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Angrod, son of Finarfin approached, in the centre of a group of outriders, all jangling with armour and spangled with jewels. Little flames of many colours went up from the harness of the Noldo Prince, and his breastplate was crusted with crystal which caught the sun's light like a sheet of water. There was a circlet on his head and a sapphire gleamed on his brow. The heavy fall of his corn blond hair was intricately braided and in places pinned with gems. Even from his sword hilt there went up a fountain of radiance from the inlaid stones and precious metals of many hues.
Above Celeborn his honour guard, Calandil, sniggered quietly in the treetops, and there came the muffled sound of Daeron trying not to laugh. Celeborn smoothed down the restrained elegance of his soft grey tunic and wondered if perhaps he should have worn the one with the overdone embroidery. Beside the Noldo's rather barbaric splendour he felt woefully under dressed. But no. It is he who looks like the inside of a magpie's hoard. With a word he urged his horse forward and came out from the shadow of the trees alone.
It was strange to see how Angrod's guards reacted to his presence - they looked around themselves at once, as if expecting the rest of his escort to burst out of the forest beside him. They did not look up, to where Calandil's forces had covered them at bowshot for the last eight hundred yards. In this, as in their clothing, they seemed at once showy and naive.
A guard challenged him, and as he put down his hood he saw a flash of ...something... go through the elf's unnaturally fiery eyes. It looked, he thought, his heart sinking, a lot like guilt. Taking advantage of the other's moment of shock he spurred his horse onwards and so came through the ring of men-at-arms and face to face with Angrod. "I am Celeborn, Prince of Doriath," he said, "And I greet you in the name of King Elu."
Angrod's face was pleasant, open, a little rounded still with youth. His skin glimmered like the moon behind a cloud and his eyes held the same flame as the guard's eyes. They also, briefly, as they swept over the long tail of Celeborn's ice-coloured hair, held the same uncertainty, the same...shame. "You look like a Swan-Lord," he said, nervously.
"A what?" It was hard to follow Angrod's rather strange accent, he wondered if he had heard right.
"You look like one of the Teleri from Alqualondë," Angrod spoke louder, as if he better hoped to be understood that way, but his face had clouded. His gaze fell to Celeborn's belt and fixed there as if he was trying to essay the value of the silver, or, more likely, as if he no longer dared look him in the eye.
"I am a Teleri." Celeborn shrugged and turned his horse to lead the Noldor into the trees, "So there is little surprise in this." But he wondered all the same, feeling the discomfort around him, not just of Angrod, but of all his companions. Discomfort and anger, and guilt. What have the Teleri done to them, or they to the Teleri that they cannot look on me with ease?
"But in truth you're not." Angrod kept pace with him, and the young face was lit with an academic curiosity that seemed more a part of him than his jewels, "'Teleri' only refers to those of your people who came to Aman...just the Calaquendi. You are Moriquendi, so you cannot be Teleri."
It took him a moment to translate the Quenya, 'Calaquendi' would be...Celbin. So Moriquendi is... and then he reined in, stopping in shock and insult. "What did you call me?" An urge came over him to take hold of the little prince by the over-elaborate braids and shake some respect into him. It was not helped by Calandil choosing this moment to lead his guards out of the trees. Calandil's face was grim, and Daeron, who stood beside him, was wide eyed with hurt.
"Dark elf," said Angrod, as if it should be obvious, "You have not seen the light of the Two Trees, so you are all dark elves." He looked at the scowling faces of Celeborn's guards without comprehension, "It is not meant as an insult. It is simply a description."
"I think perhaps," Celeborn made an effort not to move his hand to his axe, though he was suddenly aware of its sheathed head beneath his elbow, "I think you should remember that in Doriath we use those terms differently. A Dark Elf is an elf who has - whether for spite or for fear - taken service with Morgoth. A Light Elf is any who have openly declared themselves against him. We are Light Elves in Doriath. As are our Nandor kin, and the Green Folk, and even those of the Avari who are our allies. We are all Celbin."
"Oh, the Laiquendi!" Angrod laughed uncomfortably and attempted a change of subject, "They are quite savage aren't they? With their arrowheads of stone and their garments of leafs. Do you know, we thought all the mori... all the Lingerers would be like them. We were very surprised to find the Doriathrim have a culture almost as advanced as our own."
"Indeed," said Celeborn, his temper getting the better of him, "The Doriathrim have almost managed to scrape together a civilization. How sad that the rest of us have been too busy fighting for our lives to learn the finer points of etiquette!"
"You are over touchy," Angrod drew himself up in affront, "Again, I meant no insult. I do not compare you with the rude and unsubtle folk we have so far met. It is well known that your Queen is a Maia, and your King and ours were like brothers together."
He is a guest, Celeborn reminded himself, And a valuable ally. He had noticed that the prince's retinue seemed all the more haughty after this exchange of words, and - ridiculous though it was - he felt an almost physical threat from them. And a foreigner who doesn't know our ways. I have probably insulted him just as vilely, in some way I know nothing about. He sighed.
"I thank you," he said, "That you think the folk of Thingol worthy of your regard." It would have been politic to finish there, but the smooth words of politics had always eluded him. He did not regret that they did so now. "But you do ill to call the Green Folk savage. Three yeni I was with them in my youth - their lore is deep and their woodcraft unsurpassed. In truth we do not consider them a separate people from ourselves. We are one people - the Avari of the Third Clan, the Nandor, the Green Folk, the Silvan, the Sindar and the Teleri - we are all Lindar, the Singers. We are kin."
Again that sudden guardedness, that flinch at the word 'kin', and Angrod's fire-filled gaze fell to study the mane of his horse. There was a mystery here that had the taste of shadow in it. Proud though the Noldor were, they had not escaped the marring of Morgoth. But it was not wise to press him about this, Celeborn thought, Melian will see it in him. Whatever it is. And he should be given the chance to speak of it himself.
They had come to the great gates of Menegroth, and it was evening. The rush and lilt of Esgalduin filled the twilight with the scent of water. Greeting the dusk, a nightingale trilled. Moved by homecoming and music Daeron replied, in a voice that wove the mists and stars and silver stream into glory. His song seemed a new creation; solid as a gem, awe-filled, holy, beautiful and bright. Yet it vanished before it could be grasped, leaving only the bliss of memory.
The Noldor reined their horses in and looked at the minstrel, with their mouths open and their eerie eyes wide. Calandil came to take Celeborn's bridle and say, mind to mind, And for all their 'culture' they have nothing like him, even in Valinor.
Hush, Celeborn thought, but he smiled.
"So," he said, and took Angrod by the elbow to guide him across the narrow bridge and into the first entrance hall, "You spoke of Finu..."
A look of incomprehension. He unpicked the linguistic changes in his head, "Sorry... Finwë. Has he returned with you? My Lord is very eager to see him again."
Angrod balked at the stair down into the earth and Celeborn could feel the thrill of fear run through the muscles beneath his fingertips. Afraid of the dark? he thought, wonderingly, and then in astonished understanding Calben...elves of the light... He has not grown used to dwelling in darkness. It was both amusing and vaguely annoying, bringing to mind the millenia in which the elves of Doriath had dwelt, neglected and forgotton by the Valar, in perpetual night.
"No," Angrod said, his tones thin with grief, "Finwë is dead. Slain by Morgoth before the Enemy fled to Middle Earth. It is largely for revenge that we return." He raised his head to look Celeborn in the face. The flame in his eyes was yellow and white, mingled, and his voice lowered, as though he spoke news so terrible it had to be whispered. "The Enemy threw down the Two Trees and defiled Aman with darkness. Only their remnants now ride the sky; flower of the silver tree, fruit of the gold. The sun and the moon...the only things the Valar could salvage."
"I see," Celeborn said and brushed a hand through his hair, needing the comfort. So I was wrong. Even the sun and moon were not meant for us - we profit from them as an afterthought. And the Noldor's return is not to aid their friends, long abandoned, but only to avenge a wrong done to them. It never grew easier to learn that the Valar did not care about the elves of Middle Earth at all. Especially not when, this time, he had built so much hope on the sign. As for the loss of the Two Trees, it meant little to him, beyond a passing whimsy that he would now never see his namesake. Quite why Angrod seemed to think he would care about this was a mystery.
"You have my condolences," he said, heavily, "My lord will grieve indeed."
"Yet you do not seem shocked," Angrod looked at him with puzzled innocence, "Or even greatly surprised."
"Should I be?" Celeborn looked down at the earnest face and felt suddenly very old, though in truth there was likely little difference in age between them. "My own grandfather, Elmo - brother of Elu - and my mother and my unborn sister were killed by the servants of Morgoth. It is a daily refrain in Middle Earth. Something you will grow used to, with time."
"I do not wish to grow used to it!"
Sheltered little princeling. "Then go back to the waiting arms of the Valar," Celeborn said bitterly, "Loss is the price of life in Ennor. If you wished to be protected from it you should not have left Aman."
Angrod's reaction was instructive - the lash of pride that opened his mouth and the ...something... that closed it again with the retort unmade. He looked as Mordir had looked in court; captured in guilt, afraid to admit it but afraid to lie. "We took an oath not to return until Morgoth is defeated," he said with sullen politeness, "So do not taunt us with the desire."
Not wholly a lie, Celeborn thought, his long experience of judgement making the reading almost instinctive, but certainly not the whole truth. He sighed again and told himself that the Noldor were like the Sun - one could not give them back - so whatever terror it was they were hiding, the Sindar would have to learn to live with it. There would be time to learn what it was later, without being so inhospitable as to subject a guest to cross examination the moment he had passed through the door.
"Forgive me," he said, "Everything about you is strange to me. And I'm sure I give offence at every step. Doubtless we will all grow more easy together when we know each other more." He motioned for Calandil to escort the Prince's guards to the barracks, and smiled, rather half-heartedly. "Let me take you to your rooms. For, if you have come all the way from Valinor to here, it must have been a hard journey indeed."
"What think you?" Thingol stood before the fire in one of the smaller drawing rooms and nudged a lantern with his fingertip so that it trembled in its sheath of diamond, filling the air with dancing light. Empty plates were on the table and Luthien still toyed with a stem of grapes, holding them up more to admire their sheen in the lamplight than with the intention of eating more. Angrod had been persuaded to play flute for them and had left the room in the company of a servant who would help him find an instrument to suit him.
"Nice hair," said Luthien, "A little like Oropher's. Only more shiny."
"But I couldn't get used to those eyes - glowing at you in the dark like the eyes of a fox in torchlight."
She wrapped a lock of her long, midnight hair twice around her wrist and looked up coquettishly at him, making him wonder for a breathless moment whether he had spawned some emptyheaded fool of a daughter and these truly were her thoughts. Then she grinned. "Or do you mean the fact that he is an honest person weighed down by a secret too terrible to share?"
Thingol sat slowly and put his head in his hands. "You saw it too." His friend was dead and all his doubts about this unlooked for aid seemed to be coming true.
"Not just a secret," said Melian grimly, "But a shadow. A doom...a curse...some form of judgement over him." She looked up, as though she saw the stars of Elbereth through the many layers of pressing stone, and when she spoke her voice held the certainty of prophecy. Cold. Implacable. The voice of a goddess. "Fate is against them, and ill luck follows them. We would do well to wash our hands of them all."
Thingol so wanted to join the many armies Angrod spoke of and to crush Morgoth once and for all. He wanted there to be that hope, that goal to strive for. Why? Why would help be sent only to be snatched away? Why did every new thing that came to Doriath only seem to presage disaster? "Yet they are the sons of my friend," he said, and was appalled at how weak he sounded, "For Finwë's sake, I should aid them."
Melian looked at Celeborn, who remained silent, though the tension in his shoulders showed he was stifling some outburst at this argument. "You did not empty Doriath to go to the aid of Elmo when he was taken," she said, as if she spoke for him, "Though he was your own brother, and every bit as beloved as Finwë. You knew it would be in vain. It is so here. The Noldor will not prevail over Morgoth. I have seen it."
"And what of Angrod and his folk?" The slippery way Angrod had turned the conversation every time he had asked about Feanor and Fingolfin made him think that perhaps Melian was right with regard to these princes. They were at the heart of...whatever it was that was wrong with the Noldor. Let them take their revenge to Morgoth and distract his attention from Doriath long enough for the Sindar to rebuild, if that was all they could do. But Finarfin's children? "Are they not the sons of my niece? Are they not my own family?"
Seeing his distress she softened, the awe of her power giving way to compassion. "I do not council that you never see them, my love. Only that you do not let them shape your fate to their own."
He poured more wine and drank it down too fast to taste it. "I cannot refuse to greet my own kin," he said, salvaging whatever he could of personal consolation from this disappointing gift. "I did not even know that Olwë had married. What do you say, Celeborn?"
"My Lord." Celeborn's eyes were bleak with memory, focussed somewhere a long time ago. "These Noldor seem arrogant and a little obnoxious... But when Elmo died I lost all of my family at once. For his sake, I would very much like to meet these cousins of mine."
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