politics of their complex marriage. But long counsels with her had revealed a deeper truth.
Indeed, Celeborn had publicly refused to pass through the dwarven realm. It had, apparently, been a matter of shouting and ire in the streets of Eregion, a performance for all to see. Many of the citizens of Eregion had witnessed it, and gone away to tell others how far the couple had fallen. It had been both truth and ruse, for it had allowed Celeborn to remain, disregarded by the new powers in Eregion, and had made Galadriel's departure seem a harmless fit, a wife angry and spurned. Thus, Galadriel watched and prepared in the East while Celeborn watched and prepared in the West, and neither was watched by anyone else.
Surprise had always been a powerful stratagem. Indeed, it was the only weapon they had; it was fortunate that they had prepared it. When Celebrimbor had arrived two hundred years earlier, bearing the tale of his shame, he had expressed both surprise and gratitude that Lorien was already so well prepared. "Only days since Sauron revealed himself. You are swift, my lord," Celebrimbor had said. Amdír had not had the heart to tell him that the warded borders, that the warriors, that the weapons had been prepared for over two centuries.
"And how goes the talan building, young amrath-thavron?" Amdír asked, shaking himself from memory, hoping that the light of a well-beloved smile would break the clouds from his foster-son's eyes.
"Very well, my lord," Galadaran said, and an impish grin transformed his face. For a moment, it did not matter that his father was long absent and his mother newly -- strangely -- tormented; rather, he radiated the joy of spontaneous song. "Most productive."
"Ah," the lord answered, amusement warming his voice. "Productive. And your . . . diligence in the matter has nothing to do with a certain young elleth, I assume?"
"No!" Galadaran answered, though amiable embarrassment colored his face. "Or . . . not entirely. It is quite interesting work, quite rewarding. And if Nimrodel delights to teach me the art, well . . ." he shrugged bashfully, awed that the Valar had seen fit to bestow so great a favor.
"Interesting work. Rewarding work. Of course; I understand completely," the king said, and commanded his face into a mask of solicitous solemnity. "And have you thought of a name for your lofty abode?"
"I hadn't until now, but you just gave me an idea. What say you of 'Circled Mound of the High Street?'"
"Cerin Amrath," Amdír said, folding the words in his sonorous baritone. "Yes, I like it." Then he looked placidly away to hide a decidedly un-kingly quirk of mischief. "And we shall have to call you 'Lord Mound' ever after. Ai, by Mandos, lad, breathe," he continued with mock alarm as he pounded his companion's back.
"'Lord Mound?'" Galadaran answered hoarsely, sputtering through a laugh that had caught him unaware. "I would never live it down."
"Oh, indeed?" Amdír asked innocently. "I supposed you are right. 'Amrath' then. Or 'Amroth,' to give it a lilt." He paused and shed his jesting demeanor. "It suits you," he continued quietly. "I've seen you walking the branches like a wild spirit born of the starlight, master of the wandering paths between heaven and earth. Your father used to do the same thing in the forests of Doriath, you know."
"I do," Amroth answered, and his voice held a note of longing. "He taught me."
Amdír nodded and grunted a noncommittal assent. It hurt, a little, these reminders that the boy he loved was the son of another. It was usually easy to pretend that it was not so. "Amroth," he said, and smiled faintly at the boy's delighted acceptance of the name. He tried it again. "Amroth, your father taught you to walk in his paths. You do him credit; proud indeed he must be to call you son. But there are other roads, equally beautiful, equally right. Some quite a lot less difficult, some more. Find your own way, my child, and rejoice in it. My heart tells me that you will."
"Yes, my lord. I understand," Amroth answered, though his eyes were troubled and it was clear that he did not.
Amdír smiled, and squeezed the boy's shoulder companionably. Then he dropped his hand pulled himself back -- he was a king, a friend. Not a father. "Forgive me. First I tease you, then I wax philosophical, and entirely override what you intended to say. You asked for a word?"
Galadaran blinked, and for a moment struggled to follow the abrupt change in his mentor's mood. "Ahh, yes. Indeed." He shook his head, and the cloud of care descended again. "'Tis regarding Eregion. We've all felt it today; Mother, Celebrían, and I. Evil is moving and we must act." He lifted his chin. "Forgive me, lord; I should say that I will act, with your leave and assistance or without it."
So the peace was ended and the ever-changing world would change again. Amdír nodded crisply, ancient instincts of blood and war sharpening the edges of his mind and hardening the walls of his heart. The second age and its sons would march to war at last. A farmer-king could weep for the losses of the past; a warrior-lord had no such luxury for the future.
"You shall have both my blessing and my aid," he answered. "Where is Galadriel?"
Father . . .
Celeborn gasped and jerked awake, overwhelmed by the cresting din of dwarven feet pounding in syncopation to elvish songs of war. Momentarily disoriented, he reached for his weapon as he sat up, even as he realized that he was in the midst of a large contingent of elves. Elrond's army. Eregion's refugees, his memory promptly informed him, ignoring the apparent inconsistency between sight and sound. He groaned and pressed his hand into his aching eyes; there was no inconsistency, merely mirages and dreams undulating balefully in the heat of the day.
They were caught up against the south side of some nameless mountain, lit by the mid-afternoon sun. Around him elves were stretched upon the ground in groaning, writhing rows, blood congealing in the dust beneath the wearied feet of healers, who were careful to avoid the cast-off entrails and spare parts of their patients. Or former patients, Celeborn amended, noting another row that did not move at all, save to add members to its growing tail.
Just beyond were the sounds of a war-camp: the nickering of horses, the grind of whetstone on blade, the cheerless murmur of warriors beyond hope. And in the distance, the stench of an approaching din-horde; Celeborn could feel the earth cringing under the slithering plague of their foul footsteps.He grit his teeth and pushed himself to his feet, cursing the red darkness that abruptly leeched away the world as his heart labored to catch up. He breathed through it and ignored his reeling head; after a moment, his sight returned.
"My lord," a healer said, catching his arm. "This is not wise." Celeborn did not know the elf, but recognized him as a part of Elrond's contingent. The elf was crossed with the spilt blood of unnumbered wounds from the bodies of unnumbered souls; rendered flesh had hardened beneath his fingernails, and gray crescents of exhaustion and grief shadowed his eyes. He wore a sword at his hip -- unusual for a healer, but not for one who expected that he would die in a hopeless defense of his patients' lives. Celeborn mustered a passable smile for the faithful elf.
"Where …" Celeborn cleared his throat, dismayed by the barren rasp of his own voice. "Where is Elrond?" he asked, pitching his voice lower and achieving a marginally better result.
The elf gave him a somewhat glassy-eyed look of longsuffering. "I'm certain Lord Elrond would agree with me," he said, deliberately misunderstanding as he tried to muscle his errant patient into a more acceptable position; preferably horizontal. Celeborn shook off the healer's hand and narrowed his eyes. It was not a look many could withstand.
"I will not allow you to wander through the camp looking for him," the elf said with a sigh. "But if you lie back down, I will send a messenger for him."
For a moment, Celeborn considered pulling his not-insubstantial rank on this young and very junior healer, but another wave of dizziness assailed him, and he nodded in defeat. He was aware of several pairs of hands easing him to the ground, and a murmured request to find Elrond as quickly as possible. Someone pressed a cup to his lips, and he swallowed a mouthful of warm, acrid water before consciousness slid crossways out of his grasp.
Father, hear me. Ai, Elbereth, let him hear me. South and East, soon. Be prepared.
"He tried to stand?" a voice asked, wavering into distant focus.
"He did stand, my lord. He was up before we could stop him," another answered.
The first sighed. "I wish he had not done that. He is bleeding again, and I will need him before the end. I will need them all before the end; we are going to have to have as many of these wounded as possible up and fighting soon enough. The last battle for their lives, I fear." The voice faltered into regretful silence. "Did he say what he needed before he lost consciousness again?" it continued after a moment.
"No, my lord. He merely asked where you were."
"Delirium?" the first sounded defeated.
"He was muttering about dwarves. But when I spoke with him he seemed reasonably coherent. Indeed, there was purpose in his eyes."
"Very well. Celeborn!" Elrond called softly, and touched the wounded elf's brow as he focused the skill of his Maiar blood. It was a touch the likes of which Celeborn had felt before, from a queen long departed in a land long gone. He coughed and blinked, for though a part of his heart distrusted the divinity that had betrayed him in his youth, he had no strength to ignore the call. Elrond smiled wryly down at him, though it did not reach his eyes. "You should be resting, old friend," he said gently. "What is so important?"
The half-elf moved his hands to the lord's wounded side as Celeborn collected his fractured concentration. Elrond sighed as blood drawn by an orc's wild thrust seeped through his fingers. Celeborn's armor should have held, but weeks of battle without time to renew strength -- of both metal and flesh -- had taken their toll. His weary sword a moment too slow, his last defenses a shade too fatigued, and the beslimed orcish blade had first punched through a chink in metal and then found a purchase in flesh. The foul hand that had wielded it had been quickly hewn off, followed almost immediately by its accompanying head, but the damage had been done.
Celeborn twitched in pain as Elrond began re-dressing the wound. "What is our situation?" he gasped.
Elrond lifted an eyebrow. "Indulge me," Celeborn commanded, and Elrond shrugged fluidly.
"We are caught in a broad valley just north of Eregion," Elrond said quietly. He was mindful of the sudden attention of the healers and some of the less-agonized patients, and had no wish for them to hear this. "A mountain is at our backs. The minions of evil lurk in the shadows at our flanks, and the main army of darkness advances at our front. The battle is paused; the orcs stand in a seething line in the shadow of the mountains, jostling forward by degrees as the shadow lengthens."
"I assume that we are . . ."
" . . . in the last place to be touched by shadow before nightfall?" Elrond continued. "Yes. The twisted creatures can not bear the full force of today's bright sun, and so in the light of the day is where our exhausted armies wait, far outnumbered and unable to escape. Darkness will bring death."
Celeborn nodded grimly, and struggled to sit up.
"Nay, lord, rest now," Elrond said, easily restraining the older elf before moving to rise from his knees.
"Wait," Celeborn whispered, catching his tunic. The lord looked quizzically down upon him.
"Help me stand."
Elrond frowned. "No."
"Mandos take you, Peredhil," Celeborn said tiredly. "I need to see a map."
Elrond rocked back to his knees, his eyes calculating. "Very well, you wily silver fox. You have my attention. Glorfindel!" he called. The twice-born Vanya had been prowling the perimeter around Elrond, and now came to stand beside his lord and friend. A quick glance spoke enough: Unwise? his eyes asked. Necessary, Elrond's returned.
"A map," Glorfindel said. "You want recent troop movements as well?"
"Yes. With as much speed as you can muster."
"What do you see that I do not?" Elrond asked when Glorfindel was gone, but Celeborn did not answer.
He had unfocused as the other two spoke, balanced in the light between waking and dreams, though his body urged him to succumb to the sunshine and follow the heat into healing. Beneath his back, Middle Earth reached upward and sang mournfully, uncommonly upset. Arda Marred! It cried, Arda Marred! and blamed itself again for the elven blood sinking into its heart. Celeborn was abruptly angry at the Valar for leaving the earth with the mistaken impression that it was healed, for cutting away the knot of disharmony while leaving tendrils of discord where they could grow and fester into a seething, black mass of orc, orc who marched under banners of flesh, and --
--sweet Elbereth, that was Celebrimbor stretched across those poles. How many others? Dozens? Hundreds? Oh, Manwë, how long did they live like that before they died? Gilthoniel Fanuilos, let not my father be among them. Oh, Varda, ai, Valar . . .
"Celeborn," Elrond said wearily, "your tendency to drift away is not inspiring confidence in me."
"Tell me, Elrond," Celeborn said, returning to himself, "for you are a master of lore. Can you think of a story more cruel than this: to leave a war half won, to destroy one world and permit the spawn of evil to escape to another, to require children to see the horrors so nearly defeated, and then insist upon our groveling worship for the appearance of their favor? Is this divinity?"
Elrond shook his head in bemusement. "Today of all days is not the time to air your grievances with the Valar. Some sunny, peaceful afternoon when you are not bleeding and I am not losing we will drink tea and discuss faith and blaspheme. But for today, if you have any groveling in you, that is the course I would recommend. Or, if you require more concrete action, get up and look at the map you demanded."
"Has anyone ever told you that there are moments when you sound eerily like Elu Thingol?" Celeborn growled, and pushed himself upright before Elrond could react, a spark of hope and a blaze of rage animating him beyond his strength.
Elrond scrambled to his feet and steadied the reeling lord. "Breathe in, breathe out," he murmured, and helped Celeborn into a clean tunic before handing him his sword. "Glorfindel has set up a map under the healer's pavilion. We've attracted a fair amount of attention. If you're going to do this, you might as well kindle a measure of hope in our people while you're at it. They look for a sign. For the love of everything good and fair, do not stumble."
Celeborn grimaced, then straightened. "I am fine; I can walk," he said, and put action to words.
The three lords and their various lieutenants leaned over the map while scouts filled in the blanks with their hard-bought knowledge; if one lord leaned more heavily on the table, no one mentioned it.
"We are here," Glorfindel said, tapping the map, "in this valley in the north of Eregion. Oddly nameless, apparently."
"We did not name it because we did not," Celeborn snapped. "I hereby declare it the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Happy?"
Glorfindel ignored him. "There is a deep contingent of orc pressing us from the northwest, a "V" just here. Seven thousand spears, or perhaps ten. The main contingent is coming up from the south, directly through Eregion and up this valley. Forty thousand orc, at least. The situation is better to the east. Better, is, of course, relative. A thinner line, more scattered, roughly hook shaped. The terrain is worse for them, but it is also worse for us. Call it six or seven thousand..
"What of our forces?" Celeborn asked, and crossed his arms across his ribs to mask a spasm of pain.
"I brought five thousand," Elrond said, "but took heavy casualties. Approximately three thousand fight-ready. And my count puts the uninjured refugees at between fifteen hundred and two thousand."
"Calandil?" Celeborn said, turning to his second.
"Four thousand capable of fighting, my lord," he answered. "Total injured pushing four thousand, most badly."
At the last, Calandil was unable to stop himself from glancing pointedly at Celeborn. He had followed his friend, as he ever had, against the din-horde that had pounded on Eregion's borders. The land had not been designed for war and defense -- no mighty walls, no towers, no hidden caves. Thus their meager host had been the only hope of the escaping civilians; a living levee against a bloody tide. It had not been enough, as both had known it would not be, and he had half-carried his wounded leader in the last, desperate push toward Elrond's army as Eregion fell.
"Doriath, Sirion, Eregion," Celeborn had whispered hoarsely, the smoke of the flaming land coating his voice. "Ai, forgive me." Calandil had not had any words of comfort to give. Action alone had marked his devotion: hands to carry, a sword to defend, a wordless retreat to bring the survivors to safety, if only for a little while.
"We stopped counting the dead," he continued.
Celeborn nodded. "Supplies?"
"Poor," Glorfindel said. "We came lightly equipped for speed, and most of the refugees have little more than the clothing on their backs."
"Nothing to be done about it. Is anyone familiar with the terrain north?" Celeborn asked.
Elrond shrugged. "I surveyed it for Gil-galad just after the War of Wrath. Mountains, rivers, deep canyons."
"Places more defensible than this slaughterhouse?"
"Yes. It would be hard going, but there would be places to dig in parts of our forces, places to hold lines while the civilians escape, then withdraw and dig in again. But this is moot, Celeborn. If we had only our forces, perhaps we could punch through north and east, and plan to lose half. But with many thousand civilians and injured besides? Suicide."
"There is one piece on the board you do not see," Celeborn answered, and reached forward to draw an invisible line in the mountains. The silver elf smiled faintly. "My son is coming with the army of Lorien"
Elrond's eyes widened. "You are certain of this?"
"Yes. He has been reaching for my mind all day. I know not if he will arrive in time, nor if his arrival will make a difference, but he is coming. I have seen his army in the deep of Moria, and the cursed dwarves he insists on befriending are at his side. They come, Elrond. He says they will strike the enemy from the south and east, soon."
"If Galadaran and Durin can draw off some of those forces, make us a hole . . . perhaps," Elrond mused, his gaze fixed on hazy possibilities. "You said your son was reaching for your mind; have you been able to reach his?"
"No," Celeborn admitted. "He is the child of the second age, and has never fought a major battle, much less led an army. His tension is wrenching his mind between armored and overstimulated, and I am . . . somewhat wearied. I may have the strength enough to reach him once, but I want to be sure the message is the correct one."
"Where to strike?" Elrond asked.
"When to withdraw," Celeborn answered. "I would not have our rescuers expose themselves a moment longer than necessary."
"Perhaps you are somewhat over-invested in that decision?" Elrond suggested gently.
"You may speak to me on this when you have held your own child in your arms, and not before," Celeborn returned with ire.
"Peace," Elrond said, willing to concede, and turned his attention away. "Glorfindel, we must be prepared to move this entire host at a moment's notice. The soldiers, the refugees, the wounded, everyone."
"What of the dead?"
Elrond grimaced. "Leave them, and any others who die as we flee."
"My lord," Glorfindel said softly, "the bodies will be eaten, or defiled. There is not a single member of our host who does not know at least one of the fallen, and there is not a single one of us who can guarantee that death is not our fate."
"You think I do not know it? But I will not spend lives or time in defense of the dead." Elrond passed his hand before his eyes; it did nothing to banish images that would haunt him until the world ended. "We must look to the living, or there will be no living left. See to the preparations. Swiftly." Glorfindel nodded and glanced at Calandil, who nodded in return. They withdrew, along with the others.
Elrond turned back to Celeborn, who had swept aside the map and now sat heavily on the table. Elrond gave him a twisted smile and joined him. He studied his palms, stained with blood and grime, ribbed and callused. They rasped dryly as he rubbed them together, and were unchanged when he turned them upward again. There was much to say to the lord at his shoulder: I'm sorry I was not in time, sorry I could not do more, sorry I failed to kill Annatar when he stood unprotected before me outside Lindon centuries ago. He said none of it.
"Will this work?" he asked instead.
"Valar willing," Celeborn answered sarcastically.
"I wish you would not do that," Elrond said tiredly.
"It will work," Celeborn could have said, but didn't.
"I must ask, though I know it will make little difference," Elrond started dully, but Celeborn was already shaking his head. "Will you please return to the healers?"
"I will submit to your will when we have extracted ourselves and my son is out of danger, but not before," Celeborn answered, and climbed doggedly to his feet. He offered Elrond his hand. "Come, let us finish this."
These orcs are young, Galadaran thought as he wrenched his sword from another body and swung it upward, a crimson arc to parry another blow. It was a disturbing thought, and one he did not wish to have. He did not want to have pity for these twisted creatures who leered at his through disfigured faces, but begged for death with eyes that were so nearly elvish. He did not want to wonder if they longed for a distant snatch of song, not while he stopped their hearts. And he dared not wonder if Eru wept for them as children, not when he feared that he might find desecrated pieces of his own father clutched in some clawing, filthy hand.
With a cry he threw his latest assailant back and pivoted, disemboweling another. "Neatly" disemboweling, a sword instructor would have said, and utterly neglected to mention the spray of blood amid putrid, twisting guts, and the gore that covered to the wrists, then elbows, then shoulders.
"Lad!" a voice cried behind him, and he spared a part of his attention for the dwarf king who fought to his side. "The battle is turned against us. We will be o'er run afore the hour is ended. A hopeless battle, and for naught. Your land is taken, your people are dead. We must save vengeance for another day!"
Galadaran lifted his face to the darkening sky. 'Twas twilight, the time most blessed of the elves -- and the time most favored by orc. Not an accident, that the singer of dissention had turned beauty to terror. The night was clear and cold, and Eärendil dawned low in the sky.
He quested outward again into the night, searching. It would have been better if his mother had done this reaching of the mind; it was a skill that he had not fully mastered in his mere score of centuries. He had asked her, before he departed, as she had helped him pull on his armor. "Will you tell father we are coming?" he had asked, and her hands had paused. An infinitesimal hesitation, a mere beat in the conversation. Yet it spoke much. "Mother?"
"I cannot," she answered, reaching again for her son, her fingers buttressing him against the swords and arrows of the horde.
Galadaran's heart had clenched within his breast. "Is he dead, then?" he asked, lightly, almost casually.
"I know not," Galadriel had answered, not meeting her son's eyes.
"How is that possible?"
"Distances are measured by more than miles, my child," she said, enigmatic as ever. He had dropped his gaze to her hands, and impulsively caught them in his own. Beneath his fingers he felt two bands, one visible, one not. One, the gift of his father, the other, the doom of Celebrimbor anguished.
"I understand," he said wearily, and knew well the mighty clash of wills that must have transpired when she placed the second upon her hand, a terrible blow enough to fracture his parents. "Aye, I understand. But I shall never understand either one of you." Galadriel had turned her hands in his then, holding them within her own. She kissed them, his broad, strong hands that once had scare been able to wrap themselves around her finger.
"I know," she said. He watched her face for a moment. Most others would only have seen her tranquility, but he knew her better. Pride and anguish, strength and fear, Middle Earth, and now, the Sea -- all was written clearly in the soul he loved so well. How could he not feel it? She was his mother.
"If father yet lives, I shall find him," he promised, and kissed her hands in turn.
"Eru go with you," she may have whispered, or perhaps not, but he heard it all the same.
Now, briefly harbored from the storm of battle that raged around him, he dropped his head and shook it in frustrated rage and denial, for it seemed the dwarf was right. Of his father and the hosts of Eregion, he had neither felt nor seen the faintest stir. Tortured bodies and leaping flame were all that remained.
"Forgive me, child," the grizzled dwarf said gently, forgetting, in the way of mortals, that the fair youth beside him was many centuries his senior. "But dying for the dead avails no one."
Galadaran raised his eyes to answer and startled, for the storm of war broke over them again. Beside him, Durin roared, his axe flashing in the starlight, and Galadaran leapt forward to impale another orc. He breathed in and his heart beat, and before it could beat again his father was suddenly, miraculously there.
This was the presence that had watched over him as he slept, that and comforted him in fear, that had guided his hand, that had filled his head with strategy, and warmed his heart with song and raced him through the trees and laughed and taught and loved.
In one blinding moment, his father flooded his mind with the full force of his personality. It was overpowering, painful in its abruptness, and barbed with a raw edge of weariness. Then Galadaran felt Celeborn's horse shifted roughly beneath him and Celeborn's focus splintered in the accompanying burst of agony. But strangely, Celeborn could still feel the earth beneath his son's feet, the sword in his hand as he fought beside the dwarf. His son had stayed with him -- inexpertly, roughly, but with a tenacious endurance that his father could not muster for himself.
You are hurt, father.
I am fine.
"Push them!" Galadaran roared to his valiant little troop. "Only a few moments more!"
"We're nearly through," Elrond said, pulling his horse up beside Celeborn. "A minute more, that is all we need." The horse turned a circle and Elrond kicked her forward again into the fray.
"Calandil!" Celeborn shouted across the field in alarm, standing in his stirrups. "Watch your left!" Calandil's force regrouped and turned against the enemy attempting to flank them.
"Lord Amroth!" an elf called, and Galadaran disengaged for a moment, turning toward the elf that had called his name.
"Our scouts have spotted Elrond's army," the elf continued. "North. Just north, and desperately pressed. They may be able to escape through a pass into the mountains if we can hold the attention of these orcs."
"Well done," Amroth said. "They are escaping, those that live."
Amroth? Celeborn asked.
It is what they have been calling me. Galadaran answered, glancing north.
"We must withdraw!" Durin shouted." Amroth, we must withdraw! We're nearly surrounded!"
"Courage! A few moments more!" Amroth answered.
You're not through the pass.
"Stop daydreaming!" Durin roared, shaking an orc off of his axe. "That one nearly had ye!" Amroth winced, but not on his own account.
We are through! Go!
"We are through, my lord!" Calandil said, his horse heaving. "Just you, and I, Glorfindel, and Elrond remain. And the dead."
"And the dying," Celeborn answered.
"For them, it will be over soon enough. Let us pray that the Valar do not already count us among them. Ride!"
It is enough, my son. A hole we needed, and a hole you have made. We escape north. Withdraw, Galadaran, with the thanks of many -- and with my love. Deliver it to your mother and sister when you see them again.
Father! Galadaran cried out after him, but he was gone, and the world constricted to only one bloody field of carnage. The echo of lethargy that had filled his limbs lifted, for the exhaustion had been his father's. He was not yet certain what news he would tell his mother, for he understood now something that he had not before.
It was far simpler to face the world thus alone. And lonely
amrath-thavron - high street builder; literally "upstreet builder"
"[T]he sea-longing grew so strong in her that (though she deemed it her duty to remain in Middle-earth while Sauron was still unconquered) [Galadriel] determined to leave Lórinand and to dwell near the sea . . . and passing again through Moria with Celebrían she came to Imladris, seeking Celeborn."
-The Unfinished Tales
Chapter 3: Return
Amroth savagely turned to Durin, and for a moment the dwarf was taken aback. It was a strange, unbalanced moment in the midst of the swirling battle, and though he could not credit the thought, as he looked into the elf's face he felt that he had broken through a stone floor and was falling into an abyss where he had expected sure footing. A cavernous absence, perhaps, a presence withdrawn.
The elves were exceedingly strange.
"It is enough, Lord Dwarf," Amroth said, and he was again who he had always been. "We have done all that we can."
Durin shook off his bewilderment. "To Moria?" he asked.
"Yes, for you. I will lead my army to Caradhas, and perhaps our parting will divide our foe. My thanks, my lord," he said, and gripped the dwarf's forearm.
"My honor," Durin returned, and with a firm nod jogged into the night, calling his people to him in the language of rock.
Amroth caught his horse and shouted the retreat, which was taken up by the horns. Three notes followed by a trill down, the cadence of today's defeat, followed by one long blast to the height of the player's range, an unresolved chord of vengeance thrust up to the hallowed stars. Before he could heed his own command Amroth stumbled over a mass of bodies in the darkness. Something groaned, but even a cry of pain could not disguise an elven voice. Moving quickly, he shoved aside two dismembered orcs and knelt beside the fallen elf. Amroth was startled, for it was not one of his warriors; the elf was not dressed in the garb of Lórinand, but in ancient armor that bore the device of Elu Thingol. He gently turned him, and, despite the blood, recognized the face: Limnen, an ancient elf, a survivor of Doriath, a friend of his father. He had incurred Sauron's wrath during Celebrimbor's rebellion, Amroth remembered; he must not be left to the desecrating hands of the orcs.
There was no time to be gentle. Amroth fluidly hoisted the injured elf to his shoulder then draped him across the back of his horse. Limnen groaned again and fell silent, but Amroth did not have the luxury of compassion or concern for him as the army fled across the burning land. Thick, oily flames consumed homes, halls, and flesh, casting an eerie glow on tumbled stones and smoke-wrapped holly. Durin's folk scrambled up the road to Khazad-dum, desperate to win the dash to the safety of their stone mountain, while Amroth led his people toward the pass. The division confused the din-horde for several minutes, as Amroth had hoped, and it put many unpursued strides behind the army of light.
It was a mistake from which the orcs would never recover, though they would try for many days. Amroth smiled to hear their howls of rage when they reached the closed gates of Khazad-dum, which would open easily to friends, but no others. His people led their pursuers on a grim chase, praying that the wild flight would give a measure of relief to the battered, unseen army they had come to save.
The horde screamed when at last the trees of Lórinandcame into view, for they knew that their prey was lost if the elves gained the woods. "Fly!" Amroth cried, for he could feel the breath of the orc streaming upon his neck. "Run for your very lives!" One stride, another, and another, and the deep wood closed around them with an embrace of sudden silence, broken only by gasps as his compatriots heaved for air. The trees at the borders stilled after a moment, angry and malignant, and a fragrant Lórinandbreeze passed amid their branches to dispel the scent of death. Amroth looked across at the wondering faces of his lieutenants and laughed shakily, pressing his hands to his face.
"A chase for the ages, Galadaran," a raw voice gasped. "It was magnificent." Startled, Amroth moved quickly to Limnen's side. He was still draped across the horse where Amroth had placed him days before, for there had been no time for rest as the army fled, no time to see to the wounded or the needs of the flesh. Amroth had assumed that a quiet tomb was all that he could give this faithful elf.
"You are alive," he said, wonderingly.
"So it seems," the other returned weakly, and coughed.
Amroth soothed him, then glanced up at his men. "We are home," he said softly, lifting his hands in a gesture of release. The nearest soldiers nodded and the tension that had briefly held the army immobile lifted with one collective shrug of relief.
Galadriel waited for them at the edge of the city, as Amroth had expected. She stood regal, unflappable, and smiled benevolently at the returning heroes. For each, she had a touch, a kind word, and for the wounded a soothing hand on a fevered brow. In her eyes, they saw an affirmation, a blessing, a gift: a reflection of their true selves. At last, when all others had passed by and they stood alone, she looked upon him. He returned her gaze and lifted his chin, expecting judgment, perhaps, but willing to confront whatever truth she saw in him.
He knew the truth well: he was not like his parents. They had taught him of leadership by service and of duty beyond self, and he had done all that they had ever asked of him, yet his calling was not in their ways. He was born east of Ered Luin, and lived best with ancient rhythms and easy freedom of the elves who had always been here, for theirs were the choices of the heart, and always would be.
"My son," Galadriel said.
"My mother," he answered. He removed his helm, and rolled his shoulders, and raked his hand through his hair.
"You are well?" she asked, though it was not entirely a question.
"I am unhurt," he answered, and turned fully toward her, his face impassive. "Eregion is utterly destroyed. Celebrimbor is dead; I saw his body, or what remained of it. He had been tortured to his death. You may be betrayed," he said, and glanced at her hands.
"I think not," she answered. "I would know."
"As you say," he answered, and was not convinced. Then with a sigh he continued his report to her.
"It seems that Gil-galad sent aid to Eregion at last, though in the end it was not enough, and Elrond was trapped with what remained of our people. Father was with them. From what scant reports I had, including brief contact with him, I believe that we were barely in time to save them, but that our coming drew off the horde just long enough for them to escape into the wilds of the north. Whether they escaped indeed I do not know; they were far from us, across a seething mob, and I never saw them."
"Yet you were able to reach Celeborn?" she asked, relieved, and caught his arm as they began walking toward the heart of the city. "Well done."
Amroth grimaced. "I did not reach him as much as he reached me. Once. Just once, near the end of the battle, when he instructed me to disengage." He lifted his eyes and looked at his mother's face, fearing that she would divine the implications.
She was gazing north, her countenance grim and troubled. "To disengage …" she said slowly. "How did he seem?" she asked, her voice keen.
"Weary. Worried. And he bid me give you his love."
"Did he?" she asked. Then she stopped her son and turned him toward her. He sighed and shook his head; he could not withstand her. He never could.
"He was not well," Amroth admitted, his voice low. "I fear that he was hurt." Galadriel exhaled softly and stepped away.
Amroth glanced sideways, absently studying the pattern of bark on the tree beside him. "Did you see that I brought Limnen with me?" he said, awkwardly interrupting the silence. "He may know more, if he lives to say it."
Galadriel turned toward her son again, and though her eyes were anguished, she smiled. "Have I remember to say to you that you did well? Have I remember to say that you are a light in my life and a delight of my soul? That my heart rejoices to see you standing before me again, fierce and safe?"
He returned her wan smile, and bowed.
"Go now and rest, my son," she said kindly, and turned aside. But as Galadriel withdrew, another took his hand.
"Welcome home, beloved," she murmured, and kissed him.
"I did not do enough for them, Nimrodel," he said angrily, speaking to her in the ancient language of her people. "My country is fallen, my father may be dead, and my mother weeps. What more could I have done?"
"Nothing," she said reasonably. "You have done all that can be done, for sorrow is the way of this world. But come," she said, pulling on his hand so he could not watch his mother's retreating back. "You must rest."
"Lady," Limnen said, riding up to Galadriel. "All is prepared; we await you."
Limnen moved easily now, no sign of injury upon him, for he had spent many unmoving weeks under the healing hands of the lady herself. She had been a gentle and welcome companion during those long days, and they had reminisced much about the wonders and sorrows of another age. Ultimately, though, their conversation had turned to Eregion.
"Even before we knew that Annatar was Sauron, Celeborn's power had grown again," Limnen told her one afternoon. "In the first years after the revolution, he lived nearly as an exile in his own land. We of the old guard watched out for him, and he was usually successful in evading the Mírdain. But while Celebrimbor could lead a revolt, I believe he found it more difficult to lead a country. I do not think he imagined the mundane details of food and trade, dispute and judgment, council and administration. He grew restless, especially as such duties took him away from his forges, and in time Celeborn quietly returned to his old ways."
"That must have irked him," Galadriel said.
"He was so obsessed by the rings at that point that I do not think Celebrimbor noticed," Limnen answered.
Galadriel smiled. "I would think so. But you mistook me; I was speaking of Celeborn."
Limnen laughed. "You are perceptive, lady. He would rather have left Celebrimbor twisting in the wind, and better still if the 'annoyances' of governing slowed the forging of rings. But Celeborn would not permit the people suffer in neglect, not while he had strength to prevent it."
"What of Annatar?" Galadriel queried.
"Annatar fumed, and hated Celeborn all the more. But he had misjudged. He could not demand Celeborn's expulsion, for then he would have faced a revolt of his own. He could not demand that Celebrimbor take a firmer hand, for that would have slowed the progress on the rings. And he would not take charge of Eregion himself, for he sought power by force, not by service. It is fortunate, lady, that your husband remained behind, for when Sauron revealed himself, he found that Eregion was not as soft as he needed it to be."
Limnen faltered then, his expression pensive. "Near the end, four of us walked the borders of holly: Celeborn, Calandil, Celebrimbor, and I, ere we three of Doriath turned to slow the din horde and Celebrimbor to oversee the evacuation. It was sunset. One of the most beautiful I had seen, for the sun was red and orange from dust in the sky -- dust thrown up by the army coming to destroy us. We said little; what indeed could be said? But before we parted, Celeborn turned toward Celebrimbor. 'Do not betray us,' he said, and his voice was as angry and as grieved as I had heard since Elu was slain. Celebrimbor bowed low, and caught his arm, and pulled him aside. I did not hear what words they exchanged."
"I suspect I know," Galadriel interjected quietly.
"Against all hope we rode out against the horde," Limnen continued. "We purchased time with our blood, though when we heard Elrond's horns from the horizon, we prayed that some of us would live."
Limnen paused for many long beats. "It was near the end of the battle, and we were pushing toward Elrond," he said at last, carefully choosing his words. "Celeborn's attention was spread thin -- to the refugees still streaming from our land, to Celebrimbor's body made a foul banner, to our forces, to Elrond's, to the horde, and he had not reserved enough of it to himself. Calandil and I knew it was so, but we could not move quickly enough when a troop of orc berserkers broke through our line. Some hours earlier Celeborn had caught a heavy blow to his chest and had been forced to loosen the fastenings on his armor. It is dangerous, but without doing so he could not breathe … ai, forgive me, lady …" Limnen said, and broke off, his voice grieved.
"The berserker's swing was wild, and desperate, and accursedly well placed," he continued when he had mastered himself. "Calandil killed the orc and caught Celeborn before he could fall and do further injury, but I fear it was serious," he admitted quietly. "Beyond this I do not know, for my next memory was waking on your son's horse. I do not know how I fell, much less whether my lord yet lives."
Galadriel had stilled as Limnen spoke, unmoving save her clenching hands. "Galadaran was able to reach him a day or so later, albeit briefly," she answered at length, and her voice was strange -- as if breaking waves lurked beyond the calm, deep inflection of her tone. "The army did reach Elrond, and then perhaps turned north. Beyond this, I also know nothing more."
"I pray that it is so, lady. The host held more than my dear friends; my sons fought with our army. I will seek them with you, when the time comes to learn their fates at last." Galadriel had nodded, and they did not speak of it again.
Both bore the years with outward patience, tucked in Amdír's oasis, but inwardly they chaffed. News was scarce indeed, and fourth-hand when it did arrive. They heard of a great siege to the north. "Of what land and what lord?" Galadriel had pressed, and the messenger shook his head. "They say that it is Elrond and the remnant of his army, pressed into the cliffs near the Bruinen," he said, "but perhaps not." Another rider brought a plea from Gil-galad from the edge of defeat, but Lórinanditself was overextended and unable to answer his cry for help. And then, tales came to them of moral men from across the sea, not like the dark, scrabbling men of these shores, but like unto elves. "Elros' people?" asked Galadriel, but there were no answers, and she had determined that at the first opportunity she would seek them for herself.
"Lady?" Limnen said again, breaking her reverie. As Galadriel, he was dressed for travel, but also subtly for defense. Sauron had been driven back to Mordor and most of his hosts destroyed, but wandering pockets of evil remained.
"I shall join you in a moment," she answered, and turned toward Amdír and her son, who waited to see her off. "Will you not reconsider, Amroth?" Galadriel asked, pausing with her hand on her horse before she alighted upon its willing back.
He shook his head, though he looked regretful. "Nay. My responsibilities keep me here. There are yet many orc on our borders; though they cannot enter in here, I would rather destroy them than permit them to slip away and wreck their terror on more helpless populations. But will you not reconsider? I worry that it is too early to pass through these battle-weary lands."
"I must go, my son," she said. "The same restlessness that compelled the journeys of my youth stirs me again." She paused, and a flicker of wry resignation in her eyes. "My heart is never long settled."
"And …" she continued, then fell silent.
"And?" her son prompted.
"I must know."
The wind that now skirted across Eregion was quick and dry, as if it dared not tarry in the barren land. To the south, the three great mountains bowed, weeping; Caradhras, Celebdil, and Fanuidhol remained fair and proud, but innocent no more, and their anger could not be assuaged. The stones of the road and of the cities, which had been so carefully wrought from the hearts of the mountains, lay tumbled and ruined. Even moss had not dared disturb their grief, and they sang softly of the elves: Gone, gone, they are gone! The land would try to forget, try to purge the elven blood. Great evil had marked it forever, and yet . . .
And yet, there was the faintest stir of hope in the air, a premonition of a tune unsung, a breath not yet taken. As if, when the bones of elf and orc were rotted to nothing and swept away by time, the birds might sing again. A country cannot wholly forget the elves that once dwelt there, and the gift of the elves to Eregion was this: though nevermore the home of speaking beings, when the echo of the footsteps of armies faded into silence, the land would foster new life where death had been. In time, perhaps, only the memory of life would remain, for, save the grey-green trunks of the holly-trees, there were no trees, no grass. Such is the mercy of time to things not yet, and if anything new grew again, it would not remember.
But such mercy is not given to things that are, and as Celebrían stood amid the ruin of the land where she had been born, she wept. Her mother stood beside her and said nothing, though her eyes were deep as she consecrated the ruin beside Valinor Darkened and Doriath Destroyed.
"I am sorry, my child," Galadriel said at last, as if the coarse wind had pulled the words from her. "We truly ended the first age in hope. Somehow, we told ourselves, we would rebuild a world where our sorrows would not be the repeated grief of our children. Our hope was vain, our strength as dust. Forgive us our folly." Her lips tightened as she gazed across the blasted land. "But do not forgive this."
"I fear this, mother," Celebrían said, her voice low, "but for many reasons. And not the least is this: Father would not have allowed it. He would not have turned his back and left the land to such desecration unless all hope was spent. What if he stayed beyond hope?"
Galadriel looked away.
"You do not know," Celebrían continued quietly. "You have neither words of peace nor of confirmation. Ever before you have traced his paths. Ever before have your thoughts been his, and his yours. What now is different?"
"Ruin," she said, looking again over the land. "And folly, perhaps."
"And what of the sea, my mother?" Celebrían asked, her voice breaking. "The sea that pulls you on? For I know it calls you to hither shores.
Galadriel gasped and closed her eyes. Then she opened them again, and forced them to the crumbling land she had once protected. "The sea will wait until the will that wrought this evil is conquered," she answered at last. Then she turned to her daughter with a smile hard-bought. "And there are other reasons to remain," she said, touching her daughter's cheek.
"Love?" Celebrían asked, and lifted her face as the hot wind caressed it. "Yet if he is not in this world, will you follow him in love's name?"
Galadriel did not answer.
"I have seen Amroth's love for Nimrodel," Celebrían continued quietly. "He desires nothing more than to stand beside her for all time. Yet I remember how you parted with Father, in ire, on these streets, aye, these very streets, now crumbled. Have you ever loved as my brother loves?"
Galadriel sighed. "Love is many things. It is possession, it is passion. It is also forgiveness, and compromise. And sacrifice. Always sacrifice. It is not in parting, or in staying, but in knowing which is required, and allowing it to be."
"That is not entirely an answer."
"Perhaps not. But you will understand, my daughter, in time."
Galadriel gazed with approval across the valley that the refugees had crafted into a home. The river tumbled mightily over a series of cliffs with an omnipresent roar, between dwellings and halls that seemed woven into the trees and were alternately visible or unseen at the will of the wind that stirred the leaves. Their party came to a halt outside a great hall, still in the midst of construction. Several elves crossed quickly through the courtyard, their expressions filled with wonder.
"Lady Galadriel!" the first elf exclaimed in surprise as he extended his hand to help her dismount. She smiled fondly down at him before taking his hand.
"Elrond," she said. "I thought that the beauty of this place seemed to be your handiwork."
"Not mine alone, lady," he answered. "Imladris is the hope of many souls and the work of many hands."
"Imladris …" she rolled the word appreciatively and squeezed his hands. "Elrond, my daughter Celebrían," she said, gesturing. Elrond smiled up at her and helped her to dismount. "Celebrían, this is Elrond Peredhil, of many houses and many lands."
Celebrían alighted beside him and answered with a smile of her own. He blinked. "Lady," he said, "I had thought that this valley was beautiful. But I see now that it is poor indeed beside your radiance."
Celebrían dropped her gaze, but it could not hide her deepening smile. When she lifted her eyes again he saw a twinkle of merriment in their depths. "You will have to show me more of your fair land, my lord, and we shall see if my grace can sustain your opinion," she teased.
"Gladly," he said, and laughed.
Galadriel looked upon them and shook her head, a ghost of a smile playing around her lips. "This is Limnen, the leader of our guard …" Galadriel began.
" … of Doriath, and Eregion," Elrond continued, clasping his arm. "I have heard your name, but did not expect to see you on this side of the sea. I shall send for your sons at once."
"They live?" he asked, his voice shaking.
Elrond nodded. "What of the rest of your host?"
"All seek someone," Galadriel said quietly, her expression somber. "My daughter and I come seeking Celeborn, if he can be found. My son said that he last perceived him in your company fleeing north from Eregion's ruin. We have found the north, and we have found you…" she trailed off, uncharacteristically hesitant.
Elrond frowned and nodded. "Unfortunately, you have come too late." He glanced up, and seeing a flicker of despair in her eyes, he hastened to continue. "He rode out four days ago with Glorfindel and Calandil. They are searching for elves scattered throughout the wilderness and for coteries of orc that may have escaped our vengeance. They will return, but I know not when."
Celeborn walked into his quarters, still a rough and undecorated suite of rooms in an as-yet unfinished corner of Imladris. He had taken nothing from Eregion but what he carried into the last battle; all of his personal possessions, save those that Galadriel had whisked away to Lothlorien, had been destroyed, and he had had but little time and no inclination to replace them. He tossed a bag into the corner before he had fully entered the room and was pulling his sodden tunic up over his head as he crossed the threshold. The foray into the wilderness had been quite productive, but for the last several days he had hunted orc in the slimy pits where they lurked. Cleansing the land was unquestionably dirty work, and he was looking forward to availing himself of some of Imladris' crashing water.
A gentle hand on his back nearly sent him leaping out of his skin, but even before he could whirl about, he knew the touch.
"Galadriel," he whispered reverently.
She looked at him, her expression one of supreme joy cut with tremulous uncertainty. She nearly wept at the sound of her name falling from his lips just as it had when he had first uttered it. "I'm sorry," she said softly, speaking, perhaps, of startling him.
He gaped at her. She was dressed in supreme simplicity, a light white gown clinging gently to the curves of her body. The wind from an open balcony stirred her unbound hair, and she lit the humble room with the soft divinity of her soul. He looked down at the filthy tunic that he held in his hands, and his mind stumbled dully over the puzzle of what he was to do with it. Throw it upon the floor? Twist it into knots? Pull it back on? Or, he thought savagely to himself, he could continue standing here with his mouth open, half-naked and maladroit.
Smiling faintly, she stepped forward and took the shirt from his nerveless fingers. She folded it neatly and set it aside.
"That," he said, and cleared his throat to banish his sudden hoarseness. "That is completely filthy."
"I care not," she whispered, and stepped near him again. She raised her hand and traced the lines of his bare torso without touching him. He nearly gasped at the tingle that ghosted across his skin in the wake of that gesture. Her face was drawn in concern, and she hesitated over new scars, which held untold tales of pain and weariness. And nearly, she perceived, very nearly his death. It was not something they would speak of; it was never something they spoke of. But she knew, nevertheless.
He sighed and dropped into a chair beside his work-table, then tilted his hand in a wordless request that she join him. She sat, and the furniture stood between them. She glanced idly across the table top, which held parchment filled with his crisp handwriting. Rough maps, the design and dimension of buildings, lists of names, all eminently practical. And like the room, and like the man who sat across from her with his head in his hands, joyless.
"You did not anticipate this meeting," she said. It was a guess; she could not feel him. She had not been able to feel him since the moment that Celebrimbor had placed a ring in her palm, not so bright as a Silmaril, but still a great work, for he alone had kindled the light within. At least, she thought that was the moment of sundering; Nenya had so captivated her that she had not noticed Celeborn's absence from her mind and soul for many weeks.
"No," he answered, lifting his head. "I did not." As ever, he did not dull the truth, especially when it cut deeply. "When did you arrive?" he asked, civilly, changing the subject.
"A fortnight hence. Celebrían came as well," she answered.
He glanced at her sharply. "What of Galadaran?" he asked, his voice tinged with sudden concern.
"He is fine," she soothed. "He had duties in Lórinandthat constrained him for this journey, but bid me to give you his love.
"How was the journey?"
Celeborn nodded, and was struck by the absurdity of the moment. Between their last parting and this day lay battle and siege, the fall of a realm and the rise of another, Celebrimbor's ring and the tension between them that followed. Interspersed among such epic events lay the beats of the days: rising, resting, working, fighting, worrying -- all lived without one another. Yet their first conversation after four centuries held little more than hollow pleasantries. The children. The trip. The laundry. Celeborn chuckled, though it was without humor, and ran his hand over his face. They had been apart before, but never before had the parting commenced in fear and deteriorated into silence.
He was done being silent. "I would like to see it, please," he said. His voice was mild, as tranquil as the surface of a hidden pool, and as difficult to read in judging the depths beneath.
She tensed. She had expected another round of inane delay before he got to the point. It had been too long, indeed, if she thought he would observe social niceties while there was an argument brewing. Though it seemed the hardest thing he had ever asked of her, she slowly pulled the ring off of her finger and set it on the table between them. He watched her actions, unmoving save his eyes, and did not stir to touch it.
"What am I, next to this?" he asked quietly
She nearly answered in despair and anger, prepared to counterstrike a blow of rejection. And then she paused. He was truly asking. His question was neither rhetorical nor defensive, though if she answered in kind, he had his answer. But for a moment, whether through the ring or the memory of their marriage, she knew his heart. It was unchanged, but he feared that hers was not, and would not force upon her something she did not desire -- including his love.
She plucked up her ring and slid it upon her finger before she stood. "You are beloved," she answered. He released a breath that she did not know he had been holding and came to stand beside her. She reached out, and her hand trembled, and she touched him, her fingertips barely grazing his face. He looked into her eyes, then, his own melancholy, and saw her torment: the sea.
"Ai, Galadriel," he whispered, and he kissed her, sweetly, gently, and wept through laughter. She did the same, pulled back, and reached to trace his brow. She gasped; a sob amid a smile, and his tears wet her fingertips. She closed her eyes, her expression fractured, and kissed him in return, moving her hands to his chest. His hands hovered near her waist; he did not touch her, as if he feared to touch a dream, but she could feel them, like sunshine on the breeze. With a surge of fierce joy she stepped nearer still, into his hands. He inhaled sharply and pulled her to him, tracing her lithe form from hip to breast.
"Where do we begin?" he murmured.
"Beyond all hope, we stand together again. Beyond miracles, we have all survived this horror. We begin anew," she whispered. Then more softly still, she invoked the words she had spoken to him so many centuries before: "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, O Manwë Súlimo, bless this union." They were words of promise and binding; she had first said them as she spoke them now -- without audience or ceremony, but with both love and resolution.
He was amused. She did not care; she could feel that he was amused, and it was enough. "Eru Ilúvatar, let us walk together," he said, now, as then, willing to do her will. Then his amusement evaporated, and he added, low and pained, "as long as we are able."
She bowed her head. "Your terms?" she asked.
"Nay," he answered. "Yours." He studied her for a long moment, then stepped away. She hesitated, doubtful and hurt. "I am going to find a quiet spot to wash the orc blood and mud from myself," he continued softly, extending his hand. "Come with me, and we will also see what can be done to wash away the troubles between you and I."
Dedication: This chapter is for Sphinx, who insisted.
On Eregion and War: There is a wide field spread out from the town of, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. It is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. After 141 years, the birds sing and the grass is green, for that is what birds and grass do. But there is still a hush in that place, a hallowed reverence that comes from the land itself. It is older than us all, and it remembers.
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them . . . And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, "
~ The Silmarillion
Chapter 4: The Nine
The man tilted one manicured, bejeweled hand. "Sit, please," he said, indicating the silk-covered chair opposite his own. "I think no lord of Númenor has been graced by so fair a guest."
"Most kind," the other answered, and did not dispute the point. He sat, his golden robes flowing around him, and the garish opulence of the room withered in the penumbra of his might. The man was awed by it, and not a little afraid. With a sniff to cover his unease, the lord snapped his fingers, and a cowering, thin worm of a boy leapt forward, all knees and feet and awkwardness. Wine splashed on his master's robes as he poured the drink with shaking hands, and he flinched away from a backhanded cuff, the edges of a diamond ring bloodying his face. Trembling, he bowed into the shadows.
The man casually caught his goblet and brought it to his lips. "There are rumors about you," he said over the rim after a brief sip.
The other chuckled richly and caught his host in a mock-glower. "Of course there are. And they are all true."
They laughed together. "And what," the man said, swirling his wine, "what may this humble man do for you, Lord Annatar?"
Annatar lifted an eyebrow and smiled faintly. "I have no patience for humble men. Great men, yes, fated men … but humble? A timid virtue for those who have not strength. I would not have come to a humble man."
The man inclined his head, pleased. In his youth, the man had been a minor noble in the house of the king, a cousin whose royal blood boiled at the injustice of his lesser birth. The king had sent him into exile long ago, under the pretense of granting his kinsman a royal fiefdom in Middle Earth. But he had gone willingly, eager to rule. Better still that it was in a land of elves, whom he revered and hated. He had loathed their pure faces, the fine visitors of Tol Eressëa, who were as eternally youthful and joyful is his days as the days of his father, and his father's fathers. Dominion here was sweet revenge.
Once, he himself had been elven-fair, but now was sliding into the abyss of age and opulence. His sight was dimmed, his eyes struggling ever more from within the pouches where they had sunk. His jowl quivered, its form lost in the relentless pull of years. Though his hands were still strong, grasping, his fingers were covered in rings rather than the calluses of sword and bow. 'Twas when he looked into the glass that he most despised the foolish ways of his ancestor, the coward who had given away the gift of immortality for the curse of time.
When he had first come to Middle Earth in the days of his youth, the man had sought Elrond Peredhil, hoping to find the qualities that Elros Tar-Minyatur had so obviously lacked. The half-elf had been difficult to find, but the man had succeeded at last, and had been awed by his first glimpse of the breathing legend, a living reincarnation of the portrait in the hall of the kings that he had so often brooded over. Equally angry and worshipful, he had sought Elrond's counsel, but was quickly disappointed. He had made nothing of his gift. Contemplative and mild, Elrond had spoken of peace and service, and had deftly turned aside the man's questions of immortality and power. Their audience rapidly deteriorated, and the man had turned away, disgusted. But at the end of the conversation, as Elrond had stood and dismissed the man with some meaningless twaddle, his eyes had flashed, deep and angry, and the man knew he seen what he had come to find. Later, he had railed at the injustice of it, the waste, but held dear the knowledge that those of the line of Eärendil could burn with the might of their birthright, had they the wit to embrace it.
Now across from him was one, at last, with such fire. Annatar smiled briefly, dangerously, and laced his fingers in front of his face. He studied the other for a moment, his eyes thoughtful and calculating. The man lifted his chin and returned the gaze. "No. There is not humility in you," Annatar said at last, and with a casual shrug placed a small, cunningly carved box upon the table between them. "A token, then, from a neighbor and admirer, if you have the strength to take it."
The man sat upright in his chair and licked his lips. "What is it?" he asked, and carefully set down his glass so that it did not fall from his trembling fingers, which betrayed him more often in these years.
Annatar leaned back in his chair and stroked the rim of his goblet, commanding silver cries from the fine crystal. "Power," he said, and leaned suddenly forward to slide the box forward, his long finger adorned only by a simple band. The man felt the word twine sinuously through his mind. "Dominion," the voice continued, lustful, rapturous. "Control. Immortality. Open it."
The man shifted in his chair, seared with the desire of it. He rolled the box's latch between his fingers and it opened to him. From within spilled a single ring, and it glittered, even in the subtle light of the room, its gem catching and outshining all the trappings of wealth and power that surrounded it. He saw his own reflection in the band, drawn thin and tall in the eternal round.
"What price do you demand for so great a gift?" the man whispered, closing his hand around it, and gasped raggedly as it touched his skin.
Sauron smiled. "I seek your assistance on a small matter."
"Say on," the man said recklessly, and threw back his wine with his free hand.
"I shall be lord of this world," Sauron said.
The man choked. "That is … most blunt."
Sauron waved in dismissive irritation. "You do not have the time for charmed words, aged one, and I do not have the patience."
"Forgive me, lord," the man said, and he knew he smelled of sweat and fear. "I am merely trying to understand. The world … all the world?"
Sauron stood with a snort. "I see I have misjudged you. Farewell. Die quickly," he said, and moved to take the ring.
"Nay," the man beseeched, and clutched the ring to his breast. "Valinor as well?"
Sauron sat again with a dangerous smile. "That is better. Yes, Valinor as well."
"Mmm," the man said, feigning deep thought. "What of the Valar?"
Sauron threw back his head and laughed loud and long. "You still fear them?" he asked when he had mastered himself. "The pretenders who shroud themselves in mystery and hide in the mountaintops? They, who demand undeserved worship from their less-favored children? They have no care for you; you should have none for them."
The man nodded slowly. "And Ilúvatar?"
The golden lord rolled his eyes in pitiable disdain. "An old myth, a dead idol. Do you have any more callow questions?" Their careful flirtation had disappeared in the face of Sauron's irritation, and the man frowned, insulted. He would have stood in a rage and cast the shoddy bauble at the feet of this contemptuous scoundrel … but it would not hurt to forbear …
Sauron walked out of the audience, the clear air brushing away the fumes of incense and opium that the fat fool used to ease his aches. A slave to the needs of his addictions, this one would break quickly, unraveling from his body while retaining all the agonies of its cravings. Exquisite. He lifted his face and sneered at the stars while Eärendil passed angrily overhead, powerless, chained by the indifference of his keepers. It was all intensely amusing.
"Boy," he said, gesturing to the shadow lurking at the corner of the building, sullen. Frightened. Enthralled. "Do you hate him?" he asked, reaching out with a casual finger to etch a line in the thick blood upon the fair youth's cheek before tenderly brushing a lock of unruly dark hair from his eyes.
The boy lifted his smoldering glare, dark with the roiling passion and turmoil of youth.
"Good," the dark lord continued languidly, holding the gaze. "Yes, lovely," he said softly, tracing the boy's jaw before pressing a small band into his palm. "Now, come with me."
The boy followed.
"I did not expect to find you standing on the shore," Calandil said, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with his old friend.
"The day reminds me of another I once saw," Celeborn answered after a moment, reluctant, his gaze long. "As drab, as cold. One of my earliest memories; I could not have had more than a double handful of years. I remember standing on the shore, ankle deep in the ocean, and it was a day like this, with the mist, and the oppressive gray, and my grandfather was holding my hand. Tightly, desperately, as if he feared the sea might sweep me away. I looked up at him, I remember. He seemed as tall as a tree. Do you know, Calandil, I don't know how tall he was? I do not know if I would look him in the eye, or tower above him, or if I would still need to look up to see his face. He was gone before …"
Celeborn shook his head.
"I looked up at him, and he was utterly silent, but there were tears streaming down his face." Celeborn lifted his hand and absently rubbed his jaw. "They were coursing off of his chin, off of his cheeks, and falling into the sea."
"The final sundering of the Teleri?" Calandil asked quietly.
"It must have been," Celeborn answered, and turned to face his friend. "And the sea always renews the grief."
"It is good, then, that we will not be staying in Edhellond," Calandil answered. "The southern peninsula has enough of the sea to calm Galadriel's heart, and enough of the forest to calm yours."
"You have never asked me 'why Belfalas?'" Celeborn said suddenly. "You have never asked me why I would move my family, my people to this damp edge of oblivion."
"I do not need to ask," Calandil said. "Particularly because I know that the answer is not entirely clear even to you. Galadriel wills it, and you trust, and that is enough for me, as ever it has been. Now come, ancient one," Calandil teased gently. "There will be time enough to contemplate the sea. We ride for Imladris."
It was good to be back in the generous woods of Rivendell, Celeborn thought later, even if the return was temporary. His first introduction to these fierce, merry trees had been in an hour of great need as they harbored his ragged people, the exhausted and grieved refugees of Eregion.
He recalled, through distant, red-tinged memory, that they had straightened his back and strengthened his wavering soul, even as his body had strained on the foggy edge of collapse. Through the long siege those young, pure trees had been their staunchest allies, and they had quickly learned to fight evil with the malicious mischief of their Elders. The trees had suffered in those days, as had they all, but had exchanged innocence for wisdom and healed into a sly, hale weald.
He would miss them. He had spent these last weeks on the shore, preparing to relocate his household, though after a few dark days surrounded by the brooding omnipresence of the surf, had been ready to ride back to Imladris and inform Galadriel that if she wished to live near the sea, she could so without him. Fortunately, he had found a worthy compromise: a spur of land jutting into the Bay of Belfalas just down from the elf-haven of Edhellond, and thus very nearly surrounded by the sea that Galadriel so longed to hear, but also inhabited by an ancient forest that immediately soothed Celeborn's riled soul. The forest by the sea was not as buoyantly loquacious as the trees in the mountains at Imladris, but it reminded him poignantly of the earnest, mist-wrapped groves of his childhood.
While smaller and lesser known than Círdan's havens at Mithlond to the north, the havens of Edhellond was far older. Elves had first come to the bay in the now-distant First Age -- sailors fleeing the destruction of Falas so long ago. As the First Age crumbled into the Second, a remnant of the people of Doriath had immigrated to the southern haven to escape the Noldor influence, and for the last two millennia, the population had been bolstered by adventurous Silvan seeking the sea.
Celeborn had been gladly welcomed by the elves of Edhellond, many his distant kin or acquaintances of old, and their joy when he told them he hoped to move his family nearby had been embarrassingly overwhelming. Several had been prepared to declare Celeborn and Galadriel the de facto Lord and Lady of Belfalas then and there. He had demurred, but some would not be dissuaded. Even those of Doriath who had distrusted Galadriel long ago were willing to overlook the unfortunate nature of her Noldor heritage. Besides, they were quick to point out, she was half Teleri, was she not? and so kin. Any treachery in her blood could be overlooked in light of her valiance in Middle Earth. It had been amusing to hear them accept her now as they had not before -- and sad, for he had hoped the old prejudices had drowned with their lost land.
With the preliminary matters arranged, Celeborn now rode back to Imladris, where he had dwelt since Eregion's fall, and where Galadriel and Celebrían had joined him for these many centuries. It was time to move on, time for Elrond to lead without feeling that he owed them the courtesy of consultation on all matters of state. That Galadriel wished to dwell near the sea did not surprise him; that she wished to move to sparsely populated Belfalas instead of Mithlond had. But she had been adamant, and he was willing to be swayed.
"My Lord," a voice intruded on his musing. "There is a contingent of men about to intersect our path. Do you wish us to remain unseen?"
Celeborn frowned, dismissing his brief annoyance in favor of more pressing concerns. "What type of men?"
"Númenoreans by their look and speech."
The lord laughed softly. "If you were near enough to hear their speech, you were near enough to hear what they said. Tell me."
The scout smirked. "They seek Imladris. But they seem to be … lost."
"Permit them to see you and several others of the patrol. The rest of us will remain unseen, but strategically present." Celeborn leveled a severe gaze at the other. "I wish to know more. Be unthreatening, Calandil."
"As you say," he answered, though his voice was light with mischief, then gestured to three elves to join him and turned purposefully toward the company of men, lifting his voice in a bawdy song that lilted playfully in the ancient Doriathian dialect in which it had first been sung. Celeborn was no longer certain, but he was fairly confident that he had himself written it to entertain his weary troop on some dreary march before the time of the sun.
Celeborn shook his head in longsuffering and faded into the trees.
It did not take long for the wandering mortals to stumble into the clearing, for their sojourn in the wilderness had been frustrating search for the elves rumored to live in the mountains. They fell in around Calandil, their expressions nearly reverent, though a hint of envy and fear lurked in their eyes. The song ended and Calandil turned placidly toward the men, his smile the only acknowledgement he gave them.
At last, one of the men cleared his throat. "Hail and well met, Master Elf," he said, his Sindarian shifting softly on Andunic tonalities.
"Hail and well met, Galador, man of Numenor, captain of the guard" Calandil answered promptly.
"How did you …?" the man started, for Galador he was, but Calandil lifted his hands, a beatific and mysterious legend from nearly-forgotten tales.
"You are in the woods of Imladris," he answered, "where many things are known."
"Imladris …" the man breathed. "We are near it, then?"
"We have sought it long, and were nearly despaired of finding it. Will you guide us there?" Galador replied.
"Yea. Or nay. Why do you seek it?"
"Do you not see our purpose?" the man asked, regaining his bearings. "I thought that this was wood of Imladris, in which many things are known."
Calandil revised his opinion of the man. He was no simpleton, no brute who had forgotten that he was a child of the One, but a proud youngling aware of his own worth. Calandil met the arrogant gaze with the full measure of age and wisdom in his own. "Perhaps I do know, and question to hear if truth falls from your lips," he answered levelly.
Galador could not long withstand him, and chastened, dropped his eyes and his pride. The man studied the palms of his hands, then lifted his head, his face weary. "We are told that great wisdom dwells in Imladris. Great age, and eyes that have seen most of the years of this world. We seek counsel, master elf, though it is hard thing to ask."
"'Tis true, what you have been told," Calandil said. "In fair Imladris there is great wisdom, and great patience, for the Wise suffer vain seekers and fools with kindness. I am less wise, less patient, less kind than they. I am not convinced of the urgency of your cause nor of the need to bring you on straight paths when you may learn more in seeking wisdom by longer roads."
The man smiled bitterly. "Would that we men had such time. And even the time we have been given in the circles of this world is wrenched from us, for in recent months our settlements and cities have been beset by an evil we have not seen and a terror we can scarily fight. Like unto men," he said, his voice low and horrified. "Yet a twisted mimicry of our own natures."
Calandil did not permit the man to see his sudden concern. "Surely you do not bring us tales of orc?" he said, light and mocking.
"No!" the man replied vehemently. "Orc are dangerous and frightening, with power from their arms and numbers. And pitiable. But these of which I speak of are no orcs! Their strength is strange and familiar, their terror complete."
"Enough, Calandil," a voice spoke from the trees, and the men startled as a hidden troop of elves stepped into the clearing, utterly surrounding their small band. Galador fingered the hilt of his sword, his palms damp with sudden fear. "Peace," the voice spoke again, and a figured stepped forward, seeming to materialize from the empty space before the man's very eyes. He gave a dismissive gesture and most of his compatriots bowed and disappeared again. "I am Celeborn," he said mildly, and waved for them to sit. The elf reclined gracefully at the base of the tree, enthroned by the grove.
The man struggled to calm his wild heart and knew he could do nothing about his agape expression. He breathed deeply. "Your name is known to us, Lord. You are one we hoped to find."
"You have found me," the other rumbled, and Galador looked up sharply. Surely that was not humor in his voice? The elf's face was placid and his eyes unreadable, but there was a faint deepening in his expression as he spoke on. "Your words concern me. We will guide you to Imladris, for there are others there who may be able to counsel you better. But first tell me of your enemy, that we may all begin to think on the question you have brought."
The man shook off his wonder and puzzlement. "It began some months ago," he said crisply, for here was one, he knew, with whom he would never find equality, but from whom he could hope to earn respect. "A feeling that our cities were being watched, our people hunted. There were terrible cries in the night, and strange tales of an encompassing fear. I am uncertain when we first saw our enemy, but the description is certain. They are tall, with the form of men, shrouded in black. Their faces we do not see. They are as … " he grasped at the air, struggling mightily to explain the black fear. "They are not so much living beings as they are as shadows given form, horror birthed into substance. Our darkest nightmares standing before us in waking terror." The man shrugged helplessly, aware that his words seemed overwrought hyperbole. Yet 'twas truth.
Celeborn frowned and brought steepled fingers to his lips. "Strange…" he whispered, then focused his gaze on the man. "You have seen them," he said. It was not a question.
The man bowed his head in shame. "Is my fear writ so clearly?" he murmured.
"I know what it is to fear," Celeborn said quietly, his voice pitched for the captain's ears alone. "I know what it is to agonize for your people, to mourn the graves of children. The burden is what is written in your eyes." He raised his voice. "They are accompanied by a cloud of horror, you say? And so they are not merely wild and strange creatures. Not dwarves, not waking trees, not small folk, not beast of the forest?"
"No, lord," the man said, regaining his composure in the familiar cadence of a scout's report. "Many a marvel dwells in this remarkable land. Some are dangerous, I know, but not actively malevolent. Our enemy is such."
"Orcs, trolls, goblins, wargs?" Celeborn asked, anticipating the answer.
Galador shook his head.
"Not a dragon?"
"I …" the man hesitated. "I have not seen a dragon. I did not know they existed beyond tales to frighten children. But no. These have the form of men."
Celeborn grimaced. "A balrog, perhaps?"
"A servant of Morgoth from the deep years. Shadow and flame," Celeborn replied.
"Shadow certainly. Flame, no … unless you are being metaphorical?"
"No, I speak it quite literally. You would know it, if that is what you saw." Celeborn shared a bemused look with his lieutenant and settled his chin into his hand, his eyes distant. "What numbers do you face?" he asked slowly. "One? Two? A legion?"
The elf lord, who had previously been a study in meditative repose, surged suddenly to his feet. Startled, Galador threw himself backward, flopping gracelessly as his palms hit the ground behind him.
"Nine?" Celeborn asked, and the men paled at the sound of dread echoing in an immortal voice. He looked down on Galador, the very weight of his ancient gaze pinning the man to the earth. "Are you certain?"
"Reasonably so," he croaked, his voice catching in his dry throat. "The timing of the attacks and reports of eyewitnesses all indicate nine. And never more than nine have been seen at once, though a full gathering seems rare. Lord, do you know our enemy?"
Celeborn sat down again, a weary weight evident in the lines of his shoulders. "Perhaps, though it would be best to consult with Galadriel and Elrond in Imladris. But if my guess is correct, this is a new evil, one that we have never fought nor faced, though our errors may have had a part in their making. You bring me fearful tidings, man of Númenor, which confirm a dread long held and the prospect of agony in later days I do not wish to face. And a warning, though I am certain we shall not heed it." Celeborn sighed, and for one mad moment, Galador did not envy him his immortality. Far better, perhaps, to fight to the end of one's strength and then fly beyond the world, than forever trudge its churning circles
A/N: My deep apologies for the length of time between chapters. Just as the chapter was starting to come along well, I fell off a cliff. And not a metaphorical one. It took fourteen screws to put my foot back together, and between the pain and the drugs, the muses were utterly silent. Things are better now; many thanks for the well wishes of so many of you. I'm quite hopeful that the next chapter won't be interrupted by broken bones.
"The Three were not made by Sauron, nor did he ever touch them . . . But all that has been wrought by those who wield the Three will turn to their undoing, and their minds and hearts will become revealed to Sauron, if he regains the One. It would be better if the Three had never been. That is his purpose."
- The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring
Chapter 5: The Three
The page, a young elf, tapped on the frame of the door to Celebrían’s chambers. "Lady," he said, "have you seen Master Elrond?" Given the amount of time they spend in company together, he rather suspected she had.
"I am here," Elrond said, rising from a chair across the room.
The page bowed. "Master, Celeborn has returned. He bids you attend him …" the page paused judiciously. "As soon as is possible." Elrond nodded, and with another quick bow the other dashed away.
Celebrían laughed. "Methinks the boy did not deliver the message quite as my father gave it," she said.
"No," Elrond said slowly, his voice amused. "Far more likely that the command was 'Get Elrond. Now.'" Then a heaviness descended in his face. "Yet I have never known him to speak without reason, and I doubt that he simply seeks to prevent me from further distracting your packing."
Celebrían smiled ruefully at the clothing and half-wrapped parcels spread around her chambers, untouched since Elrond had entered some hours before. He was rather distracting, in the most pleasant way. "Go on then," she said, shooing him out with a smile. "Before my father comes looking for you."
Elrond hesitated at the door as she turned back to her packing. He thought again of asking her not to leave for Belfalas, but to stay here, with him. How pleasant it would be to hear her laughter in the halls, and to wake every morning to her face … he shook himself, appalled at his own presumption, and levered himself out into the corridor. He rounded a corner and, seeing Galadriel ahead of him, hastened to fall into step beside her.
"Do you know what this is about?" he asked, not bothering with pleasantries or preamble. He had learned long ago that such things were not necessary. Though Galadriel and Celeborn could summon grave formality to strengthen quailing hearts, such things were not the true expression of their power. Inheritance and necessity had pressed the position upon them, yet both were the youngest children of youngest children -- noble, yes, but more accustomed to walking among the people as emissaries while their elders grappled with the politics. Though those elders were dead or gone this long age hence, neither had quite forgotten what they had been born to be.
"What this is about? New battles, and old ones," Galadriel answered him cryptically. Elrond grimaced in dissatisfaction. Such answers were also a remnant of lineage, he was sure. One became accustomed to speaking in riddles when one knew more than one was permitted to say. And one became accustomed to patience when dealing with them. Elrond did not quite sigh, and composed himself for whatever would come. He gloried for a moment on the sunshine that flitted across his face as it darted between the trees and in the merry arpeggio of a bird singing counterpoint to the Bruinen's steady bass.
A moment later, they stepped from the airy corridors into a courtyard filled by men. Númenoreans, without question. They were composed, but quite clearly awestruck, and a little frightened. One was in quiet conversation with Celeborn as Galadriel and Elrond stepped to his side.
"This man has news," Celeborn said after murmuring introductions, "that you should hear privately."
"My study?" Elrond asked, and both Celeborn and Galadriel nodded. "I will see to the lodging of these men, and join you there.
Elrond caught a steward's arm, his mind distant even as he spoke the necessary instructions. Númenoreans had come to Imladris before, of course. Several had had the look of Elros graven in their faces. Several had been quite disappointing. Many had come seeking advice or adventures. But these men had a glaze that Elrond had seen too many times before -- the look of refugees, and of dread. It did not bode well.
When Elrond came to his study, he breathed deeply, stepped over the threshold, and closed the door firmly behind him.
"They are men," Elrond said at the end of the tale, his voice resigned.
Galador lifted his head. "How can they be men?" he asked, begging the three great and terrible elves who sat with him to say otherwise. "I have known evil men. Foul men, twisted men, murderers and ravagers. And even they, the darkest of men, do not have the power and terror of these creatures. What could do this to a man?"
"There is a land, now ashes," Celeborn answered after some moments of heavy silence, his voice low and pained. He gestured at Galadriel. "A land where we were once stewards, in which dwelt a great craftsman of the elves. He was never my friend, but this I know: he knew the power of longing, of dreams, for he had seen them consume all his kin. Though he was as obsessed and stubborn as they, he hoped to refocus this great power for good, to re-channel the skill of his family to create gifts for the world. "
Galadriel smoothly continued the recitation: "Among these gifts were nine rings for the world of men. Yet his faith was deceived, and the rings came under the dominion of evil. We had hoped that they were lost, but it seems not so. The power of purpose is become the power of ambition, the power of hope is become the power of greed. Your enemy is your own worst natures, made slave to Sauron."
Galador lifted his face and trembled. "How could you have permitted this!" he cried as he sprang to his feet, his rage and fear carrying him far beyond any line of propriety.
"Sit down," Celeborn said coldly, thumping the table with an empathetic gesture. The man sat. Celeborn glanced at his companions and leaned forward. "We did not create the rings. We did not condone them. We do not bear …" he smiled grimly and continued with careful specificity "the Nine. We have paid for them with our blood an hundred fold, and we will fight this evil long after your children's children are dead."
Galadriel lightly placed her hand on her husband's. "We all speak in grief and fear," she said to Galador, though she did not remove her hand. "We all mourn the marring of our world and the end of our peace."
Galador bowed his head. "How do we fight them, Lady?" he asked.
"I do not know," she answered. "But this I will say. The tools of these ring-wraiths are hatred and malice, fear of death, and lust for dominion. Replaced such things with love, with bravery, with humility, and perhaps they will lose their power over you."
"Easier it would be to raise stars in the sky, Lady," the man said in despair.
"That has been done," Elrond said with a faint smile. "You do not stand alone; we will not forsake you nor Middle Earth until this evil and its master is undone."
Galador bowed his head. "I pray that your faithfulness is enough."
Elrond sighed. "Alas, it is not. But go now and rest. We will speak of this later, if you wish it."
The man stood and bowed before withdrawing. New battles, Elrond thought to himself before he glanced at Celeborn. "It seems we have a new enemy," he said, consciously attempting to muscle the conversation away from the roiling subtext that had underscored the Númenorean's report. "Unfortunate, as we have not yet learned what to do with the enemies we already had."
"I am less concerned about mannish ring-wraiths than I am other matters," Celeborn said heavily. Elrond dropped his head. And old battles. Naturally. It ever seemed their way to re-fight what had merely been paused, not won, even with one another.
"Will you now heed me?" Celeborn continued. "Or will you permit the possibility of a greater horror remain in the world? Will you guard the chains of your own slavery? Will you not destroy them?" He looked at the closed faces before him and pushed angrily away from the table.
"He feels strongly about this," Elrond commented ironically as the door swung shut again, with considerably more force than was needful.
"Indeed," Galadriel said with a sigh. "He blames himself much that the rings were ever made, and for Eregion's fate. And he dreads what may yet be required." She smiled sadly and followed him out.
Now alone in the room, Elrond indulged the groan that had been swelling since he had been rousted from Celebrían's fair presence. How much more pleasant, he thought, to have stayed with her, than to do this again. He well remembered the conversation -- ha! fray -- that had taken place in this very room, over this very subject, centuries earlier.
The king and his allies had come to Imladris at last, crushing Sauron's army between his forces and the vengeful residents of the hidden vale. There had scarcely been time to murmur words of relief and thanks before Gil-galad had gathered them into a private meeting. Gil-galad had swept aside Elrond's usual bookish clutter and placed Narya and Vilya on the table, Elrond remembered, two incongruous bands that, it seemed, should have shattered the table for the weight they gathered around them.
More hesitantly, Galadriel placed Nenya beside them. Elrond had been surprised … nay, not surprised. Although he had not known that Galadriel guarded one of the rings he had suspected it was so. It certainly explained some of Celeborn's more irritating behavior since the founding of Imladris. Eregion's injured lord had survived the exodus, barely, and it had been many weeks before he had been coherent enough to answer Elrond's questions. Though the tale was a hard one, Celeborn had told it, but when pressed about the rings or Galadriel, he begged off on grounds of weariness. Later, when he was well, he had merely stalked off.
"And so," Gil-galad had said, spreading his hands wide on the table, "what do we do?"
"A moment," Celeborn growled from where he sat at the opposite end, his arms folded across his chest. "This is premature. I still believe we should involve Amdír and Oropher in this. It touches them as well as us."
"My heart tells me the fewer people that know of this, the better. I would have excluded you, old friend, if you had not already known," the king said apologetically. "Now … "
"Amdír may know all ready," Celeborn interrupted. "My kinsman is no fool, and Nenya dwelt in his realm for many years. And if Oropher finds out he was excluded …"
"Nevertheless …" Gil-galad said, his voice cooling.
" … moreover," Celeborn continued, "it is unwise to disregard their voices."
"I suspect you speak for them," Gil-galad returned, truly annoyed. "Indeed, you have spoken enough for three already. The matter is closed, and we will proceed."
Celeborn leaned back, his eyes narrowing. "They are your allies, Ereinion," he said in a voice over-smooth. "As am I."
"I see three options," Elrond said, leaping into the conversation before Celeborn could launch a coup. The sovereignty of the kindreds was not the issue today. Fortunately Elrond knew there was a substantive issue that could distract the ancient Sinda from this well-worn tangent; unfortunately, it would be a greater battle. "Keep the rings, send them over the sea, or destroy them." Elrond braced himself and spoke on. "I must admit, I am inclined toward the first."
Across the table, Celeborn shook his head in frustration. "No. No. They should be destroyed."
"Why?" Elrond asked, ignoring the look of combined gratitude and annoyance that Gil-galad shot him.
"Because they have been marked by evil."
"It was my understanding that Sauron had no part in their making," Gil-galad countered, and pushed off the table. He clasped his hands behind his back and paced, as if measured steps would reveal the path ahead.
"He did not touch them, true," Celeborn said, twisting in his chair as the king came behind him. "But he was entwined in their conception. In knows they exist, and he would have them. This is the very reason he destroyed Eregion, the reason for this war."
"There is a very important point here," Elrond said. "Sauron desires the rings. Does he know where they are?"
Celeborn sighed. The damned Peredhel was Maia-like in his ability to direct the conversation, but it was too late to go back. Luthien had always been able to do this to him, and Melian. "The Nine are almost certainly in Sauron's hands. They were in Ost-in-Edhel when the city fell. As for the Seven and Three … Celebrimbor was tortured to his death. He may have well have revealed their secrets ere he died."
"He did not reveal the Three," Galadriel replied, adamant.
"We heard his screams, Galadriel!" Celeborn replied, rounding on her in grief and anger. "Even across the battlefield, I could hear the kind of agony I would not wish on my dearest enemy, and could see them post his … unneeded … parts on pikes as Sauron searched for his prize. It was beyond horror. How could I witness that, and not wonder if he had betrayed you, if only for the promise that his death would come sooner?"
"He did not betray us," Galadriel answered.
"You cannot be certain of that," Celeborn said.
"Yes, I can be, for many reasons. And one is this: what happened after Celebrimbor's cries ceased?"
Celeborn frowned at her, then shook his head in curt denial. "I do not know. I fell wounded shortly after."
"Exactly," Galadriel said quietly, catching his hand urgently in her own. "You have not spoken of it to me, but from others I have learned that a troop of orc came directly for you. Through the lines of your soldiers, through the weary refugees, they came for you. Why, Celeborn? Why, after Celebrimbor's death, would Sauron seek for you, whom he so often disregarded? If Celebrimbor died with the secret of the Three, who else on the battlefield was likely to know where they were hidden?"
Celeborn glanced away, his face somewhat gray, but Galadriel reached up and turned his face toward hers. "Would you have betrayed them? Me?" Celeborn looked into her eyes, not caring that the others were watching, and shook his head minutely.
"Celebrimbor loved me also," Galadriel continued softly. "And the Three were his greatest work and greatest love. He did not betray them; he took the secret to his death." For his ears only, she whispered, "Thank Elbereth for Calandil, that you did not have to do likewise."
Celeborn cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, shaken.
Elrond was not above pressing the advantage. "Further, we do not even know if the rings can be destroyed, nor how to do so."
"We have not tried," Celeborn cried, swiftly collecting his composure. "Let us try. A fire burns here; shall I cast them in?" and he moved to sweep the Three into his palm.
With a cry that Elrond would have described as rage, had he not known better, Gil-galad and Galadriel surged forward; beside him, Galadriel caught Celeborn's hand in a white-knuckled grip and Gil-galad seized his shoulder from behind, his fingers clamped on a pressure point.
Across the table, Elrond's heart clenched in his breast, and he felt as if it were he who had been immobilized. He watched the muscles in the other's neck stand out as he tested the resolve of the ring-bearers, and the flash of pain in his face as they made their answer. He looked pointedly across at Elrond, then relaxed back into the chair, tipping his free hand in surrender.
He was immediately released, and his erstwhile captors looking mildly ill. Celeborn discretely rolled his shoulder and Gil-galad came to sit down again. Elrond dared a look at his king's face, which was dark and concerned as he contemplated the rings.
"There are…" Gil-galad cleared a rasp in his throat. "There are too many unanswered questions," he said slowly. "We do not even know what power Sauron would have over the rings. Does the One Ring give him strength only when the rings are used? What happens when they are dormant? Can he control the ring-bearers, can he see their hearts and works, or could a strong bearer withstand him? Why does he want the rings? This is a question we cannot answer, and until we can, it is folly to throw them away."
Celeborn stared at him, dumbfounded. "Yes, Ereinion. Clearly, they have no power over their keepers, and Sauron desires them because he thinks they would be a pleasant counterpoint to the décor at Barad Dûr."
"Enough, Telpë," Círdan said mildly, speaking for the first time from where he stood against a bookcase. He was the eldest of the old in Middle Earth, and alone of all the Eldar, the weight of time radiated from his eyes into an aging face.
"Surely, Círdan, you cannot believe that we should keep them," Celeborn said, lowering his head into his hands. "So long as the rings survive, we put our people and ourselves at risk of great agony. And for what? We cannot wield them so long as Sauron holds the one ring, for fear of the consequences. Indeed, even if we could use them openly, they were not made to be weapons. This interminable fight shall be hard enough without fearing the unknown in our midst."
"I believe they have a purpose yet," the Shipwright answered. "For good or ill I cannot say."
"I would rather not learn," Celeborn said softly. "What of sending them over the sea?"
"And pass our problems onto others?" Círdan said with an ironic lilt. "How very Vala-like of you, kinsman."
"There is a symmetry in it," Celeborn growled. "If they had finished this in the first place, we would not be here."
Gil-galad stood with an overwrought sigh. "Elbereth save us from old battles." The humor was sour, but the best he could muster. "I shall keep Narya. Galadriel, Nenya is obviously yours; 'twas made for you. But Vilya …"
"Do not dare," Celeborn said dully, not looking up.
Gil-galad lifted an ironic eyebrow as he appraised him. "Clearly not," he said, and turned to Elrond.
In the silence of his study these many years later, Elrond fingered the Ring of Air, which hung unseen around his neck. 'What power could the One ring have over the others?' they had wondered. Now they knew. Ring-wraiths, Galadriel had called them, the horror of their people. To fight the strange and deadly was terrible enough; to fight the familiar was magnitudes worse.
Of course, if the Three fell to the Dark Lord, that would not concern Elrond in the least.
"Galadriel and Celeborn together with Celebrían departed from Imladris and went to the little-inhabited lands between the mouth of the Gwathló and Ethir Anduin. There they dwelt in Belfalas, at the place that was afterwards called Dol Amroth; there Amroth their son at times visited them."
~ The Unfinished Tales
Chapter 6: Belfalas Interlude
The waves soothed her. The cool air drawn off the vast sea was rich with their rolling bass and the syncopated cry of the gulls. Eons of evening mists were moored deeply in the beach, which, churned by the unending surf, spoke more with the voice of water than of land. She had always loved the sea, and even the horror at Alqualondë had not banished the blissful memories of a distant youth in her grandfather's home, of giddy races over the sand and hunting for shells in the tide pools. They had found hundreds of them, Artanis and her brothers, gleaming with perfect whiteness under the brilliant light of the trees.
When they had first come to Belfalas, Celeborn had humored her and walked the beach at her side, a small smile on his face as she told him of joyful moments in that far-off land. Galadriel walked the beaches every day, but after those first days, she often walked them alone. Her husband did not feel the peace in standing at the edge of something unconquerable and, knowing it was so, accepting its magnificence. He would no doubt be distressed by the metaphor, but he himself was not unlike the sea. Temperamental, dangerous when underestimated, and often stormy, they were, Galadriel admitted to herself, the two things she had never attempted to rule, and the two places where she was truly home.
And so, naturally, they did not get along.
Evening padded softly after her as she walked, filling her footsteps with the winter mist. Turning away from the billows, she climbed the long path to their manor high above on the bluff. Initially, she and Celeborn had intended this secluded abode, perched between sea and forest, to be a merely second home. They had another, far grander, in the midst of Edhellond's bustle, for the elves of the haven had insisted. They did spend some time in the city, engaged in the affairs of judgment, trade, and statesmanship that they could never seem to escape. But the grind of the years had depleted them both, and more often, they left Celebrían to contend with the burgeoning population and retreated here, to a nameless place, to breathe and rest.
She came in from the thickening cold, pricked with points of dew, to a hall flickering with yellow heat. From beside the fire, Celeborn glanced up at her as she came in and, with a smile that might have been for her salt-stiffened hair, or merely the joy of seeing her, bent again over his work.
The image caused her heart to falter. He seemed a graven monolith of the past as he stood, hands splayed out before him, silhouetted by the flames as he leaned over a long table covered with maps -- the look of a general who would not needlessly give up to his enemy one inch of the land he loved. Peace, she calmed herself as she neared, and the picture before her resolved into a far gentler scene. He was arrayed in robes, not armor, his hair loose, not in a warrior's braids. The tokens that he used to trace the movements of armies of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, remained in their drawstring pouches, and even across the room, she could hear him softly singing.
"Tea?" he asked, looking up again as she came beside him.
"Please," she said gratefully as she sank into a chair at the table. "It is a cold night."
He held up a flask of Imladris miruvor and lifted his eyebrows in unspoken question; she nodded and he added a generous measure to her tea.
"How is the sea tonight?" he answered, handing it to her with a ripple of amusement in his voice. "Large? Damp?"
She reveled in the warmth of the chalice and the touch of his fingers upon her own. "Beautiful," she answered.
"Are not we beset by fog?" he asked, straightening to see out a window.
"Need I remind you that neither beauty nor love change merely because we cannot see it?" she asked. He shook his head with a smile, conceding the point.
She sipped her tea and, curious, turned one of the maps toward her. She immediately recognized Elrond's hand, for these maps had been drawn as a part of his original survey after they came over the mountains. The volume and accuracy of the work was itself of great worth, but these particular maps had value beyond price. Overlaid on the foundation, often in Celeborn's own script, sometimes in hers, was the true location of hidden places. And more: the words that opened locked doors, the height of mountains, the breadth of rivers in the spring, the mouths and twining twists of deep caverns, the dispositions of forests, and a score of other notations. All combined to trace the paths by which they had passed time and again through death into life.
"These could use to be redrawn," she said, fingering an edge. Although they had been carefully kept and jealously guarded, they had seen both battle and time. Here calculations in the margins, hastily scrawled reports of despair, testified to forces of overwhelming evil. There was a tear and a crease from some too-hasty retreat, and the mottled distortion of a water stain wrought during a grinding march. She noted brown fingerprints that smudged the edges with imprints of agony, and speckled drips spread across the surface -- old blood, which burned through the landscape and degraded the parchment beneath.
"More than merely redrawn," Celeborn answered, tracing the line of mountain range. "Re-surveyed. The world shifts around us again. See? The rivers have changed, the coasts. The forests are smaller, some meadows are now woods. There are places that are new," he continued, tapping his finger on Imladris and Pelargir "and places that are gone," he said, indicating Eregion. He drew his finger up the Anduin, and then East. "And I would that we had better maps of Mordor, ere we face Sauron again."
"Such unknown is disquieting," Galadriel agreed. "And the whispers of dread grow daily. I fear the interlude is nearly ended"
"Indeed," he answered, and, leaning heavily on the table, he shook his head. Then, dismissing that worry to another day, he took up another parchment before handing it across to her. "And speaking of 'disquieting,' a messenger came from Edhellond this morning. Celebrían has heard ill news brought by traders up from Pelargir. They say the king of Numenor's is dead.
"Ill news indeed," Galadriel answered skimming the letter. "Tar-Palantir was a man of honor, and a friend of the elves. He had a daughter, did he not …?" She broke off, disturbed by what she read. "The nephew? Pharazôn has taken the throne? Is not he the one who has wrought battles and raids on our shores in recent years?"
"The same. He married Tar-Palantir's daughter, his cousin, by force," Celeborn said, "and calls himself Ar- Pharazôn, which is ominous enough in itself. I do not believe he will follow in his predecessor's ways. He is more eager for power than even his father was, and I do not believe that his ambitions would be quenched merely by rule of Numenor. But what he will do I cannot say. What do you see?"
Galadriel looked across at the antiquated maps as a wash of horror broke over her. They had come to Belfalas because she had foreseen that history would turn at this place. But the sea had called to her, and the trees to Celeborn, and somehow, after a thousand years gone, the only path she was sure of was on the foggy sands of the shore. She laughed humorlessly and gestured at the maps. "These are not the only things we have abandoned too long to time," she said. "We have fallen out of history, beloved, and I fear those paths will be harder to discover again. The world shifts around us, indeed, and I can scare see what is, much less what could be. It is time to awake, my Lord of the Trees, and find the world again, if it is not too late.
"Lord of Belfalas!" cried the steward of the Port of Pelargir, and rushed to be certain that the swan-ship was tied securely to his docks. "Too long has it been since you graced the havens of the Elendili." Celeborn smiled warmly and grasped the man's arm as he disembarked.
"Too long indeed since I have seen our friends of Ethir Anduin, though time is different for us," he said. "Lord Steward, this is Amroth, my son, a lord of the forests of Lorien."
The man of Númenor bowed low. "An honor indeed. Lord Celeborn, did you also bring your lady and beautiful daughter?"
"I fear not," Celeborn answered.
"Alas!" the man cried. "You hide your treasures?"
"Nay," Celeborn laughed. "But we seek gifts for them in your great markets."
The location brought the Elendili great wealth, although it had not endeared them to their opponents in Númenor. From the north, goods came down the river from Rivendell, Lorien, Moria, and Greenwood the Great. From across the bay were sent the crafts of Belfalas, and the wares of Mithlond came south down the coast. Yet Pelargir was more than the cross-roads of Middle Earth, for on occasion its seamen traveled home across the waves to Númenor and returned with wine and grain, silver and gold. And from time to time, though rare, goods would be brought via Númenor from the Isle of Eressëa, and, it was rumored, Valinor itself. The men of Pelargir liked to joke that if a Silmaril or ring of power was found, it would soon be for sale in the great market, though such talk made elves blanch. Indeed, that was the best part of the joke.
But more than riches, the men of Pelargir basked in the favor of the Lord and Lady of Belfalas. They were ancient and kind, full of wisdom and matchless grace. From time to time, a mortal visitor might catch them in an expansive mood, and if so could learn a richness of tales from ancient days falling from the lips of those who had lived through them.
"Lord Steward, what news?" Celeborn asked. It was a familiar question from the great lord, and one that the steward was usually eager to answer. To his great joy, he had developed a friendship with the elves, and particularly with Galadriel and Celeborn. They valued him much for the information he could glean from very nearly anyone, and he valued the kind of immortality they would grant him, ever held with fond memory in their ageless hearts.
The news of late, however, was grim, and the Steward's smile faltered.
"Orcs, wraiths, fear -- the usual," he answered with failed flippancy. It was hard to be merry in these days. "Sauron presses us all. It seems he is gathering together all evil things, and calls himself the King of Men. To venture outside our protected borders is a deadly mistake. Even your people are fleeing to Lindon, to Belfalas, and over the sea. Just the other week, one of the King's great ships was here, and we sent a message to him, pleading his help. The King cares little for the Elendili, and we … well, he is the king. Perhaps he will intervene. Unless …" the man hesitated. "Unless Gil-galad has some scheme. Or you?"
Celeborn shook his head. "We are too few."
"Well," the steward said, and breathed a disappointed sigh. "Well," he repeated briskly, "the day is too fine and bright a day for such dark talk. Please, go and enjoy the market."
Father and son look their leave and strolled down the crowded boardwalk. Pelargir was always bustling, but today seemed brimming, for many outlying settlers had fled within its borders. The speech of merchants and customers alike was over-loud, as if by sheer volume they could convince themselves that they were joyful.
The people parted as the elves passed through, for the pair was striking. They were equally tall, head and shoulders above the tallest man; their faces seemed graven by the same artist's hand, yet colored by opposite ends of night. So alike were they in profile that a man might have thought them brothers, though the elf-friends were familiar enough with immortals to see the unfathomable time in Celeborn's eyes. Their gray cloaks shifted even under the bright noonday sun, and they seemed a living incarnation of wind, less seen than felt. Where they walked, hearts settled and strengthened.
"That is all we came for, isn't it?" Amroth asked.
"What's that?" Celeborn asked absently, stopping to examine saplings under a hothouse tent.
"'News'" Amroth quoted, amused. "You're a meddler equal to mother."
Celeborn frowned. "It is better to know what is happening beyond my sight so that when the inevitable consequences tumble into my life, I am prepared. If I can do nothing to change them, at least I am not blindsided by them. I would not call it meddling, but tactics."
"But that is what we came for, that exchange on the docks?" Amroth persisted, not permitting his father to draw him into another brooding discussion regarding the contours of evil.
Celeborn looked heavenward for strength. "Your mother has enough baubles and gifts from her legion of admirers that we could start a market of our own. I am not about to add to them, although I am looking for spices if you happen to see any. And there are a few merchants who might be able to expand on the steward's information." Celeborn threw his son a thoughtful look. "You'll have time to find silver rings, if you are looking for them."
Amroth's face fell. This conversation was scarcely better than the one he had sought to avoid. "I have asked Nimrodel to wed me. I have asked her many times, but although she loves me, she will not."
"Mm. So I feared," Celeborn said.
"You have heard?" Amroth asked.
"Amdír," Celeborn answered simply. The king of Lothlorien had come to Celeborn many years before, to receive his great friend's blessing to take Amroth as his heir. In gratitude, the king kept Celeborn apprised of the details of 'their' son's life. "Has Nimrodel given you a reason why?"
Amroth hesitated, and ran his fingers through a shopkeeper's basket of smooth, multicolored stones. "She is concerned that I will permit my responsibilities and duties to stand between us, and I cannot tell her she is wrong. Look at you and mother; you are more often apart than together, pulled every asunder by diverging passions and burdens. Nimrodel does not wish for such a life, and neither do I."
Celeborn shook his head in frustration and pulled his son aside. " Your mother and I have responsibilities, yes, different paths to take from time to time. But I would never cling to her, hold her back, and she would never do the same to me. That is not love, but obsession, or jealousy. She is not my possession. I do not have to see Galadriel to love her."
"At some point, does not a relationship require relations with one another?" Amroth pressed. "Is not love a willingness to give all you are to your beloved?"
"No," Celeborn argued. "It is a willingness to give all you can. That is not quite the same thing. There are parts of myself that do not belong to me, but to our people, to my family, to the king, to the land, and a hundred other things. I cannot give her those parts; they are not mine to give."
"You could," Amroth said quietly, "if you chose to. Nimrodel has done so for me, and waits only for me to do the same. When I find the strength within myself, I will give her this gift."
Celeborn look down, and then into his son's eyes. "I believe you will, Galadaran. Your mother's greatest fear is being constrained, and my offering to her was freedom. I think that, although I may lose Galadriel in the end, perhaps your way is harder. I only pray that in giving Nimrodel everything you are, you do not find that you have lost yourself completely." He smiled wryly. "But come, I will not pester you on the subject, and I believe I see a man selling spices. Such always have a tale of the world to tell."
Across the sea, sitting upon his carved throne in the city of Armenelos, Ar- Pharazôn the Golden, the Heir of Eärendil, the fifth and twentieth of all those who had wielded the Sceptre of the Sea-Kings, brooded darkly, for the masters of his ships had returned from the east with tidings that another had claimed the title 'King of Men.'
Next chapter: Sauron gets carted off to Númenor, although Galadriel and Celeborn do try to stop him ;)
"[T]he King of the Sea marched upon Middle-earth . . . and he commanded Sauron to come before him and swear to him fealty … and it came into his mind that, for the better keeping of Sauron and of his oaths . . . he should be brought to Númenor, there to dwell as a hostage for himself and all his servants in Middle-earth. To this Sauron assented as one constrained, yet in his secret thought he received it gladly."
- The Silmarillion
Chapter 7: Hostage
Sauron was irritated. These tedious inspections were necessary, he knew, for without his guidance the orcs tended to copulate indiscriminately. He had enjoyed this task long ago, when Morgoth had given him free reign in the breeding pits, his artistry aroused by the boundless power of creation. But what had been invigorating to a pupil of evil was beneath the lord of it. While his dominion rested upon individual agony, such details had become irksome in the face of opportunities for collective suffering. He would leave the spawning entirely to the breeders if he could, but they were suited only for production of hordes of foot soldiers; more specialized orcs still required his personal oversight.
The most arduous task was keeping pure some strains of immortal blood. This maintained a force resistant to the plagues that periodically decimated the population and a mob capable of fighting for centuries. Crossbreeding destroyed immortality, but the very traits that might have discouraged promiscuity tended to encourage stargazing and compassion, and so had been crushed. However, mongrel breeds had their own advantages. Adding mannish blood to a generation intensified hatred, but also a propensity toward brutalizing one another that was amusing in small numbers but exasperating when raising armies. Troll blood injected strength, but also mind-numbing stupidity. Crossing orcs with wargs had not worked, but it had been entertaining to watch them try.
Sauron lifted his black robes and stepped over a pool of blood and semen. Nearby, a bitch screamed and thrashed, her muscles undulating in labor. He rolled his eyes. No, individual agony no longer held his interest.
" 'Ere, m'lord," one of the orc breeders said as he sidled up, a squalling infant clutched upside down in its claw. The orc gave a rotting grin. " 'Ere's a nuther silver 'aired un. Whatcha want t'do wi' it?"
Sauron paused. Occasionally a silver-haired orc was born out of the rabble, and for some years he had ordered the breeders not to burn the scalps of these whelps. He had wanted to see the look on the faces of the elves who would meet them in battle. No doubt they would swiftly divine the implications behind the crown of the Sindar on the heads of these, their orcish cousins. The capture and breaking of the elf who had sired the trait, so long ago, was one of which he had been particularly proud. Morgoth had been delighted. New blood of that caliber might re-ignite his enthusiasm for the art, Sauron mused.
Sauron waved his hand dismissively, the ring on his finger glistening in the torchlight, and the breeder threw the newborn to a surly bitch who was none to pleased to get it back. The silver-haired experiment had been a disappointing failure. Any orc thus endowed was targeted by the others, who used their over-pretty companion until it died from the abuse. Sauron had finally rescinded his order, and those who were born with the trait faded back into the obscurity of mutilation. Unfortunate, as the prospect of such an army still delighted Sauron.
To his annoyance, the breeder fell into crabbed step beside him. "A good crop, eh, m'lord? Some mean bast'ds in this bunch," the breeder cackled. This particular breeder was very old, and very fat, for it had never seen the front lines. Smart and vicious, it was part of a very narrow privileged class who oversaw most of the spawning operation. This one had originally been an elf who, after precise torture, had taken to the craft. Sauron suspected that it personally sired a high percentage of the foot soldiers of each generation.
The breeder cracked its fingers. "Genius in the pairs ya picked, m'lord, genius … 'eh!" The breeder broke off and yanked one of the orcs off of a bitch, who had been shrieking but was now unconscious. "'Eh!" the breeder screamed, and backhanded the offender. "Don't kill 'er. She don't do any good if she's dead, now do she? And then th' lord's gotta pick out a nuther one for you, don't he?" The orc leered, dripping on the floor. "Ge' back ta work," the breeder said, shoving him back down on the floor. "But don't kill 'er!"
"Tha' one's trouble, m'lord, trouble. Proud. Mean. Which is whatcha want, but he ain't any good if he kills a nuther one," the breeder panted, scurrying to catch up.
Sauron sighed. The day was quickly becoming unbearable. "When he's done, which clearly shouldn't take long, have him killed," Sauron answered with a sniff.
"Ya sure, m'lord? D'ya wanna see if the bitch takes first?"
"No." Sauron answered. "In fact, if she takes, have her killed as well. Any orc not aware of its own fundamental worthlessness is defective, and I will not have the trait spreading"
The breeder glanced sharply up at the Dark Lord with over-bright eyes. Sauron made a mental note to have the breeder destroyed later, for the same reasons. He turned and looked across the seething pit. At this pace, he would have his army rebuilt in a few generations. The clashes in recent years had dangerously depleted the reserves. It was fortunate his enemies were too numb-witted to notice, for if they marched against him now, his victory would need to be very creative.
He moved to go, but an orc clattered down the stairs and collapsed at his feet. The brand on the side of its face identified it as one of the watch guards of the gate. Sauron kicked it, and reveled in the crunch of flesh beneath his feet. Perhaps he was not above individual suffering after all.
"My lord!" it gibbered, panicked. "My lord! I have news!"
"What?" the Lord of the Rings snarled.
"What?" Celeborn snapped. It had been a long day, filled almost entirely with a dispute between several Númenórean traders and Edhellond's harbormaster. Something about the men spitting on the dock and the elves 'accidentally' setting their ships adrift. He had understood the problem better before the parties presented their arguments. Every time they returned to the city this seemed to happen to him -- Galadriel would cloister herself in the garden with the mirror, seeking the future, while the simmering arguments that had awaited their return boiled into his hours. Why the parties believed that only he could resolve their disputes was beyond him.
Beside him, Calandil scowled sourly and let silence be his rebuke.
Hands on his hips, Celeborn stopped in the middle of the hall and tilted his head up to the mural of the night sky, breathing until he had mastered himself. He shook his head to clear it, and unbuttoned the top clasps of his tunic, which had been strangling him all afternoon.
"What?" he repeated, but his manner was no better.
Calandil lifted an eyebrow in pained patience and shook his head. "Is Galadriel at her mirror today?" he asked softly.
Celeborn sighed, and scrubbed both hands across his face. "Am I so transparent?" he asked ruefully.
Calandil chuckled. "You are rather irritated today. More than usual," he amended, hoping for a glimmer of amusement.
"I hate the cursed thing," Celeborn replied bleakly. "When Galadriel looks to the future, I can no longer see the present. I cannot tell if the world seems darker because she is walking shadowed paths, or if …" he broke off, and looked as if he was considering putting his fist through the wall. "What can I do for you, Calandil?" he asked mildly, folding his arms.
Calandil raised an eyebrow, not fooled in the least. In truth he disliked Galadriel's mirror as well, for at such times, Celeborn was considerably more than merely 'irritated,' and Calandil was left to contend with an uncharacteristic, black uncertainty. Celeborn was grounded in the present as deeply as he was grounded in Middle-Earth. His gift was in understanding now, and as such, Galadriel used him as her anchor when she reached into the howling paths of time. All things were possible in the future, both good and ill, but Calandil suspected that Galadriel forsook the paths of light in order to map the paths of misery. It was, perhaps, a necessary thing, for how else would she learn to circumvent evil possibilities? But for Celeborn, who did not see the future but felt its gnawing darkness through his beloved, tomorrow was utterly barren.
Calandil did his best to remind his friend that this was not so, but on some days reality tended to veer toward gloom. He caught his friend's elbow with a regretful squeeze. "Button your shirt and come down to the council room," he said. "Your day is not over yet."
Celeborn frowned. "What is the problem?"
Calandil spread his hands in a gesture more a shrug than an answer. "Strange reports."
"Can you be more specific?" Celeborn growled, irritated again, but started toward the council room.
"There are some elves and men here from the coasts in the south, near Umbar. They say they saw ships coming out of the west. They say it is a vast host, and red sails stretch as far eyes can see. They say it is the King of Númenor, and he is marching toward Mordor," Calandil said.
Celeborn stopped again. "What? Ar-Pharazôn himself?" he asked, amazed. He leaned against the wall, and dropped his head, massaging his brow. "Strange. I have had no reports, not from Gil-galad, not from the men of Pelargir, not from my sources within Ar-Pharazôn's court. I would have heard of this, if he had taken counsel with his advisors. Why?" Celeborn asked softly to himself, his eyes distant. "Why would the king, without the aid of any wisdom but his own, march upon Mordor? Sauron has attacked Númenórean cities, true, but does Pharazôn seek battle with him? If so, why do we not know it? We are yet his allies; surely pride would not lead him so far alone?" the lord shook his head sharply, and re-approached the problem.
"The King of Númenor marches on Mordor to … what? If not war, then …" Celeborn paled. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel! Calandil, find Galadriel. Now."
"My lord?" Calandil asked, concern snapping him straight from where he had lounged against the wall. "Why is Ar-Pharazôn here?"
"To seek alliance with Sauron," Galadriel said, coming swiftly around the corner, the future glittering in her eyes.
"The king of Númenor commands that I come before him and swear to him fealty?" Sauron repeated flatly.
The man before him gulped convulsively. "The King of Men commands it," the herald stuttered, and stood rigid as he sweated nervously under his scarlet and gold finery, for he was ankle-deep in the entrails of his compatriot -- who had just been killed for saying the same words. Yet his king commanded his tongue, and he would speak
Sauron blinked in surprise and stood from his ebony throne. The herald reeled backward, terrified, but Sauron turned with a smirk toward the great window of his tower and leaned upon the sill, his hands spread before him. There upon a hill, he could see the banner of Númenor, and the king's pavilion. The tents were as a field of flowers, filling the black borders of his land with blue, golden, and white.
Almost, he thought, almost it seemed as if he could reach out and crush them. But they were too many. It was astonishing. The power and majesty of these Men of the Sea was too much for him to face. Sauron well remembered Morgoth, chained by the Valar and taken from Middle Earth, the land boiling in his imprisoned footsteps. If this mortal king had come against him in war, it would have been the same, for even his greatest servants could not yet stand against such might. But no. He was here for oaths. Oaths!
Well. Here was an opportunity to gain by subtlety what force could not accomplish. There was an element of personal peril to it, but it was intriguing. Sauron tapped his fingers on the sill, and his ring chimed melodiously against the stone. Behind him the Nazgul stirred, concern and ambition oiling from their diseased minds as they shadowed their master's thoughts. Yes. There was a way to accomplish this. What was one more realm, one more man? He would entwine himself with this impermanent king and dissolve his enemies with acidic adulation. He had done it before. But he would leave the ring behind, hidden deep in the mountain -- the womb of his rebirth, should his plans go ill.
Sauron turned. "Lord Herald," he said, angelic. "Tell your king … tell the King I shall come."
The host parted as he passed through, alone. His white robe flowed behind him, crisp as wind on snow, and was parted at his throat and bosom. A ruby glittering on his brow, and his hands were naked. He smiled upon the men, and they bowed, dazzled. "My Lord Ar-Pharazôn, King of Númenor and all men," Sauron said, kneeling low before the golden throne. "I am Annatar of Ennor, Guardian of Mordor, and I come at thy bidding."
Ar-Pharazôn folded his long fingers, and appraised the humbled figure before him. This was not what he had expected, and he mistrusted it. "Lord Annatar," he replied sternly. "I have summoned you before me because I have long heard troublesome tidings of you. I shall ask plainly: do you claim to be the King of Men?"
Sauron bowed lower to the earth. "My King, the men of Middle-Earth have needed a guardian, a king to watch over and protect them, for this is a dangerous land. I accepted this responsibility because I did not believe that you would come; I did not think that you would condescend. And yet," he said, looking up, his eyes dazzled with tears, "and yet, you are here. Long has this day been the secret wish of my heart, unspoken, for I thought it my own vain folly. The title I bore of necessity I now return to you with joy, King of Men."
Ar-Pharazôn smiled indulgently. "I had feared, Lord Annatar, that you would be unreasonable. My reports of you were not so fair."
Sauron shook his head sorrowfully. "From the elves?" he asked, rising at the King's gesture. "They believe themselves the lords of this world. My ideas, my hope for men threatens them. Long have they made war against me, fearing to embrace a new world."
"I see. Tell me, Lord Annatar," Ar-Pharazôn said, sitting forward abruptly, his eyes dangerous. "Do you have so fair an explanation for the wars and murders you have wrought on the men of Númenor upon these shores?"
Sauron folded his hands before him. "King Ar-Pharazôn, in your years of rule, I am certain that you have had need to act decisively. Strong rulers always have dissenters, who do not comprehend all their liege does for their good. I admit, I have, at times, been required to be firm. It has been needful to unite the world of men." He bowed his head. "If you believe that I have done ill, my lord, I await thy judgment."
The king smiled faintly. "I shall reserve judgment, for now. What are your intentions?"
"My lord, I cannot help but look over this astonishing legion. Such might! Such beauty!" he said, raising his voice for all the assembled host to hear. They stirred, puffed by the praise. "I have seen many ages of this world; I have seen hosts of Valar and elf, and yet, I have never seen so great an army as this, gracing my humble land. You are a revelation!" he knelt again before the king. "Lord, I believe it no vanity to tell you that I am a giver of great gifts; 'Lord of Gifts,' the elves called me, although they had not the strength to accept them. My King, I would swear fealty to you, I, and all my servants in Middle-earth. I will gladly remain here, your servant, and do the great work you desire in this land."
"Would you, Lord Annatar?" the king said, and his advisors recognized the sardonic tilt in his noble brow. "No, I think not."
"Lord?" Sauron asked, pressing his hand to his breast.
"No," Ar-Pharazôn continued. "You shall come to Númenor, there to dwell as a hostage for yourself and all your servants in Middle-earth." He dropped his voice low. "I believe you a snake, Sauron of Mordor, with a quick tongue o'er thy fangs. I prefer to keep my enemies near at hand."
Sauron tilted his head, enchanted, and stood. "As do I," whispered. Then more loudly, his voice dramatically hesitant, he continued: "I am constrained, my King. Although it pains me to abandon my lands, I shall do my lord's bidding, and return with thee."
When the army of Númenor had first passed through the country on the March to Mordor, the land had been barren, for the inhabitants had fled in fear. It remained empty as they returned until the waves were again before their faces. But there, blocking the harbor of Umbar, waited a small force clad in white and gold, utterly still save the banners that snapped in the breeze. To the right was a pendant of the winged moon of Elu Thingol, which the men Númenor did not recognize, and to the left the sun of Finarfin, which they knew from their dealings with the elves of Valinor. Above was the starry field of Gil-galad, and two elves stood alone at the forefront.
The men at the vanguard hesitated. "What is this?" the king said in amazement. Sauron came and stood beside him, and laughed out loud at the sight.
The king narrowed his eyes. "Do you know them?"
Sauron shrugged with fluid grace. "I am their gravest enemy. They are my … most annoying detractors."
"Why are they here?" Ar-Pharazôn said.
"To rescue me," Sauron said with a wolfish smile, and watched a rider break away from the elves. The king gestured for his bearers stop and commanded that the rider be permitted to pass. The herald dismounted smoothly and came swiftly before the king.
"Calandil," Sauron murmured. "Of course."
Calandil ignored him, although his jaw was set. The Lord and Lady had perceived that Ar-Pharazôn wished alliance with Sauron, but the presence of the worm in the midst of the host keened ominously. This was worse than they had imagined. He inclined his head and said cooly: "Tar-Calion, King of Númenor," the men shifted uneasily at this elvish rendition of the king's name, which Ar-Pharazôn had disdained when he took the sceptre. "Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Belfalas greet you in the name of Gil-galad, High King of the elves of Ennor. They received tidings that you had arrived on these shores, and did not wish the auspicious event to pass without proper reception. Will you hear them?"
"They speak in Gil-galad's name?" the king asked.
"They do," the Calandil answered.
Ar-Pharazôn sighed. "I wish no quarrel with my former ally. I will hear them."
Calandil bowed shortly and turned away.
"Their names seem almost familiar to me," the king mused. He glanced at Sauron. "Who are they?"
"A pretender and her puppet," Sauron said quietly, putting his hand on the king's sleeve. "They were once the rulers of Eregion, but were too weak to hold the land. Now, they scrabble on the shores of Belfalas, and call themselves a lord and lady. But they have no authority over the heir of Eärendil, rightful king of all the East -- and all the world, if you will take it. They are far beneath you. Permit me to dispense with them."
Ar-Pharazôn tilted his hand in reluctant assent, and Sauron bowed formally before moving to stand before the throne. He folded his hands serenely behind his back and waited for his enemies. From behind, the king narrowed his eyes at the scene unfolding before him as the two elves approached. A strange triangle, indeed, gleaming with points of unequal radiance, although later he would not be able to remember if Annatar outshone the elves, or they him.
"Nerwen and Telpe," Sauron effervesced, spreading his hands wide. "An unlooked-for boon, indeed! It has been too long since we sat together." He moved to kiss Galadriel's hand, but she stepped back, her chin coming up. "And how are you, Galadriel?" he asked, his voice low as he studied her face. "Do I see a new radiance in you? New jewels, perhaps, a new ring?"
He glanced at Celeborn and chuckled condescendingly. "How unfortunate that old quarrels have driven us apart," he continued. "And how are your children? Let me see -- Galadaran is called Amroth, and dwells in Lorien, and is in love with a maid who will have none of him. And Celebrían dreams of Imladris, and half a man. I promise I will visit them both someday."
Celeborn looked past Sauron to the king. "Ill company you keep, Tar-Calion," he said.
Sauron stalked around the couple. "He sees the advantages of permitting me to dwell in his fair realm, as I did in yours. You recall the wonderful things that came of that alliance, do you not?"
"This is folly, king of men," the elf-lord said, turning a scathing glare on Sauron. "This parasite is a canker in any land where he dwells. The last to make an alliance with him died spread in pieces on pikes."
"True, my lord!" Sauron cried. "But only after he had betrayed me. But … he betrayed you as well, did he not, Galadriel? In more ways than one," he continued, and glanced significantly at her hands.
She disregarded him with an icy calm. "Lord King," she said, "why would you take Sauron into your councils? Your fathers have long fought him, and for good reason. I perceive that you are full of vision and grace to match them; why would you choose to disregard the wisdom of your kin?"
"Lady," the king said gently, as one would speak to a child, "he is not my counselor, but my hostage."
"A strange hostage, walking unbound and speaking to your guests in your name," she answered shortly.
"I have given him my word," Sauron said adoringly. "And how could I oppose such magnificence?"
Ar-Pharazôn smiled indulgently. "He serves my will. I have the strength to control him. I have ambitions for this world, and he is merely a weapon toward that end."
Galadriel closed her eyes, questing for patience. "What end?"
"Immortality," he whispered rapturously. "Godliness. I could so easily rule all the world, from Valinor to the lands of the East."
Beside her, Galadriel could feel Celeborn bristling in rage and despair. She could also feel him biting his tongue, for blunt reality would not sway this egoistic king, particularly when juxtaposed with Sauron's oozing flattery. "King Ar-Pharazôn, there is another who already occupies that role … " Galadriel began reasonably.
"There was another who occupied the role 'King of Men,'" Ar-Pharazôn interrupted, his voice growing annoyed. "I need only take what is mine, and I am taking Lord Annatar. I am weary of your nagging. You shall have to find another enemy. Unless you think you have found one now before you, and plan to stop me?" He laughed and gestured widely to his assembled host, their spears glittering under the sun.
Galadriel bowed her head. "We cannot stop you," she said, and looked into his eyes. "But I prophesy that you have forged your own ruin."
For a moment, the king said nothing, taken aback and chastised, for he could not endure her gaze. "Threats?" the king hissed, his eyes averted.
"It is not my hand or acts that shall bring it to pass, child," she answered sadly.
Ar-Pharazôn sniffed and shook his head in disbelieving amusement. He said no other word, but gestured sharply forward and galloped toward the sea.
Sauron smiled and bowed. "I shall not forget what you tried to do here," he said, and followed the king.
The elves stood aside as the gleaming army jogged past them, and the men murmured in discomfort as the ancient eyes followed them with pity, and some wavered in their hearts. But the greater portion lifted their heads with bravado and spit in the dust at the immortals' feet, so great was the pride of men at the noontide of their might.
Galadriel stood side by side with Celeborn upon a bluff and watched the red sails disappear into the horizon. "We have failed again," she said softly.
"What do you foresee?" he asked.
"I do not believe we shall see Annatar again," she answered. He glanced sharply at her, but she continued, her voice breaking. "Alas, I do believe we shall see evil again. I know not how, but this will break the world. I see such death, Celeborn. Children drowned on the waves…" A tear tracked unchecked across her cheek. "A shade haunts my dreams; a voice cries to me from a churning pit, nearly familiar, but I cannot place it for its desperation. The waves tear my limbs with burning weight, and I taste the salt of the sea upon my lips ere the water, cold, so cold, stills my blood! All is darkness, and I cannot find the surface in the depths."
He looked down, and caught her hand tightly in his. At his touch, she gasped and looked up to the sky before pulling him nearer.
He smoothed the back of her hand. "Did you notice?" he said at last. "Sauron was not wearing his ring."
"I saw," she said, her eyes downcast.
He clenched his jaw. "If the ring remains in Mordor, some hope may yet be in this. There is a possibility that it could be retrieved and destroyed …" he trailed off.
Galadriel smiled sadly and turned his face toward her. She traced his jaw with her fingertips, and held his gaze. "By whom? Beloved, I would not trust even you with the ring. Would not it whisper its seduction into your heart? And I know that you would not trust me. So whom do we send? Elrond? Amroth? Calandil? Celebrían?"
He closed his eyes, conceding the point. Who could withstand the ring? Certainly not the mighty. "Galadriel," he whispered, "how can we ever win this? So long as the ring exists, the world will always be within its thrall, whether Sauron bears it or another. How do we fight such perpetual malignancy? How do we destroy a weapon that we are afraid to touch? Even if we could obliterate it, would evil be ended?"
Her eyes replied sadly, although he already knew the answer. Disharmony had been sung into the world at its very beginning. It was in the depths of the earth, in the chaos of the sea, and even in their own hearts -- else why would they fear their own dark demons?
"Why are we doing this?" he asked in despair, though he knew that answer as well.
She turned back toward the sea. "Would you forsake our world?" she asked.
"No," he sighed, and straightened his shoulder. "What now do we do?"
Neither knew. And, indeed, there was nothing to be done, for the hissing words of Sauron the Deceiver would soon push the sails of the Sea King to the uttermost West. Not fifty years hence, the mightiest of all men would challenge the Valar themselves.
And in response, Manwë on the Mountain would defer to a higher power.
Next chapter: the destruction of one world and the forging of another.
A/N: I recognize the unfortunate description of Galadriel's dream of death on the waves, considering recent world events. I considered not including it, but it was necessary at this point in the story. My thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters of this planet who are still suffering from the nightmare.
A/N: This chapter and the next deal with the destruction of Númenor and the aftermath of that cataclysm on the shores of Middle-earth. Of necessity, they involve earthquakes, great waves, and death. I believe that I have written this important event with tact, but if such images upsetting for you, you may wish to skip this part. Chapter 10 will move on to other matters.
"And at last Ar-Pharazôn came even to Aman, the Blessed Realm, and the coasts of Valinor … claiming the land for his own … Then Manwë upon the Mountain called upon Ilúvatar, and for that time the Valar laid down their government of Arda. But Ilúvatar showed forth his power, and he changed the fashion of the world … And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands."
- The Silmarillion
Chapter 8: Upheaval
"Run!" Ossë bellowed into the morning, the brightness of the clear day shattering in the swell behind him.
The Maia had stood in awestruck wonder as he watched Valinor ripped to the heavens, and Numenor buried in the depths. He had stretched forth his hands in joy, exulting in chaos the likes of which he had never seen, not even when Beleriand was destroyed, and laughed amid the roaring waves.
"Gorthaur!" he had shouted gleefully to the shade above him, now fleeing east, but his companion of old had not stopped. Ossë distantly envied his brother's ability to inspire such turmoil in the world, but Uinen wept for her lost Númenor, and Ossë would heed his beloved's tears. And so, though he would rather have flown in the wild wave, he ran before it to shout a warning to the elves on the shores of Middle-earth. Forfeiting a roiling encounter with this singular upheaval was a bitter blow he would brood upon another day, but he did not want to lose his more of his Quendi to Mandos and Valinor. Ossë promised himself that if he relinquished chaos today, he would create such waves himself in the future. Only Ilúvatar could change the world, but perhaps someday when Ulmo was occupied, Ossë would attempt to rock it. Later.
"Run!" he shouted, tearing through the tide-pools and bays, raising his mighty voice above the roar at his back. Somewhere across the sea, Ulmo called out in disapproval: interfere not! He said. Ossë ignored him. Perhaps the Valar and set aside their governance of the world, but they had not consulted him. The Valar had been angry with him before, and would be again; what harm then was it to save his Quendi? Moreover, 'twas hypocrisy, for Ulmo himself had already warned Círdan.
He lifted his voice again to the little lives on the shore, and howled the one word that could save them.
Celeborn looked sorrowfully out across the ravaged coast, and was reminded anew of the sea's guile. Edhellond was utterly splintered, the soggy ground treacherous with the ragged remains of dock, ship, and home alike. There were eddies where once there had been land, collecting the bloated bodies of hounds and horses that had been penned and unable to escape, and the gulls wheeled above the ruined port in puzzled confusion. The oily waves lapped coyly against the ruin, their meekness insulting after the fury of the morning. Celeborn shook his head. He, who had stood in burning lands surrounded by howling hordes of orc, had never seen destruction so complete and so swift. But this is could contend with. Alas, ruined homes and refugees were familiar challenges.
"Thank Ossë that this was not worse," a tearful shipbuilder said beside him. "We felt the earth shake, but elsewise would have had no warning of the wave until it was upon us."
Celeborn nodded in mute agreement. He had been pulled to abrupt wakefulness at dawn by Galadriel's cry, her eyes dark with distant sight. No sooner had he scrambled blearily to his feet then he was thrown from them. The earth thrashed beneath his hands, and he felt the vibration of its agonized moans in his chest, a sub-harmony too low even for elvish ears. Outside, the trees howled in terror and pain, holding to the earth for they had no choice, and through them he felt a sudden, horrible wrongness in the world. He thought distantly that they should flee the house, lest the quake shake the structure down, but the trees' voices had wrapped him with a panic and nausea that held him bound, and Galadriel was only peripherally present, witnessing events on some far shore.
As abruptly as the quake had begun it stopped again, and for a time -- minutes or hours he could not say -- Celeborn lay flat on the floor, gasping. Galadriel was no better; indeed, she looked worse.
"What was that?" he asked, finding the strength to shakily sit up after several failed attempts, his voice overloud in the deep hush. "Galadriel?" he probed when she did not answer.
"Valinor and Númenor are gone," she whispered brokenly, her head in her hands. "And all of Arda is bent."
He gaped at her, and wondered if he had hit his head, or if she had. It did not seem possible, and yet Middle-earth was sobbing inconsolably. He could feel it in his very soul, for he was made of the same mighty and marred dust. Indeed, the whole world felt curled around itself, somehow, gravely injured, and he shook with its descant of pain. "The Valar did this?" he growled bitterly.
"Nay, the Valar have not such power," Galadriel answered with a false calm, and, paling further, leaned forward to vomit.
Celeborn blinked in surprise, then pulled himself to his feet, groaning as his battered muscles protested, and collected a towel and some water. He knelt carefully beside her and turned her face toward him with concern. It was ashen as the moon, and he could feel her shaking beneath his fingertips, but her eyes were tracking on his face and it did not look as if she had injured her head. Her reaction had come from another source, then. One thing at a time, he decided.
"What do you mean 'gone?'" he asked, and pushed the chalice into her fingers before moving to clean the floor.
"I apologize for that," she answered ruefully, regaining her equilibrium, if not her dignity.
"How many people did you just watch die?" he asked quietly. She closed her eyes in pain, and he had his answer. If he was the dust of Middle-earth, she was the white sand of Valinor, and he wondered what the sundering had done to her, if indeed her home had vanished.
"'What do you mean 'gone?'" he repeated, more gently still, but before she could answer he raised a finger for silence. "A voice!" he cried. They looked at one another in mutual recognition.
"Ai, Varda! The sea!"
Celeborn caught Galadriel's hand and pulled her to her feet, but she staggered against him, and he swept her into his arms and carried her to the west porch. The day was clear and fair, and from there, on their secluded bluff above the waves, they watched the water peel away from the shore, baring it in an instant beyond the lowest tide.
"By Elbereth," Celeborn whispered in horrified realization, and the sea snarled back toward them with rumbling fury. "Edhellond. Pelargir. Mithlond." They lurched as the massive wave hammered the hill beneath, shaking the earth again with a thunderous clamor, and for a moment Celeborn was reminded of the horrific cacophony of Beleriand shattering under the weight of the Valar.
"Are we high enough here?" Celeborn asked tensely.
"You picked this place," Galadriel answered with gallows humor, and leaned into his shoulder. "Celeborn the Wise," she continued when, to their surprise, they lived. A spray settled around them, stirring the leaves of the agitated trees, but the wave had not crested the rise. Only later, when Celeborn had more courage, would he inspect the stone cliff that supported their home, and by the marks on its face learn that the top dozen feet had prevented their deaths.
"Edhellond. Celebrían." Celeborn whispered, shaken. "Pray Ossë gave them more time! Are you well enough to ride?" he asked his wife, and Galadriel nodded, her strength returning as the world's waters calmed. He assessed her condition, cursing again the weight of her useless burden, the unseen ring of water, and placed her carefully in a woven reed chair to rest while he fetched their horses. Normally they would sail across the bay to Edhellond, but not this day. It was likely their boat and dock were swept away -- it was likely that even the beach where the dock had rested was gone, but neither had the will to check, nor faith in the deceptive sea..
To their relief, they had found Edhellond's citizens wading in the wreckage, returned from a desperate flight inland. Ossë had gifted them with a half-hour's warning, but it had been enough. Celebrían herself and dashed though the streets, ordering the population inland. She had stopped many in the process of packing their possessions, and simply told them to run. The lady herself had not escaped in time, but the people had found a tree clinging to her when they returned. She had been swiftly rescued and calmly returned work before the Lord and Lady arrived. They had not been informed of the incident.
"Celebrían," Galadriel asked, turning toward her daughter. "Do you have any information on casualties?"
"Alas, some are dead," she answered sorrowfully, and Galadriel could see the weight of that failure heavy on her child. "Seventeen we know of, with another twenty missing. There are several injuries, although none look to be life threatening. We have moved them inland, and are working on a location for a temporary camp. It was all so sudden, so unexpected. From whence did this come? And why?"
Galadriel folded her hands in front of her. "Some earth quake deep in the sea, I image," she said, ignoring Celeborn's sharp glance. Celebrían looked between them and decided to leave it, for the moment. What they had seen and the secrets they knew would not undo this day.
"The temporary shelter is a wise plan," Celeborn said. "Indeed, I worry that we have come back to Edhellond too soon, for the earth is unsettled beneath my feet. There is no guarantee that these quakes are past; I would not have a second wave catch us unaware. In my mind, the nearest safe place may be on the bluff near our home. It was undamaged. The ground is dry, the injured can be sheltered, and there are enough supplies for a few days." Celeborn turned a circle, assessing the ruin. The patriarchs of most of Edhellond's families had gathered around them, and the lord looked over them with approval, vaguely grateful for past trials, which now imbued all with perspective and wisdom.
"First I want everyone accounted for. I would not leave any survivors trapped and alone. I need a list in an hour," he said, catching the arm of one of the men, who nodded at this assignment. Celeborn pointed at three others. "Assemble a team and scavenge what you can from the wreckage. Food, clothing, whatever is usable. You have three hours, and then I want it taken to the house, and a shelter and meal prepared. Brethil, Heledir, I want you to evacuate everyone not involved in a task. You have until this evening; I recognize that people will want to salvage their possessions, but I want our people off the coast as soon as possible. Tirith, see to the injured and the families of the dead. Limnen, I want you to take a troop along the coast and help any survivors, be they elf or man. They are welcome at our shelter; check Pelargir first, for I am deeply concerned for the elf-friends. Menel, ride to Greenwood and Lothlorien. Inform Amdír and Oropher of all that has transpired, and beg them for what aid they can send. Are there questions?"
"Lord," a young elf asked, holding tightly to the hand of a maid. "Will we rebuild?"
"Let us see to our immediate needs, and talk of the future tomorrow. Go now. We have much work ahead," Celeborn answered, and turned aside. The crowd paused, breathless under Celeborn's barrage. All felt the terrible need to be still, to find a song to fill the loss, to sift through the rubble for shards of meaning. But there was no time to mourn, no time to sit in stunned contemplation, no time to thank or curse the Valar, for the sea brooded at their backs. With a collective gasp, they shook themselves, and moved to organize and do.
As the people stirred Celeborn grasped Calandil's shoulder, pulling aside his mud-smeared friend for a private conference. "Is your family well?"
Calandil nodded in relief. "They were visiting friends in Imladris."
"Good. I want you to ride to Mithlond with all haste. I fear that Círdan's havens may be more damaged than our own; we at least were partially protected by the bay. Report to Gil-galad, and assess the situation. Use your judgment in offering or accepting aid. Stop in Imladris when you return, inform Elrond of all that has transpired, and request his help. He will probably already know more than I, but nevertheless … also, keep your eyes open for any survivors on the coast, particularly men. They will have suffered this even more deeply than we. And before you leave Lindon, press Círdan for any information that Ulmo has given him. Galadriel believes that both Númenor and Valinor are gone from the world; I need to know the truth before rumor begins to spread."
Calandil's eyes widened at the last. "Is that all?" he asked, summoning with some effort a glint of humor. Celeborn smiled and rapped his friend's head. "You are irrepressible. Also quite mad. Now go." Calandil bowed, and considered his first, individually assigned task accomplished.
"Will we rebuild?" Celebrían asked quietly when her father turned back toward them.
Celeborn sighed and spread his hands. "I know not. It will depend in part how badly damaged Círdan's havens are, for this will undoubtedly inspire some to sail. That is, if Valinor is still accessible."
"What?" Celebrían questioned in sharp disbelief.
"Ask your mother," Celeborn answered with a shrug.
"We will rebuild," Galadriel said, her back to them as she contemplated the sea. Celeborn and Celebrían shared the same look of longsuffering, and Celeborn abruptly pulled his daughter into a tight embrace. He kissed her hair. "Be where you feel you are needed," he said gently.
"I believe I will see to the dead," she answered, and her father released her with a sorrowful nod. He turned again and glared narrowly at the sea, a tranquil reflection against a perfect sky.
"Celebrían," he called softly over his shoulder, and she turned back toward him with a sad smile. "Do what you must, but please depart the shore as quickly as you are able."
Next chapter: The Númenóreans arrive, one last time.
a/n: Tweaked 1/25 to fix a timing problem.
"Nine ships there were: four for Elendil, and for Isildur three, and for Anárion two; and they fled before the black gale ... Elendil was cast up by the waves in the land of Lindon ... Isildur and Anárion were borne away southwards ... into the western sea in the Bay of Belfalas; and they established a realm in those lands that were after called Gondor."
- The Silmarillion
Chapter 9: Gondor
Galadriel stood on the edge of the cliff in the midst of the storm, statuesque as sculpted alabaster, her body an insignificant detour for the rain that tumbled from the sky in angry, displaced sheets. It pooled in her hands, folded but upturned near her breast. This rain had been sea but a few days before, compelled heavenward in its watery rhythm.
Although it had traveled the cycle hundreds of times since, the brackish sea-rain remembered well the day it had watched Valinor twisted from the earth and had cried out in loss, clinging to the shores of Aman until its strength failed and it crashed back to its forsaken bed. In its fury it had rolled across the world and devoured Númenor ere it clawed into the shores of Middle-earth with torrents of ruin. Now it streamed from the sky in beads of prophecy, driven eastward by wind that tumbled around Arda Bent. And Galadriel, the seer of water, was soaked through to the skin, to the soul, a witness to all the rain remembered as it lashed through her in its haste to become sea again. The vision returned to her, haunting with familiarity and meaning that lurked, fever-like, beyond the edge of sight. Such death! Yet the sea was not evil; it was simply the sea, and it did not care. It did not care if its chill froze the blood and its fire burned the lungs. It had no concern for its crushing weight, nor of the bodies tumbled in its depths. It had no mercy for a frantic cry, a sputtering last word, a drowning voice that faded to silence. It was the sea, and tears merely added to its depth.
"Mother?" a puzzled voice chided, jarring her from the waking dream. "What are you doing out here? It is pouring!
She composed herself -- badly, she knew -- before turning to face her son. "Yes," she answered faintly. "It does seem to be."
Amroth tilted his head and sighed, as grown children are wont to do when facing the aggravating frailties of their parents, before drawing her under the porch awning. "The dream again," he said flatly. "The vision."
"Which vision?" Galadriel asked, regaining strength enough for an enigmatic parry.
"The vision you don't speak of, but which frightens Father enough to reveal it Celebrían and me, despite your wishes," Amroth answered shortly. "The one you have about death and the sea, though the wave came years ago. The one you do not understand why you are still having."
"Visions of the past are common among the foresighted," Galadriel answered calmly, and Amroth threw up his hands in annoyance.
"You have more control than that, Mother," he answered.
"Not of late," she admitted softly. "Not since the world changed. Somehow, I find that with Valinor farther, my desire for it is greater; since the sea became more unfathomable, my longing for it more intense. And through it all, my visions more persistent."
"These last years have been hard on both you and Father," Amroth said gently, taking his mother's hand. "You suffered through a calamity that we inlanders can scarcely comprehend. I don't think the Sea is good for you; it gives you no ease. I wish you would reconsider, and come to Lorien for a time. The mallorn have grown magnificent; both they and I would delight to have you nearer."
The rained increased its fury, as if in disagreement. "It would be good to see you more often, but we have responsibilities here," Galadriel answered. "We can not simply leave our people behind."
Amroth frowned at her. "Mother, there are more men now in Belfalas than elves, and those who remain will find a way to survive without you! Can you not see that the Sea is tormenting you, that the more time Father spends away from the deep forest, the darker his moods have become? Where is it written that rulers must suffer? What divine edict tells you that leadership means abandoning your own needs?"
Galadriel smiled gently, fully in command of herself again. "We are fine, Amroth. It has been difficult at times, but it has been more important for us to be in this place. Worry not," she said, and managed to glide off the portico and into the house despite her sodden state. Then she laughed softly, like the first whispers of dawn. "But you can help me by ensuring that when you journey to Gondor tomorrow with Celebrían and your father, you take the longest path through the trees."
"The coasts are much better," Celebrían said in satisfaction. "That is one of the things I have always admired about time -- its ability to turn desolation into a satisfyingly tangled heap of life."
Amroth laughed and pulled his beloved sister close. They were standing together near the tip of Belfalas, overlooking the coast as it sloped northwest to their right and northeast to their left. "That is one of the things I have always admired about you, Celebrían," Amroth teased. "Your ability to say the most profoundly nonsensical things. You must get it from Mother."
Celebrían reached up and mock-cuffed his shoulder. "And you, my brother, have a great gift for ruining the mood of the moment. You must get it from Father." Down the bluff a few paces, Celeborn folded his hands behind his back and studiously ignored them.
"Truly," Celebrían said earnestly, pulling on Amroth's hand, "it is much better. Try to image the trees splintered up beyond those rocks, see, there? Image the broken cry of the land where bluffs had been torn away, exposing great gashes of sand and rock bone-white against the sea. Image flotsam and bodies caught in the currents, a smell worse than that of the darkest orc pit, and you will begin to understand."
"I do not know if I want to," Amroth answered soberly. "It sounds like a nightmare from some ancient tale, not a memory that should still be so vivid to my own sister. It must have been harrowing."
"It was," Celeborn interjected quietly.
"But it is better now," Celebrían firmly declared.
Indeed, the days following the cataclysmic wave had been more trying than the event itself. The weather had turned foul as the clouds caught up with the sea, and a stream of crushed refugees had pushed the reeling elves beyond their strength. Celeborn remembered stepping under a dripping pavilion, stuffed full with a mass of huddled misery, and being struck by a chill that would not lift. There had been two hundred more in the tent than an hour before, so despite the storm, it should have been steaming the breath and sweat. Instead he shivered at the cold grief pooled in the eyes around him and made a note to recruit some singers to drift through the shelter. The minstrels would not have the heart to sing of joy, but they could sing of sorrow, and thus bring it out into the air where acceptance might warm it.
Celeborn walked among them, and the few that glanced up saw little more than another scout in shifting gray. The lord clenched his fists and breathed, trying to remember how hope felt. A grown man was curled on the mud, rocking as he sobbed. Celeborn knelt and stilled him with a gentle hand.
"Have you seen my son?" the man gasped, gripping the elf's arm maniacally. Celeborn grimaced in vague pain and blinked, trying to follow the fisherman's thick accent. The language of men shifted quickly over the generations, but anguish needed no translation. "My son!" the man cried, burying his face in his hands as Celeborn stood helplessly. "My son!"
A moment later a sodden elf squelched by, his cloak wrapped around a young boy in his arms. The elf glanced up at his lord in grim resignation before handing the child to Celebrían, who was tending a group of little mortals. Orphans all, undoubtedly.
"Do you speak?" she gently questioned, poking a wafer of lembas into his chubby fingers, but the toddler's only answer was a solemn stare from newly-old eyes.
"Where did you find that one, Limnen?" Celeborn asked the scout, his friend of old.
The elf raked his fingers through his muddy hair and sighed. This was not the first disaster he had survived, nor the second, nor even the third. But it did not get easier.
"In one of an unending number of ruined fishing villages," he answered. "Not Númenórean, but one of those tiny coves where men of this shore lived as best they could. Clearly, Ossë did not warn them. Or if he did, they did not understand," he said, shaking his head, and turned to face the storm again.
"Wait," Celeborn said, and catching the captain's shoulder pulled him near so the men would not hear. "Limnen, our supplies are spread thin. There are so many are here with nothing but what we can give them, and I am running out of things to give. Is there no village still standing, no place where these men can go?"
Limnen shook his head sharply. "Nay, lord. The world of men is destroyed from here to Pelargir. In truth, the number of refugees horrify me -- not because the numbers are so great, but because they are so small." He sighed, and turned his head to look across the host of miserable exiles. "Do you want us to abandon the rescue efforts? Do you want us to begin turning people away?"
Celeborn released his friend's shoulder, and stood aside, his head bowed. "No," he said at last, shaking his head. "No. I will not send them back into rain and death. The healers tell me that half of these are already ill, from this cursed storm, from the sickness of rotting corpses, from grief ... no, I will find a way."
"Good," Limnen answered, and something in the ferocity of the reply cut through Celeborn's preoccupation.
"What have you seen, my friend?" he asked quietly.
The elf sighed heavily. "I thought I had seen all the faces of death at Doriath, at Sirion, at Eregion. But this! The smell in those villages is so thick I could feel it on my skin. As if ... " The captain gestured at the air, trying to form it into some meaning, then continued: "As if it was crawling up from the mud in a horror of death and fish. In one village the only living thing was a mangy black dog that stalked our patrol. I do not think it had gone without food, although even orcs would have turned away now. We found the boy in the next village, sitting on a pile of wood, a dead woman beside him. In the village beyond, there was no life at all. And it goes on, my lord, for miles without end."
Celeborn nodded tiredly, then with a sharp breath submerged his own weariness and despair. "Do what you can, my friend, and be careful," he said in dismissal, and with a bow Limnen faded into the rain.
With a sigh, the lord slipped through the despondent mass toward several scouts, who were gesturing over one of Celeborn's old maps. He paused beside a small fire, where some of the more self-possessed survivors were warming themselves. He spoke gently to them, although he knew what they would say. They would speak of a fine, clear morning shattered by terror, of lives lost or saved at the whim of an eddy, of homes and wives, of children and parents, all gone. When their tales were over Celeborn would ask them to stay a few days, in case he required more information. He knew they had been proud men, not takers of charity, but if sorrowful tales were all they had, at least he could give them value.
The scouts stood silently aside when Celeborn arrived at their table. He turned the map and frowned at their notations, which sketched the halting progress of the rescue effort. The map was outdated, but it was no matter -- the land had changed so profoundly in a few short days that even newly surveyed maps would not have been accurate.
"I know we have not done enough, my lord," one of the youngest scouts broke in nervously. "The rubble on the shore is treacherous ..."
"Have any of you had any rest or food in the last day and a half?" Celeborn interrupted, his eyes still on the map.
The youths shifted guiltily. "I fear we are not hungry, my lord," one answered. Celeborn nodded, unsurprised. "My lord?" the same scout asked tentatively. When Celeborn looked up, he continued. "What caused this?"
"A wave," Celeborn answered, and smiled faintly at the other's ill-smothered sigh.
"My sister is foresighted," the youth pressed. "Not like your lady, but yesterday she told me that Valinor is gone. And in my heart, I feel the sorrow in the world, as if it has been twisted and shattered to its very bones. What if it is so? What if the wave destroyed Aman? What of my grandfather, who sailed to those shores long ago? What of my mother, in Mandos' Halls? And what of us, if the Valar are dead?"
Celeborn looked down again. He was tempted to snipe that if that Valar were gone, life would be no worse than usual, and possibly much better, but he knew that it would be the wrong thing to say to these young men and women. In truth, he doubted that he actually believed it himself; if nothing else, this proved that the Valar had kept the world in balance. But if not with sarcasm, he was unsure how to answer.
"Yes," he answered slowly, still choosing his words. "Much is wrong in the world; I can feel it as well as you. When I reach for the earth, it snarls its pain into my blood. The world has changed. But I cannot tell you of Valinor, or Mandos, or the Valar. I cannot tell you why people must die in their homes or why a child must sit for three days beside his mother's corpse. I do not know. I doubt even Manwe on the Mountain, if he still has a mountain, truly knows."
At the fallen faces and bowed shoulders of his scouts, Celeborn silently cursed the crushing melancholy that he could not seem shake. He was old enough to know that a leader was not permitted to display such frailty, even if it was the truth. He reached to an ancient memory of Elu, standing bloodied in battle, for stronger words. "Yet I think the world will be better again," he said, his conviction false, although the youths could not perceive it. "We are not yet at the end of joy. Neither are we at the end of work. Now go and find some rest. I will need you again later," he said, dismissing them all.
"We are not doing well," Celeborn said to the shadows.
"I know," Galadriel answered, speaking from where she had stood, unseen.
"At first I thought our own people fared better," Celeborn said quietly, "but I begin to doubt. Our losses look smaller but feel as great. There is no song in Ennor, save for a whimpered gasp to Ilúvatar to undo whatever He has done. I see the same heart-sickness in the faces of our people as I feel within myself, and they ask me of Valinor. They ask me if we will rebuild the port, but I cannot even tell them if there is a place to sail toward."
"I believe Valinor is gone," Galadriel answered, "but not destroyed. Beyond that, I cannot say. Círdan will know more. Have you received any world from Mithlond?"
"No. I do not image that Calandil has been able to reach it yet, assuming it still exists. Nor have I had word from Amdír or Oropher. We need aid, Galadriel," he said urgently. "Already we are caring for more than we are able: the elves of Edhellond, the dark men of Ennor, minor lords of Númenor, the survivors of Pelargir, numerous children, four little people, even two dwarves. More are coming every hour, our supplies are already breaking, yet I cannot turn them away."
Galadriel nodded, and in the pause Celeborn reached for her hand.
"And what of you, lady?" he asked gently, and she smiled wanly at him.
"Valinor is not destroyed," she answered, as one trying to will it so. "And we will survive this."
"Even after all this, the sea calls to you still," Celeborn said flatly. It was not a question.
"It is not something I can control," Galadriel said, a little stiffly.
"I know," Celeborn said, and smoothed the back of her hand. Then his gaze lengthened to follow a swift-moving group of scouts across the room. "This bodes ill," he said, his concern rising as they pushed heedlessly through the crowd.
"What is it?" he had asked shortly, stepping toward the out-of-breath leader. Although he had not known it then, the answer would change Middle-earth for the rest of time.
"Ships, my lord," the elf had gasped. " Númenorean ships, not five miles down the coast."
"Ah, Lord Celeborn!" Isildur cried. "At last! I began to fear that you would not come. Forgive my faithlessness; I should have remembered that haste is a mannish custom, and that the elves come when they arrive." At the words Celeborn laughed, a sound like dancing trees and as rare, and clasped Isildur's arms.
"We are here now," he answered, "and forgive us our long wandering through the forests; we had intended to arrive less tardily, but when groves wish to sit and remember, I fear I am as apt to lose track of seasons as days." Celeborn turned, his palm out, and said: "Isildur, my daughter Celebrían, whom you know."
"Lady," Isildur effervesced, bowing deeply.
"And Amroth, my son, a lord of Lorien."
"My Lord Amroth," Isildur nodded, and gestured for the elves to follow him. "Welcome to Minas Ithil and the Tower of the Rising Moon."
"This is certainly a place to be proud of," Amroth said cordially, coming to stand beside him as they walked the marble boulevard. "It is my understanding that this is the seat of your house, with Minas Anor the house of your brother? But that you do not rule Gondor from either place?"
"Indeed," Isildur answered. "Osgiliath is our chief city. But with father ruling Arnor in the north, we both felt it was time we had our own homes for our children and families."
"Of course," Amroth answered, nodding knowingly. "You have done well for yourselves."
Isildur shook his head in bemused gratitude. "I scarce could have imagined this when we arrived here those years ago, no better than beggars, and exiled beggars at that. Have you ever heard the tale of our first days? Before we sailed up the River Anduin?"
"Not the whole tale, and certainly not from the lips of one who lived it," Amroth admitted.
"We came ashore in a small harbor, still in the midst of the storm," Isildur began, "for I feared we would be dashed to our deaths on the cliffs ..."
Isildur splashed into the thigh-high water with his men and heaved the longboat onto the uneven shore. He breathed with relief at the land beneath his feet, for his most prized possessions were aboard -- his children, and a sapling tree.
He pushed his soaked hair out of his eyes and looked around their landing. Clearly, something was badly amiss, for what remained of the beach was strewn with splintered detritus. Although he had not considered it before, it certainly followed that any calamity that could destroy Númenor could do the same to Middle-earth. He looked to his children, shaking with cold, and his heart sank. He had hoped to find aid here, some shelter, but with rain filling the small boat their only welcome was desolation. He wished they had been able to remain on the ships, but had not trusted the storm or the towering rocks to the left and right of this little port. The ships, which held many of the jewels of Númenor, were anchored beyond, but Isildur had little hope that they would be able to return.
"There is no sign of father or his ships?" Anárion asked, his brother's voice weak with illness. The trip, borne on the fury of the waves, had been the most difficult days any of them had ever lived, compounded by the grief of watching Númenor be devoured by the sea. No one was well, but no one could be afforded the luxury of rest.
"No," Isildur answered shortly, and would not permit himself to think on it. He had to consider all the lives that five ships could save before his own grief. "We need to unload the boats. Carry the supplies ... up, to those rocks beyond, do you see? We need to work on a shelter, a fire, if it is possible in this downpour, and food for the children."
"Where are we, Isildur?" his wife asked, climbing shakily from the boat with their youngest babe in her arms.
Isildur shook his head. "Middle-earth, somewhere. I lost our precise our position days ago."
"Something feels wrong," Anárion interjected softly, his eyes darting around the empty shore. "We are watched, brother. Stalked. Do you not feel it?" Isildur did, and remembered abruptly that this was not a paradise created by gods, but a wild land. This was Sauron's abode, where lived orcs, and dwarves, and fell beasts. He turned back to his anchored ships, barely visible in the storm, and wondered whether it would be more dangerous to stay, or more dangerous to face the rocks.
"Perhaps we should return to the ships for the night ..." Isildur began warily.
"I think not," a strange voice spoke from beside him, and Isildur stiffened as a group of cloaked figures stepped out around them from the thin air. He could not see their faces under their hoods, and they faded at their edges as the wind stirred around them.
"Who are you?" the voice spoke again, unkindly.
"Men of Númenor," Isildur spoke firmly, and was certain that somewhere there were unseen weapons pointed at his heart.
"And what brings you here now, Man of Númenor?" the other probed. "The last time we saw your red sails, you came for war, and to claim things which were not yours."
"We are refugees," Isildur answered angrily. "We are no army. Surely you can see the women and babes behind me?"
"My understanding," the other answered pointedly, "was that the men of Númenor slayed women and children on the fiery alters of Morgoth. Perhaps they are your future victims?"
"They are our wives and children, and we will protect them with our lives!" Isildur exploded, reaching for his belt dagger.
"That would not be wise," the other said mildly, and Isildur was inclined to agree, faced suddenly with dozens of deadly points. He carefully unwrapped his fingers from around the hilt and moved his arms away from his sides. "Why would men of Númenor seek refuge here?" the stranger continued, unfazed.
"Our land was destroyed by the hissing words of Sauron the Snake and the foolish pride of our king," Isildur answered, quietly seething. "Who thought himself lord of the world, and damned us all when he sailed to Valinor in war." Although the intruder did not move, Isildur felt that he was unsurprised by the revelation. Clearly, this one had known of Sauron's plans.
"What of Sauron?" he asked, too offhandedly to be truly disinterested.
"Dead," Isildur said smugly, and he knew the answer had disturbed his interrogator.
"You must be one of two people," the other said after a long pause. "Elendil, or Isildur."
"Isildur," he confirmed with surprised suspicion, and jumped when the inquisitor moved for the first time, pulling back his hood.
An elf! But this was no elf of Valinor, not one of those bright and merry mariners Isildur had known in his youth. No, this was an elf of Middle-earth, one who had been born in the darkness and was on comfortable terms with death. This one, with his shrouded eyes and grim demeanor, was far more dangerous. The elf looked over Isildur's people with something like brittle resignation in his face.
"You clearly need refuge, and you need aid," the elf said. "We have both a short march north. My patrol will carry your belongings." Isildur would have protested this presumptuous command had not several dozen more unseen elves stepped out from the rain.
"Where did they come from?" Isildur asked, shocked.
"They have always been here," the elf answered, and Isildur heard a ripple of amusement in his voice. It was incongruous compared to the earlier imperious menace in the elf's voice, a musical undertone that utterly banished the dark interrogator. Isildur fought himself, not wishing to trust it, for Sauron had used such tricks. Still, he could not help but wonder if the stars sang when this one laughed, and how many years it had been since it was so.
Movement at the edge of his sight startled Isildur from his reverie, for the elves had heaved the tree from the boat. "Wait!" he begged, the plea still half-formed in his heart before he spoke. They were elves; surely they would not harm a tree. Yet his soul cried out in anguish, lest they take it from him.
"Release that!" the leader of the elves ordered, and in that moment Isildur knew he was hearing a voice that had commanded armies, an elf of terrifying depth. He walked around the tree, and Isildur could not see who was more awed: the tree, or the lord.
"What is this?" the elf breathed reverently.
"The White Tree," Isildur answered, faintly at first, though his voice firmed as he spoke. "Grown from the fruit of Nimloth the Fair, which stood in the courts of the Bang at Armenelos ere Sauron burned it. It is a descendant of the Tree of Tirion, that was in the image of the Eldest of Trees, White Telperion."
"I begin to understand the light in Elu's eyes," the elf murmured, his words clearly not meant for Isildur's ears. "And Galadriel's."
The elf looked up with new respect in his ancient gaze, and strangely, a hope that had not burned there before. "Come, Isildur, Friend of the Tree," he spoke. "I am Celeborn, lord of this land. Permit us to help you in your need."
"The Tree is doing well here in Minas Ithil," Celeborn said, walking slowly around it where it stood proudly in its new shrine.
"It is," Isildur answered, coming forward to smooth the milky bark. The elf watched the caress, his eyes filling with deep merriment.
"It is very fond of you, you know," the elf teased, and Isildur grinned.
"Do you think so?" he asked modestly.
"I know so," Celeborn answered. "I do not think I have ever met a tree so pleasantly voluble. Not every tree can regale visitors with tales of a daring rescue from execution, a mad voyage on the jaws of a storm, or trips up rivers and over mountains."
"True," Isildur laughed. He was not sure about the elf's claims that the tree spoke to him. While he had never heard the tree's voice himself, there were moments when he thought he felt it singing just beyond the range of sound. And then there were other moments when he though Celeborn was having him on.
Although he had come to love the elf lord in the years he had know him, he had never entirely shaken the distrust of their first meeting. Since that day, he had not seen him in any mood other than smoothly unruffled. But Isildur knew it for what it was. During his youth in the court of the King Isildur had known one of the large cats imported from the southern parts of Middle-earth. It had reclined most days on a silk pillow, condescending to sit regally in the presence of men with an air of supreme unflappability. Isildur had not thought the gorgeous beast dangerous until the day he heard it had mauled one of its keepers, springing from bored indifference to liquid savagery ere the man could cry out.
Such was the ancient silver lord.
"I knew not that you had a son," he said, gesturing for the elf to join him at an alcove in the star-covered pavilion. "Wine?" he offered, and lit a lamp.
"Please," Celeborn answered. "Amroth is my son, but also the adoptive heir of my great friend, Amdír king of Lorien, and spends most of his time there," he continued after he settled in. "We do not see as much of him as we would like."
"My father likely has the same complaint about me," Isildur chuckled.
"True," the other answered, tilting his glass in agreement. After a pause in which both enjoyed the wine and the stars, he continued: "your city is becoming beautiful and impressive. You should be proud of what you have done here, and of the contentment of your people."
"Thank you," the Lord of Gondor said. "We owe much of our present success to the support you gave us during our darker years."
"Hmm," Celeborn answered noncommittally, and turned his face to the peace of the night sky. He looked, Isildur thought privately, quite cat-like. "However, I must admit to some concern about the location of your city," the elf continued after a moment, "here upon the shoulders of the mountains of Mordor."
Isildur leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his goblet in his hands. "Sauron is dead," he said quietly. "I watched as the land he corrupted, Númenor, my home, was buried under the waves, and the Snake with it. The price was too high, but it was the only good thing to come out of the cataclysm. I have a vision, now, of retaking Sauron's land as my own, of reclaiming Mordor in a kind of poetic symmetry. I know it will take longer than my life, or the lives of my children's children. But I hope that someday you will stand beside my heirs and tell them of the glorious reclamation. And I hope they will not believe you when you tell them such desolation ever existed."
"A beautiful dream, my friend," the elf murmured, his eyes closed as he reclined back into his chair.
"You do not think that Sauron is dead," Isildur stated.
"No," Celeborn answered simply.
"It was too easy."
"Easy?" Isildur replied, mildly outraged. " Númenor's death was too easy?"
"Yes," Celeborn replied, and Isildur had no answer.
"I have something to show you," he said, changing the subject, and drew a parchment out of a pouch. "We have made the borders of Gondor official, drawn up the proper legal documents and maps, lest there should ever be dispute about what land is ours."
"One does not claim land with lines on a map," the elf philosophized drowsily, his eyes still closed. "It claims you, if it wishes."
"Humor me," Isildur said, and the lord sat up with a smile, which quickly faded.
"Are you jesting?" he asked, looking sideways at his companion.
"No," Isildur answered, puzzled.
"You've annexed Belfalas."
"What?" he cried, and turned the map toward him. Then he burst into laughter, deeply amused. "Well, my lord, it seems I have. Welcome to the kingdom of Gondor! You may direct your tithes to us at any time, so long as it is once a year." At the look on Celeborn's face, Isildur quickly bridled his mirth. "Now I am jesting, my lord. Of course we do not intend to claim your country. I will have this all redrawn correctly."
"No," Celeborn said slowly, his face troubled. "It is not that. You are direct heirs of Elros, are you not?"
"Yes," Isildur answered, surprised at the shift in conversation. "Through a female line, but it is direct."
"His only living heirs?" Celeborn pressed.
"Yes, I believe so."
"What do you know of his ancestors?"
Isildur shrugged and recited: "Elros was the son of Earendil the Mariner and Elwing the White."
Celeborn stood and paced. "Those people are but names to you. But I knew them. Elwing was my brother's grandchild, did you know that? But she was more than that. She was also the granddaughter of Luthien, who was the daughter of my king."
"Indeed?" Isildur answered, startled, but not fully following.
"Elwing was precious to us," Celeborn continued, "for she was the only living heir of Elu Thingol, who was king of all the elves of Middle-earth, ere he was slain. When Elwing brought forth two sons, we rejoiced. They were Elrond, whom you know as Lord of Imladris; and Elros, your great ancestor, who was a king. Have you ever wondered why Elrond never took an equal title?"
"I haven't," Isildur admitted.
"Elrond was the younger," Celeborn answered simply, "Elros the elder."
It took Isildur a beat to absorb the implications. "Are you saying ..." he started, amazed.
"Elrond would never take the title, not while his brother's children still lived," the elf lord said. "And I am saying that if you wish to claim Belfalas, I do not have the authority to withstand you. I will not oppose the return of the king."
Next chapter: Sauron returns.
A/N: I'm ashamed to admit I haven't updated this story since January. I've had several life-changing events in the last several months, and there are more coming. In May I completed a major goal: I graduated cum laude from law school. After that, I packed well over 10,000 miles of traveling under my belt. The first trip was a dream vacation around the Caribbean. The second trip across the country was, unfortunately, for my grandfather's funeral. The third was a trip back a week later to help wrap up some of his affairs. In my spare moments I've been studying for the Bar Exam, which I'm taking at the end of July. I start a new job in August, am planning on buying my first house soon after, and need to get a new car. Whew! Crazy life. It should calm down one of these days. At least, that's what I keep telling myself ;) Still, my deep apologies for the delay.
"[T]heir enemy, Sauron, had also returned . . he came with great force against the new realm of Gondor, and he took Minas Ithil . . . But Isildur escaped, and taking with him a seedling of the Tree he went with his wife and his sons by ship down the River, and they sailed from the mouths of Anduin seeking Elendil. Meanwhile Anárion held Osgiliath against the Enemy, and for that time drove him back to the mountains; but Sauron gathered his strength again, and Anárion knew that unless help should come his kingdom would not long stand."
- The Unfinished Tales
Chapter 10: The Last Alliance
From the thunderous fury of Ilúvatar's wrath, Sauron was thrust suddenly into darkness. Stripped utterly of his glorious form, he remembered that his body had been a conditional gift. He also bitterly recalled what he had forgotten -- that despite his dominion and bold boasts, the universe was filled with powers greater than his own. Nay, he had not forgotten. In the crystalline truth of the formless deep, he admitted that he had counted himself among those deities -- above those deities -- and he wailed soundlessly at his error, spread for an eternal moment between the burning suns from whence he had been formed.
But from that forsaken waste, a voice came at last, calling him by a forgotten name of light -- his first name, a gift mightier even than his shining body. The voice was familiar, and how could it not be? It was the voice that had organized his intelligence from the cacophonous stars, the voice that had gently sung him into being.
Return, it said with infinite love. Repent.
And perhaps, in this moment of utter defeat, he would have -- perhaps, had it been his choice. But he did not have the power to refuse the loathsome command of a golden ring, hidden deep in a mountain on an obscure world. He realized, too late, that his soul was irrevocably entwined with a chain of his own design, bound to an abyss darker than this endless void. In the formless despair of his helplessness, he believed he had nothing. He did not even have the ring, for in truth, it had him. But when he awoke in his fetid womb of rebirth, he saw that he was not utterly bereft. As he brooded in the dark, conjuring a new and terrible shape, he realized one thing had grown in his absence, which gave him strength to take up the great Ring and cloth himself in its power, ere he turned his burning eye toward Elves and Men.
He still had his hatred.
"You ride alone, father?" Amroth asked without preamble, catching the horse's bridle as the other swung to the ground. Celeborn had come unexpectedly to the Golden Wood, unaccompanied and grim-faced. He gleamed silver and green, clad in the mithril armor that Amroth had not seen in many centuries. As a boy, he had remembered touching the cunningly wrought joints that caused the metal to move like silk, awed at the graceful lines he now knew had been brilliantly engineered to shrug off deadly blows. Its maker, Celebrimbor, had laughed at his little kinsman's expression. He had begged the master smith to make him such a gift, and with a twinkle in his eye, Celebrimbor had solemnly agreed to do so once young Galadaran reached his full height. By then, however, Celebrimbor had been enthralled by his rings, and the promise had gone unfulfilled.
Celeborn slapped his heaving horse's neck with thankful approval, and swung a rucksack of gear from the creature's shoulder to his own. The beast snorted, grateful to be still, and Celeborn handed it off to a young elf with murmured instructions to sooth the weariness from its limbs.
"I had need for speed," Celeborn said, answering his son's question and clasping his shoulder in greeting as he looked to where Amdír, King of Lorien, swiftly approached. Celeborn's eyebrows quirked in surprise when he saw who accompanied him.
Amroth smiled faintly. "Your timing is impeccable, father. Murmurings of ill tidings have already reached us, and Oropher arrived from Greenwood yesterday, to discuss what should be done. They have been in counsel since this morning, and will welcome your insight."
"Perhaps," Celeborn said guardedly.
"This bodes ill," Amdír said bluntly, stepping forward to embrace his friend as Amroth smoothly relieved his father of the rucksack. "Celeborn, clad in armor, arriving unexpectedly and with no guard--looking for all the world like a shadowy captain of Doriath I once knew."
"Remembering who you truly are," Oropher stated flatly. The King of Greenwood stood slightly apart from the group, his arms crossed across his chest.
Celeborn shrugged. "It's been a long time, Oropher." Amroth could not tell if he father was talking about an age long passed, where they had fought together beneath Elu's banner, or if he was speaking of their last meeting, which had ended with harsh words neither could take back.
"True, cousin," Oropher said mildly. Amdír glanced cautiously between the two elves and, apparently satisfied that they did not intend to come to blows--at least for the moment--gestured toward the great hall across the glen.
"It is unusual to see you utterly unaccompanied," Amdír observed as they walked. "I would expect to see at least faithful Calandil at your side."
Celeborn stripped off his gauntlets and slapped them absently against his palm. "I have just come from Osgiliath," he said, "and Gondor needed every hand that I could spare."
"Then it is as we have heard?" Oropher asked, closing the door behind them as they crossed the threshold. "Sauron is moving?"
"Has Minas Ithil fallen? What of Isildur?" Amdír interjected before Celeborn could answer.
"It has fallen," Celeborn answered heavily, shaking his head as he sat down. Amroth handed across a mug of mulled wine and noted a slight, almost imperceptible clumsiness in his father's fingers that spoke volumes about his weariness. "The White Tree is dead, and of Isildur I do not know. Anárion has rallied at Osgiliath, but he is hard pressed. He cannot hold long, and when he fails, the orcs will be at all our doors. I have not seen evil armies such as this since the old days, my friends, when we fought against Morgoth in the darkness."
"It is Sauron; you are certain?" Oropher pressed, pacing. "I thought that the exiled men said he was dead."
"They thought he was," Celeborn agreed. "But Galadriel and I believe that the One Ring remained in Middle-earth, and are both firmly of the opinion that so long as it survives, Sauron survives. But the point is entirely philosophical. There is no question: the enemy is moving, and that enemy is Sauron." The pronouncement hung heavily in the air between the kings and lord.
"Has there been any discussion about a response?" Amdír asked after a moment.
"I'm sure there has been," Celeborn said. "Gil-galad sent us a missive several weeks ago, requesting that Galadriel and I come to Lindon for a council."
Oropher snorted derisively, and Amdír threw him a warning look.
"Obviously, I am not there," Celeborn continued, ignoring his cousin. "For I had just received a desperate request from Gondor, and thought it more prudent to lead a force to its aid before it was too late, than ride the other direction to talk about it. However, I intend to ride to Lindon soon; indeed, I will need to leave before this day is ended. But given what I have seen at the borders of Mordor, there is only one answer. War is inevitable." He stared piercingly at the kings before him. "Tell me that you will join us."
Both elves sighed. "I know not about you," Oropher said, looking at Amdír and Amroth, "but the Silvan Elves in Greenwood have little desire to meddle in the affairs of the Nolder and Sindar, of Dwarves, and Men, and Orcs."
Celeborn stirred, but Amdír raised a quieting hand.
"It is as you say, my lord," Amroth answered. "I have spoken of such matters with Nimrodel, her heart is aligned with the will of her people. They know that darkness is afoot, but would rather slip gently before it than stand against it and be battered. They whisper that they can live more happily spread abroad, dancing in the starlight and disappearing before enemies appear, than standing before the gates of Mordor, waiting to die." Amroth shrugged. "They say that they have done it before."
"They have," Oropher answered sadly.
"That is foolishness," Celeborn dismissed flatly. Both Amdír and Amroth flinched.
Oropher turned slowly toward his cousin, knotting his fists. "Would you impose your will on them? Force them to see the world your way, as the Noldor tried to do with us? As your wife has clearly done with you?"
"Ai, Elbereth," Amdír sighed under his breath.
Celeborn surged to his feet, his eyes hardening. "Galadriel has nothing to do with this."
"No?" Oropher challenged.
"No," Celeborn growled, bring his face within inches of the woodland king's. "It is easy to sing songs and mourn for the elder days, when the world was new. But those songs conveniently forget to mention the terror of Morgoth's minions, of women defiled and children slain while they 'danced under the starlight.'"
"Peace?" Celeborn laughed incredulously, his armor whispering as he gestured. "You may choose to abdicate your responsibility to Middle-earth and its free peoples--people who have, by the way, bled and died in the past for your kingdom's safety--but if Sauron is not stopped, the elder days will return in truth. They will die either way," he snapped, and then stepped back with a groan as he realized exactly what he had said. "They will die unless Sauron is stopped," he amended.
Oropher chuckled hollowly and turned away, the fight going out of him. "No, you have the right of it, Mandos damn you and your cruel precision. My Silvan elves will die either way, but peace will not return unless Sauron is overcome. You will have it your way. Greenwood will raise an army for the High King. Amdír?"
"Loriand will stand with you," Amdír answered quietly, and Oropher nodded curtly.
"Good seeing you, cousin," Oropher spat over his shoulder, and surged angrily out the door.
Amdír passed his hand over his eyes and took a shuddering breath. "You are leaving today?" he asked pointedly.
Celeborn slumped in his chair and threw back the remainder of his wine. "If you have a fresh horse I could borrow," he said dully, "I am leaving now."
The king glanced at his friend, his expression softening. "You do not have to leave today," he said gently
Celeborn put his head in his hands, "Ai, but I do. You have not seen what I have seen. I am not certain we have even hours to spare. Sauron is moving with great speed; perhaps -- perhaps -- too much. He may be making errors. But the only way we can exploit them, and the only way we can save ourselves from been swept aside in the torrent, is if we catch him first."
Isildur knew he had been standing helpless in the High King's garden the entire night, studying the pale stick that poked pathetically out of the soil of a too-large vessel, and chasing his thoughts in churning circles. But he could think of nothing else to do.
His White Tree was dead, and he had been able to save only this ever-weakening seedling from the dark flames that consumed his beautiful city. In the preceding years, he had watched in growing dread as Mordor awoke at his doorstep. When the mountain in the east began spewing plumes of smoke, he had prayed it was merely Middle-earth's temper, until his spies brought terrible tidings of a Dark Tower rising out of the pit. On that day, he abandoned prayer and began arming his people for war -- but their preparations were as futile as his petitions, as vain as his belief that the Snake had died with Númenor. Sauron's minions had melted through Minas Ithil's defenses as if mere babes manned the garrisons. He had barely escaped the ruin, sailing down the Anduin with his wife and his sons, and now they all -- mortals and tree -- lived off the charity of his father and Gil-galad. In his desperate flight, he had even abandoned his brother and Osgiliath to stand alone against the enemy.
"Isildur," a gentle voice intruded on his dark thoughts.
"Lady?" he asked, gathering himself as he looked up with polite humility at one of the few beings who could command respect from a prince of men.
"Celeborn has come at last," Galadriel said. "You are needed."
Isildur frowned. "And you come for me yourself?" he asked, bemused.
She smiled in her maddening way. "Walk with me," she commanded, pausing to take his proffered arm. They strolled together in silence, and Isildur knew that he was following her, though they stood side by side.
"Your sapling, the scion of your beloved White Tree, is dying," she continued bluntly.
"Yes," he answered shortly, stopping in his tracks. He knew better than to expect light discourse to pass the time, but did she think him blind? He knew it was dying; it was a deep grief that throbbed in his bones, and robbed him of all endurance in dealing with elves. She looked piercingly at the man, who shifted nervously. He had never been able to meet her gaze, and he knew not why.
"The tree will live when it is convinced you want it to live," she said, "and when you are convinced you care to live yourself."
Annoyed, he recklessly met her gaze, which she coolly returned with a faint arch of amusement in her brow. It was too late to retreat, and so he forged ahead.
"What do you see," he asked with righteous anger, "that you can look at me as if you have forgiven me for something I have not yet done?" He was uncomfortably aware, as he looked into her prophetic eyes, that she could see directly into his soul, while he could only flounder in the millennia obscuring hers. "What do you see?" he repeated stubbornly. She turned away first, and he would have exulted in his victory if he did not know she was being merciful.
Isildur felt his breast fill with enraged frustration at her obfuscations. "Do you know what I see in you?" he burst out.
"Tell me," she said, almost fondly, as though he had finally lived up to the faith she had in him. Flummoxed, his anger fled.
"You are like …" he paused, grasping for eloquence, suddenly desperate to fill this rare opportunity with a thousand words. "Like some majestic bird briefly visiting the earth ere you spring again to the heavens. You can see what is coming, and what has been, but have no hands to change things now."
Galadriel turned back, and his heart lurched at her sorrow. "You see truly," she answered. "But in this I am not alone. The race of elves is aging to obscurity, too heavy with time. The day is coming when we will be able to do little else than lift our voices in warning." She raised her eyes again to his, leaving him gasping, before she turned away to the east. "But those who have hands would do best to listen."
It occurred to him, as he recalled the feverish war-beat of orcish drums, that an admission of impotence by one's only allies did not bode well, particularly on the eve of war.
"Fear not, Isildur," Galadriel said, looking fondly at the approaching figure of her husband. "We are not yet emptied of our strength."
As she spoke, the new day crested the horizon, and she released his arm to face the rising sun. How odd, he thought as he watched the morning light tumble through her hair, that one who had seen so many days could still rejoice in the start of another, when he, for whom so few remained, could barely bring himself to care.
"Lady," Celeborn murmured reverently, coming up beside them. He wrapped her hands in his own and lifted them to his lips.
"Ah," intoned the weary voice of Elrond Peredhil, coming up behind them "Celeborn comes to Mithlond at last. Perhaps that will appease Gil-galad's impatience."
I came as quickly as I could," Celeborn said reprovingly. Elrond shrugged. "Isildur," he continued warmly. "It is good to see you alive. We feared the worst when we heard of Minas Ithil's fall."
"It is good to be seen alive, lord," Isildur answered with a kind of inadequate flippancy. Celeborn studied the prince with a frown, and Isildur knew that the ancient lord did not require an explanation. He too had lost cities to Sauron.
"Elrond," Celeborn said, looking away from the man as his mood shifted to exasperation. The half-elf had started not-so-subtly herding the group toward the great library. "I quite literally just rode through the gates. Do I have time to change?"
Elrond sighed, but Galadriel laughed, a sound of aching beauty to mortal ears, and took her husband's hand with a gesture older than Isildur's race. "The High King has been ensconced in the library since yesterday afternoon, muttering about absent allies who were supposed to arrive days ago. Elrond and I only just escaped; Círdan, Glorfindel, and Elendil are still trapped there with him. Have mercy on us all." She then pulled him near and whispered something softly, which caused him to ruefully acquiesce.
"Celeborn!" Gil-galad roared as they crossed the threshold into the study, scarcely looking up from one of the maps strewn across the table as he shook a rolled scroll in rebuke. Glorfindel glanced up with a welcoming smile.
"I apologize, Ereinion," Celeborn said ruefully, releasing Galadriel's hand as she took a seat beside Círdan and the King. "I am, perhaps, somewhat late."
"A month," the High King said, looking up pointedly. "Galadriel has been here a month. As I recall, my missive requested the presence of both the Lord and Lady of Belfalas? Or, perhaps in my great haste, I neglected to include the Lord?"
Celeborn snorted and shook his head, unmoved by the gibes. Then he drew up, his posture echoing his somber words. "I bring news from Anárion in Osgiliath," he said.
"Ah," Gil-galad sighed, pushing away from the table and settling back in his chair, his sarcasm gone. "Say on.
"Indeed," Elendil echoed, his face lined with a father's concern.
Celeborn nodded and breathed deeply as he waited for Elrond and Isildur to take their places. "When we heard that Sauron was moving on Gondor, I took a small company of men and elves from Belfalas, and rushed to Osgiliath. Alas, too late to save Minas Ithil, as you know," he said, nodding at Isildur. "I sent Calandil to the city in stealth, to see what had become of it. In his opinion, it is now utterly occupied by dark forces, include at least one of the Nazgûl."
"Then call it not Minas Ithil, but Minas Morgul," Isildur mourned sorrowfully, pressing his fingers into his scalp.
"He says the White Tree is dead," Celeborn said, his voice heavy with regret.
"I know," Isildur replied. "And although I saved a sapling ere I fled, I have little hope that it will survive. Perhaps, Lord Celeborn, if you . . ."
"I will do what I can," Celeborn answered quietly.
"Nazgûl?" Gil-galad prompted impatiently, drumming his fingers.
"Mordor has made several attacks on Gondor since then," Celeborn continued. "Yet Osgiliath still stands, although many of its people have withdrawn to Minas Anor, which they are calling Minas Tirith. I left my soldiers with Anárion, who has driven the enemy back into the mountains for the time being. But Sauron is gathering his strength, and Gondor will not long stand without help."
"It is as we feared," Elendil said heavily.
"What is the disposition of the enemy?" Círdan interjected, gesturing vaguely. "How many? What kind?"
"They are largely hidden in Mordor's mountains," Celeborn replied, stepping forward to indicate the position on Gil-galad's map. From what I saw, we have not faced an army such as this since the ancient days. Sauron is collecting Morgoth's spawn, plus dwarves, and men -- not a few of them dispossessed Númenorean lords. And I very much doubt that the Valar will care to come this time."
"We will need all of us," Gil-galad summarized. "All free beings to fight for their lives."
"What of Lorien and Greenwood?" Glorfindel asked.
"None can escape this war," Gil-galad replied testily.
"I spoke to Amdír and Oropher as I came west," Celeborn interjected smoothly as he took a seat, his report ended. "They agree that peace will not return unless Sauron is overcome. They will stand with us."
"Forgive me, Lords, Lady," Elendil said, rising to his feet. "We mortals cannot escape this war, but the elves can. You have Valinor, and frankly, I need to know what you are going to do."
The High King nodded slowly, brooding as he rested in chin on a fist.
"For many of us," said Celeborn angrily, glaring at Gil-galad, "that is no option."
"I would be irresponsible not to consider it," Elrond retorted.
"Elendil," Celeborn said, leaning forward with a sweeping gesture of finality, "I am not leaving. Neither are Amdír and Oropher."
"Perhaps not. But can you speak for all the warriors in you armies?" the half-elf rebutted.
"Very few, if any, will leave from Lorien and Greenwood," Gil-galad mused.
"Some will leave from Imladris," Elrond said slowly. "Perhaps many."
"I can think of several elves from Lindon who will undoubtedly sail when they hear of this," Círdan agreed. "Elves who have seen too much war, and for whom another in untenable."
"We will lose elves from Belfalas," Galadriel said. "We will," she repeated, and Celeborn nodded reluctantly.
After a moment of heavy silence, Gil-galad spoke. "Sauron will grow too strong, and overcome us one by one if we do not unite against him. Elendil, I cannot say how many of us will stand with you. But we will stand with you."
"An alliance?" the king of men pressed.
"Yes," Gil-galad replied firmly.
"A last alliance," Galadriel amended, and Celeborn glanced at her.
"Very well," Gil-galad said, springing to his feet to pace. "We have no time to waste. Elrond, we will stage at Imladris, gathering our forces as we go. Glorfindel, we need a swift call to arms to go out, today, and will march in a fortnight. If that is agreeable to you, Elendil?"
"It is," the man answered.
"Círdan, I will need you with me," the king commanded, and the mariner nodded.
"My last war," he said softly. "I will fight no others."
"That leaves Lindon leaderless," the king mused. "Lady Galadriel, I will ask you to rule in Mithlond in our absence. You will have two roles. First, you will be the most removed from danger, and must be the heart of the army's supplies. Second, you are also our final resort. If we fail, the elves will flee here, and you must be prepared send them to Valinor."
"As you say," the lady answered. "But I suggest that we use Edhellond as an additional refuge. Our daughter is skilled in such matters, and well loved in that city. Between the two ports, we may also be able to move some supplies by sea outside the enemy's sight."
"And if the battle goes ill, would permit more of our people to escape," Gil-galad continued. "I agree. Please see that Celebrían clearly understands her role."
The king turned and splayed his hands on the table. "Elrond, I will also need you by my side."
"As always, my lord," the half-elf answered.
"And I will be at his," Glorfindel said, his tone leaving no room for argument.
The king dropped his head in thought, and then raised it, his expression reluctant, as one facing an inevitable storm. "Lord Celeborn, I have a different role for you."
Next chapter: A seven year war.
A/N: For Redheredh, who sent me an email that inadvertently inspired me to finish this chapter, despite (or perhaps because of) a million other things I should have been doing.
A/N: This chapter contains canonical character deaths and contains scenes of war
"'Yes, yes,' said Gollum. `All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Sméagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came. It was a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible Elves, and Orcses shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.'"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers
Chapter 11: The Plains of Dagorlad
At the High King's nonchalant pronouncement, Amdír glanced at Oropher, concerned about the sudden absence of expression on his old friend's face. Gil-galad had already moved on to another matter, but the King of Greenwood clearly had not. Come to it, neither had Amdír. "A moment, Ereinion," Amdír said mildly, just as Oropher laughed bitterly.
"He has given up, Amdír," Oropher interrupted, his voice dripping with strained derision. Greenwood's king stood abruptly and turned to Elendil. "He has given up, king of men, before we have even begun. Keep that in mind when you follow him into this fight: the 'High King' of the elves does not believe we can win. Can you afford that?" he asked, and, laughing humorlessly, exited the tent.
Amdír sighed, and stood. "This may not have been wise, Gil-galad," he said, and followed his old friend out, leaving a stunned silence behind him.
Oropher was standing several paces away, gleaming angrily in the starlight as he brooded over the twinkling fires of their vast host, his hand resting on his sword as he took sharp breaths of the cold night air. Amdír knew that the great beech-tree emblem of Greenwood was worked into its hilt, but his eyes were drawn to the brand on his shoulder--the same emblem drawn into his own armor, and on Celeborn's. A winged moon, silver on black, in memory of their King.
"Ai, Malgalad," Oropher sighed, using Amdír's childhood name as his friend came to stand beside him.
"I was afraid of this, when he did not arrive with the rest of the counsel," Amdír admitted quietly. "But can you think of anyone more qualified?"
Oropher snorted faintly. "More qualified? No. Maddening as Telpë is, there are few 'more qualified' than he to do anything. Including command an army," he said pointedly.
Amdír paused, and digested the underlying hurt. He felt it as well: Elu's greatest general was not here, and it felt like an insult. But he knew better. "Look at this host," he mused after a moment. "Look at it; I have not seen such a thing since the elder days. It is magnificent. But it must eat. It must be re-supplied, armed, and watched from behind. Celeborn has more ties with all the realms of Middle-earth, including the world of men, than any of us. He will be able to coordinate all that this mighty force will need in the coming years. You and I must keep our people alive in the moments of battle. But someone must keep us all alive through the grinding days. If I were Gil-galad, perhaps I would have made the same choice."
Oropher frowned through lines of grief. "There is truth in what you say, my friend," he said. "But there are many who would have been perfectly capable of coordinating all that must be done behind our lines." He gave a grudging, twisted smile. "Galadriel comes to mind, for example. But think on this: who has stood most often with between Sauron and a doomed city? Who has presided over the most desperate evacuations? Who among us as succored more refugees as they flee terror and death?"
Amdír closed his eyes. The same unpleasant thought had already occurred to him. "Gil-galad knows that among us all, Celeborn is the most qualified to stand against the darkness long enough for our people to escape to Valinor, and so holds him back to hedge our defeat," Amdír summarized heavily. "Yet there is some prudence in that," he continued quietly.
"Only if escape to Valinor is an acceptable option," Oropher cried in despair. "But who among your people would go? Who among mine? I have brought my army here, my brave, doomed army, because defeat in this war cannot be an option. There are many of us who will not heed Mandos's call even in death; why would we choose Valinor to save our lives? Yet with his 'prudence,' Gil-galad reveals that he does not believe we can win this war, and then, as if to seal our fates, holds back one of our most powerful assets."
Amdír nodded, and listened to the sad songs echoing from the city of tents spread before them, for many knew that this was their last night in life. "Celeborn would not have agreed to this unless he thought it wise," he said quietly.
"I know," Oropher answered, "and that worries me deeply."
Celeborn frowned and leaned back in his chair as he rifled through the stack of parchment.
He shook his head and looked up at the rows of books in Elrond's study that, for all their sentinel-like solemnity, would not provide an answer other than the conclusion he had already reached. 'Elrond's study' he still called it in his mind, although it had been his these last three years in which he had been the interim lord of Imladris--and, it seemed, the steward of all of Middle-earth while its lords were off to war. And the guardian of other things, he thought heavily, glancing down at the floor.
A strongbox was hidden under the boards, placed there before the Army of the Alliance marched for Mordor and war. Celeborn had joined Gil-galad, Círdan, and Elrond in the last minutes before they departed.
"All is prepared here," Elrond had said somberly, his heart as heavy in handing Imladris to Celeborn's care as Celeborn's was in taking it. "Isildur has asked that his wife be permitted to stay here. She is midway through her pregnancy; the child will be Isildur's fourth son …"
"Isildur has already spoken to me. I will watch over them," Celeborn said kindly. All of the sons and grandsons of Elendil were going to war, and he knew that Elrond worried that the child, hidden in Rivendell, might be the last of his brother's heirs. Celeborn carefully shielded his own foreboding--that if Elrond died also, the child would also be the last of the blood of Elu Thingol.
"There is one more matter before we go," Gil-galad said, glancing at Círdan and Elrond, who nodded and each placed a ring on the table. Celeborn inhaled sharply.
"No," he said, folding his arms.
"Hear me," Gil-galad said, raising a placating hand. "Vilya is Elrond's, as ever. Narya I have given to Círdan. But we agree that taking them into the jaws of Mordor is folly. We will leave them here, merely under your protection." The king paused, his face darkening at the flat rebellion in Celeborn's eyes. "You are not their bearer," he continued tightly.
"My protection? Celeborn challenged. "How do you know I will not destroy them instead?" he continued, coolly tempting the rage that briefly flared in the ringbearers' eyes.
"That is part of the reason we have put them in your care, rather than Galadriel's," the king said fiercely. "If this war goes badly, as I suspect it might, if we are defeated and overthrown, you are to destroy them by any means." He smiled faintly. "As they seem to have no hold over you, among all Elves, you might find the strength to unmake them."
Celeborn turned away, facing the sunlight that streamed through the window. "No hold over me?" he asked softly. "Say rather that I am helplessly at their mercy, and you will have the right of it. You ask much," he said over his shoulder, straightening in decision. "Too much. I will not do this."
The High King looked at Elrond and Círdan, dismissing them with a jerk of his chin. They shared a rueful shrug and exited quietly.
"By the Valar, Celeborn," Gil-galad said, building into a boiling rage. "Would you rather that we carry them straight into Mordor?"
"You know my opinion about what should be done with them; what should have been done with them," Celeborn replied, turning fluidly to face the king.
Gil-galad gave and incredulous laugh and a shake of his head, and stepped nearer. "As Elbereth is my witness," he said, low and dangerous, "if you will not do this in my name, despite your oaths, despite our alliance, despite our friendship, then I will summon Elendil, and by the blood of Elu Thingol that runs in his veins, you will do this."
Celeborn frowned. "Why did you give Narya to Círdan?" he asked quietly.
Nonplussed, Gil-galad stepped back. "Because I know I will not survive this war," he confessed.
Celeborn nodded, "Galadriel tells me that there are only two ways this will end, my friend," he said. "In utter defeat, or in . . . something less than victory."
"I feel that as well," Ereinion admitted heavily.
"The Elves have ended every war we have ever fought in something less than victory," the silver lord said conversationally, staring at the gleaming rings perched innocuously on the table. "We would not be here, fighting his battle again, if that were not so." He raised his eyes to the king's. "And yet, we are still here."
"Perhaps. But you've changed the subject," Gil-galad said ruefully.
Celeborn turned back to the window. "I will do what you ask, and in your name. Be well, Ereinion Gil-galad. I do not want to lose another of our great kings to the long defeat."
Ereinion had no response.
Elrond and Círdan had returned a few minutes later, each of them placing a ring in an intricately-locking strongbox before carefully concealing it in the floor. As they did so, Celeborn stood mute and immobile, his hands folded behind him as he faced the view out the window.
"Farewell," Gil-galad said quietly to his back.
Celeborn watched as the men and elves of the Last Alliance marched somberly out Imladris. His small force, the elves who would remain to guard the army's supplies and all the roads and lands of Middle earth, lifted their crystalline voices in a lament of parting. Rivendell's guardian did not join them, but he did not turn away until the High King paused for his last view of the hidden valley.
A gentle footstep outside the library eased Celeborn from the memory of that day, three years before. He blinked at the papers strewn on the table, and lifted his gaze. "Lady," he said, standing as Isildur's wife entered the room.
"Pardon me, my lord," she said, hesitating on the threshold. "I did not mean to intrude. I was merely wandering the halls, searching for sleep."
"You'll find none in here," he answered with a soft laugh. "But even so, will you sit?" he asked, tilting his hand. He lifted a very bottle of old wine in query, and she nodded gratefully as she eased into a chair. "Valandil is asleep, I assume?"
"Yes," she said with a smile. "We had a big day. We learned that all kinds of interesting creatures live under logs and rocks, and so have lifted every one in Imladris."
Celeborn chuckled. "An important discovery, and hard work for a little boy," he said. "For his mother too, I would imagine."
She smiled ruefully and sipped her wine. "Messages from the front?" she asked after a moment, indicating the parchments.
"From the front, from the rear, and everywhere between, it seems," the Elf answered. "No word from Isildur," he said, answering her unspoken question. She regretted that she had changed the subject, as the joy brought from her child's antics slipped from his eyes and was replaced by battle-worn concern.
"I remember feeling like your son," he said introspectively. "In my youth, the world seemed wild and endless. If evil follow us, we left it behind and started anew." He shook his head, as if in wonder at his own naïveté.
"Go on," the lady encouraged gently. She had found it was a rare thing for an Elf to expose his deeper thoughts to a mortal; rarer still for the Lord to say anything about himself. She thought of Galadriel, of whom she had always been more than a little frightened, and wondered, with a kind of awe, if he missed her as much as she missed Isildur. Then she considered how many -- centuries? millennia? -- they had been wed, and admitted that he might miss Galadriel more than she could comprehend.
"Love is love, lady," he said, and she blushed, embarrassed that he had followed her thoughts so easily. He glanced away. "Of late, the world seems smaller, for there is nowhere to run," he continued, as much to give her a moment as anything. "And larger, for I find that I feel responsible for all of it."
He frowned and began shuffling through the papers on the table. The lady smiled sadly and stood to go, sensing that his candid mood had passed. But as she stepped over the threshold, he spoke again, and she paused, one hand on the door.
"And yet in the midst of it," he said, his voice low and grieved, "I am beset by a kind of impotence. I am told, by a reasonably reliable source, that the time of the elves is drawing to its twilight. I find that the more I sit here, staring at these parchments, the more I believe her. I can feel Mordor oozing around its edges, slithering through our cities and through my patrols. We are being cut off, and although I know what must be done to stop it, I can do nothing but beg others to act--knowing well that it might kill them.
"I would not be here telling you this unless it were true," Calandil snapped testily. He knew that the lords of the war counsel, here at the front lines, had difficulties of their own to contend with. He knew that Sauron rained fire and death down on them at regular intervals; he had seen enough of the seriously wounded shipped back to Imladris to doubt that. But although the armies of darkness and light had skirmished for three years, Gil-galad had not pushed, instead carefully gathering his forces while evil haunted the free realms Middle-earth. The time for caution had clearly passed, Calandil thought. If they would not heed him, the army would soon find itself fighting a genuine war on two fronts, cut off utterly from their support, and with nothing left to fight for.
"That is where we stand, my lord King," he continued. "Arguing with me will not change what is. Even Celeborn cannot hold all of Middle-earth, not with Mordor spilling out around your flanks and into the kingdoms you are supposed to be defending."
Gil-galad had turned away during the captain's outburst, pacing in front of the great map spread out on three tables at the back of the tent. "How long do we have?" he asked, resigned.
"Weeks," Calandil answered succinctly, shifting slightly on his feet, the relief evident in his eyes. "Our difficulty is not the orcs that have slipped through Mordor's cracks, but the men and dwarves, for we cannot discern whether they are friend or foe until they are nearly upon us. Worse, their attention is no longer focused directly on the supply trains, but the cities themselves. In that last month, we have repelled two major assaults on Imladris itself. Galadriel has reported several skirmishes at the borders of Mithlond; Celebrían is contending with raiders at Edhellond; Greenwood was attacked last week; Lothlorien the week before … you are being flanked, my lords, and we are going to disintegrate behind you."
"What does Celeborn suggest?" Gil-galad asked, faintly ironic.
"Attack," Oropher muttered savagely from across the room.
Standing on a slight hill at the edge of the plain, Gil-galad closed his eyes in agony. Some of his captains and soldiers standing near him looked desperately at their king, begging him to give the order to charge. Some were stirring mutinously.
"Hold," he commanded loudly, lifting his hand. "Hold! Or all is lost!"
Grim faced, Elendil came to stand beside him. "In Varda's name," the king of men whispered.
If Amdír's arms had not already been moving, slicing viciously upward, it would have been he who was decapitated. As it was, he stumbled and fell to his knees beside the orc's head a few seconds later, his sword slipping from his numb fingers. He weakly batted aside the grotesque thing, choking on the blood that abruptly welled in his throat. It was an acid counterpoint to this rotting swamp where Lorien's forces had inadvertently been pulled into battle. This ooze would not have been the ground that he would have chosen for the offensive, but then, this was not where they were supposed to be.
Gil-galad had placed the faithful little army of Lothlorien to the extreme right on the dusty plain of Dagorlad, Oropher's Greenwood to their immediate left. After years of near inaction, this offensive was to be bold, decisive. They were to sweep into Sauron's forces with wrath and surprise. They had been placed, they had been ready, and then--they had waited.
The king rolled his shoulders, trying to ignore the sweat dripping under his armor, and had just settled into a familiar state of numb mindlessness that had marked many of the campaigns over the course of his long life, when Amroth suddenly shouted hoarsely: "Ai, Elbereth Gilthoniel! What is he doing?"
Kneeling helplessly on the ground, he lifted his head, hoping to see Gil-galad rushing to save his Silvan comrades, but the High King's starry banners never moved from the edge of the plain. He felt the mud, thick with elven and orcish blood, entombing his calves and hands as he sagged forward, desperately trying to breathe as the battle swiftly died around him. His warriors, his people were falling around him, more each second, and he heard the orcs laughing maniacally at the slaughter. He looked up, toward the towering mountains of Mordor, and despaired.
"Amroth," he groaned, struggling to crawl to where the child of his heart lay face down in the muck, struck through with an arrow. Still yards short, his strength failed, and he collapsed forward with a choked cry, his body sinking as his soul snapped and drifted. Amdír was skeptically considering Mandos' offer when he saw Amroth twitch desperately and claw at the earth, pulling himself forward until his face hit a clump of dry weeds a few inches higher than the sludge.
"Nimrodel," the boy gasped.
Good, Amdír thought, and, making his decision, he knew no more.
Next chapter: Victory, of a sort.
"Fruitless did I call the victory of the Last Alliance? Not wholly so, yet it did not achieve its end. Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure. Many Elves and many mighty Men, and many of their friends had perished in the war."
- The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring
Chapter 12: Victory
The man stood outside the barbed iron doors, and had courage enough to admit he was afraid. He licked his cracked lips, ever thirsty in these years of siege, and glanced down at the gnarled dwarf standing beside him. The dwarf returned the look and gave a nasty smile that twisted his horrible face. Missing an eye and half his nose, even his beard could not hide his deformity. A strange ally, and one that the man hated, but not as much as one on the other side of the door.
"Easy now, General," the dwarf rumbled, leaning on his axe. The little rock-man was unflappable, the man thought, looking venomously down at the fool as he fingered the sweat-damp hilt of his sword. When he had first entered the dark tower, he had expected to be stripped of his weapons, but it had not been so. And that was when the man began to fear, for in that moment he fully understood the depth of their helplessness. He jerked backward as the door abruptly swung open, menacing in its oiled soundlessness.
The dwarf chuckled in dark appreciation. “Would that we could master our fears as easily as He has mastered them,” he murmured. “Steady on. All mortals live to die. Today, or in a hundred years, it matters not, and then we shall be beyond his grasp.”
“Enter,” a voice said, a liquid velvet command that could not be disobeyed. They passed the threshold and, to his shame, the man shook with a tremor that radiated from his core. He caught the hilt of his sword as it beat a soft tattoo against his armor, and looked up into the empty throne.
"I perceive you come with grievances," the voice came again, amused.
"Yes, my Lord Sauron," the man said, glancing surreptitiously around to room, trying to find the voice's source. He wished he hadn't when he inadvertently looked directly into the nauseating cowl of one of the Nazgul.
"Speak," the Master intoned.
The man cleared his throat, and, remembering his errand, found the fury necessary to sustain him. "Seven years since our last battle on the plains, my Lord," he said. "Seven years since the cursed elves and their puppets pushed us back in Mordor, seven years of sitting in this rotting land, dying from its foul fumes rather than cleanly on swords. You promised us quick victory, and the lands and riches of the elves, and instead you sit here, impotent. This was not the agreement," the man ended, nearly snarling.
During the first--and thus far, only--great battle of the war, the general had looked beyond the bloody fields to the vast lands spread out behind their enemy, and had nearly tasted the spoils of his great victory. They had easily cut off the right wing of the elven army, crushing them into the marsh like gnats while the rest of the army of Gil-galad and Elendil stood by, dumbly inattentive. It had been glorious. The elven flank had nearly broken, but then the greater part of the enemy had … done something. Some elvish witchery, perhaps, but they had suddenly been everywhere, and far better armed than the first wave, their long swords gleaming in the sun.
Only later had the man deduced what they had done. The elven king had sent out the right flank of his army as a suicidal diversion. They had been poorly armed, and his men could not resist such easy prey. Thus his fighters were distracted and caught unaware by the greater portion of the army. Somehow, he had not expected anything that cold, even from the elves. He swore he would remember better next time, but after three days of raging death, they had been driven back into Mordor, and there they had stayed these seven years, surrounded by orc and dying by siege in a land of rock and metal. Sauron had sent fire and darts upon the enemy encompassing them, and the cursed elves had suffered great losses, but even that knowledge did little to ease the suffering of the general’s own host.
“If you are unhappy with our agreement,” the Dark Lord said smoothly, “then I release you from it. I, of course, would also be relieved of my obligation toward your people and your army. Is that your desire?”
“No, Lord,” the man bitterly replied, knowing well that only the will of Sauron kept the ravenous, man-hungry orcs at bay, and only their treaties kept the black hordes from turning to his homeland in the east. If Sauron withdrew his protection, the General knew that the orcs would kill him before he was able to return to his army, and his soldiers would be dripping from the teeth of the beasts ere they knew the peril. “I am a rough and unlearned man, and slow of speech,” he continued, resigned. “I mean only to convey my eagerness to serve and die for your victory.”
“Good,” Sauron said, “for I have called you here to issue my new commands. I trust you are rested sufficiently to follow them with exactness.”
Valandil sprawled wetly on the dark rocks that lined the courtyard, warming himself on their smooth, sun-baked faces. The rocks were a delicious counterpoint to the icy waters of the Bruinen which, despite the summer heat, could chill mortals, even those of the great age of eleven years. Well, nearly eleven, Valandil amended to himself, and rolled to his back, stretching in contentment.
“Well, what is this?” a familiar voice asked, and Valandil’s eyes snapped open as Calandil prodded Valandil with his foot. The captain of Imladris’ guard stood above him … and above Calandil was Lord Celeborn. “Someone seems to have left a soggy rug right here in the middle of the courtyard, my lord,” Calandil continued in mock earnestness. “Well, I’ll just have to get rid of it.” With that, Calandil hauled the boy into the air and tossed him over his shoulder. Valandil yelped, and, upside down, poked Calandil in the ribs.
“Nay, Calandil,” Celeborn said, his voice rich with a ripple of teasing amusement. “ ‘Tis the little prince.”
“Ai!” cried Calandil, and, smiling stood the boy on his feet. “Apologies, Valandil. I scarcely knew it was you. You seem taller.”
Valandil stood up straighter. “I probably am,” he beamed. “Where have you been all this time?” he asked. Forgetting his posture, he started jumping from foot to foot.
Calandil smiled at glanced at Celeborn, who had folded his hands behind his back and looked away to mask the amusement that had settled into his eyes. “Lindon, Edhellond, the front lines, and everywhere between,” Calandil said, ticking them off on his fingers as he focused back on the child.
“Did you see my father?”
“Did you see orcs?”
“Yes,” Calandil said, his smile fading slightly before returning to full luminosity as he reached out and put both hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Ai, Valandil, stop leaping about. I am an ancient elf, and you make me weary!”
“How old are you?” the boy asked curiously, for he had never had occasion to ask.
At that, Celeborn laughed aloud. “Older than the sun,” the Lord answered for his captain, “though I doubt that Calandil has been counting the time since it first arose.” To Valandil’s surprise, Celeborn nodded in dismissal to Calandil, and gestured instead for the boy to come along side him as he walked. “Your mother tells me you have a question,” the Lord said, moderating his stride as Valandil scrambled to keep up, and then stopping altogether when the boy abruptly halted.
Valandil felt his gut squeeze into a tight ball. He knew the question that Celeborn meant, but had not imagined that his mother would leave it in Valandil’s hands rather than addressing it with the Lord herself. He looked up at his guardian, and wished he truly had the new height that Calandil had seen in him. Pride and fear warred in his heart, but desire made him speak.
“I am nearly eleven years old, my lord,” he said.
“Indeed,” Celeborn said evenly, and to Valandil’s relief, the Lord lowered himself to the ground, leaning casually against a tree. He did not look directly at the boy, but over the churning Bruinen as Valandil gathered his thoughts.
“Can I have . . . may I learn the sword?” he blurted inartfully, blushing at his tumbling words.
“You are young,” the Lord answered, his gaze distant. “What did your mother say when you put the question to her?”
Valandil looked at the ground. “She said that she would allow it if you approved.”
“Why do you wish to learn the sword?” the Lord said, and turned his piercing gaze on the boy. It was a look that Valandil had seen directed at others, but had never experienced himself, for Celeborn had only looked upon him with amusement or affection. Although Valandil may have quailed at the elf-lord’s scrutiny on any other day, today he felt it settle over him with a calming solemnity.
Valandil raised his chin, and answered: “When my father was last here, he said that when I was sixteen, he would summon me to join him and my brothers in the army. If I begin to learn the sword now, in five years I will be prepared to serve my people.”
For a beat, Celeborn said nothing, but closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Valandil felt his heart lurch, for he had never seen such grief, not even in his mother when she had told him that his uncle, Anárion, had died in a battle. Valandil had been very sorry, of course, although he had never met Anárion. Indeed, he’d hardly met his father, whose words he had just so bravely invoked. Beyond that the promise to call him when he was sixteen, Valandil remembered that his father’s beard had been scratchy, and that it had made him look odd when he smiled. The memory of his brothers was little different. Ciryon, Aratan, and, of course, Elendur, the eldest. They had teased him that he talked like an elf, and had promised to show him how to be a man, but had only been in Imladris for two days.
Celeborn stood, he gaze far away again. Valandil despaired, certain that the Lord was about to deny his request, until he answered: “As you wish, Prince Valandil. Look for Calandil tomorrow,” he said softly, “and he will begin your instruction.”
Valandil beamed and sketched an excited bow, flushing with excitement and trepidation. “Thank you, my Lord,” he cried. “May I tell my mother?”
Celeborn nodded. “Go on,” he said. “Rest well today, for you shall work hard tomorrow.” The ancient lord watched the boy dash away, his steps light with a joy that Celeborn did not share.
“I have been expecting that,” Calandil said, materializing from the shadows.
“As have I,” Celeborn said heavily. “Though the request cut more deeply than I had been prepared. Would that they world was not one where a child must speak earnestly of the day he will go to war. In times past, I have cursed the Valar for allowing evil to remain when they had the opportunity to destroy it. Yet have we done differently? Perhaps some day, that youth will know our mistakes, and wonder why we did not care enough to leave him a better world.”
“We have tried,” Calandil said, “and are trying still.”
Celeborn shrugged, turning again to his own thoughts, which roiled with concern for the orc again pressing their border, and the reports of renewed fervor from the enemy at the front lines that remained unbroken despite seven years of siege. “Teach him well, Calandil,” Celeborn murmured. “He may need that sword sooner than he thinks.”
Valandil pushed back his sweat-damp hair, grateful that the weather was beginning to cool. He suspected that the long, hot days of swinging his sword under the blazing sun would soon give way to long, cold days swinging it while standing in the snow, but for now he appreciated the turning of the season.
“Eat,” Calandil said, breaking off a piece of warm bread that he had wielded out of the cook. Valandil smiled his appreciation, and had eaten nearly half the loaf before he noticed that the birds had stopped twittering, and the river’s babble seemed muffled in queer stillness. Valandil stopped mid-chew, and looked quizzically at Calandil, who had caught the gaze of the cook.
“The trees are holding their breath,” cook murmured. Calandil’s eyes were closed, one hand raised in concentration. Abruptly, the air seemed to rush back into the room, and Valandil carefully placed his bread on the table. The bite in his mouth suddenly tasted wrong, like the flavor of all the bread in the world was suddenly on his tongue, and it was too much.
“This is not victory,” Calandil said, surging to his feet.
“Wha--?” Valandil said, but Calandil was gone before he could finish the word. The boy scrambled out of the room after him. He chased the elf across the courtyard, and huffed at his heels up the staircase to the Lord’s study. Calandil banged the door open in a manner that surely would have earned Valandil a rebuke, and the boy plowed into Calandil’s back as the elf abruptly stopped two steps inside the threshold. Calandil scarcely seemed to notice.
Celeborn was bowed over the table in the center of the room, gripping its edges so hard that they were beginning to crack. His eyes were focused, not on Calandil, but on the floor. Nay, not even the floor, but on something beneath it. After a moment, he raised his gaze, and Valandil flinched at the strangeness of it. If he had been looking through the floor before, now he was looking through their very souls. Valandil quailed, and stepped behind Calandil’s back.
“What says Galadriel?” Calandil asked evenly. Valandil peered around the captain in puzzlement. There had been no letters today, and Valandil knew that Celeborn’s wife lived far away, in Lindon.
“Sauron is destroyed,” Celeborn said flatly.
“But … ?”
“The Ring is not.” Celeborn stepped forward and looked down at the little mortal again. His eyes were still strange, but kind, and he knelt beside the boy he had nurtured all of the child’s life, smoothing back his hair. Valandil returned the Lord’s gaze with guileless puzzlement.
“Do you see it in the boy?” Celeborn murmured, speaking as if to someone who was not present. “The fool has claimed the Ring as were-gild for his father and brothers, and has bound his bloodline to it fate.”
Valandil frowned deeply, and followed his guardian with his eyes as the elf stood and turned away, his hands clasped behind his back
“Orders, my Lord?” Calandil asked.
Celeborn glanced over his shoulder at his friend, a twisted half smile on his face. “We’ve won, Calandil. For the moment. I suspect that in the next weeks, we’ll be overrun by the victorious armies of Middle-earth. We have much to do to prepare for their return.”
Valandil tugged grumpily on his high-collared tunic. His mother had stuffed him into the scratchy garment that morning so that he could be properly attired to greet the arriving dignitaries. It itched and choked him, but he had not yet been given permission to change.
He had bowed properly to Elrond--the true Lord of Imladris. Elrond seemed weary and sad, but had returned Valandil’s bow with a smile. Valandil had not been prepared when Celeborn stepped forward and, taking the other elf’s hand, had returned the haven to Elrond’s care. Valandil’s world tilted then, suddenly under the authority of a stranger. Celeborn had reached out and placed a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze as he guided him to a bearded elf, who had nodded in greeting, and several of his father’s generals, who had bowed and spoken to him as if he were a babe, before seeking his mother to explain that Isildur would come for them after he reorganized Gondor under Meneldil’s care.
Valandil had watched with trepidation as the men of his father’s armies spread across Imladris, setting their tents and camps. They seemed so loud, so soiled, as if they did not know the trees were watching. He felt abruptly ashamed, and wondered if he stepped as heavily on the ground as they.
There had been a great feast that evening, although Valandil could scarcely taste it for the turmoil in his heart. Afterward, the men returned to their tents to sing and drink. Ordinarily, he would have been overjoyed that his mother was too distracted to sweep him off to bed, but he had crouched miserably at the edges of their fires, and wished he was not a mortal. As the stars appeared, he heard the elves singing in the trees, and sought them in the glades where they danced. But these elves were not of the garrison at Imladris, who had raised him and taught him the wonders of their world; these were the elves of the armies, who saw only Isildur’s youngest son.
Valandil leaned against a tree, and pulled again on his too-tight collar, and tried not to cry.
“Here you are,” a kind voice said behind him, and it was his undoing. Valandil lost the fight for bravery, and threw himself into Calandil’s arms with a sob. “Ai, child,” the elf sighed, placing a kiss on his brow. He lifted the boy with ease, despite the gangly limbs that were longer than when he had done this last, and led him away from the turmoil to the arms of a tree. Valandil clung to elf and tree, neither of whom said a word as he wept.
Calandil gently woke him in the deep of night.
“It is not fair to you, Valandil.” The elf said softly. “Not fair that you should grow up amid a troop of elves always on the verge of war, who look at you, and love you, but grieve the passing of your finite days. It is not fair that you have never known another child, and that your closest companion is an old captain of elves. Not fair that your first real encounter with you own people was with an army of weary, battle-rough men who are equally parts grieved and giddy. So much of your experience is far less than ideal. But look now, my child, and let your first sight of lovers reunited be beautiful.”
Valandil blinked the sleep from his eyes and gazed across the meadow, where he saw Celeborn, shining like water in the moonlight. The Lord stood with the stillness of an arrow, paused in the moment before flight and made beautiful in anticipation of its purpose for being. The trees swayed aside, and Valandil gasped as a lady stepped from their midst.
“She is Galadriel,” Calandil whispered reverently in answer to the child’s unspoken question. “Their parting has not been long, this time—only the space of your lifetime. But watch!”
The lady smiled at her lord as she drew near, and although he did not return it, his eyes shifted from the gentle tolerance that Valandil knew so well to … something else. Only years later, when he felt the expression pass across his own face, would Valandil put the word adoration to it. The lord moved at last, like the dancer he was, and gave her his arm. She took it, her hand pressing into the crisp whiteness of his sleeve, and stepped fully into the glen. She turned, her fingers gliding over his wrist, a touch enough to make him smile at last. He touched her face,;she slid her hand behind his neck, and the Lord leaned forward to kiss her sweetly. Galadriel laughed when they parted, and took his hand. She turned toward the tree where Valandil and Calandil watched, and the lady caught the child’s wondering gaze with a look that laid him bare and filled his soul in the same moment, ere turning with her lord to fade into the trees.
Calandil chuckled. “Close your mouth, child,” he said.
“She knew me!” the boy cried.
“Of course she did,” the elf answered. “You are an open book; she could know all you are in a glance. But indeed, there would be no need for her skills. Where Celeborn is, so is Galadriel, and where she, he. Her hand and wisdom have guided your youth as much as his, though you knew it not.”
Valandil sat in thought. “Calandil, are you married?” he asked after a moment.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Where is your wife?”
“Here, in Imladris. She arrived a few moments ago, with the lady.”
Valandil blushed. “You probably want to go see her.”
“I do,” Calandil answered, “but we can wait.” Valandil snuggled down into the wide branches of the tree as Calandil lifted his voice to the night in a song about love, and slept, and was comforted.
Next chapter: Precious things lost.
A/N: Ai, forgive me! So long since the last update. I seem to have fallen out of the fandom of late, and owe so many of you reviews for chapters and stories I have read and enjoyed. This chapter has been sitting, nearly complete, on my hard drive for months, needing only to be edited and reorganized. My roommate, on a Thanksgiving LotR movie marathon, was just the inspiration I needed. I hope you remember what the story was about, and I will endeavor to move forward with the next chapter in a more expeditious fashion.
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